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Terumah- Everyone Can Contribute

02/23/2023 12:53:05 AM


This shabbat we read Terumah, the first in a series of portions that comprise the last 2/5 of the book of Exodus and describe the construction of the Mishkan, the portable Tabernacle that accompanied the Israelites through the desert.  God begins  (Exodus 25:2) by describing the gathering of the materials: “Tell the Israelite people to bring me gifts, you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.” This verse has special significance as our own community marks JDAAIM- Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, and how we think about the meaning of our community.

Almost two decades ago, our congregation was part of a wave of awareness in the Jewish community, as organizations developed a rising sensitivity to “special needs.” The essence of the idea was that there were those who faced physical or intellectual limitations, and it was the obligation of the community to find ways to meet their needs. Our implementation of that concept has enabled us to implement some wonderful types of accessibility. Our educational programs for children are able to accommodate young people who at one time might not have found a place in our community. We installed a loop system that enables anyone with a hearing aid to patch into our soundsystem, and we continue to stream and zoom services and activities because even after COVID, there are many whose health prevents them from attending. However, this approach has its limits. It is wonderful to have gratitude for the gifts that God has given and seeking to share them, but an approach that leans towards “special needs” can create a divide between those who are seen as givers, and those who are perceived as receivers. 

That’s why I find the words of Terumah to be helpful. God asks that gifts be accepted from everyone whose heart is moved to give. Some would donate valuable materials, like precious stones, gold and silver, the hide of rare animals, or exorbitantly expensive dyes. And yet, others would bring quite simple gifts, like goat-hair or oil. A few weeks hence we will read that there many different types of skills brought together to process these materials. Some women excelled at weaving luxurious textiles, while others made the home-spun goat hair fabrics that required no special expertise. All these gifts accepted with gratitude, because all were necessary to construct the Tabernacle.

The process of creating a Jewish community today is not so different from the ancient process of creating the Tabernacle. It is necessary, but not sufficient, to have ramps that allow people of different abilities to attend. True inclusion, however, is about appreciating that each individual has a unique gift to offer the community. The goal is not only to give to those in need, it is to enable all to find a way to make a meaningful contribution. This goal is particularly important when we realize that each of us, at different points in our lives, will face limitations in our abilities, but may still have powerful ways to make a difference.

This year’s JDAAIM at B’nai Torah has included learning, activities, even art. We will be wrapping up the month with a celebration on Friday night, March 3rd. A slightly early service will be followed by a dinner that is free and open to all. Sign up to attend or sponsor here. However, in the spirit of inclusion, it will feature increased opportunities for people with different types of abilities to contribute, not just in the liturgy, but also in the logistics of the service.

As a community we still have work to do, on scales large and small. I would like for us to continue to normalize the presence and participation of young people with behavioral or learning differences. I would like to increase awareness of all of the work that we have done, so that people take advantage of the opportunities that are available. I would like to make our main entrance fully wheelchair accessible. I hope we are able to listen even more perceptively to the suggestions that members of the abilities community have to offer. Next year, I hope that one of our JDAAIM Divrei Torah will be written by a member of the Disabilities community. For this year, you can see the article written by our own Evan Nodvin  .

Sun, March 3 2024 23 Adar I 5784