Archive for April, 2008

Accessibility

Just today someone popped up on the Hellenion-Midwest list, introducing herself and expressing interest in Hyperborean Demos.  She mentioned that she is deaf and uses a wheelchair. Naturally, she inquired if the place we were meeting was accessible. I had to write her e-mail telling her that it is not, as the room we meet in is on the second floor it being a small business/building, there is no elevator. But we as a group can talk about moving the meeting so she can attend.

I find it ironic that we had moved to Eye of Horus, a metaphysical store to attract more people and yet we’ve attracted someone who can’t go there. Actually, Magus Books is also inaccessible, being in a basement. Granted, folks can order products online from both of them, indeed they both get most of their business that way, but these places serve as social hubs, both informally and as sites for meetings and classes.  Evenstar in St. Paul is probably the most accessible, but even it is in a rather small space that might be tricky to navigate in a chair.* Really the reason for this is these businesses generally are just trying to break even and can’t afford to be picky about the space they are in. Likewise with Pagan groups- we are usually too young and small to have our own spaces, so we meet in homes which are often inaccessible or in coffee shops, bookstores or any other place we can “squat” or rent. But I still think we should make whatever effort to hold Pagan meeting and ritual in accessible spaces and accommodate other disabilities.

In my experience Pagan communities are no more or less aware of disability issues than the rest of society. I ran into this in another Pagan group, that had a “temple” that was actually in the attic of the leader’s apartment.  When I pointed out the problem, he said “Well, I’m sure you and the other students would be willing to carry a fellow student up the stairs if need be.” He just didn’t get it. People who use wheelchairs want to be dignified and independent adults they don’t want to be carried up stairs! Not to mention it could be dangerous.  This supposedly wise and progressive leader of mine then later proceeded to buy a house and move the temple to the second floor of that. Among other reasons, that was one thing that made me lose a lot of respect for him, and I left the group around that time.

In a private group, it’s one thing, but in religious groups that claim to be open to the public it is imperative that we make ourselves available to all kinds of people. If we do not then we might as well say that some people are more important than others.

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April 2, 2008 at 8:26 am 2 comments

Tzedekah

A while back I watched a documentary on PBS called “The Jewish Americans“. It was a fascinating show, detailing the struggles of Jews to be accepted in American society and the major role they have played in social justice movements, entertainment, business and many other aspects of American culture. One concept discussed in the documentary that I was really struck by was that of tzedekah– charity. The word in Hebrew actually means “righteousness”. One of the people interviewed explained they believe that what we have is not really ours- that it is “on loan” from God. I thought that was an interesting way to look at it. Of course charity is emphasized in many religions but I liked the way it seemed to framed in Judaism.

Too often charity has the connotation of pity, giving to those less fortunate because you feel sorry for them. Instead I think we should shift to viewing charity in the context of working for social justice. Charity often helps people only temporarily, whereas social change of a deeper sort removes or reduces the problems that cause them to need charity in the first place. The two should be interconnected. I find that charity efforts especially by religious groups have a tendency to be rather de-politicized. In part this is to make them less controversial but I think when we go off to work at the soup kitchen, we should be asking why people are in a position where they need soup kitchens.

Charity or tzedekah also does not have to be giving money. It can also be volunteering or sharing/donating other resources. I do not have much money but I frequently volunteer for various causes.

April 1, 2008 at 5:40 am 2 comments


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