Towards Inclusivity for All

Across the country and in our region, historically Black colleges and universities have been subjected to bomb threats and hateful harassment as Black History Month began. As a Jewish community, we know this painful feeling all too well. Federation stands in solidarity with the HBCU community, and remains committed to speaking out and working to combat racism and hatred in all forms—today and always. 

Recently, RespectAbility, a national organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of community, released the results of their nationwide survey. The respondents encompassed 2,321 Jewish individuals with disabilities or those who work closely or have a family member with disabilities, including a segment from Greater Washington.

As we begin Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), this timely study and its results help us understand how Jews with disabilities—in our community and across the country—view and experience inclusion efforts, outline our collective successes, and highlight the ways in which we need to improve.

As the study suggests, we have made great strides in creating a more inclusive Jewish community for those with disabilities in our region. Organizations like Federation partner Capital Camps are actively living the values of inclusion. At Capital Camps, the Atzma’im (inclusion) program provides a way for campers with disabilities to be full participants in the camp community, and, in turn, teaches our community’s the next generation how differences and unique perspectives should be embraced. Other organizations, like Federation partners Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, Sunflower Bakery, JSSA, Sulam, and our local JCCs–among many others–are providing enriching educational experiences, inclusion opportunities, and the ability to live independently within the community with dignity and respect.

However, as the RespectAbility survey also points out, there’s still work to be done. Twenty nine percent of Greater Washington respondents believe “prejudice and unacknowledged stigma” remains the biggest barrier to full inclusion, adding that lack of education on how to include those with disabilities is an additional obstacle. This stigma has a negative impact on engagement in Jewish life and identity building as well as employment opportunities. Vivian Bass, longtime Federation Board member and RespectAbility’s Vice Chair overseeing its Jewish inclusion work noted, “even though Jews with disabilities are as highly educated as Jews without disabilities, they are considerably more likely to live in poverty.”

We must continue working to create a more inclusive society and community for people with disabilities, and not just when it’s convenient or during a specific month. We are stronger when everyone has compelling options for leading rich and fulfilling Jewish lives as part of one community.

I’m proud of how far we’ve come and grateful for the hard work and dedication it has taken to get here. I also acknowledge that there is still much to do. Nevertheless, we have the knowledge and capacity to move our community forward, and will make progress together as we work collectively on this critical issue.

Shabbat Shalom,

P.S.: I invite you to join me for a thought-provoking conversation, Towards a New Zionist Discourse, with Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, President of Shalom Hartman Institute, on Wednesday, February 9th from 12:00 PM – 1:15 PM. Register for the webinar.

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