Eye Opening Articles 2013

3 articles

There are 3 articles (dated February 2013) on this page so please page down to read them all - different subjects ...

(on Feb. 9, 2014 "The Jewish Daily FORWARD" published a 4th article that was actually written March 17, 2013 - see at the bottom of this page.
Should Every Disabled Child Get a Jewish Education? - Day Schools and Families Grapple With Costs of Inclusion )
Click this link to read see the paper article.

* * *
Feb. 2013 - I posted the following comment on the one about schools:

Houston we have a problem .... The author has pointed out an issue that apparently is not unique to any one city or community in this great country. It usually takes a parent, grandparent, caregiver or someone directly touched by a family member who lives with Special Needs, to step forward and speak out for their loved one. One has to wonder how those of us who are Jewish can tolerate and help others but discriminate against our own. To quote Rabbi Bradley Artson "There are only two types of people - those who have Special Needs and those who will have Special Needs".

FYI: We do have a great program (STARS) housed at the Bertha Alyse Campus (BAC) which is part of the ER JCC but it only offers services up to age 5 and is expensive, although scholarships are available in some cases.

A More Welcoming Shul

Program that teaches rabbis the how and why of inclusion poised to grow.

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Published on The Jewish Week

Many congregants are a bit intimidated by their rabbis — not Shelley Cohen, not when it came to fighting for her son Nate, who suffered from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a fatal genetic disease.

When Nate, who died in 2007 at age 21, approached bar mitzvah age, Cohen asked her rabbi at the Modern Orthodox Lincoln Square Synagogue to make the bima wheelchair-accessible.

“He said, ‘Look how much it will cost, I just don’t think we can do this,’” Cohen remembered, leaning forward gently but firmly to demonstrate just how she leaned on the rabbi. “I said, ‘I think you can.’” “He said, ‘But, it will be so difficult, it’s so expensive.’ And I just said, ‘I think you can. I think you can.’ And he did.”

She won that battle, but decades of losing ones inspired Cohen soon after Nate’s death to create the Jewish Inclusion Project, which trains rabbis on why and how to create synagogues, schools and summer camps that make people with disabilities and their families feel welcome. Now the program, presented for the first time in 2008 at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the liberal Orthodox rabbinical school in the Bronx, is poised to grow.

Raif Melhado

At the end of January, Cohen brought her project back to YCT. For four days, all day, YCT’s rabbinical students and their colleagues at Yeshivat Maharat, the school that trains Orthodox women to serve as congregations’ spiritual and halachic leaders, attended Cohen’s training: working in pairs, alternately bowing their heads over their texts and raising them to confer with each other or take a sip from a cup of tea, likely lukewarm.

Some of the texts were hard to accept.

“Sometimes we do have sources that are painful to read, and difficult to call part of our tradition,” said Raif Melhado, 30, a second-year YCT student who was grappling with a text that called a person who could neither hear nor speak a monkey. “Just because they’re uncomfortable doesn’t mean that they are bad.”

Of course, aspiring clergy often struggle with Jewish texts that strike contemporary minds as mean or exclusionary. Because of Cohen, they are facing these feelings about rulings relevant to people with disabilities, like whether a blind person can be called to the Torah. Her training also includes films, panel discussions and lectures both from people with disabilities and those who work with them, and role-playing.

YCT has offered Cohen’s program three times, and now she’s got the city’s other major seminaries in her sights. With a $25,000 grant from the Ruderman Family Foundation, a leading funder of disabilities services and advocacy in the Jewish world, she has arranged for consulting to help her figure out how to grow the project.

She’s already shopping the curriculum around to the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, which is Orthodox, although she hasn’t gotten invitations from any of them yet.

The Ruderman grant comes at a time when disability issues are becoming more prominent. The Foundation for Jewish Camp is mapping what services are available to children with disabilities at Jewish overnight camps in North America, and an educator recently announced plans for a pluralistic Manhattan day school for children with disabilities.

