Message From Our President
Did you know that February was Jewish Disability Awareness Month?
This February 2014 marked the sixth annual Jewish Disability Awareness Month whose goal it is to raise awareness and break down physical, communication and attitudinal barriers. For our veterans, for our families and our community, we need to be educated on what accessibility and inclusion really mean. There are some 650 million people worldwide who are living with a disability, about 10% of the world’s population. In Cuyahoga County alone, there are 203,870 people who are considered as disabled from ages 5+ which is 16.9% of the total population.
Shelly Christensen, program manager of the Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program, said, “the goal of Jewish Disability Awareness Month is to shift our attitudes to see that having a disability is part of the human condition and to see that humanity in each person we meet.”
The dictionary defines disability as 1) a lack of adequate power, strength or physical or mental ability; incapacity or 2) as a physical or mental handicap especially one that prevents a person from living a full, normal life or from holding a job or 3) as anything that disables or puts someone at a disadvantage, ie. “His mere six-foot height will be a disability in professional basketball” or 4) a legal disqualification.
My concern (and ours as a congregation) is how have we engaged in this discussion and what are we doing to raise awareness and acceptance? In Cleveland, The SEGULA and Etgar programs of the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland sponsored the 6th annual program of Special Needs Awareness by presenting the movie “A Smile as Big as the Moon” . Is that enough for us? Should we be doing more for our Emanu El community?
Certainly, we each know someone with a disability – short term and long term. We each recognize from among our loved ones and from friends and neighbors people who are disabled in one way or another. Perhaps we are aware of the stumbling blocks that stand in the way of the “full acceptance” of those with a disability. We have all read about those who have overcome disabilities – to run track with an artificial limb, to play wheel-chair basketball, to be part of the Dancing Wheels program. And yet, when confronted with someone in a wheel chair or someone who is handicapped, we often look away.
As people of faith, when we say that we are each created in God’s image, I hope that we believe as C . Joyce Bell wrote,
“We are all equal in the fact that we are all different. We are all the same in the fact that we will never be the same. … We are harmonious in the reality that we are all held to this earth by the same gravity. We don’t share blood, but we share the air that keeps us alive. “
And it is my hope that next February, Temple Emanu El will host one, if not more, opportunities for us to learn more about disability awareness and how each of us can play a part in breaking down the barriers that separate us.