by Randi Sherman
Reprinted from Jewish Week of NY - December 29, 2006
Yossi Samuels, though deaf and blind, communicates and inspires.
Yossi Samuels, bottom, is introduced by his father, Kalman, to two Ramaz students after the assembly as brother Avi looks on.
Yossi Samuels was born a healthy child 30 years ago in Israel. But at 11 months, due to complications from a faulty DPT vaccination, he lost his ability to hear and see, as well as some of his motor skills, which continue to degenerate.
Yossi had no communication with the world around him until the age of 8, when he met Shoshanah Weinstock, a deaf teacher who taught him sign language. One day, Weinstock came running to Yossi’s parents, Kalman and Malky Samuels, signing and screaming “Hu tafas! [He’s grasped it!]” She had taught Yossi that everything has a name and his first word was shulchan [table].
Once this breakthrough occurred, the Samuels set out to help families in similarly difficult situations, and in 1990 founded Shalva (Hebrew for peace of mind), a center for mentally and physically challenged children.
Yossi Samuels was in the U.S. last week and after attending President Bush’s Chanukah party at the White House, he and his father and brother Avi visited the Ramaz Upper School here, where some 400 students watched with rapt attention a montage from a documentary, “About Yossi.”
The film clips, compiled by Deedee Benel, the director of student programs at Ramaz’s Upper School, began, as the documentary itself does, by focusing on Yossi’s hands, his means of communicating with the world. Clips of the Samuels family recounting Yossi’s history, returning to the clinic where he was vaccinated, visiting the home they lived in for a few years in Brooklyn and going to see a fellow victim of the faulty vaccine, are juxtaposed with footage of Yossi and his family on a search to find Yossi a girlfriend, traveling to matchmakers and consulting a rabbi about the mitzvah of marriage.
Kalman Samuels spoke to the students afterwards about Yossi and translated for Yossi when he wanted to address the group, which he did through signing. Yossi’s father spoke of the trip to the White House, and the parallels between Yossi and his biblical predecessor, Joseph, who was also a dreamer.
“If Yossi with his handicaps can dream, anyone can,” Kalman Samuels said.
In their five minutes together with President Bush, Yossi advised Bush on American-Israeli relations, North Korea and Iran, according to his father.
“He’s a man with all of a man’s needs and he’s stuck in this body that’s so handicapped,” Avi Samuels said. “Yossi just wants to be a regular guy.”
Rabbi Jay Goldmintz, Ramaz Upper School’s headmaster, said the Samuels family epitomizes “gevurah [strength] on the individual level.”
Yossi is able to identify and communicate with people not only through sign language but a highly developed sense of touch. As a car enthusiast, touch allows him to identify cars by their door handles. The sense also helps him discover personality traits of those he meets.
“Yossi sees with his hands what we don’t see with our eyes,” Kalman Samuels told the students. Yossi is also an expert wine taster and can identify brands of soda, beer and cigarettes by smell.
After the screening, only one student rose to ask a question: had Yossi found that special girl? Jokingly, Kalman Samuels replied, “That’s why we came to Ramaz.”
What really brought them to Ramaz was Kalman’s friendship with Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, principal of Ramaz, and the many Ramaz graduates who have volunteered for Shalva while studying in Israel.
Yossi has done similar speaking engagements in Israel, but his family is very selective about his public presentations.
As students were exiting the all-purpose room, some stopped by to meet Yossi. Kalman or Avi would translate, signing names in Yossi’s free hand. Two ninth grade girls stopped by to introduce themselves.
“We wanted you to know that this was the highlight of our Chanukah,” one of the girls said. Yossi held her hand and signed to his father that he sensed a shyness about her. She resisted this classification at first, but after thinking about it, said, “I guess I am.”
Kalman Samuels explained to The Jewish Week that during a time when the family lived in New York, they were encouraged to place Yossi, who was then a child, in an institution, but they refused.
Shalva was founded in part to relieve parents and families from the constant care-giving special children require. Over the years hundreds of religious and secular children and their families have been helped by the organization, which provides preschool programs, sleepovers, day care, and summer camp.
Shalva recently received permission to build a larger center in the heart of Jerusalem.
As for Yossi’s future, he and his family are hoping to find that special mate for him.
