Don't forget the disabled

Today in Israel (as the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization reports), there are close to 50,000 people with disabilities as a result of war.

Binyamin Netanyahu shakes hands with a disabled veteran 370 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Binyamin Netanyahu shakes hands with a disabled veteran 370
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In anticipation of Remembrance Day, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that everyone in Israel “will become one family” when on that day the sirens sound in memory of and tribute to our nation’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror.
Remembrance Day is a day of special and communal reflection in Israel – and for Netanyahu, the reflection is particularly solemn and painful given the loss of his older brother, Yoni, 36 years ago at Entebbe.
Across Israel earlier this month, public ceremonies were held. Yet many Israelis were unable to fully participate in some of these ceremonies and be a part of the “one family” of which Netanyahu spoke.
As was reported in The Jerusalem Post on April 24, thousands of Israelis with disabilities could not take part in certain Remembrance Day ceremonies because the public venues and facilities in which they were held were inaccessible to them. In other words, the venues and facilities weren’t really public after all.
In the opening of the Jerusalem Post article, the distress that many of our citizens felt is described: “‘As the nation gears up to collectively mourn its dead, for citizens with various disabilities, national Remembrance Day is a double tragedy. Not only are we mourning along with everyone else for those who have been killed, but we are also mourning the fact that we cannot properly pay our respects to those who have died or show solidarity with their families,’ commented Shlomo (Momo) Nekava, chairman of the Organization for Disability Rights, who on Tuesday night and Wednesday will be among thousands of people with disabilities shut out of public ceremonies because of inaccessibility issues.”
A sad irony in all this is that today in Israel (as the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization reports), there are close to 50,000 people with disabilities as a result of war.
It is not known how many of those have disabilities that would have prevented them this year from gaining access to a venue where ceremonies were being held.
Yet for sure, on this day of solemn remembrance, among those who could not gain access to the ceremonies were those who were injured, wounded and sustained disabilities fighting alongside those who fell.
Sad irony indeed.
And it calls attention to the broader issue of disability in our nation.
It is urgent that we understand that every day – not just that one solemn day – people in Israel with disabilities are excluded from public spaces because of lack of access.
They are also being excluded from the things that those without disabilities take for granted every day.
Like the ability to be gainfully employed and the opportunity even to observe Shabbat in a neighborhood synagogue. In the United States, people with disabilities were even being shut out from attending Jewish day schools, which is what brought our foundation into the work we do on inclusion.
Today in Israel, people with disabilities are being forced to live in congregate housing because there is insufficient availability of accessible housing. I met with one man in a wheelchair who was forced to live in an upstairs apartment in a building without an elevator, which literally meant he had no chance to go outside.
People with developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome, autism and traumatic brain injury, are being excluded altogether from Israeli life and relegated to the fringes because of our dated practices that segregate people with disabilities.
Awareness of the problem is fundamental to how we achieve progress in correcting it – and how we eventually solve it.
People with disabilities are always going to know special challenges – but there are far too many challenges, including those involving access, which people with disabilities should not have to face.
Bedrock in our beliefs as a nation is the phrase, “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lezeh.” All Jews are responsible for one another.
Yes, progress is being made and there is hope for a better day with social justice for people with disabilities.
But we can’t become complacent.
We must work toward a better world, where everyone is valued both for their abilities and for their differences, and in which everyone can fully participate.
The writer is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.