This weekend, Cong. Tifereth Israel in Passaic, together with Our Way, an Orthodox Union program for the deaf and hearing impaired, will sponsor a Shabbaton for the Jewish deaf and their families.
According to Our Way director, Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, the group coordinates four to five such events each year, all over the United States and Canada. "We usually get around ‘0 to 30 people," he says. "In Passaic, we’re expecting about 30 people from the New York-New Jersey area, mostly single adults or young couples."
Rabbi David Kastor will be scholar in residence. Kastor, who is himself deaf, has served as regional Our Way representative for Maryland for the past 18 years. Married to a deaf Israeli woman, he graduated from Gallaudet University with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and received his rabbinical ordination from Ner Israel in Baltimore. Kastor also founded the Ahavas Israel School of the Deaf in Fredrick, Mass., where he taught for two years.
Guests will be welcomed by Beryl and Sara Kohn, deaf members of the community, and the Our Way New Jersey Region will be represented by Passaic resident Judy Citer, who has worked with the group for almost 18 years, running programs for Jewish deaf adults and families. Citer, who learned sign language at the age of 1′, has been involved with the deaf since she was a teenager.
Lederfeind says that, while most of the participants will be observant Jews, some will have little familiarity with davening. Friday night, Lederfeind will offer a beginner’s minyan, explaining the basics of the service to the small group of deaf Jews with little experience in the synagogue.
Following the Friday night meal, a d’var Torah will be signed by one of the participants. This will be followed by a panel discussion on Israel, led by deaf participants who have visited the Jewish state and will share their experiences in and feelings about the country. An interpreter will be present on Saturday to sign the parasha as well as the rabbi’s drash. Later in the day, Kastor will lead a session on Jewish pride.
"These programs are also for the hearing," says Lederfeind, noting that while it will be a special Shabbat for the deaf participants, it will also serve to sensitize hearing congregants to the presence, and needs, of deaf members.
He is also hopeful that the program will jumpstart additional deaf programming in the community.
Established in 1969 to provide resources and programming for the Jewish population with hearing issues, Our Way sponsors Shabbat retreats, sign language publications, and other services for this constituency. For information on its programs, call (‘1’) 613-8’34 or visit www.ourway.org.