But there’s much to be done, Cohen said. How many synagogues have cups at their water fountains, so people in wheelchairs can drink, she asked rhetorically.

“The reality is, it’s still happening,” she said. “People who have a child with a disability are still not being included and are being ostracized by the community.”

Such situations highlight the need for Cohen’s training, said Jay Ruderman, president of his family’s foundation.

Many synagogues in the United States and Canada are hurting these days as congregational affiliation weakens, but he says clergy remain key figures.

“Rabbis are certain leaders, especially in the diaspora community,” Ruderman said. “So [we need] to have rabbis brought into the issue of inclusion, and to understand how to practice it, and how to speak to their congregations about it.”

The foundation connected Cohen with UpStart, an organization in the San Francisco area that helps Jewish nonprofits — clients include Moishe House — develop their mission, strategy and leadership. UpStart and Cohen will work together through a combination of Skype and visits.

Cohen, whose family focuses its own charitable donations around disability issues, will also support her own program, but would not specify the exact amount.

The rabbinical schools Cohen is approaching say they offer some version of Cohen’s training already.

At HUC-JIR, disability issues are “woven through” the school’s pastoral counseling classes; disability issues come up, for example, when talking about family systems, when something that is happening to one is happening to all, said Rabbi Nancy Wiener, who runs the Blaustein Center for Pastoral Counseling there.

JTS has held similar multi-day trainings to Cohen’s, but not for a few years.

“Before I came there was a good multi-day ‘mini-mester’ where the JTS community focused on disability; we’ve also focused on domestic violence and body issues,” said Rabbi Daniel Nevins, the dean of the rabbinical school. “There are so many important issues.”

And at YU’s RIETS, students take two yearlong courses that expose them to a range of issues facing particular groups in the community, including the physically and developmentally disabled, said spokesman Daniel Gordon.

But Cohen says if they were doing it right, she wouldn’t need to be doing what she is doing.

Christians have a different and often more effective model of serving people with disabilities, said Shelly Christensen, a Minneapolis-based Jewish professional who is the author of the “Jewish Community Inclusion Guide for People With Disabilities” and who also serves as a vice president of the religion and spirituality division of the American Association for People With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

In that community, people with disabilities are served by ministries, such as Joni and Friends and Friendship Ministries, that work with individuals to bring them into the congregation of their choice.

“They’re more about creating a community for the person who has a disability,” Christensen said. “Finding people to welcome them, to drive them to services, to really acknowledge their personhood. Jewish communities tend to see the disability first. It’s a generalization, and it’s not true for everyone, but this has been my experience.”

Both Rabbi Wiener and Rabbi Nevins said they feel there is more to be done to make their communities truly inclusive.

“We are doing some things but we’re certainly not doing enough,” said Rabbi Nevins. “I was inspired by what Shelley had to offer, and I plan to focus in a more sustained fashion on the opportunities and challenges of making our communities more inclusive. Gender is a big issue of ours. LGBT is a big issue of ours. We’ve been quite effective in our camping branch, but our training institutions could be doing a better job.”



Jewish Day Schools' Dirty Little Secret

Children With Disabilities Must Fight for Jewish Education

Black Eye: Jewish day schools are great places to get an education. But most of them do not do a great job accommodating children with disabilities.

Original article with comments: Click Here

By Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Published February 08, 2013 in The Jewish Daily FORWARD (click on the link above to read MANY comments/posts)

Two annual events in the Jewish community took place this week — the North American Jewish Day School Conference and the start of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month. Perhaps not coincidentally, despite the fact that the Day School conference is the largest in history with more than 1,000 educators and supporters gathering in Washington, it does not offer a session on educating and respecting children with disabilities.
So here’s the dirty secret of the Jewish community. While Jews have been at the forefront of civil rights for African Americans, gays, women and immigrants, Jewish Day schools barely do more than “talk the talk” when it comes to including children with disabilities.

