Conservative synagogues, Ruderman ramp up disability inclusion initiative

Ami Eden

(JTA) — The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism is launching a new push to help congregations become inclusive of people with disabilities.

The initiative, funded by a $375,000 three-year grant from the Ruderman Family Foundation, will involve up to 20 congregations. Each synagogue will assess its current handling of disabilities issues, create an action plan to become more inclusive and then implement it, the foundation announced.

With the new grant, the Ruderman Family Foundation is now funding multi-year partnerships totaling millions of dollars with the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jewish movements. The foundation also operates a partnership with 70 Faces Media, the parent organization of JTA.

“Disability inclusion is an issue not just confined to one movement or denomination, it’s an issue that has no borders and we see great importance in working with every movement inside Jewish life,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

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An official statement from the foundation heralded the partnership.

“This effort aims to create congregations in which the community culture supports all aspects of inclusion – from the entryway to the bima, from education programs to prayer services, from social activities to the very attitudes of congregants and leaders – allowing people with disabilities and their families to participate fully and comfortably in congregational life,” the statement said.

Rabbi Steve Wernick, the CEO of United Synagogue, said in the statement that the partnership’s pilot stage provided proof that “one can make inclusion a spiritual and programmatic reality.”

“The Hebrew word for inclusion, hachlala, is related to vayachulu, the word used to signify the completion of creation,” Wernick said. “In the same way that creation was not complete until Shabbat was included, our kehillot are not complete until all people are included.”