What are the ways that we perceive other people’s bodies? As BMitzvah moves further along with Beha’lotcha, we came across a piece of text that punishes the body for misdeeds. Miriam and Aharon are found at the beginning of a chapter slandering Tziporah for being darker skinned than them. As a punishment, God gives Miriam a case of tzaraat (white scales on her arms). Suddenly the world around her rejects her based on appearance alone.
What does this mean to us in our time? What changes and challenges do people with visible physical differences or disabilities encounter every day?
- People think that people with different abilities are either less good of a person or are a totally good person with no flaws.
- People think that those with physical differences should be excluded.
We each reflected on paper about what route had brought us all to Makom that day. We wrote the specific steps we took: down a flight of stairs, up and onto the sidewalk, waiting at a light for traffic to change, etc..
- I skated all the way here.
- It only took me two turns to get to Makom today.
- A mile long walk along some uneven brick sidewalks
We live in a world that is made for able bodies. What risks could our route to Makom pose when we need to get there in a wheelchair? What does the waiting at the crosswalk look like when we cannot see? We asked:
- How do people know when they’re at the end of the sidewalk if they can’t see?
- What is a curb cut?
As we turned back to our lists, we could see some new differences. Another list had to be drafted. We each took into account a different physical ability and suddenly we all had a very different list in front of us.
- Which alleyway would I have to go down, again?
- Corners without curb bumps would make it much harder.
- Moronic Philly drivers!
- I can’t see the time so I don’t know when to leave.
- I couldn’t use the three steps to my stoop.
- I wouldn’t be able to carry my backpack if I had back issues. A person with wrist issues would have a much harder time opening doors!
The world around us is largely made for able bodies. When we consider the necessary adaptations for someone with different abilities, a strange new world emerges around us. It’s a moment that we rarely take- to consider who we have built the world for in spite of who lives in it. In a unit about the way that we fully see others and empathize with experiences outside of our own, it’s an important first step.