Inclusion is a funny thing. When it is “done right”, it’s not something to talk about. It just is. Being inclusive means accepting all people for who they are regardless of their abilities or race or religion or gender or…or…or….
When a community is inclusive, anyone who wants to participate can, to whatever extent he or she desires. Period. And there’s no need for fanfare, no self-congratulatory pats on the back and no reason to advertise your accomplishments because you are just a community doing what a community should do, welcoming everyone.
But inclusion, particularly inclusion of people with disabilities, is not always happening in the Jewish world; at least not naturally, comfortably and universally. And so that is a part of what Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) is all about; an opportunity for those who are “doing it well” to share so that those who are not there yet can learn and hopefully take those first steps.
I am fortunate, and proud, to be part of a community that is “doing it well”. We are not perfect, and there are always ways to grow, but we are proud to honestly and truthfully call ourselves an inclusive community.
Here are just a few of the things that Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey offers to all of its members:
- A fully inclusive religious school program. No child is turned away and we work with families individually to determine appropriate and effective learning goals and strategies. We offer multiple program options for students of varying abilities, along with support and training for our faculty and madrichim (teen assistants).
- We individualize bar/bat mitzvah expectations and experiences to meet each student’s unique needs.
- Fully inclusive school and youth programs for post b’nei mitzvah students; including social events, leadership opportunities, overnight retreats, and NFTY participation.
- Our worship is accessible. We can provide large print and Braille siddurim, augmented sound capabilities, and a “quiet room” for those who may feel over stimulated.
- Our building and sanctuary are accessible, including an elevator in our school wing, a ramp to our bimah and a recently re-graded parking lot that moved accessible parking closer to our front door.
- We offer informal “matching services” for adult members of our community who have varying needs and abilities with other congregants willing to provide rides and/or unique support.