by Ashira Weiss – Lubavitch.com
A collaboration by the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative (RCII) and the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim will ensure that the conference, taking place this weekend in New York, is an example of inclusion. These measures were initiated at the sister conference held in February of this year for Chabad women representatives and are being expanded over this weekend.
For the nearly 5,000 Chabad representatives—known as shluchim, or shluchos in the female version—the annual conference offers that rare opportunity to come together with their colleagues—thousands of leaders serving Jewish communities in over 100 countries, on six continents—and take new inspiration back to their respective places.
With such reach, RCII and conference organizers feel responsible to set an example of what inclusion looks like. “As leaders in the contemporary dialogue of the global Jewish community, we are also leaders in the conversation on inclusion,” says Rabbi Ari Solish, Chabad representative to Atlanta, Georgia, and author of the book Inclusion and the Power of the Individual.
The 4-day conference consists of a variety of workshops, lectures and general sessions that address the gamut of topics shluchim face. The RCII worked with conference organizers to create three sessions that focus on mental health and suicide prevention in communities and on campus. The Inclusion Initiative arranged to put signage in place at the conferences to clearly mark wheelchair accessible entrances. In addition, markings on the badges of representatives and guests with disabilities allow them to board busses or be seated according to their needs. For those with hearing impairments, provisions were made for sign language interpreters to join the members-only sessions.
Ahead of the conference, an RCII advisor conducted a walk-through of the Ohel (the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe), a focal point for all shluchim during the weekend, to ensure that restrooms were accessible and ramps and rails were available.
The centerpiece of the conference is the Gala Banquet, which will be held on Sunday evening in New Jersey. With close to 6000 people in attendance large screens placed all around the venue allow all guests a good view of the stage. For the first time this year stenographers at the event will transcribe every speech and CART (real time captioning) services will be available on every second screen. All live streams of the event will include closed captions for the Deaf and hard of hearing. Headsets will be available for those who need translations of speeches and presentations.
This collaboration at the seminal event on the Chabad resentatives’ calendar is designed to model best practices for disability awareness and inclusion for every representative to take back home. Over the weekend of February 7th 2020, 400 Chabad centers will spearhead a global weekend highlighting disability inclusion and mental health awareness as they celebrate another initiative of the RCII with the third annual ShabbaTTogether.
“One of the reasons for the success of Chabad around the world is the inclusive attitude the Rebbe instilled in his followers,” says Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. Ruderman posits that while historically the Jewish community has not excelled at welcoming the 1/5th of our population estimated to be living with a disability, Chabad has been the exception. It is for this reason that the foundation partnered with Chabad five years ago to create the Inclusion Initiative. And it’s still going strong.