Building Communities for Everyone

Have you ever attended a synagogue service and just felt like you didn’t fit in? The Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project (RSIP), a partnership between the Ruderman Family Foundation and CJP, helps synagogues create communities where everyone, including those with disabilities, feels welcomed and included. This spring, RSIP expands to eight new Congregational Partners and six new Affiliates. Find out how it works, and which synagogues are taking part. Together, they are working to create communities where people of all abilities are welcomed and participate fully. The synagogues, which include Congregation Ohabei Shalom and Temple Sinai in Brookline; Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, Temple Emanuel and Temple Shalom in Newton; Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, Temple Isaiah in Lexington and Young Israel of Sharon will be recognized at a community event that will highlight the work of RSIP on May 23 at Temple Emanuel in Newton. Professor Julia Watts Belser, a leader in disability justice and global health organizing will deliver the keynote speech at Celebrating Inclusion: Opening the Doors to Community. Renowned musical performers Neshama Carlebach and Josh Nelson will open and close the program.

CJP and Ruderman Foundation Welcome New Synagogue Partners and Affiliates

The Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project provides partner synagogues with funding and other resources to support innovative programs, improvements or training to become more welcoming and inclusive. Last year, the Project launched with three pilot synagogues – Temple Emunah in Lexington, Temple Beth Elohim of Wellesley and Congregation Shaarei Tefillah in Newton that already had strong inclusion efforts underway. The Project helped them expand and strengthen programs and inspire other synagogues to become more inclusive by sharing their experiences and best practices with the wider community.

“I kept hearing from many people over the years who did not feel welcome at their synagogue,” said Sharon Shapiro, Trustee of the Ruderman Family Foundation Boston Office. “When these families felt turned away, they left their synagogue and often the Jewish community altogether. We wanted to do something about this and in partnership with CJP, we created the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project. We are thrilled with the Project’s success and are so happy to welcome eight new partners. Our goal is to engage every synagogue in the Greater Boston community in this essential movement.”

““How can we make sure we are doing our best for every person who walks through our gates?” asks Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz of Temple Emanuel. “We hope our partnership with the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Program will allow us to do right by all the persons who enter our community.”

Rabbi Dr. Meir Sendor of Young Israel of Sharon agrees. “We have instituted inclusion programs, but there is certainly more we can do. We would like to put together a robust educational program, with speakers and projects, to run for several years, so that the principle of inclusion is fully internalized and realized in our membership. We are grateful to the Ruderman Family Foundation for this thoughtful and compassionate inclusion project.”

Congregational Partners have applied for and will receive grants to help implement their inclusion efforts. Congregational Affiliates have demonstrated a significant commitment to inclusion in their communities.

With RSIP congregations gain access to local and national inclusion experts, as well as events and opportunities for congregational communities to teach, network and share best practices, they’re taking strides that benefit everyone.

“I am thrilled that we have been selected as a partner congregation in the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project,” says Rabbi Toba Spitzer of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek. “We are looking forward to fostering a learning environment at our religious school where every child can be celebrated, challenged, and appreciated for his or her unique gifts. We will also explore ways to make everything from Shabbat morning services to communal meals accessible to all who wish to attend.”

Six congregations who are in various stages of their inclusion efforts will join the project as affiliates. They include: Chabad of the North Shore, Congregation Beth-El of Sudbury, Congregation Kehillath Israel, Nehar Shalom, Shirat Hayam in Swampscott and Temple Beth Zion.

Why is inclusion important?

Inclusion is the opportunity for people of any and all abilities to be a part of their community in meaningful ways. It’s also recognizing that we are “one” even though we are not the same.

“Inclusion is not simply about remembering to include people with disabilities or people with different needs; it’s that we can’t afford to lose all that they offer,” says Molly Silver, the manager of the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project. “The heart of RSIP is valuing every contribution of every member, and as a result creating really lasting, effective and broad change across our community.”

Recognizing the challenges

One in five people in the United States has a disability – and it’s more than likely that at some point you or a family member, or someone you know in your community, will be affected by one.

 “How can we make sure we are doing our best for every person who walks through our gates?” asks Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz of Temple Emanuel. “We hope our partnership with the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Program will allow us to do right by all the persons who enter our community.”

Rabbi Dr. Meir Sendor of Young Israel of Sharon agrees. “We have instituted inclusion programs, but there is certainly more we can do. We would like to put together a robust educational program, with speakers and projects, to run for several years, so that the principle of inclusion is fully internalized and realized in our membership. We are grateful to the Ruderman Family Foundation for this thoughtful and compassionate inclusion project.”

