We are taught in the Torah (Leviticus 19:14): “do not put a stumbling block before the blind.” In the ancient world, those with physical disabilities were thought to be cursed by God. And if they were cursed by God, why not by man? This commandment forbids and warns against taking advantage of those with disabilities. But the truth is, for us today, this verse does not go far enough. It defines a person by his/her disability (blindness) and is written as a “negative mitzvah” stipulating only what we should refrain from doing rather than what we must actively do (positive mitzvah).
Here at Beth El, we take the imperative of inclusion seriously. We have spent time, energy and money in recent years making our building handicapped accessible. But more than ramps and an elevator are needed. Our Aleph Preschool, Fiterman B’nai Mitzvah Program, religious school (Talmud Torah/Shaarim) as well as our youth group (USY), for example, have worked successfully to include people of different abilities and learning styles in various classes and programs.