For the past eight years, through the coordination of Greater MetroWest ABLE, the greater New Jersey community has participated in Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). The month of February has been designated to mark the worldwide effort to “raise awareness and champion the civil rights of all Jewish people to have access and be meaningfully included in every aspect of Jewish life.”
Why is this important? According to Rebecca Warnick, Greater MetroWest ABLE community inclusion coordinator, “Because everyone has something valuable to contribute to Jewish life. And because inclusion benefits everyone—from the individual with a disability who has the opportunity to participate, engage and learn with others, to the greater community that has the opportunity to learn with people of varying skills and talents. We are not a homogeneous society, and diversity makes the world a better place.”
JDAIM will be marked with events in schools, congregations and agencies throughout the month of February. Last week’s issue of The Jewish Link highlighted Shabbat Shalem in West Orange, which featured Friday night and Shabbat day speakers and panels discussing raising awareness and implementing inclusion in the community. The communities of Clark, Morris Plains and Millburn devoted Shabbat Parshat Mishpatim to services and programming for children and adults with disabilities, and prepared appropriate liturgy for a participatory, joyous and relaxed Shabbat experience. Further Shabbat programs will be held in these and other communities throughout the month.
During the course of the month, many communities will host support and guidance sessions for families of individuals with disabilities. Sessions will deal with accessing services available, transitioning to adult services, advocacy resources and networking with moms and dads.
Sessions are scheduled to provide siblings with the opportunity to address their feelings in a fun and supportive environment. On Wednesday, February 10, professionals and lay leaders were scheduled to rally on Capitol Hill to raise awareness of their work and passion relating to individuals with disabilities and their families, to learn about relevant public policy and to advocate on these issues with elected officials.
Throughout the month, the WAE Center Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled will exhibit its artwork throughout the community including West Essex, Westfield, South Orange and Morris Plains. Congregations AABJ&D and Ohr Torah in West Orange will join sisterhoods for a book club discussion of “Following Ezra” by Tom Fields-Meyer. The selection is a heartwarming, intimate and amusing memoir of a father’s experience raising an autistic son, and what he learns about “Gumby, Otters, Love, and Autism from his extraordinary son.” B’nai Shalom in West Orange will feature the film “Including Samuel,” an Emmy-nominated documentary film which chronicles the family of photojournalist Dan Habib in its efforts to include Samuel in every facet of their lives. The film has been touted as a highly personal, passionately photographed film that captures the “cultural and systemic barriers to inclusion.” Congregation AABJ&D will be hosting a “Seeing Eye Puppy Program” for adults and youth of the community to experience together.
The greater New Jersey community is invited to attend all of the activities of JDAIM. For a full listing of scheduled events, please visit Greater MetroWest ABLE at www.metrowestABLE.org.
By Pearl Markovitz