The Rosh Hashanah service progressed as usual until we reached the sounding of the shofar. Suddenly a sea of blue balloons flooded the row next to me at my childhood congregation. The balloons were held in the hands of members of the deaf community. As the cantor sounded the shofar, the vibrations in each balloon were felt by the deaf congregants and allowed them to take part in a ritual I took for granted. Tears rolled down my eyes as I sat next to Jon, a man in his 70s. He experienced the sounding of the shofar for the first time in his life. Jon held the balloon tight like a precious globe. On the birthday of the world, Rosh Hashanah, he could imagine a new world in which his experience counted. The world was in his hands.
By marking Jewish Disability Awareness Month, we recognize the growth our communities have done and that which we have before us this month and every month. We commit to holy work unfinished and yet to be imagined, when Jon’s experience—when each person’s experience—is included in the narrative of the larger community. As congregations across the globe read the book of Exodus, Jewish Disability Awareness Month becomes like a contemporary Exodus, a crossing of the sea (or a frozen lake in Minnesota). Cross, and then wander on sands of uncertainty. We wonder how each of us will experience the magic of Sinai.
Jewish Disability Awareness Month invites us to imagine the kind of precious globe we want to inhabit, to taste the freedom of crossing the Sea of Reeds or of creating a sea of balloons on the High Holy Days. Initiatives in our synagogue, Adath Jeshurun Congregation, have included establishing a gluten-free/dairy-free/nut-free food table on Shabbat and providing adaptive equipment such as large print prayer books, wheelchairs and walkers, and hearing assist units for worship. Some of us may be able to listen; others feel. The world is in our hands.