Celebrate Inclusion Milestones at Beth Am
INCLUDE Beth Am was founded seven years ago with the mission to transform how Beth Am includes individuals and their families with special needs and disabilities. As we complete our sabbatical year, our commitment has remained unwavering to create and sustain a warm, vibrant and inclusive Reform Jewish community in which every individual feels – and is regarded – as an essential part of the community. We achieve this vision through emphasis on four core values: compassionate listening (shema), using language of respect (lashon hakavod), appreciating the whole person (b’tzelem Elohim), and empowering leadership (manhigut).
Beth Am has made huge strides in supporting families with children who have special needs, with teachers, students and parents benefiting from the compassionate and pragmatic guidance of Inclusion Director Nirit Zandman and Rabbi Miriam Philips. Beth Am’s lay leadership, clergy and education team – including teen madrichim – have participated in hands-on training in diversity and inclusion, with additional sessions expanding their awareness and skills to follow this year.
Beth Am and INCLUDE have done many things to provide support for individuals and families, to raise awareness and to further cultural change. Specific achievements to date include:
- Annual sponsorship of multiple programs and speakers during February Jewish Inclusion Month.
- Parents Circle support group, facilitated by Nirit Zandman, has reached, supported and provided a safe community to many parents in our youth education programs.
- Members of Include Beth Am created Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday night) social story books for both the Beit Kehillah and Sanctuary, available online and in hard copy, which enable people to visualize and prepare for the experience of Shabbat at Beth Am.
- Beth Am has added components to Kabbalat Shabbat services that significantly improve inclusion of all people in services, particularly those with special needs. Shabbat Bags, available at the back of the service space, have entertaining and educational contents that enable people with special needs to self-regulate and participate in the service. Live-streaming of Shabbat service and major events means those who want can see and hear Shabbat, regardless of physical access, learning or other personal challenges. The childcare that is offered during Friday night services has transformed Kabbalat Shabbat into a more comfortable family-friendly experience – especially for those with special needs.
- Collaboration with Friendship Circle to launch the new Young Adult Circle.
- Growing awareness in the greater Jewish community of Beth Am’s emphasis on nurturing a culture of inclusion.
INCLUDE Beth Am welcomes anyone with a passion for this meaningful, joyful and essential effort. To share your own inclusion experience or get involved, contact INCLUDE@betham.org.