Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Question of Ethics

There are about 13 ways to get to work from my apartment. That is the magic of living in NYC. I can change it up depending on how much I want to walk, how many stairs I feel like I can do, or if I want to get there an extra minute and a half faster.

One of my many options is to take the crosstown bus. I actually really like the crosstown bus. You get to see some of the park, sit down, do some reading, etc. Today the bus was really packed. I was standing near the back door, so when a seat came open, I took it, in the interests of getting out of the way of the 30-million people trying to exit. As soon as the crowd cleared, I saw a young-ish man (I'd say late 20's early 30's) with a cane standing next to me. I thought about offering my seat, but I'm always wary of insulting people, and it seemed like a young woman offering a seat to an only slightly older man might would hurt his feelings, and suggest disability. Should I have gotten up?

There is some talk about disability in Jewish thought. Pirkei Avot says that you should not "place a stumbling block in front of a blind man," but I don't think that they mean that literally. I know that cohanim (the priestly class) who are disabled in certain ways are prohibited from performing cohanic duties, but I think that they still pass on the status to their children.

I tried to find out what other Jewish blogs had to say about the issue of Jews with disabilities, but couldn't really find anything. Anyone have something to add?


Sherbs said...

My rule of Thumb:
If there's an open seat and I get to it first, I take it. I will only stand up if the people around me are younger than 16, older than they want to seem (like, I've learned from my 86-year-old=-garndfather, some elderly people get offendend when you offer them seats), disabled, looking deshevled, etc. If a 20-something isn't visibly falling over, there's no reason to get up. Often of the subway I won't sit lest I offend anyone by not getting up. But since I'm klutzy and prone to falling on buses I seldom feel bad

Sarah said...

Limmud NY had an excellent film series this year that was curated by Judith Helfand, who's been a steady advocate for disability rights and awareness. Check out last year's schedule for the films--most aren't released yet.

There was also an inspiring discussion on how we as a Jewish community (or as ersatz representatives of various Jewish communities) handle difference, broadly defined. Topics ranged from the practical (wheelchair access to the bima) to the more cerebral--at least in Manhattan, there is an enormous pressure to succeed, and either being or having a child with a disability is often looked upon with an air of, "oh, what a shame, because her parents are so smart/beautiful/talented."

Anyhow, most interesting was the discussion about how Down's Syndrome and Cystic Fibrosis are handled witin the very frum community. Very differently, it turns out.

BTW, Yachad is a great Jewish disability-focussed group.

And on the subway issue...I follow sherbs's guidelines as well, but it's tricky because I often look as though I'm fine, but feel like my muscles are eating me, and I've gotten a lot of dirty looks for not getting up, only to almost collapse in pain once my stop comes. Justin, on the other hand, won't sit if the train is more than half full. Nor will he put his bag on the seat even if we are the only ones in the car. Nor will he sing with me if we are the only ones in the car. Totally aggravating.

Anonymous said...

My general rule is I get up for anyone with a cane/limp, someone over ~75, or a noticeably pregnant woman. The tricky part comes making sure the woman is pregnant and not just fat. Since we all know how that can turn out...

Anniegetyour said...

Sherbs- you see my difficulty.

Sarah- I'd let you sit down. But I don't have any debilitating conditions. When I was in college people would take the elevator to the 3rd floor, and it pissed me off until I started imagining that those people all had a wooden leg. Now I am at peace with lazy elevator users.

Anon- I agree with your arithmatic, but as a young woman, it becomes more loaded. I've had fit, older (40ish) men get up for me on the subway (I'd say once a month), so the assumption is that woman gets seating preference over man (leaving all of the gendered issues aside for a moment) so for me to offer to someone who is disabled but considers themselves normal may seem like a slap in teh face.

Also, sucks to be asked if you are preggers when you're not.