Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Righteous Among the Nations

My daughter had the last meeting of her Bnei Mitzvah group this past weekend.  Since she has already had her ceremony, she will not be continuing with the group next year.  The meeting centered around issues of Jewish identity, including processing the Holocaust.

As part of that, the topic of Righteous Gentiles was discussed.  These were non-Jews who, often at significant risk to themselves and/or their families, saved the lives of Jews from Nazi atrocities.  What motivated them?  In some cases, they had personal connections to Jews and could not see their friends (and their co-religionists) persecuted.  But in many cases it was just a sense of morals, of honor and justice, that all people have basic human dignity and do not deserve to be victimized.

Why, then, are there so few advocates for people with disabilities who are not either personally or professionally connected with such individuals?  Many white people were involved in the Civil Rights Movement.  Many heterosexuals support gay rights.  Where are the supporters of people with disabilities who were not thrust into it by their own circumstances?


  1. A related topic (and one that came up during the Bnei Mitzvah class, and in our private discussion afterwards) involved the stories of Theodor Herzl and Raoul Wallenberg. Both were ordinary men thrust into extraordinary circumstances; both were tiny flickering candles until, in response to something that changed them, they became roaring bonfires. Both lived short lives of personal tragedy, but both changed the world forever. (Heroes are not known for living happy lives. We're the ones who live happy lives... because of what they do.)

    If you don't know the names, look them up. Raoul Wallenberg was the third-rate bureaucrat of a Swedish diplomat who, in response to the Holocaust, made it his personal one-man crusade to save as many Jewish lives as he possibly could. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 people owed him their lives when he was captured by the Soviets, never to be seen again. And Theodor Herzl was the Hungarian 19th-century pop-culture journalist who, shaken to his soul in 1894 by the Dreyfus affair, invented modern Zionism, saw the need for a modern Jewish state to arise, and set in motion the events that would make it happen. He was dead from overwork in ten years, and left a broken family behind... but the state of Israel he foresaw, and all the good it has done in the world, is his monument. His remains are buried in Jerusalem, at a hilltop cemetery named for him.

    I mention this as a reminder -- not often does an individual take on a personal crusade, determined to pursue a goal no matter what the cost. But when it happens, the world is forever changed, and we speak their names with wonderment and reverence.

    Will the world of disabilities produce such a champion? I pray that they never need one that badly.

    1. Never need one?

      Need I really remind you that people with disabilities -- both physical and mental -- were the FIRST group targeted by the Nazi regime, before Jews or political opponents? That the general indifference and even support for this emboldened the subsequent steps?

      Or that those attitudes continue to linger in Eastern Europe in the inhumane institutionalization of people with disabilities?

      Or that similar attitudes inform medical decisions around abortion even in countries where people with disabilities are treated reasonably well once they are born?

      Or that, with the increasing nationalization of health care, there will be more and more incentives to judge people's "deserving" of health care dollars based on such considerations?

      Or that such considerations are even today pervasive and in evidence in cases like Robert Ethan Saylor's death, which is not even making the radar in major news, unlike similar cases involving abuses of racial or sexual minorities?


      You are also missing the point here, by putting Herzl and Wallenberg in the same category. Herzl was a champion for his own people. There are many such champions in every group, including people with disabilities. Wallenberg stepped out of his own bubble to protect people that he could have ignored completely, as "other".

      In every human rights struggle, the people outside the bubble who stand shoulder to shoulder with those whose rights are being denied are in a sense "Righteous Gentiles". And no, this does not necessarily come at a sacrifice of one's personal life. We personally know people who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement, who stood up for what is right even if they themselves were not affected, and they are doing just fine. The point is not to be some messianic figure outside the ordinary human experience. The point is to do what is right.

    2. I wish there was a "like" button on blogs. Thank you for writing this response.


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