For more information on SHALVA, visit http://www.shalva.org
by Ryan Teitma
Reprinted from Jewish Exponent - January 11, 2006
Nadine Miller comes to Congregation Adath Jeshurun Synagogue in Elkins Park each Thursday and teaches the preschool children how to sign. By all accounts, they are catching on quickly.
Every Thursday, the students at Congregation Adath Jeshurun's preschool in Elkins Park file out of their classroom and make the trek down the hall to visit Nadine Miller. In just 20 minutes, she continues teaching the class a new language -- quite a feat for a group of children under 5 who are still mastering the intricacies of their native tongue.
Miller is teaching them sign language, and after working on three songs and doing an exercise with partners, the children head back to their room, having mastered a few new signs. Then another class greets Miller and the same lesson is taught to them.
The young teacher began instruction in sign language at Adath Jeshurun on Oct. 5, and her lessons will continue till the end of the school year. From 9 a.m. to noon, she provides school members with this basic but crucial kind of instruction.
Miller is a hearing graduate of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where she earned a master's degree in deaf education, and she also teaches deaf and hard of hearing students at the Bucks County Intermediate Unit.
She started with the synagogue's youngsters -- the oldest students being age 5 -- by teaching basic signs, such as "please" and "thank you."
"We use those signs each time," she said.
She has added a few more with each lesson, and the children supplement their vocabulary through the repetition. "We just keep building on the phrases they already know," she noted. She added that she hopes the students will have 120 signs at their disposal by the end of the year.
The school's teachers continue the effort by using the signs in class as well, so that the students get a chance to practice their new vocabulary in different settings.
Teacher Michelle Ravitch noted that the sign language instruction isn't just an isolated effort during school time; it's something the kids demonstrate for their parents at home. "And so the parents learn along with them," she noted.
Gavi Miller, executive director of the synagogue and no relation to Nadine Miller, said that the school is always looking for "new and innovative program ideas."
"One of the hot things in early education is teaching sign language [as part of] language acquisition," he said.
A significant value of sign language is that it can be taught to children who are pre-verbal. They can then gain the means to communicate before they can even talk, said Nadine Miller. She added that a 12-month-old child can easily distinguish between signs, even when unable to use words.
Sign language is becoming an increasingly popular trend for parents with pre-verbal children. The newfound communication skills are often a relief to parents, said Miller, who gain a new way to understand the needs and wants Ravitch's class has a student who is not a native English speaker, she said, and he's used the signs to help him more easily communicate with teachers and classmates. And all the students gain a sense of satisfaction when they use the signs and the teachers understand them, said Ravitch.
Words like "eat," "drink," "juice" and "milk" are just some of the signs that students learned during a recent lesson, all of them words that make frequent appearances in a pre-school classroom. "She teaches us really everyday stuff that we can use in class," said Ravitch of Miller.
For the older children in the classes, learning to sign is "learning another culture," said Miller. And the students will have a chance to practice their new language skills in the spring as Miller hopes to bring in fellow preschoolers from the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf to practice signing at Adath Jeshurun.
In the November 15, 2006 Issue
To the Editor
As an avid reader of Hamodia's weekly, I feel I must comment on your recent two-part series on hearing impairment.
I am the mother of an adorable little hearing impaired daughter. I feel injustice has been done by expanding on the idea of sign language for the deaf.
Although this was the norm a few decades ago, this is not so at present. In the Jewish world there are hundreds, if not thousands, of hearing impaired children who are successfully mainstreamed into chadarim, yeshivas, and schools. Thanks to ever-advancing medical technology, they are functioning in society just like the rest of us. Just ask any one of those children and they wouldn't even know what sign language means!
There is one yeshivah in the entire world that teaches the deaf in sign language, with a total body of perhaps a dozen boys. This by no means represents the deaf population amongst us Yidden. You would have done a far better service by informing us, hearing and deaf alike, more about organizations such as Haazinu, run by the ever tireless Mr. Moishe Yaraslowitz, whose goal and aim is to mainstream every hearing impaired child into the hearing society.
My daughter is young now, but, iy"H, one day I will have deep, meaningful discussions with her, just like every loving mother would.
