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Welcome Amy Murphy to Jewish Abilities Atlanta

By Jewish Abilities Alliance

Meet Amy Murphy, our new Manager of Jewish Abilities Atlanta (JAA). Amy joined the Federation team in September, and we are thrilled to have her onboard.

JAA works to make the Jewish community inclusive for people with varying abilities. The initiative raises community awareness, teaches best practices for inclusion, provides sensitivity and awareness training, holds educational consultations with Jewish preschools, and engages in advocacy work with other organizations.

Amy comes to Federation from the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA), where she was the director of the Blonder Family Department of Special Needs, and she has been working with marginalized people for decades. Amy began her career as a social worker in the U.S., and later in the UK.

Amy lived in Ireland for 23 years, where she started her family. She took a break from professional life when her children were small, but in 2001 she returned to work. She felt that moving into advocacy work for people with disabilities was “a good transition” from social work. It was a different way of “supporting and empowering vulnerable people.”

The Covid-19 pandemic brought Amy back to Atlanta to be near family. She quickly became part of the Jewish disability community here, working with advocates like Annie Garrett, Howie Rosenberg, Sheryl Arno, Jan Jay and more. Amy was previously a member of the JAA’s external community inclusion committee. She says that working towards inclusion is vital because it is “accepting people for who they are so they can be their authentic self.”

With her work at JAA, she constantly asks herself, “How can we support individuals and families to have better experiences and be part of community?” Educating people about best practices for inclusion (including communication and language) is vital. Recently, JAA created and distributed an information guide for ushers at a synagogue on inclusive language so they can make visitors to their congregations feel welcomed and included.

Amy also says that as a community, we must challenge our ideas about the ways things have “always been done” and be open to change and new ways.

Current JAA initiatives include providing sign language interpretation for Nyle DeMarco’s presentation at the 31st Edition of the Book Festival of the MJCCA. DeMarco, a deaf author and filmmaker, will be discussing his book, Deaf Utopia: A Memoir—and a Love Letter to a Way of Life. Additionally, JAA is currently accepting applications for Inclusion Microgrants. These microgrants will give up to $1500 a piece to selected organizations to create opportunities for inclusion for people with disabilities. Applications will be accepted through November 28.

Amy is excited to be at JAA and working towards a more inclusive Jewish community. She is passionate about making sure that all people feel welcomed and considered in public spaces. “Inclusivity touches every aspect of our lives – it’s in where we work, where we learn, where we worship and where we shop.”


Honoring Karen Botnick Paz With a Fund in Her Name

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, PHILANTHROPY

Karen Botnick Paz has spent much of her adult life advocating for people with disabilities in the Jewish community. This month, she is retiring as the Donor Research and Special Projects Associate at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. In her honor, the Karen Botnick Paz Jewish Abilities Fund has been established at the Atlanta Jewish Foundation.   

Karen has dedicated herself to the Jewish community and championed programs that provide resources to help individuals and families navigate the challenges of living with a disability. This passion has been Karen’s lifelong focus and is deeply personal to her.   

As a young girl, she went to Camp Barney Medintz, first as a camper in the early 70s and then as a counselor. She remembers that one year, a girl in her cabin was developmentally disabled, and this young woman had no specialized support. She recalls how difficult camp was for this friend and how some of the other girls in their cabin didn’t understand her struggles; they singled her out and made her feel different.  

Witnessing this had a profound impact on young Karen. “It was a different time, of course; there was so much we didn’t know. But how much easier would this camp experience have been if she’d had the resources she needed?” Through social media, Karen has reconnected with her. This woman, now in her 60s, is finally going to college—with those cabin mates from long ago cheering her on as she proudly posts her most recent accomplishments. 

Special needs support in Atlanta’s Jewish community was just beginning in 1966 when the Atlanta Bureau of Jewish Education started a Sunday School program called Havanah. In 1976, in partnership with the Atlanta Jewish Community Center, a day camp program was added. In September 1982, the Atlanta Bureau of Jewish Education re-structured Havanah, adding a program called Amit to serve students with learning disabilities. Havanah continued to work with students with more significant developmental disabilities. 

