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The development of a language in space -- Israeli Sign Language

Dr. Amir Gilat, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
972-4-8240092, University of Haifa

Languages occur because people have the need to communicate, but rarely does the opportunity arise to document the development of a young language. Israeli Sign Language (ISL) began in the 1930s and developed as a melting pot of immigrants arrived in Israel over the decades that followed. Because of its particular history, ISL is a creole language -- the only creole sign language that has been described to date.

A Language in Space: The Story of Israeli Sign Language documents the linguistic development of the language as well as the social aspects of a new community that began when history threw together small numbers of deaf people from all over the world. The book is an appealing and accessible introduction to sign language linguistics using Israeli Sign Language as a model.

Written by Prof. Wendy Sandler and Dr. Irit Meir of the Sign Language Research Laboratory at the University of Haifa, the book assumes no prior knowledge of linguistics or sign language, and offers a detailed description of this young sign language, accompanied by 250 lively illustrations.


Jewish Project Brings Beauty to Nearly Blind and Deaf

Thursday, October 25 2007
The Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS

MOSCOW, Russia – In Moscow, the 'Shaarei Tsedek' Charity Center carried out an activity for a unique target audience – the nearly blind and the nearly deaf. This activity was organized as part of the 'Itgaburt' program, which is aimed at helping this particular special needs' group. On this occasion, the Center organized an exclusive tour of the world renowned Tretyakov Art Gallery.

Among the participants were many elderly – the most common victims for loss of sight and hearing – who have found themselves to be rather limited in what they can do in today's metropolitan society. This project has given them not only warmth and attention they often lack, but an opportunity to engage in a unique social activity, interact with their environment, and appreciate the beauty of some of the world's best art.

This is the first of numerous activities that the 'Shaarei Tsedek' Charity Center, which celebrated its grand opening this past week – has planned for this special needs' group. Additional tours in the gallery are also expected to take place, given the great number of people experiencing the same medical limitations as today's audience.

The 'Itgaburt' program offered by 'Shaarei Tsedek' also offers the nearly blind and deaf an array of other services, including a 'Talking Library' of audio-books, film sessions featuring subtitles, physio-therapy rehabilitation sessions, sport activities (badminton, chess, checkers, darts); homeopathic health sessions; literary gatherings and meetings with various authors, actors, etc.


Signing Up for Hollywood

Gerri Miller

Shoshannah Stern is the hot new Jewish starlet on the scene. See how her personal philosophy has helped her rise above adversity.

Her name means Rose in Hebrew, and Shoshannah Stern's career is certainly blossoming these days with roles in two series: Showtime's subversive suburban comedy Weeds and CBS' apocalyptic drama Jericho.

Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and deaf from birth, she's been acting professionally since 2002, when guest roles in ER, Boston Public and The Division led to a regular role on the short-lived Threat Matrix opposite pre- Desperate Housewives James Denton. She took time out from her busy schedule to candidly discuss her life, career and the things that are important to her: friends, family and her Jewish identity.

What do you like about your character Bonnie on Jericho?

I like that Bonnie has a very good head on her shoulders. There's something very matter-of-fact and practical about her. She doesn't waste energy or time on things she can't control, and she's very responsible for someone so young. Still, there's an innate sadness about her that keeps her very human. Bonnie is also very isolated—not only because she works on her farm a lot, but also because nobody else in Jericho speaks her language. That is the thing I relate to the most about her.

You're fourth generation deaf—can you talk about your family and growing up deaf in a hearing world? How did they prepare you?

I have never seen the world as “deaf” or “hearing” or “Jewish” or “gentile” or “black” or “white.” Growing up [with this outlook] made me realize at an early age that there is only one world, and many people live in it. My parents never identified the world as “hearing.” I think that is the best preparation I could have had.

Did you grow up as an observant Jew? Are you observant today?

We were pretty observant. I think it's especially important when you have a family. Nowadays, living alone, I'm a little more lax about it, but I am much more spiritual. Being Jewish means a lot more to me now that I have come into my own as an adult. I wish I lived closer to my family when it comes to Jewish holidays.

How does Judaism play into the person you are today? Does it guide your work or your decisions?

I believe that being Jewish has taught me discipline. I remember not eating bread for a week when everyone else could and having to stay home and fast when everyone else got to go to school. That helps me push myself to do things that need to be done, even when it's difficult. It's also taught me respect for the past and gratitude for where I am today.

Your grandmother is a Holocaust survivor—you once talked about getting her story to film. Is that any closer to happening?

I've written a synopsis of the story. Writing is something that I enjoy very much, but is very challenging for me. I'm determined to tell this story, and I hope it will happen in my lifetime. I feel I come closer and closer to it every day mentally, which might not come across materially just yet. It will happen someday though. I'm sure of it.

Any current boyfriend?

I have known my boyfriend since I was nine years old. He was actually my very first crush. He was a family friend, so I went to his bar mitzvah and I remember being so disappointed he didn't ask me to dance! His sister is deaf, so he signs, as does his family, which is absolutely wonderful. We just spent Yom Kippur together, and it was great.

What is it like to be deaf in Hollywood?

Starting out, I very often heard that there was only room for one deaf actor in the business, and that was Marlee Matlin. I never took that to heart, though. I believe any minority has to go through that. There has to be someone who opens the door for the rest to follow. But there are still frustrations for me. I haven't gotten to the point where I feel like I have completely made it and I can rest on my laurels.

I feel like sign language isn't as accepted on television as other languages are, and that bothers me. Most of the time, I have to voice my dialogue as I sign it if I want sign language to be incorporated at all, which is alien to me. However, if the only way I can use sign language on a show is to voice it as well, then that's what I am going to do.

Are you involved with any charities?

I'm involved with DeafHope. It's a charity that helps deaf women who have been victims of sexual and domestic abuse. I've done two benefit performances of The Vagina Monologues for them and also hosted a fundraiser for them called Glimmer of Hope. I don't think I do enough, though. There are many causes I believe in and that I want to start getting involved with. I'm passionate about the environment, animals and literacy in children.

What goals do you set now, personally and professionally?

I always want to do my best. My newest goal is not to do things because I feel like I should. I want to become more and more proactive about things.

Gerri Miller writes and reports from L.A. for Glamour , Hollywood.com, Stuff , American Jewish Life and Nickelodeon among others and is always on the lookout for young Members of the Tribe to profile in JVibe . A New York native, she spent a summer working at Kibbutz Giv'at Brenner in Israel and attends High Holy Day services at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood every year.

This article was reprinted from JVibe magazine, the magazine for Jewish teens http://www.jvibe.com.


Course for deaf is saved


The Jewish Deaf Association has taken over lip-reading courses axed by Barnet College in North London after government funding cutbacks. JDA executive director Sue Cipin told the JC: "We have managed to put together some emergency funding to offer 39 places for existing and new students who desperately need our help." The JDA's British sign-language courses also start next month.