How Do We Create Community?

By Rebecca Wanatick, Manager of Community Inclusion

How do we create community? This seems to be a common discussion amongst Jewish professionals and lay leadership in congregations, camps, agencies, and, of course, at Federation. Recently I have had conversations with several colleagues about creating Inclusive Communities and am discovering that people are having some strong feelings about the word inclusion.

Many believe that the word is no longer needed and may even be aversive. We should just build community, not inclusive communities. We should have welcoming, supportive classrooms, not inclusive classrooms. We should have diverse employment environments, not inclusive. I do believe that we have made tremendous strides as we work together to build community, but we have much more to do to achieve this. So back to the question: “How do we create community?”

Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) provides the opportunity to raise awareness about the value of including people with disabilities in Jewish community life. Our Federation has been at the forefront of providing Jewish community resources for individuals with disabilities and their families for decades. Parents and caregivers were part of the grassroots efforts of the incredible network of services that we now have in our community, including 12 agencies that support and advocate for individuals with disabilities and their families. Greater MetroWest ABLE is the Federation program that works to create a Jewish community made whole by the meaningful inclusion of all its members. Our Federation was the first in the nation to create a department to focus on disability inclusion in the Jewish community, and ABLE is now a model for other Federations as they create similar roles.

The partner agencies and congregations in Greater MetroWest are integral partners in creating community. Together we share best practices and resources, as well as identify challenges and gaps in service. The collaboration and coordination through ABLE helps Federation to better meet the needs of individuals with disabilities and their families in the Jewish community, better informing the planning process for our Federation.

Over my lifetime, children with disabilities have gone from being included in public school for the first time, to being included in summer camp, and now to be an integral part of the greater community. Individuals have gone from being recipients of services to giving back to others as rabbis, teachers, and camp counselors.

Throughout the month of February, synagogues and agencies across Greater MetroWest are offering programing in honor of JDAIM. But we wanted to highlight the work that we and a few of our partner agencies do year-round to help create community.

Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ

There are many departmental highlights noted here, and we continue to work interdepartmentally on a regular basis to best meet the needs of our community.

  • We planned the commUNITY Mission to Israel with an inclusive eye, making necessary accommodations for community members needing more physical support.
  • NextDOR (25- to 45-year olds) helped to raise awareness and funds for the Mental Health First Aid program at their annual Latke Vodka event. They raised enough to sponsor 50 individuals to participate in the training for educators, camp counselors, parents, and teens to recognize and know how to address signs of mental illness.
  • Women’s Philanthropy is offering a workshop in their Women of Wisdom series on the topic of mental health awareness.
  • We work to ensure that all Federation events and meetings are accessible. For example, assistive listening devices are made available as needed and we help coordinate rides for some older donors who need assistance getting to our events. We’re also working on making our website more accessible.
  • The Quest initiative provides professional development to support Social/Emotional Learning in our day schools.
  • JTEEN and ABLE presented the recent workshop, Celebrating Failure, as well as the Breaking the Silence workshops this fall and again this spring. JTEEN has also included teens with disabilities on its JServe committee, providing leadership and Jewish engagement opportunities for a greater number of teens and building a stronger community.
  • CRC is planning its legislative mission around Jewish Disability Advocacy Day, engaging the greater community in its education and advocacy efforts.


JCC MetroWest

JCC MetroWest’s Department of Special Needs Services offers many programs to individuals with disabilities, including a Day Habilitation program for individuals 21+ along with evening and weekend programs for older teens and adults that promote independence, socialization, and the development of friendships. They offer a children’s program on select Sundays and a Teen Traveler’s summer program. JCC MetroWest’s mission is to be inclusive to everyone in the community and they will work with families to make programs open and enjoyable for individuals who may need additional support. JCC membership is not required to participate in Special Needs programming and it is open to people of all backgrounds.

JFS MetroWest

Jewish Family Service of MetroWest supports individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities through their support coordination program – a case management program through the Division of Developmental Disabilities and funded by Medicaid. They coordinate with community providers throughout Morris, Essex, Union, and Somerset counties to ensure the needs of the individuals they work for are met.

JVS MetroWest

Each year, more than 700 people with disabilities turn to Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest for help. Whether they have physical, cognitive, developmental, or emotional disabilities, JVS helps them identify their strengths and abilities, and provides them with the tools and training necessary to enable them to fulfill their unique potential as productive, engaged members of the community. Their ASD Career Center specializes in helping adults diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) navigate the job search process by providing them with one-on-one coaching and feedback, job-related skill-building, and “real world” experiences at area businesses and non-profit organizations. And their Career Discovery Center provides in-house opportunities for those who require a more protected environment.