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

Important Social Media Milestones

This week, dance4empowerment reached two great achievements.  First, the @dance4empower Twitter account that shares inspiring content on the field of disabilities and inclusion throughout the world reached its first-year anniversary.  Since the creation of the Twitter account, over 230 people have followed us and many more have “favorited”, “retweeted”, and shared our content.  The next step is to create a Facebook account to share more content, pictures, and videos with everyone who follows us on Twitter and also those who don’t have Twitter accounts.
Our second milestone this week was getting our 3,oooth viewer on the dance4empowerment WordPress blog.  This is particularly exciting because the blog was the first form of social media I ever used to share the work I am doing, I am humbled by the number of people who have read and followed me throughout my journey.
One significant chapter of my journey that recently came to a close was high school and my senior project called Ma’avar.  Gann Academy offered me so many opportunities to further my passion for dance and the inclusion of people with disabilities.  I am thankful for the time I was given to perform an Independent Research and Design project on the genetics of Down’s syndrome and the week I spent learning from the pioneers of inclusion in Israel.  Although Ma’avar technically came to a close last week, I will continue my work into the summer and spend more time interning at the MA State House and for the Ruderman Family Foundation.
I am learning so much from both of my internships and having incredible experiences.  In my internship at the Ruderman Family Foundation, I am learning important lessons on social media and SEO ratings.  I am grateful to Jay Ruderman, President of the RFF, for the opportunity to intern for his family’s inspiring Foundation.  I have been interning for the RFF for over a year now and am honored to work with such a talented, thoughtful, and impressive group of people.
Additionally, I am glad to continue as an intern in Representative Kay Khan’s office in the MA State House.  Rep. Khan is the House Chair on the Joint Committee for Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities.  She shares my passion for dance and is a leader in making Massachusetts a more inclusive city for people with disabilities.  I was honored to have her join me at my graduation and look forward to working in her office throughout the summer. One of the many opportunities given to State House interns is a series of seminars hosted twice daily.  A variety of speakers come to share their experiences working in the State House, including House Representatives, Senators, and even the Governor.  Last week I attended a seminar by the Speaker of the House, Speaker DeLeo.  He shared his experiences with us and, most inspirational, was his response to a question about his greatest success during his career at the State House.  After some thought, he decided that the accomplishment he was most proud of was the impact that he had on a specific mother of two children with autism.  When he initially met this woman, they discussed legislation that would improve the lives of people with autism and other disabilities as they aged out of the school system.  This legislation was eventually passed and, when he ran into this woman again, she thanked him for all the work that he did to make the lives of her children better.  To Speaker DeLeo, seeing the impact he could have on this woman and her two children was extremely special to him and truly inspirational to me.  It taught me that, in the end, it doesn’t matter how many people follow the dance4empowerment Twitter account or read our blog, but how every step I take to further dance4empowerment can affect the students who will participate in the program.  I hope to take his words with me in everything I do and I feel fortunate to know that I have already made an impact on people along the way.
 
Dance, move, and empower,
Sierra