Thank you for participating!
To celebrate Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month and Jewish Disability Advocacy Month
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and Jewish Residential Services are highlighting the diverse and authentic stories and experiences of local Jewish community members with disabilities.
The views represented in the profiles do not necessarily reflect those of the Jewish Federation or Jewish Residential Services.
Meet Noah Anderson
Our son, Noah, has a rare genetic syndrome called Pitt Hopkins. With only 1,500 people diagnosed in the world, our family can feel incredibly isolated at times. Community outings became challenging as we increasingly ran into individuals who were not accepting of Noah. Our family craved a space that was safe and Noah would be accepted, so we decided to reach out at our local Temple Emanuel of South Hills. Initially, we ran into barriers such as figuring out accessibility and explaining Noah’s needs and behaviors. We learned that it was okay to speak up and that people wanted to accept Noah but needed education and guidance. By giving our family this safety and confidence, we have been able to successfully tackle larger community outings. If we hadn’t been provided that safe space, we would still be isolated, and ultimately, given fewer people the gift of knowing this happy-go-lucky, kindhearted boy.
Meet Sharon Jo Serbin
Photo: Andrea London
Sharon Jo Serbin
I have been an active member of the Jewish Community in Pittsburgh all of my life. Growing up with a gradual hearing loss, accumulating to fully deaf by age 18, I never let it limit me, in any way. Israeli Folk Dancing was a passion of mine. I danced barefoot to feel the vibrations of the music. I danced in, performed, choreographed, and directed the Israeli Dance Group for the Pittsburgh Folk Festival for many years. I have taught at Jewish religious schools throughout Pittsburgh, for over 25 years. The students have always been wonderful with my lipreading. I do not attend t’ffilot (prayer) services anymore, since it is too difficult to follow the flow, and I feel left out. I wish more synagogues would use ASL interpreters during t’fillot. I was the 2018 recipient for the Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education. I did not let my disability define me or limit me; I chose to embrace the privilege of living.
Meet Michael Hodes
My name is Michael Hodes. I’m Jewish and was a member of Temple David in Monroeville, PA. I was active in my Temple until I started experiencing mental disabilities and had to spend time in and out of mental hospitals. Then, I joined the Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse where I participate in a work ordered day and have a community. I like volunteering my time. I serve on the JRS Board of Directors and on the Clubhouse Advisory Board. Everyone at the Clubhouse has something to do and we work together. This gives us more purpose and value.
Meet Tami Roskies
I am Tami Roskies. I have Down Syndrome. Ever since I can remember, I have been part of the Pittsburgh Jewish community. I went to the JCC preschool part time until 4 years old. I went to J&R day camp every summer until I was old enough to go to Emma Kaufmann Camp for overnight camping. During the School year, I went to Beth Shalom’s afternoon program, and had my Bat Mitzvah and read the Haftarah in Hebrew. I can still read Hebrew, know all the prayers and love going to Synagogue. These days, I practice at the JCC for Special Olympics basketball, and yes, I am 4 foot 10 inches, but a good guard, thanks to my coach. I have been participating in Special Olympics for many years. In May 2018, I received an award from the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. I live in Squirrel Hill and I love it. I feel very much a part of Jewish Pittsburgh.
Meet Rachel Kudrick
I am both physically and mentally disabled.
As helpful as my synagogue community has been with my physical struggles, I cannot express how much more helpful the uplifting compassion and constant support around my mental illness means to me.
I was embraced by the community after giving a dvar Torah about my lifelong struggle with depression & suicidality (which no one knew about before that day). My rabbi came to visit and pray with me when I was hospitalized. I was asked to speak on a panel about my experiences. And now I have been asked to share with the wider community.
The stigma surrounding mental illness continues, but many in my synagogue have worked diligently to ensure that there is a safe, comfortable space to talk openly about it. This is beyond measure.
Meet David Dickman
I grew up in Squirrel Hill. I belong to Temple Poale Zedeck. I have been going there for most of my adult life. Spirituality makes me feel calm, collected and close to G-d.
Keely from Jewish Residential Services comes to my home every Monday and Wednesday. I can confide in her and she makes me feel comfortable. She helps me overcome challenges.
I have been working at Giant Eagle for 23 years. I am part of the close community at work. I like being a familiar face to customers. I know a lot of the people from Squirrel Hill and they know me. Squirrel Hill is my home, and it’s a great place to live as a Jew with disabilities.
Meet Kara Snyder
Kara Snyder with her piece entitled “The Arms of Torah” installed at Temple Sinai in November 2019.
I am a visually impaired painter who has been exhibiting regionally since 2008. I walk with either a white mobility cane or my beautiful guide dog named Haven. Interacting with the Jewish community, as with any community, presents unique opportunities for spreading awareness. In general, I have been made to feel welcome. People usually ask how they can help. I think most people tend to get nervous around a blind person because they might not know how to help. However, I believe it is the responsibility of the person with a disability to do their part in educating those around them. I do this each time I attend services or go to a Jewish education class, etc. There are always challenges to overcome since we are a vision dominated world, but with a little open-mindedness and effort we can all be inclusive towards each member of our beautiful community.
Meet Karl Joseph (KJ) Wossidlo
K.J. putting together one of his many jigsaw puzzles.
Photo: Paul Richard Wossidlo Photography
Karl Joseph (KJ) Wossidlo
Karl Joseph (KJ) Wossidlo was diagnosed with autism on September 25, 1995, the day of Yom Kippur. He graduated from Spectrum Charter School in 2014, after years of hard work and planning. Since his graduation, he has been employed at Milestone Prevocational Center. KJ attended the Poale Zedeck Special Needs Religious School. It was important to our family that KJ celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. We worked with Rabbi Gibson and Rabbi Freedman to develop the important segments needed for his Bar Mitzvah, including sign language and a picture board. On August 20, 2006, KJ celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. KJ is an active member of Friendship Circle and a regular attendee at Temple Sinai's Mostly Musical Shabbat Service.
Community Events of Interest
Various organizations and synagogues across the community will be hosting events in celebration of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month throughout February. Please join!
God's Telling Choice
Jewish Community Foundation Scholar Rabbi Danny Schiff explains that God deliberately chose an individual with a disability to lead the Jewish people through the most climactic moments of Jewish history.