February is coming, which means the Super Bowl, more cold weather and snow, the opening of baseball’s spring training, the flowing of the sap in the maple trees in Vermont, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, and a month of only 28 days in a non-leap year.
It also means the return of NAIM, the North American Inclusion Month, for another year.
NAIM, a program of Yachad/National Jewish Council for Disabilities, an agency of the Orthodox Union, is now in its fifth year. According to Batya Jacob, director of educational support services for Yachad, “NAIM serves as a kickoff for an entire year of emphasis on Inclusion in Jewish settings such as synagogues, day schools and community centers.”
Yachad provides unique social, educational and recreational programs for individuals with learning, developmental and physical disabilities with the goal of their Inclusion in the total life of the Jewish community.
Noting that Yachad has been recognized by the United States Congress, Mrs. Jacob explains that the goal of NAIM “is to help foster inclusive Jewish communities across the United States and Canada; and to help people understand what the needs are of people with disabilities so they can be more readily inclusive.”
A variety of activities is planned. Working with the OU Karasick Department of Synagogue Services, Yachad staff is preparing a series of web blasts – 12 five-minute webinars, one a month, kicking off in February– on different aspects of inclusion.
Topics include: How to make youth groups inclusive; what a teacher needs to know to make school inclusive; and what a synagogue needs to know. A couple will speak about what it’s like to have a child with special needs; grandparents will discuss what it’s like to have a grandchild with special needs; and summer options for children with special needs. Mrs. Jacob, a specialist on the deaf, will speak about making synagogues and schools more inclusive for the deaf community.
Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, international director of Yachad/NJCD, will present a full-length webinar on “Five Easy Ways to Make Your Synagogue More Inclusive.” Not long ago, it was assumed that by installing a ramp, the shul was then more inclusive. As Mrs. Jacob advises, “It takes more than a ramp or bars. Besides, ramps are expensive and not all shuls can afford them.”
Rather than just ramps, the methods that Dr. Lichtman will discuss include maintaining specific sections in front of the synagogue where those with disabilities can sit; having large print or Braille siddurim and chumashim available from the Jewish Guild for the Blind; having well-lit hallways free from obstructions; inviting children with disabilities into youth groups and Junior Congregation services; having peanut-free snacks because of allergies; providing American Sign Language interpreters; allowing kids with special needs such as Tourette’s Syndrome or autism to make noise in synagogues without “shushing” them; and providing quiet rooms for youngsters to decompress.
This year Purim is in March, and to prepare, throughout February, Yachad will be promoting the use of the PowerPoint Purim program. It is directed at the deaf and hard of hearing, the visually impaired, and children with focusing and attention challenges and other disabilities, in which visual aids indicate when to stamp out the name of Haman. It was used in more than 200 shuls last year. This year, for the first time, a graphically enhanced version is being offered free of charge to any synagogue that wants to use it, with the goal of doubling the numbers of shuls that will be involved.
Other NAIM initiatives will include:
• “Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes,” in which school children go from display to display pretending they have a certain disability that is demonstrated at each display; the highly-effective demonstration, which has been seen over last three years by more than 9,000 youngsters, will go in February to Miami Beach/Boca Raton; Providence and Boston, among other stops;
• An Educational Inclusion Conference will be held on February 9-10 in New York, geared toward teachers who have children with special needs in their classroom;
• Richard Bernstein, a lawyer and marathon runner who is blind, will spend a week in Toronto providing insights into inclusion;
• Preparation will be going on throughout February for a mission to Washington on March 10, which will bring high school student leaders from around the country to the nation’s capital; during NAIM month they will be taught leadership and lobbying skills to prepare them for meeting with their congressmen and senators;
• Scholars-in-residence will come to shuls, when requested;
• Jewish bloggers around North America will be informed about NAIM.
Then comes March. “On February 28, inclusion doesn’t stop,” Mrs. Jacob says. “NAIM sets the tone for the entire year to come.”