Although scattered throughout North America there are several organizations which service Jewish deaf or Jewish blind, there are none for Jewish Deafblind people. In an effort to reach out to this overlooked community, Our Way , the outreach program for Jewish deaf of the National Jewish Council for Disabilities, an agency of the Orthodox Union, has received funding from the Center for Jewish Education in Baltimore with a JEEP (Jewish Education Enhancement Project) grant to make the first Deafblind Shabbaton Experience.
The Shabbaton will be held at the Pearlstone Retreat in Reisterstown, MD on April 23 and 24. Deafblind people will be attending from Washington State, California, Ohio, New York and the Greater Washington, DC and Maryland area. Making this Shabbaton “Deafblind friendly” requires that each participant have one or two SSPs (Support Service Provider). The SSP is a person who provides a variety of support services, including guiding, describing, personal assistance, and sometimes interpreting, with the ultimate goal of enhancing independence. They use a variety of methods to communicate with their individual consumers.
All materials will be in large print and Braille; and classes and services will be led by deaf rabbis. These rabbis will be signing and interpreters and SSPs will be relaying the information to their individual consumers.
According to Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, Director of Our Way, “Everything I have learned about programs for the deaf is completely irrelevant here. Some of the Deafblind community are really amazing. It’s the challenge of being isolated even in a room of 500 people. The ability of these people to overcome their disabilities shows the power of the neshama – the soul. It shows how people can grow.”
Rabbi Lederfeind noted that most of these people were originally sighted but lost their vision through Usher’s Syndrome. Usher’s Syndrome is a genetic condition in which the person is genetically deaf and has a gene for Retinitis Pigmentosa, an eye condition that starts with night blindness, then tunnel vision, and deteriorates to the degree that the person may become completely blind. In addition, not everyone is completely deaf or completely blind. “Email is a God-send for these people,” he said. “They get emails in very large print or in Braille.”
Committee members for this event are Sheryl Cooper of Maryland, Leslie Foxman of Maryland, Rabbi Fred Friedman of Maryland, Rabbi David Kastor of Maryland, Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind of New York, Sharon Siegel of Nevada, Joyce Srour of Maryland, Bets Wohl of Washington DC, and Yael Zelinger of Maryland.
For further information call voice/relay 212-613-8234 or email email@example.com.