Posts Tagged 'Inclusion'

“PAINTING OVER” BARRIERS TO JEWISH CAMP

As a person committed to social justice and accessibility, I often think about the ways in which we can be more welcoming and inclusive of people with disabilities. As a Rabbi and Jewish communal professional my work tends to focus on what we can do as a Jewish community to live up to these ideals. I recently had a profound and unexpected moment of reflection, however, in a seemingly unlikely place: the parking lot of a Target. I came across the following image, and was so struck by it that I had to stop and take a picture.

This image shows a new icon signifying that the parking spot is reserved for people with disabilities, painted over an older version of the same icon. Though there are only slight differences between the two images, I found the changes – and what they signify about people with disabilities – worthy of reflection.

The older image is the current International Symbol of Access, depicting a stick figure sitting passively in a wheel chair. The new image – from the *Accessible Icon Project – also portrays a stick figure in a wheel chair, but so much more as well. We see that the figure’s head is forward, to indicate the forward motion of the person through space. The arm angle is pointing backward to suggest the dynamic mobility of a chair user. Depicting the body in motion indicates that the figure is navigating the world. Even the wheels look like they are moving.

Quite simply: the first image shows us a person sitting in a wheelchair. The second image shows us someone living their life, while using the wheelchair as a tool. The person in the second image has places to go and people to see. The wheelchair (signifying disability) is an important part of the image, but it doesn’t define it – or the human figure in it. The fact that the new image is painted over the old makes it even more powerful – it almost looks as if the figure is actively breaking free from the old image of passivity, refusing to be bound by the preconceived notions of others.

Judaism teaches us that we are all equal regardless of background, faith, gender identity, sexuality, culture, ethnicity, or level of ability. Each of us needs to play an active role in treating each other with dignity, compassion, and love. We know this. It is a cornerstone of our Jewish identity. And yet, when it comes to Jewish people with disabilities, are we doing enough to provide equal access to Jewish communal life? Despite our best intentions, are we sometimes guilty of viewing Jewish people with disabilities as passively adjacent to – but not active members of – our communities? If so, how can we “paint over” this older way of thinking to create more accessible communities in which we can meaningfully engage more Jewish people with disabilities?

In reflecting on these questions, I came to the following question which seems to contain them all: What is my responsibility to my fellow Jew? The Gemara in Sanhedrin has an answer, claiming “Kulan Areivim Zeh B’Zeh– All of Israel are each others guarantors.”(Sanhedrin 27b) To prove this the Gemara cites Leviticus:

They will stumble, each man over his brother as if from before a sword, but there is no pursuer; you will not have the power to withstand your foes (Leviticus 26:37)

I cannot read this without thinking of all of the times that we “stumble” as a community because we are not being “guarantors” of one another by ensuring that Jewish people with disabilities are active participants in Jewish communal life. It is only when we recognize that we all are active divine agents in our community that we can move forward without stumbling, strengthened by everyone’s innate value.

At Foundation for Jewish Camp, we take accessibility and inclusion seriously. The experience of attending Jewish camp is an important milestone for so many young Jewish people, and I’m proud of our consistent efforts to increase accessibility for Jewish campers and staff with disabilities. So many Jewish camps are doing incredible work around inclusivity. And with the recent creation of the Yashar Initiative (generously funded by a $12 million grant from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation), we’ll be able to partner with day and overnight camps to further increase accessibility for campers and staff with disabilities, as well as provide essential trainings for staff. We hope this support will significantly increase the number of campers and staff with disabilities who are able to participate in Jewish camp.

We know there’s still much work to be done regarding inclusion at Jewish camp, and we refuse to be passive. We will not stumble. We are committed to actively moving forward, breaking free from the status quo, and doing our part to create a more welcoming and accessible Jewish camp experience. I invite all Jewish communal professionals and institutions to join us in “painting over” any barriers to Jewish communal life. Let’s actively work together to create a more inclusive, diverse, and vibrant Jewish world, Zeh B’Zeh.

*Check out the 99% Invisible Podcast for more information on this topic.

-cross posted with FJC’s Blog

Advertisements

One of Us: Heathens

Two years ago my kids and I could not get in the car and listen to the radio without listening to the song Heathens by 21 Pilots Just like Desposito, Heathens was all the rage. I must warn you before you listen to it that this song is a bit of an earworm. Please just remember that you have been warned.

