Each Purim, Boston Workmen’s Circle Center for Jewish Culture and Social Justice charges its young adult leaders – a group of 20- or 30-something Jews involved in progressive activism– with planning and organizing a community Purim party. The event, called Gragger (Noisemaker), is described as “wild and raucous” and a “rowdy call for justice and joy.” Featuring homemade hamantaschen, a costume contest, “rad” political theatre, live music and a DJ, the event seems to have everything that one could ask for – except for a wheelchair-accessible venue.
In the second half of the 20th century, the Jewish community did the impossible; after decades of struggle, Soviet Jewry emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, empowered to emigrate as a result of intense international pressure. Amazingly, a tiny, historically marginalized people emerged victorious against the vast Soviet empire. Looking back, a few key factors made the impossible a reality: a community-wide organizing strategy, the strength and centrality of the voices of Soviet Jews themselves and a clear, unequivocal and uncompromising moral demand. Today, as the Jewish community begins to grapple with the question of how to fulfill its long forgotten responsibilities to its members with disabilities, we would do well to learn from our past.