Programs in Feb., March to focus on Jews with disabilities


The Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island will present “Stories of Belonging” on March 2 to mark Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, which takes place across the continent Feb. 1-March 2.  A second virtual program, in observance of Jewish Disability Advocacy Day, will take place Feb. 23-24 and is expected to feature R.I. Rep. Jim Langevin, Paralympian teen athlete Ezra French and actress Ali Stroker.

“Stories of Belonging” will center on conversations about faith, disability, belonging and inclusion. Two moms who are now professionals in the field will share the stories of their adult children with disabilities, who have taken the road less traveled. They will then interview a few Rhode Islanders who either have disabilities or are the parents of children with disabilities.

The free program will also feature a discussion of how people overcome challenges, and will highlight their successes, as well as focusing on next steps towards an inclusive and diverse community.  

Shelly Christensen and Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer are the moms who will conduct the program. Christensen co-founded Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month 13 years ago, and is the founder of Inclusion Innovations, which provides consultation, keynote speakers, training and guidance to Jewish and interfaith organizations and communities.

Kaplan-Mayer is an experienced Jewish educator, writer and disability advocate. She is the chief program officer at Jewish Learning Venture, in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, and also directs JLV’s Whole Community Inclusion Initiative, in Philadelphia.

Both presenters are authors. Christensen’s most recent book is “From Longing to Belonging: A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community.” Kaplan-Mayer’s most recent book is “The Little Gate Crasher: The Life and Photos of Mace Bugen,” which is about her great-uncle, who overcame society’s prejudices about dwarfism to lead a remarkable life.

Jewish Disability Advocacy Day is an annual program that took place on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., before the pandemic, bringing representatives of the Jewish community together with federal lawmakers. Congressman Langevin, D-R.I., is expected to speak at this year’s free virtual program, along with keynote speakers Ezra French and Ali Stroker.

French, a two-time silver medal Paralympian, who competes in high jump, long jump and sprinting events, is a master at setting and achieving big goals. When he was 11, he announced his dream of competing in the Paralympics – and he made it a reality at the 2021 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Tony Award-winner Alyson Stroker is the first actress to use a wheelchair on a Broadway stage.

“Stories of Belonging” will take place on Zoom on Wednesday, March 2, at 7 p.m. Register at or by calling 401-421-4111.

JDAD will take place on Zoom on Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. and on Feb. 24 from 1 to 4 p.m. Register at

LARRY KATZ is the director of Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.