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From the Archive: An All-Inclusive History

03/29/2022 01:39:04 PM

Mar29

Rebecca Beit-Aharon

I just came across something cool.

In the April 1999/Nisan 5759 Shaarei newsletter, a flyer advertises the May 2 event “Special Education in the Jewish Community: Valuing All Our Children,” a three-and-a-half hour conference presented by Etgar Noar, a then-new organization “dedicated to meeting the challenge of giving children with special needs a Jewish education.” Rabbi Samuels spoke on “We All Stood At Sinai: Inclusive Imperatives in Jewish Education.” I recognize other names on the flyer as well: Esther K., Alix G., Larry B.

I’d never heard of Etgar Noar, which surprised me. I’ve gotten familiar with so many inclusion-based organizations by working here!

A quick Google search revealed that Etgar Noar merged with another organization to create Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, which was firmly established in 2009.

…Naturally, about thirty minutes before coming across the flyer, I had received an email from Gateways as a follow-up to a webinar I attended last week.

That might seem like a coincidence, but it’s not. It’s not a coincidence that we have a page on our website about inclusion. It’s not a coincidence that in January of 2014, the Orthodox Union recognized our synagogue as a Hineinu Synagogue, an exemplary national model of communal inclusivity. It’s not a coincidence that we received an Inclusion Grant from the Ruderman Family Synagogue Inclusion Program in 2016. These are all the results of deliberate choices that we’ve made as a community.

Inclusion, like so much in our lives, is a forever process. Not only do we need to continue putting in the work to be inclusive, but inclusion is constantly changing as society changes. Lately, many inclusion efforts have been related to the pandemic. Before the pandemic, we didn’t think about immunocompromised people as having different needs, but we do now. As we transition from pandemic to endemic mode, managing that line between in-person and virtual events is one more tightrope to walk—but like all our inclusion tightropes, it’s a vital one.

All of us benefit from inclusion, whether directly in ways that allow us to engage at all or by the added benefit of a richer community or by the support that spills over, enhancing all our lives. I was only diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, but I can look back and see exactly where it helped for me to, say, have a place to stretch my legs at shul—in my case as a child, there was an area in the back of the sanctuary where I could pace while still participating in davening. How nice that we have that here, too!

Of course, we’re not perfect—far from it! And there’s no such thing. Beyond us being only human, there’s also the dilemma of how to address needs that conflict, be they disability related or not. How do you balance the need for sensory or fidget gadgets with a need for a distraction-free zone? How do you accommodate for the hard of hearing without using microphones on Shabbat? It’s a constantly evolving series of questions, but I’m glad to say we’re asking them.

And, hopefully, we’ll continue to find the answers.

Tue, September 27 2022 2 Tishrei 5783