MetroWest ABLE is the newly branded network of agencies that serve people with a range of physical and mental disabilities and their families: Daughters of Israel, Friendship Circle of the Rabbinical College of America, JCC MetroWest, Jewish Family Service, Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled, Jewish Vocational Service, JESPY House Inc., Joint Chaplaincy Committee, and Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life. Consult ujcnj.org for contact information and a directory of services, including counseling, housing, vocational, recreation, education, spiritual, cultural, and social services.
October 30, 2008
“Do you remember my daddy?”
“Am I really going to be okay when I die?”
Upon learning of the death of her father, a developmentally disabled woman repeated the words “Joe died, Joe died,” in an attempt to make sense of the news. Confused, she initially refused the chaplain’s offer to be taken to the funeral. Out of concern that she needed the closure that Jewish mourning ritual offers, the chaplain suggested that she invite her family back to the house for lunch after the funeral. In response, she changed her chant to “chocolate cake, chocolate cake.”
The chaplain’s sensitive intervention was successful, allowing the daughter to take her rightful place among the mourners. The next morning, she prepared for the funeral dressed in a blue suit and shoes. Later, the family returned to the daughter’s home for lunch.
In this sacred season, we are reminded of the importance of our spiritual community — those with whom we share in the new year, and those with whom we share communal transgressions. “Kol Yisrael yesh lahem helek l’olam haba.” “Every Jew has a portion wherever she or he may be on the continuum of life.” This verse, the introduction to each of the six chapters of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), reminds us of the breadth of that community.
God does not administer comprehensive exams and then place different people in various locations, areas, and categories of olam haba, the world to come. Each person comes with his or her own strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and disabilities, and each one shares in the collective life of the Jewish people.
It is our job, as partners with God, to provide all people living in the world with the environment and opportunities to create a productive existence for themselves.
Just as it is God’s job to provide the world with the environment and opportunities to fulfill its productive existence — the rain, temperature, dew, sunlight — it is our job, as partners with God, to provide all people living in the world with the environment and opportunities to create a productive existence for themselves wherever they are on the continuum of life and Jewish living.
That is precisely what the MetroWest community and agencies involved in providing services for people with special needs strive to do. Under the newly formed banner of MetroWest ABLE (Access, Belonging, and Life Enrichment), the network of Jewish agencies provides opportunities that help each person achieve his or her potential, within a Jewish framework.
In MetroWest, we must strive for an inclusive community:
- If one person finds steps an impediment, we must build a ramp.
- If one person can’t understand words and concepts, we must bridge those disabilities with the senses of touch, smell, sight, or hearing.
- If one person cannot fully participate in synagogue ritual, we must create a religious and spiritual experience in which they can participate.
We must live the verse: “Every Jew has a portion…”
According to the end of the verse, everyone is:
- Netzer mata’i — “A branch of God’s planting”
- Ma’aseh yadai — “The work of God’s hands”
- L’hitpa’er “…to be glorified.”
All of creation is righteous, and everyone is guaranteed a place of dignity in the world.
All Israel has a guaranteed spot in the world.
Cecille Allman Asekoff is director of the Joint Chaplaincy Committee.