Looking ahead

With RSIP congregations gaining access to local and national inclusion experts, as well as events and opportunities for congregational communities to teach, network and share best practices, they’re taking strides that benefit everyone.

 “I am thrilled that we have been selected as a partner congregation in the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project,” says Rabbi Toba Spitzer of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek. “We are looking forward to fostering a learning environment at our religious school where every child can be celebrated, challenged, and appreciated for his or her unique gifts. We will also explore ways to make everything from Shabbat morning services to communal meals accessible to all who wish to attend.”

Read below to find out what the Rabbi’s at RSIP Partner Synagogues think of the program!

Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz, Temple Emanuel

Inclusivity. Welcome. Equality. These are the watchwords of our era.  They are ideas. Ideals. Lovely and warm and gracious. But how do we translate ideas and ideals into reality?  How can Temple Emanuel make sure we are doing our best for every person who walks through our gates? We have the will and the desire to be maximally welcoming.  But we do not necessarily have the experience and expertise to do right by the person before us every time. That is our goal.

To deepen our efforts at being a maximally welcoming shul, we are so grateful to the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Program, which has deemed Temple Emanuel a partner synagogue in its noble aspiration to increase welcome in Greater Boston.  Our partnership with RSIP will connect us to the experience and expertise, to resources and training and guidance, that we would not have on our own and that we need to be a better welcoming synagogue.

We hope our partnership with the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Program will accomplish two worthy goals. One, it will allow us to do right by all the persons who enter our community.  Two, whatever we learn, we are happy to share with other synagogues and communal organizations in Greater Boston. Together, may all of us in Jewish communal life seek, find and respond to the tzelem Elohim, the image of God, that is in every one of us.”

Rabbi Todd Markley, Temple Beth Shalom

“Temple Beth Shalom is honored and excited to have been selected as a congregational partner for the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project!  Through the committed partnership between our professional team and lay leaders, we have made great strides over the past few years to make TBS a comfortable, welcoming, and accessible place for all of our members and our visitors as well.  Our Learning Coordinator supports the Jewish learning of more than 100 of our community’s children. Our Inclusion Task Force has thoughtfully surveyed our congregation in order to set and implement strategic priorities for creating a maximally inclusive community.  Yet, there is still much work to be done, and we truly appreciate the opportunity to learn from experts at CJP and the Ruderman Family Foundation and to share our own learning experiences with other congregations as well.  This shared commitment to common goals will only further our ability to make the Jewish community a setting of full inclusion for all.”

Rabbi Toba Spitzer, Congregation Dorshei Tzedek

“I am thrilled that Dorshei Tzedek has been selected as a partner congregation in the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project.  As a smaller congregation, we greatly appreciate the resources and expertise that membership in the RSIP offers.  We are looking forward to fostering a learning environment at our religious school where every child can be celebrated, challenged, and appreciated for his or her unique gifts.  By bringing an inclusion specialist on staff, we are confident that we will raise the quality of learning for all of our kids.  We are also looking forward to thinking more broadly about inclusion in our congregation, and exploring ways to make everything from Shabbat morning services to communal meals accessible to all who wish to attend.”

Rabbi Allison Berry, Temple Shalom

“Temple Shalom is really excited to be part of this congregational change initiative around something that is so fundamental to who we are. We have always been dedicated to creating an inclusive community and we welcome everyone from every background. The Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project helps us to organize and really look at our efforts in a cohesive way. Our Task Force is developing and implementing a strategic plan and we are looking for ways to deepen our commitment and truly live the values taught by our tradition.”

Rabbi Jaffe, Temple Isaiah

“Temple Isaiah is honored to be part of the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project and to receive consultation and learn about best practices for inclusion. We have a staff member who focuses on inclusion and differentiated learning in our school and we are working to expand our efforts beyond education across the spectrum of our congregation and to be thoughtful and welcoming to all. This initiative helps make us accountable and provides inspiration for us to fully commit ourselves to such important work.”

Rabbi Andy Vogel, Temple Sinai

“Temple Sinai strives to be a synagogue for all who want to be part of our community. We want anyone, whether they have a disability or not, whatever their background or individual story, to find their Jewish home. We are honored to be part of the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project. We’ve never done anything like this before and we are grateful to have the wisdom and the experience and insights of the Ruderman staff to guide us. Our committee of lay leaders has developed a detailed action plan to expand our inclusion efforts for people of all abilities – ranging from our signage and physical space to our programming and website.  We want to open up a respectful channel of communication – very frequently people who have a disability are shunned in different ways by others, and we want to be aware of these attitudes and to treat people in a welcoming manner so they can see an individual’s gifts.  As it says in Genesis, chapter 1, all people are all created in God’s image. This is a living, and articulated value of our synagogue.”