• Jodi Samuels

Beyond Frustrated



It’s North American Disability Month and an opportunity for me to reflect yet again just how far behind the Jewish world and Orthodox community is when it comes to inclusion of people with special needs.


I know that there are many who work tirelessly in this field advocating and fighting for inclusion but the reality is the needle has not moved much. Certainly in the 7 years that I have been part of this world there has been little change. Before you start saying “but” ask yourself if your child’s school has made an effort to be inclusive? Have your shul had a meeting to discuss how physically challenged people can access the sanctuary or people with other needs attend a Shabbat service? When last did you have a chat with your kids about the issue or even better invite the special needs child in your neighborhood for a play date? Did you attend any of the recent community forums on inclusion? Have you shared your thoughts on social media?


In Jerusalem we recently had a heart wrenching time exploring schools for Caily. Although by law the schools could not say “no” we did not realize there were so many ways to say no. Sadly Jerusalem like Manhattan does not open there doors to our children. Join a list serve in either city to see how the Samuels are just one of many families struggling with this. Take a pack of tissues and read the special needs forums one afternoon.


One thing is clear in communities where there is strong leadership advocating for inclusion then it happens. Place like Efrat under Rabbi Riskin’s leadership stands as a beacon of what is possible for inclusion.


I have said it before and will say it again. We look in horror at the way special needs people in Africa or Romania are treated. Chained to beds, abandoned in orphanages etc. Really, relative to our resources the fact that our kids are excluded is just as shocking.


I am grateful to the organizations that fight for change and to the few schools and Shuls that set the example of making inclusion possible but change begins with you. We want you to open your homes, open your hearts and from there it will be easy to demand that your community and schools include all people with disabilities.


Originally published: February 15, 2015

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