In Berachot (34b), the Talmud teaches that a synagogue must be built with windows in the sanctuary. I believe this is so we can see who is outside and unable to join us. As Jews, we have to maintain “mental windows” everywhere so that we understand that those whom we refer to as “shut-ins” are not shut-in. They are cruelly shut out of the life many of us take for granted.
We have to begin by helping our larger communities understand that we Jews have to change our attitudes. There is a saying in the disability community that goes, “Before ramping buildings, you’ve got to ramp attitudes.”
In Genesis, God first creates containers — that is, land, sky and water. Then God fills those containers with animals, heavenly bodies and fish. After that God creates Adam and Eve.
For those of us in the disability community, it is important to understand Adam and Eve’s bodies as “containers” themselves. For we are taught in Pirke Avot, “Do not look at the container, but rather look at what is inside of it.” (4:27)
We must recognize all people, including people with disabilities, as people first. We must look beyond the disability – beyond the “container” — and see the person within, the person with often unacknowledged, and therefore, untapped potential.
Rabbi Lynne Landsberg is the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s senior adviser on disability issues, co-chair of the Jewish Disability Network and co-chair of the Committee on Disability Awareness and Inclusion of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.