By Lisa Friedman

There’s a buzz in the Jewish Disability World. Can you feel it? A few weeks from now will mark the beginning of yet another Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month; affectionately known by those who love acronyms as JDAIM. It can be a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness while highlighting the many great resources and opportunities that already exist within our communities. Personally, I always hope that it will lead to the opening of new doors that were once closed.

But I tend to get put off by the hoopla and the congratulatory pats on the back for great programs and events. JDAIM actually makes me a little nervous. In a world that still focuses heavily on programs over relationships, I worry that JDAIM itself becomes the answer for some communities. I want you to remember that in and of itself, JDAIM is NOT inclusion. No one program is inclusion.
Inclusion is a mindset. Inclusion is a way of thinking. It is how we behave and treat one another. It is a philosophy that embraces the idea that everyone has something of value to contribute and that everyone has a right to belong. When we commit ourselves to making our programs accessible – not just in the physical sense, but by also ensuring that each person’s participation is truly meaningful  then we can call ourselves inclusive. Then we can pat ourselves on the back and celebrate our success. But we are not there yet.

Lisa Friedman is a widely recognized expert in Jewish Disability Inclusion. She is an Education Director at Temple Beth-El in Central New Jersey, where she has developed and oversees an inclusive synagogue school. She is also the Project Manager of UJA-Federation of New York’s Synagogue Inclusion Project. Lisa consults with congregations, schools, camps and other organizations to guide them in the development of inclusive practices for staff, clergy and families through dialogue, interactive workshops, and awareness training. Lisa is a sought after speaker on a wide variety of topics and blogs about disabilities and inclusion at Removing the Stumbling Block.

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