No Jew Should Be Left Behind

Opinion

By Lynne Landsberg

Published February 17, 2010, issue of February 26, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Traditionally, the Jewish community commemorates the Sabbath before the holiday of Purim with a special reading that begins with the word zachor — “remember.” The passage reads, “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey after you left Egypt — how undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary and cut down all the stragglers in your rear” (Deuteronomy 25:17-18).

It is especially fitting that Shabbat Zachor falls during the month of February, which the Jewish community has designated as Jewish Disability Awareness Month. The Hebrew word in Deuteronomy that we translate as “stragglers” — ha-necheshalim — appears only once in the entirety of the Bible. To explain its meaning, the medieval commentator Ibn Ezra suggests that its Hebrew root may have a meaning similar to a more common Hebrew root that means “to be weak.” As such, he took ha-necheshalim to mean “those who did not have power to walk.” Similarly, Rashi understands it to mean “those who lack strength,” though he adds that this is “on account of their sin.”

Who were “the stragglers in your rear”? They were the slow, the weak, the enfeebled — the invalids. Perhaps in ancient times, these people were, in fact, considered invalid human beings, and so the Israelites abandoned them, leaving the stragglers on their own to struggle at the rear of the Exodus.

Though today we do not connect disability with sin, the invalidation of people with disabilities remains a modern bias. Where are the “stragglers” today? Unfortunately, our society — including many Jewish communities — continues to leave them behind.

As recently as May 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 41.2 million Americans have some sort of a disability — that’s some 15% of the population. While there are no firm statistics on the percentage of Jews with disabilities, there’s no reason to believe that the proportion is very different for our community. Within our midst exist Jews who are hearing- and vision-impaired, Jews with intellectual disabilities, Jews with cognitive or psychological disabilities — Jews who need more than ramps and designated parking spaces to meet their needs.

Rabbis and synagogue presidents often tell me that they don’t have congregants with disabilities who require special accommodations. And in one troubling way, they may be correct — these Jews are often not present within our synagogues because they perceive they are not wanted there. How many of our synagogues have sign-language interpreters or Braille prayer books? How many offer service programs or congregational bulletins in large print? Only a select few synagogues provide religious school classes designed for children with special needs; even fewer have such classes for adults. Fewer still offer any programs, trips or religious services at all designed to include people with all types of disabilities.

Civil rights begin at home — in our synagogues and in our communal institutions. We must make conscious efforts to break down the physical, communicative and attitudinal barriers that separate individuals with disabilities from our community. It is time to come together to help our congregants, indeed all Americans, recognize that people with disabilities are people first — people with unlimited potential, not to be defined by their disabilities.

Hasidic master the Yehudi HaKadosh said, “Good intentions alone not accompanied by action are without value. The main thing is the action, as this is what makes the intention so profound.” This February, the second annual Jewish Disability Awareness Month, let the Jewish community come together to begin a fully committed and educated process of welcoming Jews with disabilities.

Rabbi Lynne Landsberg is the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s senior adviser on disability issues and chair of the Committee on Disability Awareness and Inclusion of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.