Rachel Feld-Glazman of Temple Kol Ami in New York is the co-chair of her congregation’s Inclusion Committee. She recently wrote me to ask how the subject of inclusion of people with disabilities could be woven into the service on a regular basis. Rachel was going to schedule a meeting with the clergy to brainstorm ways to make this happen. Kol Ami is on the ball. They have an inclusion statement and schedule programming for Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Rachel is talking about furthering the cultural shifts in her congregation by making inclusion an enduring part of the worship service.
Should there be an addition to the Misheberach prayer that we say during services? This is the prayer for healing. The Misheberach asks God to give strength of body and soul to those who need healing, their caregivers and service providers. The prayer is often said over the Torah at the end of the reading and is a quiet and reflective time where the names of those who are ill are read.
In a talk during Jewish Disability Awareness Month, my son Jacob responded to an audience member who asked how he dealt with his” illness” (Asperger syndrome) in his studies at the University of Minnesota. Jacob took a breath and responded.
“First of all, Asperger syndrome is not an illness. Disability is not an illness. It is just a part of who we are—those of us who have disabilities. We do not require healing or pity. We just want live our lives.”
We could, however, pray for endurance to travel through our days with intention, focus on our tasks and awareness of our world. We could pray for persistence in turning the attitudes of people toward compassion and kindness, but not pity. We could add the prayer “Blessed is Adonai, Ruler of the Universe, Who makes people different.” And we could pray that our Kehilat Kedosha (Holy Congregation) join those of us who have disabilities on our Jewish journeys, by welcoming us, inviting us to sit with them at services and Onegs, by taking the time to listen to those of us who are slow of speech, and by opening doors, both literally and figuratively, to all the ways that we participate in Jewish life.