If you have a child with a disability who wants a Jewish education, it’s hard to get them accepted and supported. Many parents will find that if their kids are slightly outside the mold of the “cookie cutter kids” that are smoothly on their way to excellent universities and successful careers, that their child might, just might get accepted. If they are lucky, there will be some special support for them child in the early years of school. But if their child’s learning, physical or other differences become too inconvenient eventually they will be called to the school so they can “counsel out” your child.

They will be told ever-so-nicely how sorry they are that they can’t accommodate this child. They might even give you a free lecture about how grateful you should be (as your child is being dismissed) that the school previously offered your child a time slot for the public school speech therapist to come in or tutor. After all, none of that was offered at Jewish day schools decades ago.

As if that could make you and your child feel better and get the education you wanted. Additionally, parents will find that if their child has “behaviors” or mental health issues, certain physical disabilities, seizures, or a lack of “normative” social skills due to Autism Spectrum Disorder, their child simply won’t ever be accepted to many of the Jewish day schools.

Worse yet, the school will accept the child briefly, until they discover that they have not put the proper supports in place. Then something bad will happen like an “unexpected behavior” and the child will be unceremoniously thrown out. The parent might be offered a discussion on the importance of making schools “safe and successful” for the other children who don’t have disabilities.

The parent will feel the full sting of rejection for their child. The combination of hypocrisy, humiliation and hurt may mean that the Jewish community loses this child and family forever.

This isn’t an isolated problem. Approximately 200,000 Jewish children in America have some sort of disability. Given that there is a link between the age of a father and Autism – and that Jews wait longer than most other group in America to have children – this is a growing challenge.

Jewish private schools are not the only schools to deal with these phenomena. Twenty percent of Americans have a disability and fully fifty-one percent of American likely voters either have a disability or a loved one with a disability.

Many public schools, as well as secular private schools for students with disabilities, are quite excellent. Many of their students, because they get the right supports, will go on to major success. Indeed, speaking at a general session at the conference, Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union pointed out that Jewish day schools can qualify for funds from the government to serve kids with disabilities – but many don’t bother to apply. Rabbi David Saperstein, speaking at the same session, also added that it is inexcusable for Jewish day schools to continue to reject children because they have a disability.

But things are so bad in Jewish day schools in New York City that some parents of kids with disabilities commute from Boston to jobs there. Why Boston? Because the Jewish community in Boston has made it a priority to ensure that every child who wants a Jewish education, regardless of their abilities or differences, can get one.

Indeed, when I reached the spokesperson for the Jewish Day School conference and asked if there were any sessions on working with children with disabilities, she pointed out that Arlene Remz of Boston’s outstanding Gateways spoke at a breakout at the conference two years ago and is attending it this year. It did not occur to her that the best practitioner of inclusion should be a regular feature at every conference.

Now a new Jewish day school is about to start in New York that will only serve Jewish kids with disabilities – because no other Jewish day school there will serve them. This is a tragedy because these kids shouldn’t have to be in a separate school. Since Brown vs. the Board of Education blacks haven’t been relegated to separate schools. Why should children with disabilities? Public schools and recreational programs have made inclusion work. Why can’t private schools?

Judaism teaches that every Jew is created in the image of God. Additionally, it teaches that when Jews were slaves in Egypt, God’s instrument was a person with a disability. Moses was “slow of speech and tongue.” So how can a religious school on the one hand teach that God picked Moses to lead, and on another hand exclude a child who is non-verbal?

America would not tolerate it if a prestigious school rejected a child because they were Jewish. Why do Jews continue to tolerate the blatant discrimination in our religious schools?

