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Using My Experiences to Advocate for All With Disabilities

Using My Experiences to Advocate for All With Disabilities

Aaron Kaufman

Living with cerebral palsy can be frustrating and depressing at times, but I have found ways to turn that negative energy into a positive force for change as an advocate for disability rights. I am blessed with wonderful parents who taught me that it was my duty to advocate for people whose disabilities are more severe than my own, such as my brother who also has cerebral palsy.  Throughout my career, I internalized my parents’ message. I now work at The Jewish Federations of North America, as their principal lobbyist on disability policy, while also serving on the boards of four disability-related organizations.

I love my current job at The Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella organization for 148 Jewish federations in the United States and Canada. I love my job because each day I have the opportunity to advocate for my peers with disabilities. My experiences as a person living with a disability and the sibling of someone with an even more profound disability make me a better lobbyist, because I have endured and overcome most of the challenges that I talk about when meeting with congressional staff.

Judaism has always been extremely important to me and my family. My grandfather, the late Jay H. Kaufman, was Vice President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now known as the Union for Reform Judaism).  I am also a member of Temple Micah, a reform congregation located in Washington, DC, where I have repeatedly encouraged my synagogue to become more accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities. Even at work, one of the aspects of my job that I enjoy the most is helping Jewish Federations themselves to become more inclusive. 

Jewish teachings and values guide both my professional work and my personal life. I am a firm believer in the Jewish teaching of b'tzelem Elohim, that we are all created in the image of God. I also believe that advocating for people with disabilities is a matter of tzedakah, translated to mean justice, not charity. As a Jewish community, we have come a long way, but we have much more work to do before we can say that we truly embrace the teaching of b'tzelem Elohim.

Aaron Kaufman is the Senior Legislative Associate at the Jewish Federations of North America.