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Anyone with a disability or who has a child with a disability is encouraged to share opinions on resources in the St. Louis Jewish community

Jewish Federation of St. Louis has developed a survey to assess the disability resources in place in the St. Louis Jewish community and the gaps that exist. Federation is asking that anyone who lives in a household with a person who has disabilities fill out the survey so they can gather essential information.

The survey is now closed.

The survey is part of the Inclusion/Disabilities Initiative that Jewish Federation of St. Louis launched early this year. The organization has already brought in Becca Hornstein, co-founder and executive director of the Council for Jews with Special Needs in Scottsdale, Arizona, which provides resources and support to help all Jews with disabilities and their families fulfill their spiritual, cultural and religious needs. In addition, representatives from Federation have been meeting with professionals, lay leaders, people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities. With their input and the input from the community-wide survey, Federation will develop a strategic plan to prioritize areas that need improvement so that Jews with disabilities can be active participants in the Jewish community.

Eileen Schechter, whose adult daughter Stephanie has Down syndrome, says she is thrilled that Federation is taking on this initiative. “We need to make everyone feel welcome in our community,” Schechter says. “The survey is a terrific idea. If we get a good response, it will help us identify the community’s needs.” Schechter, who is also chair of the Committee for Services to People with Disabilities at the Jewish Community Center, says while her daughter feels very welcome in the community, everyone’s experience is different. “I’ve been in touch with lots of people, and not everyone feels their needs are being met.”

Betty Berger, whose adult son has autism, is one of those who felt a gap between her son’s needs and the services that were offered in the community. “My son was involved in the community his whole life, but after he graduated from high school we started feeling he didn’t belong,” she says. “I wanted him to live in the Jewish community, have Jewish friends and eventually have a Jewish companion, but I didn’t know how that would happen.” To help, Berger started a social group for Jewish youth with disabilities called Tikvah, which means hope in Hebrew. The group met monthly for 5 years before disbanding.

Berger knows that there is still a big need in the local Jewish community for people with disabilities, so she’s excited to be involved in Federation’s initiative. “The discussions we’ve already had have been productive,” she says.

Michelle Levi Perez, the mother of two sons with autism, is hopeful that the survey and its results can help promote a culture of inclusion for individuals with disabilities in the St. Louis Jewish community. “I hope that St. Louis will embrace diversity and we’ll see initiatives through synagogues and schools to create a diverse environment,” she says. “That will come with training, understanding and the desire to make programs more inclusive.”

For more information about the survey or Federation’s Disability Initiative, please contact Susan Scribner at 314-442-3846 or email sscribner@jfedstl.org.