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Inclusion Shabbat
Saturday, February 25
9:00 AM

Celebrate our congregation’s commitment to inclusion of all community members. Our guest speaker is Donna Meltzer, CEO of the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD).

9:00 AM Inclusion Shabbat with guest speaker, Donna Meltzer, “From Inclusion to Belonging – Bringing our Unique Gifts to the Synagogue” 
12:30 PM (approx.) Lunch and Learn with Inclusion Committee Co-Chair Liz Weintraub & Donna Meltzer, “Inclusion – It Isn’t Just About Being There” 
Inclusion is not just about being in the room, but taking action, making friends, and having a real community. Feel free to submit questions in advance to Rabbi Berkowitz.

Donna Meltzer has been the CEO of the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) since October 2012. NACDD is a national non-profit organization that supports the nation’s 56 governor-appointed Developmental Disabilities Councils that work within state government to promote independence, productivity, and integration of people with disabilities through systems change activities. In this capacity Ms. Meltzer oversees the organization’s public policy and advocacy agenda as well as technical assistance to the members. She currently serves on the Board of RespectAbility, UnitedHealthcare’s National Advisory Board on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and the National Advisory Board for the College of Direct Support, a program that is addressing the country’s caregiving crisis.

If you are not able to attend in-person, click here for virtual access.


RABBI'S MESSAGE
BY RABBI MITCHELL BERKOWITZ

At B’nai Israel and throughout the Jewish community, February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). Our commitment to inclusion is year round, but we intentionally carve out time in February to celebrate our congregation’s inclusion of all people within our community, our commitment to honoring the dignity of all people, and our promise to always be self-reflective and open to learning how we might do this sacred work better. Our celebration will culminate with Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Shabbat on February 25.

During this time of the year we read the Book of Exodus in which Moses, arguably the main character of the Torah, makes his first appearance and is solidified as our prophet and leader. In many ways, Moses is an unlikely leader. He is raised in the Egyptian palace, and thus intimately part of the ruling authority rather than the subjugated people. Fearful for his life, he flees into exile and marries into a tribal family in the wilderness disconnected from both the Israelites and the Egyptians. He makes his life and builds a family in this place. It is only at the age of eighty that he is presented with the opportunity, perhaps even the obligation to return to Egypt and lead his people out from slavery.

It is in this encounter that we find yet another factor that makes Moses an unlikely leader: he struggles with some sort of speech impediment. Of the many objections Moses raises to his being called forward as prophet and leader, the one that is most relevant here is that he self-describes as “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10). How can a person with a speech impediment serve as a prophet, a spokesperson for God, and effectively lead? God is unwilling to give Moses a pass; he is the person for the job.

In her book, Esau’s Blessing: How the Bible embraces those with Special Needs, Dr. Ora Horn Prouser demonstrates convincingly that the Hebrew Bible offers us many powerful lessons in inclusion. Regarding Moses she writes, “God sympathizes with Moses’ disability and tries to help him overcome it. God pushes Moses to appreciate his own self-worth and to trust the Divine Instructor.” Despite Moses’ objections and lack of self-confidence, perhaps brought about because of his disability, God offers Moses the resources, tools, and opportunities to excel and to succeed in his role.

God provides Moses with reasonable accommodations when he requests it, such as having his brother, Aaron, as a spokesperson when he feels that he cannot adequately convey a particular message. But God also pushes Moses to speak up so that Moses knows that despite his limitations, his voice and his words are of value and must be heard by others. The relationship between God and Moses is such that they can be honest with one another in articulating needs and expectations, and that is something that we must be able to do as well.

JDAIM is a reminder to all of us to emulate both God and Moses. If we have any sort of disability or need, we should feel empowered to advocate for ourselves. If we as a community wish to be truly inclusive, then we must not only be accepting of individuals with disabilities but we must go further and work in partnership with individuals with disabilities to ensure accessibility and full participation. Inclusion does not only mean providing reasonable accommodations. It also means being willing to learn, to reevaluate, to reconsider, and to listen. May we all do more of that, especially during JDAIM, so that we can continue to build the vibrant and inclusive community of B’nai Israel.


YOUTH & EDUCATION
BY RABBI CHERYL STONE

“Rabbi Yochanan said: ‘Each of the 40 days that Moses was on Mount Sinai, God taught him the entire Torah. And each night, Moses forgot what he had learned. Finally, God gave it to him as a gift. If so, why did God not give the Torah to him as a gift on the first day? In order to encourage the teachers of those who learn in a non-traditional manner.’” (Jerusalem Talmud)

February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), a unified effort among Jewish organizations worldwide to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities and those who love them. 

1 in 4 people in the United States lives with a disability. The number of people impacted by a disability grows exponentially when you factor in loved ones and caregivers. Some disabilities are obvious, but a staggering 96% are invisible illnesses. We live in a world of bodies and minds, which are, by their very nature, imperfect. Nearly all of us at some point, will be impaired. This impairment can be a short term disability or last a lifetime. And yet, we live in a world that revolves around a myth that there is a norm, a standard way of being, moving, and thinking.

But what if we alter the narrative? There are two models for how to approach the world we live in with regards to disabilities, the Medical Model and the Social Model. The Medical Model focuses on the person, their disability and what they can or cannot do. 

The Social Model focuses on the barriers that stop a person from being able to function fully within society. By removing the barriers, those who might not otherwise be able to function are now able to. Furthermore, by putting structures of support and accommodations into place, we can shift the conversation from impairments leading to exclusion to a society attuned to inclusion.

How many of us wear glasses either full time or partially? Eyeglasses are the most successful disability accommodation in history. Without them, many of us would be visually impaired. Wearing glasses makes it possible for us to function. Nobody questions your need to have them.

And yet, for so many of us, unlike the universal acceptance of glasses, whether our disabilities are obvious or hidden, we are judged, marginalized, and when asking for accommodations are told either to “buck up” or pushed to the fringes of society.

I am proud that Judaism has taken on this issue and created an opportunity to bring awareness to our communities. B’nai Israel has been working for many years to create a more inclusive environment and continues to make accommodations so that all feel welcome here.

This ethos of inclusion extends into our classrooms as well. We strive to support a diverse population of students with learning challenges. We are not yet able to make accommodations across the board, but we are working towards succeeding in what the rabbis acknowledged 2000 years ago, there are many pathways to education. The goal is to help everyone be given the opportunity to embrace the gift of Torah.

It is incumbent upon all of us to work towards an environment of inclusion. By working together to make all people feel valued and loved we build a stronger and more vibrant community.

Wed, February 1 2023 10 Shevat 5783