Creating an inclusive community for all…

February 22, 2023

“For my house shall be a house…for ALL people.” – Isaiah 56:6

Inclusion has been a long-held value of the Jewish community. There are numerous conversations within our biblical text that command us to be inclusive and considerate of our fellow humans. In Leviticus, where we are told to “not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind,” to one of our earliest leaders, Moses, who himself had a speech impediment. The holiest, most righteous path is for us to ensure that all people – regardless of our differences or difficulties – are given the ability to not only survive, but to thrive.

The concepts of inclusion and equitable treatment are at the heart of the JFCS mission and vision and guide my personal and our professional practices. We are taught that we should treat others as we would want to be treated. As a parent of a child with a disability, I know first-hand the challenges and opportunities that our clients face. First and foremost, I was my son’s advocate. I supported him when he felt lost. I educated our school system on the best practices to help him succeed. I advocated to change a system that didn’t want to change and helped him face his bullies when they identified him as different. My family learned how to support him, guide him, and most importantly, teach him how to be his own best advocate. One of his greatest needs was to find community and acceptance. He found his home in our Jewish community. Agencies like BBYO, JCC, JFCS, and our synagogue clergy were there to support him and our family. His struggles made him a strong, compassionate young man and as he graduates high school this year, I couldn’t be prouder of him and his desire to change the world for the better. While my experiences are not unique, the depth and scope of the services within our community are.

As our agency observes Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month (JDAIM) alongside organizations and congregations worldwide, we bolster awareness and inclusion for people with disabilities and their loved ones. Together, we will learn more about the issues and barriers facing people with disabilities while championing their right be accepted and included in all aspects of communal life. We hope that you’ll join us – not just for the month of February, but throughout the year as we fight the stigma facing our community and advance opportunities to ensure that all people can become the best versions of themselves.

JFCS Disability Services offers a wide array of programming, including high school transition services, employment training, a daytime community program, self-hired respite program, and social and recreational opportunities. Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to see many of these programs in action and they are nothing short of amazing.

TOPS (To Our Positive Success) is a day program for individuals who have graduated from high school. Most of the participants maintain employment and are seeking enrichment activities to supplement their week. The dynamic schedule includes physical fitness activities, music and dance, creative arts, and culinary workshops. TOPS recently opened a Life Skills Classroom to help clients increase their level of independence at home and in the community. Members learn and practice daily living skills in an authentic apartment setting, all under the supportive guidance of trained JFCS staff. The Life Skills Classroom has been a big hit among clients and their families and could not have happened without the support of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey and our corporate partner, Truist. One of our most recent participants, Holly, exclaimed that “I am so grateful for the friends I have here. And I like to make new friends. We go bowling, dance together, and play games. I love TOPS.”

Individuals who are interested in the culinary arts can join our Soups & Sweets Culinary Training Program. During the six-month program, students receive instruction from a professional chef and an experienced occupational therapist. Classroom lessons include teamwork, attendance, punctuality, grooming and hygiene, safety in the workplace, and more. In the training kitchen, students gain hands-on experience in our training kitchen learning baking and cooking skills, proper knife handling, following recipes, and navigating a busy work environment. Upon graduation, a JFCS employment specialist is available to help guide students towards a career in the food industry.

TOPS and Soups & Sweets are just two examples of the transformative services available in our community. To view our full slate of programs, visit To support these programs and services, I hope that you’ll consider joining us at Stepping Out, our annual fundraiser on March 30, an evening dedicated to celebrating the difference that JFCS makes in the lives of our clients. Visit here to join us:

It is the responsibility of each one of us to create an inclusive community. By remembering the value and strength in every person, regardless of their differences, we create a strong community based on mutual respect and understanding. This is at the heart of my JFCS journey, and I hope that you’ll join me.