By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC
Since 2002, the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation has been involved with “inclusion and enhancing the lives of adults and children with disabilities.” Its focus is the Jewish community in the U.S. and Israel.
In a telephone interview, Foundation President Jay Ruderman said, “When the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed 25 years ago, religious institutions were excluded from the ADA. In part, (the Foundation) works with religious movements (within Judaism) to teach them how to make their synagogues more welcoming and inclusive for people with disabilities.”
When the Foundation began, no Ruderman family member had a disability, but that soon changed. Three years later, doctors diagnosed Ruderman's nephew with an autism spectrum disorder, and then Ruderman's father developed Alpha-1 antitrypsine deficiency, which affected his liver, lung capacity, and his ability to walk. Ruderman's father passed away about four years ago.
The Foundation has official partnerships with the Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, along with groups like Brandeis University and Combined Jewish Philanthopies. In part, Ruderman Family Foundation uses a grassroots approach to philanthropy and offers grants to innovative programs, such as those that train leaders in disabilty-related fields, help people with disabilities become integrated into synagogue activities, raise awareness among employers regarding inclusive hiring practices, help improve quality of life, create internship or fellowship opportunities for people with disabilities, make Jewish day schools accessible, and provide social and educational opportunities. The Foundation also sponsors the ReelAbilities Disabilities Film Festival.
Said Ruderman, “The problem we encounter is that society views people with disabilities often as a fringe part of society. Our message is the opposite. People with disabilities are in almost every single family and in every neighborhood.” He said people with disabilities overall constitute the world's largest minority group, accounting for one person in five. He said it was also the only minority group that every single person would become part of should he or she live long enough.
As for his Jewish faith, Ruderman said, “If you want to attract young people to be involved religiously in our community, it behooves us to become more inclusive. It's not just the right thing to do because of being more equitable and just, it's also the smart way. Younger people expect inclusion.”
Recently, the Ruderman Family Foundation sponsored its first Ruderman Inclusion Summit, which drew 500 disability activists to Boston, Massachusetts.
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