Reflections on inclusion from the USCJ Convention

Miriam Heyman Ph.D.
Program Officer, Ruderman Family Foundation
Inclusion 2

At the Ruderman Family Foundation (RFF), we believe that an inclusive mindset is the most critical component of an inclusive culture.  When we refer to an inclusive mindset, we are speaking of the belief that inclusion is essential for the vitality and continuity of our communities.  From the perspective of Jewish continuity, we can’t afford to exclude the 20% among us who have disabilities.  And at a time when our synagogues are seeking members who will get involved, serve on committees, and bring new energy, we rely on everyone

Another key element of an inclusive mindset is the belief that a welcoming attitude makes all the difference in the world.  Things like ramps and elevators are important, but by themselves, objects do not make people feel welcome.  People display hospitality through their words and actions: a congregant who greets a newcomer with a friendly smile, a rabbi who talks about inclusion from the pulpit, an outreach professional that includes pictures of congregants with disabilities in marketing materials – these are examples of things that we can all do to make people feel welcome.  And, luckily, they cost no money and very little time.

Sign up for Leadership Matters, our bi-weekly communications for leaders at member congregations

It was wonderful to feel and experience the inclusive mindset that reverberated throughout USCJ Convention 2017.  At the sessions that I attended, people made comments and asked questions that demonstrated their commitment to inclusion as a central value of the USCJ.  For example, in one session we were talking about language that congregations can put on their website to direct people who need accommodations to a specific contact person in the synagogue.  Somebody raised the point that similar language should also be prominently included in all communication about convention.  This was not meant as a criticism, but rather an acknowledgement that inclusion is not one isolated initiative. The mindset of inclusion must permeate all activities, so that people with disabilities can contribute in worship, on committees, on boards, and wherever else they would like.  It is amazing that convention provided an opportunity for leaders from around the country to develop and experience these ideas together – to incubate the mindset of inclusion.

I heard from many people at convention is that in order to build momentum in this work, we must communicate our successes.  We might not be able to accomplish everything that we dream of, but by sharing our actions with our congregants we are communicating that the journey is a priority.  Convention was an invaluable space for this communication, and I saw people from around the country congratulate each other on the work that they had done in their communities.  Rabbis described their sermons on inclusion, educators described the quiet rooms they established and the fidget toys they provided, and community leaders discussed innovative approaches to providing transportation for congregants with disabilities.  I left knowing that inclusion is a priority within USCJ, and I am so excited to hear about what comes next.  I look forward to USCJ Convention 2019!  


Miriam Heyman is responsible for the oversight of programs related to disability inclusion. She began her career as a Special Education Teacher in the New York City public schools, and while teaching she earned a Master’s degree in Special Education from the City University of New York. Miriam received a Ph.D. in Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology from Boston College, where she focused her studies on individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. Miriam is passionate about working towards inclusion in all settings and throughout the life course. 


Related Blog Posts