Many of us may not have heard of or do not subscribe this publication, The Hamodia Magazine which is the only Jewish Orthodox daily newspaper published in three separate editions around the world: USA, UK and Israel, covering a wide range of topics of interest to the Jewish Community.
They have printed a two-part article on "Hearing Their Silent World" which talks about the Jewish Deaf Community and the Jewish Hearing Impaired Community written by Rochel Isaacson on November 1, 2006 and November 8, 2006.
This publication can be found only in certain Jewish stores. Recent and back issues are not made available online on their website, http://www.hamodia.com so JDCC also has made this article via PDF available on the JDCC website to let the Jewish Deaf Community be aware of this article to give you an opportunity to respond if you wish.
"Hearing Their Silent World" Part 1
Frady Steinhause’s modest home seems indistinguishable from most others, except for the many lights. Some lights flash while others flicker, and still others give off a steady, bright beam; all are strategically placed in every room. The lights are different signals designed to alert Frady to the various sounds that others take for, granted but which she cannot hear, such as doorbell chimes, telephone rings, smoke alarms - or even her baby’s cries.
Frady is profoundly deaf and has been since birth. Furthermore, she is proud of it. Despite the fact that Frady seems at first glance like a typical woman in her forties, her deafness is apparent when she communicates with others, for her eyes focus fixedly on their mouths as she reads their lips, her hearing aid discreetly concealed by her stylish sheitel.
Frady is a bona fide member of a deaf faction that strongly believes in “deaf culture.” “I prefer the word ‘deaf’ to ‘hearing-impaired’ because ‘deaf’ is a term that represents our culture, that we as deaf individuals share common values, norms and behavior,” says Frady, adding that the term “hearing-impaired” is an affront to the deaf because it implies that “we are impaired from the hearing community.”
Although Frady lip-reads adeptly, she prefers to communicate through sign language, considered the favored mode of communication for those of the deaf culture, for she is wearied by the intense concentration necessary for lip-reading. Her hands dance in flowing motions as she signs to her deaf spouse, Shimon; the language appears baffling, yet strangely graceful, to her hearing visitors.
Comments Elky Faivish, the director of the American Sign Language (ASL) Learning Center, who teaches sign language to the hearing: “We need to teach the hearing because there is a tremendous need to provide sign language interpreters in both the Jewish and the secular world, so that the deaf and hard-of-hearing can take part in shiurim, speeches, and anything else that is offered to the general public.”
Faivish opines that sign language interpreters should be offered in schools, hospitals, and other places so that the deaf are not shortchanged. “The deaf can do anything that anyone in the hearing world can do,” she says.
As a child, Frady suffered from social isolation, sidelined in the silent world she inhabits. She started off in public school, eventually switching to the now-defunct Hebrew Institute for the Deaf, which promoted oral speech. The bright teen later attended a prominent girls’ yeshivah high school as its first deaf student and she even attended some Hebrew classes, despite the strenuous efforts it entailed.
Her devoted mother, who was always Frady’s chief advocate, did not believe in sign language, for she feared it would decrease her daughter’s oral dexterity and affect her speaking and lip-reading abilities. “My family and friends were not aware of how much I had lost by being left out of their conversations,” Frady poignantly recalls. Her older sister, Mimi, however, remembers hearing Frady’s wrenching sobs, evoked by her enforced segregation from her peers. Frady consequently felt more at ease with friends who were likewise deaf or hard of hearing.
Today, Frady Steinhause is a poised woman who has graduated college and for some time ran her own millinery business, in which she created and designed hats. She even plays the piano proficiently by following musical notes on the page.
She credits the sign language interpreters at her college for empowering her complete her education and for finally making her feel that she was a vital member of her classes. She has since primarily used American Sign Language as a means of communicating with others.
Ever since Frady and Shimon married, they have both signed and practiced oral speech. After giving birth to her children - all of whom can hear perfectly - Frady taught them to fingerspell and instructed them in the basics of sign language so that she could communicate with them. To ensure that she knew when her babies cried, light signals and vibrations on her bed were set off by a microphone located under the crib. She has lovingly and efficiently raised her young brood, tackling routine activities such as carpooling her school-age children and their friends as would any other devoted mother.
