When Eleanor Pearlman heard about Gather Grants last fall, she knew she had to do something that involved kids. “I love working with kids, being around them,” she says. Gather Grants are an initiative of Federation’s Making Jewish Places, Next Gen, and PJ Library Atlanta that gives community members $180 microgrants in order to hold events in their neighborhoods and gather meaningfully. Immediately, Eleanor knew what she wanted to do.
She and her parents went to Kroger and Spicy Peach and bought candy and frosting. They split the materials up and created individual kits so neighborhood kids could make their own candy sukkahs. “Kids love candy,” Eleanor says, and she’s right. The children and parents who attended the gathering each got a bag with supplies, and Eleanor gave a talk about sukkot and its symbols: sukkahs, lulav and etrog. Then, she invited the kids to use their candy and make and decorate their own sukkahs. The families had a blast making and eating their sukkahs, and Eleanor facilitated the whole thing.
Relational Engagement Manager, Carla Birnbaum, was immediately impressed with Eleanor’s application for funding. “The Gather Grant program is meant to engage Jewish Atlanta in a meaningful and empowering way. Eleanor’s idea was both of those things and more. Her resourcefulness and enthusiasm surrounding this program is wonderful!”
Eleanor is a senior in high school, and in addition to being great with little ones, she’s also a woman with a disability.
“Sometimes adults don’t know how to talk to me. They might say ‘Oh, I’m so sorry you’re in a wheelchair.’ But I’m grateful for my wheelchair; my chair gives me freedom and independence.”
But kids aren’t intimidated. “Kids think my chair is neat and interesting, and they take it at face value.” It’s one of the reasons she loves being around children so much; they understand that people are unique.
February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), when Jewish organizations and communities worldwide work to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities. Organizations like Jewish Abilities Atlanta work all year to ensure that Jewish people with disabilities don’t miss out on any aspect of Jewish life, but not all Jews know about these resources.
In addition to being a wheelchair user, Eleanor also lives with a chronic illness. She sometimes has to miss classes due to appointments or hospitalizations, but says that her Jewish school has been extremely helpful and accommodating. They understand her needs as an individual, and work with her and her family to make sure she isn’t missing out.
Eleanor says, “I think it’s important for parents of kids with disabilities to do their research and find resources.” She says that parents shouldn’t assume that their kids can’t participate in activities like summer camp. Eleanor herself attended overnight Jewish summer camp at Camp Simcha Special every year that she was eligible except 2020, when camp was closed due to COVID.
Eleanor says she would love to do another Gather Grant. “For somebody who is disabled, it’s sometimes hard for me to go to other people’s houses to celebrate shabbat or other holidays—there might be stairs, or narrow hallways, or other inaccessible spaces. To bring people to my home, to my sukkah, is much easier and more relaxing.” The next round of Gather Grant applications opens on March 1 and will be themed around Israel’s 75th birthday.
JADAIM might be ending today, but we should focus all year on making Jewish Atlanta an accessible and inclusive place for all people.