Mind you, many private schools, Jewish included, will explain that they are doing a lot more for kids with mild disabilities than they did decades ago. Indeed, progress has been made and there are pockets of excellence and teachers who care. There are wonderful programs in Chicago, Baltimore and Miami that serve some children, for example. There indeed are tutors and therapists coming into some of the schools. The tent has expanded, and that is a good thing. But few if any of the school have an inclusion committee. They are lacking board members who have children with disabilities and who focus on those issues. Fewer still have board members with a disability. Few regularly ask the parents of children with special needs, and those students, how they feel about the services and experiences they are getting. Most are not yet looking at how online learning, through places such as the Khan Academy can enable children who learn at different levels to excel.

As Jews, all Jewish institutions reflect on us. So when we don’t work for change, we are all guilty of bigotry. When our Jewish day schools discriminate, we discriminate.

Ending the discrimination of people with disabilities in the Jewish community is not only good for the people with disabilities. It’s good for those who don’t have disabilities as well. After all, without Moses, we’d still be in Egypt.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is Co-Founder and Director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust and President of Laszlo Strategies.

Should Every Disabled Child Get a Jewish Education

Day Schools and Families Grapple With Costs of Inclusion

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/172945/should-every-disabled-child-get-a-jewish-education/?p=all#ixzz2sspnuajX 

By Seth Berkman and Anne Cohen

Published March 17, 2013, issue of March 22, 2013. (Published Feb. 9, 2014)

As executive director of The David Project, a pro-Israel advocacy group, David Bernstein has spent years urging Jews to raise their voices and take a stand. Recently, though, Bernstein felt isolated when he was told that his 7-year-old son, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, no longer fits into the plans of the Washington-area Jewish day school he attended.

“They made clear they weren’t willing to put forward the resources to provide him the support he needs,” Bernstein said. “Imagine the rejection when the Jewish community says, ‘We will no longer provide a Jewish education to your child.’ We know a number of others facing a similar thing.”

To make things worse, Bernstein added, his son has not adjusted well to his new school.

Bernstein declined to disclose the name of his son’s Jewish school publicly. But a spokesman for the school, when reached by the Forward, said that while it has greatly increased its inclusion services, it does not have the means to accommodate every student.

“This is something the entire community needs to do better,” the spokesman said. He declined to comment on Bernstein’s son’s situation specifically, citing the school’s privacy policies.

The inability of Jewish day schools to accommodate many children with special needs is perversely democratic. It has led to the exclusion of children of influential leaders in the Jewish community and to the exclusion of those with no influence at all. And it has certainly raised the financial bar for those who can barely afford a private education for their children to begin with.

Children At School

But as the number of children diagnosed with disabilities grows steadily, the Jewish educational community is being asked two vexing questions: What do parents of such children have a right to expect from Jewish schools already struggling financially? And at what price?

The problem starts with the daunting range of disabilities the schools are being asked to absorb, from mild dyslexia to profound autism, from among some 200,000 Jewish children with special needs in the United States, a number tabulated by the special needs agency Matan.

“We love Jewish day school education,” Bernstein said, referring to his own child’s case. “So it’s a balancing act; on one hand, trying to voice our distress at this direction they’ve taken, but not wanting to undermine the place of the school in the community.”

Shelley Cohen, founder and director of the Jewish Inclusion Project, is less sparing of the schools. When she tried to find a day school that would accommodate her late son, who had Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease that weakens its victims’ muscles, mobility and learning capabilities — and usually kills them by their 20s — she was rejected. The rejections, she said, ranged “from the pluralistic to the Reform to the Orthodox.”

One administrator tried to get her to understand the school’s dilemma. “Understand? I can never understand,” she replied. “I’m willing to accept it because I have no choice. But I can never understand.”

Eventually, Cohen found a school for her son, with help from her extended network of contacts. But some parents aren’t as well-connected as Cohen, a wealthy New York philanthropist long active in the Jewish community. They end up abandoning hope of a day school education for their child, and sometimes abandon their participation in the local Jewish community altogether.

Jeffrey Lichtman, the national director of Yachad/National Jewish Council for Disabilities, said there are three main issues to address to improve day school inclusion: rising costs, better teacher training and attitude changes among the day school establishment. He prioritized the last above all.

