Disability and Inclusion: Action Informed by Jewish Values

Sometimes JCRC’s friends feel a head-spinning confusion about exactly what we do – what issues we choose to address and how we define our role in the community.

It strikes some as odd that at JCRC we’re doing so many seemingly disparate things: volunteer service programs in Boston, Israel study tours for legislators and clergy, synagogue organizing to address gun violence, lobbying on the human service budget, and disability advocacy, to name but a few. With that in mind, as this week marks the beginning of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (#JDAIM), I’d want to share why I believe that #JDAIM and the larger topic of inclusion are holistic elements of our work.

JCRC’s purpose is to advance the values and priorities of Boston’s organized Jewish community within the larger civic conversation. We’re bringing to the table – in interfaith spaces, at the State House, in public schools and in volunteer sites – our action and our voice representing how we want our community to contribute to the broader civil society.

The Jewish commitment to advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities runs deep in our tradition, all the way back to the Book of Genesis. As we strive for inclusion and access for all, we are reminded that in our creation story - in the making of Adam and Eve - we are taught that every human being is created B’Tzelem Elohim - in the Divine Image. Every one of us is in the image of a perfect God, and every human being is a perfect creation, each in our own way. We each carry within us the broken shards of the Divine creation. As we are committed to repair these shattered pieces of God’s self within us and in our world, so too are we committed to the full realization of every single human being in the image of God.

This is our humanist tradition. We believe that without full inclusion, the Jewish community cannot be whole, our members cannot be free and transcendent, and we cannot be partners with God in the work of perfecting our world. It is why within the Jewish community we have so many wonderful and inspiring individuals and organizations – like Gateways, the CJP Synagogue Inclusion Project, the Ruderman Family Foundation and others here in Boston, to name but a few – working hard for a fully inclusive Jewish community.

But for JCRC as a network of the organized Jewish community, our mission isn’t focused solely on inclusion within our Jewish community. We also look beyond our community, bringing our values into the broader civic discourse. Together with so many of you, we are committed to ensuring that every single person in our Commonwealth has the opportunity to live to his or her fullest potential, with dignity and hope.

During #JDAIM – and all year long – we’re renewing our commitment to advocacy for inclusion that reflects our values as a Jewish community. We’re working with JVS and others to advocate for fully funded workforce development programs. We’re working with parents, schools, and CJP to ensure that all children with disabilities receive the services they need to wherever they are educated. We’re advocating along with State House leadership for a change in law to support access to higher education for individuals with intellectual disabilities. We are also looking closely every day at the obstacles people with disabilities and their families face in our state, and working toward solutions with our partners in advocacy and government. JCRC is privileged to pursue this work with you, to connect our values to our civic engagement and to be a part of a broader disability rights movement in our Commonwealth – as a Jewish community.

What we do to ensure disability rights at JCRC is no different than when we volunteer at a homeless shelter, talk to a member of the clergy about Israel, or when we advocate for Presidential action on gun violence prevention. We don’t see these pieces as disparate, but rather as connected to one simple, urgent, and natural idea. We’re reaffirming our values as a Jewish community and we are acting upon them in the broader public square of Massachusetts. In doing so we enrich the life and wellbeing of the Jewish community and of the entire Commonwealth.