Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) is a national movement held each February to raise awareness and promote meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in all aspects of Jewish life. The need for education about individuals living with disabilities is a growing issue in society. Whether we know someone personally who has special needs or meet them at the grocery store, it is a certainty that at some point in our lives we will intersect and may not always be prepared to be as kind, respectful, and supportive as we should.
Keshet is taking the lead on this issue to the benefit of the entire Chicago Jewish Community by offering a wide variety of educational, vocational, and recreational programs for children and young adults with special needs. Keshet is a non-profit organization working within the framework of Jewish values. This February we are offering tools and resources for the community to participate in Jewish Disabilities Month through The Leventhal Keshet Professional Development Center—an extension of Keshet's commitment to serving individuals with developmental disabilities.
Through on-site assistance and consultation, the Leventhal Keshet Professional Development Center provides tools that cater to individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities as well as provides their caretakers with an array of support. The Leventhal Keshet Professional Development Center has received prominence and distinction for its staff training and professional development, offering workshops, and speaking engagements both locally and nationally. In 2011, Abbie Weisberg, CEO/Executive Director spoke at the Global Autism Conference in Jerusalem leading to Keshet’s role in creating programs and offering hope for individuals with special needs around the world.
In response to the growing demand for educational materials on the subject of special needs, The Leventhal Keshet Professional Development Center has created a resource guide specifically targeted for Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month that includes Abilities Awareness activities for many age levels, respectful language examples, parent testimonials, samples of sermons for clergy, and more.
Through the center, the Keshet staff created a multi-tiered plan to address a wide population throughout the month of February. Reaching out across all streams of Judaism, places of worship have been asked to participate by:
- Sharing a personal story about an individual with special needs with the congregation
- Offering sermons about Abilities Awareness on one Shabbat during February
- Leading an Abilities Awareness activity at their place of worship
- Advertising information to their fellow congregants about abilities awareness and “people first” language
- Scheduling a Keshet Leventhal Professional Development Center speaker to address their membership on Abilities Awareness
Moishe House, (home-based communities that provide a meaningful Jewish experience) will partner with Keshet by hosting an event that will be cross promoted with Mishkan (a movement based on Jewish inclusion connecting people through prayer, study, and community building) on Feb. 11 from 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p,m. The program compliments Moishe House’s current series, "Privilege, Oppression, and Judaism." By inviting representatives from Keshet, Moishe House will have an opportunity to start the conversation about disabilities within the Jewish community.
The Leventhal Keshet Professional Center has also scheduled speaking engagements with youth groups like BBYO where more than100 teens are expected to attend and NFTY, which will be doing their part by following Keshet's Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month social media campaign.
Keshet is honored to lead the charge for Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month by reaching out across the breadth of the Jewish community in Chicago, serving as the central address for individuals with special needs. At Keshet, we see abilities in those with disabilities. We hope that you will too.
Susan Levin-Abir is the vice president of Strategic Development at Keshet, a partner in serving our community, supported by the JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.