Jewish Disabilites Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month
As part of its focus on improving the quality of life in Israel, Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA) is dedicated to ensuring that no member of Israeli society is left behind. Through a variety of initiatives, JNF provides cutting-edge rehabilitative services, special education, and medical care for people with special needs and makes its parks, nature trails, and recreational facilities inclusive for visitors of all ability levels.
JNF-USA is a key supporter of Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, & Inclusion Month (JDAAIM). Observed each February, JDAAIM was founded in 2009 by the Jewish Special Education International Consortium to raise awareness and encourage inclusion for people with disabilities and special needs.
- People with disabilities make up the world’s largest minority group. Globally, around 10% of the world’s population lives with a disability of some kind. Twenty percent of people in the U.S. have some disability and 1 in 10 suffer from a severe disability. Over 10% of people in Israel have some form of disability that can make life’s daily activities a struggle. These statistics are just the beginning. Take into account the family, friends, and loved ones of those with disabilities who are also affected and these numbers skyrocket. This is where JNF and the importance of JDAIM come in.
- Throughout the month of February, JNF is hosting numerous events across the country to highlight JDAIM, featuring representatives from the organization’s partners to raise awareness of and foster inclusion for people with disabilities and special needs.
- Through a variety of initiatives, JNF provides cutting-edge rehabilitative services, special education, and medical care for people with cognitive, sensory, communicative, developmental, and other disabilities.
- JNF makes its forests, parks, picnic areas, playgrounds, nature trails, lookouts and recreational facilities inclusive for all visitors, ensuring that everyone regardless of their ability level is able to enjoy nature with their friends and family.
OUR WORK IN ISRAEL
- In a state-of-the-art rehabilitative village in the Negev Desert, we offer unparalleled care for people with severe disabilities, empowering residents and outpatients to help them reach their potential for communication and development.
- Jewish National Fund brings people with special needs closer to nature through field trips, accessible hikes in JNF’s first inclusive park, and creative workshops in nature that have been adapted to the needs of participants and for people of all ages.
- At a location deep in the Arava Valley along the Jordanian border in southern Israel, Jewish National Fund supports weekly horseback riding therapy to nearly 200 children and adults with physical and mental disabilities, as well as emotional and behavioral issues in Israel’s Arava region.
- To help those with special needs and disabilities realize their ultimate potential, we offer an innovative and unique program that integrates youth with disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and assists them in preparing for careers following their the completion of their service.
A RECORD OF SUCCESS
Like all of JNF’s efforts for the land and people of Israel, its work for those with disabilities and special needs is not limited to a month, but every day. Over the last year, JNF and its partners have made great strides in improving the quality of life for those with disabilities and special needs, providing services for 55,000 people including:
- Hosting over one million visitors at JNF’s inclusive trail Nahal HaShofet in northern Israel.
- Creating a pathway for 360 participants to join the IDF which has expanded to 25 IDF bases – and watching scores of soldiers graduate and successfully integrate into the workforce and Israeli society.
- Administering over 10,000 individual outpatient treatments and welcoming 150 permanent residents at our rehabilitative village in the Negev Desert.
- Providing 10,000 therapy sessions annually at our therapeutic riding center, and 9,200 sessions for 160 children through JNF scholarships.
TAKE PART IN JDAAIM
How can you raise awareness about inclusion of people with disabilities in your community? Here are some ideas that JNF recommends to boost awareness and make your community a leader in supporting inclusion:
- Share the JNF D’Var Torah portion in connection Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAAIM).
- Invite a speaker from Jewish National Fund or another community organization to lead a parent education group.
- Host an ‘Inclusion Day,’ a ‘Shabbos of Inclusion’ or a Havdalah service with activities.
- Advertise the event to your entire community and encourage people with disabilities and their families to attend. Include people with disabilities in planning for ‘Inclusion Day’ or ‘Shabbos of Inclusion’—nothing about us without us!
- Invite a person with a disability to speak to your community on any topic BUT that person’s disability.
- Invite people with disabilities to participate in the preparation for Kiddush and meal functions.
- Promote Inclusion. Use # JDAAIM19 and #PoweredbyJNF to share on Twitter and Facebook!
