This is us. This is who we are as individuals and as a community. In Parashat Kedoshim in Vayikra, we are taught to "love thy neighbor as thyself" and I think that is the most important lesson in the Torah. Individuals with disabilities are our neighbors and we shouldn't treat them any differently than we would ourselves.
I left dinner feeling both courage and hope in my heart, uplifted by a sense of community and cohesion and affirmed as a Jewish woman in the world trying to find a way to fight for justice amid the chaos. After proudly marching at the Women’s March that Saturday, I volunteered on Sunday at a nursing home with a small (but mighty) group of other volunteers, all of whom were also at the Shabbat dinner on Friday.
Today and every day, we stand with those who are speaking out in support of the values that we as Americans and as Jews hold dear: inclusion, tolerance, justice and equality for all.
It was in 1883 when a young Jewish woman named Emma Lazarus sought to give voice to those same values. As a fundraising effort for the Statue of Liberty’s new pedestal, Emma wrote a poem that has since been etched into the American consciousness. She writes in “The New Colossus” that ours is a country that welcomes all those who come in search of a better life.
For them to put together a Shabbat dinner for their community was meaningful and needed, sending the message that they are fully committed to standing up for what is right in our society. There is much-needed dialogue that must happen in this country and being with other individuals who had come from all over the country to the nation’s capital was wonderful as we used the weekly ritual of Shabbat to re-ground and re-center ourselves.
For the first eighteen years of my life, my Jewish identity was completely intertwined with service work. From weekly visits to the Collingswood Nursing & Rehabilitation Center with my Hebrew School class, to rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina with my Jewish sleepaway camp, to social action projects with my NFTY youth group, volunteerism was embedded in my practice of Judaism.
I’m constantly reviewing job descriptions to understand what organizations are looking for and who might be the ideal candidate. As one would expect, I look for the key experience and skillset desired as well as the level and years of experience.
And yet, surprisingly, I left Israel with a deeper commitment to being more Muslim. While our tour guide Michael Bauer was sharing his perspectives on Israeli culture, he mentioned that most Jews were non-secular. In fact, many Jews celebrated Passover and observed Shabbat more so because of their cultural significance and not their religious significance.
Nearly all of the REALITY trip participants at the gathering had a leadership role, which deepened the community experience. Some led seminars on storytelling, performed, emceed, facilitated panel discussions. One alum even led partner yoga and a dance break. My assignment was in line with my curiosities post-trip—I was the panel moderator for the breakout session on minority experiences in Israel.