Karen began her involvement with Amit as a volunteer in the late ’90s as a board member for Jewish Educational Services (JES). At the time, Amit was a special needs Sunday School program run by JES. In 2001, it became an independent agency serving the Atlanta Jewish community in a broader capacity and eventually a SACS accredited school program called The Amit Community School. In 2004, Karen’s work as a volunteer transitioned into a professional role as Director of Programming at Amit.   

While at Amit, she worked closely with the Coordinated Network of Services for Persons with Disabilities, which was started in 1989 by the then-named Atlanta Jewish Federation. It brought together three agencies: the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA), Jewish Family & Career Services (JF&CS), and The Amit Program. Of these programs, Karen says, “MJCCA provided social and recreational programs, JF&CS offered vocational support and independent living, and Amit expanded special education support services.”  

In 2013, Karen began working at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta as part of the Philanthropy Team while continuing her passion for disability advocacy. 

In 2015, a diagnosis made her life’s passion even more personal. She learned that she has an inoperable brain tumor, which she has likely been living with for 10 or more years. The news was shocking but also explained so much. The seizure medication affects her energy levels, and the tumor’s location impacts her executive function (and it has been doing so for a long time). Karen’s children have learning differences, and her daughter has Tourette Syndrome. Karen spent years learning what accommodations they needed to be happy and successful adults and was able to use those lessons to advocate for her own needs. The parallels remind her of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “Coincidences are G-d’s way of remaining anonymous.”  

She says that proper accommodations for people with differences are invaluable. Her children have thrived thanks to the specialized support they received. And thanks to the resources at her fingertips, Karen could continue her career. She felt she must continue her profession after her diagnosis, saying, “Doing this work has been more than a job. It has been a supportive place for people to connect while working to make the community more inclusive and welcoming.”  

While Karen is retiring from the professional world, she does not plan to stop her advocacy work anytime soon. “Because I have institutional knowledge of our community, I feel a responsibility to represent all those who came before. I want to continue championing the connections and relationships that have made such a difference. There is still work to be done.” When asked what she looks forward to about retirement, Karen says, “Aside from spending more time with family and friends, I want to tap back into my creativity and use those skills to preserve family history and memories; we all deserve to be more than a picture on a wall once we are gone.”  

The Karen Botnick Paz Jewish Abilities Fund will undoubtedly ensure that. This endowment will support Federation’s Jewish Abilities Atlanta (JAA) initiative. JAA aims to provide a welcoming and accessible Jewish community, foster collaboration around disability inclusion, and increase the capacity of Jewish Atlanta organizations to engage people with differing abilities. Karen says, “Our community offers a wide net of services, and people don’t always know they’re available until they need them.” She hopes more people will learn of Jewish Atlanta’s accessibility initiatives and feel welcomed into the community. And the fund that bears her name will allow many more people in Atlanta to benefit from JAA’s work.   

Karen shared, “I have been blessed with a meaningful career and ongoing opportunities to make a difference. This quote, which I learned from my late father, has shaped my life both professionally and personally: The work is not for you to finish, nor are you free to desist from it. Pirke Avot: 2:21.” 

Karen will be thanked for her service to the community at the Women’s Philanthropy Fall Event on Wednesday, October 26th, at 6:30 pm at Temple Sinai. Register for the Women’s Philanthropy Fall Event here.  

To contribute to the Karen Botnick Paz Jewish Abilities Fund, please click here.

Time to Laugh with Pamela Schuller

By Jewish Abilities Alliance

The Jewish Abilities Alliance of Atlanta (JAA) is proud to present Time to Laugh, a free, live comedy and storytelling event featuring Pamela Rae Schuller, Wednesday, May 11, 7 pm at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. Pamela Schuller champions inclusion differently. As a teen, Pamela had the worst-diagnosed case of Tourettes Syndrome in the country, a touch of OCD, and a whole lot of pent-up anger. She spent years depressed and wishing her differences away. Over time, she started looking at her life differently and turned her obstacles and challenges into the very fuel that propels her.

