BE A LEADER
Rabbi Mendel Kastel OAM (Order of Australia Medal)
Rabbinic Fellow at The Great Synagogue
CEO of Jewish House
National Mental Health Commision Advisory Board member
Taking on inclusion is a great way to build respect for you as a leader in your community. People identify with a leader who takes on serious issues that are important to them and this can be a great way to connect to those who otherwise may not be interested. If you show leadership here, people will follow you in other areas as well.
Growing up in Crown Heights and being involved with Pegishas, we watched the Rebbe welcome every person no matter how they looked. It’s really all about going back to the basics of who we are as Chabad.
As Chabad Chassidim, we have a gift that the core of who we are is recognizing that every person is a gem, a chelek eloka. We have always been the non-judgmental Jewish leaders of the world.
Let’s take that beyond accepting people who may have ‘married out’ or who drive on Shabbos and apply it to those with other differences: i.e., physical or intellectual disabilities, or mental health conditions.
Think about inclusion as you sit with your board, talk to your members, set your website messaging and in your drashos. Be a leader in your community and share this unique message of Chassidus.
BE ON THEIR SIDE
Chabad of the West Side, NYC, NY
For Hebrew Schools/Camps:
Make sure your registration form asks if the child has an IEP. If they do, follow up with a personal call and ask the parents to share anything you might need to know to best serve their child. They will usually have good insights into the best way to accommodate the child and tailor the learning if need be. #JustAsk is always the best approach.
Similarly, if you see that the student or camper is having a hard time integrating or participating, a good approach is to reach out to the parents and ask them what works in school or in other settings for them, and if they don’t know, ask if you can be in touch with their classroom teacher or other support staff at their school to discuss what they do that works with that child.
I found that by showing that you are interested in learning what works best for their child, parents respond with great insight and feel like you are on their side, rather than in opposition to them.
Rabbi Yossi Lipsker
Chabad of the North Shore, MA
When it comes to interacting with people with disabilities my advice is simply be yourself and be as natural and gregarious as you are with anyone else. This is the biggest gift you can give to someone who feels different.
Sometimes we go out of our way and find ourselves reacting with awkwardness or trying to be overly sensitive and it comes through. What people need, above and beyond the specific supports that we may or not be able to provide, is to be treated like everyone else.
This is natural to who we are as Shluchim- people are drawn to us because they feel innately that we genuinely don’t see them as the “other.” We can extend this to someone who feels that society has characterized them as an “other”- we are the leaders in the “industry” of making everyone feel comfortable in their own skin. This essentially reinforces the message of the neshama- the core part of each of us that we have in common with everyone else.
BE OPEN AND EMPOWER
Chabad of Cupertino
Director Gan Yeladim Preschool
Take a holistic view of your role in the life of members with disabilities in your community. You are a part of their team as the providers of spiritual aspects in their life. Be open, welcoming, and accommodating to other professionals who are there to support. It may be a parent in a preschool who wants to bring support staff, a nurse to provide medical support, or a guide dog for someone who is blind. Services may overlap and it is healthiest for the individual if they are integrated together with the enrichments in this person’s life. See yourself as an important partner.
Empower people with disabilities in your community at the level where they are. Recognize their abilities and empower them with tasks they can be successful at and meaningfully contribute in your community. Perhaps sitting in Shul is difficult but helping with the Kiddush set up is the perfect way for them to be involved. Be open.