HERE

On COVID-19 and New Accessible Opportunities For Us All

Rabbi Lauren Tuchman sits at a table and studies from a Braille Talmud

New Accessible Jewish Paradigm shifts in the Wake of COVID-19

March 20, 2020

 

This week has been a challenging and uncertain one for our world. We know we’re in this for the long haul, that things are going to get worse before they get better. Many of us feel profoundly unmoored as mainstays of our lives are temporarily closing. The rhythms of our days feel off and knowing that we don’t know how long this will last, we don’t yet know when the structures of our days will return to what they once were. None of us have ever lived through something like this. We feel anchorless, directionless, and for the most vulnerable—including many people with disabilities and underlying health conditions—this time of deep uncertainty comes with a host of other unknowns.

 

The past two weeks have seen the proliferation of Jewish programming online. You can stream a synagogue service any day you choose, drop into a class or even attend a concert. All of this is done out of necessity for sure, but it is also coming from a deep knowing that people seek meaning, connection and solace. In the flurry of activity, something felt deeply discordant to me. The pace at which programming and even prayer books became available online was due to the fact that these things—accommodations, if you were—are now what the majority population requires. We structure our society to center and prioritize the needs of majority populations, even in this ever-shifting reality. We too often forget those on the margins, namely folks living with disability and chronic illness. I believe that this forgetting is because our communities of care—individually and communally–don’t often include us. We are not often seen as peers or equals. We tend to prioritize those needs and concerns that impact our lives most immediately and viscerally. Though the disability community is 20% of the human family, our needs are frequently deprioritized because the perception is that the needed accommodations and supports will impact a small number of people only—hence, not worth the time, effort and expense. When we have someone in our life who requires alternative means of access, we are more inclined to work towards that. Why? Because accessibility is no longer an abstract thing, it’s concrete.  Many folks living with disabilities and chronic illness have been dealing with the impact of isolation for a long time. Many have been dealing with the indescribable pain of wanting to be in community and not being able to access it. Imagine what it feels like, now, to get that taste of access. For some folks, it’s for the first time.

 

For many people with disabilities, this newfound ease of access is accompanied by a host of complex feelings. Many yearn to return to in-person gatherings, even as we recognize the access we now enjoy to things we may not have ever had access to before. For some of us, the ease with which electronic publications became available online has caused some challenging feelings to arise around how quickly things can become universally available when the need feels urgent. As someone who is blind, digital accessibility is a key concern of mine. Though we have seen the proliferation of e-books from Jewish and mainstream publishers on Bookshare, Kindle and other distributors, getting digitally accessible prayer books has been a challenge that has often felt insurmountable. When advocating for alternate format production of printed materials, there are important considerations that must be sensitively navigated which go beyond the scope of this piece. Nevertheless, it is important for all of us to reflect upon the perception that many folks in the disability community have that our needs are simply lower priority, which can leave us feeling dispensable and unwanted in Jewish community.

 

Moshe Rabbeinu, our greatest prophet is someone who had a speech impediment of some kind. In Shmot/Exodus 4, G-d tells Moshe that he will lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt. Moshe demurs, citing his speech impediment. Immediately, G-d responds with a rhetorical question—who created you? Was it not I, G-d? Did I not create you in my image just like every other human being? Here is your necessary accommodation—your brother, Aaron will serve as your spokesperson. Disability is a natural part of the human condition. I believe that the reason the Torah names specific groups of individuals in G-d’s reply—blind folks, deaf folks, folks with physical and speech disabilities—is because G-d understands that we often forget that we, too, are created in the image of G-d. Disability advocates have often pointed out that the world was not designed for us. And that is due to the choices that we humans make each and every day to prioritize some over others. In this time of turning inward, we are being given an unparalleled opportunity to make a course correction. I pray we take it.  G-d, through G-d’s retort to Moshe, reminds him and all of us that to build a mikdash—a sanctuary in which the Divine Presence can feel truly at home—we must structure our world so that we all can thrive as our best selves.

 

Many fear that once life returns to a semblance of normalcy, we will return to a world in which virtual offerings are fewer and not nearly as robust. What would it be like to use the gifts of this time—the gifts of out-of-the-box thinking and trying new things to shape a reality in which gatherings can exist in a variety of ways all at once? Let us remember and lift up the deep lived wisdom of the disability community for whom innovation has been the name of the game for generations. Let us learn from disability wisdom about emotional and spiritual resilience, being a problem-solver and creating community across geographic and spatial boundaries.

 

Ours is a tradition that revels in complexity and nuance. After the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, the rabbis, who were, at best, a tiny minority realized that the world they once knew was no more, gone overnight. How were they to move forward and preserve our ancient, precious tradition? Their solution was to make Judaism portable through the compiling and codification of the Mishnah and Gemara which we call the Talmud. Yet, the rabbis never forgot the world they once knew. Entire tractates of Mishnah are devoted to studying temple sacrifices. Entire portions of traditional liturgy are devoted to daily study of temple rites. Even as a new paradigm occurs, the old is not forgotten. Similarly, in our time, even as we yearn to return to our synagogues, houses of study and community centers, even as we yearn to enjoy Shabbat meals with others, even as we wonder what Passover will feel like this year, may we not forget the gifts newfound communal access and ways of thinking give us.



Speak Your Mind

*




,

rabbi.lauren.tuchman@gmail.com
123-456-7890

Got Questions?
Send a Message!

By submitting this form via this web portal, you acknowledge and accept the risks of communicating your health information via this unencrypted email and electronic messaging and wish to continue despite those risks. By clicking "Yes, I want to submit this form" you agree to hold Brighter Vision harmless for unauthorized use, disclosure, or access of your protected health information sent via this electronic means.