Jewish civic leadership

Eliminating physical and invisible barriers

By Joshua Yudkin

Yesterday, I counted that I walked through 86 doorways: 44 times these doorways were located inside the same office building, 26 times they were inside my apartment and 16 times they were in and out of buildings. I am both grateful and aware that I never once had to worry about the building’s construction and whether I would physically be able to go through the doorway.

This is not everyone’s reality. During a recent trip to Israel, Maya Nouri, Tel Aviv city councilwoman, mentioned that a city employee works in a building that, due to historical preservation laws, has a ledge that prevents her from going through a doorway in her own office in her wheelchair without assistance. This was where Maya started sharing her vision for removing barriers and creating a more equitable and accessible Tel Aviv.

How do we preserve historical beauty without preserving historical barriers?

During our conversation, Maya shared how, as the first young working mother on the city council, she has been leading the charge, with the support of her city councilmen, to create more inclusive and accessible governance. For example, as a working mother, she found that midmorning meetings for traditionally retired councilmen conflicted with her work schedule as a mother and practicing lawyer.

Both physical and invisible barriers exist all around us; while some populations may be more disproportionally affected by these barriers, we all have an obligation to, together, remove barriers.

In the Torah, we are commanded in the Book of Leviticus, “You shall not insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Rabbi Harold Kushner z”l reflected on the aforementioned verse, stating that “the decency of a society is measured by how it cares for its least powerful members.” The Book of Proverbs reads, “Speak up for those who cannot speak … champion the poor and the needy.” This same sentiment is found in the Talmud when the rabbis write, “All of Israel are responsible for one another.”

Physical and invisible barriers affect all aspects of our communities. Echoing the famous quotation from Pirkei Avot, “You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.” We all have the dual responsibility to (1) identify and articulate where barriers exist and (2) together, work to remove these barriers.

Where do you experience and/or see physical and invisible barriers in our community? How can we create an accessible and inclusive society where everyone shares a sense of belonging? How are you an ally?

Dr. Joshua Yudkin currently serves as a member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Community Relations Committee and works at the intersection of community building and public health.

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