Rabbi Saperstein: "We gather to affirm the Jewish community's determination to work on disability issues and to stand with the entire disability rights community to achieve our legislative priorities."
William Daroff: "People living with disabilities contribute significantly not only to the Jewish community, but to American society as a whole."
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 16, 2011 -- Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and William Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office of The Jewish Federations of North America, hosted Congressional staff and Jewish disability advocates yesterday at a briefing in recognition of the third annual Jewish Disability Awareness Month. The briefing, titled "Nothing About Us Without Us: The Disability Community's Legislative Priorities in the 112th Congress," highlighted the issues of importance to the disability community and the work of Jewish organizations providing for the needs and promoting the strengths of people with disabilities.
Rabbi Saperstein delivered the opening remarks, followed by Mr. Daroff and a panel presentation from Curt Decker, Executive Director of the National Disability Rights Network; Eve Hill, Senior Vice President of the Burton Blatt Institute; and Ari Ne'eman, President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. They were joined by U.S. State Department Special Advisor on International Disability Rights Judy Heumann, Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) and senior staff for Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) also spoke.
Excerpts from Rabbi David Saperstein's and William Daroff's prepared remarks appear below:
Rabbi Saperstein: We read in Genesis, Chapter 1, verses 26 and 27, that everyone, man and woman, is created in God's image. From these lines, we learn a fundamental principle of our tradition: that everyone deserves to be treated with the same dignity and respect. That includes all people -- abled and differently abled.
Jewish tradition also teaches us of our obligation to ensure equal access for all people and to help facilitate the full participation of individuals with disabilities in religious and public life. We are taught in Pirke Avot, Ethics of our Fathers, "Do not separate yourself from the community." The converse is equally compelling: We must prevent anyone from being separated against his or her will. Such separation occurs all too frequently, whether it is the child separated from his peers in a classroom, the professional separated from her colleagues after being denied a promotion, or the grown adult cut off from the rest of the community because the only place to receive affordable long-term services is in a hospital, nursing home or other institution.
We are gathered today to say this can, this must, this will change. We gather to affirm the Jewish community's determination to work on disability issues and to stand with the entire disability rights community to achieve our legislative priorities. We gather to say to America: We are all part of one community.
William Daroff: "People living with disabilities contribute significantly not only to the Jewish community, but to American society as a whole. This month serves as an opportunity to help shine a light on their gifts and raise awareness about what support the disabled need to succeed. We must let people with disabilities know how much we value them, not just this month, but all year. It must be a commitment we prioritize in our community as we take real steps to listen to and engage these inspiring individuals."