Last week, as we experienced the revelation of Torah at Mt. Sinai, I kept thinking about how I tend to stay, "We all stood at Mt. Sinai." A statement meant to describe an inclusive theology that transcends religious distinctions. But something felt not quite right, knowing that "standing" is meant to be a metaphor but inherently excludes those of us for whom standing is not possible, either entirely or for long periods of time; my inner voice reminding me of the internalized ableism that runs deep in my veins and in our society.
A midrash teaches us, "When the Jews left Egypt, almost all of them had a disability" (Numbers Rabbah, Naso 7:1). How did this happen to be? They had been working with bricks and clay, climbing to the tops of buildings. A rock might fall and cut off their hands, or some clay might get into their eyes, blinding them. Needless to say, slaves in Egypt did not have good access to healthcare. This was the community of Israelites who gathered at Sinai to receive the Torah. And while it is not always visible, this is also true in our community.
Something you may not know about me is that for three years after college I worked as a personal care attendant for people with disabilities; first with kids in a public school and then with adults with Cerebral Palsy. The experience taught me so much about interdependence, vulnerability and what it means to care for each other in the fullness of our needs
Over the past 6 months I have sat with many of you, listening to your stories and your struggles to feel seen in your fullness, with your abilities and disabilities. Members among us have visual and auditory disabilities, learning and developmental disabilities, and physical disabilities. And we are forever shaped by our experience of navigating them, and learning to value our selves with them.
One of the way that ableism functions, is that it makes it very difficult to talk about disability. Many of us suffer from self-advocacy fatigue, longing for a space we can just be without need to ask for an accommodation, fearful we will be judged or misunderstood. We as a community long to be infinitely accessible and inclusive, yet we miss the mark and feel shame, which only leads to more silence.
It is for this reason that I am especially grateful that we as a community are honoring Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month tonight at Minyan Ometz Lev. Thank you Rabbi Michelle for her ongoing leadership and insights into disability justice. In the words of Rabbi Marc Margolius, "Each us carries a piece of Torah..Our task is impossible if we exclude anyone from our sacred community. For this reason God revealed the Torah to this first generation of Israelites, making no distinctions based on ability, including everyone one of us in the covenant symbolized by Torah."
As we journey through the wilderness of experience, may we as a community continue to grow in awareness as we seek greater inclusion, honoring the Torah that is uniquely each of ours to reveal.
Wherever you are in your day or your week, take a moment to look outside and appreciate something growing. And then to remember that you are growing too. The only stasis in this universe is change. To be alive is to be growing. We humbly learn this from the trees in their rooted stability, their ability to let go and transform.
In the words of my rabbi and teacher Sharon Cohen Anisfeld,
"This Shabbat, two moments converge on our sacred calendar – the holiday of Tu b’Shvat, on which we celebrate the new year for trees, and Shabbat Shirah, on which we chant the Song of the Sea. These two moments call out to us with a deep and important reminder: the possibility of renewal is everywhere, at all times."
For those looking for more Torah on Tu B'shevat, here is a teaching from one of my teachers, Rabbi Nehemia Polen.
Now more than ever, we gift each other and ourselves, presence, community and connection. Not in spite of our current circumstances, but specifically because of them. Sacred time is a refuge from the deluge of injustice; it is a source of both resilience and resistance to despair.
From Standing Rock to Flint, MI, we know that racism and environmental injustice are deeply linked. In this epically important moment, we send our love and prayers to Standing Rock. On this Shabbat Shira, we will be singing Water Heal My Soul because #WaterIsLife.
For those who are able, I look forward to singing and learning tonight.
6:30 pm - Services
7:45 - Dinner - POTLUCK!
8:15 - Tu B'Shevat Seder with Jewish Farm School and Repair the World
Tonight is also opening night for Curio's new show. To be good neighbors and housemates, we ask that no one be in the lobby upstairs or the black box after 7:45 pm. They have reviewers at their performance!
Shabbat Shalom to all,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek Synagogue through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.