Let’s Be Welcoming and Inclusive

May 17, 2024Judy Wexler

As Women of Reform Judaism who live our progressive values, we make every effort to welcome and include people when they join us for events and programs. We are all aware that it only takes one instance of feeling unwelcome for someone to say, “I’m never going back.”

The Reform Jewish community is much more diverse than can currently be seen in the membership and leadership of our women’s groups. Since the year 2000, 72% of non-Orthodox Jewish marriages in the U.S. have been interfaith. Approximately 12-15% of American Jews identify as People of Color, and 1 in 7 are related to People of Color. In addition, an estimated 10% of Jews identify as LGBTQ+, and that percentage is higher for younger Jews. Also, Jews with disabilities account for 20% of our community. Of course, the Jewish community is continuing to become even more diverse, as it evolves.

As part of its efforts to become more inclusive, WRJ has established an Accessibility Fund. It is funded by WRJ and the seven WRJ Districts, which each collect a $3/person accessibility fee for every event with a registration fee of $50 or more. The WRJ Accessibility Fund is available for WRJ North American events and for the districts to provide accommodations needed to make our events more accessible to all.

In our women’s groups, it is so important that we ask: Are we truly being welcoming, inclusive, and accessible in every possible way? We should consider the following:

  • Racial and ethnic diversity;
  • Those who identify as LGBTQ+;
  • Disabilities inclusion (visible & invisible), with regard to:
    • Mobility accessibility,
    • Hearing assistance, and
    • Visual aids;
  • Jewish adjacency;
  • Those in a variety of socio-economic groups;
  • Marital status and parental status;
  • Education backgrounds; and
  • Other types of diversity in our midst.

What can inclusion look like in our women’s groups? Of course, we can’t change everything that we do all at once. However, we should consider what we can address now, and what can be left to later.

We can examine:

  • Our communications, including our invitations and publicity;
  • Our governance documents, including our bylaws and policies and procedures;
  • The way we conduct our meetings; and
  • The language we use

When we ask people to tell us their favorite memory of Jewish camp or Jewish youth group, or the favorite Jewish food made by their grandmothers, there are those who may not have been raised as Jews and who don’t feel included. Consider using the language, “stand as you are able” or “stand or raise your hand” during services, to include those who may not be able to easily rise. Think about the icebreakers you use and the way you welcome people to your events–invite people to tell you their “story” or “what brought them” to an event–rather than referencing people’s past experiences. Consider including pronouns in your introductions and on your nametags, and the language you might use, rather than the words “women” and “ladies.” We want everyone to feel comfortable in sharing how they identify.

The WRJ Policies and Procedures Manual (P&Ps) currently includes the language, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) is committed to modeling inclusion and diversity for our districts and women’s groups. At all board meetings, conferences, retreats, and other WRJ-sponsored events and meetings we will keep universal access in mind, enabling those with visual, hearing, and mobility impairment to participate to the fullest extent possible.

The P&Ps go on to list various possible ways of accommodating attendees, including use of:

  • Large-text fonts or dark-text on light backgrounds;
  • Careful screen placement in meeting spaces;
  • Use of a microphone;
  • ASL/closed captioning for Zoom events and for videos;
  • Hearing loops;
  • Adequate space for those in wheelchairs or motorized scooters and larger aisles;
  • ADA-compliant sleeping rooms;
  • Meal accommodations for food allergies and dietary requirements;
  • Railings and ramps;
  • Space for service animals; 
  • Lactation rooms;
  • Gender neutral bathrooms; and 
  • A request for attendees to avoid strong fragrances for those with allergies or environmental sensitivities.

Registration materials might include a statement of inclusivity, such as, “We strive to host inclusive, accessible events that enable all individuals, including individuals with disabilities, to engage fully.” Starting a discussion for your attendees about inclusivity helps show intent.  

Please know that there are resources available to support you in your inclusion efforts. WRJ has educational resources on implicit bias, and the Union for Reform Judaism  has many resources on audacious hospitality and welcoming.

In addition, WRJ has a Brit Kehillah used for its North American Board. It is a document that acknowledges the responsibilities we have to each other in creating an environment of Kavod (honor and respect), and it discusses Jewish values as the basis for our behavior toward each other. WRJ North America also uses meeting tent cards which include expectations for its Board meetings including:  being present, working in a collaborative spirit, giving everyone a chance to contribute, being respectful, and asking attendees not to use statements such as, “we’ve never done it that way.” Your women’s group may want to consider creating your own similar documents for your board use and at meetings, as these can all contribute to an inclusive, welcoming environment.

In December 2023, the WRJ Board voted unanimously in support of a proposed change to the WRJ Constitution which would open new pathways to membership in WRJ. The new language provides: 

WRJ is open to anyone who identifies with WRJ’s mission and values. WRJ welcomes anyone who identifies as female, nonbinary, or gender fluid. Consistent with our longstanding legacy of women’s empowerment, whenever the words “woman” or “women” appear in this constitution, we understand them to include all of these individuals. WRJ welcomes all who identify as Jewish or have a commitment to the Jewish community.

It is an important step toward inclusion, expanding what WRJ sisterhood can mean – today and tomorrow. While this proposed change still needs to be voted on by the WRJ Legislative Body, we are hopeful that it will be passed. Each women’s group in good standing has the right to have its delegates weigh in on all proposed constitutional changes at the Legislative Body meeting on June 18 at 7pm ET on Zoom. Please discuss these proposed changes with your women’s group, put the Legislative Body Meeting on your calendars, and have your voices heard on these vital issues. Make sure to register today.

As part of this education process, we hope you will all hold discussions with your women’s group members about creating welcoming spaces that allow everyone to experience a sense of belonging. As Women of Reform Judaism, an organization that believes in justice, we must do all that we can to live out our values.

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