Just two days ago, the Jewish world celebrated Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, the holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is noteworthy that the holiday is called Hag Matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of the Torah, rather than the time of the receiving of the Torah. The sages point out that it is the giving, not the receiving, that is significant.
The Torah is a way of life for many, partly because it reflects all aspects of life, including the painful, less comfortable ones. The Torah teaches us how to deal with the poor, the orphan, the war prisoner, the foreigner, etc. But above all, the Torah leads by example: The Torah was given to the Israelites from God, by his messenger, Moses. the greatest Jewish leader of all times. Moses was disabled; he was a stutterer. How terrible it is to lead, when one is not comfortable using the leader’s most important tool, words. Moses questioned his ability to approach Pharaoh, and God’s response was Aaron. Moses’ brother would speak his words. The Torah teaches us that being disabled is part of life, and there are ways to overcome limitations.
Before Moses was able to deliver the Torah to the Israelites in Sinai, he had to lead them out of Egypt, where they were slaves. The Israelites had 50 days between Pesach and Shavuot to recover from slavery and become a nation worthy of receiving the Torah.
It was almost 50 days ago, on the eve of Pesach, that I was invited by our board member Jerome Spitzer and his wife Linda to attend the opening of a beautiful walking trail at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens. The accessible trail was dedicated to the blessed memory of Jerome’s mother, Raisa Cohen Spitzer, born in Minsk in 1913. Raisa loved flowers, which she always saw as symbols of rebirth. Raisa’s husband, Jerome’s father, had a stroke in 1991 after leaving Jerusalem. Although the Spitzers lived near the Bronx Botanical Garden they were unable to enjoy the beauty, as Jerome’s father’s wheel chair made it impossible for them to visit. The Spitzer family decided to help other people in wheelchairs enjoy the trail in Jerusalem.
Israel is becoming more and more accessible to people with different types of abilities. The Spitzer garden is one of many projects that aim both to educate the entire community to be more aware and understanding toward people with special needs, and to provide those with special needs and abilities opportunities to enjoy what life has to offer.
The rabbis of the Talmudic period created the blessing “Who has fashioned people in various forms,” which really means acknowledging that people are different, but are all sacred creatures of God.
We are bound as a community to be compassionate, understanding and to facilitate the needs of all members of our community. Shabbat shalom!
Leah Garber, Vice President, JCC Association Israel Office