Include - Connections eNewsletter, August 27, 2014 | Congregation Beth Am

Include - Connections eNewsletter, August 27, 2014

Include - Connections eNewsletter, August 27, 2014

Dear Connections Families,
During the summer, Friday night services at Beth Am are held under the trees in our beautiful outdoor chapel.  Most weeks, a Beth Am volunteer committee - like our Interfaith Outreach Committee - works with the clergy to lead the service.  This week, INCLUDE Beth Am takes the lead for our final outdoor service of the year.
INCLUDE is a regional effort, driven and supported by Jewish LearningWorks and the Jewish Community Federation, to help Jewish organizations do a better job of welcoming and including individuals with disabilities and their families.  According to the INCLUDE web page, “Approximately 9,000 Jewish children under the age of 18 in the Bay Area are diagnosed with some kind of learning or developmental disability. Despite a longing for Jewish connection, many have felt let down or excluded by the community, mainly because organizations have lacked the necessary support to plan for and serve children with special needs.”
I wish I could say that Beth Am is so “advanced” in this area that we don’t need to participate in this initiative.  However, we have much to learn.  Families with special needs often struggle to make connections here - if they feel embraced enough to join the congregation to begin with.  And so, the mission of INCLUDE Beth Am is to acknowledge, embrace, support and connect families with special needs to the larger congregation.  We hope that, over time, there will be a cultural shift that enables our whole community to feel a true sense of belonging.  We want to hear the stories of those whose lives are affected by these issues.

To help us, our regional partners in the INCLUDE initiative are working with our committee to begin an audit of our current services and programs, with an eye toward making recommendations for the future.  Additionally, volunteers in Beth Am’s Tikvah peer support network will receive training for helping families cope with emotional crises related to special needs - particularly the crisis of receiving a diagnosis.

A line from Alan Lew’s “This Is Real…” that struck me this week has to do with the ways in which the High Holy Days can bring to light the parts of ourselves that we unconsciously keep hidden.  If we’re diligent in our spiritual work, he says,

“We realize that we have greatly overestimated our cleverness and our potency; we have overestimated the efficacy of our conscious behavior, and underestimated the persistence of our destructive tendencies.  We realize that our attempts to do good are very small next to the unconscious havoc we constantly wreak…”

And yet, in spite of all of this, a core message of the High Holy Days is that these very realizations are what makes change possible.  It’s when we own up to the havoc we wreak that we can work to stop it.

As a rabbi, it’s hard for me to know that there are families who feel excluded from the Beth Am community because of special needs.  It’s hard to know that, despite our good intentions, Beth Am leaders - lay and professional - haven’t been able to solve this problem yet.  But the fact that we aren’t there yet isn’t cause for despair - it’s cause for determination to do better, because it’s the right thing to do.  

For more information about INCLUDE, please visit the Beth Am web site, and please join us for services on Friday.  


Congregation Beth Am
  • 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
  • (650) 493-4661 Contact Us

We strive to live as a holy community whose study and practice of Judaism inspires and challenges us to "do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8).