Passover is nearly here. Jewish homes around the world are being scrubbed and scrutinized and scrubbed some more in an effort to find and dispose of every levened crumb. Meanwhile the menu keeps expanding—let’s not forget Cousin Rivki’s potato kugel this year, or your mother’s famous fluffy matzah balls, please. The guest list, too, continues to grow as friends and strangers alike are welcomed to join the journey toward liberation.

And in grocery stores everywhere, box upon box of matzah is flying off the shelves! Because, really, can you ever have enough matzah during Passover?

With that in mind, I present the first of 3 blogs dedicated to Passover. It is both a plea for good communication, and an explanation of Yismehu’s purpose. Your comments and critiques are always welcome.


Matzah and Braille

By Joan Myles

Perhaps you’ve heard the following joke about the rabbi and the blind man which makes the rounds at my synagogue every Passover. But have you ever thought about it in terms of blind students and Jewish community?

A rabbi sat down on a park bench next to a blind man, figuring to enjoy his lunch in the Spring air. Naturally social and generous, he placed a piece of matzah in the man’s hand, and said, “For you”.

The blind man turned the matzah over and over, examining it with one hand, then the other, and finally declared, “This is terrible–who wrote this stuff!”

This little story focuses on my two favorite things, Braille and Judaism. It also shines a light upon the unfortunate miscommunication which often results when differing worlds intersect. I know this foggy crossroad quite well, because my own tent stands there, squarely situated in the realm of the Jewish blind.

Many well-meaning individuals pass through this neighborhood, rabbis and congregational leaders, educators and camp personnel. But few possess the temperament to fully acquaint themselves with its rare beauty and challenging landscape. In fact, visitors often become quite insistent that we who dwell here abandon our settlement and join them in theirs.

These are generous souls, well-meaning as I stated before. They live in a world alive with the motion and color which the blind obviously lack.

Or do we?

I read once that Western culture is dominated by vision and the proliferation of visual imagery and information. No wonder a perception chasm separates the world of the sighted from that of the visually impaired. Without similar perceptions, we may even lack the words to talk about the situation in a meaningful way.

But the fact is that the congenitally blind were born into the world whole, and only learn by being told that they are lacking a sense that others can’t live without. And with sufficient training and guidance, individuals who lose vision later in life are able to continue their active involvement in nearly every activity they enjoyed previously. It is not the professional’s perception of physical reality which must lead the blind student’s learning after all. Sighted and blind together must discover a shared vocabulary through which to teach one another.

Which brings us back to the rabbi and his matzah. What a shame that he missed such a teachable moment. An opportunity for mutual learning is a chance to build community.

If only he had said, “Would you like a piece of matzah?”

Since the blind man was obviously unfamiliar with this Jewish staple, a conversation about its makeup and meaning may have ensued. Then the blind man would have taught the rabbi about its similarity to braille, and the importance of braille to his independence.

Matzah and braille, freedom and struggle; the rabbi and the blind man have made a connection.

The rabbi has found a way into the blind man’s world and together they have built a language bridge. Based upon the kind of shared experience which penetrates to the realm of shared humanity they have forged a simple relationship and are on their way to community.

Unfortunately, most miscommunications do not disentangle themselves so neatly by chance. The joke is funny because miscommunications are more likely to result in, “Who wrote this stuff?”

The good news is, though, that to bridge the perception chasm as naturally as a walk through the park may simply require taking the hand of one who knows the way. And that is precisely why Yismehu was founded.

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