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The Holy Freak Show: Summary December 25, 2009

Posted by jewishdisabilityunite in Short and Simple.
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In the past, especially in the nineteenth century, there used to be ‘freak-shows’ in many fairgrounds. These were places where the public would go to look at people who were advertised as being ‘weird’: but in fact many of them were simply people with disabilities. Some of these ‘freaks’ were the slaves of the show managers, but others even got rich by displaying themselves. The money was made by tricking the public into thinking the freaks were ‘weirder’ than they were.

In the Talmud, the Rabbis tell us to say certain blessings when we see people who seem unusual to us. The blessing to say when we see someone who has become disabled after an accident or illness is ‘Blessed are You, God… the true Judge’: this is a way of reminding ourselves that God has a reason for what He does, even if it seems terrible to us. But if we see someone who we think is unusual, but was born that way, we are told to say ‘Blessed are You, God… who makes all His creations different from each other.’ This is to remind us that ‘different’ does not mean ‘weird’: we are all different from each other and that is how things should be.

The people who used to work in freak shows made money from the fact that many people do not know what disability is like. They like to stare but do not want to talk to people with disabilities and find out what they can learn from them. This is a big mistake: if we have all been created different, that means that each of us knows something that other people do not know about the world. If we stare but do not speak to each other, we will never find out.

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