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Fostering Inclusion and Independence

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Anytime the Jewish community focuses on the issue of becoming more inclusive and engaging new people in Jewish life, I reflect on the way in which we, as Jews, are taught to value the protection of the most vulnerable among us. "You shall not insult the deaf," reads Leviticus, "or place a stumbling block before the blind." In Judaism, we understand this to mean that we must actively remove the stumbling block, actively work to uphold those who need upholding.

This week at the General Assembly in Israel, The Jewish Federations of North America will once again address the importance of disability inclusion. I will moderate a session which will explore the moral mandate inherent in Judaism to promote disability inclusion, and will compare the progress and challenges in North American and Israeli communities towards achieving it.

JFNA has fought tirelessly to protect the most vulnerable populations in our communities and to advocate for people with disabilities to promote their full inclusion into society and specifically to promote their inclusion into Jewish life. As a result of JFNA's Disability Inclusion Initiative following the 2012 General Assembly in Baltimore, communities across North America are forming inclusion task forces and engaging key community leaders to develop plans for ensuring all institutions and organizations become more inclusive through their programming and through their mindsets.

Earlier this year, we announced a special partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation that helps federations to promote inclusion through a matching grant program that will create employment opportunities for people with disabilities. We are proud to have been chosen to implement this exciting program and believe it will serve as a model program for fostering independence and inclusion.

And yet, we feel these efforts are not enough. To truly be inclusive and welcoming of all, we must get at the root causes of discrimination and exclusion in our society and our community. To that end, JFNA continues to pursue legislative outcomes meant to change the rules of the game and create a level playing field for individuals with disabilities.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act remains a promising vehicle for allowing families to plan for their children with disabilities to have access to funds to pay rent, hire tutors or get job-related training in the future. In the Senate, the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would help ensure millions of people with disabilities around the world have basic rights, open markets to American business abroad and reassert the United States as a global leader on disability rights. JFNA has worked hand in hand with the Jewish community to ensure support in the House and Senate for these important measures which will promote, protect, and ensure the rights of all who have disabilities.

JFNA also works in coalition with other Jewish and faith-based organizations to promote these important initiatives. JFNA co-chairs the Jewish Disability Network, a coalition of 25 national Jewish organizations focused on disability policy issues, and sits on the Steering Committee of the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition, the interfaith network led by the American Association of People with Disabilities.

We do all of this because we believe in the importance of an inclusive Jewish community, and that it is our responsibility to ensure people with disabilities are included when making important decisions about everyday Jewish life and our Jewish future. We envision a time when inclusion is synonymous with Jewish life, and until that time, we will keep working to make it so.