- Extend personal invitations to people who may be on the margins of the community.
- Integrate Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month into other activities:
- Lunch and Learn following Shabbos morning services or on Sunday afternoon to bring people together and talk about what they have learned and experienced from JDAAIM.
- Be responsive to concerns expressed by people with disabilities and their families. Is there something that would be appropriate to address with programming during the month?
Throughout February, JNF’s website, blog, and social media channels will call attention to Jewish Disabilities Awareness & Inclusion Month. Follow along using the hashtag #JDAIM19. To learn more about our work in Israel, please visit jnf.org/disabilities.
D’var Torah for Jewish Disabilities, Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month
By Yossi Kahana
Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) is a unified effort among Jewish organizations worldwide to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities and those who love them.
JDAAIM is observed each February. But the truth is, while it brings the issues of disability inclusion to the forefront, inclusion is something that we must keep focused on all year long.
In our quest to include every member of our community, we would do well to pay attention to the following ancient examples of accommodation:
The Torah begins by telling us that we are all created in God’s image. If everyone is created in the image of God, then we have the responsibility to make sure that everyone – even if they are differently abled — has equal opportunity to participate and feel accepted.
In the Book of Exodus we read about Moses, our greatest leader and a man with many abilities, and numerous challenges. We know he had some sort of speech impediment.
A famous story about Moses is the one with the burning bush. When asked to lead the Israelites, Moses initially objects, saying, you got the wrong guy! He is “heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue”— a phrase that has led many rabbinic interpreters to assume that he spoke with a stutter or lisp. In response, God affirms Moses’ many capabilities and notes that his brother, Aaron, can offer any support that Moses needs to fulfill his responsibilities.
The message is clear: Moses did not seek a miracle, a distraction from his true predicament. He dug his heels into the reality he occupied, and presented himself honestly to God. “I am heavy of mouth and tongue.” Perhaps, he speaks on behalf of every man or woman who possesses a disability. “These are the facts; we have everything to give—if society can learn to move past nature’s constraints and facilitate our abilities.”
Throughout the year we see an emphasis on inclusion.
We begin the Passover Seder by opening a door, ha lachma anya, or inviting in the hungry, the needy, and the enslaved. We offer the matzah as part of that welcome—it is a beautiful message offered freely and inclusive to all. We read about the four sons, each representing a different type, a cross section of the Jewish nation. What links the four together, despite their very different personalities and levels of observance, is the fact that they are all an intrinsic part of the Jewish people. During Passover, we celebrate with them, as they collectively join us at the Seder table.
At Shavuot when God gave the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai before the nation: It didn’t matter if a person was young or old, male or female, abled or disabled. Mt. Sinai was and is for everyone, and if one member of the Jewish nation would not have been present at Mt. Sinai, the Torah would not have been given.
During Sukkot, we celebrate this unity in an even more concrete way, as we join together joyously in Sukkahs, which include and embrace Jews of every kind, and perform the mitzvah of the Four Kinds (lulav and etrog), symbolizing the fact that despite differences in Torah knowledge and observance, we are all bound together by our souls’ Jewish identity and core connection to G‑d.
Finally, we arrive at Shemini Atzeret. On this day, we express Jewish unity not in a passive sense (standing together in prayer) or even a symbolic sense (shaking a lulav); we demonstrate it through an experiential, concrete act that encompasses our entire being, from our head to our feet. We do it through the act of dancing, and more specifically, dancing in a circular formation, as is customary in Jewish tradition.
The inclusion of all Jews is the backbone of a flourishing Jewish community, and in the spirit of Jewish unity that the holiday of Shemini Atzeret so embodies, it is a ripe opportunity to shine a light on the importance of ensuring that every Jew, including those with disabilities, feels welcome in the festivities of the holiday.
So let’s ensure that every Jew feels welcome and included in the celebration of our most precious gift: our connection to God, to the Torah, and to the entire Jewish nation.
Yossi Kahana is the director of Jewish National Fund’s Task Force on Disabilities, an umbrella and coordinating body for the various JNF programs and partners for people with disabilities in Israel.