The month of February is Jewish Disability Advocacy Month (JDAM), and Jewish Long Beach — along with the Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA) — is reaching out to residents with a message of inclusivity and support.

“One in four adults in this country has a disability,” Mark Wilf, chair of the JFNA’s board of trustees, said in the kickoff video. “The means inclusive communities aren’t just nice to have… We need to make sure that we are pursuing every avenue available to include as many Jews as possible.”

According to Jewish tradition, he continued, everyone is created with “tzelem elohim,” which means that everyone was created in the image of God. And according to the Torah, it’s the responsibility of all people to break down barriers that prevent inclusivity in the world. 

And while JDAM is happening in tandem with Black History Month, Wilf said that the Jewish Federation of North America is pivoting their message slightly to include all groups of people, Jewish or not.

“We are working for a world of equal opportunity and participate for all regardless of ability, skin color or other identity or characteristics,” he said.

Last week, the month-long programming kicked off with the theme of “Empowerment,” sharing stories of Jewish folks overcoming their own hardships and flourishing, whether it’s at school, work or in their communities. JFNA and related organizations, like Respectability and Network of Jewish Human Services, provide everyday programming for people, including job training and support groups.

This week, the theme is “Breaking Barriers.” In the era of COVID-19, the topic of isolation and mental health called for discussions of its own, as well as conversations with disabled youth and how they have been coping (or thriving) during the pandemic. 

At noon today, Thursday, people can tune in for a live discussion and workshop. While the people being featured in the discussions are Jewish, anyone can tune in for free at jewishtogether.org/jdam.

Week three and four will cover the topics “Creating Opportunity” and “Disability Rights are Civil Rights: Advocacy Week,” where JFNA leaders will showcase in more detail the advocacy work that’s in progress.

Currently, the JFNA is lobbying Congress for an increase in government support for programs that impact disabled Americans. 

If accepted, the relief package is asking to “temporarily raise the federal government’s contribution to Medicaid by 12%, temporarily raise the FMAP for Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) by 10% and Increase the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) minimum benefit to $30 and maintain the 15% boost in the maximum SNAP benefit for the duration of the economic downturn.”

In addition to this month’s programming, the JFNA website has resources for topics on racial injustice, out-of-work resources and mental health support that’s available online year-round. Jewish Long Beach has its own programs for area residents that can be viewed at jewishlongbeach.org.

The next workshop is happening at noon today, Thursday. Topics will address mental health and isolation, disability in Israel and empowering youth with disabilities, as well as their families. All discussions will have captions enabled, but people can request an ASL interpreter if needed.

At 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16, the topic for discussion will be Canada’s inclusion policies and how the Canadian government has addressed the pandemic with disabled people in mind.

For more information, or to access the programming for Jewish Disability Advocacy Month, go to jewishtogether.org/jdam.

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