You could call “We All Belong” the swan song of the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative, a four year, $1 million effort to create a welcoming culture for those with disabilities and mental health conditions, but the all new music video is so much more than just a short-lived catchy tune. A multi-faceted project conveying the importance of embracing every person as a valued community member, We All Belong uses music and art to spread awareness, change attitudes and bring home the message that each one of us is an irreplaceable component of the beautiful mosaic that is the Jewish nation.
Launched in January, 2015, the RCII is a four year collaboration between the Ruderman Family Foundation and Machne Israel Chabad Headquarters to ensure that those with disabilities and mental health conditions are accommodated in every area of Jewish life. The RCII has launched numerous initiatives to achieve that goal: an inclusion hotline addresses challenges and identifies solutions and the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute offers a four-part CEU accredited course on inclusion. Guidance, training and mini grants to facilitate inclusive programming and environments are also available through the RCII, while two books on the subject, We Can Find a Way, for children, and Power of the Individual, for adults, have both been very well received.
Spreading the message of inclusivity around the world was a matter that required considerable thought, explained RCII director Dr. Sarah Kranz-Ciment, PT, DPT. While Chabad is known for welcoming every person, true inclusivity takes things to a different level.
“This isn’t about making a separate group, a class or a camp for people with disabilities or mental health conditions,” said Kranz-Ciment. “This is about reaching out and weaving each person into all of the ongoing programming in the community, letting them know that we want them to come and that we are making it truly possible for everyone to participate. All too often, we say ‘Everyone is welcome,’ but without providing the support they need to join, it is really an empty invitation.”
While the effort to equip community leaders and individuals with the necessary tools has been very successful, the RCII found itself looking for additional ways to keep the momentum going even after the conclusion of the program’s four year life cycle at the end of 2019. Realizing that a song was the perfect vehicle to carry the RCII message forward, Kranz-Ciment reached out to her uncle, Avraham Fried, who connected her with Esther Deutsch of the Five Towns. Deutsch heartily embraced the cause, composing We All Belong, which was performed by the Marcus brothers of 8th Day, and sponsoring the cost of its production.
“For me, this was so much more than just writing a song,” explained Deutsch. “This was about creating a daily dialogue and in just three words, the song title captures the essence of who we are. We All Belong is about all of us.”
What happened next came as a complete surprise to Kranz-Ciment.
“We played a rough cut of the song for the Ruderman Family Foundation just for fun when we were presenting our annual report and they were so blown away by it that they asked us to turn it into a music video that they would help fund,” said Kranz-Ciment.
From there the collaboration literally exploded in a burst of music, color and art. Contemporary Chassidic artist Yitzchak Moully, initially brought on board to design the cover art for the song, suggested the idea of creating characters for the video, each of whom would share a “soul splash,” showing the common G-dly bond that connects all Jews of all abilities.
“We all look different on the outside and have different abilities, but on the soul level we are all the same,” said Moully. “Beneath the external differences, we are all part of the same pulsating soul.”
Drawing on the Friendship Circle model that has paired teens with children with disabilities in their own communities for over 25 years, and in keeping with the RCII mission of ensuring that every person is valued and supported, several individuals with disabilities are prominently featured in the video. Also appearing are 8th Day’s Bentzi and Shmuel Marcus, who directed and produced the video, Moully, singers Benny Friedman, Eli Marcus, Eli Schwebel and Menachem Weinstein, cookbook author and Busy in Brooklyn blogger Chanie Apfelbaum, social media star Meir Kay and comedian Modi.
While 8th Day typically performs only original material, it was hard not to be drawn to We All Belong, whose powerful messages have the potential to benefit so many, said Bentzi Marcus.
“Something just felt right about this,” noted Marcus. “This was a beautiful journey from start to finish and it was an honor to have been involved.”
The concept was so relatable that Moully, who is also known as the “Pop Art Rabbi,” turned it into an interactive #WeAllBelong mobile mural, which was originally displayed at the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights. The mural, which was also sponsored by Deutsch, has already welcomed over 25,000 runners at the Miami Marathon and will travel to other locations to continue spreading the message of inclusion. That theme of acceptance was also echoed during Jewish Disability Month this past February at the first ever ShabbatTogether, a global Shabbat of disability inclusion and mental health awareness that took place in over 250 communities on six continents. Organizers are hoping for triple the number of participating cities in the 2020 ShabbaTTogether event.
We All Belong will be released on Lag B’Omer and the RCII is hoping for a minimum of one million video views. The timing is particularly appropriate with May marking the observance of Mental Health Awareness Month, a nationwide effort to raise awareness, break stigmas and support individuals with mental health conditions and their families.
“Our goal here is to show that without everyone in our community, we are not complete,” said Kranz-Ciment. “Being nice to and even accommodating someone isn’t what inclusion is all about. Inclusion is about valuing each soul, each person, and, creating real opportunities to do things together and appreciating that, truly, we all belong.”
Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said that We All Belong, in its many formats, is the figurative icing on the cake for the RCII.
“As a song, a piece of art and a music video, We All Belong will go a long way in correcting the injustice that for so long kept those with disabilities and mental health conditions on the outer fringes of our communities,” said Ruderman. “It’s enduring message is one that has already resonated with so many, bringing about a positive shift in social attitudes. We are confident that as We All Belong takes on a new life as both a song and a music video that we will see even further strides being made in this all important arena.”