As always, we ended our sedarim with the words l’shanah haba’ah birushalayim, “Next year in Jerusalem!” For my congregation, Temple Etz Chaim of Franklin, Massachusetts, these words will literally be coming true. We are going to take our first congregational trip to Israel next year at this time in the Hebrew calendar. We will be there for the two holidays that Jews celebrate this week: Yom Ha’Zikaron, Israel Memorial Day, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Independence Day.
I have to say that I’m thinking about this trip a lot; I’m excited that we will be able to experience Israel as a congregation. Of course, it’s too early to know who is going on this trip, so I’m not sure if we’ll have participants with mobility challenges. For that reason, I was pleased to see a story about accessibility in the Old City that was reported on the Israel21c.org website (see https://bit.ly/2ZAvFw7).
If you have ever been to the Old City, you’ll notice that it’s a challenge for people who are in wheelchairs, pushing strollers, or just in need of some support while they walk. Now, based on work done by seven government bodies, all the gates of the Old City are accessible; there is a shuttle taking people from one gate to another; and four kilometers (about two-and-a-half miles) of street within the Old City have been made accessible. This work is expected to serve as a model for other historic cities.
The Torah portion for this week, the week that includes these Israeli-based holidays, is parashat K’doshim. K’doshim is part of what scholars call “the Holiness Code,” a set of instructions about how to live life at its highest level. Included in those mitzvot is this one: “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.”
While our sages have interpreted this text in various figurative ways, its literal meaning remains powerful: do not mistreat those with disabilities. Jerusalem has found a way to maintain its historic character while removing actual stumbling blocks. In so doing, it has added holiness to the holy city.
TOM ALPERT is the rabbi at Temple Etz Chaim in Franklin, Massachusetts.