We are in the midst of the final month of the Jewish year, Elul, when it's customary to review one’s shortcomings and make plans to do better in the coming year.
The month's inaugural Torah portion, Re’eh, transitions us to an appropriate contemplative mood. It concludes:
“Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord your God, on the festival of Matzot (Passover,) on the festival of Shavuot, and on the festival of Sukkot. They shall not appear before God empty-handed. Every man according to the gift of his hand, according to the Lord God’s blessing which He has given you” (Deuteronomy 16, 16-17.)
The message in these verses for us today might be this: Anyone who wishes to actively participate in the Jewish community has an obligation to contribute to it. We are not expected to contribute more than we can realistically donate, but contribute we must. If we are unable to offer money, then we can offer our time and our prayers.
What Can the Disability Community Contribute?
There are those who believe that “the disabled” can only contribute by enabling others to perform acts of kindness:
“Let me have the mitzvah of walking you home.”
“I’ll push your wheelchair across the street.”
“Let’s suspend the rules of the baseball game so that the boy who weakly bats the ball will imagine that he has hit a home run and is the hero of the game.”
This attitude is understandable. However, such a “contribution” falls short of honest participation and implies that nothing more can be expected from the “contributor.”
I personally feel most included when my synagogue asks me to join a minyan, make a donation, open the Ark or share a few words of Torah. Inclusion means being among those who have obligations to the community, those who are needed for what they can offer as people, not as objects of charity.
Opportunities to contribute abound: Put a penny in the tzedakah box. Hold the door for a classmate, or for somebody burdened with packages. Help clear the table at a Shabbaton. Conduct a prayer service. Be part of the set-up committee for a Kiddush. Distribute prayerbooks. Offer some words of Torah. Bring a cake to a bake sale. Help in the coat room. Be among the active core membership on which most synagogues rely. Become a leader in the Jewish community.
We encourage our youth to raise money for causes, or to pay their own way to a convention that they want to attend. Sometimes the most successful fund-raisers among them receive prizes. Whenever possible, include youth with disabilities in such projects.
At this point in the Jewish calendar, synagogues conduct appeals. Many of us will find “pledge cards” at our seats on Kol Nidre night. Members are asked to pay dues.
Treat those of us with disabilities just like other members. Noodge us if we can afford to contribute. If we can’t afford to meet our synagogue obligations, then apply to us the same policy as to other members with limited resources.
May 5774 abound with opportunities for all of us to contribute to the House of Israel and to the world in which we live.
A native of Bradley Beach, New Jersey, Rabbi Michael Levy attributes his achievements to God’s beneficence and to his courageous parents. His parents supported him as he explored his small home town, visited Israel and later studied at Hebrew University, journeyed towards more observant Judaism, received rabbinic ordination, obtained a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and lectured on Torah- and disability-related topics.
As a founding member of Yad Hachazakah — the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center (www.yadempowers.org), Rabbi Levy strives to make the Jewish experience and Jewish texts accessible to Jews with disabilities. In lectures at Jewish camps, synagogues and educational institutions, he cites Nachshon, who according to tradition boldly took the plunge into the Red Sea even before it miraculously parted. Rabbi Levy elaborates, “We who have disabilities should be Nachshons --boldly taking the plunge into the Jewish experience, supported by laws and lore that mandate our participation.” Rabbi Levy is currently director of Travel Training at MTA New York City Transit. He is an active member of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY. He invites anyone who has disability-related questions to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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