When Tuvia and I walked into shul Friday night, I saw a huge group in the lobby signing (as in, sign language, not the gangsta' signs you might be more familiar with). I've always found myself fascinated by those who use sign language, especially those who aren't deaf/hard of hearing, but who are devoted to the language and opening the world up to those who use sign language every day. We quickly learned that it was a Shabbaton, welcoming the deaf and hard of hearing, through a branch of the Orthodox Union, known as "Our Way." At seudat shlishit tonight, two of the individuals gave a d'var, one of them speaking with a sign language interpreter, and the other signing and speaking his way through his d'var, with the interpreter reading his words aloud. It was, in a word, fascinating. It was also really frustrating because the two women in front of me were jabbering inconsiderately while I was trying to understand what the man was saying. Sigh.
So the entire experience led me to a few question:
- What are the halachos of being a frum, deaf/hard-of-hearing Jew?
- All of the interpreters there were women -- how does this work into everything?
- Can a woman sign/interpret the reading of the Torah?
- Is it okay for a frum Jewish male to tap the shoulder of a sign-language interpreter in order to ask her a question or get her attention?
- How do you deal with hearing aids or cochlear implants on Shabbat? Is the Jewish community more accepting of cochlear implants than the wider community?
Perhaps most importantly, I just want to know what it's like to view the world, the Jewish world, through the lens of a deaf/hard-of-hearing Jew. So much of Judaism is based on texts, writings, and traditions that easily can be read. But what about the niggunim, the tunes of songs, the joy of hearing voices meld together -- it's one of my most favorite things about Shabbat, the songs, the voices swimming heavenward. I would have liked to approach one of these individuals and asked if they'd be interested in writing a blog post for me, to answer all my queries. But I felt awkward, unsure of myself. I can sign my name, successfully, but that's it.
How do you speak Hebrew in sign language? Are the letters the same? Can I spell "shmi Chaviva" with the letters I know as "s, h, m, i, c, h, a, v, i, v, a" ...? Or do I need to sign something special to say "shmi" and then, only then, spell Chaviva?
I'd like to contact Our Way, just to see if someone would be willing to write a guest post answering my questions, helping me to understand the world through the ears of the deaf/hard-of-hearing frum (or just) Jew. If anyone out there in blog land knows of someone who'd be willing to do this, let me know. Or, maybe, if you're one of these people or you have a child or family member or friend who goes through the motions as a deaf/h-o-h Jew, let me know. I'm absolutely intrigued. This community is a very unique one that probably doesn't get as much as attention as it should, as far as awareness goes.
On a closing note, I have to say "mad props" to Our Way for establishing -- in a very Jewish fashion -- the Our Way Jewish Deaf Singles Registry!