Rabbi Daniel Grossman's blog

'Special Needs,' 'Inclusion,' 'Disability' Or None Of The Above? Why Labels Matter

I've often thought about the question of the terms we use such as “Special Needs,” “Inclusion,” or “Disability,” and which words are best to open lines of communication? I do not have any hearing in my right ear. I also have a noticeable facial discoloration on parts of my right face that leads some people to think that I have had a stroke, and, over the years, I have used several orthotic devices and sometimes a cane for balance.

"Label Jars Not People." Courtesy of Jay Wilson

What Are YOU Thankful For?

Editor's Note: In honor of Thanksgiving, we asked our "New Normal" contributors to reflect on the intersection of gratitude and disability. We'd love to hear what you are thankful for in the comments below!

When I thought about the question, what I am grateful/thankful for, the answer came to me very quickly.  I am grateful that my parents, my family and my friends constantly reinforced the notion “to keep trying.”  

Ahead Of Its Time: One Synagogue's Approach To Inclusion

Editor's Note: In the blog below, Rabbi Daniel Grossman describes the way that his congregation made accessible choices 25 years ago. Many people are surprised to learn that religious institutions are not required to be ADA compliant.

As I think back 25 years ago to the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, I want to share with you how the passage of the ADA changed my experience of synagogue life. I had just finished my first year at Adath Israel in Trenton, New Jersey when the ADA became a reality. I had worked since Rabbinical School with issues of the deaf, mobility, accessibility and inclusion and now felt able to take serious steps at the synagogue. 

The Congregation had agreed from the beginning of my employment that our new building in Lawrenceville, New Jersey would be totally different from the original building built in 1923.

The Adath Israel synagogue in Mercer County, N.J. has made accessibility a key priority. Via adathisraelnj.org

Hearing Lightning And Seeing Thunder: Judaism Is Accessible

Tuesday evening begins the holy days of Shavout, the moment of receiving Torah at Mount Sinai. Revelation at Sinai is the first, and largest, act of religious equality in history. Many other cultures and religions experience the divine in the same way they experience the world around them – as a hierarchy, a society divided by class or title. The Revelation at Mt. Sinai is open to all – regardless of status, gender, power, or lack of power. All the individuals at Sinai are equal.

Rabbi Daniel Grossman

At Seder, Celebrating 'Freedom To' Participate And 'Freedom From' Oppression

This week, as many of us sat down to enjoy our Seders with friends and family, I was very aware of two types of freedom that we celebrate at the Seder: “freedom from” and “freedom to.” We celebrate the “freedom from” slavery and oppression. We re-enact this form of freedom as we eat bitter herbs and dip our greens into salt water. We celebrate the “freedom to” as we conduct our own Seder experience. Each home leads its own Seder without benefit of Rabbi or Hazzan. Each person, young or old, has a part to fulfill at the table. 

Rabbi Daniel Grossman

Wear A Mask For Merriment, Never Because Of Embarrassment!

Purim is fun, and food, and noise, but there is also a serious side to Purim. Before Esther reveals her Jewish identity to the king, she hides behind a mask of anonymity, one of many in the harem. Only after she speaks as Esther, the Jew, does she speak honestly, with her own voice. Her power comes from the honesty in her own voice and not behind her mask.

Many of us, especially in the special needs world, learn to live behind masks.

Rabbi Daniel Grossman

Shemot: A Name Carries Pride Of Self, But A Label Is Imposed

The middle book of the Torah is called Exodus in English and Shemot (Names) in Hebrew.  Names play a crucial role in Torah language and thought.  When God gives Adam responsibility for keeping the earth safe, Adam’s first responsibility is to name the creatures of the world, and in that way, connect with them. Know their names and not their skills.

Jacob's Blessing: Understanding Children's Limitations, And Potential

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayehi, Jacob speaks to each of his children, honestly and directly. Jacob’s blessings look at the events of his son’s pasts, and his evaluation of their individual futures. This Torah portion began the tradition of Ethical Wills. Ethical Wills focus on the legacy of values we leave to our children and not a legacy of material goods.

Rabbi Daniel Grossman

Korach's Call For Sameness Diminishes The Equality Of Difference

This week’s parasha focuses on the rebellion of Korach. Korach’s attempt to take power from Moses rests on what at first appears to be an appeal to equality and democracy. “All the community is holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst.  Why then do you raise yourself above the Lord’s congregation?”

Rabbi Daniel Grossman

This Week's Torah: Moses Taught the Priests One Way, The People Another

In this week's Torah portion, Emor, we find this sentence in the very beginning: 

“And the Lord spoke to Moses:  Speak to the priest, the sons of Aaron and speak to them . . .” (Leviticus 21:1)

Even God, even at Sinai, spoke differently to the priests and to the people. Fotolia
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