Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month

Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month

by Jay Ruderman

Wikipedia defines social justice as, “the ability people have to realize their potential in the society where they live.” This definition can be broken down into three parts: realizing potential, in society, and where they live. For Jewish people with disabilities, each of these parts presents a challenge – and for the rest of us, they present an opportunity.

The full inclusion of people with disabilities in society is a matter of social justice, civil rights, and fairness. Every Jew counts, every Jew has something unique to offer our community, and every Jew is created in the image of God, no matter how they look or express themselves. Approximately 1,000,000 Jews in the United States have some form of disability. Look at that number again: 1,000,000 people, in our community alone. Our job must be to invite them in, not put up barriers to keep them out.

by Nancy Crown

When I was called to meet with a member of my synagogue’s Congregation-Based Community Organizing Committee, I almost declined.  I was asked to think about what the temple could do that it was not already doing. My main reaction was to reflect on the many opportunities for learning, worship, and community that I wasn’t partaking of, due to limited time and a longstanding “outsider” feeling when it comes to religion. Like many others, my upbringing did not include much meaningful participation in the spiritual aspects of Judaism.

My daughter, now 28 years old, has developmental disabilities. She was keenly interested in Judaism as a young child, but as a teen, she began to talk about converting to another religion. By that time, our son was enrolled in school at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, where we were members. We chose a Jewish day school for a number of reasons, including our desire for our son to feel more secure in his Jewish identity than my husband, my daughter, or I had felt. We began lighting candles on Friday nights. I took Hebrew classes.  We attended services, where, at moments, I would feel an achy kind of longing, alongside a feeling of being an outsider. Try as I might, I couldn’t quite find a way in.

by Shayna Simon

My name is Shayna Simon I am 12 years old. I have attended Camp Chazak at URJ Eisner and Crane Lake in Massachusetts for the last 2 summers. This camp is for kids like me that may have some challenges and just need some direction to stay focused and enjoy this wonderful camp experience.

The best way I can describe this camp is "AWESOME" We get to play, swim, sing, cook, eat and laugh together. I especially enjoy being able to share my Jewishness with everyone through prayer & singing. I even got to play my guitar during services. This year will be my last year at Camp Chazak as I age out.

by Rabbi Michael Torop and Rabbi Betsy Torop

The first summer after we arrived in the region, we began to serve as rabbinic faculty at URJ Camp Coleman.  After a long day in the car, we arrived at Coleman for the first time at dinnertime.   We walked into the chadar ochel (dining hall) with Gideon, who had just turned six, and our two other children (ages 4 and 18 months).  We were thrilled to be there and instantly felt at home when we walked in.  Gideon buried his head in his father’s lap and covered his ears against the din of 500 campers eating dinner.  

Gideon is on the autism spectrum and has some intellectual disabilities as well.  The noise of the chadar ochel was just the first of many challenges that he faced at Coleman – the place he has come to love more than any place on earth.   We are both products of NFTY, and Jewish camping has been central to our lives in every way.  It never occurred to us for one minute that our URJ camp wouldn’t be the place that our children “went home” to every year.  But it was clear early on that Gideon would need some help.  His self-care and language skills were well below age level and his inability to read social cues made us worry that he would be the target of teasing.  The thought of just putting him into the mix of a boys bunk was terrifying.

I spent yesterday on Capitol Hill for Jewish Disability Advocacy Day, which is an opportunity to learn about legislative issues of importance to individuals with disabilities and their families and to lobby members of Congress.  People came from all over the country and the day was an inspiring day of learning and advocating as a Jewish community.  The morning started with welcoming remarks from David Feinman, Senior Legislative Associate at the Jewish Federations of North America and co-chair of the Jewish Disability Network.  Following Dave, Rabbi Lynne Landsberg gave a beautiful d’var about the importance of both work and rest in the Jewish tradition.  Rabbi Landsberg explained that “resting” is different than “doing nothing” and that we need to fulfill our obligation to make sure that people with disabilities are able to participate in the workforce and in all aspects of society.