Matot Ma-asei And Holiday Preparation: Ask Now And Don't Be Embarrassed
07/05/2013 - 11:52
Rabbi Michael Levy
The author, a rabbi who is blind, urges congregants with disabilities to think ahead about High Holiday accomodations. Fotolia
The author, a rabbi who is blind, urges congregants with disabilities to think ahead about High Holiday accomodations. Fotolia

The Torah reading for Shabbat July 6, Matot Ma-asei, includes a travel section (Numbers 1, 1-38.) It recounts the 42 places which the Israelites visited during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness before entering the land of Israel.

The commentator known as "Nettsivos Shalom” explains that the wilderness journey sheds light on our own "travels:"

"We live as Jews on two tracks. On one of them, we act decidedly like all other Jews act. The expectations are set, firm, and uniform within the parameters of our own group. At the same time, we move along a different track, each one of us on a road not trodden by another, walking very much alone on a very personal journey."

Many Jews with disabilities find it helpful, or even essential, to include a “third track” on our trip: scouting days or months ahead of our current position and preparing for what we will encounter. 

The next stop on our "third track" is the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

"Why," you may ask, as you enjoy your Fourth of July barbecue, "must I think so far ahead of everybody else just because I have a disability?" The answer:  accommodations.

Don't Be Embarrassed

Acknowledging that you need accommodations because of a disability is part of seeking community in the House of Israel.  The High Holiday season, our tradition tells us, is a time when the entire world, including those of us with disabilities, stands before God in judgment. As we experience the Days of Awe, we should have the same opportunity as the non-disabled to publicly pour out our hearts to our Creator and seek atonement?

Ask Now

It's unrealistic and unfair to expect our clergy and educators to meet our disability-related accommodation requests if we wait until August 23 to discuss them. Making the necessary arrangements can take time.

For its part, the Congregation should, through email or bulletins, remind those who require disability-related accommodations to contact a designated individual about them.

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.

 

Comments

I am not understanding what the previous anonymous comment meant by "what good is chesed if it is not inclusive." Inclusion is not a chesed (kindness) it is a chiyuv (obligation). As the great sage Hillel said when asked to sum up the whole Torah while standing on one leg "That which is hateful to you do not do unto your neighbor, that is the whole Torah the rest is commentary." How hateful is it to be excluded from one's synagogue, one's school, from earning a livelihood? We as Jews are obligated to create an inclusive Jewish environment where all Jews including those with disabilities are full members of the fabric of our communal institutions and lives.

Thank you Rabbi Levy for these remarks, and for dedicating your work to making congregational life a little easier for the rest of us. As a blind Jew in the south, I have met only one other blind Jew from Texas,so you can't imagine how much I appreciate your comments. Those of us who are blind or have low vision represent the smallest minority within the larger disability community. Thanks again for blazing a trail for the rest of us to follow.

If it takes a Village to raise a child ............... then, we must ask, where is the Village? It must begin within our own communities. What good is chesed if there it is not inclusive.

Rabbi Levy reminds us that our Torah and our daily journeys through life are infused with compassion. Let's beging at home --- in our holy homes.

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