By Risa Plotnick and Jodi Green
Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) represents an annual opportunity to renew our commitment, as a Jewish Community, to remove all barriers to accessibility (physical, social, technological, attitudinal) and to be inclusive to everyone living with a disability or mental health condition. Every February our communal institutions offer programs, sermons, and participation opportunities to highlight the progress we are making and to step further down the road to equality. It’s a time to launch new initiatives and have heightened awareness of our obligation to those in our community who wish to have full access but need it in a different way.
According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, 1 in 66 Canadian children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and it is estimated that, overall, 1 in 5 Canadians live with a disability. Applying that to the Ottawa Jewish community of 15,000 people, we realize that we must guarantee inclusion for 3,000+ unique individuals.
Over the past year, we have all felt the isolation, separation, and “otherness” sometimes experienced by a person living with a disability. We have been separated from our communal institutions and each other, but accommodations have been made and we have been forced to adapt and have found new ways of doing things. Through online conferencing, curbside pick-up, and porch visits we can feel connected. This is inclusion. It means looking for ways to make sure no one is left out of communal life. This year JDAIM is a time to take what we have learned and commit to accommodating in new ways, for the future.
In keeping with current times and “doing things differently,” instead of asking the community to come out to events, we are bringing the conversation and programming to you! February will be an exciting time to learn from each other, to join with Jewish communities all over North America, and to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table.
The most exciting and personal initiative, from the JDAIM committee, is the launching of a community conversation and we want to hear from you. When you register at https://jdaim.cultivateforecasts.com/, which goes live on Jan. 31, 2021, for the Ottawa Jewish community conversation, you will be able to answer up to eight questions about inclusion, your experiences with our Jewish community, and your hopes and dreams for an inclusive future. The greater the participation, the richer the conversation. Your participation can be public or anonymous, your choice. At the end of the month, these conversations will be reviewed and will help create a roadmap for assessing what should be the critical next steps in our communal inclusion plan. It is a conversation we can’t afford not to have.
In addition to our local conversation, there are many programs and conversations happening throughout North America. Join the JDAIM committee and other community members on:
- February 3, 7 pm - Kickoff event Our Time, Our Fight on February 3, featuring the world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman. This talk is sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America. Register here.
- February 5/6 is designated as Inclusion Shabbat. Find out what your synagogue is doing to promote access to prayer and prayer spaces.
- February 16, 3-4 pm – Mobilizing Canadians for Inclusion, in partnership with CIJA.
- JOIN (Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network) Youth Leadership Award Challenge – Deadline for submission February 25. Youth up to Grade 12 can submit an idea for creating more inclusive spaces in our community.
More information about the above events can be found at https://jewishottawa.com/events/jdaim-jewish-disabilities-awareness-acceptance-and-inclusion
Come along on this journey of inclusion and acceptance. Your voice is valuable and needs to be heard! After all, inclusion should be Tzedek (justice) not Chesed (charity); a community that truly believes we are all created B’tzelem Elokim (in the image of God).
– Risa Plotnick is the Executive Director of the Tamir Foundation and Jodi Green is the Coordinator of Judaic Outreach and Inclusion for Tamir Foundation