Orthodox Union’s Our Way Shabbaton of Inspiration in Austin

27 Nov 2013

From left: Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, Susan Pochup, Iris and Morton Goldstein, Rabbi David Kastor, Jill and Danny Newman

Not long ago, the Orthodox Union’s Our Way program for the deaf and hard of hearing brought its highly successful Shabbaton celebration to Congregation Tiferet Israel in Austin for the local community and its counterparts in Dallas and San Antonio. A combination of interpreted prayer services, Torah sessions given by deaf leaders, a beginner’s minyan, various programs, delicious meals and a family social event on Saturday night left an impact in Texas.

“At an Our Way Shabbaton the deaf learn about Judaism and the hearing learn about deafness. Everybody is a winner,” said Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, National Director of Our Way.

Rabbi David Kastor of Baltimore has participated in most of the Our Way Shabbatonim as Deaf Torah Scholar. “In Austin, the Shabbaton was successful because deaf Jewish people felt inspired and felt good to learn new things from Torah. It is good and important to get people together from different cities in Texas,” he said. “This Shabbat was special for the deaf and hard of hearing of the Austin area and from Dallas and San Antonio because they felt comfortable understanding the proceedings via sign language from the deaf rabbi, which I am, and from the congregation’s Rabbi Eliezer Langer’s interpreted lectures.”

“I have been working for Our Way for 25 years,” Rabbi Kastor said, “and I have seen that deaf Jewish people feel spiritually uplifted from the Shabbaton and that they enjoy socializing with others.”

Sherry Fishman Carroll, a hearing individual, attended and was impressed with what she witnessed. “Anytime we can share a Shabbos with others makes for a special Shabbos,” she declared. “To be able to appreciate the challenges that others face is an important lesson; however, this Shabbaton reminded me that there are only differences in expression rather than difficulties of expression.”

“Quite honestly,” she explained, “I had not spent time considering how one might appreciate the rich practices of Judaism if one were deaf or hard of hearing, and have now put thought into how it might feel for me to miss out on the splendor of song and chanting in our prayers. I often close my eyes to listen more carefully. And then I realized that there was a beauty in the dance of sign language which added its own depth of experience. I am glad to have shared that.”

“I am proud that thanks to the efforts of the OU and Our Way, our congregation, Tiferet Israel, could participate in offering a Shabbos for the deaf and hard of hearing of the Austin/Dallas/San Antonio Jewish communities and bring together people who might otherwise have not had such an opportunity. I was very touched by the young child and mother (who were present) and the desire for that mother to provide for her daughter this connection with Judaism. We owe that to our children, don’t we?”

Iris and Morton Goldstein, a deaf couple, wrote, “Our synagogue experience is not new as we grew up going to different congregations, Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform. The Shabbaton is a great way to get together with other deaf and hearing impaired Jews to share their feedback with younger generations. We enjoyed learning from Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, who spoke on ‘From Cradle to the Grave,’ and Rabbi David Kastor, whose sermon was ‘Most Expensive Cave in Israel.’”

“We wish that other deaf and hearing-impaired Jews will be able to learn from this experience,” they write, “We thank Rebecca Piasek, who has a nine-year-old deaf daughter, for hosting this Shabbaton weekend. And of course we thank the Tiferet Israel Congregation for letting us share their services. We are grateful to Our Way for encouraging this kind of event.”

Rabbi Langer shared these sentiments. “It was an honor and a privilege to host the Shabbaton. A privilege to be a partner for even one week in this OU outreach project,” he declared. “Seeing a single mother and her daughter have a meaningful Shabbos experience made an indelible impression on the Austenites. We were inspired by Rabbi Kastor’s sermon about Chushim ben Dan, a deaf grandson of Jacob whose brave acts inspired his uncles and the entire future of Bnai Yisrael. Rabbi Lederfeind’s teaching all how to sing zemirot in sign language will remain with us all as a reminder of the honor we were granted to partner with Our Way for this unforgettable Shabbos joining together the hearing and the deaf of three Texas communities.”

For more information about bringing an Our Way Shabbaton to your community, in Texas and elsewhere, contact Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, at {encode=”ourway@ou.org” title=”ourway@ou.org”}, or 212-613-8234.

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