A human being mints many coins from the same mold but the Holy One, Blessed be G‑d, strikes us all from the mold of the first human yet each one of us is unique. Therefore, every single person is obligated to say, “The world was created for my sake."

(Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

True inclusion begins with a mindset – a change in our thinking.

The Rebbe pioneered this concept in its truest form, valuing every person based solely on that person’s inner essence. The Rebbe further tasked us to make Judaism accessible to every Jew, without regard to that person’s physical or spiritual status. It is the Rebbe’s message that has empowered Chabad to be instinctively inclusiveto embrace each and every Jew and treat him or her like family, regardless of background or lifestyle. Chabad was already practicing inclusion before the term was even coined!

The Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative is organic to Chabad. RCII wants to empower every one of our Shluchim and Shluchos to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for people with disabilities in our shuls, our camps, our schools – in every program that we offer.

Inclusion goes beyond welcoming and accessible spaces. Real inclusion is when someone feels that they belong—and that they are valued. We achieve inclusion when we not only treat people like equals, but when we also truly believe that each person is our equal. Of course, this does not mean that everyone is the same. It means, rather, that each person has the ability to succeed and thrive if given the appropriate supports to do so.

* * *

But how do we know what is meaningful and important to another person?

We open our doors.
We ask.
We listen.
We take the journey together.

We do not do things for people with disabilities. We do things with people with disabilities. It is time for us to acknowledge that “Inclusion” (with a capital “I”) means, simply, that we treat people as individuals – not as a group of “those people” whose needs can be met through special programs or occasional visits to synagogues.

Thank you for joining us in taking these important steps toward inclusion. Together, we can achieve our goal – to create a culture of inclusion throughout the world!

How to Create an Inclusive Jewish Community

We can raise awareness and support people with disabilities in our communities by incorporating practices that stress the importance of belonging. Here are some ideas for practices and programs that communal leaders and rabbis can implement at any time.

  • Give a sermon on inclusion. Engage the community with a discussion.
  • Offer tours of the shul to people who are new or visiting so they can become familiar and feel more comfortable. They can see and touch ritual items, stand at the bimah, and find a seat where they will be comfortable sitting. Familiarity can help ease some anxiety about a new situation.
  • Announce page numbers often. Describe the siddur and chumash by color and size, in addition to name.
  • Ask people with disabilities ahead of time to participate in the service. Honor them by calling them to the Torah and help them practice the blessings. Ask people with disabilities and their family members to give the d’var Torah, carry the Torah for a hakafah, and say Kiddush.
  • Train ushers to welcome and seat people with disabilities. Make sure they know where working assistive listening devices and large print books are located.
  • Have a community discussion on ways the synagogue can support life cycle events for people with disabilities.
  • Encourage families to hold milestone celebrations for a child with a disability on Shabbat or as is customary at your synagogue so that your community can attend.
  • Provide siddurim 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 congregants can see the interpreter clearly) and picture schedule of the service order. Include in your handout important information such as the approximate start and end times, the prayer order and the location of restrooms and drinking fountains.
  • 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.
  • Identify barriers to participation within the organization. Examine:
    • Architectural barriers
      Communication barriers
      Attitudinal barriers

    What does your organizational mission statement say about inclusion? If you have an Inclusion Committee, spend the necessary time to create the mission statement of this committee.

  • Promote Inclusion. Invite people with disabilities to attend services, programs and events by including an accessibility statement in all of your publications. Your website, bulletins, weekly service handouts, invitations to events and notices about programs should clearly state that your organization is accessible to people with disabilities.

    Include language that encourages people to contact you if they require an accommodation. This is recommended language:

    Every Chabad community is committed to creating an inclusive and welcoming environment. If you require an accommodation in order to attend please contact (name) at (phone number) by (insert a due date so that you have time to make the arrangements).

  • Braille signage on elevators, room and directional signs.
  • Start an Inclusion or Accessibility Fund to help provide money for accommodations and modifications and accessible transportation to youth group events.
  • Evaluate each of the programming areas as well as architecture to identify barriers to inclusion. Use these evaluations to set priorities and goals for inclusion in your organization.
  • Write a monthly column for the bulletin on different aspects of inclusion in your community.
  • Use language that promotes respect and dignity. For example, Sam is not handicapped or disabled. Sam is a person with a disability. Using Person First language is respectful and does not define a person by their disability, rather, having a disability is just one aspect of who they are. Some people prefer Identity-First language (autistic rather than has autism). Best rule of thumb—identify people by their names, not by their disability label.
  • Are people with disabilities on your board? On your staff?

If you would like to talk to our inclusion specialists about ideas to welcome and support people with disabilities, please contact the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative [email protected]