Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities under the auspices of the Orthodox Union (OU), kicked off North American Inclusion Month (NAIM) with more than 250 events taking place around the United States and Canada. Programs were aimed to provide social opportunity in addition to developing sensitivity and awareness of what it means to live with disabilities, and to educate communities on how they can do their part to make sure all Jews are included in all facets of life.
A new addition to this year’s programming for NAIM is the “28 Days of Inclusion Challenge,” a special social media program offering daily tips and strategies for shaping a more inclusive world. Yachad debuted a new calendar for the month with daily challenges. Each day, participants visited the NAIM webpage to learn more about an aspect of inclusion. As participants completed the day’s challenge, they were entered into a raffle to win prizes.
Westchester Hebrew High School in Mamaroneck, has an active Yachad club which seeks to bring inclusion education to their school. In addition, they are planning a handful of social and/or educational programs with Yachad throughout the year, at their school during school hours. In February, the club was focused on students participating in Yachad’s 28 Days of Inclusion challenge in honor of NAIM.
For Martin Luther King Jr. Day, (1/22) Yachad and Westchester Hebrew High School teamed up for a wonderful day of service in honor of Dr. King’s legacy. Students, grades 9-12, got to know Yachads adult day-hab members while they decorated and packed “sweet cases,” suitcases filled with hygiene necessities and fun activities, which were delivered in February to a foster care agency in Larchmont by 12th grade students.
From March 29- 30, the Westchester Day School’s 8th grade class and Yachad’s Junior Yachad division in White Plains, along with the Hebrew Institute of White Plains community, will have students participating in a series of trainings in anticipation of their upcoming shabbaton.
In addition to the many Yachad programs going on throughout the country, several departments within the OU were partnering with Yachad on special events during the month of February. NCSY offered Yachad’s sensitivity training workshops to their Jewish Student Union clubs on 180 public and private high school campuses. OU-JLIC educators facilitated learning programs about disabilities and inclusion on more than 20 college campuses. Synagogue Services sent out inclusion tips and talking points for Rabbis to use in sermons to their Shul memberships. Other divisions, such as OU Torah, Teach Coalition and Heart to Heart were collaborating with Yachad to promote inclusion throughout the month.
“We hope that the increased number of educational opportunities and inclusive programing offered by Yachad during February reflects a growing commitment within the Jewish community to further include individuals with disabilities,” said Yachad’s NAIM Director Rebecca Schrag Mayer. “We hope that NAIM can provide opportunities for every community member to consider additional ways to include individuals with disabilities and to appreciate the value that every Jew brings to our community.”
“Yachad has become a vital resource for people with disabilities and their families,” said Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Allen Fagin. “The mission of YACHAD and NAIM is one: to ensure that every member of our community is valued and included.”
“Since its inception thirty-five years ago, Yachad has brought best-in-class inclusive programming to communities throughout the U.S. and Israel,” added Orthodox Union President Moishe Bane. “Finding opportunities to acknowledge and include people with varying abilities during NAIM has become a unifying event for the entire community.”
In the past few years, Yachad Summer programs have had 3 participants per year from Westchester in its camper programs (under 18) who are supported by Yachad staff in wider mainstream modern orthodox camps.
Yachad’s Yad B’Yad summer Israel travel program in Israel for teens (Both with and without disabilities) has in recent years welcomed participants from New Rochelle, Scarsdale and White Plains.
Yachad services include, but are not limited to: social programming for all age groups; counseling services for individuals and families; weekend retreats; parent support services; sibling services; vocational training and job placement; professional advocates and case managers; summer programs and camps for members of all ages; schools for individuals with special needs; Shabbat programs; Day Habilitation programs; Israel Birthright trips for individuals with disabilities; social skills training; advocating for pro-disability legislation on the local, state, and federal levels; and high school and university leadership program.
For more information, visit https://www.ou.org/.