 

 

The song plays with the idea of being an insider or an outsider to this group of a misfit group of heathens. But what is a heathen? A heathen is a person who does not belong to a widely held religion. Today people feel like they are outsiders to faith and are in turn skeptical of people who want to join them. As the song goes:

Why’d you come, you knew you should have stayed
I tried to warn you just to stay away
And now they’re outside ready to bust
It looks like you might be one of us

The song tells the story of an outsider to a group of outsiders and how that person becomes an insider.

This reminds me of three successive stories told in the Talmud of three heathens who come before Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shamai ( Shabbat 31a). Each of them hoped to join the Jewish people, but came with a unique stipulation. In each case Shamai pushes them away and Hillel finds a way to meet them where they are. With Hillel’s help they join the Jewish people. In the process they relented on their stipulation and they were transformed. The outsider becomes an insider of this group of outsiders. In someone way, at least by this story being shared in the Talmud, we as a people were also changed by their joining us. This leaves me with the question in these three stories as with the song Heathens, were the outsiders accommodated or included?

I was thinking about this when reading Shoftim, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

If there be found in your midst, within any of thy gates which the Lord your God gives you, man or woman, that does that which is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing God’s covenant, and has gone and served other gods, and worshiped them, or the sun, or the moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have commanded not; and it be told you, and you hear it, then shalt you inquire diligently, and, behold, if it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel; then you shall bring forth that man or that woman, who have done this evil thing, unto your gates, even the man or the woman; and you shall stone them with stones, that they die.( Deuteronomy 17:2- 5)

These are some harsh words for the heathen. They are supposed to be excluded in the most severe way, being stoned to death. Do we still want to maintain such a harsh disposition to the “heathens” in our midst? Maybe we should be more like Hillel and strive to meet people where they are. I appreciate the fear of Shamai, we are a group of outsiders to history. We have a lot at risk of losing our identity by compromise in any way shape or form. At the same time I feel that we have what to gain from real mutual engagement with people different than ourselves. I do not think that Hillel was just accommodating, if we actually include these outsiders we might just realize that they “might be one of us.”

Playing with Your Food

Soon enough the Seder will be here. After we sit down and have our first cup of wine we will say, “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and celebrate Passover.” These are not original, but I wanted to ask three questions. Why do we open the Seder with these words? Why do we make the Matzah the focal point of our discourse on freedom? Isn’t it a little late to be inviting people to our Seder?

Both literally and figuratively we want to make sure that everyone has a place at the table. So while we should be concerned about people who are hungry and are excluded due to poverty, we are also concerned with those who for other reasons are excluded from joining in the celebration. At its core, Passover is a holiday in which we celebrate becoming a nation. As we start the Seder we remind ourselves that we need to retell the national narrative in a way that includes everyone.

It is not surprising to see food as the media of choice for a ritual. We do love our food. In many respects we preserve memory with all of our eating. At its core Passover is a celebration of the vitality of the Jewish People. From its conception we split up into family groups to celebrate the Passover sacrifice. In reality as much as we talk about living in a greater Jewish community; we all live in many different smaller communities. So while we have a mitzvah to sit and eat and remember, inviting people to our Seder knits together our communities into this ideal larger community.

We might think that it is too late to wait until we are sitting at our Seder to invite people. I prefer to think about the fact that we are challenging ourselves for the work of the entire upcoming year. Whether the issue is poverty or inclusion in the community, there is not going to be a quick fix that we can accomplish in the night of the Seder. To the contrary, we are actually committing ourselves to do the heavy lifting throughout the course of the whole year. Through sharing meals we each can connect to the network of Jewish tables, but is one meal enough? We need to work all year to link these communities in a deep and lasting way.

The Seder begins with this Matzah and it ends with the finding and eating of the Afikoman. In the Seder, the Matzah keeps our attention focused through a game of hide and seek. Through the course of year we are also playing another game of linking people to our common table. Similar to what we see on Purim it would be an interesting game of connecting the dots if we were to map out how a network of Mishloach Manot was connected.

Thanks to a grant from Avi Chai this past summer I attended Games for Change. This is a wonderful conference on using games for education and social change. There I learned about Macon Money. Macon Money is a community-wide social game designed for the residents of Macon, Georgia. Using a new local currency with a fun twist, the game builds person-to-person connections throughout the community while supporting local businesses. This game seemed to have been an amazing way to create positive incentives around the people of Macon building community. I would encourage you to learn more about how the game worked. In addition to giving its participants the feeling of community, it produced amazing data.

