Disability Month Grows in Scope, Reach

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer (right) works with staff and participants of a
Whole Community Inclusion program. (Photo provided)

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer experiences the meaning of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) both in her Jenkintown office and at home.

By day, the Jewish Learning Venture’s director of whole community inclusion is involved in all of JDAIM’s plans for February. By night, or whenever she’s needed, her 16-year-old autistic son, George, commands a lot of her attention.

“I work with awareness both in public and private,” Kaplan-Mayer said. “Today, one in 68 children are diagnosed as autistic, and we are making strides in finding out what the causes are. We don’t know, but I bet in 10 or 15 years, we will. What makes me happy today, in the work I do, is the increased awareness level of autism in our community, and the increased level of inclusion, which is what JDAIM is all about.”

No longer is February just Jewish Disability Month, as Kaplan-Mayer explained.

“We have so many situations with the work we’re doing, with awareness, acceptance and inclusion, that the month needed a more-inclusive name,” she said. “What we’re calling the month is much more in step with our Jewish values of acceptance and inclusion, as well as awareness.”

Kaplan-Mayer and her team have scheduled more than two dozen events in February — including a Curriculum Special Interest Group on Feb. 5 at the Jewish Learning Venture’s offices in Jenkintown, and a Whole Community Inclusion (WCI) Day at the National Museum of American Jewish History on Feb. 18.

Her JDAIM schedule includes next month’s WCI Clergy Breakfast on Feb. 14 at Reconstructionist Or Hadash in Fort Washington. Led by Cantor Faryn Rudnick of Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, the discussion among rabbis and cantors will focus on how congregational culture can be shifted toward inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in all aspects of synagogue life.

WCI is Jewish Learning Venture’s initiative that engages people with special needs and their families and supports their ability to access a range of Jewish educational experiences from early childhood through the transition to adulthood.

It leads a consortium of Jewish agencies and organizations across the Greater Philadelphia area that do some type of disability inclusion work. In monthly meetings, professionals from these groups share resources and explore ways to raise awareness around disability and inclusion.

Kaplan-Mayer’s JDAIM strategy, in addition to the WCI events, is to touch as many organizations and people as possible, emphasizing Jewish values of inclusion.

That includes organizing a group of area synagogues to sign up for JDAIM Shabbat Across Philadelphia, dedicating one Shabbat service in the month of February to focus on disability inclusion issues.

Kaplan-Mayer said nearly two dozen synagogues in the Greater Philadelphia area have scheduled JDAIM-related Shabbat services in February.

Scheduled JDAIM Shabbat events include:

Feb. 9 at Ohev Shalom of Bucks County in Richboro: A service will highlight the synagogue’s mission to engage and include all of the community.

Feb. 23 at Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El in Elkins Park: Lior Liebling, with Down syndrome, whose bar mitzvah preparation was chronicled in the 2008 documentary Praying with Lior, will join the congregation to pray and discuss his work as an adult, his independent living situation and his synagogue involvement.

Check the JDAIM calendar at jewishlearningventure.org/calendar for other events.

jweisberger@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0737


  1. Jed, thank you for this beautiful article capturing our work with Whole Community Inclusion.

    We have just started our JDAIM campaign with a goal of reaching $10,000 by the end of the month. You can check out our campaign here: fundly.com/whole-community-inclusion-2019

  2. Jed, I am well aware how crucial it is to address the needs of every member of the Jewish community. But as a 64-year-old paraplegic who uses a wheelchair full time, I will tell you that the community and synagogues, in particular, have to show more sensitivity to the mobility challenged.

    I am a baal koreh and baal tefillah. But getting to bimot at all synagogues is not always possible. In fact, getting into the buildings is often a challenge. Alternatives must be explored so that we are able to read, daven, have an aliyah, act as gabbai, etc. without having to sneak in from behind a door or curtain. It is hurtful to face these limitations.


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