Feb 21, 2014

Time to Make Inclusion a Reality – Jewish Disability Awareness Month

Some of you may know that February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month. But it’s time for everyone to take notice. You may not be aware that our community offers a remarkable array of programs and services that enable our neighbors of all ages with varied special needs to thrive and fully engage in Jewish life.

Reflecting on how much our Jewish community accomplishes together on behalf of those with special needs, I am filled with pride for our agencies, our schools and our synagogues. And, from education and training, to family support and caregiving, to meals, transportation, recreation and far more, our Federation is proudly and firmly there to help fulfill the most essential function of community: coming together to care for each other – and including every member of our Jewish family.

Of course, there is far more to be done. Together, we must continue our vigilance to determine the gaps, and to develop and expand programs that help families and individuals who have no place else to turn. It is also up to us to advocate for government resources and legislation on behalf of those with special needs who are counting on us.

Below my colleague and friend Bill Daroff at JFNA in Washington, DC eloquently describes the challenges facing Jewish communities and Federations today, as we strive to accommodate, include and speak out for these very special members of our Jewish family. He mentions two important opportunities to reach out to our elected officials. Just click through to send messages to Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, as well as your Member of Congress Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch or Lois Frankel. You’ll be glad you did.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts at asktheceo@bocafed.org about how, together, we can ensure that all members of our Jewish family have opportunities to thrive and participate fully in Jewish life.


Matthew C. Levin, President & CEO
Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County

Past Messages from Matt

Making Inclusion A Reality

Washington Jewish Week
February 19, 2014
By William Daroff

The baby with Down syndrome. The senior citizen using a walker. The woman with limited vision. The teen with a hearing impairment. The child on the Autism spectrum.

People with disabilities live in our neighborhoods, go to school with our children, shop at our stores, but too often we don’t know them. We notice their presence, of course, but we don’t always consider how to accommodate their needs so they can participate fully in Jewish life. We too often don’t look at our institutions of Jewish life and ask whether these places and the programming they provide are accessible to everyone.

Instead, without intending to do harm, we ignore the biblical injunction that we not “insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” We forget that we have been taught that “if there be among you a needy person, thou shalt not harden thy heart, but thou shalt surely open thy hand.” We need to work harder to remove those stumbling blocks.

It’s been more than two decades since the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, and while our country and Jewish community have made tremendous strides in accommodation and services since then, we must do much more.

Before we can make further strides, though, we must be aware of those around us and their needs.

February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month, an effort to bring that awareness to Jewish communities nationwide. Each year since the first JDAM in 2009, we’ve seen an elevated focus on inclusion. During the month, Jewish communities across the country host important programs to shed light on the issues facing people with disabilities.

In addition, the Jewish Federations of North America has partnered with the Ruderman Family Foundation to help young adults with disabilities gain meaningful employment experience through internships and fellowships at five federations nationwide as well as in JFNA’s Washington office. The Ruderman Family Foundation Opportunity Initiative is designed to help our federations develop a sustainable model for inclusion.

While we must continue to look within our community for answers, we must also look to our leaders to help move our society forward. We must move our elected leaders to pass legislation that ensures people with disabilities have the same opportunities to succeed as anyone else.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, a bill that would provide a tax-advantaged savings account of up to $100,000 for disability-related expenses and long-term care, has broad support in both chambers of Congress but has not yet come to a vote. We must contact our senators and representatives and urge them to send the ABLE Act to the floor for passage.

We must also prod the Senate to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international treaty based on our own ADA that protects and ensures the rights of the more than 1 billion people worldwide with disabilities.

The treaty would protect more than 50 million Americans when they travel abroad and reinforces America’s global leadership on disability issues.

The disability treaty fell five votes short of ratification in 2012, and negotiations to bring it back to a vote in the full Senate this year remain at a stalemate. The Senate should ratify this important treaty.

Let’s make inclusion a guiding force in our lives every day.

William Daroff is the senior vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America. Follow him @Daroff