I am not trying to limit our imagination about Passover to a large social game like Macon Money, but you have to admit that there are some similarities and they are both fun. I have no doubt that if you mapped out the Mishloach Manot from your community or our efforts to invite people to our Seder it would look like this data from Macon Money.

In addition, there is no doubt that realizing this network on Passover has an effect on community throughout the year. What would it look like to play a version of Macon Money in a local Jewish community? How might this change how we think about and even do community throughout the year? What would it look like as an experiment to take some money out of core allocations from our local Federations and give that money to the users to create community and let them use this communal currency to “play Jewish community”? I am not only interested in making participation fun; I am also interested in inverting how we spend our time and money. What would it look like for agencies to be spending less energy, money, and time arguing and reporting on the importance of their work to the people who volunteer and work at Federations and more time reaching out to people to use their services and participate in the community? The work of Federation is serious work, but this does not mean we should overlook the value of games. I am not overlooking the fact that games can craft serious fun, but this kind of game is important because the game mechanics themselves create incentives for the desired behavior at every level.

I am not suggesting that we leave the future of our community up to chance. I realize that there might be a risk of putting this spending power in the hands of the players, but this will all be happening within the larger planning process for a community or what the players call the rules of the game. But structuring this like Macon Money ensures that our communal currency is current and up to date with the changing needs of our community. It might be interesting to see how this kind of game might play out (pun intended) in terms of including the people most excluded from our Seder. Our future is way too serious to not have fun with it. It is time to play with our food.

Chag Kasher V’Sameakh- Have Fun and Liberating Passover

-As seen on Avi Chai’s Education Technology Blog and Adapted from my blog on Purim


More on Woodcutters and Water Carriers

Last week marked our daughter Emunah’s first birthday and my first year anniversary of writing this blog. At the start of last week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim VaYelech we read,

9You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, 10your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodcutter to water carrier (Deuteronomy  29:9-10)

Every Jew was included in the renewal of the covenant, regardless of his or her socio-economic situation or the variety of his or her religious/ritual commitment. But, what can we learn from the Torah’s specifying from the woodcutter to the water carrier?

The Bible seems to be telling a story of a dynamic tension between these two vocations. Last year I explored how Adam and Eve might be understood metaphorically as the woodcutter and the water carrier. This year I wanted to suggest two more readings.

Soon after we celebrate Rosh HaShanah we will celebrate Simchat Torah and reboot our yearly cycle of Torah reading.  And then just after the creation of the world, we will turn our attention to Noah and his generation. While there are many stories in the Bible in which people are looking for water, in the time of Noah that is not their issue. God sent a flood to expunge the world of the poor behavior of the sinners of Noah’s generation. Noah saved humanity from the peril of too much water by following God’s direction to make and ark of gopher wood (Genesis 6:14) In this context we can see that the people acting like animals were the water carriers and Noah in hewing the wood for the ark was the woodcutter. This is to say that in last week’s Torah portion we were inviting everyone from the savior ( Noah)  to the sinner ( the people who caused the flood). We learn that no one has the monopoly on access to Torah.

For today’s readers the story of the flood seems like a Disney movie, but have evolved so much since biblical times. We think we are in control and that we have conquered nature. But it is obvious from the recent flooding  in Pakistan and Katrina here in America that this is far from the case. As much as we try we cannot transcend nature. Even Noah the person who survived the flood by becoming the woodcutter did not know when to leave the ark he built. There we read,
The dove came back to him toward evening, and there in its bill was a plucked-off olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the waters had decreased on the earth.( Genesis 8:11)
There is a sweet irony in that we almost went extinct in acting like animals in becoming the water carriers and it was an animal that became a woodcutter and saved Noah and his family.  In this sense the invitation of the woodcutter to the water carrier  is a reminder of the famous words of Rabbi Simcha Bunam. He said,
Every person should have two pockets. In one, [there should be a note that says] bishvili nivra ha’olam, ‘for my sake was the world created.’ In the second, [there should be a note that says] anokhi afar va’efer, ‘I am dust and ashes.’
It seems that control itself might be illusory. I hope that Emunah has another wonderful year perfecting her walking and learning how to navigate her “two pockets”.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 177 other followers

Archive By Topic

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: