Inclusion Comes from the Top – and the Bottom, and Middle

February 4, 2014

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


On a recent ten-day Tikvah Ramah Israel trip, twelve participants with disabilities, ages 18-40, were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime visit to a 1,000-soldier army base. Admittedly, other tour groups visit army bases; our group spent three hours at the MAZI/Bar-Lev base near Kiryat Milachi, where soldiers – in full uniform – with Down syndrome, autism, and other intellectual disabilities are “just soldiers.”


Thanks to the efforts of base commander Yitzchak Akri and to organizations such as AKIM, the army is learning many important lessons: that there are many jobs to be performed on a base, that people with disabilities have many abilities, and that every person on the base benefits from inclusion. We toured their job sites including the print shop, supply rooms, and the dining room; we heard about their jobs with the Military Police; and we had several “getting to know you” sessions. One Tikvah participant, 40-year-old Eric, commented, “It was nice seeing people like us – with disabilities – in the army.” What Eric, the other participants and even staff may not have noticed is HOW they became “just soldiers.” They became “just soldiers” in much the same way that Ramah campers with disabilities became “just campers.”


For more than 44 years, the Ramah Camping Movement has been including campers with disabilities. In 1970, no Jewish summer camps were interested in accepting campers with disabilities – until one lone Ramah director, Donald Adelman (z”l), with the encouragement and support of Tikvah founders Herb and Barbara Greenberg, decided to establish the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in Glen Spey, NY. The Greenbergs, who went on to serve as directors of the Ramah New England Tikvah Program for 29 years, write, “He viewed the proposal as a unique opportunity for Ramah to demonstrate its ability to become an ‘outreach’ institution at the same time that it continued to concretize the values it had always espoused. His vision expanded the role of Ramah, as he believed that the institution had the strength and flexibility to serve the Jewish community responsibly with regard to its handicapped members, while simultaneously continuing its mission of preparing youth for roles of Jewish communal leadership. Thus was born the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah …” (from Forward from 50, published in 1999). Other Ramah camps soon followed suit, opening their doors to campers with disabilities.


In February, the Jewish community marks Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month. We salute these campers, staff members, and soldiers, and call on our organizational leaders to continue to set the organizational tone for inclusiveness – from the top down.


Read more at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Feb. 19, 2014