Braille Monitor                 June 2022

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A Minority within a Minority within a Minority…

by Stewart Prost

Stewart Prost From the Editor: Stewart Prost is the chairman of the NFB in Judaism Group. He is married to Debra, and they live in Virginia. They enjoy travel, eating out, going to the beach, swimming, going to plays, and watching movies.

Stewart’s list of activities and leadership reads like a who’s who, with long-term leadership in the NFB, his synagogue, and many civic organization. He knows what it means to be integrated and active in his community. Here is what he has to say about the traditions of his faith and religion as well as ideas about how to increase participation from the Jewish community:

For over two thousand years, Jewish people have migrated and lived in most nations throughout the world. Except for the modern state of Israel, Jews are a minority in all areas of the world, including the United States. Among people who identify as Jewish, there is a minority of persons with disabilities, and within that group there is another minority who are blind or have low vision. People who are blind and have low vision are a minority within a minority within a minority. You get the picture.

Judaism is more than just a religious faith. It is history, culture, family connections, and community. Like many other religious groups, Judaism is made up of different denominations. These denominations include Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Re-constructionist, and others. Each denomination has different traditions, practices, and approaches to what it means to be Jewish. This is no different from what you find in Christianity (e.g., Protestant, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox).

When many people in synagogues and other Jewish institutions think about accommodating people with disabilities, the first thing that comes to their minds is making physical changes such as putting in wheelchair ramps. When it comes to people who are blind or have low vision, the one thing people always think about is magnifiers as a "one size fits all" solution. In many synagogues the prayer books used are not available in Braille or even in an electronic format for people with Braille notetakers. People think large print is the answer for everyone without normal vision. This is also the case with materials for Bible study and other learning opportunities. As blind people we wish to be equal participants in all aspects of Jewish life.

The NFB in Judaism Group was formed many years ago so that members and other blind people who happen to be Jewish can share concerns and ideas with each other and work to be part of their Jewish communities and the NFB. In addition to meeting during national conventions, the group has begun to meet using Zoom during the year.

One area of discussion for this group has been finding ways to reach out to other blind people who are Jewish, thus encouraging more Jewish people to become active NFB members.

In thinking about being as inclusive as possible, NFB national divisions, committees, state affiliates, and local chapters should consider the practices of observant or traditional Jews. A traditional or observant Jew is an individual who observes the practices of traditional Judaism. This includes most Orthodox, many Conservative, and some Reform Jews. However, these practices will vary from individual to individual. Here are general examples of traditional Jewish practices:

Observance of Shabbat (the Sabbath). Shabbat traditionally runs from just before sunset Friday evening to just after sunset Saturday evening. This time is considered holy by observant Jews and is therefore differentiated from the rest of the week. During this time, some people will not drive or use any motorized transportation, will not use electronics, will not conduct financial transactions, or will not attend to regular business activities. Again, these practices will vary from individual to individual and from denomination to denomination. (There have been some changes in practices due to the pandemic.) Traditional Jews follow these same practices during major holidays, which include the following:

NOTE: Jewish holidays do not occur on the same date every year. They are based on a lunar calendar, which is modified to keep each holiday within the same season of each year. Please consult the Diversity and Inclusion calendar developed by the NFB's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.

Special dietary practices, referred to as Kashrut or keeping Kosher: In general, this includes separation of milk and meat, not eating pork or shellfish, and eating meat that is produced in a special way. Some people who keep kosher will eat fish or vegetarian dishes outside the home or in kosher restaurants; others will not.

The items above are a very basic description of traditional Jewish practices and do not include everything, nor is it possible to go into detail about the thinking behind all of these practices. There are many Jews who do not follow all or even part of the practices of traditional Judaism.

Here are some suggestions that would make NFB activities more inclusive to observant Jews:

In areas of the country with high Jewish populations, have chapter or affiliate activities on Sunday afternoon or during the week rather than on Saturday. At the very least, when possible, avoid having activities on Saturday morning, since this is when services are held. (This would be the same as holding activities on Sunday morning when many Christians attend church services.) If at all possible, avoid holding NFB activities on major Jewish holidays.

If meals are a part of any activity, offer either to arrange for kosher food or at least a fish, vegetarian, or vegan option. If there are people who choose not to eat out in non-kosher settings, allow them to arrange or bring in their own food to enjoy with everyone else.

If invocations are a part of any NFB activity, Jewish members should be invited to lead some of the invocations.

The NFB should stand ready to advocate for our Jewish members to be full participants in all of its activities, as well as those of the Jewish community.

Jews are a minority in our country and in the NFB. Therefore, it may not always be possible to accommodate all of these practices. For example, a local chapter may not be able to meet on any day other than Saturday because of transportation. If a meeting must take place on a Saturday, having it in the afternoon would allow some Jewish members to attend after their morning services. If a national division, committee, or group cannot avoid having a meeting during a major Jewish holiday, schedule another session of the activity on a different day. This would increase participation in that activity.

The NFB has a lot to offer blind people who happen to be Jewish. At the same time, those people have a lot to offer our organization. We need to do all we can to reach out to and include people who are a minority within a minority within a minority.

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