By Guest Blogger Mark Pinsky, Religion writer and author
Although religious leaders were at the forefront of the movement for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which observes its 22nd anniversary today, their lobbyists effectively wrote themselves out of it jurisdiction. That meant that for faith communities the movement toward inclusion has largely been voluntary – spurred by the efforts of activists and advocates, especially parents of young people with disabilities.
Among the most inspiring and affirming stories in my new book, Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability and Inclusion are those from the Jewish community, which demonstrate how much can be done:
- Ezra Freedman-Harvey, of Orange County, California. Born with familial dysautonomia (FD), a rare, debilitating, neurological condition affecting only Jews, and once considered fatal, Ezra personifies the word persistence. With the support of his parents, and various branches of Judaism, he has had a full bar mitzvah, attended summer camp, become an Eagle Scout and attended college.
- Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (RAC) in Washington, D.C. A graduate of Boston University, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and Harvard Divinity School, Landsberg was a rising star in the Reform movement when, in 1999, her SUV skidded on a patch of black ice in Washington, resulting in traumatic brain injury. Landsberg battled back to become one of the nation’s outstanding advocates for people with disabilities, of all faiths.
- Shelly Christensen, of the Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities. She found Izzy Rosen, then in his 90s and in a state facility. Through the Jewish Family and Children’s Service, Christensen enabled him to locate and visit his parents’ graves in a local Jewish cemetery; to observe Jewish holidays, including a Seder with others in the Jewish disability community; and to be buried in a Jewish service.
- Rabbi David Aaron Kay, now of Congregation Ohev Shalom in Orlando, Florida. As a young man – and aspiring rock musician – he became interested in making Jewish worship accessible to those with hearing impairment and deafness. After attending the Jewish Theological he has made himself an expert in opening Jewish congregations to this constituency.
These stories – a kind of compendium of multi-faith best practices – demonstrate what can be done where there is a commitment. The hope is that readers will see what has been done elsewhere, often at very little cost, and say: “Our congregation could do that.”
Note: Today is also a very special day for me. I’m honored to be among those individuals and organizations selected for recognition by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) “Justice for All” awards in a ceremony on Capitol Hill.
— Mark I. Pinsky