February 24, 2021

A New Appreciation for Inclusion

Rebecca Wanatick, Ed.M. Director, Disability Inclusion & Belonging

As we approach the end of February, Jewish communities around the world have taken time to honor Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). In its 13th year, JDAIM helps to raise awareness and foster the acceptance and meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities and mental health conditions and their families, across the Jewish community. JDAIM is a call to action for all of us to embrace our Jewish values and honor the gifts and strengths that each individual holds. Jewish community inclusion is a priority for our Federation, working toward the vision of a Jewish community, made whole by the meaningful participation of all its members, with access to all aspects of Jewish communal life in Greater MetroWest.

This year, one in which our lives have been drastically changed by COVID-19, the conversation around inclusion is different. The calls for and expectation of inclusion, in a world in which we are being physically excluded from many places, has become a shared experience. Like the experiences of many with disabilities, we are physically separated at home, away from our congregational and recreational communities in a way that we have never thought possible. We are feeling isolated from our friends and family, left missing out of our typical Shabbat experiences, unable to physically attend our places of employment or recreational opportunities, and most of all feeling unsure of when all of this will come to an end. Our Jewish community has shifted and focused on how to reach and meaningfully connect with our community members, to preserve the many ways in which we participate in Jewish communal life.

For members of our community with disabilities and their families, this sense of disconnect from Jewish communal experiences, has been felt for much longer than just the last 11 months. But for many of us, this is the first time that we are experiencing this feeling. It allows us to reevaluate how we create community connections, without the walls of our institutions.

As we reflect on this past year, we recognize that creating this sense of community, this community without walls, is something of a shared experience, something open and available to all. Members of our community with a disability and their family members, have been able to access Jewish communal programs at home, just like the rest of us. We have found new ways to participate together, while being physically apart. We have had shared Shabbat, holiday, and recreational experiences, while still unable to physically come back to our synagogues, agencies, and places of employment.As we come closer to the end of this pandemic and begin to plan for physically coming back together in our community, we should remember this shared experience of feeling disconnected, as a reminder to focus on inclusion and belonging. We should continue to find ways to include members of our community with a disability and their families, as we did during our closures. We can continue to foster those relationships, creating a Jewish community in which everyone feels like they can meaningfully contribute and belong.If you would like more information about the many programs, workshops, and presentations shared in honor of JDAIM this February, please let me know at [email protected] or (973) 929-3129. We continue to look ahead toward brighter days and helping our Greater MetroWest community be a place in which every member has the opportunity to meaningfully participate in Jewish communal life, feeling connected, and a sense of belonging.