Despite her multifaceted gifts, Frady grappled with keen frustration when she attended her children’s graduations. “I couldn’t feel the nachas I should have felt,” she says, because sign language interpreters were not afforded to her at those special occasions. She still feels like a social outcast at times, such as when she is left out of dinner conversations. She has tapped people to inquire about what was being discussed, and many times she either didn’t receive a response or was informed dismissively that “it wasn’t necessary for her to know.”
Nevertheless, she is upbeat about her deafness, noting, “I am proud of who I am. Anyone can have a disability, but it is up to them whether it becomes a handicap or not.”
Others with critical hearing loss do not uniformly concur with Frady Steinhause’s view of deaf culture and signing. In fact, of the 70 million deaf people around the world - 27 million of whom live in the U.S. - only two million consider themselves members of the deaf community. There is a charged controversy among those broadsided by deafness, with countering views as to the methods the deaf should employ to capitalize on their ability to function in society.
Deaf proponents of sign language are staunchly pitted against fervent advocates of oralism. Oralists are those who prefer the term “hearing-impaired” and who integrate into mainstream society by reading lips and availing themselves of any medical or technological breakthroughs that can augment their hearing ability.
Pundits claim that sign language may have proven advantageous for an older generation but is now outmoded due to recent revolutionary developments to assist the deaf. Perri Hecht, director of the Brooklyn based Perri Hecht Speech and Auditory Services, agrees. Although her clientele encompasses all ages, her avowed objective is to enable deaf children to function successfully in mainstream society.
“Years ago, if a child was deaf, you could give him hearing aids and try your hardest to integrate him in society,” says Hecht. “Today, with the latest medical and technological advances such as cochlear implants, and by engaging the child in auditory-verbal therapies at an early stage, it is feasible for a hearing-impaired child to do or be anything.”
Cochlear implants are devices that are surgically implanted to stimulate the nerve elements of the inner ear to receive sound, and are activated by a processor worn outside the ear. With this device, even the profoundly deaf - especially if they receive the implant as young children - can be enabled to hear and to participate in all social activities. However, the processor must be temporarily deactivated at night or during swim activities.
Perri Hecht finds it rewarding to treat children who are congenitally, and therefore prelingually, deaf “because you can witness their, development as normal children and watch them acquire language.” Parents are an integral part of the therapy, for they must facilitate language by talking to their child constantly and changing their intonation - for example, making a point -of exclaiming, “Hi!” when they enter a room.
Parental involvement is central to a child’s ability to master language skills, for children born with deafness, or who become hearing impaired at a very early age, have no frame of reference for acquiring speech. These hearing-disabled children often cannot speak, or speak unintelligibly in a guttural “deaf’ manner.
Equally important, hearing aids have become smaller and more sophisticated, and they are placed more inconspicuously inside the ear or ear canal. They are now able to filter out background noises that were previously amplified, as well as peripheral noises that distorted conversations.
Rabbi Aharon Davidson* (*Name has been changed.) is an oralist whose hearing aids and lip-reading abilities are mainstays in his life. He lost his hearing as a result of a series of acute infections at age three and began wearing hearing aids at that time.
As a professional ben Torah, he has achieved much in his life despite his severe hearing impairment. A former congregational Rav, a clinical social worker and now a case manager who works with traumatized 9/11 victims, Rabbi Davidson is married and the father of two hearing children.
His adroitness in lip-reading stood him in good stead as a young child, and he was mainstreamed in eminent yeshivos, where he excelled. His parents passionately encouraged him “to reach for the stars.” Although doctors recommended that he enroll in public school, his father insisted he attend yeshivah. “I have always been mainstreamed and never considered myself part of the `deaf culture.’ I consider myself a hearing-impaired member of the, hearing world,” Rabbi Davidson declares.
In his earlier years, his pressing concerns had more to do with facing off against bullies in his class rather than contending with his hearing impairment. But to surmount any roadblocks, his rebbeim were helpful in ensuring that he could read their lips. Succeeding years in high school and beis medrash showcased his stellar academic record, so that his success in learning overshadowed any disquieting issues related to his hearing impairment.
“There was one rebbe who had an issue with my reading his lips, as it unnerved him. Unfortunately, he didn’t handle the situation in a sensitive manner, and it was one of several reasons that I left that yeshivah,” he recalls.
