By Jen Perzow
I have a confession to make. Parshiot (Torah portions) that reference technical details such as those related to the Mishkan (Tabernacle), priestly clothing, and korbanot (Biblical sacrifice) are not usually among my favourites. Never mind trying to draw parallels to parenting! And yet, it is so appropriate that Parsha Terumah concludes February’s Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month.
In Terumah, we receive detailed descriptions of how the Mishkan should be built. These are specific instructions intended to create a physical space for holiness. The purpose for which the Mishkan is built – to create a space in which God can dwell amidst us – is the essence of the building. The technical specifications are important but they are supporting characters to the true objective of giving something ethereal and holy a physical space and presence.
My observation is that we may sometimes take the opposite approach when it comes to inclusion. We focus on structures that may facilitate inclusion but not always with a mindset of truly wanting to do what it takes to be inclusive. Structures and actions can represent our faith, gratitude and spirituality. But like an accessible ramp that goes unplowed after a huge snowfall, it takes a legitimate desire to consider other people’s lived experiences to actually make that ramp a useable tool and an authentic metaphor for inclusion.
“I couldn’t do what you’re doing.” I’m quite sure that every parent who has had the privilege of parenting a child with exceptionalities has heard this at least once from a well-meaning friend or family member. The truth, though, is of course they would. Parents of kids with exceptionalities didn’t get to stay after school for advanced classes in parenting. Neither they nor their children were consulted first and asked whether or not they were up for the task. For the most part, they got thrown into situations without the knowledge or skills to be able to handle difficult situations. And then they adapted. Like so much in life, inclusion is fundamentally about attitude. As a friend so aptly said, it’s about adopting a problem-solving as opposed to a problem-finding mindset.
Exceptionalities bring with them their own adventures. Living with them and parenting kids who have them can be isolating and frustrating and we tend not to speak openly about our challenges and successes. How incredibly fortunate we are to have JOIN, the Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network, as a resource for parents supporting kids with exceptionalities and to offer consultative coaching to institutions that are trying to do better.
You know what is really going to make the day sparkle for one of our fellow exceptional parents? When things go as they are supposed to. When they can park in the accessible spot at school because other people who don’t have accessibility needs have been mindful not to park there. When they can get in and out of buildings with ease. When their children can participate in class because thoughtful and appropriate accommodations have been made.
The millions of details that we mostly take for granted every day: I know these can seem like little things and sometimes we get tired of people pointing them out time and time again. But they are so much more than that. They are representations of authentic inclusivity.
When those things go right it’s like a ray of sunshine. It is building something holy into our everyday experiences.
Have questions about JOIN? Would you like to be included in their Parent Support Group? Please don’t be shy. Reach out via their Facebook page or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.