Breaking Down Barriers: Building Inclusivity in the Jewish Community

Breaking down barriers is a vital part of building inclusivity. It requires shaping antiracist policies and conversations and embodying equity in everyday Jewish practice. It is a long-term process, and each synagogue community will progress at its own pace. Consider establishing or working with a Diversity and Inclusion committee to get started.

Create a Family Environment

A common refrain from Jewish families with children who have disabilities is that they feel isolated. They often cannot find a place in their synagogue, JCC, or day school that welcomes or meets their needs. Educating the congregation about inclusion can be hard work but essential. An excellent place to start is by ensuring all the leadership in the synagogue, JCC, or camp understands the need for inclusion and that they are committed to it at the highest levels of their organization. Providing training to all staff and volunteers can also be helpful. Denver Community Center offers a variety of inclusive Jewish education resources and activities for members.

Involve Youth

When it comes to building inclusiveness, youth are a critical resource. These people will live these values and push their communities to be more open and welcoming. Youth groups should be involved in all this work, including planning and creating programming supporting LGBTQ issues. They must have the opportunity to engage with leaders from the community in discussions about this issue.

Women’s League and Men’s Club affiliates, synagogues, and regional programs can be used to facilitate this discussion. Taking advantage of inclusion months and days, such as Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), Pride Month, Martin Luther King Day, Juneteenth, or racial justice workshops provided by national organizations like Keshet is an excellent way to integrate these topics into Sisterhood, affiliate/club, and synagogue programming.

Create a Community

Whether it is to get the daily necessities, to make sense of the world around them, or to feel less alone, most people rely on their communities. Communities can be defined by shared attributes like geographical location, identity (like gender), affinity, or affiliation. Synagogues and club/affiliated programs can create a community by making inclusion one of their fundamental values. Creating events that celebrate LGBTQ identities, promote pronoun use, and include diversity in the rabbi’s sermon are all easy ways to make the community more inclusive. It is also essential to publicize your inclusion policies and activities. It can be done by putting welcoming language on your website. It is also a good idea to have rabbinic moments at services that encourage inclusivity, such as the opening of the ark or the reading of the names at a B’nai Mitzvah.

Create a Safe Space

Creating safe spaces is crucial for people who are marginalized in our community. A safe space is a place where those who are vulnerable feel comfortable and can bond with others without fear of discrimination, criticism, or harassment. Safe spaces can be physical or conceptual and are often called safe zones or neighborhoods. The term is a popular buzzword in the LGBTQ community, as it refers to places where LGBTQ people can feel safe and supported in an often intolerant world. Creating safe spaces in Jewish organizations is essential for the well-being of employees and community members. It helps to have clear policies and practices that combat anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, address microaggressions and religious accommodation, and provide a supportive culture.

Support Individuals

Inclusion is about respect for all members and their entire identities. Individuals from diverse communities may need extra support to feel welcome and comfortable at your synagogue or club. Consider inviting speakers from local and national organizations that work with communities such as Jews of Color, LGBTQIA+, nontraditional families, people with disabilities, or individuals experiencing mental illness to lead a discussion about their experiences and answer questions. You could host a brunch, a lunch & learn, or even an event featuring music, art, and poetry.

Create an inclusion page on your synagogue or affiliate/club website and include links to resources. Post diversity-related messages on social media using apps. Ensure your community knows your diversity initiatives by posting on these platforms at least once weekly.