Dan is a psychiatrist in private practice in the Detroit area.  He is an alumnus of the Detroit Wexner Heritage Program (1986).  He is on the Board of Governors of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, The Board of JFNA, and continues as the co-chair of the Disabilities Workgroup.  He will be at ADVANCE 2011.  Dan can be reached at danguyer@aol.com

At the recent Wexner Heritage Alumni Retreat in Chicago, my wife and I participated in an exercise looking at our priorities in the Jewish world—or perhaps passions would be a better word.  In the summary of all the participants’ priorities at the end of the retreat, one of the six was inclusion.

Over the past four years, I have served as co-chair of the Disabilities Workgroup of Jewish Federations of North America.  Two years ago Marcia Cohodes, another Wexner Heritage alum, joined me as co-chair.  Last year we were asked to join the advisory committee for the first ADVANCE Conference on Special Needs and Disabilities.  That year, on the twentieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Jay Ruderman and the Ruderman Family Foundation issued a challenge:  “to examine the opportunity gap that exists for disabled Jews and to inspire collaboration in which private funders, federations and professionals can actively work together to build a more inclusive community.”  Jay took the leadership role and put disabilities and inclusion on the Jewish community agenda nationally and internationally.

I had the opportunity to speak at one of the panels last year at the ADVANCE conference and I wanted to share some of my remarks:

. . .Over forty years ago, my wife, also a Wexner Heritage alum, worked with the Thursday night group at our JCC—it was a social program for those with developmental disabilities from their late teens to their 60’s.  While the groups met, the parents would sit in the hallway and talk of the future — who would take care of their children when they were gone.  In 1969, the first Detroit Jewish group home was opened because of those parents. This was a time when our Jewish community was taking people out of the institutions, out of inner city foster care homes, and out of family basements. That organization grew to become JARC, a non-sectarian, non-profit organization and one of the nation’s largest providers of community-based Jewish residential services.  For many, that was the beginning of inclusion. 

When a group home resident, Gerald, recently died, his siblings sat shiva in the group home he had lived in for decades—along with his housemates, the staff, his friends and board members of JARC.

Another resident, Jacob retired last year.  He worked for years as a shomer, reading Psalms, at one of the Jewish funeral homes.  Several years ago, he and his girlfriend, living in another home, travelled to Israel with one of our large Federation missions.

Though housing is still at its core, JARC is about people—the individuals and their families, the people who provide those services and the greater Detroit Jewish community.  It supports people in group homes and in independent living settings and those who continue in their own homes with their families.  Since its inception, JARC has been about “enriching lives, erasing barriers”.

Our Jewish values teach us to take care of those at risk—the stranger in our midst.  We fulfill this mitzvah by creating a safe, warm, loving home within a supportive Jewish community.  We must stand up and do what no family can do on their own.  The ADVANCE conference is about the needs of  individuals with disabilities—in every city and in every Jewish community. . .

On December 6, ADVANCE 2011 will take place in New York City. It is a project of the Ruderman Family Foundation and the Jewish Funders Network and is co-sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Great Boston, and Jewish Federations of North America.  Jay Ruderman has asked us all to stand up for inclusion. This has been his passion and we can hopefully make it all of ours. This is the only event for grant makers in the area of disability in the Jewish world and it seeks to transform the way communities serve the needs of adults and children with disabilities and to welcome them into our Jewish lives.

Let’s all think about inclusion.