Chabad, Orthodoxy and the Disabled

Voting officials in London, Ontario lost use of a polling station. With little time before the election, they called on Chabad to help. Chabad agreed. But there is a significant problem – one of access:

Fourteen years after Parliament required federal voting stations to be accessible to all people, some Londoners must go to a civic polling station where 16 steps stand between them and the voting booths.

More than 1,100 Londoners in Ward 6 have been assigned to vote at the Chabad House on Richmond Street, where four steps lead to a covered landing and 12 steps go down a dark staircase leading to polling booths.

"Everyone I’ve talked to is shocked," said Richard Yake, who lives in the ward and has long been an advocate for the disabled — he successfully convinced city hall to modify its elevators to better accommodate the blind and those in wheelchairs.

The many steps at Chabad House will be a barrier to anyone in a wheelchair or using a walker, as well as those suffering from illness or recuperating from injury.

Disabled people tend to vote in high numbers because they depend on government services, but Yake worries those assigned to Chabad House will stay home when Londoners vote Nov. 13.

"We’re always concerned about voter turnout . . . and yet we’re putting roadblocks in their way. That’s hardly fair," Yake said.

It was London city clerk Kevin Bain who selected the location and he says he did so with regret.

"We would have preferred to have an accessible location," Bain said.

The city wanted to use an accessible location used in 2003, Robinson Memorial United Church, but it wasn’t available, according to Ward 6 candidate Stephen Turner, who had called city hall to voice concerns.

City staff learned they had to find a new site after sending a letter Sept. 7, said Bain, who added that the church was not at all at fault.

With little time left to mail out voter notification cards, city staff had to find a substitute quickly and Chabad House was the only place available, he said.

Chabad House is the only one of 207 city polling stations that isn’t accessible, Bain said.…

This is a common problem in Orthodox synagogues and Chabad Houses worldwide. It should not be so. But it is, largely because the Orthodox Jewish community just doesn’t give a damn. The same can be said of the Israeli government on national and local levels. Ever watch a disabled Israeli veteran try to get around in Jerusalem? I have. Have we no shame?



Filed under Chabad Theology, Haredim, Israel, Modern Orthodoxy

23 responses to “Chabad, Orthodoxy and the Disabled

  1. That’s why when my shul (Congregation Ohel Levy Yitzchok Lubavitch) bought a private home, I got them to do enough renovations to make it accessible. That was ten years ago.

    I didn’t need it. Nor did anyone in the shul. But, I felt it was necessary (even though we could have, as a religious organization, gotten a waiver).

    Since then, we have been the leader in the community for providing access.

  2. sarah

    You would have to be the most pigheaded obnoxious fool out – instead of focusing on the negative look at the positive Chabad agreed to help!.

    If you can do any better do it yourself!

  3. Dear Shmarya,
    Your attack on Chabad of London and Chabad in general was hurtful and unfair.

    Chabad of London was fulfilling its role in civic duty by giving its space for voters and should be commended for that.

    Chabad of London is a student chabad house which hosts over 300 Jewish students on Shababat and another 200 during the week.

    Rabbi Naftaly and Nechamie Siverberg are the most amazing, kind, wise and special human beings you can find.

    The building was a former Greek Church, before it was bought by Chabad.

    So you can blame the Greeks and not chabad for not making it accessible.

    Chabad of London has been trying to raise additional funds to make it wheelchair accessible for four years and still has not been able to raise the funds to make it so.

    The operational costs of the weekly Shabbat, barley keeps the budget above red.

    I don’t think there is a Chabad house in the world that was built in the last ten year from scratch and not bought from others that is not accessible.

    That’s a challenge to you Shmarya go find Chabad houses in the US built in the last 10 even 15 years and let see if they are accessible.

    If they are YOU OWE the good people of Chabad an apology. Perhaps you will stop looking to always hurt people of goodwill. You always look to find whats wroing with someones good intentions.

