Jewish tradition teaches that every human being is created in the image of God and therefore is possessed of infinite worth. In the Mishnah, the rabbis teach that every person is obligated to say, “For my sake the world was created.” This teaching conveys the idea that there is something that each person — and only that person — can do for the world. This is equally true for disabled Jews. No less than the greatest leader in Jewish history, the prophet Moses, had a speech impediment. Yet advocates say the Jewish community still has a lot of work to do to fully integrate the disabled into the larger communal fabric. Below are several organizations working to do that.
Yad HaChazakah — The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center
Yad HaChazakah is a New York-based organization that provides a range of services to those with disabilities, from vocational training to singles events to Braille or large-print editions of Jewish texts. But the organization’s most unique quality is that it is led by Jews with disabilities. More than half the organization’s board members are themselves disabled or living with long-term health conditions.
Yachad — Hebrew for “together” — is a Jewish disabilities inclusion organization with chapters across North America and Israel. In 2017, the organization hosted over 800 social events, provided a summer experience for over 600 campers, held 200 Shabbat retreats, and trained 500 teachers to be more inclusive of those with disabilities. Yachad also provides Israel trips for individuals with disabilities and provides vocational and life-skills training.
Beit Issie Shapiro
Beit Issie Shapiro develops innovative therapies and other services for children and adults with a wide range of disabilities. The organization engages in advocacy on behalf of the disabled along with developing innovative technologies and educational methodologies to address their needs. The group has been recognized both in Israel and internationally for its work and estimates that its efforts impact roughly half-a-million people each year.
Founded in 2007 by the JCC in Manhattan, Reel Abilities is the largest film festival in the United States dedicated to telling the stories of people living with disabilities. The festival’s films are all captioned and the program is printed in Braille. Since its founding, the festival has expanded to over a dozen cities across North America and to activities beyond film, including discussions aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion.