Photo credits: Jim LaSala
“Awesome” and “the best Shabbaton ever”. Or so said the teenage attendees of this year’s Our Way Family Shabbaton.
Our Way is the OU’s program for the deaf and hard of hearing, a division of Yachad/The National Jewish Council for Disabilities, and this year was their tenth annual Family Shabbaton, and the first time it was run as a stand-alone event, not held as part of the Yachad Family Shabbaton. Coordinated by Batya Jacob, the event saw 140 attend the weekend, among them singles, deaf families (deaf parents with deaf or hearing children) and hearing parents of deaf children. The youngest attendee was six month old.
For many it was their first such weekend. There were a few children only recently identified as being hard of hearing, still adjusting to their hearing aids. There were other families who were already active in the deaf community but who were new to Our Way. These families with deaf kids were amazed at the role models at the Shabbaton and thought it wonderful for their children to see that they can pursue whatever path they choose. Their hearing need not limit them.
Photo credits: Jim LaSala
The weekend took place in the West Orange, NJ community and was held in the OU member Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob and David synagogue. A deaf interpreter signed along with the prayers, Torah reading and rabbi’s speech, as well as the Pirkei Avot classes given in the afternoon. Yossi Globman, an Our Way member, gave a dvar Torah to the entire congregation at seudat shlishit (the third meal) and an interpreter voiced it for him. The Shabbaton participants blended so seamlessly that one new member of Congregation AABJ&D commented that he didn’t realize the community had such a large deaf membership.
This Shabbaton offered lots of Torah, as per the request of Our Way members. Jewish education has not been readily available to Jewish deaf and they appreciated the opportunity to attend Torah classes. Other highlights included a presentation to Our Way pioneer Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind for his 40 years of leadership and service to the OU and the Jewish deaf community. Rabbi Lederfeind, not expecting the honor, was very touched. Ken Glickman, a deaf comedian performed “Deafology 101” explaining how hearing people are “hard of deafness.” He was a huge hit.
Workshops ran the gamut from ice breakers and game time for the singles to family dynamics and body image; from advocating for your children to financial planning; from job searching in the current environment to finding kedusha (holiness) within. One session on organ donation had Our Way member Moshe Lehman sharing his experience of donating a kidney to his father, along with a Halachic analysis by Rabbi Mayer Waxman.
Sad for the weekend to end, participants were enthusiastic about heading home and sharing their experience with others. Next year’s Our Way Shabbaton is already being planned for May 14, back in West Orange and Congregation AABJ&D .
Jim LaSala is a New Jersey based photographer born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Specializing in digital manipulation, portraits and fine art photography, Jim’s artistic approach coupled with his unique style and perspective have garnered him local, regional and national recognition, including 8 Fuji Masterpiece Awards and 3 ASP awards. To learn more and view his portfolio, visit http://www.jimlasala.com/
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.