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JDAIM: Striving for Inclusion!

How do we create inclusive communities where diversity is celebrated?  

Bialik has joined synagogues, schools, camps and not-for-profit organizations to mark JDAIM — Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month. Established in 2009, the Jewish Special Education International Consortium spearheaded this initiative to take place each February. The aim is to unite Jewish communities worldwide and to champion the rights of all Jews to be accepted and included in all aspects of Jewish life, like anyone else.

Our Jewish tradition and texts teach us that it is our obligation to ensure equal access for all people and to help facilitate the full participation of individuals with varied needs in religious and public life. For example, in Pirkei Avot we are taught, “Do not separate yourself from the community” or

“אל תפרוש מן הצבור“

It is so important to help our friends, family, and members of our community achieve their goals and access all aspects of daily life. When we do this, we are making a difference and making the world a more inclusive place. 

To properly acknowledge JDAIM, our Senior Division students participated in learning together at our online conference: JDAIM: Striving for Inclusion! Bialik set up this conference to give our students the opportunity to hear and be inspired by human rights and special-needs advocates, medical experts and leaders in the not-for-profit sector. 

Johanna Brooks, Executive Director, Canadian Friends of Shalva, joined us to deliver a keynote address. Shalva is a leader in disability awareness and intervention in Israel and she explained the remarkable story of how and why Shalva came to be. Raising a child with special needs, and supporting their son to defy odds, motivated the founders, Malki and Kalman Samuels, to develop this incredible organization. 

Following the keynote address, students debriefed with their Mechanchim and analyzed a frequently quoted essay Welcome to Holland. Mechanchim helped students make connections, internalize key themes, and understand Malki and Kalman Samuels’ core belief that “everyone deserves to succeed.”

Students in Grades 6 and 7 then heard from an inspiring panel of advocates. Students openly shared their thoughts, feelings and questions with speakers Naomi Stuchiner, Founder, Beit Issie Shapiro, Dr. Golda Milo Manson, Vice President Medicine & Academic Affairs, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, and Dana Geall, Author, Mother, Founder of Three To Be.  

In Grade 8, students explored JDAIM through a scientific lens with Dr. Vince Tropepe, U of T Researcher, who discussed Usher Syndrome and how genetic mutations can impact development. 

Students’ empathetic questions at the conference were powerful conversation starters:  

  • “How have Jewish values and traditions impacted how you run your organization and provide services in Israel?” 
  • “How did your family manage during COVID-19? Were your children still able to go to school and receive programming?” 
  • “What can we do today, as Bialik students in Toronto, to pave the way for a kinder future?” 

Our students showed Chesed and a strong understanding of their own roles in Tikkun Olam. Together, they learned how we can break down the stigma of living with disabilities. Students became aware that their actions — large and small — can make the world a kinder place. The range of perspectives offered at the conference energized students with a strong desire to make a difference. In many aspects of our Jewish faith, we are taught to be inclusive, welcoming, and accommodating of diversity. 

Bialik’s JDAIM program will include a special evening story time for JK – Grade 2 students, with Dana Geall, who presented at our conference, reading her new book, See Me For Me, and answering students’ questions. Our Elementary Division students are looking forward to diversity-themed programming that will be incorporated into their classes.

In honour of JDAIM, we urge you to keep the flame of inclusion alive at Bialik and in our Jewish community. We should see people for who they really are. Together, we can create a kinder world that appreciates unique gifts and talents, and provides equitable opportunities to support diverse needs. 

We invite you to read more about our speakers on our JDAIM conference website.