By Rebecca Wanatick, Greater MetroWest ABLE Community Inclusion Coordinator
I feel so fortunate to live in a community in which my family has numerous opportunities to live a Jewish life. While we have our own traditions within our home, we recognize the importance and value of having a Jewish community life as well. My children experienced Jewish preschool, Jewish day camp, and religious school; participated in programs through the JCC, Jewish Federation, and The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life; and have had the opportunity to give back by volunteering at Jewish organizations.
These experiences have helped to create my children’s Jewish identity, and helped them to feel connected to the greater Jewish community and to recognize that they have a place here. Shouldn’t all members of our community have the same opportunities? Shouldn’t Jewish life be available and accessible to everyone?
For eight years now, through the coordination of Greater MetroWest ABLE, our community has participated in JDAIM as part of a worldwide effort to raise awareness and champion the civil rights of all Jewish people to have access and be meaningfully included in every aspect of Jewish life.
Why is this important? Because everyone has something valuable to contribute to Jewish life. And because inclusion benefits everyone — from the individual with a disability who has the opportunity to participate, engage, and learn with others, to the greater community which has the opportunity to learn with people with varying skills and talents. We are not a homogenous society and diversity makes the world a better place.
In Greater MetroWest we have a wealth of community agencies providing meaningful Jewish opportunities for individuals with disabilities and their families. We have congregations who help all members of a family participate meaningfully in congregational life. We have Jewish summer camps that provide inclusive opportunities for campers with and without disabilities. We have families that have stayed connected to the greater Jewish community because of the organizations which have made the deliberate effort to include the entire family in Jewish life. Yet, even with all of these advancements, there is still more to be done to raise awareness and demonstrate the value of inclusion. Pirkei Avot, a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims of the Rabbis of the Mishnaic period, teaches us that “It is not our responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but we are not free to desist from it either.”
Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month is one way in which we continue to move forward, sharing the message of inclusion and raising awareness of its importance. It will continue to be necessary until there is no more work to do. A colleague recently articulated this vision of inclusion: it’s “the seasoning that I sprinkle on everything we do now.” In Greater MetroWest, inclusion is becoming the mindset with which we plan and implement opportunities to access and experience Jewish life. It is a part of what we are and the way with which we interact with the greater Jewish community.
For more information on the programs being offered in honor of Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month in the Greater MetroWest community, please visit www.MetroWestABLE.org or contact me at (973) 929-3129 or metrowestABLE@jfedgmw.org.