In the U.S. and Canada more than 67 million people have some form of disability. According to the 2019 American Community Survey, 4.3 percent of children in the US have a physical, mental, and/or emotional disability, and an estimated 2.6 million households have at least one child in the home with a disability. With the passage momentous civil rights legislation, the U.S. and Canada have made significant progress in recent decades, but in both countries people with disabilities still lag behind national averages in education completed, employment rates, income, technology access, homeownership, and voter participation. As Americans, Canadians, and members of the Jewish community we must continue our support for disability rights by educating our communities, ensuring accessibility in our synagogues and services, supporting disability rights legislation, and demanding enforcement of existing laws.
Why Should Jews Care
- Jewish tradition teaches us of our obligation to ensure equal access for all people and to help facilitate the full participation of individuals with disabilities in religious and public life. In Leviticus 19:14 we are commanded, "You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind." Stumbling blocks come in many forms, unequal access or subpar educational and employment opportunities, lack of accessible housing and transportation, and discrimination and exclusion in both Jewish and secular spaces.
- Further, in Pirkei Avot 2:5 we are taught "Do not separate yourself from the community.” However, due to persistent systemic barriers to education, transportation, technology, health care, community involvement, and independent living, many people living with disabilities are consistently alienated from the community against their will. These teachings remind us that there is still much work to be done to reach full inclusion for all people in our society.
- Other Jewish texts on disability issues include: "For my house shall be a house of prayer for all people." (Isaiah 56:5)
- "But Moses said to the Lord, 'Please, O Eternal, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.' And the Lord said to him, 'Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Eternal?'"(Exodus 4:10-11)
More can and must be done to build a more inclusive Jewish community. Created with our partner organizations, Hineinu is a guide to breaking down barriers and creating inclusive communities.
As we highlight disability inclusion and work toward disability inclusion in our Jewish communities all year long, here are just a few ways to be an individual ally to people with disabilities.
Find resources, including our congregational toolkit, created by the URJ Audacious Hospitality team to help you make your community more equitable and inclusive.
Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month
Established in 2009, JDAIM is a unified initiative to raise disability awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion in Jewish communities worldwide.
JDAIM’s founder explains why our congregations and communities should participate in Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month and suggestions for doing so.
Shelly Christensen of Inclusion Innovations, founder of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month, shares an annual JDAIM recent inclusion guide and other materials.
Related Press Releases
Disability Inclusion and Jewish Values
We are taught “Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot 2:5); accordingly, we must prevent anyone from being separated from the community against their will.
Engage Your Congregation
- Jewish Disability Advocacy Day: During this one-day event in Washington, D.C., hundreds of Jews with disabilities and their allies gather to learn about current disability rights policy, raise awareness on disability inclusion, and advocate for relevant legislative priorities on Capitol Hill.
- Audacious Hospitality: The Union for Reform Judaism's Audacious Hospitality initiative provides toolkits, educational resources, and more to help you make your spaces more inclusive.
- Hineinu: A Jewish Guide to Inclusion: The Hineinu guide is an innovative collaboration of disability professionals, activists, and policy experts from the Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and Reform Jewish Movements designed to increase disability inclusion in our synagogues for people of all abilities.
- Jewish Disability Advocacy, Awareness, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM): Every February, North American communities from every major Jewish stream recognize Jewish Disability Advocacy, Awareness, and Inclusion Month, a unified initiative to raise disability awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion in Jewish communities worldwide.
- Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center: Visit our online learning center, developed by the URJ in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation, the site features engaging and impactful skill building study sessions, videos and other resources provided by leading disabilities inclusion experts on creating accessible learning, vocational, social, worship and communal experiences for people of all ages.
The RAC is proud to be on the Steering Committee of the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Collaborative, a group of more than two dozen faith-based organizations working to advance disability rights and inclusion.