Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion’s initiative serves and supports the Jewish special needs community in many ways, providing workshops, conferences and resources for people with different abilities, for parents, rabbis, teachers and professionals who work with people who have special needs. This month, we are featuring the incredible work in disability inclusion that one congregation, Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood has done. We asked Sara Crimm, Inclusion Committee Chairperson and Rabbi Marc Israel, Associate Rabbi to share about their process.

JLV: Please describe the change, innovation, or transformation your organization has achieved.

TBHBE: In February, 2015 Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El formed an Inclusion Committee to address the needs of individuals with disabilities in our congregation. We have experienced the following transformations as a result:
-Increased awareness of disability within our congregation
-Impetus to be more inclusive
-Energy and attention to change areas of syn. life that may have been barriers to inclusion, such as accommodations in Religious School, physical barriers in our public spaces, and providing hearing assistive devices in our Chapel & other rooms
-Installation of new hearing assistive devices
-Creation of Gan Tikvah, a kindergarten class in our Religious School for children with special needs
-Programming that is more attuned or appropriate for children & young adults with sensory sensitivities
-Renewed emphasis on being welcoming & accepting
-New volunteer & leadership opportunities within the congregation
-An opportunity to engage in Jewish education and Torah study about disability

JLV: How did Jewish Learning Venture help you achieve what you described above?

TBHBE: JLV is a strong advisor and connector. Sponsoring specialized trainings and forums for Rabbis and Educators to engage around inclusion issues and Bar/Bat Mitzvah training helps raise awareness of Inclusion in our community, and brings additional exposure to the work of our synagogue committee. Having a knowledgeable staff person (Gabby) is an invaluable resource!

JLV: What words of wisdom would you share with other organizations who are interested in making a similar change?

TBHBE: Form a synagogue committee entirely dedicated to issues around inclusion of people with disabilities. Be intentional about who joins – be sure to include people with a variety of disabilities, if possible. Ask questions and learn as much about the community you serve as possible so you can make decisions & craft plans based on demonstrated needs. Work with the leadership of your congregation or organization to embrace change. Be prepared to invest in creating the changes you want to see, including raising money, instead of waiting for others to do it.

Working on issues around inclusion of people with disabilities in a synagogue community benefits not just those with disabilities, but the entire congregation. It helps to think broadly while you act locally. Flexibility and a sense of humor are greatly helpful as you move forward to implement change.