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Disability Rights

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Collection

Marlee Matlin

Marlee Matlin’s Oscar-winning film debut in 1986’s Children of a Lesser God made history on multiple fronts. At 21, not only was Matlin the youngest-ever Best Actress winner, she was also the first Deaf actress to be recognized by the Academy. Her subsequent career in film and television, as an author, and as an activist for the Deaf community, has paved the way for inclusive, nuanced storytelling that showcases Deaf culture to hearing audiences.

Publication of Julia Watts Belser’s "Rabbinic Tales of Destruction: Gender, Sex, and Disability in the Ruins of Jerusalem"

January 4, 2018

On January 4, 2018, Julia Watts Belser, a scholar who applies the lenses of gender, sexuality, disability, and ecology to Jewish texts, published her book Rabbinic Tales of Destruction: Gender, Sex, and Disability in the Ruins of Jerusalem.

Photo of Riva Lehrer on left and cover of her book Golem Girl on right

Interview with Riva Lehrer, Artist and Author of 'Golem Girl'

Jen Richler

JWA talks to artist Riva Lehrer about her recent memoir, Golem Girl, and the way her disabled, queer, and Jewish identities intersect.

Rachel Kest with her two children

Kids Are Struggling. As Parents of Kids with Disabilities Already Know, Schools Can Help.

Rachel Kest

For tips on how to help kids thrive, look no further than parents of kids with disabilities—and Maimonides.

Helene Hines on her handcycle

This Year, Resolve to Be More like This Badass Woman

Madisen Siegel

Whenever she heard ‘no,’ Helene Hines pushed back—and proved everyone wrong.

Judith Heumann

Judith (“Judy”) E. Heumann, a founder of the disability rights movement, is an internationally acclaimed leader of the disability community. Based in Washington, D.C., Heumann has been instrumental in the development and implementation of disability rights legislation.

Episode 61: Being Heumann with Judy Heumann

Judy Heumann is a lifelong disability rights activist—from fighting for her own right to live in a college dorm, to lobbying for the Americans with Disabilities Act, to leading major initiatives at the World Bank and State Department. Judy is committed to removing the barriers that prevent disabled people from fully participating in society, a topic she explores in-depth in her memoir, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist. She tells her story for Can We Talk? and for JWA's revised and updated edition of the Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women.

Background Collage of School supplies with Picture of Dodie Altman-Sagan Studying at Gann Academy, 2019 in the forefront.

Underfunded and Unavailable: The Need for Accessible Education in the US

Dodie Altman-Sagan

In my family of four kids, my dyslexia made me the odd one out. I believed it was uncommon, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Judith Heumann leads the 504 Sit-in in San Francisco

April 5, 1977

On April 5, 1977, Judith Heumann led demonstrators into the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in San Francisco, where they staged a sit-in demanding the signing of the regulations to operationalize Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Lauren Tuchman

Lauren Tuchman, the first blind woman ordained as a rabbi, is best known for her championing inclusive Torah and disability justice. Though she is ordained in the Conservative movement, most of her work has been in community organizing and other non-congregational settings.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1933–2020

Pioneering lawyer, Supreme Court Justice, and pop culture icon, Ruth Bader Ginsburg redefined gender equality through vision, persistence, precision, and dissent. This collection of reflections on her life and work honors her tremendous legacy as a lawyer, judge, feminist, and Jew.

Family members gathered around baby sitting in a chair

My Aunt Tiki and My Disability Rights Activism

Dahlia Soussan

My Aunt Tiki inspires my disability rights activism; yet sometimes, I fail to speak up.

Alice from Alice in Wonderland preparing to open the door with the key

Down the Rabbit Hole of My Disability

Ilana Drake

I have a learning disability. It feels like I’m entering the nonsensical world of Wonderland when I try to get my school to understand that.

Episode 28: The Torah at Her Fingertips

Batya Sperling Milner’s recent bat mitzvah was groundbreaking; it was the first held in an Orthodox synagogue in which the Torah portion was chanted from braille. In this episode of Can We Talk?, Batya talks about the highlights of her bat mitzvah and her mother, Aliza Sperling, discusses her groundbreaking scholarship on blind people reading Torah within the bounds of Jewish law. We talk about the first ever braille trope system—one created especially for Batya. Batya describes her love of Torah, her commitment to Jewish law, and her desire to be recognized for who she is, rather than defined by a disability.

Word Collage

Dyslexia, the World, and Me

Nina Baran

When I was five years old, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. My parents were told that I’d need extensive therapy in order to read and write. At five, I never thought I would read. I threw books on the ground and refused to even try. I would yell, “I don’t need to read! I hate reading!” over and over again.

Max M. at his Bar Mitzvah

It Takes a Village

Dorrit Corwin

Over the years, I’ve been to countless bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies. While each one has been unique to the specific teen being honored, all of the services have been catered to the typical Jewish kid: one who can read English and some Hebrew, memorize prayers, and stand at the bimah and speak about about his or her Jewish education and life experiences. In February, I had the honor of being part of a bar mitzvah that was unlike any of the others I had previously attended. My family friend Max became a bar mitzvah without speaking a single word.

Judy Wolf

Judy Wolf's career has centered on Jewish philanthropy, international relations, women's rights, and the movement for Soviet Jewry. She continues her work to support world Jewry through efforts like the Kehillah project in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.

Unrest and Rivka Composite Image

A Woman Who Dared, with ME

Rivka Solomon

It was late afternoon, and I could barely get my body out of bed. It wasn't that I lacked the desire to get up or that my limbs couldn't function. I just didn't have the cellular energy to power up my muscles. I couldn't do anything except lie flat. Even that was exhausting. This state of sheer debilitation was not new to me. And it hadn't been going on for days or weeks. It had been a decade.

Abby Shevitz, 2004

Women of Character

Bella Book

It is a truth that should be universally acknowledged: women are amazing, strong, brave, and resilient. I do not know a single woman who has not had to relive moments of sexual harassment and assault this week, whether they shared their story on social media with #MeToo or spoke privately with friends.

Lynne Landsberg

Lynne Landsberg had focused her rabbinic career on fighting for social justice, but when a car accident left her disabled, that fight became far more personal.

Parade of Suffragists, July 4, 1910

The Five Jewish Disruptive Patriots You Should Know

Emily Cataneo

Let’s be honest: the Fourth of July is a fun holiday, what with the hamburgers, the watermelons, the fireworks, and the summer camps, but I’m guessing that many of us are not super enthused about celebrating the land of the free and the home of the brave this year, given the current garbage fire of American politics and the dark truths that said garbage fire has revealed about the priorities and mores of our nation.

Joanne Greenberg

Under the pen name Hannah Green, Joanna Greenberg turned her struggle with mental illness into the bestselling novel I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.

Martha Minow

Martha Louise Minow has shaped laws to help the disempowered, and as dean of Harvard Law School, has also shaped the next generation of lawmakers.

Making Change

At their best, rabbis inspire their communities and lead by example, whether that means being on the front lines of battles for social justice or the subtler revolution of encouraging women to raise their voices in the synagogue.

Dianne Cohler-Esses

As the first woman rabbi from the Syrian community, Dianne Cohler-Esses has used teaching to open up new possibilities for others.

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