Creating an Inclusive Jewish Community

A summer day at Camp HASC

Each February, we observe Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). It’s a time for the greater Jewish community to celebrate our progress, recognize our continued need for growth, and commit to being welcoming and inclusive.

JDAIM serves an important purpose, but our efforts to improve accessibility and inclusion can’t be limited to one month each year. Year-round, Jewish institutions embrace the long-overdue conversation on inclusion, working to ensure that all Jewish people — regardless of ability, economic status, gender identity, sexuality, and ethnic background — can experience the support, joy, and sense of belonging that characterizes Jewish communal life.

The field of Jewish camp has prioritized this work, and has made great headway in modeling how to create inclusive Jewish communities. We believe that a Jewish camp experience benefits every camper and staff member, and we strive to address any and all barriers to full participation in camp programming.  We know that people with disabilities and their families simply want what we all want — a place to belong, a place to call (their second) home. We also know that camp culture is enriched when we include and welcome everyone.

At FJC, we take great pride in our Yashar Initiative — made possible through the generosity of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation — which has accelerated improvements around accessibility and inclusion. If you missed our announcement of the second cohort of camps receiving grants or Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent write-up of our recent inclusion training at Sesame Place, I encourage you to read them.

Next month at FJC’s Leaders Assembly, our 8th biennial convening of the field, more than 800 camp professionals, lay leaders, foundations, federation executives, Jewish educators, and more, will come together to exchange ideas, align strategies, and share insights. Notably, we will offer a special “Yashar track” in which camps can learn from experts and one another, empowering them to continue bringing important innovations around inclusion to their own camps.

In a world of complex challenges, I am continuously filled with admiration and appreciation for camp professionals, who prioritize and persist in creating an atmosphere in which people can feel a sense of connection, purpose, and belonging. With our partners in the field, we aspire to eliminate all barriers to full participation in Jewish camp. We continuously ask ourselves, “Who isn’t here, and why? How can we support them?”.

We think of “inclusion” in its broadest and most generous sense. It inspires us to help make camp more accessible for campers and staff with disabilities, and it also leads us to consider other barriers to full participation in Jewish life. When we strive to welcome and include everyone, we build stronger, more effective Jewish communities.

Thank you for being part of our Jewish camp community. May JDAIM inspire all of us to work toward a world in which a month dedicated to inclusion and accessibility is no longer necessary — a world in which it is standard practice to fully welcome every member of our community.

About the Author
Jeremy J. Fingerman has served as CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) since 2010. Prior to joining FJC, he had a highly-regarded 20+ year career in Consumer Packaged Goods, beginning at General Mills, Inc, then at Campbell Soup Company, where he served as president of its largest division, US Soup. In 2005, he was recruited to serve as CEO of Manischewitz.
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