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Why don’t more of our communities welcome Jews with disabilities?

JewsDisabilitiesBy Rabbi Avi Weiss    
June 2, 2013
Haaretz

Clubby synagogues that don’t welcome the physically and mentally challenged have the real handicap: the aspiration of Judaism is not for perfection, but for community and redemption.

Perfection. This seems to be the ideal of Torah in ritual leadership, as only the perfect Kohen, (Leviticus 21:17-19) one without any blemishes, can serve in the Temple.

One naturally wonders why – why should it be that only the Kohen who is perfect can serve in the Temple?

One could suggest that the prohibition does not stem as much from the capabilities of the Kohen as it does from the community he serves. In other words, the reason for the disqualification does not stem as much from the Kohen’s handicap, but from the congregation that is unable to accept or receive the service of someone who is less than whole.

This is Maimonides' concept of accommodation, found in the “Guide of the Perplexed.” According to this view, some of the laws of the Torah were given to the people to accommodate where they were at. In the Biblical era and in the era of the Temple, the community was uncomfortable being followers of leaders who were physically and, for that matter, mentally challenged.

Discomfort with those who are challenged continues to this day. Many people shun those who are disfigured, those with Down Syndrome or autism and those who are wheelchair-bound.

This dynamic especially manifests itself in the realm of leadership. U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s staff did all they could to make sure that the public would never see pictures of him in a wheelchair, even though he was stricken with polio. No doubt they believed that such an image would make it more difficult for Americans, and the larger world, to accept Roosevelt as a powerful leader.

It shouldn’t be this way. Recently I was at the Skirball Center of New York University where Dr. Phil Schneider, one of the brilliant speech therapists of our time, was being honored. He was being acclaimed because of the contributions he has made in helping people who stutter. The award was given in a ceremony that included presentations by celebrities, together with those who stuttered – many of whom were Phil's students.

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My Father's Train Ride

FathersTrainRideBob Brody
Jun 14 2013, 7:06 AM ET
The Atlantic

When educating a deaf five-year-old meant sending him 868 miles from home

The five-year-old boy who is to become my father in 20 years stands on a platform in Newark Penn Station with his mother and father waiting for the train that will soon take him away from all he has ever known and loved. It's September, 1931.

He hands the conductor his ticket and steps onto the train under the care of a porter assigned to him. His parents wave goodbye to him and he waves back. He is all by himself now, headed to a destination 868 miles away.

Nobody else on the train knows his name or where he's going or, for that matter, his most defining physical characteristic -- that he's severely hard of hearing, all but deaf. Because his mother gave birth to him while she had German measles, he was born able to discern only about 10% of all sounds. He has difficulty making himself understood when he speaks, and an equally hard time understanding anyone who talks to him.

The train rattles across America, through Pennsylvania and Ohio, on into Indiana and Illinois. The boy understands only that he is going away, but has no idea for how long. Finally, he arrives in St. Louis, Missouri, at his new home away from home, the Central Institute for the Deaf.

There he will stay for the next 10 years, rarely visiting home during holidays. There, in the face of a society that regards the deaf largely as dumb -- several doctors originally diagnosed him as retarded -- he is to study hard. He is to learn how to speak without relying on sign language, how to listen and how to read, how to function the same as a hearing person -- learn, in effect, how to hear.

For years I condemned his parents for the decision to ship him off. First, the kid loses his hearing, then his family and home, too. The decision addressed one disability but created a second one.

Because his parents dispatched him, he never learned how to be a member of a family, neither as a son nor as a brother, husband nor father. How could he? And so I held a grudge against my grandparents, a chip on my shoulder that grew bigger every year.

As it happened, the boy who became my father went on to become among the first students with hearing loss ever accepted at Washington University, and graduated from Rutgers University. In 1969 he founded a non-profit organization to establish a network that, for the first time, would enable the deaf to communicate with one another and everyone else by phone.

Toward that end, my father bought, stored, adapted, promoted and distributed teletypewriters, or TTYs. The devices materialized in homes, schools, hospitals, libraries and local police, fire and emergency call departments, first in New York and New Jersey, then nationwide. He also invented the world's first Braille TTY for deaf-blind people.

For all his public service the deaf community honored him with awards. Bell Telephone accepted him to the Telephone Pioneers of America, only the 29th member since Alexander Graham Bell in 1911. He once received a letter on White House stationary -- congratulations on his accomplishments from President Ronald Reagan.

Ultimately, then, my father learned to make do with his hearing loss. He never told me what those years away from his parents and two sisters felt like. He left me to imagine how lonely he must have felt, how homesick and abandoned, almost orphaned.

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Why are most event announcements old?

editorAnnounce and Publicize your events in Advance!

This is a message we say repeatedly to organizations and community leaders.

By the time we receive, or find out about announcements of holiday events and interpreted services, there may not be enough time to post their event information to JDCC News and give you enough time to make your plans, or the events may even have already happened.

If you had wondered why many event announcements you read in JDCC News are old or have already passed -- now, you know why! Please tell your local event organizers to inform JDCC News ahead of time!

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