Silent Laughter Greets Sallies of Mute Orator at Deaf Parley
Menu JTA Search

Silent Laughter Greets Sallies of Mute Orator at Deaf Parley

Download PDF for this date

“This is Hitler.” The small blue-eyed lady screwed up her nose, stared stupidly, and waxed an imaginary moustache. “It’s a combination of the symbols for Charlie Chaplin and a monkey. The sign language has its points, you see.”

Mrs. Tanya Nash, who succeeded her husband, the late Rabbi A. Felix Nash, as head of the Hebrew Association for the deaf, explained some of the mysteries of the conference of the National Association of the Deaf that was going on in a ballroom of the Hotel Pennsylvania. Not ten feet away the venerable educator Dr. Thomas J. Fox was lecturing to a roomful of adults, in complete silence.

An occasional feeble ripple of sound indicated that the crowd was in hysterics. “He’s very witty.” Mrs. Nash nodded toward the speaker.

“And that’s unusual, she continued, “the deaf have practically no sense of humor. For example, not long ago the mother of a little girl who attends our religious school came to me rather upset. Her child, it appeared, was a mild kleptomaniac. I suggested going to the Hebrew teacher to see whether his influence might not avail with the small delinquent. But the instructor was shocked. The case was impossible, he insisted. She didn’t steal, she couldn’t, because he had already explained the Eighth Commandment to her, and she had understood it.”


Aside from conducting a religious school, the Hebrew Association for the Deaf provides the only extensive bureau for social and welfare work for the deaf in the country, under the aegis of the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies. Mrs. Nash, who conducts the work, interviews victims of unemployment, domestic difficulties, and other woes to which the flesh is heir, and interprets for them in all their consultations. Because of her proficiency in the sign language, she has been vested with the power of performing marriages, presiding at funerals, and undertaking sundry offices that are barred to the ordinary layman.

“I am the head of a separate community. The deaf are definitely segregated. Their interests, naturally, are different from those of people who hear. Music and the theatre hold little for them. Nevertheless, a recent case of mine was to find a job for a young saxophonist. At the audition, he watched my face to see whether or not he was off-key. Another young Jewish boy is an amateur playwright. But the majority of them are interested principally in domestic affairs.

“The joy of deaf parents when a hearing child is born to them is pathetic, in view of the normal man’s flippancy about the possession of the senses. They carry their children’s pictures about, and exhibit them incessantly. And they are marvelous housekeepers. The men, I mean. It is the usual thing to find a woman at an afternoon meeting, quite unperturbed about the care of the babies and the preparation of dinner. Her husband is at home doing the chores.”

An even more startling manifestation of civilization among these people is the complete lack of anti-Semitism in their ranks. A leading candidate for the presidency of the national association is Marcus L. Kenner, a Jew. And the principal plank in his platform is agitation to abolish discrimination against the Negro in the institution.

The lecture was over. Arms and fingers flew in voluble comment. The utmost conviviality prevailed in dead silence as the delegates departed for lunch.

“That’s something of an audience,” ventured the reporter.

Mrs. Nash looked stern. “That,” she is said, “is not an audience. It is an optience.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund