Editor's Note: As we close out National Down Syndrome Month, we wanted to share another important voice focusing on living with Down Syndrome.
At 2 lbs 3 oz, Ilyse had already acquired the name "wild woman." Born prematurely with Down Syndrome, Ilyse showed spunk and grit and the intensive care unit nurses acknowledged this with a nickname. Later, as a competitor in Special Olympics, Ilyse's uncanny ability to capture the limelight led to her being called "Hollywood". But the honorific that has had the greatest transformative effect on Ilyse is that of "Auntie."
Editor's Note: We are delighted to share this blog, written by one of the participants in Ramah New England's Vocational Education program about her experiences.
My name is Gabriella Levi. I am 20 years old and this was my first summer in the Vocational Education program at Camp Ramah in New England. I am currently a student at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. I am studying to work in a preschool.
What I loved about Voc Ed was learning to be independent. I liked that I was treated as an adult more than a camper. For example, at Ramah I had a lot of choices for how to spend my time.
When our son was a newborn, another mom of a child with Down syndrome suggested that we see “Praying with Lior.” Deeply moved by the movie, I turned to my husband and told him that we needed to find a synagogue so that our Julian would have a faith community that knows, loves and supports him. We were not interested in “tolerance” or even “acceptance.” We wanted to be part of a congregation that celebrated difference and embraced members with disabilities as part of its fabric.
Slingshot has released Slingshot '14 – '15, its tenth annual guide to North America’s most innovative Jewish organizations this week. Over the last decade, the Guide has become a go-to resource for volunteers, activists and donors looking for new opportunities and projects in the Jewish community.
This year, Slingshot did not produce a supplement focusing on disability and inclusion, but instead integrated a number of organizations whose mission includes supporting people with disabilities and their families into the main guide.
Permit me to challenge you to look at inclusion from a different perspective.
I think it is time to stop viewing inclusion as a chesed — an act of selfless kindness — to benefit only the individual with special needs. I believe that the inclusion of people with disabilities into all aspects of mainstream life benefits society as a whole, and has a profound impact on everyone who takes part in it.
On Thursday night and Friday we will celebrate Simchat Torah. Amid singing and dancing, we complete the reading of the Torah and, without pause, begin the Torah reading cycle again. I have often marveled that, like a massive oak growing from a small seed, our religion has developed from a portable scroll.
During Yizkor on Yom Kippur, I remember my father, who always made us laugh and I also remember my best friend Carla Meyers, who used to say, “In humor there is truth.”
So when I recently came across this joke in the Joseph Telushkin book Jewish Humor, I recognized the sad truth buried within a joke that causes discomfort in me because it should be so far from reality.
The joke: A Jewish mother is walking down the street with her two young sons. A passerby asks her how old the boys are. “The doctor is three,” the mother answers. “And the lawyer is two.”
We can laugh at the joke, but I do believe that we are ready to move beyond the thinking behind it.
The Jewish Funders Network disabilities peer network, made up of funders who are working to build more inclusive and supportive communities, is commissioning a guidebook on how to use Jewish texts to talk about disability rights and inclusion. JFN plans to distribute the guide to Jewish and international human rights communities.