Celebrating Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month

I recently finished reading Ora Horn Prouser’s book Esau’s Blessing: How the Bible embraces those with Special Needs.  While the book focuses mainly on Esau’s story, several other characters from the Bible are portrayed. Prouser has an interesting take on some of the most well known stories in the Bible and her book is just one example of the many strides forward the Jewish community has made regarding inclusion.

In the final days of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, I would like to share my appreciation for all the Jewish organizations that have helped propel dance4empowerment forward over the past few years. I have been very fortunate to have been introduced to and involved with several incredible programs, organizations, foundations, and people working to foster inclusive communities and provide equal opportunities for people of all abilities.

After my first introduction to people with disabilities at Camp Ramah New England through their unique Tikvah program, my passion for inclusion was immediately sparked and, since, I have continued to seek out opportunities to work with people with disabilities.  I am proud to have been a volunteer at Gateways for three years; working one on one with an amazing teenager who was passionate about his Jewish identity.  Watching him grow and develop over the many Sunday mornings we spent together, was one of the most influential and inspiring experiences of my life. Additionally, I am grateful to three amazing organizations in Israel that I visited two years ago that continue to inspire me with all the work that they do.  My visits to Beit Issie Shapiro, SHALVA, and ALEH: Jerusalem, were significant in teaching me the power of motivation and patience.  Each organization plays an important role in making Israel a more inclusive and accessible place for people with disabilities and are models for others around the world. Although they are oversees, I have made strong connections with each organization and always look forward to visiting them when I’m in Israel.

Lastly, I want to thank the Jewish organizations and people in Boston who have taught me valuable lessons, crucial to the success of dance4empowerment.  From Gann Academy, the pluralistic Jewish high school I attended, to the Diller Teen Fellowship, which I participated in as a sophomore when the idea for dance4empowerment was elevated, I have been supported and encouraged by these communities. Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Ruderman Family Foundation have been enthusiastic about the work I am doing and have been incredible mentors.  And, I would be remiss if I did not thank Massachusetts State Representative Kay Khan for her meaningful guidance and encouragement.

More recently, since coming to Emory University, I have found incredible support in Hillel International’s Social Startup Fellowship.  I am so proud to be a member of many diverse and important Jewish communities and I am thankful for the role that each and every one has played in teaching and inspiring me.

And, so, it is with all these organizations and people in mind that I am excited to celebrate Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month and to be fostering the inclusion of people with disabilities through dance.  I hope that through dance4empowerment, I can continue to make an impact on the inclusiveness of the Jewish community. With each new step let us hope that Jewish communities around the world will continue to become more inclusive and celebrate their members’ many abilities!

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

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Exciting dance4empowerment Partnership with the Miss Amazing Pageant

I am very excited to share with you that this past weekend dance4empowerment hosted another successful event!
Over the summer, the Boston Celtics hosted their annual celebratory ceremony for all the season’s recipients of the Heroes Among Us awards.  The ceremony was heart warming and it gave me the opportunity to meet so many incredible heroes in our communities.  It was at this event when I met Andrea Nevins, co-Director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Miss Amazing Pageant, which celebrates the abilities of girls and women with disabilities.  Creating a partnership with Andrea’s program was a natural fit and, so, this past Sunday, we hosted our first joint program.
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dance4empowerment and the Miss Amazing Pageant offered the women and girls who participated in the pageant an opportunity to dance and go home with a beautiful party dress!  Sivan Elefson, the dance therapist who led the debut dance4empowerment program at Camp Ramah New England, led the dance portion of the pageant for the afternoon.  The girls had a wonderful time dancing together to their favorite songs! Unfortunately I could not watch the program run firsthand because I am at Emory University in Atlanta, GA but both Andrea and Sivan couldn’t wait to tell me that the dance program was a big success. My college schedule is very demanding but I am still motivated to continue expanding dance4empowerment’s reach.
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I am honored to have had the opportunity to help create such a fun and empowering program for the Miss Amazing Pageant participants. I want to thank Andrea for all her hard work helping to organize this great event and for running an amazing program. Thank you Sivan for sharing the same passion for dance as I do and for wanting to empower people with disabilities.  I look forward to sharing more exciting programs hosted by dance4empowerment.  If you know an organization or foundation that might be interested in partnering with dance4empowerment, please let us know!
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Dance, move, and empower,
Sierra

dance4empowerment happenings

This morning was Gateways’ first session of the academic year.  Gateways provides high quality special education services for Jewish children with disabilities. The expertise and support at Gateways help the students succeed in a Jewish educational setting and participate in a meaningful Jewish life.  I volunteer one on one with a student at Gateways in activities inspired by Jewish holidays; and, we practice social skills and learn Hebrew in preparation for his bar-mitzvah.  In addition, I am introducing dance4empowerment movement program to Gateways this year!   So, today, as part of this new programming, we used dance as a tool for the students and volunteers to introduce themselves and remember each other’s names.  With dance moves inspired by some of the Fall’s Jewish holidays, students picked a move to match their name for everyone to repeat and dance along to.  It was so great to see how focused the students were when they danced or repeated movements.  This will be dance4empowerment’s first year long program; I look forward to watching the progress and the performance at the end of the year.

The beginning of the academic year also brought about a few more firsts for dance4empowerment.  We were contacted by our first volunteer, an eager dancer who would like to help dance4empowerment as part of her bat-mitzvah project!  dance4empowerment also received its first donation which will be used to purchase supplies for the movement program at Gateways. Please visit dance4empowerment’s new website, http://dance4empowerment.org , and find out how you can help too.

Thank you so much for your support and encouragement. Please continue to follow dance4empowerment and help spread the word about our program!

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra