Monday, March 17, 2014

Some insight into the "stairs" problem

I'm standing in the lobby of the synagogue in which we enjoyed a Seudat Purim (the festive Purim meal that one is obligated to eat on Purim afternoon) and complaining that the lay-out of that building, with the sanctuary on the second floor, makes it impossible for people with mobility challenges to daven/pray there. A member of the congregation chimes in that, well into the twentieth century, most buildings were "walk-ups" (buildings without elevators), so people were very much accustomed to walking up stairs to go just about anywhere, and, therefore, having a "walk-up" sanctuary would have been considered no big deal. "Hmm," says I, "that's probably true, now that you mention it--I hadn't thought of that. But I'm glad that we're now more aware of the need to make buildings accessible to all.”


Blogger Talia bat Pessi said...

Inaccessible shuls are THE WORST. My mother has back issues and has a really hard time doing stairs, and shuls that have steps and no Shabbos elevators are basically closed to her. The worst of the worst are shuls with women's balconies that can only be accessed by stairs, with no cordoned-off section downstairs in the men's section for women. Those shuls are sending the clear message that they basically only care about men's ability to pray, and it's so frustrating.

Mon Mar 17, 05:16:00 PM 2014  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

In our era of inclusiveness, designing any house of worship to be physically inaccessible to some would-be worshippers would be disgraceful. Unfortunately, what can be done to make older buildings accessible is often, sadly, limited, financially and/or technically.

Orthodox Jewish female would-be davenners/worshippers often face a double whammy--just getting into the front door may already require climbing a few steps, but getting up to the balcony may require climbing an entire flight of stairs, or more. Yes, that definitely sends a "men-only" signal, and that's pretty outrageous. Sure, our ancestors all lived in walk-ups (and many of us grew up in multi-storied houses with stairs), but what was so fair, even then, about designing a synagogue in such a way that the women had to walk up twice as many flights as the men?

Mon Mar 17, 06:05:00 PM 2014  

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