Promoting independent living and community inclusion for people with disabilities is a central reflection of Jewish communal values. Our sages teach us, "Do not separate yourself from the community" (Pirkei Avot 2:5), and the tradition of bringing together Jews in the community from every background lives on in America today.
That is why many Federations have a long history of working to promote inclusion within their communities, and why The Jewish Federations of North America and the Ruderman Family Foundation recently announced a new opportunity for federations to employ people with disabilities and promote the concept of inclusion through providing people with meaningful employment opportunities.
But inclusion is about more than just providing an opportunity to work. Inclusion is about every facet of Jewish life. It's about providing a continuum of services and settings appropriate to the needs of the individual, enabling them to benefit from and find satisfaction in his/her meaningful participation in the Jewish community.
Inclusion means ensuring everyone can access Jewish institutions in our communities and all of the activities held within them, and understanding that each one of us has a role to play so that all people are welcome and can participate in meaningful ways. To accomplish this, we must make all possible efforts to adapt our programming and institutions to allow people with disabilities to actively participate, and ensure everyone is treated with respect and dignity.
Many Jewish communities observe Jewish Disability Awareness Month each February, which is a great opportunity for everyone to come together to promote inclusion, address the challenges the community faces, and celebrate the strengths of people with disabilities and the contributions they make to our communities. But our commitment to these goals must extend beyond one month a year. We must dedicate ourselves to an effort to shift our thinking to ensure we recognize, appreciate, and invite individuals with disabilities and their families into the mosaic that makes up today's Jewish world.
Each and every one of us has a Jewish neshama (soul) that it is incumbent upon the Jewish community to help blossom. No person with disabilities -- and no family-member of a person with disabilities -- should feel unwelcome to participate in any aspect of Jewish life. This ethos is what drives the Federation movement to promote inclusion and move the broader Jewish community towards this important goal so that one day soon, we can celebrate an ever stronger sense of Jewish unity through diversity.