Inclusion is about connections
Tamir mission statement: “Tamir is a proud and caring team of participants, families, volunteers and professionals dedicated to assisting people with developmental disabilities realize their potential in a supportive Jewish environment through opportunities for personal growth and community involvement.”
By Jodi Green
Coordinator of Judaic Outreach and Inclusion
Twice annually, the National Consortium on Developmental Disabilities holds its Leadership Institute at the University of Delaware. The Consortium is a partnership of 17 national developmental disabilities organizations and is the North American centre for research and leadership training for professionals in the field. This year, I was privileged to be the third Tamir representative in recent years to attend the Institute alongside 28 professionals from across North America.
During the week-long conference, participants learn about trends in the field, examine how they may become better leaders and network, all with the backdrop of improving the lives of the people we support.
A major theme of the conference was community inclusion. All week I was thinking about ways Tamir and our Ottawa community might work together better to improve inclusion. What policies and practices could be designed to identify and remove physical, communication, and attitudinal barriers that hamper the ability of people with developmental and other disabilities to fully participate and experience a deep sense of belonging and attachment to Jewish life?
Lee Waxman is one of the three original residents of Tamir. He has been a member of Agudath Israel, now Kehillat Beth Israel, for 35 years. He is a regular at Shabbat services and cherishes Saturday mornings with the congregation. However, one thing was missing. While he has the whole service memorized, he could not read Hebrew. Recently, he asked for help to learn.
Through community connections, a teacher was found for Lee and classes began last October. Since then, his Hebrew skills have greatly improved, but what’s more special is that he and the teacher have formed a friendship.
“I recently started teaching Hebrew to Lee and it has been one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had in my life. We have had some very interesting conversations on halachah and other topics pertaining to the Jewish holidays. I look forward to seeing Lee weekly and spending this special time,” said Marian Leimovici.
Lee’s new learning experience, and their new friendship, came about through community connections, community partnership. It was a meeting with an executive director that led to a meeting with a rabbi that led to identifying the Hebrew teacher.
We have been reaching out to identify other opportunities for interaction between those supported by Tamir and the larger community. I’m excited to report that Tamir participants now attend events sponsored by AJA 50+ at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre. Our participants chose to attend the weekly music program on Tuesday afternoons. The Ottawa Jewish Community School creates a weekly Torah story sheet that we distribute to all our homes for use at their Shabbat dinners. Participants can read, or be read to, about the parsha, complete the word games, and learn a little Hebrew.
In March, Tamir will be baking hamentaschen and assembling mishloach manot with the Emerging Generation group of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. After the baking and assembling is done, we will deliver the baskets together to family, friends, and those in need as part of Tikkun Olam. By the way, we will be baking in Hebrew with the help of Marian, Lee’s teacher!
Inclusion, in large part, is about connections. There are so many ways for families and individuals in the community to become involved. Light Shabbat candles with people at Tamir homes. Lead or co-lead Kiddush and Hamotzi on a Friday evening. Come visit a new friend on a Saturday and play cards or checkers. Let’s find a time to create Purim masks, fry latkes, or bake challah together. There is so much we can learn from each other and so much more we can accomplish and benefit from together.
During Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month, let us all reflect upon people with any kind of disability in our community who may be prevented from entering the same places we do, enjoying the same experiences we enjoy, who long to feel included. As I reflect upon my experience at the Leadership Institute, I am excited at the prospect of Tamir and the entire community working more closely together to ensure every Jewish person has ample opportunity to experience a strong sense of belonging and to feel welcomed as full citizens of our Jewish community in Ottawa.