As told to Rudy Malcom, writer in the Hillel International Writers Program.
“For me, disability is about making the world a better place, which plays into all of the Jewish values that apply to social justice: tikkun olam, tzedek tzedek tirdof, lo ta’amod al dam re’echa. The ideal Judaism that we all want is one that is inclusive of all identities, and that means that it also has to be accessible physically. Sometimes we forget that some people literally can’t get into the building. Maybe people aren’t coming to your community because they don’t feel welcome, because you have a sign on your ramp that says, ‘Do not use.’ In Jewish communities everywhere, they say, ‘Well, there’s nobody with a disability in our community that we need to consider,’ but I subscribe to the model of ‘If you build it, they will come.’
“I have a chronic illness, which episodically impacts my ability to walk, and my Hillel was the only thing that could make me feel good when things were really hard. Hillel staff is so valuable in their ability to listen to students with disabilities and work together with them. Mollie Flink and Rabbi Anna Levin Rosen of UChicago Hillel have been the most wonderful and have really encouraged me to advocate for myself. What’s so helpful about having allies is that they push the culture for you so it’s not all on your shoulders to change an entire institution. I’m only there for four years; what’s that going to mean when the next person with disabilities comes after I graduate? With Rabbi Anna there, I know that person will be heard.” — Emily Knopf, University of Chicago