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Jewish Community Services agencies tend to segregate people with disabilities, isolating them from fully participating in their community life.

To address this, the Ruderman Family Foundation (RFF), under the direction of Steven Eidelman, H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Human Services Policy and Leadership in Human Development & Family Studies, established the Jewish Leadership Institute on Disability and Inclusion (JLIDD) in 2013.

Their aim was to inspire leaders in Jewish organizations—Jewish community centers, family service agencies, employment and vocational services agencies, federations, synagogues, and day schools—to increase the participation of children and adults with disabilities in services provided by the Jewish community and build additional support structures for their families.

Inspiring Leaders

Three Jewish Leadership Institutes were held—in November of 2013 and 2014, and in February 2016. The program, adapted from UD’s National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities (NLCDD), provides an intensive and interactive learning environment to help participants acquire more inclusive knowledge, skills and values to genuinely engage and support people with disabilities.

During the four-day workshops, leaders brainstormed unique ways to move their organizations away from old standards of creating specialized programs for people with disabilities, to adopting practices and policies that will help empower and support their stakeholders to enjoy a self-directed life.

After completing the JLIDD program, more than 70 graduates returned to their organizations with individualized plans to challenge the status quo as well as leverage the strengths of those organizations to transform their culture.

Inspiring Inclusion

As part of the JLIDD grant requirement, the Institute measured their effectiveness through pre- and post- surveys followed by in-person interviews after one year. Participants were asked to respond to questions related to their own leadership skills and capacity, their values and beliefs about people with disabilities and the impact that they are able to have in their organizations and across the Jewish community.

Results indicated that by the end of the training, leaders agreed that:

  • People should be able to actively participate in their communities and have more choice and control over their lives;
  • They were better prepared to make an impact on their peers, direct support staff and superiors within their agencies;
  • Their agencies could develop the resources and skills to improve the access and inclusion of people with disabilities in Jewish services, supports and communities.

Even more encouraging, follow-up surveys administered one year after the training demonstrated retained learning. Positive responses to the question “I can influence changes in the Jewish community to improve the quality of services for people with IDD [intellectual and developmental disabilities]” continued to increase for the 2013 cohort.

Inspiring Change

Graduates identified numerous avenues to transform their organizational practices:

The United Jewish Appeal’s (UJA) Federation of Greater Toronto, encompassing nearly 100 Jewish schools, camps and community agencies, were encouraged to collaborate to foster change. They have begun working with 20 synagogues, developing training on creating inclusion committees and engaging the board. They created an inclusion specialist position that is responsible for leveraging ongoing and seasonal programming at the JCC to include people with disabilities, resulting in virtually eliminating separate programs. Jewish Leadership Institute graduate Liv Mendelsohn (2014) is working closely with synagogues in Toronto to develop inclusion initiatives within each one. As the Inclusion Specialist at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Center, Mendelsohn eliminated segregated programs, allowing people with disabilities to freely participate in all JCC programs. In 2015, Robin Gofine, Vice President, Strategic Planning, and JLIDI graduate (2014), received the Morris Baker Ish Tzadik Award for her work with the disabled and commitment to inclusion—making accessibility and inclusion a forefront issue.

Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative (RCII), International is transforming 4,200 Chabad communities around the world. Project Director Sarah Kranz-Ciment (JLIDI 2014) has been applying person-focused direction to the spiritually inclusive Chabad organization as they increase focus and provide practical solutions to support people with disabilities in community life.

The Miracle Project Judaica/Los Angeles, National uses Jewish music, dance, story and culture to create an inclusive, dynamic, Jewish community for individuals with autism and other special needs.  Elaine Hall (JLIDI 2013) leads this program as well as a new program, Inclusion From Within, in which Jewish professionals and lay leaders are required to examine their own biases and barriers before developing inclusive practices within their own organizations. While currently offered only in Los Angeles, leaders are considering bringing this to a wider national audience.

A collaborative initiative in the Chicago Jewish community, led by Jodi Newmark (JLIDI 2013) developed a community survey and found that most synagogue members in the community believe that inclusion is an important value. Their next step is to provide training to synagogue leaders to engage them to institute organizational actions leading to a more supportive environment for people with disabilities.

Jewish Vocational Services of Greater Boston’s Transitions to Work Program, under the leadership of Madeleine Wenzel (JLIDI 2013), is reversing the traditional client-centered approach to employment of individuals with a disability by starting with the employers. They are encouraging employers to provide internships and job opportunities to young adults with disabilities. Wenzel’s visionary leadership has expanded the program to include national employers such as Whole Foods and CVS Caremark as well as local organizations such as Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital.

Although the initial grant period has ended, the Institute will continue to support JLIDI alumni, helping them apply their new leadership skills to change the trajectory of their work and support inclusion within their organization.


Global Inspiration


In February 2016, Eidelman and his team were invited to Israel to host a leadership workshop to promote inclusion in all levels of government and service agencies. Participants engaged in sessions designed to implement systemic changes in employment, relationships, recreation, and education. Leaders created individualized plans for their organizations, to help their constituents with disabilities address personal budgeting, accessibility, independent living and alternatives to guardianship.

Western U.S.

In 2016, the NLCDD was awarded a $120,000 grant from the May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust to offer two intensive, week-long institutes scheduled in Colorado and California.

California is the largest state system for people with Developmental Disabilities and is multi-faceted and expansive. Colorado has a very different system than Delaware, and a number of past participants in the Leadership Institutes have come from Colorado.