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.
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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.