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Inclusion, Belonging and the High Holidays

Inclusion, Belonging and the High Holidays

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Many rabbis speak about inclusion from the pulpit. Some deliver a full sermon about inclusion through reflections of the parshah, a summary of congregational activities throughout the year, or create an opportunity to talk about it at other points in the service. Here are just some ideas:

Sermon Ideas:

  • We are Not Your Mitzvah Project: Perspectives on Participation from People with Disabilities
  • How Do We Welcome the Stranger?
  • Biblical and Historical Perspectives on Disability Inclusion
  • Presenting a Challenge to the Congregation: What is Your Role in Welcoming People with Disabilities?
  • Inclusion: What is it and How Can We Achieve It?
  • Creating a Roadmap for Inclusion: Why? How? When?
  • Disability is Normal and Affects Us All
  • The Year Ahead: How Our Congregation Supports People with Disabilities in Congregational Life Today and Opportunities for Tomorrow
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act—Civil Rights and Moral Mandate

Engage the congregation during the Yom Kippur afternoon recess. Offer a “Food for Thought” program about an aspect of belonging, share a Torah message, convene a panel of inclusion committee members, people with disabilities and family members to lead a discussion on inclusion.

Topics could include:

  • Personal stories about why inclusion is important
  • Topics on disability inclusion as social justice
  • Trends in employment and housing initiatives
  • People with Disabilities in the Tanakh: Contributions, Strengths and Gifts
  • Discussion on how the synagogue can support life cycle events for people with disabilities. Include people with disabilities.
  • Discussion on inclusive supports for students with disabilities in pre-school, religious school, confirmation, bar or bat mitzvah and youth groups.
  • What do the Torah and the commentators say about inclusion?

Other Suggestions

Before the high holidays offer tours of the synagogue to people who are new or visiting so they can become familiar and comfortable to daven there. They can see and touch unfamiliar items, explore the machzor, stand on the bimah, hold the Torah, and find a seat where they will be comfortable sitting. Familiarity can help ease some anxiety about a new situation.

The easiest thing you can do is to announce page numbers often. Describe the seforim by color and size, in addition to name.

Ask people with disabilities ahead of time to participate in leading prayers during the service. Honor them with aliyot and practice the b’rachot with them. Ask people with disabilities and their family members to give a d’var Torah, carry the Torah for a hakafah, recite the Torah or Haftarah b’rachot and recite the Kiddush.

If your bimah is not accessible, move it to the main level of the sanctuary so the Torah itself is accessible to all.

Train ushers to welcome and seat people with disabilities. Make sure they know where assistive listening devices and large print prayer books are located.

Do not create a separate section for people with disabilities to sit unless they use a sign language interpreter. In that case, seat them in the front row so they have access to the interpreter. Remember that people who use mobility devices may want to sit with friends or family.

During the month of Elul or the Days of Awe, incorporate inclusion in Torah study. Parshat Nitzavim is a powerful and meaningful text to study. It’s a reminder that we all stood together to make the covenant with G‑d. What does that mean as modern day Jews? How does that inform our congregational culture?

On days one can travel, lack of transportation is a tremendous barrier. Purchase ride vouchers from your community’s accessible public transportation provider so people with disabilities who use that service can join. Volunteer drivers can assist in providing transportation, too! Finally, designate additional accessible parking spaces, and offer valet parking so family members can enter the building with their loved ones who have a disability.

Use social media to promote inclusion. Post your events. Quote text that resonates with Jewish values about belonging and inclusion. Record a short d’var Torah about inclusion for YouTube.

Provide machzorim and chumashim in accessible format (i.e. Braille, large print, audio versions).

Make your services accessible to people who have diverse sensory needs, such as sign language interpretation (set seats aside so those worshipers can see the interpreter clearly) and picture schedules of the service order. Include the start and ending times of services, the prayer order and the location of restrooms and drinking fountains in your service handout.

Make your sanctuary fragrance free so that people with extreme chemical sensitivity do not have severe reactions. Publicize this in your High Holiday mailings, on your website, and on tickets if you use them.

Make sure all lights are working and that there is plenty of light in the sanctuary for people who have low vision.

Start each service with the opportunity for congregants to turn to their neighbors and introduce themselves. Make sure that every person has someone with whom to share this greeting.

For more ideas on inclusion visit the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative page at www.Chabad.org/inclusion or contact us at info@rcii.org.

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