Including Everyone in Jewish Life: A Message from Gil Preuss

Including Everyone in Jewish Life: A Message from Gil Preuss

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

The truth is, religious entities are exempt from this law to “allow them to design their facilities and perform their services in accordance with their religious tenets.” But, as Jews, we know that even if some of our institutions are considered legally exempt, we are neither morally nor ethically exempt. We also know that our community is made stronger and richer when we include everyone.

That is why finding more ways to include people with disabilities in Jewish life is a core priority for Federation. We are proud to develop in-house programs and to work with many dedicated partners in the area to make Jewish life accessible to all.

Our partners at the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes (JFGH), for example, have been working to meet the needs of community members since it was first established in 1982. The organization is dedicated to enhancing the independence, dignity, choice, and community inclusion of individuals with disabilities.

Given that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I want to highlight JFGH’s Sally and Robert Goldberg MOST™ program. The program, whose name stands for Meaningful Opportunities for Successful Transitions, is designed to prepare individuals with disabilities for independent adulthood by placing them in professional positions across Maryland and Virginia (including at Federation).

Likewise, members of Federation’s Employment Working Group have been collaborating closely with Disability Employment Services at JSSA, Sunflower Bakery, and several others on effective ways to connect employers with individuals with disabilities.

Organizations are collaborating on other fronts as well. As part of Federation’s Synagogue Disability Inclusion Working Group, representatives from 13 different congregations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia meet to swap ideas and resources. Thanks to an idea from B’nai Israel Congregation, many synagogues have put together “inclusion carts” with such items as large-print prayer books, hearing aids, headphones, fidget devices, and more. The group is now learning more about Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation’s new adjustable Torah reading table that allows people in wheelchairs to read from the Torah.

I am also pleased to invite anyone who is interested in advancing disability inclusion to attend the next Disability Inclusion Network meeting on October 24. The purpose of the Network is to share information about programs, raise awareness about needs in the community, and discuss updates to legislative issues, trends, and challenges. Already, the Network includes individuals with disabilities, Capital Camps, Disability Wisdom, all three of the region’s JCCs, JFGH, JSSA, Mainstreet, RespectAbility, Sunflower Bakery, Washington Society of Jewish Deaf, and several day schools. Find out more and RSVP here.

Of course, for all the incredible work underway, there is still much more to be done to lower the barriers to entry into Jewish communal life. Our work is not finished until everyone feels welcome and supported in engaging in all aspects of Jewish practice. As we enter a period of reflection and introspection next week, I hope we take some time to think about what more we can do to serve others. Let us renew our efforts to build a vibrant community, first and foremost, by making sure everyone can take part. Our future, and each and every one of us, will be stronger for it.

Shabbat Shalom and with wishes for a meaningful Yom Kippur,

Gil