Through comedy, storytelling, and laughter Pamela helps audiences frame a new mindset to become more inclusive. Her stories of growing up in a body she had no control over are engaging, powerful, a little bit heart-wrenching, and unapologetically funny. Pamela doesn’t just “tolerate” what makes her different; she embraces it, loves it, and finds the funny in it… while challenging her audiences to do the same. Register here for this free and unforgettable event.

Jewish Abilities Alliance Celebrates Very Inclusive People

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance

Atlanta is blessed to have many remarkable advocates for people with disabilities and many programs that include people of diverse abilities in all aspects of Jewish Life. The Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) calls them VIP’s — Very Inclusive People. We are highlighting their commitment to inclusion all month long.

Dr. Melissa Wikoff, Au. D | Audiologist, Peachtree Hearing

“Working with individuals with hearing impairments, you naturally have an aspect of inclusion in your everyday life.” Dr. Melissa Wikoff, Au.D. takes inclusion to the next level by routinely advocating for her patients and the hearing-impaired community. Since starting her practice, Peachtree Hearing, Dr. Wikoff has founded a program to provide free hearing aids to Holocaust survivors, she has overseen the installation of two Hearing Loops in local synagogues, she advocates for students with hearing impairments in local schools, and she serves on the inclusion committee at Etz Chaim.


Our Commitment Runs Deep

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance

By Matt Bronfman, Federation Board Chair
February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month. This subject is personal to our family, and we have experienced firsthand how the Federation helps people with disabilities more fully participate in all that Jewish Atlanta offers. Federation does so in multiple ways.

First, together with the Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA), Federation provides individuals, and their families with information and access to resources, services, support groups, workshops and clinics, and recreational programs within their community. Second, the annual campaign provides crucial financial support, targeting a myriad of needs. Moreover, the Atlanta Jewish Foundation connects our donors to organizations or projects doing innovative work in this space. Finally, we are the community’s convener, sharing information between our diverse organizations that allows them to collaborate more effectively. At every step, Federation is there to meet our community’s needs because we know that we are stronger and more successful together.

Atlanta Innovates Again: World’s First Inclusive Melton Program

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance

The Florence Melton School is the largest adult Jewish learning program in the world. Atlanta’s Melton program, part of the Lisa F. Brill Institute for Jewish Learning at the MJCCA, has one of the largest enrollments in North America. So, leave it to Atlanta to pioneer the world’s first inclusive Melton class that brings adults with and without disabilities together to learn virtually.

The unique, inclusive, Melton curriculum, called Members of the Tribe (MOT) is in its second semester with an enrollment of 17 students. It has been hailed as a ground-breaking effort to break barriers in adult education. Discussions are underway with the Florence Melton School Institute at Hebrew University about replicating the local Atlanta adaptation of the curriculum worldwide.

“We would never have had this class without guidance and support from the Jewish Abilities Alliance of Atlanta (JAA),” said Talya Gorsetman, who runs adult learning at the MJCCA. “JAA introduced us to Jay Kessler who helped it. Even more crucially, JAA has guided us about the nuances of inclusive language and other best practices when working with people of diverse abilities. Our teachers have also been wonderful, and we are so proud that this curriculum is going global.”

As for Jay Kessler, this longtime Jewish advocate in Atlanta for people with disabilities is both a cheerleader and recruiter who attends every class. “When Talya Gorsetman first told me about the class, I knew it had the unique potential to connect people with disabilities to people without disabilities,” Kessler said. “Every time I attend class, I am inspired. Devorah Lowenstein, this semester’s teacher asked the class, ‘what’s precious to you?’ A student named Rachel Gray, who has Down syndrome said, ‘My soul is precious to me, because my soul teaches me how to talk to God.’  “The Rebbe himself couldn’t have said it better.”

JAA Wins Grants & Makes Grants

By Jewish Abilities Alliance

The Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) is the proud recipient of a $15,000 grant from the Holly Lane Foundation. The funding will support JAA’s work to amplify inclusion for people with disabilities and will prioritize the implementation of recommendations from its recent Matan Community Study. The study was conducted in 2020 and included extensive fact-finding from caregivers, self-advocates, and other community disability leaders.  

