Sukkot is called z’man simchatenu, the time of our rejoicing. As a disabled rabbi, I have all too often seen Jews with disabilities lose access to community at this time of year. We are forgotten by many who build festive tables. The misconception that disability and joy are opposites can make us invisible. As we move from Sukkot to Simchat Torah, I would like to remind my community that we are part of this festival. Joy is for everyone.
In many ways, Sukkot is a celebration of doing things differently. We bring fresh plants to services, and process through the sanctuary with the lulav. We build thoroughly impractical structures in our backyards and synagogue courtyards. We exit the familiarity of settled life, and into the realm of ad hoc problem solving.
If you want to know how to live well under those circumstances, ask a disabled person. For us, a lot of society is about as inhabitable as a sukkah. Like hosting a Sukkot meal, much of what we do requires ongoing creative energy. Nevertheless, we have rich and meaningful lives, and we have something important to offer to the world. Our Torah is worth celebrating.
The holidays create new barriers for people with and without disabilities. So do many other things. If we embrace accessibility as a sacred practice together, these barriers need not be insurmountable. As we go forward into a new year of Torah readings, let us build community in every sukkah we find ourselves in. Accessibility is not optional, and our people with disabilities are not disposable. This is the time of our rejoicing, and our joy can’t be postponed.
Rabbi Ruti Regan (rabbiregan.org @RutiRegan) has served as Matan’s Rabbinic Disability Scholar in Residence since 2016. In this capacity, Rabbi Regan researches Jewish disability issues, and creates resources that enable Jewish educators to solve problems. Rabbi Regan has developed innovative experiential professional training sessions for educators, liturgical resources for use in direct instruction, resources for teaching Jewish children about disability, curricular resources, and public webinars advancing the Jewish disability conversation. Rabbi Regan also serves Anachnu, the Jewish organization for disability-informed Torah and inclusive community, and moderates the weekly #ParshaChat Twitter torah study. http://bit.ly/parshachat.