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“You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” So we are instructed by the Torah in the book of Leviticus. This reminds us that the imperative to ensure that our communities are inclusive of all, regardless of ability, has deep roots in our tradition.
Stumbling blocks, of course, can look like a lot of things, from stairs without ramps, lectures without ASL interpretation, and intolerance for those who need to move around during sermons to patronizing assumptions about what a person with a disability can and can’t actually do. It’s upon all of us, individually and together, to make sure that all of our Jewish spaces are open and welcoming—not just free of stumbling blocks, but welcoming and valuing the unique contributions of each person created b’tzelem elohim, in the Divine image.
Hillel is proud to partner with the Ruderman Family Foundation on this series of conversation guides aimed at deepening our awareness, sensitivity, and action around disability inclusion. These guides are built using our award-winning Ask Big Questions methodology. The Big Questions animating these conversations can help all of our communities, on campus and beyond, become even more welcoming and caring. When we ask ourselves, and one another, How are we seen? What advantages do you have? Who is in your community? How do we connect?, we engage in the ongoing work of empathy, understanding, and transformation.
As Rabbi Michael Safra puts it, “We can do more than accommodate. We can strive to be truly open, to be willing to be changed, to truly include others, with everything that inclusion entails. Unlike accommodation, which becomes unnecessary once certain changes are made, the process of building inclusive community never ends. There is always more we can do.”
The verse in Leviticus ends with a reminder: “You shall revere your God: I am the Holy One.” When we create spaces that truly cherish the offerings of each and every member of our community, we serve the Divine. We hope that these conversations are of service to this holy work.
Sheila Katz is Hillel International’s Vice President for Social Entrepreneurship.