February was Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month and Temple Beth El participated by inviting distinguished community leaders to speak to us on each Shabbat during the month about various disabilities and how we in the Jewish community can help improve the Jewish lives of people with these disabilities. Dr. Carolyn Stern, a deaf family physician, spoke passionately about growing up deaf and inclusion issues affecting the deaf and hearing impaired Jewish community. Rabbi Michael Silbert spoke from the heart about raising autistic Jewish children from the perspective of being a Jewish parent and a Rabbi. And Emily Krohn, our Religious School Inclusion Specialist, chronicled all that has been accomplished by our Inclusion Team these past two years, and gave an overview of the work that still needs to be done.
As President of Temple Beth El, I have come to understand that the work of Inclusion falls into two broad categories: changing the way congregants think about people with disabilities, and providing the resources, both physical and programmatic, to make Temple Beth El more accessible. Put more succinctly it’s about Minds and Money. Temple Beth El has made significant inroads in the first category. Most of us would agree that having the opportunity to enter into relationships with people who have disabilities, and seeing and hearing people with disabilities at our services and events makes TBE a better place, a place more in tune with our values. We have been less successful in finding the funds to make the physical and programmatic changes that we desperately need. Hearing loops, sign language interpreters, smaller teacher/student ratios, and accessibility renovations all come with a significant price tag.
The Torah teaches that we are all created, “b’zelem El’ohim”, in God’s image. If we truly believe that each and every Jewish person deserves a place in our Beth El community, then we need to find the money to turn that belief into a reality.