Baltimore, MD – Eighteen Jewish Deaf-blind adults from across the United States, Canada, and Israel joined together for a fully-accessible Shabbat to socialize and learn about their shared heritage at the Pearlstone Retreat Center this past weekend, June 16-18, 2017, as part of Our Way, a division of Yachad.
The 5th biennial Deaf-blind Shabbaton is a unique endeavor. The entire program is orchestrated around their unique needs that are dissimilar to any other population. Upward of 70 volunteer staff, including interpreters, Support Service Providers, and Deaf rabbis joined the group to make every aspect of the Shabbaton accessible.
Focusing on the theme, “Building a Jewish Deaf-blind Community,” participants experienced workshops run by Deaf, hearing and Deaf-blind leaders. A Jewish Deaf-blind SPRINT representative demonstrated how SPRINT can service the Deaf-blind community and help them stay in touch. Hands-on workshops such as braiding challah and Deaf-Blind friendly prayer services introduced the participants to Jewish concepts and traditions. To wrap up the weekend, a conversation was led by a Deaf-blind retired pharmacist on how to make and sustain a Jewish Deaf-blind Community throughout the year.
The need to interact with people who have shared challenges and experiences as well as a shared religion cannot be overstated.
Although Deaf-blind people can be productive members of society, they are typically isolated from each other and from most Jewish opportunities. When this was recognized by Rabbi Lederfiend, director of Yachad-NJCD’s Our Way, 10 years ago he approached the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education in Baltimore and Dr. Sheryl Cooper, director of Towson University’s Deaf Studies Program. From their very first conversation, CJE CEO Rabbi Larry Ziffer, COO Mrs. Amian Kelemer and Dr. Sheryl Cooper were eager to make this happen.
Registration fees were kept to a minimum so that no person should be excluded. Donations from the Crane Foundation, Vital Signs, LLC, and individuals help fund the program. The core committee is comprised of one paid staff member, Yael Zelinger, Disability and Inclusion Associate at the CJE and co-chairs Mrs. Sara Leah Kovacs, who is Deaf-blind, and Dr. Cooper. One participant captured the sentiment at Shabbat candle lighting one year, “I have not been together with family in a long time. Tonight, I feel like I am with family.”
Yachad, The National Jewish Council for Disabilities, is a thriving global organization dedicated to addressing the needs of all Jewish individuals with disabilities and ensuring their inclusion in every aspect of Jewish life. Our inclusive design aims to ensure persons with diverse abilities their rightful place within the Jewish community, while helping to educate and advocate for a greater understanding, acceptance, outreach, and a pro-disability attitude. Yachad is funded by the Orthodox Union, led by President Moishe Bane.
About the Orthodox Union:
Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union, (OU), serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 1,000 congregations in its synagogue network. The OU is best known for its kosher supervision, which today is a multinational operation that certifies over 1 million products manufactured in 73 countries. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to teenagers and young professionals through NCSY and Taglit-Birthright/Israel Free Spirit, and Yachad, the National Council for Jewish Disabilities, among many other divisions and programs.