Making An Accessible Jewish Community

It started with YALA Manager Charley Smith when I Googled ways to become involved locally, 2 years later, after another brain surgery, I saw a posting for 248CAN. I conducted the worst interview I have ever had – my computer restarted two times during the video interview, my phone cut out when I tried to replace it and I wasn’t prepared for a video interview. I left the interview certain there was no way they would pick me out of so many candidates for a leadership program for young Jewish leaders. I wasn’t the leader of some institute program, I didn’t work for the Jewish Federation. What did I have that set me apart from any average Jewish person?

I left Judaism behind when I chose to go to St. Cloud State University, it has more Christian clubs than variety of Christianity exist and you can find a Jewish department, but to find an actual Jew takes far more work. I moved to the Twin Cities in 2016 but I left Judaism in Richmond, I came back to Minnesota to find my past.

I left here, against my will, in 2005, when I was forced to leave state foster care and live with my sister in Virginia. My sister is Christian, and I became a part of their local community. They rebuilt me, when I came back to Minnesota, I came back to face my past.

Shir Tikvah is the synagogue I had my Bat Mitzvah at, it is the synagogue where I questioned whether I even wanted to be Jewish. Richmond, Virginia is where I found my home in Judaism. It is where I found acceptance as broken as I was., I was accepted as a whole, as I was. There was no expectation more than that.

So upon my return, and being asked to join this program, I faced my fears. I decided to put myself on the line. I was going to commit to becoming a leader. The program is about creating an initiative. Everyone has great ideas, but what does it take to form an idea, collect the resources and push it through? Most people lack grit. I lack grit, I see it in my daily job in IT.

So this program was facing one of my great weaknesses head-on, taking an idea and following it through.

The program itself connects leaders from Hungary, Poland, Cleveland and Minneapolis to Israel. We each are paired with a sister city in Israel, we listen to their goals and we meet via video calls. We support each other and we use each other to grow our network based on experienced people.

So that is where I started, I was accepted two weeks later and suddenly found myself in Israel. I never thought that I would be part of a leadership program – it is tough. We have to find an idea and form it into something larger.

That is what this series is about – how I am facing my fears and taking an idea to make it an initiative.

To this date, I have been to Israel and back. I have picked an idea. I am going to make local Twin Cities synagogues more accessible and I am going to see if other Deaf Jews are willing to help lead a Deaf Shabbat in front of a community.

Every Jew counts, and the more accessible we make our communities, the more diverse our community will be.

This is the story of my journey and this is how it begins.

I am just a Deaf Jew raised in St. Cloud, Minnesota but I plan to make a difference. I hope by sharing my experiences and my struggles as I go along with this, some of you will be inspired to take a seed and grow it.

The hardest part of my current initiative has begun, I am seeking out other Deaf Jews. I am researching with JFCS to see how we can create an accessible blueprint for all synagogues. I have challenged myself to go to a different reform synagogue for the next 5 weeks to see how their services are done.

I will share my triumphs, my failures, and my laughter along the way. I hope you learn something as well as I do as I go along this journey.