“What did President Clinton say? It’s the economy, stupid. Here, it’s the attitude, stupid,” Lichtman said.

Lichtman was dismayed that at the North American Jewish Day School Conference, held in February, there was ”nothing“ on special education.

“We’ve approached them on several occasions about doing more at the conference on special education and inclusion. [We] even put the entire program together, and we have been met with complete rejection,” he said. “It’s really mind-boggling to me, terribly frustrating.”

Jane West Walsh, an organizer of the conference, said that this year’s theme was “leadership,” a theme that helped address all the challenges facing the day school community.

“Everyone comes to these conferences with a different hat on,” Walsh said. “We really thought long and hard on a theme, and what we thought were the most important challenges to day school education and stability.”

Walsh, who has a child with special needs, said that in recent years, special education has been a main focus of the conference. She said that conference organizers would continue to seek out partnerships with leaders in the field.

Contrary to Lichtman, Walsh thought the biggest hurdles to greater inclusion in Jewish schools were financial, not attitudinal. “It’s not will, it’s resources,” she said. “I haven’t found any day school head that says, ‘Just leave me alone.’”

Michelle Wolf, a not-for-profit worker in Los Angeles who blogs on disability issues for the Jewish Journal, L.A.’s local Jewish news outlet, often speaks with parents who are experiencing these scenarios. Wolf herself has a child with cerebral palsy. When her son was diagnosed at 13 months, Wolf prioritized early intervention above all. When he came of school age, she didn’t even apply to Jewish day schools. “I didn’t see the point of sending him to the programs where he wouldn’t get all the therapies,” she said.

Wolf’s choice reflects a hard reality: Even schools able to absorb children with mild disabilities generally lack services for those who have severe ones.

Pardes Jewish Day School, in Phoenix, exemplifies in a lot of ways what Jewish schools can and cannot do. Like many such schools, its outer boundary for children with special needs is a moving target.

“When I came on board 10 years ago, there wasn’t any kind of program,” school head Jill Kessler said. “We were a small school with a very limited budget. We just took baby steps.”

Over the course of her tenure, Kessler has slowly built an inclusive program from scratch. That included evaluating every student about whom the staff had learning concerns, followed by hiring a part-time staff member who could do one-on-one work and train teachers. Today, Pardes’s special education program includes about 40 students.

Still, Pardes does not yet have the capability to serve students who have severe disabilities, such as those who are nonverbal or profoundly autistic.

“We don’t accept children until we’re sure we can meet all of their needs,” Kessler said.

Kessler said candidly that parents of children who have severe disabilities should place a priority on finding programs that will help their children become successful adults, even at the cost of a day school education. “If a child’s severely autistic and has no language [skills], in my mind, that child needs to be in a program designed by people and specialists who truly understand autism at its most serious to bring out and maximize that youngster’s potential,” she said. “Then maybe through the synagogue they can have experiential Jewish learning.”

Wolf, the L.A. blogger who bypassed even applying to a Jewish school for her son with cerebral palsy, noted that he nevertheless has been able to stay involved in the Jewish community. He became a bar mitzvah in 2008.

It’s difficult to analyze whether Jewish day schools are trailing other schools in providing inclusion programs. Lichtman said that on the whole, Catholic schools were not doing a better job than Jewish day schools, but the cost is different. “Day school education, to begin with, is much more expensive,” he said. “So I’m not sure, even there, that it’s a fair comparison.”

Lichtman also did not think it was fair to compare Jewish day schools with public schools, which are mandated by law to serve children who have special needs. “They have an absolute legal obligation, and nobody else does,” he said. “It’s not just a Jewish problem, for sure, but certainly on the face of things, public schools are doing much more because they have to.”

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of Laszlo Strategies, a consulting firm whose portfolio includes advocacy for children with disabilities, recently wrote an op-ed in the Forward, in which she strongly criticized the Jewish days schools’ collective performance. Inclusion has “never been made a priority in the Jewish community,” she said in a follow-up interview, while acknowledging that other faith-based communities are struggling to tackle the subject, as well.