Although Rabbi Davidson developed oral abilities early on, he observes that lip-reading can become difficult if an individual who converses with him has a thick mustache, and he usually suggests that the person put his words in writing. He marvels at the way email, beepers, fax machines and TTY devices have made communication for the hearing-impaired so much easier.
Shidduchim proved to be laden with pitfalls despite his reputation as an outstanding yeshivah student. What especially irked him was that his name was not championed as a marital prospect as were those of other select yeshivah students. “We don’t understand why Hashem has given us this burden; it must be part of His divine plan,” Rabbi Davidson reflects.
He enjoys notable success in his life and feels that his innate empathy, a characteristic that has likely been heightened by his hearing loss, draws others to him.
Few people are able to maintain objectivity within the opposing camps that have polarized the deaf. One such individual, Rabbi Eliezer Lederfiend, is the national director of Our Way, a division of the Jewish Council of Disabilities under the auspices of the Orthodox Union. Our Way provides a marriage registry designed to foil deaf intermarriage, as well as printing publications for and about the deaf. ‘The organization uses sign language in providing outreach activities, such as Shabbatonim and trips.
A hearing son who signed to his deaf parents, Rabbi Lederfiend has two profoundly deaf daughters. Paradoxically, both daughters have cochlear implants. Rabbi Lederfiend’s older daughter was first diagnosed as deaf after his wife realized that her fourteen-month-old child could not hear the clatter of pots or the din in the room, as others did. After Rabbi Lederfiend’s initial shock over self to teach his daughter how to sign. His wife strongly disagreed, hoping to mainstream her daughter in yeshivah schools. Fortunately, their insurance covered the essential therapies. Their daughter’s hearing aids were conspicuously cumbersome, yet she did well in school.
When his younger daughter was born, a therapist immediately diagnosed her as deaf. The Lederfiends began probing the benefits of cochlear implants, for, as Rabbi Lederfiend points out, “technology has changed everything.” Although at first wary of the prospect of a surgically invasive procedure, he was won over by a doctor whose own child had received a cochlear implant, even though it subsequently failed. Still, the doctor argued, “It didn’t work for me, but it may work for other people.”
Rabbi Lederfiend capitulated and had his younger daughter implanted at an early age. It worked so well that they encouraged their older daughter, who - was by then twelve years old, to undergo an implant too. Despite his partiality to signing, Rabbi Lederfiend concludes, Baruch Hashem, both children have benefited from the cochlear implants.”
Next week, a look at the day-to-day lives of those with hearing loss, some common halachic questions, and a yeshivah that caters exclusively to the deaf. (See Part 2).
"Hearing Their Silent World" Part 2
The close-knit community of Toronto, Ontario, is home to multitudes of frum Jewish families. Yet a compellingly unique yeshivah is also housed within these pristine streets, adding its inimitable flavor to the environs. It is Yeshivah Nefesh Dovid - the international yeshivah for the deaf - which caters exclusively to high school age boys the world over who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The students reside in a modern dormitory on the campus of the mainstream Yeshivah Gedolah Zichron Shmaiahu and often mix with their hearing counterparts in activities. Yet they remain a contained unit of deaf bachurim, serving as an inspiration to the public and garnering warm communal backing.
Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Kakon, the deaf Rosh Yeshivah of Nefesh Dovid, founded the yeshivah jointly with Dr. Hart Bressler, who is also deaf, in September 2001. Together, they have galvanized their mission to give deaf and hard-of-hearing boys an equal opportunity to attend a yeshivah where they can learn Torah with greater appreciation. Says Rabbi Kakon, “The shiurim are presented in a unique way so as to maximize interaction between the deaf rebbeim and talmidim, as well as among the talmidim themselves.”
Born deaf, Rabbi Kakon uses sign language as his primary method of speaking, but he lipreads fluently and has strong communication skills. Likewise, Yeshivah Nefesh Dovid embraces a cross-section of diverse modes of interaction among those who sign, those who lipread, and those who have cochlear implants.
An imposing figure, Rabbi Kakon stands in front of his attentive students, and signs a challenging Gemara shuir. His hands fly elegantly in sign language, making the Torah lecture a visible, animate presentation for the enraptured bachurim. The room is darkened and hushed as Rabbi Kakon points to an enlarged pedagogic aid, which is spotlighted to display a magnified page of the Gemara. His finger zeros in on specific words or concepts as he signs, and sometimes speaks, to his captivated talmidim.
