A Beautiful Sunset, A Sustaining Afterglow And Finding New Stories
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A Beautiful Sunset, A Sustaining Afterglow And Finding New Stories

Rabbi Michael Levy shares a last look back at Yom Kippur 5780 and a “first look” beyond at the integration of people with disabilities in our communities.

Rabbi Michael Levy: 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.

Rabbi Michael Levy
Rabbi Michael Levy

Observing the sky near the end of Yom Kippur, a Chassidic master exclaimed “What a beautiful sunset.”

“There’s nothing special about this sunset,” commented one of his disciples.

The master replied, “Can’t you see that this is the most beautiful dusk of the whole year?  This is the sunset of forgiveness!”

The Afterglow

Forgiving others and yourself is more than a transient “spiritual high.”  Our sages explain that if you have truly repented during the High Holidays, you become (as it were) a new person, freed from the blunders and burdens of 5779 and endowed with clarity and purpose in 5780.

To Sustain the Afterglow, Find Your Purpose

As a popular song puts it: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”  How can you find your light, your purpose?

Citing the Slonimer Rebbe, Rabbi Aryeh Nivin explains that you (and every other human being) can improve the world in a way that nobody else can.  Any moment may be a ‘Moment’ when you, with your unique capabilities and limitations, can brighten the life of another person.

Whenever you meet a person with a disability, keep in mind that he or she also has a purpose—a light to shine, which may have nothing to do with disability.  Here are three imaginary scenarios:

  • Five-year-old Karen is pre-occupied with dinosaurs.  Share her glowing enthusiasm, rather than labeling her as just another child on the autism spectrum.
  • Jeffrey patiently and competently fashions synagogue ornaments like the wooden pointers used to help Torah readers keep their place.  It just so happens that he is nonverbal.  He shines his light through his decorations.
  • Don’t be fooled by your first impression that Sylvia is just another forgetful nursing home resident.  Prompt her, and she will enlighten you about the media’s biased coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

If 100,000 of us regularly emphasized the unique “light” of every individual with a disability, then health professionals, educators, clergy, the media, funders and service organizations might follow our example.

Sustain the Afterglow with Stories

My first blog in the 5780 series described the Baal Shem Tov and his appreciation of a young child who played his flute during synagogue prayers.  Some leaders in the disability community use this tale to support integration of all Jews who have disabilities.  For all its warmth, the story generalizes from one backwards boy to casts its unflattering stereotype over the entire Jewish disability community.

It’s time to enlighten our communities with new stories—about “ordinary” people with disabilities who lead “ordinary” lives in their schools, synagogues and social organizations.  Our stories should feature individuals with disabilities who are regulars in their synagogues and community centers—not just people who appear on Disability Shabbat.

Some of the stories should describe leaders with disabilities.  Others might highlight various kinds of accommodations that enable our participation. .

We Need More Afterglow

Every day this fall, the darkness after sunset comes a little earlier.  For pessimists, the current political turmoil adds a dimming of spiritual light.

May God guide us to respond to darkness with forgiveness, and magnify our spiritual light as we share it with others.

Rabbi Michael Levy: 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.

 

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