This exhibit grew from both distant and recent personal history, as many artistic endeavors do. My uncle was diagnosed in the 40s as “Mentally Retarded” though I expect that now he would have been “Autistic”. There was no place for him in the Jewish community. The Archdiocese provided social programs in which he could participate. He converted to Catholicism and was lost to our family and community; I don’t even know if he is alive or dead.

    As an adult, after decades of not quite fitting in, I was diagnosed as having Asperger Syndrome. I believe that this neurological set contributes to my vision and to the way in which I put together images to a unique end. For years, I watched my children, all of whom have some learning or other differences from the norm, be excluded from community in a variety of ways, sometimes overt, often not. The four oldest ignore the organized Jewish community as adults (although some are practicing Jews, and one, self-identified as a “militant Hebe,” graduated from the U of M with a Hebrew Language and Lit major), largely because of their experience in its institutions. My youngest son has been excluded from a preschool that touted its “inclusion “ program, from synagogue, from camp (if we could not both find and pay for a 1:1 aide on our own for day camp or find nearly $3000 for a 12 day residential camp session), from Hebrew School (for my daring to insist that he have only a single, cross-trained aide as in a truly inclusive setting), and from society at large, when he was the only Jew in his school and staff permitted other children to play “keep-away” with his Kippah. He became physically ill and was hospitalized as a result of stress from harassment by the children at one day camp, and staff did nothing even when the behavior was pointed out by our 1:1 and others. 1:1s have commented that they did not see children being friendly to our son, though program staff claimed they were. While inclusion efforts have increased, many individuals lag behind institutions in sensitivity, and institutions, while meaning well, often don’t practice effective, sensitive, or welcoming inclusion but stop at “special“ side-stream programs – separate and unequal. We persist in seeking inclusion, changing course, and speaking truth to power.

    The images in this collection started as photos taken to illustrate a social story about proper Shul behavior. After a rocky start (e.g. “We include their children so well that parents don't want them “outed” as disabled so there are no others you can photograph.”), I met and photographed a number of feisty, successful, Jews who happen to both have disabilities, and make efforts to participate in community. (When you swim upstream, against odds and typicality, you have to be feisty to survive. ) I have been tremendously enriched by Marlee's tenaciousness, Paula's and Rollie's down to earth attitudes, Sharon's wonderfully quirky sense of humor, Sam's brilliant smile, Geordy's presence, Rachel's and Rebecca's ebulliance, and Alex's eloquence, as well as , always, Rafi's unpredictability. A panel on disability and inclusion in community will be presented on February 3, at the Walker Library, in Minneapolis. It is through us, and those like us, that Change Will Come.

... Jane Strauss, January 2011...