February is a month devoted to many serious issues, heart, black history, etc. Recently, within our community, there has arisen a movement to bring attention to the issue of disabilities. February is now Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month. Major Jewish organizations, like Jewish Federations, Union for Reform Judaism and others have joined this effort to bring this issue to the attention of our community. I know that the last project that we created as part of the URJ Department of Jewish Family Concerns was our Disabilities Awareness Project. Rabbi Edythe Mencher and Rabbi Lynne Landsberg were instrumental in developing this and, after the URJ sunsetted all Program Departments, the awareness project continued and is part of a large Ruderman Foundation program that Rabbi Mencher is so excellently managing.(www.urj.org). Likewise, one of the lay leaders of the project, Shelly Christensen, a long time advocate and leader in this area, created Inclusion Innovations, which has been a leader in advocating issues related to inclusion throughout the Jewish Community as well as producing resources for congregations and organizations. (www.inclusioninnovations.com). The movement to bring this to our attention is growing and on Wednesday, February 10, a major awareness day will be held in Washington, D.C. at the Reliigous Action Center.
Much of the focus of these programs has been on youth. Anyone who has served a congregation knows full well the challenges families often face regarding access and education. Jewish camps have begun to develop programs and create more access to programs. This is great news and should be applauded. We ask, however, that some time and discussion to be devoted to the issue of disabilities among the growing aging population. The onset of disability among our aging population can be equally challenging to a family system. A fall, an illness, an accident can uproot an individual in a second and change the course of a family. Refitting a home or a room can be costly. The aging of the Boomers will only heighten the chances that many of us will encounter some disability as we age. There is a danger of increased isolation which can lead to depression and additional challenges.
It is our hope that somewhere in the dialogues that will ensue in this month of awareness and programming, the issues related to disabilities within the older adult and aging populations will, in same way, find some place. Demographics cannot be debated.
Rabbi RIchard F Address. D.Min
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.