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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Almost One Year Later and Returning to Israel

Almost a year ago, I went to Israel to learn about creating inclusion and empowerment for people with disabilities from three of Israel’s pioneer programs.  I chose to travel to Israel because of my strong connection with the country and because I thought that Israel would provide the best opportunities to learn hands on about creating impactful programs for people with disabilities.  The trip was more than I could have asked for.  I was so inspired by the three foundations I visited and, further, have maintained strong relationships with them.  I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from such insightful and impressive leaders and look forward to visiting again.

I leave to Israel with my family next week; I am very excited to share my inspiration with them and to spend time together as a family.  It will be great to get to learn more about what I can do to improve and build on the foundation I’ve made for dance4empowerment now that we are up and running as a non-profit organization.  My last trip inspired me and taught me how to share the joy and love that I see in people with disabilities.  I hope to share my progress with my role models in Israel and to learn more from them. 

I started this blog for my last trip to Israel to share the benefits of dance for people with disabilities and to report on my progress.  Almost a year later, I reflect a lot on the progress of dance4empowerment and will continue to share all that I learn in Israel and into the future.  I want to take the time to thank everyone who has read my blog over the last year, who has supported me and influenced my work, and who believed in my ability and passion.  I hope you will all continue to follow me on my journey and help dance4empowerment continue to empower people with disabilities.

Dance, move, and empower,

Sierra