What does ‘inclusion’ mean for Jews?

Harvey Goldberg, a retired senior policy analyst at the Canadian Human Rights Commission, provides an overview on February’s Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) in Ottawa.

Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) is a long title for the simple idea that inclusion matters, and that our community is stronger when everyone has a chance to participate and contribute. JDAIM is a time to reflect on the barriers, social, attitudinal and physical, that make it difficult for people with disabilities and mental health conditions to be involved in Jewish life and a time to resolve to remove them.

So what does inclusion mean for Jews? A quote from the Talmud sums it up well:

A human being mints many coins from the same mold and each one is the same, but the Holy One, blessed be God, strikes us all from the mold of the first human and each one of us is unique. Therefore, every single person is obligated to say, “The world was created for my sake.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). 

We are all – people with disabilities and those who do not yet have a disability – created in the image of the Holy One. 

Unfortunately, inclusion has not always been high on the Jewish communal agenda. Whether it be a raised bimah that makes it impossible for a person who uses a wheelchair to have an aliya, a Jewish school or camp that will not accommodate a child who learns differently, or a concern that people with a mental health condition will “disrupt” a community program, people with disabilities face barriers to inclusion every day.

But change is happening. A community-wide conference held last April, “Pushing the Boundaries: Disability, Inclusion and the Ottawa Jewish Community” provided the momentum.  The goal of the conference – co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, Jewish Family Services of Ottawa (JFS), the Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network (JOIN) and Tamir – was to educate about the barriers faced by people with disabilities, present best practices that foster inclusion, and help to inspire innovation in the Jewish community.

And the push has paid off.  The sponsors of the conference have continued to meet, and with the facilitation of Federation, have agreed to create the Committee on Inclusive Jewish Life (CIJL) with a mandate to promote inclusion for all members of our community. The committee’s invitation to other institutions in the community to participate in the committee’s work has been warmly received. If your synagogue, school, or agency has not yet joined in, make sure they do.

Jewish communities in Montreal, Toronto and several U.S. cities have dedicated Jewish staff professionals to support volunteers in promoting and advancing the inclusion agenda. One of the first priorities of the CIJL is to lay the groundwork for hiring an inclusion specialist for Ottawa.

•           More immediately, exciting activities have been planned to mark JDAIM in Ottawa. Throughout February, watch the Facebook feeds of Tamir, JOIN, JFS and Federation to see videos of community members explaining what inclusion means to them.

•           Kids from kindergarten to Grade 12 have until the end of the month to participate in JOIN’s Youth Leadership Award Challenge by proposing ways of making the community more inclusive for people with disabilities. (Find JOIN on Facebook for more details.)

•           On February 20-21, Tamir, in conjunction with Kehillat Beth Israel, JOIN, Jewish Family Services, Federation and the Soloway Jewish Community Center (SJCC) will host the visit to Ottawa of Ora Horn Prouser, the academic dean at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York and author of Esau’s Blessing: How the Bible Embraces those with Special Needs. The title of her talk to be held at the SJCC on February 20 is “Limping Toward the Promised Land: How the Bible Pioneers Inclusion.” An interview with Horn Prouser is in this edition of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin. Visit www.tamir.ca to purchase tickets.

This year, 2020, is a particularly good time to focus on inclusion because it is the bat mitzvah year of the coming into force of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD ratified by Canada, Israel, and 179 other states, established in international human rights law the inherent right of all persons with disabilities to equality, autonomy, independence, respect and full inclusion in all aspects of life on the same basis of all other members of the human family.

People with disabilities ask for no more, they deserve no less. Together we can make it happen.