Inclusion has become a more familiar term in modern Jewish culture. Jewish life is communal in nature, and families of individuals with disabilities want to feel welcome to participate in all aspects of living a full Jewish life.
The Stuart I Raskas Friendship Circle of Illinois has served the special needs population of Chicagoland since 2006. Its directors, Rabbi Zelik and Bassie Moscowitz, have literally watched many of their constituents grow up. They provide supplemental Jewish education to young children in public school through their Talmud Torah program, as well as in-home playdates through Friends@Home. They’ve hosted Bar and Bas Mitzvahs, and have seen Friendship Circle graduates go on to college or make Aliyah.
Over the years, many of whom are now adults have outgrown Friendship Circle’s children programming. After surveys were sent out, and many conversations were had, CommUNITY Circle––a brand new initiative––was born.
CommUNITY Circle gives individuals of all abilities opportunities to gather together and give back. We host a challah bake and take, where participants get to make their own delicious challah from scratch and leave with a loaf to give to a friend or neighbor. We visit the elderly, make “get well” cards for those in the hospital, stock and organize the shelves of local food pantries, create toiletry kits for individuals experiencing homelessness. You name it, we do it! And we do it together, regardless of diagnosis or apparent limitations.
Our participants, as well as their friends and family, are empowered to contribute to our community in meaningful ways. The Friendship Circle is blessed to be able to provide companionship to children and young adults with disabilities, but we also want to change the conversation about disability completely. Everyone was given different strengths and weaknesses, and real inclusion means that people are not only accepted but welcomed for who they are. So whether it is a Purim party, a Pesach seder, or an opportunity to give back, everyone should have a space.
To check out more CommUNITY Circle photos, visit www.fcil.org. If you’d like to join us for a future gathering, subscribe to our mailing list and we’ll keep you in the loop!