Jewish Disability Awareness Month

Did you know that it’s Jewish Disability Awareness Month? It’s also North American Inclusion Month.

(Also, did you know that JDAM stands for both Jewish Disability Awareness Month and Joint Direct Attack Munition, which is a kit that upgrades ordinary bombs into smart bombs? Lots of odd trivia today.)

In any event, if you’ve hung around on the blog you know this is a thing for me, since Secular Jew, Jr. (Spawn of Secular Jew? need a decent moniker for him), is autistic. Unfortunately, this isn’t the kind of thing that gets widely reported in many Jewish media outlets, let alone in the broader world.

That’s a shame, for any number of reasons. So here’s a little disability-oriented tokhecha (“rebuke,” see Leviticus 19:17 ) for your Thursday.

The traditional Passover Haggadah includes a text that discusses four sons: the wise son, the wicked son, the simple son, and the son who does not yet know how to ask. The point of the text, as used in the Haggadah, is for the maggid–the person telling the story of the Haggadah–to teach the story to each person at the Passover Seder according to his own abilities, predilections, attitudes, etc. (Passover looms large for me at the moment because I’m trying to figure out how we do a Seder with Secular Jew, Jr.)

That is, the Haggadah seeks to ensure that each person who attends the Seder is met by the maggid where they are. We don’t do this enough in the Jewish world; I think that’s true not only for disability, but more generally.

With some types of disability, access to Judaism is a physical barrier; for others, the barrier is more mental than physical–though the more we isolate those with physical barriers to participation, the more we create mental barriers.

What should a Passover Seder look like for someone with celiac? How do we do Purim, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur for those who have sensory-related challenges or auditory problems? What meaning is there in the Hanukkah lights to those who cannot see? In all these and many other areas, we need to work to be inclusive, and Judaism may look different as a result. We need to be brave enough to recognize the need to change to meet people where they are.

So I would ask that, as you move through Jewish Disability Awareness Month, if you are Jewish, look at how you do Judaism from the perspective of meeting others where they are at. If you are not Jewish, surely there is some aspect of your own life–religious, work, personal, etc.–that can sustain some level of evaluation. What can you do–what should you do–to meet people where they are at?

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