Masked congregants at Congregation Sherith Israel’s first in-person Shabbat service on June 18, 2021. (Photo/Natalie Schrik)
Masked congregants at Congregation Sherith Israel’s first in-person Shabbat service on June 18, 2021. (Photo/Natalie Schrik)

Plea from a disabled Jew: the pandemic isn’t over

My Jewish communities are leaving me behind.

As many people celebrate the “end” of the pandemic, disabled and chronically ill people like me are still navigating an incredibly terrifying and potentially deadly disease.

I have four conditions that put me at high-risk for complications from Covid. And even if I didn’t, I would still need to be careful: About 1 in 3 Covid patients get “long Covid” in some form. I am currently able to work and support myself, despite constant pain and fatigue. If either of those were to increase, I wouldn’t be able to.

One of the reasons I moved to the Bay Area in 2019 was how much work the disabled community has done here, and how the Jewish communities in particular felt welcoming to me in all of my identities.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, our communities responded admirably. Leaders spoke about the Jewish value of pikuach nefesh, saving a life. We had every holiday on Zoom for a year, and even as vaccinations became available for adults, there were outdoor events with mask mandates and distancing and testing.

Now my communities are prioritizing the convenience and comfort of some over my life.

Mask mandates are dropping even as case counts are as high as they were during the delta wave last summer. Events are moving inside even though we know outside is safer. Vaccine requirements are being waived even though there still isn’t a vaccine for children under 5. And somehow, even finding this information has become a challenge.

In the last month, as Covid numbers have finally come down from the height of omicron and the weather is turning to spring, I started looking for events I could consider going to. At first, I was shocked when that basic information was hard to find. Covid policies are listed on separate webpages from event info, or not anywhere. Where a clear Covid policy was expressed, most entities are citing the state, county and CDC policy to explain the lack of precautions.

These are organizations and groups of people I know to be capable of centering marginalized folks’ experiences.

People I would never expect to cite a police department’s recommendation in a community safety policy — because they understand that our governmental institutions are systemically racist to the core — are now telling me that they are just following CDC guidelines, as if that should comfort me.

It does not.

It tells me that fancy words about inclusion are just lip service, and that they want to exclude me but still have me think well of them.

I have, in good faith, reached out to several organizations and shuls, to ask that they please include Covid and other accessibility information when communicating about their events. I have reminded them gently that this information is just as critical as other logistics, like the date and time.

Some have replied immediately, and apologized for the oversight, added the information and committed to including it going forward.

I want to offer a special thank you to Jonah from Moishe House Berkeley, whose prompt response and immediate teshuvah (repentance, return) restored my faith after a conversation with another local org left me ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But Jonah’s response to me — within 15 minutes of my email — also highlighted just how easy it could be to be accountable, and how disappointing it is that so many others failed to do so.

I am not naming names of people and orgs who need to improve. Hopefully, you know who you are. I am writing this not to shame anyone, but to call you in because I believe you can do better.

These are my asks, to anyone who organizes events, in the Bay Area Jewish community:

1. Immediately add information about accessibility and Covid policy to your events. Every time you share information about the event that includes logistical details (like the date, time and location), share the accessibility and Covid information, as well. This is the absolute bare minimum.

2. Collaborate with disabled, sick and other high-risk community members to create Covid policies that protect the most vulnerable of us and ensure we still have meaningful ways to be in community with you. Ensure that decisions that will affect our health and safety (or make us choose between our safety and our community) are always made with us included in the conversation. This is important.

3. Commit to a process of real accountability and teshuvah to address the harm that has been done. Start the work of unlearning ableism, and do not settle for anything less than a community that honors every person as holy. This is my dream.

And this is my ask to anyone who goes to events in the Bay Area Jewish community: Remember that we are still here. We are your neighbors. We are your community.

When you are in shul or at an event, and there are no disabled people there, do not forget that we ever were.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

Mariyama Scott
Mariyama Scott

Mariyama Scott is an accessibility consultant living on Ohlone land in Oakland. She’s the daughter of a rabbi and is deeply committed to Jewish community, frequently hosting Covid-cautious Shabbat and holiday gatherings.