Calgary celebrates Jewish Disability awareness, acceptance and inclusion

Joanie Calem was in Calgary last month performing for PJ Library families as part of a Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion event. Joanie presented “concert conversations” about the complexity of creating inclusive communities that can work for everyone.

By Sandra Morton Weizman

(Calgary) – Last month Calgary Jewish Federation (CJF) celebrated its 10th anniversary since striking a Task Force on Inclusion for people with disabilities. For several years, we have participated in the annual world-wide Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) held every February, where we advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities and mental health conditions to be active participants in Jewish life. The term “inclusion” can be interpreted in many different ways. To some, it means that any program or service for people is inclusive. To others, it is going beyond programs and services to encourage and support people with disabilities, mental health conditions, and those who love them, so that they participate in Jewish life as they wish. To quote Shelly Christensen, founder and creator of JDAIM, “people with disabilities and mental health conditions just want what everyone else wants: to belong!”

L-R: Karina Szulc, Fanny Wedro, first place essay contest winner Division A – Charlie Shore.

This year, under the capable direction of Inclusion Manager, Karina Szulc, CJF organized two meaningful fun-filled concerts on February 2 with singer/songwriter Joanie Calem, who hails from Columbus, Ohio. Joanie, also a storyteller and Jewish educator, delighted audiences of all ages with a morning concert for PJ Library families and an afternoon concert for the broader Jewish community. Close to 160 people were enraptured by her stories and songs. As a parent of a young adult with autism, Joanie presented “concert conversations” about the complexity of creating inclusive communities that can work for all of our members.

In honour of JDAIM, CJF sponsored an  “Inclusion” essay-writing contest for grades 6-9 students from Halpern Akiva Academy, Calgary Jewish Federation as well as Jewish students from other schools. Students were invited to express their thoughts about disability and how attitudes and actions affect people with disabilities. This idea was largely inspired by a presentation they attended by Shelly Christensen, Jewish inclusion specialist from Minneapolis, who visited Calgary this past December. Eighteen contestants participated.

L-R: Karina Szulc, first place essay contest winner Division B – Uma Fourman, Fanny Wedro.

Cash prizes, generously donated by the Fania & Leo z’l Wedro Community Fund., were awarded to the top three essay winners in two separate categories: Division A (Grades 6-7); First prize: Charlie Shore, grade 6, CJA; Second prize: Emilia Jorgensen, grade 6, McKenzie Highlands; Third prize: Mia-Ruby Bassin, grade 7, Halpern Akiva Academy. In Division B (Grades 8-9), the winners were: First prize: Uma Fourman, grade 8, CJA, Second prize: Georgia Martin, grade 8, Halpern Akiva Academy, and Third prize: Kedem Segal, grade 9, Halpern Akiva Academy.

Also launched in February was a unique 10-week Ability Arts Workshop. Held at the JCC and facilitated by the talented artist, Julianna Enciu, this program includes participants of all abilities (also known as reverse inclusion), from age 12 and up and involves all performers acting, singing and dancing in celebration of diversity and ability.

If you are interested in learning more, in participating in future programs, or require assistance with accommodations in order to participate in Jewish community events, please contact Karina Szulc, Inclusion Manager, Calgary Jewish Federation at or call her at 403-444-3158.

Sandra Morton Weizman chairs the Inclusion Committee and is a board member of the Calgary Jewish Federation.

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