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O.U. encouraging synagogues to open up to Jewish deaf, blind

NEW YORK, Aug. 9 (JTA) — When Terri Landon attends synagogue, she cannot hear the service. Landon, a 19-year-old student at Brown University, is deaf, and though she can read lips it is difficult for her to follow a service that alternates between English and Hebrew. It is a challenge Landon shares with many other Jews who are hearing or visually impaired. “The majority of deaf, blind and visually impaired Jews never attend synagogue, and those who do go to services often miss the meaning of the ritual,” said Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, director of the Orthodox Union’s program for the deaf and blind. Indeed, few synagogues across the country have made an effort to reach out to such Jews. Tiferes Israel, for example, an Orthodox synagogue in Baltimore, provides an interpreter for what has become a steady group of deaf people that regularly attend services. In New York, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun has large-print prayer books available for blind congregants — and a sign-language interpreter about twice a month. “Because deaf and visually impaired people are not generally associated with synagogues, the synagogues have not been motivated to provide services.” Lederfeind said. “And because the services are not there, the deaf and visually impaired tend to stay away.” In an effort to encourage synagogues to service the hearing and visually impaired, the O.U. has developed a guide for reaching out to blind and deaf Jews. The O.U. suggests that congregations: * designate specific seats for the deaf to make it easier for them to see the interpreter or read the lips of those who read the Torah and lead services; * provide prayer books in English because deaf people usually have difficulty with foreign languages; * provide large-print prayer books; * encourage synagogue members to interact with those congregants who have disabilities. Landon said the suggestions in the guide would make the synagogue a more comfortable environment for her and would make it easier for her to participate in services. “The guide is a wonderful idea because it is important to involve the entire Jewish community in services,” she said. The Reform and Conservative movements also have programs to assist deaf and blind synagogue members. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations’ Lehiyot program actively recruits the Jewish disabled by publicizing which temples have provisions for people with disabilities. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism also offers programs for deaf and blind congregants, including the distribution of large-print prayer books. The three synagogue movements are expected to participate in a new project to be launched this fall, coordinated by the National Jewish Council for the Disabled, that would actively recruit disabled people to participate in Jewish communal life.