As the mother of an autistic teenager, Gabrielle Kaplan-Meyer understands the way disabilities can pose challenges for families partaking in Jewish communal life. “For example, Purim is loud and wonderful,” says Gabrielle, Director of Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion, supported by our Jewish Federation. “But from a sensory perspective it can be overwhelming to walk into a place with that much stimulation.”

Gabrielle’s family is far from alone. According to the U.S. Census, one in five people has some kind of learning, cognitive, physical and/or developmental disability. Mindful of the need to make Jewish communal life welcoming to people of all abilities, Whole Community Inclusion was formed to make Jewish programming accessible for families raising kids with special needs. That includes creating sensory-friendly jkidphilly programs (like a Purim party with the noise level turned down, or with a designated “quiet space”); expanding education for synagogue leaders and early childhood educators; compiling downloadable lesson plans; and advocating on behalf of special needs families through the Jewish Disability Inclusion Consortium of Greater Philadelphia, a group which includes our Jewish Federation.

February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), an international initiative now in its 12th year. There are so many great ways to participate here in Greater Philadelphia:

  • Learn and grow at one of nearly two dozen “JDAIM Shabbat” programs, held throughout the month at synagogues across the region

When you take time to understand friends who are different from you, you are showing kindness/hesed. That is an important Jewish value.

For more about how our Jewish Federation helps support inclusion for people with disabilities, click here.