Living Up to My Inclusive Values

Birthright; Removing the Stumbling Block

I’ve had more than a month to reflect. 

I've recovered from the jet lag and gotten rid of that awful sinus infection. 

I’ve posted my pictures and thoroughly enjoyed everyone else’s. 

And yet, it’s taken me more than a month to write this post. Mostly because I have something challenging to write, and I don’t always know how to share the difficult stuff.

Need to catch up?

I led my first Kesher Birthright trip from December 25 – January 5 and IT WAS AMAZING! I loved everything about it. Even being more physically exhausted than I’ve ever been in my life, spiking a fever on the flight home and struggling through jet lag while sick, this was an experience worth every moment. I’ve described it to some people like childbirth – even moments after recovering I was ready to do it all again!

So I guess you are wondering what was so challenging.

Before I left I shared my three reasons for choosing to lead a Birthright trip

1. Honoring a dear friend who lost a battle with cancer. She continues to inspire me and I strive each day to follow her example and live out loud in even a fraction of the way that she did. I brought her with me and held those memories close throughout the ten days.  

2. Authenticity: I believe firmly that we need to walk to the walk and that it is not sufficient to say, “You should do this,” without the genuine, first-hand knowledge of why, whenever possible.  

3. But it is number three that poses the challenge. I shared that I had a “hidden agenda” to understand and uncover ways that Kesher Birthright trips could be more accessible and inclusive to those with disabilities. And what I learned is that it will not be easy.

You see, the pace of the trip is fast, really fast, a fact that would challenge anyone with mobility issues.

And the schedule sometimes changes without much notice, a fact that would challenge someone who relies on structure and order.

The individual experiences can be intense, without much time to process before moving on to the next, a fact that would challenge someone who needs more alone time or more time to process what he/she is experiencing.

Please do not misunderstand, it is absolutely possible. I know it is. And I am SO glad that I now have the “inside” knowledge to help make it so. But we are not there yet.

Here is an example that, while resolved, has left me with the clear picture of why this will not be easy:

There was a young man on our trip who had sustained a significant injury a number of years ago. While entirely cleared for this experience and able to participate in every physical activity, he still lives with the memory of and the lingering aches & pains associated with that injury. A highlight of the trip for many is the one night that participants sleep together in a Bedoin tent. However, it is a true tent, and while each participant receives a sleeping bag and a mat to sleep on, they figure out additional comfort on their own. This participant was, rightfully, concerned about sleeping without a pillow (many use sweatshirts or jackets for this). For our group, there were a number of things happening at once, including the departure of one of our Israeli participants due to a high fever. I went to our tour guide, who said he had an extra pillow, but was also deeply involved in this other issue. I went to the staff of the facility, but they had nothing. I went to the participant and offered some potential solutions, asking him to circle back to me if they were not viable. In the moment, I thought I was doing the best I could with the situation. But it was not enough. He needed the pillow, but it got lost in the mix of the many other “fires” being put out that night. And this was wrong.
When I put myself back into the space of inclusion and reflect, I can see that I did not live up to my own inclusive values; Removing the Stumbling Block

When I put myself back into the space of inclusion and reflect, I can see that not only did I not live up to my own inclusive values that night, but this trip as a whole cannot yet fully meet the needs of a diverse group of varying abilities and disabilities. 

And that’s why it’s been hard for me to write this. Because this is not meant to be a criticism. Rather; a realization, and maybe a call to action. It has forced me to look hard at my own values and recognize that there are times when I come up short. I’m human, I know. And I can forgivemyself. But it is so critical that we take a hard look at what we are up to if we hope to improve it for others.

I am ready to be a partner in creating an inclusive Kesher Birthright an experience. I am ready to staff such an experience. I am ready to ask the difficult questions and do the hard work needed to make such a trip a reality for our Movement. It will require thought and planning. It will require more money and resources. It will require commitment and passion.

But just like every other inclusive experience – IT WILL BE WORTH IT.

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