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Breaking Through: A Day of Celebration for Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month

The steady rain didn’t dampen the high spirits of families at Camp Max Straus in Glendale last Sunday during The Jewish Federation’s Community Service Day. More than 200 children, teens and adults with special needs, along with their siblings, parents and volunteers came together for an afternoon of celebration for Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.

Operated by Jewish Big Brothers Jewish Big Sisters of Los Angeles, the inaugural event was as diverse as it was united in its overall mission. From recently diagnosed toddlers on the autism spectrum to middle-aged adults with intellectual disabilities, and with a wide range of Jewish affiliation represented, everyone who attended had fun and felt included as a valued member of the L.A. Jewish community.

As part of the month-long observance of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion (part of a larger North American initiative), all 15 of the HaMercaz nonprofit partners jointly sponsored this sensory-friendly family event, coordinated by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, Jewish Federation Los Angeles and HaMercaz.

Other partners were Jewish Family Service (JFS), the BJE, Bet Tzedek, ETTA, The Friendship Circle, Jewish Free Loan Association, JVS, The Miracle Project, Shalom Institute, Vista del Mar, Yachad and Zimmer Children’s Museum. Community sponsors were Love My Provider and ROSIES Foundation, both incubated in The Jewish Federation’s PresentTenseLA program, which helps budding social entrepreneurs.

Each partner agency contributed funds, helped market the event to their members, and shared news of upcoming events and services. The Zimmer Children’s Museum provided arts and crafts activities, JFS had a raffle, and The Shalom Institute had a “blender bike” that rewarded cyclists with fresh lemonade. Talented participants from The Miracle Project also provided musical highlights:  Spencer Harte sang the classic Italian opera piece “Ave Maria,” and song leader Quinn Lohman led the audience in Jewish camp songs and in John Lennon’s utopian “Imagine.”

In addition, Leaps and Boundz brought along indoor gymnastic equipment, Danny’s Farm shared the sweetest group of bunnies, and High Five basketball provided fun sports games. Mexikosher was there too, grilling up tasty chicken, rice, beans and veggies. And I enjoyed a proud parent moment as our 20-year-old son, “DJ Danny,” made his first public debut by assisting DJ Saulomite (Saul Korin) with the dance tunes. (Sorry about that Macarena.)

When the song “Let it Go” from the movie Frozen was played, one young woman with Down syndrome who was recently married grabbed the microphone and belted out the lyrics, emphasizing words that summed up the entire event: “It’s time to see what I can do/To test the limits and break through.” Her proud husband, who also has Down syndrome, stood a few feet away, videotaping her performance. A small crowd spontaneously gathered and watched in admiration, clapping loudly when the song ended.

Jewish Federation Los Angeles believes that everyone in our community should have the opportunity to experience and celebrate our shared values, history and traditions. Making Jewish life more accessible for all is one of our top priorities, which is why we are part of a national effort to raise awareness about members of the Jewish community with disabilities. Go to www.JewishLA.org/Inclusion for more information.

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