By Elie Klein
After months on end of being socially distanced from one another, the coronavirus pandemic has derailed our longstanding tradition of togetherness, chipping away at the foundation of Jewish communal life.
While Purim was marred by the initial signs of infection, Passover and Sukkot were depressingly insular, marking the very first time that so many extended families and large groups of friends celebrated separately. Though great efforts were made to enhance High Holiday prayer services, even the most innovative formats only highlighted the lack of interpersonal connection, how much we truly long to sit side by side, and engage in dialogue, prayer and song.
As the pandemic erodes our Jewish communal structure, disability inclusion hangs in the balance. Though the numerous barriers to participation for our brothers and sisters with disabilities have been evident for months, especially during holidays, memories of Chanukahs past make our drastic step backwards clearer than ever.
True, we’ve harnessed technology to ensure that people of all abilities can log on to virtual community events. But deep down we know that nothing holds a candle to tangible opportunities for encountering disability, raising awareness and promoting acceptance.
If we are serious about securing our Jewish future and building truly inclusive communities, we must safeguard Chanukah at all costs. We cannot allow key opportunities for communal bonding to slip away during these less than ideal times. We must get creative to spread the light of inclusion.
In this vein, an inspired inclusion plan was set into motion at ADI (formerly ALEH Jerusalem and ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran), a provider of residential and rehabilitative care for individuals with severe disabilities in Israel. For years, hundreds of people from across the country and around the globe have made plans to visit the ADI centers during the month of Kislev to shower the residents with gifts and attention, sing and dance to Chanukah songs, assist with the creation of seasonal crafts and participate in menorah–lighting ceremonies aided by adaptive technology. The residents were also taken on outings to enjoy nature hikes in the autumn air, partake in festive holiday gatherings and soak up the season’s inclusive vibe.
But with travel banned and extreme sanitation protocols in effect at the ADI centers to shield the immunocompromised residents from infection, the throngs of visitors and extensive excursions have been replaced with an international disability awareness and inclusion campaign. When it became clear that the masses wouldn’t be able to visit ADI to partake in inclusive experiences, it only made sense to bring opportunities for disability education and inclusion to them.
Since the beginning of November, children at schools, community centers and synagogues across North America and the United Kingdom have been learning about the care, rehabilitation and advancement of children with severe disabilities, and creating “sensory Chanukah cards” to brighten the holiday for ADI residents. Made with great love and deep understanding, these special cards, which include 3D elements that are fun for the residents to look at and touch, will be delivered by the boxful ahead of the holiday to show residents how much they are loved, and serve as a bridge between Jewish communities and a symbol of just how easy and beautiful inclusion can be. This project is proof that heightened awareness and real change are achievable, even during a crisis.
Elie Klein is the director of development forADI (formerly ALEH Jerusalem and ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran), a provider of residential and rehabilitative care for individuals with severe disabilities in Israel.