Celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month

February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM or JDAAIM). This year, JDAIM is in its 15th year of existence. It was started to raise awareness and ensure that Jews with disabilities are valued and included in all aspects of Jewish life. As you may be aware, the Disability community is the largest minority group, and estimated to be about 15% of the world population. It is also estimated that 1 in 4 adults in the United States will have a disability at some point during their life. This is a group that cannot and should not be ignored. The Disability community needs to be accepted and included not just in February, but every day of the year.

As part of our celebration of JDAIM, the Pozez JCC and the organization MyZuzah, whose mission is to put a mezuzah on the front door of every Jewish home in the world, are excited to be installing a mezuzah with braille on its face. The mezuzah was designed by local artist, Julie Tonti.

This past week, I listened to a talk by Rabbi Julia Watts Belser about her book, Loving Our Bones: Disability Wisdom and the Spiritual Subversiveness of Knowing Ourselves Whole. She talked about how she is often asked what Jewish tradition says about disability. She offers that we flip the question to ask what disability can offer to Jewish wisdom. Her answer is the message that there is not only one way to move through the world and not only one way of thinking. Rabbi Belser defined ableism as the policies, norms, attitudes, and practices that oppress people assumed to be disabled. She said that ableism runs in conjunction with the idea of productivity culture, where we are only as good as our latest accomplishment. Her idea is that the practice of honoring Shabbat, and taking a day of rest, is the antidote to this form of ableism. This promotes the idea of your value for who you are rather than for what you do.

On this 15th anniversary of JDAIM, it is most appropriate to honor the memory of Judy Heumann just before the occasion of her first yahrzeit. She was an international leader in the Disability Rights Movement who fought for Jewish disability access and for the rights and dignity of all disabled people. Many more people came to know about her life through the documentary movie Crip Camp. When talking about the 504 protests (referring to section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities), shown in the movie, Judy said that they were successful because they did not focus on how they were different, but on their collective purpose. They focused on the community and the humanity in each other. A wonderful quote from Judy Heumann’s memoir Being Heumann is, “I was who I was meant to be. If you were to acquire a disability tomorrow, it would be a change, but I can tell you this: it wouldn’t have to be a tragedy. We are all human. Why do we see disability differently from any other aspect of being human?”

Helpful JDAIM Resources 

“What Do You Pray For?” A series of short interviews with Jews with disabilities.

A sneak peek and conversation about the upcoming film THIRTEEN. The film is based on a true story of a mother fighting to have a Bat Mitzvah for her disabled and terminally ill daughter. The discussion will center around the intersection of ableism and antisemitism and the impact in Jewish communities.
Registration required. Click here.

Resisting Ableism and Cultivating Access: Disability and Jewish Social Justice. Registration is required. Please click here to register

JDAIM Events: https://jcca.org/jewish-disability-month-events/

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