Annie Garrett, JAA Manager said, “We’re working to align the community with a shared and singular vision of disability inclusion. Part of our work is supporting local inclusion efforts through microgrants. In a conventional year, we award about $15,000 in microgrants, but because of the pandemic we rolled funding over and were able to grant out more than $19,000 to advance inclusion in 2021.”  

Temple Beth David – Sensory Learning Enhancement Through Art & Music 

Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta – Community Meetings Closed Captioning 

Limmud Atlanta – ASL Interpreting Services for LimmudFest 

MJCCA Preschool – Sensory Equipment for the Classroom 

Ahavath Achim Synagogue – Flexible Seating 

Creating Connected Communities – Supporting Social-Emotional Needs of CCC Buddies 

Hebrew Order of David – Accessible Shuttle Services for Kosher BBQ Festival 

Congregation B’nai Torah – Sensory Tools of Inclusion 

Temple Sinai – Shalom Station 

Temple Emanu-El – Project ICE 

A New Blueprint for Inclusion in Jewish Atlanta

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, People in Need

In early 2020, the Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) engaged in a study of disability inclusion in Jewish Atlanta with an organization called MatanMatan works with Jewish professionals, communities, and families to create and sustain inclusive Jewish settings for people with disabilitiesThe study was an opportunity to reflect on our community’s past efforts and to re-evaluate needs and areas for deeper focus and support.  

Then came COVID-19. As the pandemic began to unfold, the study took on even more importance. It was clear that individuals with disabilities were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, facing increased social isolation, cuts in crucial services, and increased vulnerability to their health and wellbeing.  

Thanks to the consulting team from Matan, wnow have identified a framework that promotes and enhances a vision of a Jewish Atlanta that is fully inclusive of individuals with disabilities and their families across the lifespan. Here are some of the ways how we hope to close the gap between what currently exists and what the community aims to accomplish:   

  • Establishing and supporting coordinated communal inclusion efforts and unified community goals  
  • Prioritizing funding for inclusion across the lifespan and ensuring sustainability  
  • Creating a shared communal vision of acceptance and support for individuals of all abilities  
  • Training for all community professionals and lay leaders to create an even landscape of inclusion knowledge and capability  

We look forward to sharing the outcomes of this study and our road map for the next several years as we deepen our work alongside our community partners, in making Jewish Atlanta a place where people of all abilities are welcomed, included, and embraced in all aspects of Jewish life. 

Doing the Work to Close the Inclusion Gap or A Framework for an Inclusive Jewish Atlanta

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, People in Need, PHILANTHROPY

Community Study on Disability Inclusion 

Annie Garrett, Jewish Abilities Alliance Manager 

In early 2020, the Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) engaged in a community study of disability inclusion in Jewish Atlanta. The study was an opportunity to reflect on our community’s past efforts with disability inclusion and to reevaluate needs and areas for deeper focus and support. Shortly after we embarked on this work, the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold. As we started to understand the impact of the pandemic, this study took on even more importance. Individuals with disabilities are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, facing increased social isolation, cuts in crucial services, and increased vulnerability to their health and wellbeing. This study has shed light on our community’s most current and pressing needs and will provide crucial data and direction to continue lifting disability inclusion as a priority across all aspects of Jewish life.  

JAA worked closely with a consulting team from Matan, spending many months interviewing Jewish communal professionals, lay-leaders, self-advocates, caregivers, and family members. As a result, we have identified a framework that promotes and enhances a vision of a Jewish Atlanta that is fully inclusive of individuals with disabilities and their families across the lifespan. This framework identifies several areas of inclusion work over the next several years to close the gap between what currently exists and what the community aims to accomplish:  

  • Establishing and supporting coordinated communal inclusion efforts and unified community goals 
  • Prioritizing funding for inclusion across the lifespan and ensuring sustainability 
  • Creating a shared communal vision of acceptance and support for individuals of all abilities 
  • Training for all community professionals and lay leaders to create an even landscape of inclusion knowledge and capability 

We look forward to sharing the outcomes of this study and our road map for the next several years as we deepen our work alongside our community partners, in making Jewish Atlanta a place where people of all abilities are welcomed, included, and embraced in all aspects of Jewish life. 

