The Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative was initially founded as a four-year program to help Chabad Houses increase inclusion for people with disabilities in Jewish communities around the world. But as the date for the end of the program came ever closer last year, it became clear that more needed to be done. And so plans were made to continue operations for another two years, creating an “exit strategy” that will leave a lasting change on how the world sees people with disabilities and includes them in everyday life.

The program’s success has been substantial so far. There was a book about inclusion that featured the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory; a multi-class workshop through the Jewish Learning Initiative; the creation of online resources, including articles on inclusion on; and more, reaching hundreds of thousands.

“Everything we did, we did with the mindset of this being a four-year program and what would remain after we were finished,” Sarah Kranz-Ciment, director of the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative, told “These weren’t one-time programs, but tools that will be used as resources for people going forward.”


But things had changed since the initiative began in 2014. First, there were the statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that in the United States alone, one in every four adults has some kind of disability that impacts their daily life. Plus, people were talking more openly about mental-health concerns and issues like anxiety, depression, abuse, addiction and suicide.

That made keeping the initiative going even more critical. The Ruderman Family Foundation once again stepped up, offering a challenge grant of $600,000, allowing the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative to continue its work for the next two years.

‘Part of Your Frame of Mind’

That funding helped spearhead one of the organization’s biggest projects to date, “ShabbaTTogether.” The weekend pilot program was held in February, which has been designated Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, and was organized in as many as 250 communities. Plans are already underway for next year’s program, when organizers hope to have 1,000 communities participating with the goal of it becoming an annual event.

“We know inclusion isn’t a weekend thing or a one-time-only thing, but by raising the conversation, you are getting people to talk about it in your community,” said Kranz-Ciment. “Inclusion has to be a part of your frame of mind. It’s an attitude. Inclusion means you think about people you know and how you can support each person to give them opportunities to participate.”

The Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative is also releasing of a new song titled “We All Belong,” written by Long Island, N.Y., resident Esther Deutsch, along with music video featuring some of the Jewish communities’ leading performers. “We All Belong” is also the title of a mobile mural created last year by artist Yitzchok Moully. The colorful display shows people in a wheelchair, using a cane and more.

“The feeling of belonging is one of the most important things we can give anyone,” said Kranz-Ciment. “If someone has something holding them back, how can we work with them to make them more comfortable and feel like they belong? Once you have this mindset, your whole outlook changes. It becomes a very different way of working with people in every facet of life.

“Disability inclusion is shining a light on how to be a better society, a better Am Yisrael [‘nation of Israel’], a better person,” she continued. “If we can do this, well, we can change the world.”