Yes, you may call me naïve. I prefer to use words like optimistic and positive.
As the daughter of 2 people who survived indescribable brutalities and then chose life, I absorbed the simple yet challenging concept of protecting the individual body and spirit while assembling a thriving and dynamic Jewish community.
With this philosophy, I started to envision the Toronto Jewish Disability Network. A network of all of the organizations would unite in significance and strength to build a proper community supporting our innocent neshamot (souls) with disabilities. All of our children would be offered opportunities and a good life; each in a personalized, tangible or modified approach. Side by side, we would pray and eat together, learn and work together, socialize together and live in the same neighbourhood.
This new website will be the centralized hub for disabilities in our Toronto Jewish community. Blogs, updated resources, events, news in the international inclusion world, classified, and more will be available for everyone. There will be a fresh blog weekly, and I encourage you to participate and share your sentiments, thoughts and ideas by submitting a blog(please see guidelines below). I also encourage you to list yourself or your organization in partnership.
This new website will be a vehicle of communication with people who are living with disabilities, families, Rabbis, leaders, teachers, professionals and the entire Jewish community.
Your viewpoint, opinions and suggestions are valuable and essential.
This new website ours to share.
Looking forward to an incredible interactive website.
DANI, Director; www.dani-toronto.com; 905 889 3264 ext 226
I am very honoured to present our first guest blog;
Shelly Christensen; MA FAAIDD Inclusion Innovations Minneapolis, MA A pioneer in Jewish Inclusion
“I called the Jewish social service agency when my family moved to town to ask about services for my son, who has a disability. I will never forget the response I got when I asked about programs and resources for him., ‘I’m sorry. We don’t have any services for people with disabilities because we don’t have any people with disabilities in our community.’ “
Mother of a Young Adult with a Disability, 2002
Not that long ago this situation was more common than not in many Jewish communities. If that had been me making that phone call, I would have told my husband, with some degree of seriousness, “Honey, we’re moving back to where we came from!”
This mother’s story was not uncommon. I have spoken with so many people with disabilities and parents over the years who share similar stories. With every one, I wondered if this was a manifestation of communal insensitivity. Or was it a hesitancy to acknowledge that the image of perfection was simply a mirage, imagined by an entire community. The result was that nearly 20% of us who live with a disability diagnosis were shut out.
The awakening of our communities has been a slow and slogging trek, but it has been steady. More than accepting the existence of people with disabilities, there is a movement to engage them in community life. More than the obligation to accept their presence in our houses of worship and communal institutions, we have the responsibility to adapt existing programs and services to involve people with disabilities and those who love them so they too can be part of the tapestry of community life.
In 2002, about the time I spoke with the mom who was looking for services for her son, I was invited by the Toronto Jewish community to speak at the first gathering of Jewish community leaders at Camp Ramah. This three-day retreat, called “Opening the Doors,” signaled a community ready to change hearts and minds toward including people with disabilities.
There was a richness of perspectives among the participants, and we did a lot of hard work during those three days, including examining attitudes toward people with disabilities.
We spent a better part of a morning imagining a place where every person, regardless of ability, feels that they are welcomed and valued. Creating an inclusive community was like doing a puzzle. We thought about what each piece was and who was responsible for each particular piece. The community had just taken that first big step toward inclusion.
Much has changed in Toronto since 2002. The light of inclusion may have flickered from time to time, but now, in 2016, it is burning bright. The puzzle pieces we imagined all those years ago are coming together!
And now there is a place for people with disabilities, those who love them, and organizations who value and support their presence, to access resources that promote inclusion
and participation in all aspects of daily and communal living! Finding all of those resources in one location is a gift to the entire community.
Yes, the entire community!
Twenty percent of us have a disability diagnosis. We have family members, friends, co-workers, teachers, and neighbors. Each one of us in some way either knows someone with a disability or someone who is a family member. And, as I recall the words I heard David Lepofsky, that great disability advocate, say so long ago, “If you are not a person with a disability now, if you live long enough, you will be.”
This website is an important tool to gather information about all of the resources that support people with disabilities in every area of life. It can connect you to myriad organizations that provide services to people with disabilities as well as to the general public. It is a manifestation of the change in attitude and awareness over the last fourteen years.
Yes, the pieces of the puzzle we imagined so long ago have been coming together. Thanks to Susie Sokol for her passion, commitment and leadership over the years, she has added another piece of the inclusion puzzle! Kol HaKavod!