Five years ago, a unique Shabbaton sponsored by Our Way, the Orthodox Union’s program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education (CJE) in Baltimore, and Towson University’s Deaf Studies Program was created for the members of the Jewish community who are Deafblind, an often overlooked segment in the community. The weekend delivered a user-friendly Shabbat experience with opportunities for Jewish learning, and enabled participants to initiate building a Jewish Deafblind network.
Building on that previous success, the fourth Jewish Deafblind Shabbaton will take place in Reisterstown, MD, at the Pearlstone Retreat Center, 5425 Mt. Gilead Road, from Friday, June 12 to Sunday, June 14. Nineteen Jewish people from around the U.S. and Israel – including New York, California, Maryland, Illinois, West Virginia and Washington State, as well as Israeli cities Hod and Holon – who are living with dual hearing and vision loss, will gather together for a fully accessible weekend to experience the Sabbath together.
For the last year and a half, a dedicated group of volunteers from Our Way; the CJE; Towson University’s Deaf Studies Program; and individual deaf and Deafblind people have worked together to prepare for this one-of-a-kind weekend. While there are a plethora of social clubs and camps for Deafblind people, this is the only event geared specifically for Jewish Deafblind individuals.
More than 60 additional people will be attending as Support Service Providers (SSP’s) and interpreters for the Deafblind participants; additional staff will oversee programming, conversations and hands-on activities. The theme of the weekend is “Chicken Soup for the Jewish Deafblind Soul,” and activities will include making chicken soup, making challah, learning about kosher foods, getting in touch with one’s spirituality, and interacting with the animals and plants at the Kayam Farm at the Pearlstone Retreat Center. Many of these activities and programs will be led by the Deafblind participants and deaf rabbis.
According to Our Way Director Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, “Everything I have learned about programs for deaf people is completely irrelevant here. The Deafblind community is 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.”
Yael Zelinger, Shabbaton co-chair and coordinator of JADE: Jewish Advocates for Deaf Education at the CJE, shared, “Partaking in Jewish education and Jewish life can be a challenge for someone with dual vision and hearing loss. We hope to give each participant the opportunity to explore and reflect on their Jewish journey and share how they connect with God as a Deafblind Jew.”
Dr. Sheryl Cooper, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Deaf Studies Program Coordinator at Towson University and volunteer Co-Chair of the Shabbaton, explained, “It’s a huge undertaking, and one that is greatly treasured by the participants who typically face challenges accessing Jewish community activities.”
All Jewish Deafblind people, and those who are touched by Deafblindness (professionals and relatives), are encouraged to contact the CJE with your contact information. Without cost or obligation you will be added to the CJE mailing list. (Please indicate your connection with the Deafblind community).
The Deafblind Shabbaton is a biennial event. Contributions will help provide scholarships for Jewish Deafblind participants and offset the cost of the Deafblind Shabbaton. Dedications are available. Send tax deductible contributions payable to CJE at Center for Jewish Education, 5708 Park Heights Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21215 Attn: DB Shabbaton.
For more information on the Jewish Deafblind Shabbaton visit www.cjebaltimore.org/deafblind or contact Dr. Sheryl Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sara Leah Kovacs at email@example.com. For more information on Our Way, contact Rabbi Lederfeind at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-613-8234.
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