Disability awareness should continue beyond February

Recently, I’ve doffed two imaginary hats in tribute to Joyce Rosenfield.
The first, for her commanding presidential podium presence at Dallas Section, National Council of Jewish Women’s recent 114th Birthday luncheon event. The second in retrospect, because I remember how, as a very young woman some 30 or more years ago, Joyce would tape tongue depressors to her fingers, don earmuffs and glasses smeared with Vaseline, and clomp around in ill-fitting shoes, all of which effectively illustrated many common disabilities to Jewish students much younger than herself — especially when she encouraged the kids to try out her “regalia” for themselves!
Since 2009, February has been observed as Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month, a designation adopted by a special education consortium. We can be proud that five years later, thanks to Yachad/National Jewish Council for Disabilities, it has also become North American Inclusion Month (NAIM), recognized with a U.S. House of Representatives resolution stressing nationwide educational and employment goals.
Today, “disability” and “inclusion” have achieved buzzword status, and are being used positively in effective efforts that we can support right here in our community. Here’s a sampling of events:
This coming Sunday morning, Shearith Israel’s religious school will host residents and clients of CHAI for a special Tu B’Shevat program. The next evening, CHAI itself will offer a special program at its office, designed to help parents better understand what to expect when their special needs children reach adulthood at 18.
Special Shabbat events are scheduled by several congregations: Rabbi Sternman will speak about inclusion Friday evening the 17th at Adat Chaverim; Rabbi Zelony will do the same the next morning at Beth Torah, where members of its Inclusion Initiative Committee will receive aliyahs. And Temple Shalom’s Sisterhood will welcome Chai members and their families to dinner after the evening service Feb. 24.
Dallas’ Jewish Family Service Special Needs Partnership works year-round to help further an inclusive community. The agency tells us that Studio Movie Grill offers a free family-friendly movie every month, featuring brighter lights, lower volume, and physical freedom for special needs kids and their siblings who need to move around during the show.
About its own programming, JFS is reminding parents, and other adults charged with caring for special needs children, of a conversation with agency professionals Feb. 22. That evening’s event, one in a regular monthly series, will focus on laws of special importance to their families.
The Union for Reform Judaism heralded this month’s start Jan. 26, when its daily “Ten Minutes of Torah” email post was themed to the Biblical reminder of our responsibilities to those with special needs. On behalf of the Movement’s Religious Action Center, Walter Bennett quoted Leviticus 19:14: “You shall not insult the deaf, or put a stumbling block before the blind,” pointing out that “…this commandment is not a reminder to treat all people equally. In fact, it singles out behavior that is unacceptable explicitly because of the people affected. Not cursing the deaf and not placing a stumbling block before the blind reminds us, first and foremost, about the ways in which people are affected by their disabilities…Cursing the deaf and placing stumbling blocks before the blind are not only reprehensible acts, but also diminish contact between people. This passage reminds each of us to dialogue continuously with those with disabilities.”
And here’s what Jewish Family Service will offer during its Feb. 28 board meeting, a fitting conclusion to Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month: Members will have their own inclusion experience, which promises to be composed of “interactive multi-sensory simulations of common disabilities.” That takes me back to Joyce Rosenfield, with thanks for grasping the idea of personal experience in special needs education early-on, and putting it into action.
Let’s make every month the same as February with our own actions. Start by contacting the Dallas Jewish Federation or any Jewish community institution for possible opportunities to participate.

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