I had a wonderful meeting with a man named Mark Crenshaw last month. Mark is the former director of the Interfaith Disability Network. Mark told me a story of how he was leaving a church that he was visiting with his wife and how impressed he was that the pastor was at the door wishing everybody a good day. To each and every person, the pastor asked, “What is your name and what do you do?” Mark saw this interaction as touching and thoughtful. When the pastor got to his wife, he asked her, “What is your name and what you do?” His wife of course answered. When Mark approached for his turn to greet the pastor, Mark, a man who lives with disability, who has led a nonprofit organization, who has a Masters of Divinity degree from Emory’s Candler School of Theology, and who is the Director of Interdisciplinary Training at the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University… To Mark, the pastor commented, “it’s a nice day out, isn’t it?”
Mark told me the story because he was trying to illustrate how inclusion is not just about offering a special program for people who feel excluded, such as those who live with disabilities. Inclusion is about providing a safe and welcoming space for all – for people with all kinds of abilities.
Sometimes we need to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to connect without worry or concern for being looked at funny or being shushed. For the very first time, Temple Beth Tikvah is going to offer a sensory friendly Shabbat service on Friday night, February 21 at 6:30 PM. I am thrilled to be presenting this in collaboration with the Disability Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. This is going to be a great learning experience for our congregation. I hope our friends will come, not because “they need it,” but because we will all be able to learn a little bit more about the spiritual and communal needs of people with disabilities and those who love them. If we really mean that we are “a warm and welcoming congregation,” then we have to learn how to open our tents wide enough so that all who choose to can enter and feel at home. Being an accessible congregation means that we have to move “beyond the ramp” and encourage people with disabilities that they are welcome. We can tell our friends, family and neighbors that this service will be open to all and I hope all who are committed to inclusion will come and pray and share together.
I am just as excited for us to host a short film and discussion. This 30 minute film is called, “The Collector of Bedford Street.” It is about a developmentally disabled man who is, frankly, just extraordinary. We witness the goodness he brings out in others as he helps raise money for different causes – despite the fact that he is poor and vulnerable himself. Our discussion will address themes like the gifts we can share with one another, how a community takes care of its neighbors, how one person can make a difference, and how every single person has a gift to offer another. Please look at the information in this newsletter about this program on Thursday, February 13 at 7:30 PM; please RSVP at email@example.com.
These two endeavors are part of the efforts of a new working group at Temple Beth Tikvah. This Inclusion Task Force is assessing the needs of our community to be more inclusive of people with disabilities and different abilities. We look forward to put together our thoughts and plans to present to our Board of Trustees in the near future. If you have an interest in getting involved in such a group, please write directly to me.
I do believe, without exception, that every single human being is created in God’s image. If that is truly the case, then we need to open our hearts and our eyes to the needs of so many who feel like they are on the periphery or just left out of the Jewish community. I think that if we open our tents wide, not only will we provide spiritual nourishment to people who are often forgotten, but we will be enriched by doing so.
Regarding our Sensory Friendly Shabbat Service: there will be a social story to prepare a child for entering into the sanctuary; there will be a safe room for anyone who needs to walk around and stretch or draw in our Oneg Room; there will be a section of the sanctuary where the lights will be lowered; there will be no “shushing”; there will be a sign language interpreter. To see a social story to prepare your child, click here. To RSVP for this Shabbat experience, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about what is going on in Atlanta for Jewish Disability Awareness Month, click here.