Who’s Your Aaron? Finding A Community of Support

Who’s Your Aaron? Finding A Community of Support

Lisa Friedman is a widely recognized expert in Jewish disability inclusion. She is an Education Director at Temple Beth-El in Central New Jersey, where she has developed and oversees an inclusive synagogue school. She is also the Project Manager of UJA-Federation of New York’s Synagogue Inclusion Project. Lisa consults with congregations, schools, camps and other organizations to guide them in the development of inclusive practices for staff, clergy and families through dialogue, interactive workshops, and awareness training. Lisa is a sought after speaker on a wide variety of topics and blogs about disabilities and inclusion at "Removing the Stumbling Block."

Editor's Note: This blog post originally appeared on the URJ Sci-Tech Blog.

Last week I had the good fortune of serving as a part of the pioneer faculty for the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy. I’m not quite sure where to begin in describing all of the significant moments that I observed and experienced there, so if you have not been following their inaugural season on the blog, I urge you to catch up!

At Sci-Tech they have seamlessly blended science and technology with living Jewishly. Here, campers are deeply exploring, creating, and discovering while experiencing the true magic of Jewish camp. It is a specialty camp like no other, and I have no doubt that many of these children would not have otherwise had a Jewish summer experience. Point in case, on Shabbat morning I taught two of the youngest campers how we honor the Torah during hakafah (Torah procession) as they had never participated in a Torah service before.

And, as is my nature, I enter into experiential learning spaces with an eye toward inclusion.

From the moment that I arrived at Sci-Tech it was clear to me that it was an inclusive space, attracting campers with a wide range of intellectual, emotional and social abilities. The staff was prepared to welcome campers of all abilities and backgrounds, and the appropriate support was in place to enable every camper to find success.

It is this support which impressed me the most. It is clear that this support is a fundamental part of the fabric of Sci-Tech. Inclusion is not an after-thought or a band-aid stuck on problems after they arise. Rather, this is a community built with intentionality and the foresight to anticipate the many needs and complexities of a wonderfully diverse population.

When I had the honor of offering the dvar Torah on Shabbat morning, it is this support that I chose to make the focus of my teaching. Here is a part of what I shared with the Sci-Tech community:

“This Shabbat we read from D’varim, the first chapter of the last book of the Torah, Deuteronomy. D’varim means words. In this portion Moses begins his farewell address to the Israelites. In it he recounts all of the struggles they have had over their forty years in the desert as a reminder of what NOT to do in the future.

“But here is what is really interesting. When God addressed Moses for the very first time at the Burning Bush, sending him on his life’s mission to liberate the Israelite slaves, Moses resisted, saying, Lo ish d’varim anochi . . . , 'I have never been a man of words…I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.'”

“And yet now, at the end of his life, we have a whole portion dedicated to a powerful and memorable speech that Moses will give. He has become a man of words; he has become a master storyteller.

“How can that happen? Moses’ speech impediment was so severe that it paralyzed him with fear. It’s not just that he didn’t want to heed God’s call. It is that he genuinely and wholeheartedly believed that he could not. And yet, we know that Moses goes on to do exactly what God has asked of him. What made it possible for Moses to overcome his insecurities and limitations and gain the confidence he needed to face this challenge?

“Quite simply, it is because he had the right support. God wouldn’t take no for an answer and gave Moses what he needed to be successful. Aaron, Moses’ brother, became his aide and was designated to speak on Moses’ behalf when he could not. I believe that the comfort of knowing that Aaron was there for support was enough to enable Moses to rise to the challenge, discover his own gifts and shine.

“Being here this week has shown me that you have a camp full of Aarons. Your counselors and this incredible staff support you and enable you to be the best you that each of you can be. I will go further and say that you give this support to one another, too. Truly, this camp, this amazing Sci Tech community is Aaron. It is a place where you can be you; where you have the support you need to find the gifts that were there all along while you discover some new ones along the way.

“Thank you for welcoming me in to this holy community and for letting me share this time with you. May you continue to support one another as Aaron supported Moses while you learn, grow and discover. Shabbat Shalom.”

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