Jewish Disability Awareness Month: How To Keep The Message Alive
search

Jewish Disability Awareness Month: How To Keep The Message Alive

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.

Last month, many people worked tirelessly to make congregations and communities across our country aware of the capabilities and aspirations of Jews with disabilities. What can we do to transform the message of Jewish disability awareness into meaningful changes that bring us closer to full integration into Jewish life the other eleven months of the year?

Dramatic and widely publicized events have their place, but how long will their message remain effective? The experiences of the Biblical stories of Moses and Elijah remind us that ongoing “small quiet voices” must be heard after the fanfare. Let’s look at some “awareness initiatives” from early Jewish history that can help to guide us.

Miracles and Mistakes: The Mount Sinai Experience

Amid smoke, thunder and the sound of the Shofar, God revealed Himself to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. They heard His voice conveying the Ten Commandments directly to them. [Exodus: 19-20]

Moses ascended Mount Sinai to commune with God. When the Israelites perceived that he didn’t return when expected, they panicked. A golden calf was fashioned, and some of the Israelites worshipped it. To bring them to their senses, Moses broke the two stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were engraved [Exodus, chapter 32.]

God accepted Moses’ plea for forgiveness, and offered the tablets a second time. This time, there was no fanfare; Moses alone witnessed God’s quiet revelation [Exodus, Chapter 34]. From that moment until today, Jews have endeavored to make “The Sinai message” a meaningful part of their lives.

Elijah’s Battle Against Idolatry

More than six centuries after God’s revelation on Mount Sinai, the zealous prophet Elijah faced the cult of idolatry headed by Queen Jezebel and her husband King Ahab. In a dramatic showdown, 450 idolatrous prophets confronted Elijah. Both they and he presented sacrifices, and waited for a response from Elijah’s God or the idol Baal.

A fire descended from heaven and consumed Elijah’s sacrifice. Inspired, the Israelites killed all the prophets of Baal.

Immediately, Jezebel dispatched a message to Elijah: By this time tomorrow your life (like the lives of the Baal prophets) will come to an end [1 Kings 19:2].

Frightened and embittered, Elijah fled to Mount Sinai.

Positioned in the very spot where God had revealed Himself to Moses, Elijah experienced a mighty wind, fire and an earthquake, but God was not in their midst [1 Kings 19, 15.]. Then Elijah heard “a quiet small Voice.” He realized that this gentle persistent sound was a true revelation from God.

After Publicity Comes Persistence

Follow-up work may be private. It may not get headlines. Nevertheless, many voices, relatively small and quiet, must continue to make themselves heard to integrate Jews with disabilities into schools, camps and congregations.

Improvements will likely be quiet and gradual. Every ramp, sign language interpreter, text in alternative format and integrated camp, classroom and synagogue experience brings us one step closer to the full participation in by Jews with disabilities in the Community Of Israel.

God will not manifest Himself with thunder and lightning to support our struggle. Let us pray, rather, that a small, quiet but persuasive Divine Influence will champion our cause.

A native of Bradley Beach, New Jersey, Rabbi Michael Levy attributes his achievements to God’s beneficence and to his courageous parents. His parents supported him as he explored his small home town, visited Israel and later studied at Hebrew University, journeyed towards more observant Judaism, received rabbinic ordination, obtained a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and lectured on Torah and disability-related topics.

As a founding member of Yad Hachazakah, the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center (www.yadempowers.org), 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, NY. He invites anyone who has disability-related questions to e-mail him at info@yadempowers.org

read more:
comments