by Jennifer Phillips, CEO/President
I often find myself thinking about how special what we do at Keshet is, and then I find myself asking why. Why should it be special, why isn’t it just the way it is and not special at all?
I believe that the Jewish community believes that inclusion is important. I experience this when a camp or school or synagogue calls asking questions about how they can accommodate someone with disabilities or needs. When I get these calls, I get this overwhelming feeling of excitement. Knowing that they want to include everyone and are willing to do what it takes means so much. But, I also know that there are many places in the Jewish community that are not asking these questions and just assuming that it is too hard or too expensive or someone else’s job to make it happen.
Keshet is here for both of these groups. We work with all, no matter where they are on their journey towards inclusion and belonging, to ensure that people, who want to participate, can. For the children who want to attend a Jewish camp experience, we provide the supports that allow them to fully participate as equal members of the camp community. We find ways for children with disabilities, who want a Jewish education, to have the same opportunities their peers in day schools. When adults want purpose in life, we look for the employers who have meaningful work for them to do. Keshet supports and helps our entire community in making this happen; making sure all our communal spaces are inclusive and welcoming to all.
It is not enough to say we would love to be inclusive, but we can’t afford it. We find ways to do it just as we do for other things that are important. It requires a systemic belief that inclusion is good for all our disabled and non-disabled community members, and it is an investment in our community’s future. It requires us to be committed to investing in our buildings and grounds, in our staff, in training and support to ensure that every child and adult is included and feels they belong. It is not easy all the time to make our spaces accessible and adapt our grounds, but we do it. It is not always perfect and, often, it is a work in progress.
The opening words in this week’s torah portion, Ki Tavo, stuck out for me. The children of Israel are on their way to the promised land, they are close but they aren’t quite there yet. The words Ki Tavo means “when you get there.” Notice that it doesn’t say “if you get there.” There’s absolutely no doubt in the mind of the Torah’s voice that the children of Israel will enter the promised land there are, of course, those amongst them who don’t believe they will ever get there. The journey will go on and on. But the Torah is adamant “Ki Tavo – when you get there,” and it goes on to say, it’s going to be a land flowing with milk and honey, and you’re going to be completely taken by its beauty, by the things that you grow and the new life that you create there.
As the new year approaches and I reflect on Keshet’s mission, I know without a shadow of a doubt that we will get there—all communal spaces will be inclusive and welcoming to people with disabilities. It is when, not if, we see inclusion, accessibility and places of belonging in all of our Jewish spaces.
And, what a beautiful community it will be when we get there.
Wishing our entire community a happy, healthy and sweet new year!