Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month for 2023 is almost over. In March, the Faith Inclusion and Belonging team will evaluate RespectAbility’s first JDAIM since I joined the team. We will be reaching out to many of our national and community colleagues to find out what they promoted during JDAIM and how our Faith Inclusion and Belonging team can support their work going forward.
We are also committed to exploring collaborations in the multi-faith space and learning from others who are doing similar awareness programming. At the same time, our team will be learning from disability organizations that have spirituality and religious participation as part of their work.
Yesterday and today, I was glued to the view outside my office window, watching Mother Nature deliver a meteorological gut punch in the form of two feet of snow. I thought about the times JDAIM events had to be cancelled or drew only a handful of people thanks to weather in some parts of North America. Inclement weather never even occurred to me and my colleagues from the Jewish Special Education Consortium when we chose February for JDAIM back in 2009.
Years ago, I was responsible for organizing a community JDAIM event in my town. An enthusiastic group of disabled and non-disabled community members representing various Jewish organizations brainstormed ideas and settled on an event to hold space for disabled people and allies to share their Jewish stories. The event was called “Telling Our Stories.”
For two months storytellers worked on their presentations. We were dismayed when the National Weather Service issued a snowstorm warning a few days before performance day. At our final rehearsal, we all agreed that snow would not stop us!
The storm came as predicted. All morning we checked in with the storytellers to make sure they had safe transportation to the venue. Everyone was determined to get there. And they did!
The storytellers took their places on stage, in the wings, and in the first row of the theatre. I greeted audience members, thanking them for braving the weather. One person asked, “Can’t you move JDAIM to the summer?”
More than 100 people navigated the cold, the snow, and road conditions to watch their neighbors, friends, family members, and community members share their Jewish stories through song, spoken and signed words, and piano music.
As we close the book on another JDAIM, I know there is much more work ahead of us to eliminate stigma and ableism. This can only be achieved by committing to turn good intentions into actions. As a disabled person, it took me years to find a way to tell my story, not to inspire non-disabled people, but to celebrate my own uniqueness. Please don’t wait until next February to tell your story, and to listen to stories from others. There are eleven other months of the year, and the time is always right.