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A JK-12 pluralistic school that engages students in an exemplary and inspiring general and Jewish education.

Inclusion and Acceptance: Celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) at CESJDS

Lenore Layman

Lenore Layman is the Director of Educational Support Services at CESJDS and Co-Founder of Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month

It is human nature that all of us want to be included and accepted within our families and within our social, learning, professional and faith based communities. Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) was created more than 10 years ago because so many individuals with disabilities did not feel included or accepted within their Jewish communities. At that time,  the primary goal of JDAIM was to raise disability awareness in Jewish communities. In fact, the original name of this month was JDAM and it was only a few years later that inclusion was added to the name as the goals expanded to focus on both awareness and inclusion.

As Jewish communities worldwide have joined together first to raise awareness and then to focus on inclusion, this year the emphasis has broadened to also focus on acceptance. Shelly Christensen, a leading voice in the field of faith community disability inclusion and a founder of JDAIM, emphasizes that acceptance is not just a change in a name. Instead it is a change in both attitude and practice. Shelly’s advocacy efforts are focused on the belief that every individual has something to contribute to our communities and that our communities are not whole until all of us belong.

This year at CESJDS, we have been busy planning lessons and experiences for our students about inclusion and disabilities with the goal that education about differences leads to greater inclusion and acceptance for everyone in our community. Below is a sampling of some of our plans for JDAIM:

  • A group of high school students visited Gallaudet University earlier this month and were given a tour by students who attend the university.  After the tour, the students visited the new Starbucks Signing Store near campus which is staffed by employees who are all fluent in sign language.  This trip was organized and led by Stephanie Hoffman and David Solomon.

  • Discussions and study about inclusion are incorporated into Zman Kodesh during the month of February in our middle and high school.

  • Our Gurim, Kindergarten and 1st graders are learning about inclusion using resources from the Matan disability awareness curriculum and the wealth of resources in our media center.

  • The 2nd graders are learning about deafness using the Understanding our Differences Curriculum used in Newton Public Schools. Barbara Libben, a CESJDS parent and audiologist spoke to the students last week and explained how hearing works. Jacob Salem, program director at Gallaudet Hillel, will be meeting with the 2nd graders on February 21st to talk about what it is like to be deaf.

  • The 3rd graders are learning about blindness using the same curriculum and will be meeting with Dr. Arielle Silverman, a blind activist and social scientist who lives in our community on February 25th.

  • The 4th graders are learning about autism and will be meeting with Dr. Ruti Regan, a rabbi and disabled disability advocate on February 28th.

  • The 5th graders are learning about learning disabilities and will be meeting with several CESJDS seniors who just graduated to hear about their journey as students with learning differences on February 20th. In addition, the 5th graders will also be meeting with Sara Milner, co founder of Sunflower Bakery and her granddaughter, Batya, a student at Milton. Batya is blind and recently celebrated her bat mitzvah reading from a Braille chumash.

  • The Upper School will focus on JDAIM on February 22nd at KabShab. 

As humans, we seem to be wired to feel uncomfortable with change and difference. Changes in our routine at home, school and work are often difficult for us to embrace. People with visible or invisible disabilities including mental health conditions may cause us to feel uncomfortable because we perceive that there are differences in how some people with disabilities look, talk or feel differently that we have experience with.

It is our belief that education about disabilities is one important component toward increasing our school’s comfort level with change and difference and a building block on our path toward increasing inclusion and acceptance for all in our community.