Did High Expectations Begin with the Maccabees?

By Jo Ann Simons, Ruderman Family Foundation Disabilities Advisor and CEO Cardinal Cushing Centers

With Hanukkah approaching, I can relax knowing that my shopping is complete, my candles have been purchased, and the chanukiahs (menorahs) are cleaned and waiting to be lit. So I have had time to reflect on the miracle of the holiday.

Is it possible that the high expectations we have for ourselves and for our children began with the dedication of the Holy Temple and the victory over tyranny? I like to think that although there was only enough oil for one night, there were believers among the Maccabees who knew that more was possible from the oil. When the sacred oil lasted eight nights instead of one, did we learn that setting high expectations might be the best route to success?

I think so.  And I believe that we in the Jewish community, as in the larger U.S. society, are finally applying that principle of high expectations to people with disabilities.

For too long U.S. society has acted as though, as far as people with disabilities were concerned, the oil would only last one night. So that’s all we expected.  We built inhumane institutions and filled them, we provided inadequate medical care and little if any dental care, we segregated children into separate schools and apart from their siblings, we built “special” swimming pools and recreational facilities, and we operated “sheltered” training sites while providing little in the way of employment opportunities.

But there were believers among us who envisioned a different world. Led by people with disabilities and their families, these modern-day Maccabees believed in the light and set high expectations. They have shown us that people with disabilities can lead completely inclusive lives.

So, as we strike the match to light our chanukiah, let those candles be our call to action. Let us end the tyranny against people with disabilities. Let us empty our institutions. Let us build community living options. Let us train more medical professionals. Let us provide access to health and dental care. Let us end segregated education and include children in typical schools. Let us promote the success of inclusive post-secondary education and make community based employment available to all who want to work.

This year I will recite the traditional Hanukkah prayers, and in addition each candle will symbolize a basic human longing of people with disabilities:

First night: for inclusive education

Second night: for community recreation

Third night: for health care parity

Fourth night: for economic self sufficiency

Fifth night: for access to higher education

Sixth night: for community housing

Seventh night: for real employment opportunities

Eighth night: for family supports

Please join me in dedicating this Hanukkah to the sacred struggle for fairness, freedom, and high expectations.

— Jo Ann Simons



Filed under Disabilities rights, Disabilities Trends, Initiatives, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Did High Expectations Begin with the Maccabees?

  1. Debbie

    While I applaud your sentiments and goals and fully agree for the most part, I just want to say that in my personal opinion, and from my personal experience, not all segregated institutions are necessarily by definition bad. I admit that I cried when I first saw the segregated school my son was placed in for first grade and that I had to fight like an enraged tigress to be sure he was gradually and appropriately integrated into the regular system. However, when he left the school after three years I had to admit that they had truly helped him in ways that I think a “regular” school – however inclusive – could not have. Today he is a kid (almost) like any other, in sixth grade in the regular school system (and an enrichment program for mathematically talented youth). I am so proud of him that there tears in my eyes as I type this…

    • Thanks for taking ther time to comment and provide an important view. I actually run a segregated school and understand their value and the goal to get students who can, back into neighborhood schools.Your advocay and “tigress” skills are what gives our kids the opportunities they are entitled to. Your son sounds like a terrific kid and I cried, too, 30 years ago when my son was in a special pre-school. And there were tears,too, when he graduated from our local high school.

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