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Looking for Hope? Meet Matan Koch

Question: What do Shavuot (Shavuos) and COVID-19 have in common? Answer: The call for faith, prayer, and hope . . . and the comfort of cheesy (or non-cheesy) blintzes (or gluten-free blintzes). It is also said that if you put two blintzes side by side on your plate, then you have the visual image of a Torah. Nice, right? Experiential learning.

(Full disclosure – Debbie Fink from our team wrote that. She’s a genius and a gem!)

Shavuot is the holiday that sanctifies the Giving of the Torah – translated to z’man Matan Toratenu. If God was giving us the Torah, we had to be present to receive it. It’s tradition to spend erev (eve of) Shavuot studying – receiving – the gift of the Torah. This year, for those participating in an all-night Zoom Torah study session, you’ll hopefully feel God’s presence as you partake in God’s presents.

Synagogue attendance is not a 2020 option for those observing social distancing. Hence, a few home suggestions are: 1) Read and reflect on the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19:1-20:23). It is said that all Jewish souls – those with and without disabilities; those from the past, present, and future – were present for the Revelation at Sinai. This ‘triple-tense’ connectivity rivals Zoom’s connectivity. Speaking of those from the past . . . remember to 2) Recite Yizkor for your loved ones who have passed. (Yes, we recite Yizkor when it falls on Shabbat, which it does this year.) Take comfort in the notion that, again, we were all together at Sinai during the first Shavuot. Feel the presence of those whom you have loved and lost. May we know no more loss due to, or during, this pandemic. Ken Yehi Ratzon. May it be so.

So . . . for another Hebrew twist: back to z’man Matan Toratanu: Last week we featured the Jewish Journal’s cover story about our Matan Koch. This week I want to share an excerpt from a recent editorial in the Jewish Journal, “Looking for Hope? Meet Matan Koch”, by David Suisa. Let us draw strength from Matan’s message of hope and from Shavuot’s teachings, and let us continue to hope: to hope for equity and inclusion for all people with disabilities – present and future; and to hope for a cure, a vaccine, a return to work, to school, to synagogues, to simchas, to camps, to travel, to dating, to ballgames, to communal burials and shivas; and so importantly, to visits with loved ones, and on and on and on.

Again, I find myself saying: Ken Yehi Ratzon. May it be so.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
President, RespectAbility


Looking for Hope? Meet Matan Koch

by David Suissa, Jewish Journal

Matan Koch meets with the disability inclusion committee of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El outside Philadelphia Pennsylvania a few years ago

Matan Koch meets with the disability inclusion committee of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El outside Philadelphia Pennsylvania a few years ago

“The Greeks gave the world the concept of tragedy. Jews gave it the idea of hope,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote. “The whole of Judaism — although it would take a book to show it — is a set of laws and narratives designed to create in people, families, communities and a nation, habits that defeat despair.”

Sacks characterizes this impulse as the refusal to accept darkness as inevitable. That’s why, he wrote, “It is no accident that so many Jews are economists fighting poverty, or doctors fighting disease, or lawyers fighting injustice.”

Last year, I met one of those activist lawyers, Matan Koch, just before he moved to Los Angeles. Koch, who gets around in a wheelchair, is the subject of our cover story this week.

Since December, he has been the California Director of RespectAbility, a fast-rising nonprofit working to advance opportunities for people with disabilities.

Read the full article at the Jewish Journal


In our weekly Shabbat Smiles, RespectAbility welcomes a wide spectrum of voices. The views expressed in each Shabbat Smile are those of the guest contributor.

The Shabbat Smile is curated and edited by Debbie Fink, RespectAbility’s Director of Community Outreach and Impact and Vivian Bass, RespectAbility Executive Committee Board Member. If you would like to write a Shabbat Smile, please email Debbie at DebbieF@RespectAbility.org.

Meet the Author

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the President of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. She regularly works with disability organizations, national, state and local policy leaders, workforce development professionals, media, employers, philanthropists, celebrities and faith-based organizations in order to expand opportunities for people with disabilities. To reach her, email JenniferM@RespectAbility.org.

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