Everyone should experience Israel

Participants on the Buzz Birthright trip in the Old City of Jerusalem.

LATE last year, 33 Aussie Jews embarked on a life-changing Birthright trip to Israel.

The uniqueness of the trip was it was the very first Australian Birthright bus that included a group of passionate and energetic young adults with a disability from across the Australian Jewish community.

The beauty of this experience was that it was the same as every other Birthright trip and ultimately the same goals were set out and achieved – to provide an experience that enhances the connection of young Jews to their Jewish identity, history, heritage and culture and, upon their return, to ensure that they develop a deeper sense of belonging to the Jewish community.

While 14 of the participants have a disability, the rest of the group included support staff and a group of buddies, passionate and energetic young adult volunteers, who played a dual role of supporting the participants with a disability and concurrently participating alongside them as equals.

The group was an entirely inclusive group of peers, supporting each other and having fun together. The participants with a disability were not “cared for”, but rather they were supported by their peers to overcome any hurdles thrown their way.

The result was that every Buzz participant enjoyed a life-changing 10 days in Israel alongside their peers as equals. Importantly, it was not a trip run just for the participants who have a disability but, rather, it was a life-changing experience for the entire group.

We all thrived, together, as a united group of young Jews who just wanted to have fun, make friends and explore Israel.

Channah, one of the participants, reflected, “I was involved in a group of young people, both with a disability and without, who accepted me as a whole, including my disabilities, and who didn’t ignore or degrade me because of the differences in my behaviour.”

That is an incredible sentiment, which reflects the efforts of the entire group to create a warm and encouraging environment for everyone involved.

Moreover, it is testament to those participants with a disability who challenged themselves to have new experiences and to reach as far out of their comfort zones as they could.

Channah’s sentiment is also important as it offers a stark contrast to the common experience of people with a disability, including the experiences of those within our community. People with a disability and their families are still so often excluded.

Buzz illustrates that we are taking steps to rectify this.

There are countless people in our community who are passionate about inclusion, and Buzz saw so many join forces to take a big step forward in its pursuit.

The Buzz participants showed us that they will thrive when they are absolved of the damaging limitations placed on their capabilities by others.

Ultimately, the success of the experience and the way in which our participants carried themselves throughout, highlights that when we break down the barriers between people with a disability and the community, everyone wins.

People with a disability can, and must be encouraged to, live meaningful and fulfilled lives as active contributing members of their Jewish community.

We all now have the responsibility to take the success of this experience, to recognise that people with a disability have the ability to thrive when provided with a foundation and framework to do so.

We must take the lessons of Buzz and set ourselves the goal of becoming the single most inclusive Jewish community in the world.

No one can be left behind. No one can be excluded.

Thanks to the work of so many members of our community up to this point, the foundation for inclusion has been laid.

It is now time that every single one of us takes on this task so that we can harness all of our efforts to drive society towards true and complete inclusion of all.

DEAN COHEN runs camps for young people with a disability.