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Hearing the Needs of the Jewish Deaf

The Shabbat of May 5, 2012, has been designated to raise awareness about the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing Jews.

By Susan Tomchin
April 2012

Last Rosh Hashanah, for the first time, Alexis Kashar, a deaf Jew and JWI Woman to Watch in 2011, was able to celebrate the Jewish new year with her deaf parents and her hearing children thanks to the sign language interpreters at her synagogue.

“Interpreters are not a luxury,” she says. “They are a necessity. Not to pay for the interpreters is to say that the souls of deaf Jews are unworthy.”

Raising awareness about the needs of deaf Jews and building bridges between the deaf and hard of hearing and the organizations that serve the Jewish community, is the goal of Kashar’s work as president of the New York based Jewish Deaf Resource Center (JDRC). 

The JDRC has designated the Shabbat of May 5, 2012, as Jewish Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Awareness Shabbat.  This particular Shabbat was chosen because the weekly Torah portion includes Parshat Kedoshim which commands us: "Do not insult the deaf." This Shabbat also marks the one-year anniversary of the unanimous passing of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinic Responsa, "The Status of the Heresh [one who is deaf] and of Sign Language," by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), an initiative designed to facilitate the inclusion of deaf individuals in rituals and liturgy.

JDRC is encouraging rabbis across denominations to devote their sermons on May 5 to a discussion about the commandment not to insult the deaf, specifically addressing what this means to them, and discussing why they believe Torah uses this example to teach the Jewish people how to become holy.

“The Torah reminds us of the importance of being sensitive to all individuals,” says Kashar. “When one family member is denied access to the wider Jewish community, the whole family is often without access to Jewish communal life for generations."

This inaugural national program initiated by JDRC has the support of the greater Jewish community including the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), Union of Reform Judaism (URJ), Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA), Academy of Jewish Religion (AJR), UJA-Federation of New York, and Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).

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