Jewish continuity ensured by full inclusion

By Jay Ruderman/

Jewish funders today are focused on the issue of Jewish continuity and ensuring the future survival of our community. Summer camps, day schools, Birthright, youth activities and the like are on the radar of Jewish philanthropists. But if these programs do not support the full inclusion of people with disabilities, then our community will cease to appeal to our youth—the very group funders are currently fixated on.

Click photo to download. Caption: Jay Ruderman. Credit: Ruderman Family Foundation.

An inclusive Jewish community is an attractive one, especially for the younger generation. They value diversity, are socially active, work tirelessly for social justice and believe firmly in tikkun olam (repairing the world). They fight and strive to achieve full inclusion everywhere. An exclusionary community is not an option for them.

An inclusive Jewish community is also strategic. Disabilities affect a significant portion of our community—not just those with disabilities, but their families and friends as well. We cannot afford to leave many members of our community on the outside, looking in.

The government estimates that almost 60 million people across the U.S. have a form of disability—approximately 20 percent of the population. Within the Jewish community, you probably know a family member, a neighbor or a friend with some form of disability. Is your community inclusive? Or are there barriers preventing people with disabilities from participating and becoming active members?

The full inclusion of people with disabilities is of paramount importance to the continuity and future of Jewish communal life. The upcoming ADVANCE: Ruderman Jewish Disabilities Funding Conference aims to put this issue on the agenda of Jewish funders.

The annual conference brings together philanthropists from around the world who want to build a stronger Jewish community by making their funding more inclusive. This year on May 8 in New York, they will learn how to support individuals, parents, families and friends of those seeking to live a full, inclusive Jewish life. The goal is not to change their funding strategies but to make their funding more inclusive.

The conference partners with some of the largest Jewish organizations in North America, so they can ensure their funders hear the inclusive message as well. Their commitment to engaging their funders in this effort will help make our community a more inclusive one, for everyone.

As a community, we champion numerous social causes and are proud of our work to ensure social justice, a term rooted in Jewish tradition and literature.  But there are still many members of our OWN community who feel excluded because of a lack of knowledge or pre-existing prejudices.

The work of full inclusion of people with disabilities in communal life needs to begin today to ensure the continuity and survival of the Jewish community tomorrow.

Jay Ruderman is the President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. The upcoming ADVANCE conference on May 8 is a partnership of the foundation with the Jewish Funders Network, Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston.

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Posted on April 15, 2013 and filed under Opinion, U.S., Jewish Life.