    Shmarya you are welcome to be a donor to the Chabad of London fund to make the center accessible.

    A friend of Chabad and Chabad of London

  4. I can name several. The Chabad-contolled shul in St. Paul, for example, has no accesible bathrooms on the main floor, even though a major addtion was added 12 years ago and another renovation, putting in a mens mikva, was done less than 5 years ago. And the shul’s bima is not accesible, either. Two male and one female congregants were whellchair bound, too. And there are dozens more shuls and Chabad Houses like this.

  5. Noclue.

    It is not that people do not give a damn, they simply do not have money.

    Why don’t you join an Orthjodox shul and donate the money. I am sure it would be accepted.

    Oh, I forgot, you are not Orthodox. Then why are you so obsessed with Orthodox Jews?

  6. I was OJ for more than 20 years. I’m still shomer mitzvot. And the examples I gave did not involve money (unless you count a couple of hundred extra dollars at most in projects worth many times that amount. Perhaps I’ll post on this in greater detail soon …

  7. Stephen Mendelsohn


    The Chabad house in my community has its sanctuary atop a spiral staircase. The building is about a mere sixteen years old, and at least two local Jews with disabilities pleaded with them to make the sanctuary accessible. Money was not an issue here. Subsequently they added an additional two stairs for a portable bimah. At Chabad, it seems to me that there is often still an attitude that it is OK to carry a person up and down stairs in a 200+ pound wheelchair. Another Orthodox synagogue down the street was torched by a teenage member of the community during the 1980’s. There were apparently two plans to rebuild, and the more accessible of the two lost by just one vote. Because of this, women with disabilities have often had to sit in the tiny front lobby and were unable to get to the women’s section. No one with a disability ccan get to the social area downstairs.

    This is a serious problem in much of the Orthodox community, particlularly as one moves rightward toward charedism. It does often seem to many that the non-Orthodox movements take access more seriously. There are notable exceptions, including Rabbi Avi Weiss, who has forcefully advocated for full inclusion for over 25 years, once threatening to resign from his position as rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale if the congregation did not make the necessary renovations. The OU, to their credit, has recently taken access and inclusion much more seriously than in the past, and has lists of accessible shuls and mikva’ot on their website. But much more needs to be done.

  8. dovid

    Why if “Any”thing is said to a jew, that’s anti semtic, but when the name above “ALL”names “JESUS” is mention also it’s worst and still moreso anti-semtic. Why does this name “JESUS” scare you jews are anger you so bad???

  9. Scam Alert

    I’m still shomer mitzvot

    No, you go through the motions. Your blog is in flagrant violation of so many halachos that there is no point in even bothering to enumerate them.

    Go frei. We don’t need you and Hashem knows you are not well and not able to integrate into any community.

  10. Believe me, yiddishkeit needs me far nmore than it needs and anonymous creep like you.

  11. Scam Alert

    No one needs you. You pretend you are needed rather than doing anything that would make you needed.

    But you are not well and Hashem will forgive you. One day there may be treatment for you.

    Still, we are not your problem and you are not our problem.

  12. Garnel Ironheart

    It’s one thing to criticize groups which request events and then find themselve ill-prepared to handle them. Had Chabad London lobbied to become a polling station, then your words might have had meaning. However, from the article you yourself quoted, it seems that Chabad only agreed after being approached and then did so in a sense of civic duty, something that goes against the general idea that Chabad has no interest in the concept.

    If the Chabad facilities are unsuitable, that’s not necessarily Chabad’s fault. They bought an old church built in the days long before people cared about the disabled. Financial survival is currently their biggest problem but I am sure that if you contacted the Rav Silverberg who is the director, you’d find he agrees with you completely that the facility should ideally be upgraded to improve access.

    It’s one thing to crticize sins but when you search out anything that you might disagree with and publish a screed against it, it lowers the respect your legitimate concerns might have otherwise received and turns you into “Oh Shmarya, just ignore him. No matter what you do, he’ll just complain about you.” Then you lose the influence you need to change things.

