Often when Jewish publications write about cooperation among the denominations it is with a tone of nostalgia. Too often, mutual respect and the spirit of klal Yisrael have been replaced by tensions over theology, gender, conversion, “Who is a Jew,” and politics. That’s why it is especially gratifying to make note of that rare thing: a partnership among the Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Reform Jewish movements.
The four streams are all collaborating on Hineinu: Jewish Community for People of All Abilities. Disabilities professionals from each denomination will share resources and advice in order to increase inclusion of those with special needs in their synagogues. Hineinu has produced a comprehensive guide to creating inclusive Jewish communities, with suggestions on making synagogues more welcoming to those with physical challenges, developmental issues, and learning disabilities.
Spearheading the collaboration are Deborah Berman, director of social work for Yachad, the Orthodox Union’s flagship disabilities program, and Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, senior adviser on disability issues for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “Hineinu is a historic collaboration, a joint effort which, in itself, exemplifies the spirit of Inclusion that we hope to bring to synagogues and to people with natural variations in abilities and disabilities,” Berman explained in an OU news release. Added Landsberg: “We must look beyond the disability — beyond the ‘container’ — and see the person within, the person with often unacknowledged and therefore untapped potential.”
In Hebrew, “hineinu” means “we are here.” For an effort that aims to make the culture of inclusion universal among Jewish institutions, it is especially fitting that it is in the plural form. In its mission and its makeup, Hineinu is a reminder of the things Jews share as a people, instead of those things that divide us as individuals.