By Michael Polowin, Chair
Jewish Federation of Ottawa
We were all at Mount Sinai. Our traditions hold that at the time of receiving the Torah from Hashem, all Jews, past, present and future, were there to receive it. Those confronting disabilities or mental health conditions were there with all of us.
February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). It is a month where we recognize that all of our people are, our people. The Jewish Federation of Ottawa recognizes and embraces the need to embrace all of our people. We are striving to create a welcoming and inclusive community for all people. Here’s some of what that means:
We all have the right to choose our own Jewish journey. Sometimes that journey will be harder, as people work to deal with their personal situations. We recognize that, and we will continue to strive to make it easier, even though that will be an evolution, not a revolution.
We encourage empathy and a welcoming spirit, while urging all Jews to welcome people with disabilities and mental health conditions into their communities and personal lives. We will include people with disabilities and mental health conditions in all aspects of communal life.
Federation will advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and mental health conditions, and support them in making their own decisions about how they want to belong to their Jewish community. Having a disability or mental health condition must never be used as a reason to exclude someone from meaningful participation and contribution to this wonderful place we call “The Jewish Community.” Everyone has gifts to share as well as needs for comfort and community.
How have we done this already? Federation was a major sponsor of the wonderful “Pushing the Boundaries: Disability, Inclusion in the Jewish Community” conference. We are partners with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) in its efforts to advocate for people with disabilities and mental health conditions. That was a salient part of the questions posed by Federation and CIJA of the political parties in our last federal election. We support Tamir financially, and support their efforts to better the lives of their members. Personally, it was a great joy to participate in Tamir’s fashion show in November.
In that respect, we do not do things for people with disabilities or mental health conditions. We do things with people with disabilities and mental health conditions. JDAIM is a time to teach our organizations that inclusion is simply treating people as individuals, not as a group of “those” people whose needs can be met through special programs or occasional visits to synagogues. Just like you, people with disabilities can and must make decisions about how they participate in Jewish life.
Inclusion is not an end. It leads to belonging.
Recognizing Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month is only the first step. What you, your friends or organization does in the next 11 months will determine your commitment to ensuring that all people feel that they belong.