Examining connections and alienation

“I find that we are living in a time where people are really hungry for community. There are a lot of resources but we still feel this disconnect,” says Leamore Cohen, Inclusion Services Coordinator at Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCC).

February was established as Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) amongst Jewish organizations in 2009 to address the barriers and access issues individuals with disabilities within the Jewish and larger community face, says Cohen.

In celebration of JDAIM, Cohen thought it would be interesting to invite people to examine their experience of community.

In addition to JDAIM, the JCC is in its 90th year. This show is a themed art show where artists of all levels, mixed abilities, perspectives, faiths and social locations, from every community can come together to express themselves, says Cohen.

Community Longing and Belonging will be presented at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery from January 14–27.

A month about inclusion

JDAIM is meant to foster the real inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of social life,” says Cohen.

“All people are of equal value and when people are really welcomed, accepted, and extended the same opportunities they become incredible assets to the community,” she says.

Rooted in activism and advocacy, JDAIM is about building stronger, better connected and more accessible communities for all individuals, says Cohen.

There are a number of activities planned for the month and beyond including outreach work, cultural events and inter-generational community collaborations. says Cohen

What is community?

We wanted to provide people with a platform to examine their feelings and experiences visually and creatively, whatever those feelings may be – connection, engagement, isolation, alienation” says Cohen.

“The JCC also wanted to create a truly inclusive platform for the exhibit,” she says.

“We reached out to Kickstart Disability Art and Culture and they provided invaluable guidance and direction along the way,” she says.

Community Longing and Belonging is the JCC’S first Annual unjuried community art show in celebration of Jewish Disability and Inclusion Month.

“How do we make meaning of the concept of community, the real and the imagined spaces we inhabit? What does community longing look like and what are the possibilities for belonging in an ever changing world,” says Cohen.

With 55 artists in total, each of them were given a 12×16 panel to explore what community meant to them, says Cohen.

“We wanted to give each person the same starting point, so uniformity was really important,” says Cohen.

Cohen says she had the good fortune of meeting the artists coming in to pick up their panels.

She was surprised that many didn’t know the Centre had existed. Welcoming people from all over Vancouver and beyond has been a real highlight for her, she says.

Creating dialogue

The concept of community is complicated,” says Cohen. “Communities provide a sense of purpose, identity and belonging however, social isolation continues to be a problem for many populations in Metro Vancouver.”

Numerous reports over the years indicate that, whether separated by ethnicity, ability or income, Vancouverites feel that people increasingly live in silos in this City, says Cohen.

Cohen wonders how people can be both connected and part of various communities, but also experience exclusion or social isolation.

“It will be interesting to see how the pieces [in the art show] speak on their own and interact with the other pieces collectively,” she says.

The collection at the JCC will be open for the public and will provide an opportunity to meet the artists to continue the dialogue, forge new friendships and to build up our community.

“Some people are more focused on examining the ways they feel connected into this or other communities, and some people are focusing on the experiences of alienation they may have or have had” says Cohen.

Cohen says that people are really excited to be able to tell their stories of longing and belonging.

For more information, please visit www.jccgv.com/inclusion