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Opening Our Doors to Those with Special Needs

JOI established the Big Tent Judaism Coalition as a way to bring together organizations across the globe that all shared a common goal: to create an inclusive and welcoming Jewish community. Specifically, this means doing more to welcome in folks who have traditionally experienced barriers to participation, including intermarried families, children of intermarriage, Jews-by-Choice, and LGBT Jews. That’s why we were excited to read about a joint effort by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education Jewish Outreach Partnership (ACAJE/JOP) to “make area synagogues, schools, camps and other communal facilities fully inclusive to people with special needs.”

The Federation and ACAJE/JOP are working with 13 different area organizations to hold a conference in May titled “Opening the Gates of Torah: Including People who have Special Needs in the Jewish Community.” The conference will include programs, workshops, and a presentation of new guidelines developed by the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards on Jewish education for children with special needs. Conference attendees will also hear from area clergy who have successfully implemented programs to “welcome and support persons with disabilities and their families.”

The important awareness of making the Jewish community more accessible for those with disabilities is becoming a higher and higher priority. February has become Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, and a recent article in the Chicago Tribune noted that increasingly, “synagogues are opening the doors to [bar and bat mitzvahs] for special needs children, catering programs and celebrations to their abilities.” This is a trend we’re thrilled to see expand, and we hope this inspires others to find new and innovative ways to welcome all under our Big Tent.



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