Speaking Out for People with Disabilities Is a Jewish Value

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By Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, Jaime Bassman, Rabbi Michelle Greenfield and Rabbi Margot Stein

February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), a unified national initiative to raise disability awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion of people with disabilities in Jewish communities worldwide.

Whole Community Inclusion is an initiative through which Jewish Learning Venture creates and shares resources and leads trainings for Jewish schools and synagogues — not only in February, but all through the year.

As professionals and advocates in the Jewish disability inclusion field, we are concerned, now more than ever, about how public policy affects people with disabilities. It is essential for members of our Jewish community to be aware and educated about these threats to the civil rights of 20 percent of the Jewish population — those with disabilities. As we learn from the Talmud (Shavuot 39a), “All of Israel is responsible for one another,” and so whether you are personally impacted by disability or not, we ask that you become an advocate for the most vulnerable people in our community.

In this past election cycle, many people responded with appropriate horror when then-candidate Donald Trump mocked a disabled reporter. Many journalists and advocates shared concerns about this kind of mockery and what it says about Trump’s character. However, missing from much of the election coverage was real content focusing on the new administration’s policies for people with disabilities.

On Feb. 2, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism gathered hundreds of community members and professionals for Jewish Disability Advocacy Day. The program focused on several of President Trump’s proposals and on the potentially devastating effects of these proposals on people with disabilities. There was also a focus on actions that we can take to prevent these policies from being implemented.

While it hasn’t garnered much media attention, among the administration’s first initiatives is an attempt to convert Medicaid and SSI to block grants. If this proposal becomes law, crucial supports for people with disabilities, including housing, nursing, transportation and job coaching, could be eliminated. Cutting these critical services would undermine years of progress for how we care for people with disabilities.

At Jewish Disability Advocacy Day, the JFNA’s Jonathan Westin, senior director of health initiatives, addressed serious concerns about the Republican proposals related to Medicaid and spoke about our imperative to reach out now to our lawmakers. His message is clear: “Please reach out to your senators and representatives and let them know that while Medicaid needs reform, transforming the program into a block grant or capping the program’s funds would jeopardize access to needed services for millions of vulnerable Americans with disabilities.”

We are asking every member of the Jewish community to take action — call and write personal letters about how these policies could impact someone in your life. If there is someone in your synagogue, organization or neighborhood who has a disability, you can call and write on their behalf.

Thank you for your support.

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is the director of Whole Community Inclusion. Jaime Bassman, Rabbi Michelle Greenfield and Rabbi Margot Stein are Whole Community Inclusion consultants.

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