Why I Attended ONE FOR ALL
Posted on 11/17/2011 @ 04:45 PM
My name is Yishai Barth. I live in Gloucester, MA where my Dad was the Rabbi for a number of years until he left to become a professor of liturgy at Jewish Theological Seminary. I am a Conservative Jew in a Renewal context, a Ramah Palmer veteran, and theologically a very balanced agnostic. Until about 3 weeks ago, I had no idea of the existence of BBYO and had, because of the fact that I am affiliated with Ramah, decided upon USY as my Jewish youth movement of choice. The story of how I found BBYO starts with an occupational therapy professor at Boston University with whom I am a co-researcher on a panel of teens developing a program to teach other teens advocacy skills in institutional environments. I got involved with that program out of a desire to pit my intellect against a profoundly difficult issue and make a really substantial and countable difference. I have been working on that project for the past 18 months to 2 years. Working on this project gave me a feeling of power the likes of which I haven’t experienced in any other aspect of my life. I turned around about 3 weeks ago and said to my mom, “It’s not enough anymore. I need more. I need to find another group of people like the 6 other teens on that panel with whom I can sit down at a table, form a community with, discuss an idea, make that idea a reality, and make a countable and significant difference.” My mom is a bit of a research expert and found this summit on equality. When she informed me of it, most of me was all over the idea. But as a person with a visible disability, I have certain apprehension about entering into a relationship with a new organization, in and of itself, and with a new set of individuals because unfortunately even within the Jewish community, acceptance, understanding, and inclusion are sometimes hard to come by. But I figured, since disability was one of the issues under discussion and since I was a Jew who’d been on both the giving and receiving ends of that issue, that I was morally compelled to come to the summit and add my voice despite my apprehensions.
I usually don’t have trouble with articulation but, as I’ve told my mother on the phone before writing this article, I almost don’t have the words to explain the life altering experience that has occurred for me here over the past 24+ hours. The degree to which my apprehension was unwarranted is absolutely amazing. I have been accepted to a degree that I would have thought impossible in this short a time with such understand and such tolerance and such acceptance and compassion and warmth that it has brought a sense of joy and Jewish pride in my heart that I don’t think I’ve ever had. This applies to both my peers and the staff who have shown equal understanding and accommodation in regards to my disability. This has allowed me to put my differences and challenges aside completely and enjoy the life altering experience that comes from, first, immersing oneself in the amazing group of people and culture and thought-stream that is BBYO, but secondly and perhaps more importantly, to form an amazing set of relationships with 84 like-minded Jewish teens who get what I get, who see what I see, who feel what I feel, who I can argue with and laugh with and learn from and maybe even teach. I’ve never had that kind of relationship established with anyone in so short a time. And aside from the interpersonal element, the educational dimension can only be described by one adjective – paradigm-shifting. This summit has encouraged us to look at the very foundations upon which our ideals, our views, and our actions are based and to challenge them, to flip them, and in some cases simply to destroy them or evolve them. An interesting metaphor for this element of paradigm-shift is the metaphor of the box which the speakers form Keshet brought to us yesterday. If I may be allowed to elaborate upon it, I say that this summit encourages us to look at the boxes which society, as a whole and as the individuals that compose it in all its elements, Jewish and Secular, male and female, Conservative and Liberal, and a myriad of others, try to place us as some conforming entity instead of people. We stand united together in brotherhood and sisterhood, as Americans, as Jews, as individuals with different sexual orientations, different abilities, different challenges, different beliefs, different ethnicities, and different cultures. We have the power to stand, shatter the box, and stand at the peak of the mountain which is change, laughing together into the wind with peace and love in our hearts.
Yishai Barth, Glouchester, MA