Moses, Joe Biden, and Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month
By Dave Cowen
Hi, my name is Dave Cowen, and this is my second year contributing to the amazing content of the beloved Haggadot.com community, the not-for-profit, crowdsourced Haggadah-making platform. I’m a writer who has published humor in The New Yorker and has had Amazon best selling parody Haggadah books featured in The New York Times.
I’ll be doing a series of three blog posts for Passover this spring. Thank you to Eileen and Rebecca for the opportunity. This first one is particularly close to my heart.
Did you know February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month? JDAIM is a collaborative effort of Jewish organizations across the world every February to promote awareness and inclusion of people with disabilities and their loved ones.
One of the most important Jews in our history and in the Passover story could be said to be disabled. And so it could also be said of our new President. Both had speech impediments!
In Exodus, Moses doesn’t think he’s capable or able to lead the Jews out of Egypt, telling God: “Please, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since You have spoken to Your servant, for I am slow of speech and tongue.”
Similarly, Joe Biden, before his rise in politics, dealt with stuttering throughout his childhood and into his twenties, even into today.
God responds to Moses’ insecurities about his disability by assuring him that when the time comes, Moses will be able to speak well enough. He also says that Moses’ brother, Aaron, will support him.
Similarly, Joe Biden’s mother assured him that his disability wouldn’t obstruct his life goals. Biden said that he still thinks of his mother, who would tell him, “‘Joey, don't let this define you. Joey, remember who you are. Joey, you can do it.’ So every time I would walk out, she would reinforce me. I know that sounds silly, but it really matters.”
Like many in America and in the world, I also identify as disabled. I’ve found that two of the most important ways to handle my disabilities is through belief in I felt earlier in my life. I’ve always thought people need to understand that most of us experience disability at some God’s support and the support system of family, friends, and my professional community.
Since the 2010s, there has been a rise in the disability movement. This has helped to break down some of the discrimination against people with disabilties, which point in life. It’s just a matter of when.
Whether that’s a temporary disablement due to depression or grief, a new permanent disablement due to injury or illness, or the terminal decline of age, the majority of us will either become disabled or will love someone who is at some point in our lives.
What the Passover story and Joe Biden’s rise to the Presidency teaches us is that disability is often part of one’s life but also doesn’t need to define one’s identity. I still write, have worked the same job for the past seven years, have been in long-term relationships, am a good friend, brother, and son, and pursue many other joys and interests.
Now is a time that people with disabilities and people without them can look to our religion’s hero and current government leader as role models that show us that disabilities are just one part of the people we love and/or ourselves.
Happy February and Happy JDAIM Month!
Looking for a kid-friendly inclusion seder? Our partners at MATAN have created an Inclusion Haggadah for children with disabilities. And find our newly-added Inclusion Haggadah for Adults, created by and for adults with disabilities.