For My House Shall Be a House of Prayer for All People

“For my house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” (Isaiah 56:5)

We learn from the Torah that God creates us all from the same mold and we all share the same basic elements of humanity, but each of us is also unique. Each individual human being is infinitely valuable and that is why we, as Jews and Jewish organizations, need to own the notion of inclusion.

The Ruderman Family Foundation‘s Ruderman Inclusion Summit is a reminder and celebration that we are part of something that’s bigger than just camp or a school-year program. We are part of a movement and a movement needs networks. We need to expand our thinking and continue to challenge society. As Robin Katcher, senior program advisor of Management Assistance Group, has said: “A network is only as powerful as its members.”

As Loretta Claiborne, Special Olympics athlete and motivational speaker, conveyed in her speech, we have come so far but “we have still a long way to go.”  The Special Olympics was Loretta’s magic pill in healing her from the anger of being held back in school and often teased and bullied. It healed her better than any medicine. “I ran from anger into happiness,” she said.

It’s up to us, as professionals and advocates, to continue to rise above during this cultural revolution of inclusion and to change the use of our language from “disabilities” to “abilities.”

“The word ‘dis’ hurts,” Claiborne said.

The Honorable Richard Bernstein, Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, who has been legally blind since birth, completed an Ironman triathlon without a break. He chose to rise above his “disability” in his career and in his personal life. He exemplifies the importance of experiencing life and not simply “getting over” whatever one’s struggle might be. Live life the way it’s meant to be lived.

Those of us who don’t have a disability do not know what it’s like until we’ve lived in the shoes of someone who has. While all of us might not be able to relate, we can all learn from those who have struggled. We can all learn to appreciate every aspect of life, particularly what we normally take for granted.

As program directors, coordinators, executive directors or whatever your position might be, it needs to be realized that your role extends beyond your direct program. YOU are effective beyond camp or school-year program. YOU directly impact and fundamentally shape a child’s future in health, happiness, growth, education, employment, marriage, and social-emotional abilities.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:14 states, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Jewish organizations need to own the responsibility of Hineinu and not separate anyone from the community (Pirke Avot 2:5), but rather find ways to invite and embrace all who are willing.

The Ruderman Inclusion Summit reminds us that we are all heading in the right direction and though we have plenty to celebrate, we still have a long way to go.

Great accomplishments are often caused by disruption. Let’s get into the mess of change.

Amanda Kayam Gabel is the director of program support at the 14th Street Y, where she oversees and runs self-contained and inclusion programming. Through her work at the Y, and with the generous support of UJA-Federation of New York, Amanda is a participant in the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Specialty Camp Incubator: Day Camp. This cohort provides expertise and support to day camp professionals as they embark on their journey to create and implement their vision for new models of nonprofit, Jewish specialty day camps. For the 14th Street Y, it’s the passion of inclusion.

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