Exemplar Congregations Pave the Way for Creating a Network of Inclusion

December 15, 2015Joseph D. Robbins

Inclusion is a lengthy process that requires time, dedication, and a network of people committed to making change. Although it’s is a continuous, ever-evolving, and indeed never-ending process, 27 Reform congregations were recognized at the recent URJ Biennial as Exemplar Congregations, those that have made great strides in inclusion in all facets of congregational life.

Some Exemplar Congregations are very large, with membership numbering in the thousands; others are much smaller, with membership in the dozens. Some have inclusion committees, while others do not. Some were founded with principles of inclusion, while others have only come to it more recently, often because of a need in the community, led by a few dedicated individuals whose commitment drives the congregation’s efforts to achieve buy-in from community stakeholders and become more inclusive.

And yet, regardless of their differences, all Exemplar Congregations have a few important things in common.

Exemplar Congregations understand that education is a key component of successfully becoming an inclusive congregation, and they have begun the often-challenging process of igniting the cultural change necessary to bring clergy, lay leadership, and congregants on board.

Through their work, they provide a unique blueprint that other congregations can follow during their own journeys to inclusion, with focus on important areas such as architectural and physical accommodations, transportation, religious school, b’nai mitzvah, worship, and beyond.

Importantly, all of these Exemplar Congregations have agreed to act as mentors to other Reform congregations pursuing inclusion.

All of our Exemplar Congregations are featured on the Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center site, launched in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation as part of the URJ Ruderman Disabilities Inclusion Initiative. An online portal designed to better enable congregations to become more inclusive, the site is a vital component of the Reform Movement’s ongoing work to ensure the inclusion of people of all abilities in congregational life.

The site, which features skill-building webinars, videos, and print resources, also provides a platform to connect staff members, lay leaders, and congregants from Reform congregations across North America. These connections offer congregations opportunities to learn from and educate one another on issues of inclusion.

Each Exemplar Congregation is the focus of a dedicated profile page on the site that tells the story of its path toward inclusion and shares important information and resources, including the congregation’s history, a list of local and national organizations they’ve worked with, and future plans for continued inclusion efforts. By learning about each Exemplar Congregation – its past, present, and future – visitors can begin to understand both what is possible and how it can be achieved in their own communities.

The online learning center is just one component of the Reform Movement’s continued efforts to educate Reform Jews and others around the world about inclusion issues by presenting at conferences and on webinars and consulting with individual communities. By creating a network of communities and congregations dedicated to cutting-edge disabilities inclusion, the URJ strengthens and enriches the cadre of inclusion advocates and educators, promotes meaningful advances in the field, and positively impacts the place of disabilities inclusion in religious settings, creating meaningful change for today and the future.

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