This past winter, LOTEM - Making Nature Accessible organized a hike for both Plagim School's Keren Or (Ray of Light) special needs class and fifth grade regular education class. Two students, one with special needs (Rom) and one from the regular education class (Gal), shared their experiences in a conversation with LOTEM on what going out to nature means to them.
In your mind’s eye, look around at those with whom you have celebrated past Seders.
A contemplative girl is full of questions: How could a respected family in Egypt so quickly become an enslaved nation? Why was Pharaoh so stubborn?
There’s the "Squirmer." If he doesn’t declare outright that he’d rather not be at the Seder, his body language clearly broadcasts the message.
Seated next to each other are two frustrated guests. One is always losing his place in the Haggadah, and the other’s eyes often stray to the kitchen.
During its recounting of the Exodus from Egypt, the Haggadah “pauses” to consider Seder participants resembling those described above. They are portrayed as four sons: one wise, one wicked, one simple and one who doesn’t know how to ask.
Rachel was, by turns, enthusiastic, grumpy, silly, listless, sunny and full of pre-teen attitude. As the result of her childhood stroke, she used a bright pink wheelchair to get around, and she communicated through hand gestures, vocalizations, facial expressions and a communication device called a Dynavox (also pink). Rachel’s love of Judaism was unmistakable, but her parents told us they had always hated the Four Children in the Hagaddah.
If Elijah had a disability would he be welcomed at your Seder? During Passover we traditionally have a cup of wine at our Seder table for Elijah and we open the door to let him in. Could he get into your home or the place in which you celebrate the Passover holiday? If Elijah used a wheelchair or had other ambulation challenges could he get in? Would you invite him in if he looked different or sounded unusual when he spoke? Could he participate in the rituals of Passover if he could not read the Haggadah? (For people who do not read or read well there is now an adapted Haggadah.)
Last month, many people worked tirelessly to make congregations and communities across our country aware of the capabilities and aspirations of Jews with disabilities. What can we do to transform the message of Jewish disability awareness into meaningful changes that bring us closer to full integration into Jewish life the other eleven months of the year?
Dramatic and widely publicized events have their place, but how long will their message remain effective? The experiences of the Biblical stories of Moses and Elijah remind us that ongoing “small quiet voices” must be heard after the fanfare. Let’s look at some “awareness initiatives” from early Jewish history that can help to guide us.
While there is still snow on the ground in parts of the northeast and most people are ready to transition from winter to spring, camp professionals think about summer all year long! We hire staff, recruit campers, host reunions, plan programs and participate in professional development. It is so important to share experiences with other camp professionals and to learn from them.
At Ramah, the camping arm of Conservative Judaism, we are excited to share our experiences in inclusive camping with colleagues from throughout the Jewish camping world.