Richard Bernstein
Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein Richard Bernstein (Asma Ali Zain via JTA)

During his Oct. 12 talk at Michigan State University, Richard Bernstein plans to emphasize the importance of connection in being able to make a difference in the world — the impact loving people, caring about them, enjoying them and wanting to help them can have.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein will speak at Michigan State University on Tuesday, Oct 12.

His multi-national efforts, made possible by the Abraham Accords, which opened new channels for collaboration between Israel and its neighbors, are the first time the UAE and Israel have collaborated to aid people with disabilities, according to Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem. She says she hopes this will help make the region a more inclusive place.

“It’s much better when you work in regional collaboration,” she says. “It enriches everybody and pushes the agenda forward.”

Bernstein spent time in the UAE and in Israel earlier this year to help lay the foundation for the establishment of new schools and special education programs as well as job placement services, adaptive technology and athletic programs for people with disabilities.

He went to the UAE at the invitation of the royal families to talk about inclusion of people with disabilities and to help people imagine more opportunities for their children, he says. He’s spent time also sharing the story of his life and experiences — he’s the first blind judge on Michigan’s Supreme Court.

Bernstein went on to Israel, where he continued his work, even as he spent 12 days in a bomb shelter which shook violently as the Iron Dome intercepted more than 1,000 incoming rockets during May’s fighting. He was committed, he explains, to the ongoing work of helping bring people with disabilities from the shadows into the light.

“My job is to help cultivate those relationships, show possibilities and then allow for partnerships to develop that can create the technical know-how to do all that work,” he says. “We’re merging the technical knowledge Israel has with the want and passion of other countries to create a better life for their citizens.”

The UAE and Israel are working on policy that will be cultivated throughout the region, he explains, that will allow families to see a different world for their children. Additionally, he explains, shared common experience, which, in this case, is living with a disability or having a loved one living with a disability, has the power to override other political concerns or political pressures and bring people together.

During his talk, he plans to emphasize the importance of connection in being able to make a difference in the world — the impact loving people, caring about them, enjoying them and wanting to help them can have.

“At the end of the day, it all comes down to your love of people and your ability to have that relationship to people,” he says. “But it’s only through genuine connection, empathy and understanding that you can really make change.”

Bernstein is no stranger to traveling around the world to work with families who have children with special needs, he explains, and to promoting the development of policies that help improve their lives.

“Struggle creates relationships, and with relationships comes trust and understanding, and once people get to know and like each other and become friends who care about each other, then anything and everything is possible,” he explains.

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum

Hassan-Nahoum and Bernstein, who met when they were both being interviewed for a documentary on the Abraham Accords, have similar visions for how to bring the Abraham Accords forward, she says. Together, they started to advance a set of principles around inclusion for what the UAE calls “people of determination.”

“We’re putting this plan in motion, and Richard’s work in being [in the UAE] was crucial to get the ball rolling and then he came to Israel for a couple months and it was crucial for us to work on this together when he was in Israel,” she says.

“Basically, we crystalized our plan, got the ball in motion and got buy-in from the major organizations for disabilities in this country.”

They recently collaborated on a webinar on the integration of assistive technologies, for example, which brought together organizations from the UAE and Israel, and featured Bernstein as a keynote speaker. And they’re advancing a white paper on creating a more inclusive society, which will use best practices across the region and the United States.

“The U.S. ushered in this new era of peace and coexistence,” she says. “So the United States has an incredible role to keep playing, and Richard is playing an incredible role, representing his country and pushing this forward.”

For those who would like to attend Bernstein’s talk, it will be at 7 p.m. in the Lincoln Room of the Kellogg Center. 

For those who cannot attend in person, the talk will be streamed on the Serling Institute for Jewish Studies YouTube page. 

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