Living with Disabled, Queer, Jewish Pride

February 14, 2024

By Rakhel Silverman-Gitin

Eight years ago, the queer disability scholar Rabbi Julia Watts Belser told me something simple yet profound, “you should not wait until you have a disabled congregant to build a ramp to your bima.” In doing so, she introduced me to a whole new framework for belonging, where it is the responsibility of our communities to dismantle barriers and proactively include those we have excluded.  

I went on to learn about the “social model of disability,” which teaches that the “problem” is not with each person who lives with a disability, but on society’s inaccessible and oppressive structures. Take this quote in Watts Belser’s book, Loving Our Own Bones: Disability Wisdom and the Spiritual Subserviseness of Knowing Ourselves Whole:

“It reminds me of a story I heard from Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig, about a Deaf child in her religious school. A teacher once promised that child, “One day, in the world to come, you’ll be able to hear.” And the child looked back and said, “No. In the world to come, God will sign.” (p.11).

Just like my queerness and transness, my disability is an integral part of who I am, not a problem or something shameful. My body is beautiful and sacred – with all its uniqueness and intricacies. I have pride, both in my disabled and queer selves. 

February is Jewish Disability Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), when we dedicate ourselves to affirming Jews with disabilities and breaking down the barriers to belonging for all Think of  those with physical impairments, psychiatric and cognitive challenges, those who live with chronic illness, and those who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing. This month and beyond, I challenge us to make our spaces more accessible and inclusive to those with disabilities, meeting them where they are instead of expecting them to do the labor of inclusion.. Beyond tolerance, beyond affirmation, let’s work together toward celebration.

Here are some places to start:

  • Prioritize access needs from the beginning. 
  • Listen to and take leadership from people with disabilities.
  • Think intersectionally. For instance, my spouse is both non-binary and uses a wheelchair. They need restrooms that are both gender-neutral and wheelchair-accessible, but many spaces make them choose between these two needs.
  • Being creative and adaptable to meet everyone’s needs.
  • Learn from disabled activists and scholars:

Let us dedicate ourselves to dismantling barriers and opening the doors to liberation for all.