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Bringing B'tselem Elohim to Our Kids' Toy Boxes

Bringing B'tselem Elohim to Our Kids' Toy Boxes

The Torah teaches us that every human being is created b’tselem Elohim, in the image of God. Many Jews have taken this principle to heart, including the Reform Jewish community, whose newly instituted programs and attitudinal changes are aimed at helping everybody see themselves as being made in the image of God.

Unfortunately, this principle is not always present in our daily lives. Activists and advocates have long called for change in the fashion and advertising industries, citing the need for such imagery to reflect the true beauty of every person, regardless of skin color, body type, or age.

This is also true in the toy industry, where most popular toys are not representative of the children who grow up playing with them. In the hopes of ending the misrepresentation, a group of mothers from the United Kingdom started the Toy Like Me campaign to bring diversity to the toy world.

These mothers of children with disabilities did not want their kids to feel invisible because no toy existed that looked like them.  They started a grassroots social media campaign aimed at showing the big toy manufacturers that there was indeed a demand for more inclusive dolls.

The mothers started by giving a Tinker Bell doll a cochlear implant, then they followed up with dolls using wheelchairs and dolls making use of guide dogs. Eventually, homemade makeovers began coming in from around the world – dolls with feeding tubes, dolls with assistive devices for visual impairments, dolls with cleft palettes, and a doll with a prosthetic leg.

As the campaign went viral, Makie – a UK toy company that specializes in printing personalized toys using 3D printing technology – signed on to begin printing Toy Like Me-inspired dolls. The first set of dolls includes a girl with hearing aids, a girl with birthmarks on her face, and a girl who uses a cane. Soon, Makie will allow consumers to customize facial features on the dolls they order, enabling parents to create dolls that resemble children’s faces.

While the success of this campaign is already helping children with disabilities identify with their toys, the campaign is crucial for all children and parents, both with and without disabilities. It is essential that all children learn about differences from a young age. Great non-profits like the Positive Exposure Ambassadors Real Life Story Project (PEARLS) highlight the beauty in all people, helping to educate the public on disabilities and decrease stigma associated with “the other.” However, the PEARLS Project images are not tangible for young children.

As noted in Toy Like Me’s petition to toymaker Playmobil, there are more than 150 million children with disabilities worldwide – but other than some limited hospital sets, no toys currently on the market are representative of difference. Because toys are the objects that begin a child’s development, it is time to make a necessary change. Toys should reflect their owners, and it is time for society to embrace difference the way Makie Toys has.

As Reform Jews committed to inclusivity, is our sacred responsibility to make sure that all people feel welcome, regardless of their age, gender, identity, sexual orientation, race, religious beliefs, or physical or emotional differences. Toy Like Me toys are a perfect way to introduce difference and beauty to our children at a young age.

Toys are already used for exploration and development. Why not make them inherent teaching tools, as well? Synagogues can adopt Toy Like Me toys alongside regular toys in their early childhood education programs, highlighting difference and teaching students that we are all from the same community, and we are all great, strong individuals – regardless of which toy we resemble. Hebrew and religious schools that use the toys are likely to see more success integrating new students who are different in any way.

In the world of disabilities inclusion, we discuss the need for cultural change – for every member of a community to accept inclusion as necessity, not as charity. We educate people on b’tselem Elohim and the need to accept all people, regardless of their needs. Toy Like Me is an opportunity to ingrain the culture of inclusivity in our children at a young age, so they may grow up accepting and understanding of themselves and others.

Together, we can ensure that the next generation of Reform Jews grows up with acceptance, understanding, and comfort in the knowledge that they were created in the image of God.

Show your support for the Toy Like Me campaign by viewing their petition to Playmobil and by visiting their Facebook page.

Joseph D. Robbins is a poet, educator, entrepreneur, and disability self-advocate. His startup, Venuse, connects artists with rehearsal space in venues during their off-hours. Joseph is also launching a bi-weekly newsletter, which will cover topics ranging from sports to politics. Previously, Joseph served as the assistant director of the the Union for Reform Judaism's Presidential Disabilities Inclusion Initiative. He has a master's in the teaching of English from Columbia Teachers College and a master's in educational leadership from the Davidson School at the Jewish Theological Seminary. You can reach Joseph through his website.

Joseph D. Robbins
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