  13. Stephen Mendelsohn


    The broader question is whether Orthodoxy in general and Chabad in particular is significantly behind the curve when it comes to accessibility and inclusion. Given the anecdotal evidence, it is a legitimate question.

  14. Garnel Ironheart


    It’s impossible to say anything about Orthodoxy in general being behind the curve. The Orthodox shul I currently daven at was specifically built to allow the disabled easy access without being obvious (the whole thing is on one level so there’s no need for ramps to single people out). One of the previous shuls I daved in was barely accessible to people with two strong legs and the rabbi didn’t seem to care about that as a limitation. “So we’ll lift the person up the stairs,” was his reply. Like any identifiable group, there are those who will see the integrations of the disabled as a priority (more likely than not people who are either disabled themselve or have close friends and/or familiy who are) and people who are generally selfish and never think about it.

  15. Noclue

    Ramps and other accomodations do not cost money? A few hundred dollars at most? In what world do you live?

    Being Shomer Mitzvos is not enough if you simply do not believe, as you admit that you do not.

  16. Your reading comp skills are still low. In the renovations I mention, we’re talking, at most, about $200 or so extra. No ramps needed. Simply a wider door and an accessible toilet.

  17. Stephen Mendelsohn


    Braille signs and large-print siddurim cost even less — just a few dollars per sign at Home Depot, and less than $50 for a large-print siddur. And yet, many shuls fail even here. The biggest problem is attitude, not money, as demonstrated by the rabbi in Garnel Ironheart’s above post.

  18. I have to admit that this post sort of touched a nerve, mainly because the biggest obstacle to my attending an Orthodox shul is the fact that Braille sefrim are largely unavailable. I’ve also had very little luck with publishers, trying to get permission to obtain electronic copies of their seforim in order to translate them into Braille myself. There’s JBI International, but because they rely on donations only, they will only transcribe books in which there is significant interest. I can understand that, because Braille books cost thousands of dollars, but why can’t the major Judaica publishers allow for their books to be available in electronic format, for purchase, so that they can be transcribed on an individual level? Then there’s the issue of most of the technology that benefits the blind. Since it’s forbidden to use any form of electricity on Shabbat and Yom Tov, 9unless there’s a timer involved), it seems the only way one can do things like study Torah, or just read, is to find someone else to read for you. At least that’s what one Orthodox rabbi suggested to me. If it weren’t for the fact that I know he didn’t know any differently, I would have been offended. Sorry for the rant.

  19. Noclue

    Your original post complained about steps, not toilets.

    Read your own writings before you talk about comp reading skills.

  20. Youu really are a fool. Read my comments above. You were clearly responding to them.

  21. Anonymous

    Once again, you resort to what you excel at best; name calling.

    I was responding to your original post, as can be seen by your statement on not giving a damn to which I responded directly to.

    Your other comment refers to specific instances about renovations as to which I know nothing directly. It may have been that the problem was beneath radar at the time of the innovations. Simple ignorance is different than not giving a damn.

    As for your being “shomer mitzvos,” if you do not think that the mitzvos are binding then you are shomer tradition, culture, your own desire or suggestions. The word mitzvos by definition means something commanded.

    Of course there is the possibility that your beliefs may be more traditional than you admit or that you are just unsure or not totally sure.

  22. Sorry, buddy. You’re just a bit slow today. As for the renovations re: access being a simple mistake, no, not true. It was done with forethought, against the objections of those of us who cared about access.

  23. Anonymous

    The Ten Suggestions.

    I was not privy to your supposed objections so I can not comment on it.

    Fifty dollars for a siddur. I can not think of any congregation that I have davened at that would not buy a large print siddur or braille if a congregant asked for it.

    In fact, most congregants donate more than that over dues, so they can use that money themselves to buy large print siddurim and donate it to the congregation. Or, alternatively, buy one and subtract it from the dues.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s