To the editors of The Jewish Week,
Congratulations to The Jewish Week for launching “The New Normal,” your new disability blog! The title strikes a perfect balance between what was and the change we are creating. Your welcome initiative is part of an important shift in the dialogue around people with disabilities in Jewish life.
An attractive and thriving Jewish community is an inclusive one, for many reasons:
● Strategically: We cannot afford to alienate people who have disabilities and their families- the community could not withstand the loss.
● Continuity: Why would we want a Jewish community that excludes some of its members? We MUST promote inclusion- we are too small a group.
● Human rights: When one segment of the population is excluded, we know from experience that others will eventually be excluded.
● Morally: We must accept full responsibility for one another’s fundamental well-being: kol yisrael arayvim zeh lezeh (“all Jews are responsible for one another”). No exceptions!
Disability is not a special interest subject, because it touches all of us. In a very real way, it is the “normal”. If we consider that every one of us may become disabled– our vision, hearing and mobility changes as we get older– it is even more the case that to remain a vital community, we must be inclusive.
Open dialogue is vital. People with disabilities often relay how their suffering is compounded: once due to their disability and additionally from the isolation, exclusion, a world that is not built for their needs and the lack of human contact and inclusion into the Jewish community. Rather than being punished because of this concept of “normal” which mainstream culture uses to devalue people with disabilities, perhaps it is time to redefine the concept.
The Ruderman Family Foundation creates and promotes initiatives that foster inclusion of people with disabilities in Jewish communities around the world, including awarding organizations for excellence in innovative inclusion programming via our recently announced 2013 Ruderman Prize in Disability. I have been blogging at Zeh Lezeh (For One Another) advocating for disability inclusion, commenting on news and developments in the field. I particularly enjoy sharing posts by and about successful self-advocates. Disability is an important issue to address within the Jewish community and I congratulate the editors of The Jewish Week for joining those of us in the Jewish disability blogosphere.
As a community, derekh eretz (civility) and chesed (kindness) should be a bedrock virtue of what it means to be Jewish. Jewish people the world over need to be champions for inclusion.
I look forward to The New Normal with eager anticipation, to hear and share your unique perspective. Thanks to The Jewish Week for creating this forum to encourage the critical conversations about people with disabilities we must be having in the Jewish community. Mazel Tov on the launch!
President, Ruderman Family Foundation