This article was originally written for "Connections" Newsletter, published by a consortium of six agencies with the mission of encouraging, supporting and recognizing the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in all aspects of Jewish life in the Pittsburgh community. and is available online.
The Chasidic Master Yehudi HaKodesh (The Holy Jew), also known as Rabbi Yaakov Yitzhak of Pshi’scha, taught, “Good intentions alone, if not accompanied by action, are without value, as it is the action which makes the intentions so profound.”
Nowhere is it more important to back up our words with action than with issues of inclusion. It is easy to talk about what we ought to do, but when it comes to actually including those heretofore on the margins of society, we must do more than speak of our intentions. After all, to realize the fullness of our God-given potential we must be the change we hope to see in the world.
Since 2009, February has been set aside as national Jewish Disability Awareness Month (1) to raise our awareness of those who live with a disability or love someone who does and (2) to increase our familiarity with Jewish values that encourage our proactive inclusion of all people in the celebrations of daily life.
Both awareness and action are essential because, over and above those who have physical, mental, emotional and/ or learning challenges, as our population ages, more and more of us will also soon have our own issues affecting mobility, sight, hearing, and cognition.
Many are the Jewish communities across North America that are responding to the growing interest in supporting the full inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in ever aspect of Jewish life. What’s more, increasing numbers of Jews and Gentiles alike are coming to appreciate the wisdom in Judaism’s teaching that as all of us have been created in the image of the Holy One, every single one of us is of infinite and equal worth. And even so, each of us is unique. And as the Yehudi HaKodesh taught, with this recognition comes responsibility.
No person has been created in vain. And no one should ever be made to feel they are without a place among us. If we don’t treat our students, our children, our neighbors and their children, as a reflection of the Holy One in whose image all of us were fashioned, our actions will be the truest reflection of how we feel about God and God’s Creation.
On the other hand, if we are to create a community that truly celebrates the unity within our diversity, we must lower our community’s barriers to entry; we must commit ourselves to making every activity, program and service accessible to all; and we must make it crystal clear—in word and deed—that every person is a full member of our community.
The Friendship Circle, along with the other community organizations involved in the publication of this newsletter, understand this. Many congregations around the country—and even a few in Pittsburgh—are beginning to recognize this, too. After all, it’s one thing to preach such truth from the pulpit; but in the absence of action, big words are but false piety.