Editor's Note: Below, Reform rabbi and social worker Edythe Mencher writes about how shaming Jewish institutions that aren't welcoming enough to people with disabilities can be painful and non-productive in the way that families suffer when rejected by those very institutions. If this subject interests you, please also read Joanna Dreifus' post, "Raised Reform, A Mom Finds Her Kids' Disabilities Give The Lie To Labels."
The New Normal has featured some powerful stories about how children and families with special needs have been treated in a variety of Jewish settings. We all can learn a lot from these, often painful, and sometimes deeply affirming, experiences in Jewish communal settings. At the same time, we need to be cautious about using labels. Whether they identify our disabilities or our Jewish affiliations, labels can easily emphasize differences and failings, rather than unique possibilities.
Tisha b'Av commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Jerusalem Temples. Our sages explain that the seeds of these tragedies took root during a much earlier event (Talmud Tractate Ta-anit, 29A).
Editor’s Note: In this piece, Matan co-founder Meredith Polsky sings the praises of the inclusive Jewish summer camp where she works – and sends her children – during the summer. A follow-up from a camp administrator will describe the various elements that must be in place to create such a program: culture, funding and a lot of hard work. Stay tuned.
During the summer, I have the great privilege of working at one of the first inclusive Jewish summer camps in the country. The Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington has been a model of inclusion for over thirty years. Every child is welcome, no matter what the disability. We have campers in wheelchairs, campers with feeding tubes, campers with Down Syndrome and Autism and Rett Syndrome, just to name a few.
The other day, I had a vague sense that I was supposed to be doing something; that I’d forgotten something. I glanced down at my watch: 2:10 p.m., and I panicked. Ben takes his afternoon meds at 2:00 p.m. But I don’t have to give Ben his meds because he is away at camp for the month.
This past spring, the Dekalim School in Be’er Sheva for teenagers with intellectual disorders went on a hike with LOTEM -- a JNF partner organization that makes nature accessible to children and adults in Israel with special needs. This outing was the students’ first overnight trip, and despite the fears of students and teachers alike, it was an incredible success. Below is an excerpt that I translated from an article that Shir and Shira, two students from Dekalim, wrote about their experiences hiking with LOTEM.
We want to say that this trip was an unforgettable experience. We want to tell everything that we experienced, so here goes. First of all, we really liked the first day when we traveled to Habonim Beach, and we really enjoyed the activities and we liked traveling to Acre. We went boating and we danced and it was fun – a lot of fun. After that we traveled to Rosh Hanikra and we traveled on the trolley and we saw beautiful and special sites.
Editor's Note: On July 5, the New Normal published Part I of this piece, which exhorts people with disabilities to take ownership of their High Holiday experience by discussing necessary accommodations in advance with their rabbi and synagogue staff. In Part II, Rabbi Michael Levy suggests specific questions people with disabilities might find useful to ask in the days leading up to Rosh Hashannah, which starts September 4.
An Important Turning Point
My parents, may they rest in peace, once did all my High Holiday planning. When I began exploring other synagogues, it became my rightful responsibility to arrange for Braille prayer books wherever I worshipped. This was, of course, essential when it was I who was leading the services. We must each consider our disability and plan accordingly.
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.
Editor's Note: With this essay, New Normal contributor Paula Fox made us realize that a ramp to the bima is a wonderful thing, but not enough. The bima itself can and should be made more accessible: to people with disabilities, to children, to the short, to the tall. With the publication of Paula's post, we are launching the New Normal's Bima Project, which will aim to work with a synagogue to create and install such a bima. We look forward to sharing the Project's progress with you and of course invite your questions, suggestions and thoughts.
Until recently, I never thought of myself as a Torah reader.
Yesterday marked the official launch of RespectAbility USA, a non-profit organization whose mission is helping the 57 million Americans with disabilities achieve the American dream. In RespectAbility’s version that dream, Americans with disabilities are respected members of the workforce and wield significant political power. The current reality, according to RespectAbility, is that 70 percent of working-aged Americans with disabilities are unemployed.