February is one of my favorites months of the year, as it is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month (JDAAIM). I am so excited that the first Shabbat in JDAAIM is Parshat Yitro (Torah Portion Jethro).
In this parshah, Yitro sees Moshe (Moses) and the Children of Israel for the first time since the exodus from Egypt. Yitro sees Moshe trying to be the judge for all of the people and he tells Moshe that this system is untenable; he can’t do it alone. Yitro suggests he should appoint other judges to help him with this process. The suggestion of needing others is not unique to Yitro and Moshe, but rather it is fundamental to those of us with disabilities and our caregivers. We can see and learn from this that if Moshe, the greatest prophet of all prophets, couldn’t do it alone, we don’t have to do it alone either. Creating a circle of support, whether through an organization, friends and family, or even online, is vital to relieving the stress that is often a part of our daily lives. When we realize we’re not alone, it takes a tremendous weight off our shoulders and allows us the opportunity to take a deep breath, relax, and persevere. If you find yourself isolated, reach out to others. It’s not only okay, but important to ask for help. RespectAbility is just one of many places that can help find you some support if you cannot find it on your own. Please reach out if you need this kind of help and someone will get back to you.
Later on, in the Torah portion, something unique happens. When the tribes are described elsewhere in the Torah, each tribe is described with its own strengths and weaknesses, with its own failures and successes, and its own set of responsibilities. Each of the tribes always encamp separately. Yet in this week’s Torah portion when the Children of Israel are sitting in front of Mount Sinai preparing to receive the Torah, they encamp together. In this moment of incredible education, the tribes come together and encamp, not in the plural as usual, but in the singular, not as separate units but as a whole, as one people-the Children of Israel. Each person providing their own perspective, not only to their respective tribes, but to all of the Children of Israel. In the three days leading up to the receiving of the Torah, there was much done by the collective group in preparation. This preparation was both individual and collective and required not just the priests, not just one tribe, not just the elders. There was no differentiation between individual tribes nor ability, everyone was to receive the Torah together as a whole. As often as we can we should view this inclusive experience as a blueprint for our daily lives. This is important in many contexts, religion, education, socially, and vocationally. This teaches us the importance of inclusion in all aspects of life and is the bedrock of what the disability community can teach those who are not yet part of the disability community.
Jason Lieberman was named one of the New York Jewish community’s 36 Under 36 by the New York Jewish Week in 2013. He continues to be a sought-after public speaker, who has spoken in various venues throughout the United States and abroad for over 20 years. He lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City with his wife Emily and son Ruby. Read his full bio here.