Rabbi Kakon feels that signing Torah brings abstract concepts alive, and there is the added benefit of “eyes being ble to flit back and forth between the sefer and the rebbi or chavrusa, instead of being trained on the person’s face the entire time for fear of missing a word, and thereby possibly losing the entire crux of the conversation.”
Visual aids such as handouts and highlighted words are therefore essential, and the yeshivah has lots of sefarim and books at its disposal. Some boys prefer learning from traditional sefarim, while others make use of the Artscroll Gemaras, employing them as a springboard for their own learning abilities.
The students’ hands cut through the air as they sign while learning Torah together, their eyes alive with excitement. Says one boy, ‘I used to go to a regular yeshivah, with twenty-five students in my class, and I frequently could not understand what the rebbi was saying. Here the classes are smaller, and the communication is much easier.”
The boys come to this yeshivah from public schools — even Catholic schools - or mainstream yeshivos that have been unable to meet their needs.
“Three years ago, I was a different kid,” a student muses. “I didn’t know how to learn Torah or Gemara. I didn’t even know how to interact with the Jewish community and was afraid to try.”
“To watch people learning bechavrusa in sign language is to watch kedushah come alive,” marvels Rabbi Kakon. “The learning becomes an avodas Hashem.” Moreover, the boys can communicate easily as a group; the use of sign language ensures that conversations are visible to all, creating a natural camaraderie among the students.
Why should parents send their deaf son to a yeshivah geared toward the deaf even if he may be doing well in a mainstream yeshivah? Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Kakon professes that his own deafness, and that of his staff members, is fundamental to the students feeling that they are part of a group. A deaf boy in a mainstream yeshivah will always feel that his hearing impairment makes him dissimilar to others. “Here we are all on equal footing,” stresses the Rosh Yeshivah.
The yeshivah offers a well-rounded curriculum, with cutting-edge standards of academic excellence. It also provides vital services for the deaf - sign language interpreters and therapists for speech pathology and audiology. The boys hail from all corners of the globe: the U.S., England, Israel, France, and even Yemen. The number of yeshivah students tends to vary annually but typically averages about seven to fifteen bachurim, ages fourteen to nineteen. The students may be chassidish, Litvish or Sephardic, yet they are unified by their common disability.
The students at Yeshivah Nefesh Dovid are bolstered with emotional, social and academic skills. Indeed, many talmidim find the yeshivah a crucial steppingstone to later integration into mainstream yeshivos.
Dr. Bressler, co-founder of the yeshivah, comments on the students’ success, “When a student graduates from this yeshivah, his deafness itself has not been changed. But his deafness has changed him.”
Rabbi Shuchatowitz cites a specific mitzvah in the Torah, “Lo sekallel cheresh,” (2) one must not curse the deaf, which is the Torah’s directive to the hearing not to take unfair advantage of those who cannot hear, and to uphold their dignity and self-respect. “The Torah clearly teaches us to be sensitive to the hearing-impaired,” he says.
Toward that end, Rabbi Moshe Yaroslawitz, executive director of Haazinu Charitable Foundation, is an ardent proponent of mainstreaming hearing-impaired children into the yeshivah school system, which is Haazinu’s key objective. He incorporates the latest in technological and medical advances, which yield optimum results for the hearing-impaired.
As the parent of a daughter who was born without any hearing at all - a rare occurrence - yet who was successfully integrated into a regular Bais Yaakov, he mobilized Haazinu in 1989 as a bastion of support for others who endure the rigorous trials stemming from hearing impairment.
“I realized that any child who has a hearing impairment can and should be mainstreamed,” he says, pointing to his daughter’s triumph as an accepted member of society.
Rabbi Yaroslawitz and his wife had no one to turn to when they received the sobering news that their daughter was completely deaf. But despite well-meaning professionals who advised them to communicate with her in sign language, they firmly resolved to do whatever it took to integrate her into a regular school setting. Her success sparked Rabbi Yaroslawitz’s determination to launch Haazinu. It also underlined his deep-seated conviction that parents should channel their full energies toward helping their hearing-impaired children.
