Seen from above, a book being held open by someone's hands, a pair of sunglasses, some grapes, and a hat, all laying on a towel on the beach

3 Books for Your Summer Reading

by Tamar Davis, CEO

With summer finally upon us, hopefully we will all have some downtime over the next couple of months to decompress and read a book (or two!) at the beach or on a quiet Shabbat afternoon…so I thought I’d suggest three excellent books that I read this past year to add to your summer reading lists:

Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist by Judy Heumann

Cover of the book Being Heumann by Judy Heumann, a black and white portrait of Judy grinning and sitting in her wheelchair.

This book has been by far my favorite read this year, so much so that I’ve taken to giving it as a gift to our outgoing Gateways board members. The conversational writing style made it feel like I was talking to Judy herself, as she shared her story as a person with a disability who became deeply involved in the battle for disability rights, which ultimately led to the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Here’s a powerful quote from this (highly quotable) book:

“Change never happens at the pace we think it should. It happens over years of people joining together, strategizing, sharing, and pulling all the levers they possibly can. Gradually, excruciatingly slowly, things start to happen, and then suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, something will tip.”

Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found by Rebecca A. Alexander

Cover of the book Not Fade Away by Rebecca Alexander which shows a woman in a dress seen from behind seeming to fade into the white background

Sent as a gift to me by Gateways Past President and dear friend Michelle Alkon, this book felt very personal — as Rebecca’s disabilities around hearing loss resonated deeply with me. In this memoir, Rebecca relates her experience as a young woman who has been slowly losing her hearing and sight since childhood. She describes with incredible vulnerability what it feels like to need people’s help more and more:

“One of the hardest things for me to accept is how much I now need people’s help, and that I always will, increasingly so as life goes on… I’ve found, though, that people want to do this; the urge to help others is a basic part of human nature. Not only shouldn’t I deny the people who love me that, I can’t. I need them. I try to remember that they need me, too. Even though I’m the one with the disability, it’s not a one-way street.”

Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally by Emily Ladau

Cover of the book Demystifying Disability by Emily Ladau, which has rows of small cartoon figures of a diverse group of people with both visible and invisible disabilities

And my last, but not least, pick for this summer, is this gem by Emily Ladau, recommended to me by Gateways’ Director of Jewish Education Programs Tali Cohen Carrus. Though Emily does share her own personal story, this is not a memoir. Rather, she helps us unpack our fears and develop our understanding about how we talk about disability without feeling ignorant or worrying that we might use language that is no longer considered appropriate. I love the way she talks about the word “normal”:

“What does ‘normal’ mean? Sure, you could Google the definition, but can you actually envision one single person who embodies that definition in looks, behavior, or abilities? …Our bodies and brains work in different ways…This means we all need help and support in different ways to get things done. Yet far too many of us are hung up on categorizing people based on some arbitrary idea of normalcy…”

If you’ve already read any of these books or end up picking one or all of them to read this summer, I’d love to hear your own observations and what you loved or didn’t love about what you read. I’m always looking for book recommendations, so if you have a book (disability-related or not) that moved you for whatever reason, please let me know!

Shabbat shalom,

Signature of Tamar Davis

Tamar Davis, Chief Executive Officer