Jay Ruderman. Give the guy a break would ya?

Jay Ruderman Photo Credit: Noam Galai

Jay Ruderman
Photo Credit: Noam Galai

By: Beth Steinberg

In the seven years since Miriam Avraham and I co-founded Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem, I’ve marveled at a much-repeated conversation.

Dramatis Personae:
Beth, Shutaf co-founder
JENcO, Jewish education/community/non-profit worker

JENcO: “Inclusion programs. That sounds really exciting, do you know Jay Ruderman?”

Beth: “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do know Jay Ruderman.”

JENcO: “Have you thought of applying for funding? I heard that they’re doing lots of funding in the area.”

Beth: “Shutaf is proud to be supported by the Ruderman Family Foundation.”

JENcO: “Well then that’s good, right? You’re all set then – I hear he’s giving a lot in that area.”

Beth: “Jay and the foundation are important advocates as well as funders, but they can’t be the only ones. More support is needed.”

JENcO: “Right. Well I’m sure you’ll work it out.”

The rise of the Ruderman Family Foundation in Israel has been one which we’ve followed with pride at Shutaf. We were fortunate enough to meet Jay in the early years, to introduce Jay and Shira to what we had founded, and to receive Jay’s mentorship and interest as well as three years of the Foundation’s support for vocational activities as part of our Teen Young Leadership Program.

Jay’s prodded us to get our message out, to push and push, using social media, blogging and any press we can get, in order to send home the message of inclusion and acceptance as community values.

And we’ve worked. Hard. In addition to putting ourselves out there personally in articles and posts that speak of the joys and challenges of parenting a child with a disability, we’ve knocked on many doors.

The Jerusalem municipality, the Knesset, along with numerous government agencies, organizations, foundations and potential donors who profess to believe in the need for inclusive programs and the importance of professionalizing and improving existing programs for children and teens with disabilities.

We tell people about our innovative and successful year-round inclusion programs for children and teens in Jerusalem. We tell them how many children attend Shutaf programs, more than 150, as well as the types of activities we offer, including our favorite program of all, and the reason we started, summer camp. We share how we’re creating success for all participants and also how we’re struggling to stay afloat financially and find our way to long term sustainability.

And we have that conversation.

Sometimes I say “you know, it really takes a village in order to create a groundswell and make lasting change. Jay needs your voice too.”

Sometimes I say “the Ruderman’s can’t be the only ones out there ‘on the barricades,’ we need other funders to join the movement and help sustain innovative programs such as Shutaf that are taking chances and making a difference.”

I wonder, when did we become so complacent about something so compelling? So willing to put the cause of equality for every member of the Jewish community in the hands of so few? So willing to see Shutaf and programs like it fail because the funding just didn’t come together in a sustainable way to ensure its future.

Doesn’t it matter to all of us? Shouldn’t we all care about this issue? Hasn’t Jay put himself out there enough publicly about the issues, day in and day out? I think so.

Just this week, we visited Jay in the foundation’s new offices in Rehovot. We sat and debated the worth of a heavy or lighter hand when it comes to igniting the power of the community about integration and people with disabilities. Jay, in his modest and almost self-effacing way commented, “I can lead and tell the community where to go…[but] I don’t want to call them on the carpet about what they’re not doing yet, or what they’re doing wrong in my opinion.”

It’s time to give the guy a break and join him in the fight for inclusion – as a donor, as someone who wishes to be educated about the issues  – everywhere, for everyone.

If we work together…everything is possible.

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