When the Yachad | Jewish Disabilities Integration/National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD) program of the Orthodox Union designated February 2011 as its second annual North American Inclusion Month (NAIM), which emphasizes Inclusion of those with disabilities in the mainstream Jewish community, leadership and staff wondered if they could match the unprecedented success of their previous year’s initiative.
The numbers are in, and they’re looking very good – more than 200 synagogues and schools in the United States and Canada signed on to sponsor and host events such as Shabbatons, scholar-in-residence weekends and other activities. In fact, there was such an enthusiastic response that many NAIM events spilled over into March. This year Yachad had an additional focus of working with day schools and universities to help sensitize youth and educators in these settings to the need for Inclusion of those with disabilities.
Eli Hagler, one of the NAIM Project Coordinators and Assistant Director of Yachad, and Dr. Joe Goldfarb, Director of National and Summer Programs for Yachad, declared, “The Jewish communal response to NAIM has been overwhelming. Every day, more and more communities are inquiring how they can get involved. Working together with the community, we are planning amazing programs to help bring awareness to their constituents about the importance of making sure all Jews are included within all facets of Jewish life. The response has been so huge that we had to push many of the NAIM programs to early March. We look forward to NAIM being even bigger in 2012.”
Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, National Director of Yachad/NJCD, noted, “I’ve received so many e-mails and phone calls from places all over the U.S. and Canada asking for speakers and programs. It is so clear to me that we must continue and expand these efforts to educate communities; to show them how to be more inclusive; and how such inclusion ultimately benefits their community.”
NAIM highlights included:
- Mission To Washington, DC – More than 120 people headed to Washington to meet with elected officials and their representatives to share their personal stories of inspiration and to ensure that the lawmakers continue to fight on behalf of those with disabilities. The mission was the culmination of an extraordinary weekend that began with a National High School Leadership Shabbaton at the National Synagogue in downtown Washington, where high school students from across the United States came together to learn, grow and bring a wonderful Shabbat to the Nation’s Capital.
- Aaron Kinderlehrer, Chairman of the Yachad/NJCD Commission, which oversees the work of the department, declared, “Our second Yachad NAIM Mission to Washington, D.C. was a very gratifying success both in sheer numbers (with an increase from 40 our first year to 130 participants this year) and in the excitement generated on the Hill by our well-informed group of special needs Yachad members, parents, high school volunteers, staff and board members.”
- He continued, “The members of Congress our lobbying groups met with were very impressed by our sincere and emotional presentations and with the very informative lobbying position papers that were presented to them. We were told repeatedly that no one else is out there like Yachad advocating for Inclusion and for the Jewish special needs population as well as for the general special needs population as a whole.”
- Our Way for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s PowerPoint presentation of Megillat Esther on March 19-20, which allows for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, visually impaired, or learning disabled to have an easily readable format to follow along with a synagogue’s Megillah reading at Purim
- To respond to the interests and needs of Jewish day schools, The National Association of Jewish Schools Serving Special Children (NAJSSSC), a division of Yachad, created “Sensitizing your Students to the Learning Challenges of their Peers” — quickly becoming a popular training workshop for both students and educators in schools and summer camp programs.
- More than 1,400 students from Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Southern Florida and New York Metropolitan Area communities have already participated in the workshops. Yachad staff and local educators facilitate the workshops. This workshop will be available not only for NAIM, but will be held year-round as well. To schedule the sensitivity training workshops at your school, or for further information, contact Batya Jacob at email@example.com or call (212) 613-8127.
- Dr. Shulamis and Rabbi Avi Pollack of Houston, along with Tikva Juni, an esteemed Yachad Member and sister of Dr. Shulamis Pollack, spent a weekend (March 4-6) in Dallas, spreading the message of NAIM and Inclusion throughout the community. Tikva spoke to children in all of the Jewish day schools and Sunday schools about how it feels to have a disability and the importance of Inclusion for all. Both Tikva and the Pollacks spoke in congregations such as Shaarei Tefillah over Shabbat.
- Dr. Jeff Lichtman, Director of Yachad/NJCD, spoke in numerous community programs in Atlanta, March 4. A few examples included lunch-and-learn at Torah Day School on “How to Develop and Maximize Your Students’ Potential;” an address during Shabbat services at both Young Israel and Beth Jacob on “All in the Family: Celebrating Diversity Within our Community,” and a Sunday program for families of children with special needs.
- Other events nationally included rabbis speaking in their Shabbat sermons of the importance of Inclusion of those with disabilities; material handed out to students about Inclusion and its relevance to the weekly Torah Portion; and schools creating sensitivity-training workshops for their students.
Participating communities in NAIM included Teaneck, Paramus, West Orange and Englewood in New Jersey; Woodmere, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan in New York; Houston and Dallas in Texas; Omaha; Los Angeles; Miami; St. Louis; Atlanta; Toronto; Brandeis and Boston Universities; Baltimore; Chicago and the University of Illinois among other locations.
Eli Hagler is a NAIM Project Coordinator and Assistant Director of Yachad
Dr. Joe Goldfarb is Yachad Director of National and Summer Programs
For more information on NAIM, including NAIM in 2012, contact Eli Hagler, Assistant Director of Yachad, at 212-613-8285 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.