Today I’m pleased to bring you a post by one of the founders of Jewish Disability Awareness Month, Shelly Christensen. Shelly has been in the forefront of the Jewish inclusion movement for many years. Here she offers ideas for examining our own feelings and assumptions about Judaism and disability—an important exercise for each of us, this month and all year.
What Do You Value in Jewish Life?
We recognize Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) for only the fifth consecutive year. In that short span, Jewish communities across North America have adopted JDAM as a call to action.
Yasher koach, we say to each other as we hold a Shabbat of Inclusion, invite participants from a group home to services, or invite a speaker to give the sermon on disability issues. Each activity tagged with the JDAM logo means that someone is paying attention and observing that there are many people with disabilities and mental health disorders still living on the margins of Jewish life.
We must sincerely and with integrity work towards the day when any Jewish person who has a disability can be a valued member of the Jewish community, not by platitudes, but by recognizing that individual’s gifts, strengths and desires to live a Jewish life.
Think for a moment of all that you have come to value by being a member of your Jewish community–whatever form that takes.
Do you have a picture of that in your mind? Imagine if none of that existed for you; that you could see others doing what you want to do through a clouded window. Imagine if all you love about belonging to your Jewish community was not destined to be yours. How would your life be different? You would be denied access to all you value and never have the opportunity to choose what your own participation would be.
So it is for many Jews with disabilities and their families. We have a responsibility to take action beyond Jewish Disability Awareness Month.
Inclusion does not happen just because we know it is the right (and Jewish) thing to do. It happens because people who believe that each human was created in the Divine Image know that when one person is left out from belonging, we are not finished with our work of inclusion.
There is much to do, and the clock is ticking. As an advocate for and practitioner of Jewish community inclusion across the lifespan in all facets of Jewish life, I have been privileged to be a partner of many Jews, of all ages, who sought inclusion, membership and to simply “belong” to the community. Inclusion is possible. We can do this when we set our course, determined to adapt our attitudes and beliefs so that all may belong.
Each of us is responsible for each other. What can and will you do?