That All May Participate: Isaiah’s Message Of Accomodation
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That All May Participate: Isaiah’s Message Of Accomodation

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.

The Yom Kippur Haftarah portion describes God’s reaction to rituals that are practiced without regard to people who need help and deserve respect.

“To be sure, they (worshippers) seek Me daily,
Eager to learn My ways….
They ask Me for the right way,
They are eager for the nearness of God:
"Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?"….

Because on your fast day, You see to your business, & oppress all your laborers! …
Such a fast (will not) make your voice heard on high.

Rather, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
… to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.”

Would it be going to far to say that in God’s view, the only normal acceptable community is one which hears, respects and, with dignity, accommodates all Jews?

Living Up to God’s Expectations — Some Suggestions

1. Identify marginalized individuals: not just the disabled, but also the unemployed, singles, the bereaved, those experiencing a health crisis, and those who do not fit into the “married with children” typical family.

2. Seek and respond to ongoing, direct and meaningful input from these individuals.

3. Adopt written policies which commit your organization or synagogue to accommodation. As an example of such a commitment, see the Rabbinical Council of America’s 2014 resolution concerning Jews with disabilities:

A “best practices” Jewish community, on an ongoing basis, accommodates and respects its marginalized members.

Through our own efforts, and relying on God’s guidance and blessing, may we celebrate a High Holiday season, accommodating all Jews who wish to participate.

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, 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

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