The Covenant Grants

Chronic Congregation: Centering Judaism, Chronic Illness, and Disability

Organization: The Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, New York, NY

Grant Year: 2022

Project Director: Rabbi Emily Aronson

Type of Grant: Ignition

Grant Amount: $15,000 (1 year)


Emerging Adults and Engagement
Leadership Development

We’re in a unique cultural moment on the heels of the pandemic. How has that influenced the development of your project and what you hope to achieve?

The pandemic has made many more people aware of the lives of those who are disabled and chronically ill. From the challenges of social isolation, to the difficulty of accessing spaces or resources, to the impact of illness itself, disability and chronic illness have garnered much more public attention. As a result, people are seeking to understand how these identities fit into their own narratives and the narratives of those around them. In some ways, accessibility has been greatly improved through Zoom and other online platforms—the challenge now is to maintain and integrate that access, rather than returning exclusively to the way things were.

What is your favorite Jewish text, as it relates to this project and your work in general?

I am particularly drawn to a section of the Babyloninan Talmud 5b, in which Rabbi Yohanan visits Rabbi Eliezer who is sick and crying. After a short exchange, the text tells us, “Rabbi Yohanan said: ‘Give me your hand.’ Rabbi Eliezer gave him his hand and Rabbi Yohanan stood him up.’” In this small moment, Rabbi Eliezer meets Rabbi Yohanan where he is and gently offers to share the burden of his pain. Rabbi Eliezer’s presence transforms Rabbi Yohanan’s experience of his pain and sadness by shattering his loneliness and offering a glimpse of hope. In our darkest times, someone reaching out a hand or simply being with us can truly be a transformative act.

What makes you optimistic about the future of Jewish education?

Every day, I see college students walk into the Bronfman Center eager to learn, discover themselves, find community, and enhance their understanding of the world. I am inspired by my students’ curiosity and their desire not just to learn information, but to integrate that information into their identity formation. These students are eager to understand how Judaism can impact their lives not just in a classroom, but in the ways in which they move through the world.


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