Nearly 40 teens from across the United States met virtually to receive training focused on becoming ambassadors for making Jewish communal life more inclusive for individuals with disabilities. The Orthodox Union’s (OU) Yachad, the leading organization for individuals with disabilities, organized the sessions. The program coincides with Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) celebrated annually in February.

After attending two of the virtual training sessions, teen-participants will receive a certificate as an “inclusion ambassador” to help their schools and communities become more inclusive environments for individuals with disabilities. The first seminar took place Feb. 7, and the second session will take place Feb. 21. While certification requires the attendance of both sessions, teens who missed out on the first are still invited to attend the latter in order to raise their own awareness level.

Those who partook and presented in the first session hail from New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio, California, and Texas in the U.S.. The teens attend Yeshiva University High School for Girls in Queens, NY; HANC High School in Uniondale, NY; Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan, NY; Bruriah High School in Elizabeth, NJ; Yeshivat Frisch in Paramus, NJ; Bnos Yisroel in Baltimore, MD; Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago, IL; Chaviva High School in Beachwood, OH; Mesorah High School for Girls in Dallas, TX; El Dorado High School in El Dorado, TX; and YULA High School for Boys in Los Angeles, CA. Three teens from Vienna, Austria also joined the program.

“Throughout the last year, as a community, we’ve come to understand the meanings of the words ‘lonely’ and ‘isolation’ and the emotional pain they can cause. Programs like this help to break that loneliness for many of our community members as we emerge from this period,” said OU President Moishe Bane.”

“Our sages teach us that Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh LaZeh (we are all responsible for each other) and Yachad’s inclusion ambassador training program is an incredible way to meaningfully educate and empower our teens in order to make our communities more open and inclusive. These young people are our communal leaders of tomorrow,” said Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer. “Throughout a year marked with constant surprise obstacles, Yachad’s team has put together virtual and in-person COVID-19 compliant programs that kept their members feeling connected despite the lockdowns and closures. We are inspired by their commitment to making sure that so many individuals with disabilities feel connected and a sense of belonging within our community.”

“This year, as we looked for a meaningful way to celebrate Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month, we focused on training teens to serve as communal inclusion ambassadors to better lead their communities in being more accessible for individuals with disabilities. The future of the Jewish community is one that welcomes and includes everyone, and these teens will help us usher in that stage,” said Rebecca Schrag Mayer, Director of Yachad New York.

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Orthodox Union
Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union, (OU), serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs. For more information, visit https://www.ou.org/.
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