“Imagine if that child was denied admittance because they were black; imagine if that child was denied admittance because the child was female,” said Mizrachi, who is also the parent of a child with a disability. “How would the community feel about that? Why would we allow an institution to say that the school won’t allow a person with disabilities?”

Mizrahi said she has had conversations with parents who offered full payment for inclusion services at a day school but were still met with refusal.

There are programs that appear to offer models for integrating religious and special education components. Boston’s Gateways program is often cited as one. It serves 140 students in seven day schools, providing them with on-site occupational therapists, speech and language therapists as well as learning specialists who assist throughout the day as needed. The program also trains teachers.

But Gateways charges notable fees in addition to already hefty day school tuitions. Those fees vary depending on the type of assistance needed. The program’s executive director, Arlene Remz, said weekly 30-minute speech-language therapy or occupational therapy sessions cost $1,650 per year, while a fully “supported inclusion” program costs about $16,000, not including the pay for a one-on-one aide.

Other successful programs include Keshet in Chicago, Kesher in Miami and OROT in Philadelphia. One school that is able to combine the costs by hosting all the services under one roof is Carmel Academy, a pluralistic day school in Greenwich, Conn. Carmel offers in-house special education services through its Providing Alternative Learning Strategies program, now in its seventh year. The program serves children who have language-based and other learning disabilities, as well as children on the autism spectrum, from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Though the PALS classes are mostly self-contained, kids mainstream throughout the day, both in academic classes and for extracurricular activities.

Fifty of Carmel Academy’s 320 students are enrolled in the PALS program. Bobbie Powers, who serves both as director of educational resources for the entire school and as director of the PALS division, estimated tuition for the core program at $21,000 a year; for PALS students, the cost is more than double that amount.

In Philadelphia, according to OROT’s educational director, Beverly Bernstein, parents pay $8,500 on top of tuitions that already range from $8,500 to $19,000 for OROT’s additional special needs services.

The significant financial burden weighs heavily on the day schools themselves.

“It can be challenging from a cost perspective, a resource perspective and a knowledge perspective,” said Rabbi Yehuda Potok, head of the Gateways partner Striar Hebrew Academy, located in Boston. Most day schools simply can’t afford to build the sort of internal capacity that public schools are legally mandated to construct, he said — and for which they receive federal and state funding.

Michael Held, executive director of the Etta Israel Center, an inclusive day school center in L.A., proposes a radical solution for mitigating the financial burden that agencies like OROT, PALS and Gateways now lay on parents of children with special needs: Socialize the additional cost among all families in the school community.

“If there was a community wide vision that inclusive education is the correct thing to do, then the community of schools as a whole need to embrace that and incorporate the cost in the cost of the school,” Held said.

But should parents whose children do not have special needs have to pay for those costs? “It costs more to the community to have the supports in place,” Mizrahi said. But, she argued, the richness that inclusion provides for the kids who don’t have disabilities is immense.

“The money is there if we choose to make it a priority, and we haven’t,” she said.

Contact Seth Berkman and Anne Cohen

Op-Ed: Play the Money Card To Push Rights for Disabled

Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013 11:05 am- stljewishlight.com (St.Louis Jewish Light)

Original article can be here

By Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi · February 7, 2013


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish identity and connection are the birthright of every Jew. So why do so many Jewish institutions discriminate against Jews with disabilities?

It keeps happening because we let it happen. We make excuses by saying there isn't enough support or enough dollars, or because we value children going to Harvard over those who won’t.

With February being Jewish Disability Awareness Month, it’s time to ask how long we plan to provide the pearls of our heritage only to those capable of receiving them in the rote methods they are presented?

Judaism teaches us that when we were slaves in Egypt and really needed help, God’s instrument was a person with a disability: Moses was “slow of speech and tongue." But with tremendous assistance from Aaron and the proper supports, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and into freedom and the Promised Land.

