I turned 60 a few weeks ago. I’ve had cerebral palsy since birth. My speech is slurred, my gait is awkward and the use of my hands is impaired. I have lived much of my life as an observant Jew. I know what it’s like to function as a person with a disability and be active within the Jewish community.

For decades, the status of Jews with disabilities was not discussed. The reasons are complex. In part, they’re consequences of our people’s emphasis on academic and professional achievement. While some parents boasted about the accomplishments of their children, those whose children were unable to have such success were often silent. Another reason is that many parents have concerns that children with disabilities have enough to overcome without adding “extra” Jewish education or preparation for a bar or bat Mitzvah.

It is widely estimated that approximately 19 percent of the general population lives with a disability. There is no reason to believe that the incidence of disability is any lower among Jews. I suspect that many of us do not see Jews with disabilities actively participating in synagogues and Jewish organizations.

Jewish communities are now looking at how the needs of this segment of the population are and are not being met. What is missing in the conversation is the presence of Jews who have disabilities. Often there is a perception that people with disabilities are helpless individuals deserving of pity, or should be placed on pedestals for living courageous or heroic lives. Most of us merely struggle from day to day trying to lead fulfilling and productive lives.

For my 60th birthday, my wife and I sponsored the Shabbat kiddush at our shul. The rabbi devoted his sermon to how inspirational I am for walking to shul every week, even when it’s sometimes difficult for me. Walking has become more difficult as I’ve gotten older. Still, talk of me being inspirational or heroic has always made me uncomfortable.

I know many people with disabilities who adopt distinctively Jewish lifestyles. I’ve done what hundreds of people do—allow our behavior to be shaped by halachah as much as possible. I believe halachah to be divinely ordained. I have no dispensation from performing mitzvot to the best of my ability just because of my disability.

Having a disability is never a blessing or an advantage. There has never been a time when I didn’t wish that I didn’t have cerebral palsy. It makes everything, including living Jewishly, more difficult. People with disabilities often say that their greatest challenges come from the actions and attitudes of other people, not from the disability itself.

I sometimes deal with people who think that I have an intellectual disability. My parents couldn’t find a congregational Hebrew school that would accept me as a student. The administrators of every congregational school in my native Toronto claimed that I couldn’t handle a religious education in addition to my secular studies. Fortunately, a small, family-run Hebrew school in Toronto taught me Hebrew, Torah and prayer, and trained me for my bar mitzvah.

In saying that my disability is a burden, I also appreciate the ways in which I have been blessed. I was blessed with parents who drove me to strive and succeed. They expected me to excel educationally and professionally, and be Jewishly literate. Dad wanted me to have an intensive Jewish education. He didn’t consider mere preparations to chant at my bar mitzvah adequate. Every Shabbat, we studied the weekly Torah portion. Synagogue attendance, on Shabbat and weekday mornings, became my regular routine.

In early adulthood, I started to attend a minyan—the “Downstairs Minyan” at Toronto’s large Shaarei Shomayim synagogue, where Rabbi Chaim Sacknowitz taught one Jewish law every Shabbat. Rabbi Sacknowitz’s minyan became the center of my social life. Although it’s been 19 years since I left Toronto, I still have many of the friendships I developed there.

As a university undergraduate, I took a number of courses in Jewish history and philosophy. Today, Rabbi Mendel Silberstein studies Talmud with me for an hour every week.

All of this helped me make up for the intensive early Jewish education that I would like to have had. Even so, I miss not having the opportunity to attend a Jewish day school.

My disability has been and always will be part of who I am. I try not to let to let it define me. As a journalist, my work is judged solely on its merit, without being colored by my disability. I’m more interested in readers knowing my take on the latest twist in Middle East politics or Jewish communal affairs than about living with my disability.