MetroWest ABLE (Access, Belonging, and Life Enrichment for People and Families with Special Needs) is the community’s network of agencies and community leaders that serve and advocate for individuals with special needs and their families. MetroWest ABLE is making connections within the Jewish community to raise awareness and support meaningful inclusion of people with special needs and their families in every aspect of Jewish life in MetroWest. MetroWest ABLE is funded by the UJA Campaign, the Linda Bunis Haller Foundation, and The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey. For more information, contact Rebecca Wanatick, community coordinator, at 973-929-3129 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.metrowestable.org.
Ben (the son of) Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is said: ‘From all those who taught me I gained understanding’ (Psalms 119:99).”
It seems straightforward enough, but all too often the Jewish community dismisses people based on assumptions of their abilities.
“Havruta learning,” the traditional method of studying Jewish texts with a partner, was an integral part of my seminary experience. In fact, in the six years I spent in rabbinical school, I had no fewer than a dozen “havruta” relationships, spending hundreds of hours hunched over books with my classmates. But the purpose of a havruta is not just to get some help and have someone to commiserate with while trying to untangle a difficult commentary. Rather, the ideal havruta is the one that helps you decode what’s written on the page, and the best of what’s inside yourself.
Now that I’ve been ordained, I still can’t give up my learning. And now I have a new havruta. His name is Josh. Josh loves everything about being Jewish. He’s an expert on the traditional ways to observe the holidays, attends synagogue every week, and he’s an accomplished Torah reader. As an adult with a developmental disability, he would probably not be admitted into an advanced academic seminary. But together, we study Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Sages, and instill in each other the teaching “find for yourself a teacher, win for yourself a friend.”
My relationship with Josh is one of my favorite examples of what spiritual care is all about: building a trusting and learning relationship that gives people the opportunity to explore their deepest values. Jewish spiritual care encourages us to examine our lives through the lens of our tradition, drawing on its rich teachings to help us find and add meaning to our experiences. As Jews, we are always following in the footsteps of Abraham and Sarah, on a journey to the place where we can best fulfill our covenant with God and the Jewish people. Jewish spiritual care can provide direction, helping us to discover the signposts to get us to where we want to go.
The final clause in the above teaching from Pirkei Avot instructs us to “appreciate in each person their full measure.” Recognizing and helping to uncover the breadth of one another’s potential is a sacred task. Behind every label of disability is a person seeking opportunities to learn and live their Jewish life to the fullest possible extent. May we work together as a community to ensure that every person’s gifts find their most complete expression, that every person’s relationship to Judaism and God be illuminated by the light we shine on one another.