For how long will the keys to our treasure trove of tradition only be given to those at our Jewish day schools, synagogue religious schools, youth groups and others who can use those keys without adaptation or support?

More is being done in some institutions to broaden the tent, and there are pockets of excellence. However, I know more than a hundred parents from across America, including top Jewish leaders, whose children have been rejected or “counseled out” from Jewish day schools because of their disabilities.

I watched in pain recently as a prestigious Jewish day school encouraged three children in a classroom of 16 students to leave Jewish day schools because the schools did not want to accommodate their special needs. The three went on to non-Jewish schools for children who are college bound but have special needs. Their parents’ tuition bills increased from $25,000 a year to $35,000 to $65,000 a year -- funds they gladly would have paid to keep their children within the walls of a Jewish school.

Instead these families, who needed support from the Jewish community as they were dealing with their children’s special needs, left feeling anger as their community turned them away.

Too often, no matter how hard they try, many Jews with disabilities are simply not fully welcomed. This isn't an isolated problem: Estimates based on Jewish studies put the number of Jewish children in America with some sort of disability at 200,000. According to the U.S. Census, 20 percent of Americans have a disability, and a recent national poll showed that 51 percent of likely American voters either have a disability or a loved one with a disability.

The Jewish community harms itself when it turns away people with disabilities.

Moreover, some buildings for Jewish day schools, synagogues and special events education have doors that are too narrow for wheelchairs. Why host programs in places that are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act? High Holidays services are led without sign language interpreters in congregations with deaf members. We hand out songs sheets in font sizes too small for the visually impaired to read.

The mantra of the disability community, which wants and deserves a say in its destiny, has become “Nothing about us without us.” Yet even many Jewish organizations that serve Jews with disabilities don’t put people with disabilities on their committees, staffs or boards.

We would not tolerate it if a prestigious school rejected children because they were Jewish. Why does the Jewish community continue to tolerate it when Jewish institutions say no to people with disabilities?

It’s time to use the power of the purse to stop the discrimination.

The “golden rule” of non-profits is that those who give the gold makes the rules. So donors, large and small, must say “hineini” (here I am) to end the intolerance and injustice. Rather than talking the talk, we must walk the walk.

Jews with disabilities aren’t the only Jews who face discrimination from within; so does the LBGT community. Thankfully the Schusterman and Morningstar foundations, along with Stuart Kurlander, the president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and a gay rights activist, have created an index to show if Jewish groups are open to the LBGT community. They are having a positive impact. This is an example to follow.

Indeed, the Ruderman Family Foundation was the first to raise this issue when it came to inclusion of Jews with disabilities. Others should follow its example. At the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust, we are. While our family foundation doesn’t accept any unsolicited applicants, even those who we encourage to apply for support must answer serious questions.

They include:

  • Does your organization have policies that support meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities at all levels, including on your board of directors?
  • Does your organization have a disability advisory committee/inclusion committee?
  • Will the program or project include people with disabilities? If not, why not? If so, how do you plan to identify, reach and welcome them?
  • Describe the accessibility of your offices to people with physical disabilities.
  • Do you employ and/or offer internships to individuals who have disabilities? If so, what are their jobs? Do they receive the same compensation and benefits as all other employees in like positions? Please describe how you educate your board of directors or trustees and staff about serving and partnering with people with disabilities.

Our foundation is smaller than others, but we believe that no matter the size of our philanthropic investments, they must be moral in nature. For example, this year we cut funding to an organization with the sole purpose of serving people with disabilities, but tragically the very people they were supposedly serving didn’t feel they were being heard and respected as equals.

We hope that others, including federations, foundations and individuals, will join us as we fight for justice and opportunity, so that all Jews can experience our Jewish birthright.

(Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the co-founder and director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust and founder and president of Laszlo Strategies.)

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