Unity among the Jewish people and the display of unity is essential to our continuance. While we may have different viewpoints, garb, appearances, and languages, we are one people, one nation. The threads of the Jewish tapestry are always intertwined. That’s why it’s important to care about your fellow or sister Jew enough to try to view and experience the world from their perspective. If we can do this, then we are better able to live alongside each other.
The lack of communication access for Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Jewish communities was a major motivator for me to start Yad HaChazakah –The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center in 2006. I knew that some Christian missionary groups strategically prey upon unaffiliated or disenfranchised Deaf Jews. I yearned to see my Deaf brothers and sisters in shuls, in Torah classes, and at events. I wanted to see sign language interpreters next to speaker podiums, giving Deaf audience members access to the information, knowledge, insights and spiritual inspiration afforded everyone else and voicing Deaf presenters’ knowledge, opinions and wisdom to hearing audience members.
Jew haters tend to boldly appear and act during times of deep discord and division. They also flourish when they believe their words and actions will go unpunished. Antisemitism expressed in attacks upon the Jewish people and the Jewish homeland has been unleashed again in present times. The Jewish community came together on Sunday Jan 5, 2020 at the “No Hate No Fear” rally to say to the world that when you attack some of us, you attack all of us.
That’s why Yad HaChazakah-The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center, the Jewish Deaf Resource Center and Respectability sprang into action. We could not stand idly by during a time when the Jewish community is calling for unity. The Deaf Jewish community absolutely needed to feel welcome and be represented and visible at the No Hate No Fear Rally. In the words of the great Rabbi Akiva, “If not now, when?” Each one of our organizations listed above contacted UJA and the JCRC about the irrefutable imperative to provide Sign Language interpretation at the event. Yad HaChazakah provided sign language interpreter and captioning resources and the Jewish Deaf Resource Center helped with securing and coordinating the interpreters. We acknowledge the UJA and the JCRC for responding to us! This was a game changer for Deaf Jews and the Jewish community! Hopefully the UJA and JCRC will now consider sign language interpretation and real time captioning arrangements as a matter of course in their event planning processes. Deaf brothers and sisters, we love you; we need you!
Lastly, I ask the UJA and JCRC to please go further at the next unity gathering and include leaders from the Jewish Deaf and Disability communities in your speaker line up; may the next gathering be held for happy reasons!
Sharon Shapiro-Lacks, Founding Executive Director of Yad HaChazakah – The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center, Inc., envisions Jewish communities where people with obvious or hidden disabilities are sought and valued for the strengths they bring. In her vision, leaders and community members will want to improve physical, communication, and attitudinal access to shuls, yeshivas, batei midrash, workplaces, shops, and family life — not only for the benefit to specific individuals, but also for the enrichment of entire communities. She has worked in the disability policy and human services arenas for over 32 years.