Fairfield County Jewish Community presents Long Weekend of Inclusivity May 19-22

A collaborative group of Fairfield County Jewish organizations will present the area’s first Long Weekend of Inclusivity, dedicated to expanding access to religious experience, education, and services for children and families coping with physical and cognitive disabilities.

The program will take place Thursday, May 19-Sunday, May 22 at several Fairfield County locations. For a full schedule, visit jewishphilanthropyct.org.

The program is made possible thanks to a grant from the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County* and funding from Beit Chaverim Synagogue (Westport), Congregation B’nai Israel (Bridgeport), and The Conservative Synagogue (Westport).

The weekend will feature presentations by author and activist Shelly Christensen, whose award-winning work at the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis led to a groundbreaking community-wide embrace of a more inclusive approach, and to the founding of Jewish Disability and Awareness Month. Christensen’s pioneering book, The Jewish Community Guide to Inclusion of People with Disabilities, provides a roadmap that any faith-based organization can use to become more welcoming and intentionally inclusive of people with disabilities and those who love them. As founder and CEO of Inclusion Innovations, Christensen guides and supports religious communities and organizations of all sizes and denominations to create culture and practice shifts that ensure meaningful participation and inclusion for people with disabilities and their families.

All programs are free and most are open to the general public. The presenting organizations include Beit Chaverim Synagogue (Westport), The Conservative Synagogue (Westport), the Jewish High School of Connecticut (Stamford), Stamford JCC, Friendship Circle/Chabad of Westport, and the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County.

According to the organizers, many young people with emotional, physical, or mental disabilities are unable to assume a role in communal religious life for a number of reasons, including a lack of understanding of how to successfully involve them.

“When a young man on the Autism spectrum was able to attend our Un-Hebrew School, which features one-on-one instruction, he was able to learn enough to have a Bar Mitzvah and teach Torah (the Hebrew bible and teachings) to the congregation,” said Rabbi Greg Wall of Beit Chaverim Synagogue in Westport. “From that point on, he has been attending services regularly and become a key player in our minyan (the quorum of 10 adults needed for communal prayer). He has become an impact player. Everyone should be able to have this opportunity. This is an example of why we must find a way to build a more inclusive Jewish community.”

The following schedule of presentations by Shelly Christensen is available at jewishphilanthropyct.org

  • Thursday, May 19, 8:30-10 a.m. — Federation for Jewish Philanthropy, 431 Post Road East, Westport: “Drawing the Roadmap to Inclusivity, the Next Steps” Power Breakfast for clergy, lay leaders, and educational staff, advance registration required: 203-226-8197

  • Thursday, May 19, 7-8:15 p.m. — Stamford JCC, 1035 Newfield Ave., Stamford: “Are You Being Served? The Jewish Town Hall Inclusivity Meeting” exploring the questions: Just what does it take to be an inclusive, supportive Jewish community for all? What will it take for our/your family to be included?

  • Friday, May 20 — Jewish High School of Connecticut, 1937 West Main St., Stamford: noon: “How Inclusive Do We Want Our Schools to Be?” Educators’ Lunch; 12:45-1:30 p.m.: “Bridging the Gap Between Teachers and Unique Students” presentation to students and teachers on how to overcome differences to create an inclusive school environment; open to the community

  • Friday, May 20, 6:15-7:45 p.m. — The Conservative Synagogue, 30 Hillspoint Road, Westport: “Even Moses Needed a Voice: Inclusion Within Our Community” (during Kabbalat Shabbat services)

  • Saturday, May 21, 9:30-11:50 a.m. — Beit Chaverim Synagogue, 85 Post Road West, Westport: “Seeing the Perfection in the Imperfect" (during morning services)

  • Sunday, May 22, 10-11:15 a.m. — Friendship Circle/Chabad of Westport, 79 Newtown Turnpike, Westport: “Bagels, A Shmear and A Shmooze with Shelly Christensen” discussing how to build on the wonderful volunteer work of Friendship Circle, and how to create a place for special-needs children and their families in the synagogue and at Jewish cultural events.

* A 501(c)3, Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County represents and serves a catchment area including: Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Georgetown, Monroe, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport, and Wilton.