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Matan Honors Contributions to Disability Inclusion

Matan is a New-York-based, national nonprofit organization, dedicated to promoting disability inclusion and belonging in Jewish communities.
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June 6, 2024
David Shore, Eileen and Jerry Lieberman

On May 29, Matan honored ABC’s “The Good Doctor,” along with Rabbi Shai Held and Aaron Kaufman, at its annual gala. Matan is a New-York-based, national nonprofit organization, dedicated to promoting disability inclusion and belonging in Jewish communities.

Aaron Kaufman and Dori Frumin Kirshner

“Every year we recognize several honorees with awards,” Dori Frumin Kirshner, Matan’s executive director, told the Journal. “Each honoree embodies our mission of disability inclusion in communities.

Past honorees include the late actor Ed Asner; comedian Pamela Rae Schuller; “Sesame Street”’s Emily Perl Kingsley; author Andrew Solomon (“Far from the Tree); the late Judy Heumann, matriarch of the disability rights movement; Jewish filmmaker Ilana Trachtman and disability rights advocate Matan Koch.

“The Jewish community is only as strong and vibrant as its ability to include individuals with and without disabilities,” Kirshner said. “We exist to ensure that disability inclusion is a priority, and that every Jewish community has the tools and knowledge necessary to promote successful and meaningful inclusion.” 

Kirshner hopes Matan’s work results in inclusion and belonging becoming the norm, rather than the exception.

Actor Robert Sean Leonard and David Shore

Held, who is the president and dean of the Hadar Institute in New York City, received Matan’s Leadership Award. One of the most influential American Jewish thinkers and leaders, Held’s most recent book, “Judaism Is About Love,” was gifted to the attendees. 

“Through this award, we honor his erudition, his teaching and writing, as well as his openness in sharing his life experiences living with a chronic illness, enabling others to better understand that one can be both incredibly accomplished and productive while also contending with a condition that to most is invisible,” Kirshner said.

“Judaism places such a high premium on seeing the unseen, remembering the forgotten, paying loving attention to those who are too often relegated to the margins.” -Rabbi Shai Held

Held told the Journal he has much admiration for Matan. “Judaism places such a high premium on seeing the unseen, remembering the forgotten, paying loving attention to those who are too often relegated to the margins,” he said. “That is so much of what Matan is about.” 

He called Matan a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name, a way of enabling God to be more present in the world. 

“It feels like human history is – or ought to be – a journey towards more and more people seeing and honoring the full humanity of every last person on this earth,” he said. “Disability inclusion (embrace, not merely inclusion!) is thus a major mitzvah and an ethical imperative.”

Kaufman, the Jewish Federations of North America’s senior manager of legislative affairs, was presented with the Impact Award. This was recognition of his commitment and partnership, working to create inclusive Jewish communities. He focuses on disability and poverty issues and is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. 

Kaufman considers the Matan staff kindred spirits, and said it is special to be honored by the organization. “People sometimes think including people with disabilities will be a headache or detract from the experience of those without disabilities,” Kaufman told the Journal. “However, people with disabilities enhance and enrich the experience for everyone.”

Jason Lieberman

When asked what inspired his work, Kaufman said, the memory of his late brother drives him. “My brother Jay Kaufman was quadriplegic and needed assistance with all activities of daily living, such as showering, feeding and toileting,” he said. “Even though, like him, I have CP [Cerebral Palsy], my brother taught me the importance of advocating for those with more significant needs.”

During the gala, the Trailblazer Award  was accepted by “The Good Doctor”’s  executive producer and co-showrunner David Shore on behalf of himself, executive producer and co-showrunner Liz Friedman and executive producer Erin Gunn. The award expresses Matan’s heartfelt gratitude for “The Good Doctor” and its profound impact on viewers worldwide.

“The Good Doctor“’s groundbreaking portrayal of Dr. Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, both entertained viewers and sparked crucial conversations about the abilities, challenges and aspirations of individuals with disabilities.

“For the past seven years, the show has demonstrated the importance of focusing on ability versus disability, and showcasing what is gained when everyone is included,” Kirshner said. “The show has portrayed so many different types of issues: congenital, acquired, cognitive, behavioral, those that impact mental health; it’s been a masterclass on raising awareness about disability inclusion and belonging.”

Shore said he’s very honored for the show to be recognized, although a little bit surprised, as it’s “people doing great work honoring someone who pretends to do great work,” he told the Journal. “I quickly learned, when I started ‘The Good Doctor,’ that the show was much more interesting when we learned from him than the other way around,” Shore said. “We think we know stuff. We’re comfortable in our worldviews, but we need someone to come along and make us a little uncomfortable and shake those views and help us grow.”

Learn more about Matan and this year’s honorees at MatanEvent.org

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