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Jewish agencies to represent Jews with disabilities in Parliament

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Representatives of about a dozen Jewish agencies will go to Parliament Hill Feb. 21 to present the case for Jews with disabilities.

Meetings with ministers, government officials and opposition critics are scheduled to highlight a variety of issues facing Jews with physical, developmental and mental health difficulties, including housing, immigration, tax policy and federal legislation.

The meetings, the first of their kind, will take place during Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), to be held throughout February.

“This is an opportunity for people in our community who are at the forefront of dealing with disabilities and inclusion to go and share their perspectives,” said Noah Shack, director of policy for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) of the meetings, which will bring groups from across Canada to Ottawa. “This is an area where our community has a lot to contribute.”

READ: JEWISH DISABILITY MONTH SEEKS TO RAISE AWARENESS

He said CIJA undertook a research study of issues facing disabled Jews in Calgary and Vancouver in 2015 and has engaged Jewish federations in other cities on the matter. The Ottawa fly-in is “the culmination of years of consultations.”

Spearheaded by CIJA and Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, the meetings will include representatives of Jewish federations in major cities, Reena, JVS Toronto and Jewish Immigration Aid Services to shine a light on the need to expand tax benefits for those with disabilities and their caregivers, to establish criteria for permanent residency status that might be problematic for those with disabilities, and to have more money for affordable housing, Shack said.

Also on the agenda will be providing input for the government’s planned Canadians With Disabilities Act.

“These are important things to raise our voice about,” Shack said.

In Toronto, Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month is spearheaded by the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.

First launched in Minneapolis in 2009, JDAIM has run in several U.S. cities since, and on a smaller scale, in Vancouver and Calgary, with the aim of raising awareness and fostering inclusion of disabled Jews.

This year’s second annual JDAIM in Toronto will see dozens of events across the GTA: film screenings, policy panels, job search tips, children’s programs, cultural events and more.

“It’s all about community belonging – that everyone belongs and everyone has something to contribute to our community,” said Liviya Mendelsohn, manager of accessibility and inclusion at the Miles Nadal JCC.

JDAIM Toronto aims to raise awareness about so-called visible and invisible disabilities including mobility issues, hearing and vision loss, behavioural difficulties, intellectual development and mental health issues, Mendelsohn said.

It will also emphasize the connection between Jewish values and promoting attitudes that embrace diversity.

“The Torah teaches about the humanity and dignity of all people. That’s what this month is all about,” Mendelsohn said.

The community, she said, has come a long way when it comes to disability issues and has shown more willingness to discuss mental health.

READ: ADDICTIONS UNDENIABLY A JEWISH PROBLEM, TOO

“There’s always further to go but there is so much more understanding now. Our community has really taken to heart the idea [of] ‘nothing about us without us.’

“The community has become more consultative and really engaged with people with disabilities.”

Highlights of the month will include the “No-Shush Shabbat Family Dinner” on Feb. 3 for families who feel excluded or uncomfortable in synagogue; a financial planning workshop (Feb. 7) and a program on “accessibility and spirituality” (Feb. 18) at City Shul, 36 Harbord St., which is wheelchair accessible.

ASL interpreters and large-print prayer books will be provided. 

For more details, visit www.jewishtoronto.com/jdaim.