Synagogue Inclusion Project Fosters Inclusive Congregational Communities

Kehillah shlemah – a whole and complete community – can be defined as a community in which every member feels welcome and has a sense of belonging within the fabric of the group.

Greater MetroWest ABLE, a program of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, is proud to announce the congregations receiving grants as part of its Kehillah Shlemah – Synagogue Inclusion Project (SIP). This program was designed to support Greater MetroWest congregations in furthering their efforts to become more inclusive congregational communities and is made possible through very generous funding from the Gary Aidekman Family Foundation, Inc. and the Sylvia and Seymour Rubenstein Special Needs Endowment Fund.

Outreach to identify congregations eager to participate in SIP began in May 2018. The cohort of seven congregations was identified by fall 2018 and Greater MetroWest ABLE engaged with professionals and lay leader representatives from each – 40 community members in all – who worked collaboratively in workshop sessions, participated in webinars, received individual consultative services to learn how to further the inclusivity efforts within their own congregations. This 18-month commitment allowed congregations to work with a Federation mentor to update their Synagogue Self-Assessment, identify their own congregational goals and areas in which they wanted to better support their congregation’s inclusive efforts, and build their own Success Equations, and at the same time share best practices and challenges with other participating congregations. One participant reported, “The structured platform of the Synagogue Inclusion Project sessions allowed us to build increasing momentum for collaboration on initiatives related to inclusion. I appreciated the opportunity to interact and share best practices with other congregations.”

Now that this initial education and evaluation phase is complete, each synagogue was awarded a grant of up to $5,000 to implement their plans.

The seven congregations that participated and received grants are Temple Emanu-El of Westfield, Temple Beth El Mekor Chayim (Cranford), Temple Sholom (Scotch Plains), Oheb Shalom Congregation (South Orange), Temple Ner Tamid (Bloomfield), Temple Sholom of West Essex (Cedar Grove), and Temple Beth Am (Parsippany). This cohort represented both Reform and Conservative congregations in Union, Essex, and Morris Counties.

Greater MetroWest ABLE will continue to measure the impact of SIP over the next several months as the congregations make progress toward reaching their individual goals. Some preliminary impact feedback includes:

  • 100% of participating congregations report that inclusion has been on their board meeting agenda at least twice over the past 6 months;
  • 79% of participating congregations report that there is a raised profile of inclusion in their marketing materials, website, and programming;
  • 74% of participating congregations report an increase in use of resources in planning and implementing programs; and
  • 100% of participating congregations report having a shared vision of inclusion in their congregation with lay leadership, professionals, and the congregation.

 

One participant shared, “Although I was pretty aware before, the training really highlighted all the different, and maybe less visible, populations that may have been not as welcomed in our temple as they could be. It’s a large and ongoing process.”

The goals and grant proposals are diverse and include both large and small physical accommodations, as well as one congregation that wants to better promote a culture of inclusion and plans to bring in a scholar-in-residence to educate professionals, lay leaders, and the broader congregational community. This learning opportunity will be extended to others in Greater MetroWest who want to also learn with them. Other grant proposals include physical modifications such as creating accessible bathrooms, installing automatic swing doors, and upgrades to bimah ramp, as well as smaller but equally impactful accommodations like assistive listening devices, improved signage, booklights, and live streaming options.

In honor of Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month, Greater MetroWest ABLE will hold a culminating program in which participating congregations are invited to share their progress with one another. The broader community is invited to attend and learn from this important work. For more information about this event contact Rebecca Wanatick, Federation’s Manager of Community Inclusion & Program Services, at metrowestABLE@jfedgmw.org or (973) 929-3129.