At age seventeen, Rabbi Yaroslawitz’s daughter underwent a cochlear implant and acquired seventy-five percent of her hearing. For the first time in her life, she could actually perceive sound. “I can guarantee that if a parent becomes an unlicensed speech therapist by the time the child is five years old, the child’s success will be assured,” Rabbi Yaroslawitz says.
As the only organization bent on achieving these aims, Haazinu steps in to assist parents of hearing impaired children with personalized support, medical referrals, direction, and even financial aid. Whether it takes hearing aids, a cochlear implant or extensive therapy to help these children assimilate into society, Haazinu follows up to secure its goal.
Since its inception, Haazinu’s benevolent arm has lent a hand to over four hundred children worldwide. But Haazinu ministers only to children; as Rabbi Yaroslawitz explains, Our total focus is to mainstream hearing-impaired children throughout their school years.”
Yocheved Fried is a teenage girl who underwent a cochlear implant at age ten. “I am very open about my hearing impairment, and it enables me to help people understand what it means to be impaired, ad to accept me as one of their own,” she says.
Yocheved has been mainstreamed in a regular Bais Yaakov setting. She wears hearing aids as her parents have raised her to be an auditory child. “I am able to listen and hear,” she says. “But I do lip-read when people are talking, as it helps me to understand them better.”
Looking back, Yocheved doesn’t remember being able to hear the birds sing or the leaves rustle with her hearing aids as she does now with her cochlear implant underwent a cochlear implant at age ten. She consistently comments on how good it feels to “be able to hear all of the different sounds that had previously been so low or nonexistent, and now have become so loud.”
Yocheved is grateful that she has never felt different or singled out from among her classmates. “They all treat me as one of the group, as I can speak, hear, and have fun just like they can.” Yocheved had received speech and auditory therapy for years, and claims that it was all worth it.
Yocheved has learned to speak clearly and can make heads and tails of a noisy situation, as can anyone with full hearing abilities. She can take notes in class, talk on the phone, and even participate in conference calls with her friends. “I can do it all!” she exclaims.
Yocheved’s winning personality comes to the fore in her extracurricular activities. Whether as a Bnos leader or as a counselor at camp, Yocheved becomes an asset wherever she goes.
“People never treat me as different at all,” she says. “As a matter of fact, many of them don’t even realize that I’m hearing impaired!”
She has made many a close friend as a result of her hearing impairment. A friend of hers has initiated a group for girls with different levels of hearing loss, and they frequently spend Shabbos together and have “lots of discussions and panels.” What’s more, Yocheved writes a newsletter for hearing-impaired girls which provides encouragement for her readers to further their skills.
Ironically, she is sanguine about her ability to shut out the world when she needs to. If her household is noisy, “I can shut off my implant and not get a headache,” she smiles. If she’s sitting in class taking a test and can’t focus because of her classmates’ questions, she just turns off the processor, and it’s no longer a problem.
Yocheved describes an episode that crystallized the vulnerability of hearing impairment and at the same time demonstrated the success of her cochlear implant. She was asked to babysit for her neighbor’s child, which she had frequently done, only this time she had forgotten to bring along spare batteries for her implant. To her dismay, her primary batteries failed before the evening was over, and she was unable to call her mother about it because she couldn’t hear over the phone. When the child’s father returned, Yocheved was embarrassed to inform him of her discomforting plight. He spent a few minute speaking to her, but she had no idea what he said; she couldn’t lip-read as his beard and moustache veiled his lips.
When she finally returned home, she told her parents what had happened. Her mother called the neighbor the following morning to inform him candidly that Yocheved’s batteries had died. He naively asked, “What kind of batteries?” and was nonplussed to hear that Yocheved had a cochlear implant. Despite the fact that she had babysat often in his home, he had never noticed that she had any hearing impairment.
Yocheved is grateful that her parents preempted her decision and decided early on to have her implanted. She realizes that had they waited until she was older so that she could decide for herself, the benefits of the implant might not have been as dramatic.
She thus urges parents of hearing-impaired children to take proactive measures to ensure their child’s hearing and speech, as her parents have done for her. “Do anything for your child so that he or she can do well in school, at home, or anyplace else,” she says.
Yocheved Fried is thankful that the cochlear implant, coupled with her therapies, have permitted her to lead a life like anyone else.
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