This leap year, leap towards opportunities for forging friendships, inclusion and making a difference across the world. Last weekend in Waltham, Massachusetts, a group of 110 participants were assembling care packages for Israeli soldiers overseas accomplishing that goal precisely.
The group, which was made up of university students, high school students, and individuals with special needs, was brought together by New England Yachad, the Orthodox Union’s Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, Hillel and the Brandeis Orthodox Organization (BOO) at Brandeis University, as they took part in the sixth annual North American Inclusion Month (NAIM). High school students from the Maimonides School in Brookline and the Gann Academy in Waltham also participated in the Saturday night “Lone Soldier Project.”
Throughout the month of February, NAIM, an initiative of Yachad/The National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD), through its programs will promote awareness and sensitivity for special needs individuals and establishing Inclusion as a mindset in the Jewish community.
Yachad is the Orthodox Union agency dedicated to enhancing the opportunities of individuals with disabilities; promoting inclusion and independence through a full array of integrated activities; and ensuring their full participation in mainstream Jewish life.
The official NAIM website, which lists events throughout North America as they are added, can be found at www.yachad.org/naim. In addition to listing all participating NAIM events, the website provides easy access to program ideas and resources provided by Yachad.
“NAIM has stretched the reach of Yachad/NJCD beyond the chapters we have across the United States and Canada,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, international director of Yachad/NJCD, who established NAIM in 2011 and personally oversees the program content. “Communities that previously had no contact with us have been sensitized to the need to actively welcome and include individuals with disabilities in the community. There are still more communities that have not seriously grappled with inclusion and virtually every community could do more. NAIM is an opportunity for any and all communities to take advantage of Yachad’s unparalleled experience and resources in order to include everyone in their community.”
Batya Jacob, Yachad’s director of educational support services, declared, “The mission of NAIM is to celebrate every individual’s abilities and to create an inclusive Jewish community for all of its members, regardless of any differences or challenges they may have.”
In a new NAIM initiative this month, Yachad partnered with the OU’s Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) network to engage college students in Yachad. Regional Yachad chapters that are near a college with JLIC are doing joint programs together this month. Yachad also hosts programs presented on non-JLIC campuses.Together in harmony. New Jersey Yachad hosted a Drum Circle musics session in Highland Park.
The campuses involved so far include Brandeis (where the soldier packaging event took place), University of Massachusetts-Amherst, UCLA, Rutgers, York University in Toronto, the University of Maryland, as well as the University of Miami in Florida, Florida Atlantic University, and the Hillel Consortium in Chicago, which are non-JLIC institutions.
In addition, more than 100 synagogues throughout the U.S. are participating in NAIM, according to Mrs. Jacob. Yachad is hosting Shabbatons and arranging scholars-in-residences throughout the continent as well as distributing special cards for prayer services at synagogues.
Mrs. Jacobs explained, “The cards, known as ‘Tefilah marks,’ are double-sided book marks to be used to clip a page marking when to recite Sh’ma and when to stand for Shmoneh Esrei and Aleinu. We hope the experience of davening will be enhanced for everyone by using these cards.”
Other NAIM events for all ages will be taking place in regions throughout the country, including New York, Chicago, New England, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Detroit, New Jersey, Cleveland and Florida, and will also take place in Israel.
Some programs include:
- Writing letters and assembling care packages and to lone soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces
- Parent Support Groups
- Workshops for Parents and Educators
- Torah Lectures
- Movie nights
- Basketball games
- Drum circles
- Super bowl party
- Arts & crafts
- Relationship building courses
- “Paint Nite”
- Poetry workshops
- Mini golf, and
- Pizza making
When February comes to a close and just in time for Purim, Yachad will also promote its Purim PowerPoint, an innovative and inclusive Megillat Esther presentation complete with graphics that supplement the Megillah reading and will engage all members of the congregation for an inclusive Purim celebration.
Visit www.naim4inclusion.org or contact 212-613-8229 to learn more about NAIM and the many events communities can partake in as part of the special awareness month.