Near the beginning of our Passover Seders, we recited:
“All who are hungry, let them come and eat;
All who need (a place to celebrate Passover,) let them join us.”
What would happen if the world accepted our invitation?
Are we able to Feed all who are hungry?
A recent National Geographic article revealed that much of the food that or planet produces never reaches our tables. One of the reasons is its appearance:
“Supermarkets have always been free to set their own standards, of course, but in recent years upscale grocers have started running their produce departments like beauty pageants, responding to customers, they say, who expect only platonically ideal produce: apples round and shiny, asparagus straight and tightly budded.”
I myself am guilty of occasionally throwing out a misshapen potato, getting rid of a banana that might have still been useful as part of a cake and lazily tossing out items instead of re-packaging them so that they will fit in a crowded refrigerator.
To progress towards the Passover ideal of nourishing all who are hungry, we must learn not to discard “ugly food” or bulky items. We must discard instead our obsession with the appearance of neatness and perfection and join the growing effort to bring more food from the harvest to the home.
Unfortunately, there are those who apply the “appearance of perfection” standard to other human beings.
“Let all who need a place to celebrate Passover join us.”
Are we able to accommodate all who wish to celebrate with us? “All people” encompasses people whose speech is hard to understand, whose behavior and way of thinking differs from ours, who read large print and communicate through interpreters—in other words, people with disabilities.
Until very recently, society for the most part shunned people who did not appear to be perfect in the same way that it shunned “imperfect food." Even now, the entertainment world seems to prefer that non-disabled actors portray characters with disabilities.
A Strategy to Minimize "The Perfection Prejudice"
Given society’s almost “reflex action” of avoiding the appearance of imperfection, our battle for integration must go beyond grants to synagogues and occasional awareness efforts. One-on-one, we must accustom non-disabled Jews to interacting with those of us who have disabilities. The more they get to know us as individuals, the more they will consider our disability as a peripheral part of the total person whom we present. Instead of focusing on our disability-related characteristics and needs, they will interact with us exactly as they interact with other congregants, students, employees, dues-paying members of organizations, potential soul-mates and parents. Then, we can effectively defy society’s subtle but constant “perfection messages.”
During the coming year, will we serve food that is “cosmetically unappealing” yet nutritious? “Will people that don't fit society's definition of "perfect" join our celebrations?
With God’s help, let us answer “yes.”
As a founding member of Yad Hachazakah, the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center, Rabbi Levy strives to make the Jewish experience and Jewish texts accessible to Jews with disabilities. In lectures at Jewish camps, synagogues and educational institutions, he cites Nachshon, who according to tradition, boldly took the plunge into the Red Sea even before it miraculously parted. Rabbi Levy elaborates, “We who have disabilities should be Nachshons, boldly taking the plunge into the Jewish experience, supported by laws and lore that mandate our participation.” Rabbi Levy is currently director of Travel Training at MTA New York City Transit. He is an active member of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, N.Y. He invites anyone who has disability-related questions to email him.