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Breaking Down Barriers – One Conversation at a Time

Meredith Polsky

Mayyim Hayim

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like you to take a minute and think about the different communities in which you participate. Consider your book group, your synagogue or your child’s school. Think about your role as an organization’s board member, your work environment or the class you take on Tuesday nights.

Choose any one of those groups and reflect on the dynamics that make it what it is: the people, the space, the handouts, the group’s purpose.

Got it all in your head?

Now, imagine your group has just grown by one member; we’ll call her Sarah. She’ll be joining you next week and she happens to have a disability. Maybe she’s deaf. Or perhaps she uses a wheelchair. She may be on the Autism spectrum. How will your members welcome her to participate? Can she even get into the building? Will she feel like an outsider once she’s there?

I suspect that through this hypothetical activity you’ve discovered something that is less than ideal. Let me be clear: that’s okay. Really. None of our schools, synagogues, camps or mikvehs is perfect when it comes to inclusion. But that’s exactly the point. We always have the opportunity to reflect on what’s working and what could be better. As long as we are on a path to improvement and we’re committed to making things better tomorrow than they are today, we’re moving in the right direction.

Of course, that task is soMayyim Hayimmetimes easier said than done. The issues are complex and it may be hard to know how to make change. Here’s the good news: you’re not on your own.

In late February 2016, in honor of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, Mayyim Hayyim is launching a Discussion Guide to complement our Open Waters: Mikveh for Everybody film. Created in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation, this resource will serve as a tool to help your synagogue, board, camp or school to launch meaningful conversations about what inclusion and access looks like in your community.

At Mayyim Hayyim we know just how many barriers exist to prevent full inclusion of people with disabilities. We’ve grappled with a number of them ourselves over the years. We’re proud of the success we’ve achieved, recognizing that the mikveh could seemingly have many barriers to participation, even for the able-bodied. This discussion guide can be used in many different settings and will serve as a jumping off point to assess what’s working and what could be better, inviting your group to make a plan for how to get there.

I encourage you to bring this guide to any of your communities, knowing that by simply having the conversation, your group will be more welcoming for Sarah and many others, before she tries to pave the way on her own.

Carrie Bornstein; MatanCarrie Bornstein is the Executive Director of Mayyim Hayyim, where she has served since she became a volunteer mikveh guide in 2006. Carrie is now leading Mayyim Hayim to transition from a robust start-up to a sustainable grown-up. In 2013 Combined Jewish Philanthropies named Carrie one of the 18 most influential young adults in Boston. A cum laude graduate of Skidmore College, Carrie received her Master’s degree in Social Work from Boston University with a focus on Macro Practice, including non-profit management, planning and program development, and community organizing. A graduate of the first cohort of DeLeT (Day School Leadership through Teaching) at Brandeis University, Carrie also studied at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Carrie lives in Sharon, MA with her husband, Jamie, and their three young children, Eliana, Dovi, and Jonah. Follow her on twitter @carolinering.

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