Inclusion, Belonging and the High Holidays

Many rabbis speak about inclusion
from the pulpit. Some deliver a full sermon about inclusion through reflections
of the parshah, a summary of
congregational activities throughout the year, or create an opportunity to talk
about it at other points in the service. Here are just some ideas:

Sermon Ideas:

  • We are Not Your Mitzvah Project: Perspectives on
    Participation from People with Disabilities
  • How Do We Welcome the
  • Biblical and Historical
    Perspectives on Disability Inclusion
  • Presenting a Challenge to
    the Congregation: What is Your Role in Welcoming People with Disabilities?
  • Inclusion: What is it and
    How Can We Achieve It?
  • Creating a Roadmap for
    Inclusion: Why? How? When?
  • Disability is Normal and
    Affects Us All
  • The Year Ahead: How Our
    Congregation Supports People with Disabilities in Congregational Life Today and
    Opportunities for Tomorrow
  • The Americans with
    Disabilities Act—Civil Rights and Moral Mandate

Engage the congregation during
the Yom Kippur afternoon recess. Offer a “Food for Thought” program about an
aspect of belonging, share a Torah message, convene a panel of inclusion
committee members, people with disabilities and family members to lead a
discussion on inclusion.

Topics could include:

  • Personal stories about why
    inclusion is important
  • Topics on disability
    inclusion as social justice
  • Trends in employment and
    housing initiatives
  • People with Disabilities in
    the Tanakh: Contributions, Strengths
    and Gifts
  • Discussion on how the
    synagogue can support life cycle events for people with disabilities. Include
    people with disabilities.
  • Discussion on inclusive
    supports for students with disabilities in pre-school, religious school,
    confirmation, bar or bat mitzvah and youth groups.
  • What do the Torah and the
    commentators say about inclusion?

Other Suggestions

Before the high holidays offer
tours of the synagogue to people who are new or visiting so they can become
familiar and comfortable to daven
there. They can see and touch unfamiliar items, explore the machzor, stand on the bimah, hold the Torah, and find a seat where they will be comfortable sitting.
Familiarity can help ease some anxiety about a new situation.

The easiest thing you can do is
to announce page numbers often. Describe the seforim by color and size, in addition to name.

Ask people with disabilities
ahead of time to participate in leading prayers during the service. Honor them
with aliyot and practice the b’rachot with them. Ask people with
disabilities and their family members to give a d’var Torah, carry the Torah for a hakafah, recite the Torah
or Haftarah b’rachot and recite the Kiddush.

If your bimah is not accessible, move it to the main level of the sanctuary
so the Torah itself is accessible to

Train ushers to welcome and seat
people with disabilities. Make sure they know where assistive listening devices
and large print prayer books are located.

Do not create a separate section
for people with disabilities to sit unless they use a sign language
interpreter. In that case, seat them in the front row so they have access to
the interpreter. Remember that people who use mobility devices may want to sit
with friends or family.

During the month of Elul or the Days of Awe, incorporate
inclusion in Torah study. Parshat Nitzavim is a powerful and meaningful text to study. It’s a
reminder that we all stood together to make the covenant with G‑d. What does
that mean as modern day Jews? How does that inform our congregational culture?

On days one can travel, lack of
transportation is a tremendous barrier. Purchase ride vouchers from your
community’s accessible public transportation provider so people with
disabilities who use that service can join. Volunteer drivers can assist in
providing transportation, too! Finally, designate additional accessible parking
spaces, and offer valet parking so family members can enter the building with
their loved ones who have a disability.

Use social media to promote
inclusion. Post your events. Quote text that resonates with Jewish values about
belonging and inclusion. Record a short d’var
about inclusion for YouTube.

Provide machzorim and chumashim
in accessible format (i.e. Braille, large print, audio versions).

Make your services accessible to
people who have diverse sensory needs, such as sign language interpretation
(set seats aside so those worshipers can see the interpreter clearly) and
picture schedules of the service order. Include the start and ending times of
services, the prayer order and the location of restrooms and drinking fountains
in your service handout.

Make your sanctuary fragrance
free so that people with extreme chemical sensitivity do not have severe
reactions. Publicize this in your High Holiday mailings, on your website, and
on tickets if you use them.

Make sure all lights are working
and that there is plenty of light in the sanctuary for people who have low

Start each service with the
opportunity for congregants to turn to their neighbors and introduce
themselves. Make sure that every person has someone with whom to share this

For more ideas on inclusion visit the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion
Initiative page at or contact us at

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