October 25, 2014 · 1 Cheshvan

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Broad Communal Collaboration to Foster Synagogues Inclusive of All Abilities

Contact: Sean Thibault or Deborah Goldberg
(202) 387-2800 | news@rac.org

Hineinu: Building Jewish Community for People of All Abilities: rac.org/hineinu

In an historic collaboration, the Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and Reform Jewish Movements have come together to form Hineinu, an innovative collaboration of the disability professionals from each stream sharing resources, support and direction in order to increase disability Inclusion in our synagogues for people of all abilities. The core pillars of the first year of the Hineinuinitiative will highlight and share the best practices that are already occurring in many communities with those who are ready to do more by:

• Creating a network of synagogues and professionals among all four movements that will help achieve the goal of making Inclusion efforts a normative part of synagogue life.

• Convening community leaders, sharing materials and online resources, networking between lay leadership and disability professionals, and fostering the establishment or growth of synagogue-based Inclusion committees.

• Authoring and sharing a community-wide resource guide with simple and low-cost suggestions for how synagogues can begin to be more disability Inclusive. Each movement has, with its own adaptations for its specific practices, made this resource available on their websites.

Every Jew has a right to practice their Judaism in the community of their choosing and we, as Jews, have a responsibility to ensure that this is both possible and practical. The four movements come together in affirmation that Inclusion is a Jewish value. Isaiah 56:5 teaches "For my house shall be a house of prayer for all people."

Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, the Senior Adviser on Disability Issues for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said:

"In Berachot (34b), the Talmud teaches that a synagogue must be built with windows in the sanctuary. I believe this is so we can see who is outside and unable to join us. As Jews, we have to maintain 'mental windows' everywhere so that we can recognize all people, including people with disabilities, as people first. We must look beyond the disability—beyond the 'container' —and see the person within, the person with often unacknowledged, and therefore, untapped potential."

Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, the International Director of Yachad/National Jewish Council for Disabilities, an agency of the Orthodox Union that has been on the cutting edge of disability Inclusion in the broad Jewish community for the last 30 years, said:

"The Jewish people have long been in the vanguard of moving the human race forward. Indeed, we each carry within us a spark of the Divine. We must now ignite that spark as we work B'Yachad(together) to actively welcome, respect, and appreciate that divine spark within our fellow community members and/or children who have disabilities. We are focused on attitudinal changes that will bring about practical changes of acceptance and welcome within the entire Jewish community. We take great pride in what we have achieved to date; in the awareness that we have fostered, and the Inclusion that we have created. Yet there remains much still to do and Yachad and the OU joins with our Hineinu partners to include everyone, to value everyone, to welcome everyone, because absolutely everyone belongs."

Rabbi Richard Hirsh, Executive Director of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, said:

"The Jewish community has often approached the issue of accessibility and inclusion as though it were a problem of accommodation, when in fact it is a challenge of transformation that confronts us..We need to become aware of how easily we take for granted simple issues of access—and how quickly, in many cases, we can remedy our deficiencies in being welcoming, rather than putting the burden on the individual to make a request. All of us are created 'in the divine image,' and all of us should be able 'to stand in God’s holy place.'"

Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director of Special Projects of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said:

"There is no limit to the work we must do to assure that our communities, our kehillot, are inviting and welcoming to all. The rabbis teach in the Jerusalem Talmud: 'Rabbi Yohanan said: Each of the forty days Moshe was on Mount Sinai, God taught him the entire Torah. Each night Moshe forgot what he had learned.' Yet, God never dismissed Moshe. Instead God assured Moshe would have a place in history, even with difficulties he might face. Creating inclusive community, open in all ways, physically and spiritually, to all is a significant way of our emulating God's holiness."



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