Throughout my life, I’ve always done things a little bit differently than those around me. This is largely due to the fact that I was born with a condition called Cerebral Palsy, or CP. CP affects my mobility, balance, and coordination, and it requires that many adaptations be made to things I do every day to accommodate my needs. This sometimes includes the way I practice my Judaism.
Some of my limitations are more obvious, like the way I may not be able to stand at all the appropriate times of a service. In this case, I am likely to have a large group of people who are also unable to stand. However, some other things that I do differently are part of a version of practicing Judaism that is uniquely my own. For example, during a bar or bat mitzvah service at my synagogue, the Torah is traditionally carried down from the bimah and all the way through the sanctuary in a processional. As you can imagine, when it came time for my bat mitzvah, this was a bit of a challenge for me. I ended up being able to do the processional, but instead of starting at the ark, I began directly in front of the bimah, effectively avoiding carrying the Torah down a set of stairs. While this change to my service was slight, it was still just that: a change, and it was completely necessary in order for my bat mitzvah to run smoothly. However, I will admit that until then, it was difficult for me to accept doing anything in a different way than my peers.
I remember standing on the bimah at one of my final rehearsals for my service, when I realized that there was absolutely no way for me to carry the Torah down the stairs off of the bimah. This was always at the back of my mind, but until that moment where it was finally about to happen, did I fully understand the reality of it. For one terrible moment, I stood there, paralyzed and on the verge of tears, with a despicable voice in my head telling me: You can’t do it and that means you’re a failure. I was convinced that my inability to do something as simple as carrying a Torah scroll down a set of stairs was yet another addition to the list of things that marked me as “different,” which at that time in my life seemed like the absolute worst thing in the world.
As I’ve grown older and moved on from that moment, I’ve realized that even though I sometimes have to alter my physical Jewish practices to meet my own needs, it does not affect my spiritual connection at all. My Judaism is always something that I’ve valued greatly, and I know that will continue as I begin my journey into Jewish adulthood. I also know that I will continue to practice my version of Judaism, and that whatever changes I will make are not something to be ashamed of.
Every Jew can have their own version of practicing Judaism. Just because you may have to stray from some of the “traditional” methods, it doesn’t at all mean that you’re doing it wrong. In fact, the only thing that matters is practicing Judaism in whatever way you are able. At the end of the day, that’s going to be the only version that is right for you.
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