It was the winter of 2004 and he’d spent years dreaming of becoming a Jew. Following many months of formal study he was ready to go before the beit din, the group of rabbis who would hear his journey and proclaim him ready for the final conversion ritual. He did, in fact, meet with these rabbis, who were touched by his sincerity and dedication to the Jewish people.
Larry’s problem was that he was paralyzed from the waist down.
Jewish law requires that all converts – whether old or young, men or women, able-bodied or not – immerse in the mikveh to become Jewish. Paraplegic or not, Larry was not off the hook if he wanted to be considered Jewish according to Jewish law.
When I first learned that our legal system does not allow such leniency for people like Larry, I admit I felt somewhat betrayed. How could we require him to do the impossible? Hadn’t he been through enough? This is the same system that allows for so much flexibility in other areas, after all. Interestingly, many communities would still accept him as a Jew without an immersion, yet he took it upon himself to make sure his identity would be as widely accepted as possible.
As I thought more, though, it occurred to me… maybe we can learn something from this legal reality. If we were to say that all the Larrys of the world were exempt from immersing, it would essentially be saying that they don’t matter. We can push them off to the side, saying, “We don’t know how to deal with you, so we won’t.” If, however, people such as Larry are required to immerse like the rest of us, then it’s not Larry’s problem alone. It’s our problem. The onus is on the community to make it possible. Click to read the rest of Larry’s story on The New Normal: Blogging DisabilityCarrie Bermant Bornstein is Executive Director of Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center in Newton, MA. She joined the organization in 2006 when she became a volunteer Mikveh Guide and also served as its Mikveh Center Director and Assistant Director. A graduate of Skidmore College, Carrie received her Master’s degree in Social Work from Boston University with a focus on Macro Practice. A participant in the first cohort of DeLeT (Day School Leadership through Teaching) at Brandeis University, Carrie also studied at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Carrie lives in Sharon, MA with her husband, Jamie, and their three young children, Eliana, Dovi, and Jonah. Follow her on twitter @carolinering.