Affording Inclusion – Part 2

By Lisa Friedman

In my previous post, Affording Inclusion – Part 1, I began to explore the necessity of financially supporting inclusion in religious schools and synagogues.

I shared that the most commonly asked question when I lead a presentation is: “How do you afford it?” My standard reply? “How can we afford NOT to support inclusion?”

Isn’t it essential that we make inclusion a reality regardless of our means?

So if we agree…if we all say, YES, and truly mean it; then let’s get down to business.

Here are some practical, inexpensive and realistic ways to begin to make inclusion an affordable reality for your congregation:

A huge part of inclusion is attitude; and changing attitudes is free.

It’s hard work. It takes genuine commitment. But it is free. Start small. Learn about person-first language. Change the way you speak, change the way your teachers, madrichim (teen teaching assistants) and clergy speak. Change the wording on all your forms, letters, and school and synagogue communications. Make this one conscious change and see it through. Then reflect on what this change has brought to your community.

Invest in professional development opportunities for your teachers and madrichim.

This is where I think you can get your biggest bang for your buck. Almost every religious school I know has some budget for professional development. Bring someone in to lead a full-day or a half-day workshop for teachers and madrichim. Extend the learning by gathering to discuss student case studies and apply what you have learned. Meet more frequently with teen assistants to support them. Maintain the learning with in-person or virtual check-in opportunities throughout the year.

Use your synagogue’s existing tools and structure to promote inclusion.

Make inclusion a synagogue-wide priority. Encourage clergy to offer sermons about the value of inclusion. Select texts to study together at weekly Torah study, in committee meetings or at special programs. Write about inclusion in your weekly newsletter and highlight success stories in your monthly newsletter. Incorporate lessons on disability awareness, tolerance and acceptance in religious school classes and at youth group events. Form an Inclusion Committee to delve into the issue more deeply.

Lisa Friedman is the education co-director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey. This position includes overseeing an extensive Special Needs program within the Religious School designed to help students successfully learn Hebrew, learn about their Jewish heritage and feel connected to their Jewish community. Lisa also consults with congregations to develop inclusive practices for staff, clergy, and families through dialogue, interactive workshops and awareness training. She blogs at Removing the Stumbling Block.

This article originally appeared on Lisa’s blog and is reposted with the author’s permission.

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