Adopted February 9, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a radical restructuring of professional, communal, social, and spiritual life. New ways to connect outside the bounds of synagogue buildings and other communal spaces have proven invaluable to immunocompromised people, elders, individuals with limited mobility, chronically ill people, and myriad folk who experience disability, permanently or temporarily. The new willingness for employers and public institutions to accommodate technologically-enabled methods for gathering and working have provided inclusive solutions for their employees and customers—no matter their ability. The message is loud and clear: The welcome end to this global health crisis must not mean a simultaneous reversal of the transformations that have improved access for disabled people to many opportunities and institutions.
Systemic inclusion for disabled people requires conscious decision-making and determination. The structural system known as “ableism” leads to widespread discrimination towards disabled and chronically ill people. Although most people will experience disability as they age, the COVID pandemic has highlighted the insidious perception that disabled people are too often deemed “acceptable losses,” in the words of our teacher and colleague, Rabbi Elliot Kukla. Not only do we refuse to treat disabled people as disposable, but we also call on Reform rabbis to lead by example in preparing our communities for inclusion. We will not wait for folks to identify themselves and their needs, we will seek out ways to be more inclusive. As the Mishkan (the traveling sanctuary in the desert) was fitted with poles that were never removed so Torah would always be able to go to where it was needed, we will bring Torah to those in our community by serving them where they are by making our offerings accessible. We call upon our members to work towards broad inclusion for disabled people into all aspects of Jewish communal life.
Within Talmud, we find fulsome expression of the obligation of the community towards those living with disabilities, beyond the Torah’s oft-cited prohibition of “putting a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14). Rabbi Yosei, in M’gillah 24b, ponders, “What does it matter to a blind person whether it is dark or light?” One night, Rabbi Yosei encounters a blind man carrying a torch as he walks along the road. Rabbi Yosei asks him directly why he carries the torch, since it certainly does not enable him to see. The man replies, “As long as I have a torch in my hand, people see me and save me from the pits and the thorns and the thistles.”
The CCAR calls on Reform Jewish leaders to answer and to update the call of the man with the torch: not to “save” anyone; but rather, to empower. We must ensure that our communities will indeed work to remove and reduce the pits, thorns, and thistles of communal life that bar disabled people from full and meaningful participation and leadership. Further, we must commit to continually educating ourselves and our communities about visible and invisible disabilities, and to making disability inclusion an aspect of all communal decision-making and practice.
Whereas a lack of access in the communities we serve—our buildings, lesson plans, teaching techniques, hiring, leadership, liturgy, social structures, and more—continue to affect physically, psychologically, socially, intellectually, emotionally, and neurologically disabled people;
Whereas Reform rabbinic leadership and our major institutions (the CCAR, the URJ, and the RAC) have historically worked for inclusion for disabled people;
Whereas we recognize that ensuring full and meaningful access is ongoing and evolving communal work, which involves regular review of communal practices, protocols, and physical structures;
Whereas only ongoing and evolving communal work will assure disabled people that our communities are places where all people are valued and can fully thrive; and
Whereas we understand that a positive impact of the current pandemic is an invigorated, broad communal readiness to make radical changes to established ways of conducting Jewish communal life for the sake of greater inclusion;
Therefore, be it resolved, that the Central Conference of American Rabbis calls upon its members to:
- Pivot to an urgent and ongoing, newly-invigorated and leadership-backed dedication to disability access, one which creates “a new normal,” post-COVID way of doing, with a menu of services and access points much broader than previous “in-person” habits;
- Calls upon Reform rabbis, congregations, organizations, schools and other educational institutions, and communities to engage in a process of assessing the structural approach best suited to ensure long-term attention to access within their particular community; these might include establishing an Inclusion Diversity Equity and Accessibility Team (“IDEA Team”); recruiting disabled people to serve on any and all committees, especially in positions of leadership; periodic accessibility audits; and ongoing workshops and learning, especially for communal leaders and staff;
- The CCAR pledges to do our due diligence, and encourage all Reform institutions to do so, in consulting with disability advocates and experts (preferably themselves disabled people) to become aware of any barriers to full participation, inclusion, and belonging for all temporarily or permanently disabled people, thereby honoring the principle, “nothing about us without us” (visit the Ruderman Disability Inclusion Learning Center for resources and suggestions);
- Urges all Reform Jewish institutions to work to remove or ameliorate access obstacles like exclusionary language (e.g., replace “Please rise for the Amidah” with “Please rise in body or spirit” or similar) and spatial barriers (e.g., access to the bimah or Torah reading table for folks with all types of mobility);
- Requests that our Reform Jewish institutions establish inclusive practices that address the needs of people with both visible and invisible disabilities, as well as transparency around those practices, e.g., lowering the height of mezuzot; reserving seating near a designated quiet space or exit; creating low-stimulation spaces for sensory-disabled people; providing large print siddurim; creating low- or no-scent gatherings; varying pedagogical techniques; or other solutions that emerge from assessment;
- Exhorts Reform Jewish institutions to communicate ongoing commitment to and celebration of the diversity within our communities by explicitly disclosing accessibility (or lack thereof) at every program or gathering, featuring people with varying abilities in printed materials, on websites and in social media (e.g., “This event is not wheelchair accessible” or “ASL interpretation available. Please contact XXX.”);
- Commits that the CCAR will ensure that its own leadership positions are truly available for disabled colleagues and will work through its representatives to the Rabbinic Placement Committee and relationships with other Reform Movement institutions to encourage establishment of hiring committees for Reform Jewish employment that regularly recruit and consider disabled people for all available opportunities, and include appropriate structural and organizational support to make working conditions accessible;
- Recognizes that disabled people often live with financial insecurity or in poverty and thus calls on Reform Jewish institutions to ensure that access for the disabled includes economic considerations.
With these commitments, the CCAR will continue to consciously and systematically expand the wholeness of our communities and those who find a soulful home within them.
CCAR Resolutions Committee
Rabbi Rachel Greengrass, Chair
Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi, Co-Author
Rabbi Debra Landsberg, Co-Author
 New York Times Op-Ed, “My Life Is More ‘Disposable’ During This Pandemic,” March 19, 2020.
 At the time of this resolution, there are diverse opinions within the disabled community as to preferred language (namely, “people first” or “identity first”). In consultation with our colleague Rabbi Elliot Kukla, we have chosen to use “disabled,” which follows the model of disability justice advocates, rather than the medical model of disability. For greater understanding of the matter, see: What Is Identity-First Language, & Should You Use It? and Identity-First Language
 See, for example, our 1983 Resolution on People with Disabilities and our 2001 Resolution Establishing a Complete System of Care for Persons with Mental Illness.