Following His Mother into Disability Advocacy and a Jewish Life
Marvin Moss shares a photo of his brother and best friend, Leon.
Photography provided by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati
“Teachers said, ‘People like you do not do anything.’ My mom said, ‘He will be a good person,’” recalls Marvin Moss.
Now 71, the Cincinnati native is living proof that his mother was right.
Outgoing, with a white crew cut and goatee, Moss lives with developmental disabilities. He sits, relaxed, in the Jewish Family Service Barbash Family Vital Support Center in Clifton, photos of his brother and parents displayed on a nearby countertop. His large brass belt buckle spells out shalom in Hebrew.
Moss’s parents died in the 1980s, and his best friend and older brother, Leon, who had a profound intellectual disability, died seven years ago.
“My mom helped start the mentally retarded agency for kids in the 1940s when I was a kid, and helped start the Jewish Center in Avondale,” he says. Moss followed his mother’s footsteps into advocacy for people with disabilities, but is only now returning to Judaism.
Like Mother, Like Son
“I have been helping people with handicaps all my life,” Moss says. Dorothy Moss helped found The ARC of Ohio, which advances the rights of Ohioans with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
Moss is an advocate for Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services, teaching the history of people with disabilities. He was the first person with a disability on the board at Advocacy and Protective Service, Inc. (APSI).
After a 15-year struggle, Moss became the first family member with a developmental disability in Ohio to get shared guardianship along with APSI, which allowed Moss to jointly make decisions about his brother’s care. In 2007, Moss went to Washington and spoke with U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, whose sister, Rosemary, had a disability, to advocate for a law that would help siblings support siblings with disabilities.
Moss has served on two national, six state and many local committees. “When I attend meetings,” he says, “I feel my mom is with me and I ask questions that I am not sure where they came from.”
Leaving and Returning to Judaism
“My mom helped me to learn about the Jewish [tradition], now I’m going to the Jewish Family Service to learn more about how to help myself be a better Jew,” Moss says.
His family history is part of the Jewish community’s history. As mentioned, his mother helped start the Avondale Jewish Community Center and his grandfather helped start the old Price Hill synagogue.
His personal Jewish history, however, has been difficult, and Moss is visibly upset as he tells the story. When he went for his bar mitzvah in 1958, he recalls, he was told, “Why are you here doing this? People like you don’t need to be here.” In the 1980s, prejudice remained. “When my dad died, someone told me, ‘People like you don’t need to learn to say the prayer over the grave site.’”
Quiet for a minute, Moss still seems stunned. But when asked how his mother and father reacted, he is calm.
“We took it in stride. My mom said, ‘You can learn it one of these days’– and I’m doing it today.” He breaks into a big smile. “I’m going to the Jewish classes to learn more about the Jewish religion, what I never had growing up.”
“The Jewish community has become more accepting of people like Marvin, thanks to the work of Hope Bard and Kesher, a local organization whose mission is to teach Jewish organizations how to include people with differently-abled needs,” says Fran Gafvert, director of the Jewish Family Service’s Barbash Family Vital Support Center. “Marvin was fond of Hope, and worked with her to help normalize differences.”
Asked what is pulling him toward Judaism these days, Moss says, “I need it. And I’m coming back.”
Today, he participates in activities at Barbash Center for socialization and connection that enhance his well-being. He comes to holiday celebrations, to luncheons, Hebrew classes and, about once a month, for food at the Heldman Family Food Pantry.
“My mom taught me to help people,” Moss says. “Every day I’m dying to do it.”
Jewish Family Service, Jewish Family Service Barbash Family Vital Support Center and Jewish Family Service Heldman Family Food Pantry are three of more than 50 programs and agencies funded in part by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.
The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati is located at 8499 Ridge Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236. For more information, call 513.985.1500, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.JewishCincinnati.org.