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

Visiting the Ruderman Family Foundation in Rehovot, Israel

After a long delay leaving Boston due to weather, it was nice to enjoy my first full day in Israel since last year.  Besides visiting the Kotel, exploring Ben Yehuda Street, and eating delicious Israeli food, I met with Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation (RFF), and Ephraim Gopin, RFF’s Communications Director.  Overlooking the bucolic fields of Rehovot, I discussed the importance of the inclusion of people with disabilities in Boston and Israel with one of the most influential foundations in the field.  Over the past year, I have been very fortunate to learn from and receive support and inspiration from Jay; and, I’m excited to continue to work with Jay on the inclusion of people with disabilities in Boston and Israel.  In addition, it was great to finally meet Ephraim whom I have been interning with since the summer.  Ephraim has taught me so much about how to use social media to promote dance4empowerment; I am looking forward to our continued work together.

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(Jay Ruderman and Sierra Weiss)

I truly appreciate the time both Jay and Ephraim spent with me today discussing dance4empowerment’s goals and future. 

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

Dancing with Inclusion -Jay Ruderman

I am so honored to introduce Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, as a guest blogger for dance4empowerment.  His dedication to raising awareness, providing opportunities, creating change for people with disabilities in Boston, Israel, and throughout the world is truly inspiring.  I am very fortunate for his support in my endeavors to create and expand dance4empowerment.  

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra

 

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I am President of a foundation that believes in the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the Jewish community and society at large. Some would say it’s a lofty idea but too hard to implement. It’s too difficult to change people’s perceptions, tough to erase pre-existing prejudices, too costly or we’re just not ready. I hear this all the time and my answer is: it takes two to tango.

Before learning to dance, you size up your partner: they may not be the same height or same weight, they look clumsy, they’re nervous. In short, they look different from you and you’re very unsure how this will work out. 

But then the music starts. You begin to move in tandem, you work together, you start to move flawlessly across the dance floor. Suddenly, what seemed like a potential weakness becomes a strength: you play off of each other. It takes time, it takes patience and you’ll have to work through many potential failures and missteps. But at the end of the journey, you’ve learned to tango! 

Inclusion is not as difficult as it seems. Yes, some people with disabilities may look or act different. Yes, it takes time and patience to work with them, get to know them and learn how to include them. But EVERYONE has potential, everyone can contribute, everyone can improve our community.

The Jewish community is an amazing community, one that is dedicated to social justice, tikkun olam (healing the world) and has been at the forefront of every social movement of the last half century. We have the ability to exact lasting change within society at large. The time has come to do the same within our own community for the 20% of our people who have a disability.

It takes two to tango. Take the first step. The end results will be extremely satisfying.

Jay Ruderman is the President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.