October 23, 2014 · 29 Tishrei

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Hineinu - An Introduction

"A human being mints many coins from the same mold, and they are all identical. But the Holy One, Blessed be God, strikes us all from the mold of the first human and each one of us is unique."
- Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5

The Torah states that each of us is created B'tzelem Elohim, in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and describes the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah welcoming strangers to their home. Yet there are Jews with physical, developmental, emotional, intellectual, and other disabilities who do not have the opportunities to participate in the richness of Jewish life because multiple barriers still exist in attitudes and access.

When those barriers are eliminated, many Jews with disabilities find warmth, welcome, and a sense of belonging to their Jewish community. As Torah teaches us, "You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind." (Leviticus 19:14)

Historically, people with disabilities have been regarded in light of impairments that are apparent, such as physical, communication, and sensory disorders. Judaism recognizes that people can have disabilities that are not apparent, including but not limited to autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, executive functioning disorders, and mood disorders. Regardless of whether a disability is apparent, Judaism understands that because each person is unique, accommodations must be able to meet their needs so they can participate in personally meaningful opportunities.

More can and must be done to build a more inclusive Jewish community. In an inclusive community our buildings, facilities, and programming are accessible to all people with apparent and not-apparent disabilities, our demeanor is welcoming, and our language is appropriate – including using "person-first language," which puts the person before the disability (i.e. referring to a "person with a disability" rather than a "disabled person"). Then all Jews, regardless of ability, will have the opportunity for meaningful participation in the richness of Judaism.



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