The New Normal

Everyone is welcome in The New Normal, a Jewish blog about disability. We're a source of information, inspiration and a challenge to received wisdom.

Honoring Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, Disability Activist

Last July, Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, Senior Disability Advisor for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism was presented the first Thornburgh Family Award. Established by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) this year during the 25th anniversary year of the ADA, the Thornburgh Family Award recognizes a religious leader who exemplifies the spirit of the ADA. The award is named after U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, who helped negotiate the ADA with Congress, and Ginny Thornburgh, a long-time advocate for people with disabilities nationally and globally who specializes in inclusion in religious communities. Dick and Ginny are the parents of a son, Peter, a man of faith, who has intellectual and physical disabilities.

Friendship, Asperger's Syndrome and Jewish Observance

Editor's Note: Although the DSM-5 no longer uses Asperger's Syndrome as a classification, it is still used by many people with Asperger's, clinicians and community.

I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome when I was four years old and attended various special education programs since I was three. I am now a college student and understand how several decisions that I have made have been essential in helping me to overcome challenges, to become the person that I am today and to thrive. One of those decisions, my decision to become religiously observant, which I made around the time that I began high school, has been essential to my growth.

Strands Intertwined And A Yom Kippur Dream

Have you ever had a vivid dream more meaningful than real events? Such was my Yom Kippur dream over fifty years ago.

In the dream, I stood next to my father in Temple Beth El in Asbury Park, NJ. The congregation was reciting the Al Chet "For the sin which we have committed before You" Yom Kippur prayer.

As I recited each sin, I struck my chest lightly as I had been taught. My feet felt the floor slanting down towards the front row. The choir, supported by the organ, was holding one long continuous note. It was my most spiritual moment of the year.

Notes written by Rabbi Levy's father. Courtesy of Michael Levy

13 Tips To Help Your Child With A Disability Succeed In Religious School

Editor's Note: As the school year begins, we are delighted to bring you these tips. Follow "The New Normal" through the year for a variety of perspectives on inclusion and Jewish education.

As someone with a disability myself, and who also knows what it means to parent a child with multiple disabilities, I’ve become an advocate for my children on so many fronts. Jewish education and involvement is no different. When it comes to disability and inclusion issues, despite good intentions, many Jewish institutions don’t even know what they don’t know. So it is up to people with disabilities, and the people who love them, to educate and advocate for people with disabilities in Jewish life. This is especially true in the context of enabling children with disabilities to have full access to Jewish education.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizraho

iPad Apps To Help Prepare For The High Holidays

Happy New Year! Many children and adults with disabilities use iPad technology for learning, play and communication. The iPad is also a wonderful tool to help people of all abilities prepare for and participate in the High Holidays. For example, an iPad can be used in the following ways:

1. Drawing and photo apps can be used to create personalized new year cards to share or print.

2. Interactive greetings can created on an app like TinyTap and shared with those who have the app, or screenshots can be printed and sent.

For Rosh Hashanah: Tuning Our Ears To All The Angels

My company Actionplay is an inclusive group that relies on ensemble-based performance to build social communities that rise above the feeling of being excluded. We embody the notion that in difference there is great strength. The meaningful and supportive relationships that are formed in our rehearsal room are essential for those of us who don’t quite fit the norm.

Actionplay performers. Courtesy of Aaron Feinstein

August Is The Hardest Month: Disability And Parental Loneliness

Today? I want what I can’t have.

I want Akiva to sleep late. Really late. So late, that I have to march into his room, check that he’s alive, and wake him up because hey, it’s 1 PM, and I’m your mother.

I want Akiva to brush his teeth, handle bathroom details, and get dressed. By himself. Without scratching me if I hit the wrong sensory buttons.

I want Akiva to pour his own juice and get his own breakfast, while I lie indolently in bed and answer questions from my room, as one might do with their young adult children.

Akiva and his brother. Courtesy of Beth Steinberg

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

Ruderman Family Foundation Awards $250,000 To Five Inclusion In Disability Innovators

The Ruderman Family Foundation announced today the five winners of the fourth annual global Ruderman Prize in Inclusion competition. The Prize honors Jewish organizations who operate innovative programs and provide services that foster the full inclusion of people with disabilities in their local Jewish community. The winners: Yavne Institute (Montevideo, Uruguay), Jewish Family Service Association of Cleveland (Cleveland, United States), Kisharon’s Adult Employment Programme (London, United Kingdom), Room on the Bench (Brooklyn, United States) and Beit Hillel (Ra’anana, Israel). Each winner will receive $50,000 to continue their work and pursue new opportunities for inclusion in their local communities.More information about each prize winner is listed below.

'You Are Not Welcome Here': ADA Access To Music Festivals And Other Outdoor Venues

Editor's note: Thank you to David Ferleger for sharing this important blog that originally appeared at

If I love music and use a wheelchair, the concert hall should have space for me to sit. If I love sports, the ballpark or arena will have space set aside for wheelchair users. If I am an amputee or on crutches, I’ll be able to drive up close to the venue so I can enter without much inconvenience.

But suppose I have tickets to a music or other festival, or other outdoor event, where the main stage, the main action, is distant from the satellite parking lots. Suppose I want to attend a public concert in Central Park NYC or another large urban event when streets are closed to traffic for many blocks in all directions. There may be shuttles but not handicap-accessible vehicles. There may be some reserved handicap parking spaces, but not enough.

David Ferleger
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