New Online Learning Center to Enhance Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Congregations

December 15, 2014, New York, NY — The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and the Ruderman Family Foundation this week launched the URJ Ruderman Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center (http://disabilitiesinclusion.org/), an innovative and interactive online resource center.

“Thanks to this partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation, the URJ is able to offer this innovative, comprehensive and high level online learning program to help strengthen congregations,” said URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs. “Our goal is to help all congregations remove barriers and provide pathways to participation so that people with disabilities and their families can truly belong and contribute to their communities. I urge all Reform professionals, lay leaders, and congregational staff to join in this opportunity for study, synagogue transformation, and audacious hospitality. We are exceptionally grateful to the Ruderman Family Foundation for their vision and leadership in making this extraordinary opportunity available to all and to Project Coordinator Rabbi Edie Mencher for the knowledge, insight and passion she and her team have brought to this project.”

A key element of the far-reaching URJ Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Initiative, this pioneering learning site, open to all, offers visitors the information and strategies to develop truly inclusive congregations where everyone can fully participate in and contribute to Jewish communal life and learning. An equally important goal of the site is to decrease the stigma and misconceptions surrounding disabilities.

The resource center includes dozens of practical, skill-building webinars and print resources created by leading disabilities-inclusion experts including:

Shelly Christensen, founder of Inclusion Innovations
Lisa Friedman, education co-education director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, NJ
Howard Blas of the Ramah Tikvah Program
Meredith Polsky of Matan
Rabbi Steven Rau and Stacey Levy of The Temple in Atlanta, GA
Rabbi Lynne Landsberg of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Maria Hartman of Columbia Teachers College

Users will learn how to incorporate practices that promote inclusion in such areas as early childhood programming, religious school, b’nai mitzvah preparation, worship, and adult and youth programming. Additionally, information will be available about disabilities advocacy and community partnerships. There are questions at the end of each study session to ensure participants have absorbed the material. Finally, users will be encouraged to share questions and comments with one another and with disabilities experts through the site’s discussion boards.

Reform professionals and lay leaders who show robust participation and complete review questions are invited to apply to be recognized at the 2015 URJ Biennial conference. Reform congregations may apply to be listed as Exemplar Congregations that have excelled at inclusion in one or more areas of congregational life, and whose staff will serve as mentors to other congregational professionals.

All Reform congregations may also request to be listed on the site as one of the Committed Congregations, indicating to all that they are committed to being welcoming and inclusive. Reform congregational leaders wishing to be included on either of these lists may contact the URJ’s Project Coordinator Rabbi Edythe Mencher or Assistant Program Manager Joseph D. Robbins.

“Our Jewish communities have the potential to be more open, welcoming places for people of all abilities and their families,” said Ruderman Family Foundation President, Jay Ruderman. “We all know that the center of our Jewish community is the synagogue. Our partnership with URJ will provide the tools and knowledge necessary to transform synagogues across North America into gathering places that are more fair and welcoming to all Jews. Ultimately we will build a more inclusive and attractive community for us all.”

About the Ruderman Family Foundation

The Ruderman Family Foundation believes that inclusion and understanding of each other is essential to a fair and flourishing community.

Guided by our Jewish values, we support effective programs, innovative partnerships and a dynamic approach to philanthropy. Our core areas of interest: advocating for and advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the Jewish community; fostering a more nuanced understanding of the American Jewish community among Israeli leaders; and modeling the practice of strategic philanthropy worldwide. The Foundation provides funding, leadership and expertise in both the U.S. and Israel, with offices in both countries.

For more information about our programs, partners and grantees, please visit RudermanFoundation.org.

About the Union for Reform Judaism

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is a dynamic network of congregations, lay leaders, clergy and professionals across North America. Our progressive, inclusive approach unites thousands of years of Jewish tradition and values with modern Jewish experience to strengthen Judaism today and for future generations. Through programs, information and networking opportunities provided by the URJ, our nearly 900 member congregations enhance their capacity to build and expand community, deepen Jewish learning, energize worship, pursue social justice and develop inspired leadership.

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