“Makers” Compete to Solve Human Problems

By COMMUNITY, INNOVATION, Jewish Abilities Alliance

“Makers” Compete to Solve Human Problems
Georgia Tech’s Tikkun Olam Makers, known as TOM:GT, was the winning changemaker in Federation Innovation’s recent Propel Pitch competition. TOM is a worldwide movement that marshals the talents of student problem solversto address the needs of people with disabilities, known as “Need Knowers. TOM:GT achieves its mission through an annual makeathon. Structured similarly to a hackathon, the makeathon pairs student teams with need-knowers to create workable prototypes. Last weekend, in real time, six TOM maker teams at Georgia Tech showcased their solutions before a panel of judges, many of whom work in the disabilities space, which rated their projects and ranked the teams’ outputs. 

Judges hailed two teams as “winners” — Team 2, which created a way to manage and “reel in” oxygen hoses for people with COPD and other respiratory conditions; and Team 4, which created adaptive and supportive seating for people who want to use zip lines at Camp Twin Lakes, a camp for children facing serious illnesses, disabilities, and other life challenges. 

Here are the challenges the six TOM teams were given, and what they created to meet a range of realworld problems. 

  • Team 1: Notification Alert System:
    “Mom” is an older adult woman who is losing her hearing. She owns an iPhone. Occasionally, she receives texts, messages, alerts, and other notifications on her phone. Mom enjoys watching TV. She also enjoys working in her garden.
    The Challenge: The challenge is that when Mom listens to the TV, she does not hear the alerts on her iPhone because the volume of the TV obstructs the audio alert from the iPhone. This frustrates her because it could be a family member or friend with some timely information. She needs another method to let her know that the alert has occurred.
  • Team 2: Oxygen Concentrator Reel System | See what this winning team made on YouTube!
    “Mom” is an older adult woman who has emphysema due to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). The condition requires that she have oxygen delivered to her nose for every breath. In her small home, she has an oxygen concentrator which generates the oxygen, and she wears a nasal cannula to deliver that oxygen into her lungs. Between the cannula and the concentrator is a flexible hose which enables her to move about the house freely. The tubing is 50’ in length and made of a clear, flexible PVC material. Mom walks through the house with the tube dragging behind her. The Challenge: Because of its length, the hose can become a hazard. It bunches up. It can become entangled on itself. It can catch or get wrapped around furniture. As Mom walks around the house, she has to cross over the hose or push it out of the way. Everyone who is in the house is always aware of the hose’s location and tries to avoid stepping on it.
  • Team 3: Zip Line Support System | See what this winning team made on YouTube!
    The Challenge: While at Camp Twin Lakes, one of the campers’ activities is a zip line. When the campers are using the zip line, it is important that the harness system keeps them upright and provides the necessary back, neck, and head support. Current seatback inserts do not provide all of the needed supports, meaning some campers are unable to participate in and enjoy the zip line.
  • Team 4: Canoe Supports
    The Challenge: Oftentimes, it is difficult to maintain balance when getting in and out of a canoe. The tendency of a canoe to tip over makes it dangerous for some campers to use. However, because the added support would create a heavier system and therefore a harder to move system, it is important that the support structure be removable for campers that do not require it.
  • Team 5: Letter Tracing Transcribing System
    Kyle hails from Atlanta, Georgia. He is 24 years old and grew up attending Temple Sinai and playing sports. Kyle has been an active member of the Jewish community his whole life. Kyle currently volunteers as a beekeeper and a honey salesman for a program called Hives for Honey. Prior to beekeeping, Kyle worked at the Marcus Jewish Community Center in the fitness center. Kyle is also a disability advocate and speaker. The ChallengeDue to Kyle’s dysgraphia, he has difficulty writing, making it hard to fill out forms that ask for information in multiple places (such as doctors’ offices, building sign-ins). Additionally, Kyle learns better by singing or visualizing something versus just hearing it. A device that provided a way to transcribe and/or trace words would help individuals like Kyle when filling out forms or other documents.