#JDAMblogs - A Review of Jewish Disability Advocacy Day

I’m thrilled to have participated in Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD) in Washington DC on February 6.  It was exciting to learn how much this program has grown in just four short years.  What began with a small group of twenty now boasts participation of more than 70!  Hats off to Dave Feinman the Senior Legislative Associate of the Jewish Federations of North America and Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, Senior Adviser on Disability Issues for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism for not only coordinating but inspiring such vast and meaningful participation.  

There were two components to the advocacy efforts of JDAD: 
  • Asking Members and Senators to sponsor the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which encourages saving private funds for the purpose of supporting individuals with disabilities
  • Asking Senators to support ratification of the Disabilities Treaty, which promotes the rights of people with disabilities across the globe based on the standard set by the Americans with Disabilities Act
In her d'var torah, Rabbi Landsberg taught that as a Jew, she looks forward to Shabbat. It is an opportunity to rest; to do less than she did all week. However, as an individual with a disability, she recognizes that there are far too many individuals with disabilities who do nothing all week long as they are unable to find suitable employment.  The joy of Shabbat is an opportunity to rest, but we must never mistake rest with doing nothing!

Allison Wohl, the Executive Director of the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination, briefed us on the ABLE Act. In her remarks, she shared her very personal journey of raising a child with Down Syndrome. She shared that after watching the stunning film Praying With Lior (if you haven’t seen it, you must!) her view of congregational life changed. In one of her most compelling statements she remarked that Lior taught her that she wanted to find a congregation that would celebrate her family, not simply accept them.

What a profound way to shape the culture of a synagogue community! 

We also heard from David Morrissey, Executive Director of the US International Council on Disabilities, in a briefing about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He works to remove social discrimination and its barriers, suggesting that what our society must do is move away from the “medical model of disability,” a view of disability as something that can and should be healed. 

Finally, Rachel Laser, Deputy Director of the Religious Action Center, quoted Leviticus 19:14 where we are commanded, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind,” and taught that we, as advocates for individuals with disabilities, must not allow the stumbling blocks to get in OUR way of advancing the work of inclusion.

As I mentioned, this opportunity pushed me to stretch outside my comfort zone. Political advocacy is not my typical “wheelhouse,” but I am so pleased that I actively participated in this day.

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