Photo of Judy Heumann speaking on stage from the documentary film Crip Camp

Honoring the “Mother” of the Disability Rights Movement

by Tamar Davis, CEO

We are called… with love. This week’s Torah portion starts us on a journey through the third book of the Torah, Vayikra. While we refer to this book as Leviticus in English, the literal translation is “And He called.” God is calling to Moses, and commentators note that the word “called,” as opposed to “said,” has a connotation of love. God is calling to Moses with love. When I leaf through this book of Leviticus, though, it doesn’t quite read to me as a book of love. It’s a book of commandments, certainly, but where is the love?

I came to a deeper understanding of this after watching the funeral of internationally renowned disabilities rights activist Judy Heumann, who has been called “the mother” of the disability rights movement. One of the rabbis who spoke, Rabbi Aaron Alexander of Adas Israel Congregation in DC, quoted Leviticus during his eulogy, “You shall rebuke, rebuke your neighbor.” He elaborates on why the verb rebuke is repeated, saying that according to the sages, you’re not supposed to rebuke just once. But you must offer your rebuke with love.

“We were her students, trying to create a dignified world for everyone, and very very often getting it wrong. So she rebuked us. But when she offered rebukes, she did it always from a place of… deep love, a love for humanity, a love for the wonders of God’s creation, a love for community, a love for Judaism,” Rabbi Alexander said. Other speakers shared how Judy “made disability ‘cool,’” would say firmly that “disability rights are civil rights,” that she had a deep love for disabled children, youth, and young adults with disabilities, and that her mission was to instill disability pride, empowering all those with a disability to live productive, independent lives.

Judy spent her life calling to all of us with love to change our society for the better. So too, we all need to call to each other with love as we continue Judy’s legacy of “creating a dignified world for everyone.”

May Judy Heumann’s memory be a blessing.

Shabbat shalom.

Signature of Tamar Davis

Tamar Davis
Chief Executive Officer