Bookstore honored for its inclusion efforts

Bookstore honored for its inclusion efforts

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Jonah Zimiles and his wife, Ellen, on right, with their daughter Liz and son Daniel outside the bookstore.     
Jonah Zimiles and his wife, Ellen, on right, with their daughter Liz and son Daniel outside the bookstore.     

Maplewood bookstore is among 10 businesses around the country honored by The Ruderman Family Foundation for its exemplary practices in hiring, training, and supporting people with disabilities.

Jonah Zimiles, who opened the [words] bookstore with his wife, Ellen, in 2009, trains young adults with autism to work in bookstores and occasionally hires them to work for his own store when there is an opening.

Rebecca Wanatick, director of Greater MetroWest ABLE, an inclusion initiative at the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, nominated the bookstore for the award. The Massachusetts-based Ruderman Foundation, guided, according to its literature, by “Jewish values,” launched its Best in Business awards after conferring similar honors on institutions committed to the inclusion of people with disabilities into the Jewish community.

A profile of each of the 10 companies was published in a supplement to the New York Jewish Week and the Jewish Journal in Los Angeles in June. The project was a partnership between the Ruderman foundation and the Jewish Week Media Group.

“We were ecstatic,” said Zimiles in a phone interview. “We have so much respect for the work MetroWest Able is doing, just the fact that they nominated us felt like a huge honor.” 

He added, “The Ruderman Foundation is a national leader in the field. They run very successful, very useful conferences I’ve attended. To be selected by them made us very proud.”

Zimiles is active locally and nationally in Jewish and non-Jewish organizations working on behalf of people with disabilities. The Zimiles’ 19-year-old son has autism. 

In 2010 Zimiles was appointed to the disability working group of the Jewish Federations of North America; prior to his son’s diagnosis, he had been the national director of planned giving and endowments at United Jewish Communities, JFNA’s predecessor organization.

At [words], Zimiles provides sensitivity training for employees about the needs of individuals with disabilities. The aisles are extra wide to avoid sensory overload, and the bookstore offers “Second Sundays,” a series of events and activities for people with special needs in its basement event space. 

The store maintains a healthy selection of titles on inclusion and disabilities, and speaker/author series always include a few names from the inclusion community. 

Zimiles added that plans are in the works to open a [words] branch in LifeTown, the multi-million-dollar complex being built in Livingston by The Friendship Circle, an organization that supports people with special needs and their families. The facility will include recreational, therapeutic, educational, and leadership training facilities for individuals with special needs.

“Everyone has a fundamental right to be included in our society and the best way to achieve full inclusion is through meaningful employment,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, in a prepared statement. “What these Ruderman Best in Business winners understand is that inclusion is good for the bottom line. “ 

Other recipients of the Best in Business awards are the Long Island Marriott Hotel; Wegmans Food Market Inc. in Rochester, NY; Rising Tide Car Wash in Parkland, Fla.; Megleen Inc. in Scarborough, Ontario; Green Distribution  in Secaucus; ULTRA Testing in New York, NY; Publix Super Markets Inc. in Sunrise, Fla.; Accessibility Partners in Silver Spring, Md.; and BagelToons in Detroit, Mich.

A panel of seven experts selected the winners from among the nominations submitted on-line.

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