February 8, 2024

Big Wins and Goals Ahead

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

Honoring Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month (JDAIM) each year prompts me to take some time to reflect on what we have accomplished and what more we need to do.  This year, I feel so grateful for all that we have achieved. There is a piece of advice I share with our community congregations as they work toward being more inclusive. I encourage them to celebrate their accomplishments and communicate with the members of their community the work they still hope to achieve.  

I thought I might take my own advice, share some of our big wins this year, and invite you to join us in reaching our next set of goals.   

Federation has moved closer to the goal of making Greater MetroWest a community in which all members have opportunities to meaningfully participate in all aspects of Jewish life. Every member of our community should see themself not only as a recipient of services from our community, but also as a contributing member of the community. Everyone has something to give and to gain – this reciprocal relationship of community is truly reflective of who we are, and it makes us stronger when we experience it together.   

Our Centennial Mission was a beautiful example of inclusion and belonging this year as we experienced Israel and celebrated as a community with members of JESPY and JSDD. (We’re the first Jewish Federation to run a fully inclusive mission to Israel, serving as a model for others.) While Bus 1 enjoyed a meaningful immersive travel experience with accommodations as needed, the ripple effect of experiencing Israel together has been felt across the community, and those participants are now engaging in many more ways.  

Participants from JESPY and JSDD joined me in a 12-part Melton Jewish Learning series we piloted this fall. With the support of Rhonda Lillianthal, our Greater MetroWest Melton Director, we shared learning opportunities with up to 22 participants each week. The most meaningful part of the whole experience was that it was truly shared learning. I look forward to continuing our learning together.   

Federation’s Center for Volunteerism provides many opportunities for community members to give back. For many years, joining a group at JESPY or JSDD was the mitzvah project, but now we’ve shifted our mindset and members of the JESPY and JSDD communities are participating in volunteer opportunities, side by side others in the community. They most recently volunteered at the Newark Conservancy Urban Farm and packed backpacks for students in need of school supplies.     

Finally, welcoming Shabbat and other holidays together is one of the most meaningful ways we find a spiritual and communal home. Currently, four congregations in Greater MetroWest host monthly Shabbat programming that is designed to be more inclusive of people with disabilities.  

As promised, we’ve celebrated our accomplishments, and now I want to share ways in which we can all do more.  

I quote Pirke Avot 2:21 frequently in the work we do together. Lo alecha ham’lacha ligmor, v’lo ata ven chorin libatel mimena.  We are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it. So, we continue to move forward, strive for more, and together reach our goals. Here are a few ways in which you can help.   

People with disabilities are a drastically underemployed segment of our community. Help us identify employment/volunteer opportunities within the places you work and visit. Professionals from our partner agencies, JVS and JESPY, can help prepare work teams and provide job coaches for new volunteers or employees. This spring we will once again host an Inclusive Employment Breakfast, introducing local business owners and managers to the idea of becoming an inclusive employer. If you are interested in joining us, please let me know.     

Join us for the Community Connections Art Exhibit, a fully inclusive exhibit at the Heidi Gallery honoring our Centennial celebration. This exhibit includes local and Israeli artists, teenagers to adults, people with and without disabilities. This powerful exhibit illustrates how diverse members experience and engage with community. I can’t wait to share this with everyone from March 14to April 14. Watch for more details coming soon!   

Learn more about our Greater MetroWest ABLE community partners – the nine Federation partner agencies supporting and advocating for people with disabilities and their families. I’d be happy to speak with you or schedule visits to learn more.   

Think inclusively about all the ways that you live a Jewish life and the ways in which we can welcome others into these spaces. I’m always available to talk about how we can make our congregations, schools, agencies, programs, and greater community more inclusive for all who want to participate. Let me know how I can help.   

Join us for a JDAIM event or program during February. 

You can connect with me at [email protected] or (973) 929-3129. I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you at a community event soon!