Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) is recognized each February to raise awareness and promote meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in all aspects of Jewish life.

 “The Mishnah tells us, [Al tistakeyl b’kan-kan; eleh b’ma sh’yaysh bo.]‘Don’t look at the flask, but at what it contains.”  In teaching ourselves to see the inner sparks that light a person’s soul, rather than merely glancing at the casing that holds those precious assets of personality, aspiration and caring, we can act like God in the wilderness, healing when we can, and transcending limits when we cannot.” (Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson)

 Rabbi Artson’s commentary on that powerful Mishnaic passage is an important reminder

of our ongoing obligation to remove the “filters” that normally cloud our vision and which sometimes cause us to sometimes mistake the disability for the person. In so doing, we frequently make inappropriate assumptions about an individual’s capabilities, needs and desires and the roles that we might play in that person’s life.

 Within any community, and our congregation is no exception, there exists a wide range of conditions that affect our ability to function in different ways. Some of those disabilities are physical and some are emotional/mental; some are visibly manifest; others are hidden; some are easily accommodated; others resist easy solutions. The nature of a Jewish community is such that we should all strive for an awareness and sensitivity to the many issues surrounding disabilities of all kinds. We should always have one critical eye peeled to see what barriers to the differently-abled may exist in our community.

 “Jewish tradition teaches us of our obligation to ensure equal access for all people and to help facilitate the full participation of individuals with disabilities in religious and public life. We are taught “Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot 2:5); accordingly, we must prevent anyone from being separated against [his/her] will. […] Furthermore, in Leviticus 19:14 we are commanded, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Stumbling blocks come in many forms, from less-than-accessible buildings, Shabbat services, prayer books and web pages to health care that is harder to access or isn’t sufficient for people with disabilities. We are obligated to remove these stumbling blocks; this is why Reform Judaism cares so deeply for the rights of people with disabilities.”

 Let this shortest month of the year help us to truly see what is, to the detriment of our community, so often hidden.

 [Be sure to mark your calendar for Friday, February 28, when our member Cynthia Goldberg will share with us insights into the life she leads and the disability with which she lives.]

 Reb Elias