Inclusion of those with disabilities in the social, religious, and educational life of the Jewish community should happen every single day of the year, the Orthodox Union believes. Yachad/the National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD) announces that February 2010 will be the North American Inclusion Month (NAIM), a month specifically designated to raise awareness and develop sensitivity of what it means for those who live with disabilities, and how to include them in the larger community.
Yachad/NJCD, an agency of the Orthodox Union, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, is dedicated to enhancing life for those with disabilities. It is organizing NAIM throughout the U.S. and Canada.
An estimated one in five Americans have some sort of disability, and almost one million Jews have to overcome some barrier to be included in Jewish life. Yachad plans to provide communities with opportunities to develop programming for Jews with disabilities as part of NAIM. A “Save the Month” card announcing NAIM went out to almost a thousand synagogues and schools, as well as hundreds of Yachad-connected families. E-mails blasts and a full-scale brochure went out to that audience as well, reminding them of the many wonderful events in which they could participate.
Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, Director of Yachad, originated the idea for NAIM, and has helped develop the program content that is being offered. Dr. Lichtman stated, “As Yachad begins to celebrate its 25th anniversary, there can be no more fitting tribute to what we have achieved or a better platform to launch the next 25 years than NAIM. NAIM will help countless communities across the U.S. and Canada to become more aware and more proactive in facilitating the inclusion of the many ‘able’ children and adults who have challenges, but who want to be a part of the community. NAIM will help to enrich and ennoble our communities in ways that are so desperately needed in these troubled times.”
Rabbi Steven Weil, Executive Vice President of the OU, declared, “The OU and Yachad are committed to ensuring that those with disabilities do not get left behind, and are fully included in Jewish life. By providing communities with opportunities to welcome those with disabilities with open arms, we are allowing ahavat Yisrael (love for fellow Jews) to flourish, and allowing a new year and a new decade to get off to a great start.”
Some of the programs from which communities may choose include the following:
Scholars-in-residence to visit synagogues over Shabbat and speak on issues relating to disability and how to successfully foster communal inclusion;
Educational seminars in synagogues featuring workshops on sensitivity training and programs to help promote inclusion;
Yachad Shabbtonim, which offer a fun-filled weekend for both individuals with disabilities and participants from the mainstream community;
Creating a Disability Awareness Day in schools that highlight the importance of ensuring inclusion for those with disabilities in the Jewish community; and
Many other activities for the whole community such as resource fairs, fundraisers, and recreational programs.
Dr. Michelle Orgel, Family and Clinical Services Coordinator at Yachad, is the co-facilitator of the month-long event, along with Ronit Meitlis-Hofer, Assistant Director of OU Program Development. Dr. Orgel declared, “It is very exciting to dedicate a month celebrating the message of inclusion, a message that Yachad has always emphasized to Jewish communities across the country. So far, the response to this initiative has been tremendous and we anticipate a huge turnout from Jewish institutions from all over, including schools, shuls, colleges and local Jewish community groups. We hope to impact and enrich people’s lives for months and years to come.”
NAIM events have already been scheduled for the following areas: Baltimore; Chicago; Dallas; Florida; Houston; Long Island, New York; New York City; Omaha; and Toronto, with other cities to be named.
In February, Yachad leaders will partner with the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs to travel to Washington to lobby Congress to increase federal funding for employment, residential services, and training for those with disabilities.
Visit www.naim4inclusion.org, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.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.