At Libenu, we believe that participation in Jewish life is a birthright, not a privilege. The ongoing challenge we face is how to best integrate individuals with disabilities, whose Judaism has unfortunately been marginalized in the past, into the mainstream of the Jewish community. This challenge is even more pronounced at this time, as we balance the need for inclusion with the need to mitigate risk for our fragile clients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many of our clients the practice of Judaism, with its familiar and comforting rituals, is a singular joy in their lives. Following Jewish traditions and customs enhances their quality of life and enables our clients to experience a sense of belonging. Attending synagogue services fosters a sense of community. At the same time, our clients are deeply concerned about tikkun olam, social justice, compassion, human dignity, and the protection of those who are most vulnerable, which in some instances is themselves.
The pandemic has raised a number of important questions, for which there are no easy, risk-free solutions:
- How can we continue to empower Jewish individuals with disabilities to live with dignity and respect, as fully included and contributing members of their community, when inclusion presents a significant risk to their health and safety?
- How can we combat the loneliness and isolation that can co-occur with the need for quarantine and restricted visitors?
- How can we help our clients and their families understand that we protect their lives by maintaining distance?
- How can we provide meaningful social, recreational, and vocational experiences when day programs across Illinois are closed until the fall?
- How can we safely support our respite families, who are experiencing significant stress caring for their children on their own – 24/7 – without endangering lives?
Libenu is working tirelessly with groups of experts in epidemiology, infectious disease, psychology, State agencies, and professionals in both Metropolitan Chicago and across the United States to create innovative responses to these issues. We are sharing online programs and activities, dropping off activity kits, planning safe, appropriate outings, and having regular socially-distant-but-emotionally-close personal visits with our clients and respite children. Our Torah study groups will resume next week. We have also been purchasing PPE, developing protocols and procedures that will help mitigate risk, and training staff and volunteers to be ready when broader in-person services can resume.
Undoubtedly, this is a time of great uncertainty and anxiety, but one thing is sure – Libenu has been and will continue to be there for our clients, protecting their lives with an uncompromising commitment to their health and safety. Your support is critical to this sacred purpose. The essence of Libenu is community – it is at the heart of everything we do. Thank you for being an integral part of the Libenu community.