Every person matters; every Jew matters. What do we have to do to make this statement not a platitude but a reality? How do our actions or inactions marginalize, exclude, and push away others? How can we make sure that everyone is, and is treated as, an equal member of our community?
In Devarim (30:11-13) we are told that Torah and mitzvot are not “hidden from us or far off.” The Torah in all its richness is not distant from us. It is not in the heavens or across the sea. There are no barriers between us and the Torah. It is very near to us; it is accessible to all. As Rambam (Laws of Talmud Torah 3:1) writes: “The crown of Torah is standing and waiting to be taken. Whoever wants it can come and take it.”
If only that were true. For people with disabilities—be they physical, learning, social-emotional or developmental—the Torah is so often not close at all. The distance between them and the Torah can be huge and unbridgeable. The road leading to serious learning of Torah and equal participation in the community’s religious and cultural life, its synagogues, and its schools, is strewn with obstacles and barriers. These barriers are erected mostly by inaction and lack of awareness and prioritization, but they are just as high and impenetrable as if they had been erected by an active desire to exclude.
We at YCT are committed to working to change this reality. We believe that everyone is and must be treated as an equal member of the community, and that to make this happen we must prioritize accommodations and accessibility. We are wary of using the term “inclusion,” a word which suggests that someone is on the outside and we are bringing them in. It is not for us to bring anyone in. It is on us not to push anyone away. “Why should we be excluded?” is the cry of those who could not bring the Korban Pesach, and it is the cry that we always must be hearing.
To work towards this goal, we sponsor conferences and panels, write op-eds, give shiurim, produce Torah resources and teshuvot, and devote a full week to intensive training of our rabbinical students in these areas, every other year. We also have closed captioning, as well as ASL interpretation on request, for all our public lectures, and have adopted a policy to only agree to speak at events of other organizations if these accommodations are provided.
Please explore our Torah, halakha, and resources on this topic. Please also work to make the verse’s declaration that the Torah “is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it” true for every single Jew.