No One Is Perfect

No One is Perfect, Removing the Stumbling Block

This week I am over at Matan with a dvar torah on tazria/m'tzora. A d’var Torah (a word of Torah) is a talk or essay based on the parsha (the weekly Torah portion).

This is one of those torah portions that you hope you don’t draw for your bat mitzvah. Yes, of course I know that there is no “bad” parsha. But nonetheless, when we reach tazria/m’tzora as we do this Shabbat, we find a parsha that speaks about ritual uncleanliness, skin disease and other such maladies. Woo hoo!

Tazria/m’tzora outlines myriad details about the ways Israelites can become ritually impure and specifies the rituals that they must perform in order to be brought back into normative relationship with their community.

But this is where I get stuck. Because if we are to take from this parsha a message that resonates with us today, I find myself struggling with this notion of “impure”. Is any one of us truly “pure”? I find myself drawing parallels from this notion of purity to the concept of perfection, even when we know that no one is perfect...READ MORE

Each One of Us Counts

Disability is not the defining characteristic of a person; Removing the Stumbling Block

The time on the Jewish calendar between the holidays of Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot is reserved for counting the omer. This mitzvah (commandment) derives from the Torah commandment to count forty-nine days beginning from the day on which the Omer, a sacrifice containing a measure of barley, was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, up until the day before an offering of wheat was brought to the Temple on Shavuot, the holiday that commemorates the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

We use this time for reflection on our journey through the wilderness as we move from freedom to revelation. As such, there are many wonderful commentaries and teachings on what it means to "count". Here are some of my thoughts: Prove that Every Child Counts.

In the coming weeks we will read the Torah portion Bemidbar, a census-taking of the Israelites in the wilderness. The Torah spends intentional time identifying exactly who was counted, listing them by names and by their families. This was a significant way of telling them: “You have names, you have families; you are dignified human beings, you are not EACH count!”

Too often people with disabilities are referred to by their classification, diagnosis, physical attributes or limitations. We hear people say, “the Autistic boy in my class” or “that girl in the wheelchair”. Even worse, we still hear words like crippled, retarded, handicapped or diseased. These words and statements are demeaning; undermining individuals for who they truly are.

It should be our goal to move away from the disability as the primary, defining characteristic of an individual, and rather recognize it as but one of several aspects of a whole person.

This sums it up nicely, I think: 

The importance of names in disability inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

As we relieve our journey through the wilderness, as we count the omer, let us remember God’s message to the Israelites, for it is still a message that we must embrace today:

 “You each count.”

The Wheelchair Advantage

The following is a story from last Passover that I have yet to share here. A version of this story originally ran on Kveller on April 17, 2014, but with the holiday once again upon us, I thought it timely to share now. In addition, as Josh currently recovers from neurosurgery, I reflect on how he consistently blows me away with his strength, determination and infectious laugh. Quite simply, as my son puts it, "Josh is a rock star."

Too quick to see disadvantage; Removing the Stumbling Block

At our first night’s seder, my 11-year-old daughter declared her desire to find the afikomen. You see, she informed me, this would be her only chance.

Puzzled, I asked why. After all, we were heading to a friend’s home for the second night, and there would most certainly be an afikomen hunt there, as well.

(Back story: The friends we celebrate Passover with have one son, Josh, who has Cerebral Palsy. I have written about him and my children’s relationship with him before. Our families have been celebrating second seder together for the past few years.)
So I asked my daughter why she believed she would have only one chance to find the afikomen.

“Because,” she said, “Josh always finds it.”

Hmm… “Really?”

“Yes. He always finds it. Because he has an advantage. He has wheels.”

And just like that I was clearly reminded of the importance and power of teaching our children to be accepting of disabilities.

Here’s what my daughter didn’t say:
“It’s not fair; Josh always wins because he’s in a wheelchair.”
“Josh will win; he always wins because his dad pushes him.”
“Josh wins because he gets help.”

Nope. Josh wins because he has the advantage of wheels.

We must teach all of our children to see the world through this lens. We live in a society that is far too quick to see disadvantage. If we are not deliberate, we will miss out on discovering the unique qualities that each of us possesses. Josh, in his wheelchair, with Cerebral Palsy and complicated medical issues, has an advantage.

Yes, yes he does.

Accommodation is NOT Inclusion

Too often we convince ourselves that making structural changes to meet an individual's needs is all it takes to become an inclusive community. Physical, academic and other accommodations are necessary to ensure that people with disabilities have full access and can succeed, to be sure, but such changes are not sufficient in and of themselves to deem a community inclusive.

Join me for a conversation called "Accommodation is NOT Inclusion" at Temple Shalom in Aberdeen, New Jersey on Monday, March 30. The program is free of charge and open to the community.

Lisa Friedman at Temple Shalom, Aberdeen; Removing the Stumbling Block

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