Born prematurely, Jason Lieberman probably didn’t get enough oxygen during his birth. Brain cells that control movement and his lower limbs died. At 11 months, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
In high school, he became a successful disability advocate. Today, he speaks and writes about disability in the Torah and inclusion in the Jewish community, and works as a professional activist.
The roots of Lieberman’s activism were planted by a negative experience with a day school. He was told he couldn’t attend the Solomon Schechter school his sister went to, because he couldn’t walk.
“That always stuck with me,” he said. “I didn’t want that to happen to other people.”
But his next formative experience in the Jewish world was more positive: he spent a glorious summer at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, where he felt fully included. Part of the planning behind the raid on the staff lounge was how to make sure he went along, not because it was a nice thing to do, but because of course, everybody had to come. In that atmosphere, he also felt ready to speak out. He made change happen there: the camp built a ramp to the infirmary.
He continued to hone his skills as an activist in high school and college. After graduation, he held jobs at the National Jewish Council for Disabilities of the Orthodox Union and American International Group, Inc. In those posts, he juggled responsibilities such as sensitivity training and inclusion initiatives and, at AIG, helped create insurance products for the disability community.
These days, Lieberman is on medical leave from AIG, so he is focusing on his writing and speaking. He recently addressed an assembly of rabbinical students, telling them why he doesn’t want to be “excused” from the obligation of laying tefillin. And he has written about how it feels to be the father of his son, 21-month-old Ruby.
“It’s important for Jews with disabilities to actively participate in Jewish life because our participation strengthens the Jewish community,” wrote Lieberman recently in The Jewish Week’s disability blog, “The New Normal.” “We can change the perception of people with disabilities from that of communal burdens or obligations to communal assets.”
Thankful: Born on Thanksgiving, Lieberman always celebrates his birthday on that day, even when it doesn’t fall on fourth Thursday in November.