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Synagogues Offer Sign Language Interpreters

A Jewish Ledger Independent Weekly newspaper featured an article on 'Deaf-friendly synagogues offer sign language interpreters' which was written by Stacey Dresner printed on March 16th. Here are some excerpts.

When Fern Reisinger, who is deaf, was growing up, she says she did not feel included while attending synagogue.

"I never enjoyed temple. I never understood what was going on," she explained. "I went along with the group and just read. I lost out on being a whole Jewish person. I am familiar with general traditions, but do not have the true meaning of Judaism. That is a loss for me."

That changed when Reisinger and her family - husband Charlie, who is also deaf, and their two hearing children, as well as Fern's mother joined Temple Sinai in Newington more than 10 years ago.

"As Rabbi Jeffrey Bennett became familiar with us as a family and our needs, he went out of his way to find interpreters so that we could be included," said Reisinger, who is director of education at the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford. "This was much appreciated. It allowed me to be involved in my children's Hebrew education."

Temple Sinai, a synagogue well-known for its inclusiveness, was one of the first Connecticut synagogues to offer sign-language services. But today there are a few more synagogues who do offer some sign language interpretation for some services or events.

Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, which has a couple of deaf members, offers sign-language interpreters at two Friday night Shabbat services a month as well as some other synagogue events.

In Middletown, Congregation Adath Israel began a pilot program six months ago with a sign language interpreter attending several events.

Temple Sinai in Newington began offering sign language interpreters more than ten years ago when a family with deaf members - which has since moved out of the area - joined the synagogue.

Today, there are four Temple Sinai members who are deaf, and Rabbi Bennett said that he considers it important that the congregation offer sign language interpreters when they are needed.

"The mission of Temple Sinai is inclusion - on the letterhead we have the words 'Makom l'kulam' -- 'A place for everybody,'" Rabbi Bennett said. "We don't want anyone to be excluded, including the deaf."

Temple Sinai offers sign language at every monthly family Shabbat service, during the High Holidays services, and at any adult education or other event when they get a request for an interpreter.

Maureen Chalmers of Oxford is one of Temple Sinai's main sign language interpreters. She signed at the temple's religious school for five or six years when some deaf children were enrolled, and at bar and bat mitzvahs as well. Chalmers, who is not Jewish, said that signing during Sunday school for young children helped her to learn a lot about the basics of Judaism.

Like most interpreters, Chalmers does not sign the Hebrew that is spoken during services, but only what the rabbi or teacher says in English. She can sign basic prayers like the Shema, but most often directs those reading her signs to page numbers for Hebrew prayers so they can read along.

"There are not a lot of Jewish people with interpreting skills in the state," she said. "If there were Jewish people who could sign during services it would be incredible. I am interpreting the best that I can, and I do a good job, but I can never do it with the subtle nuances that someone who is Jewish could."

Naomi Bravin, who is Jewish and who is working toward her certification in sign language interpreting, said that she doesn't think it is necessary for interpreters at synagogues to be Jewish. "I don't think it is necessary, but you do need to understand the content," Bravin said. "If someone is familiar with the prayers and meaning, I don't think you have to be Jewish."

Bravin, a teacher at the American School for the Deaf, began learning sign language in high school, and after getting her bachelor's degree, she got her Masters at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

Naomi was tapped by Congregation Adath Israel to serve as their sign language interpreter during their sign language pilot program in the fall of 2005.

The Middletown congregation began the pilot program at the suggestion of Laurie Meotti, a member of the deaf community, who is not Jewish. An advocate for the deaf, Meotti has spent the last year contacting synagogues with regard to offering sign interpreters.

Adath Israel began its pilot program in the fall - despite the fact that the synagogue has no deaf members. Naomi Bravin signed at several events organized by Adath Israel, including some adult education programs and services.

As the pilot program wraps up, Rabbi Riemer said that his congregation will have to evaluate whether the program was successful.

"I think it is a good thing to send the message - a sign of good faith - about offering services like this. Certainly, people can't say we have been indifferent."

Naomi Bravin - who says she will continue to be a sign language interpreter for Adath Israel if they find that they need one - herself belongs to Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford.

She met her husband, Jeff, who is deaf, when they were both working at the Lexington School for the Deaf in New York. Today, Jeff also works at the American School for the Deaf in administration. The Bravins and their three children joined Beth Israel a year ago, but visited a variety of synagogues before making their choice.

"Every place we visited was welcoming and was open to the idea of getting interpreters," she said. "Every synagogue was willing to do what was needed in order for us to make us feel comfortable and welcomed at services if we were to become members."

Rabbi Kastor's Experience:

1) Established a Hebrew school for the deaf in Frederick, Maryland and taught deaf Jewish children for 2 years using ASL. Directed the curriculum programs for the ages between 7 and 13 years old. He taught Parsha (Old Testament), Middos (character development), Mitzvahs (deeds), Prophets, and Hebrew writings.

2) Created and directed a variety of monthly outreach programs targeted to Jewish Deaf under the organization Orthodox Union Our Way for almost 20 years.

3) Taught deaf Jewish children at Sunday Hebrew school in Washington DC and also taught at Columbia School for the deaf during after school activity program.

4) Tutored deaf Jewish boys for Bar Mitzvahs.

5) Received an ordination to be a Rabbi in 2002 from the yeshiva, Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, Maryland.

If you are interested in taking a course, please send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to discuss about the course, tuition fee and application form.

A New Deaf Jewish Study Program Through Videophone

Rabbi David Kastor is offering a Jewish Study program through videophone for deaf videophone users. He has both Sorenson and Lifelinks. An Deaf Orthodox Rabbi Kastor, and lives in Baltimore, MD and is married to Tchia.

Rabbi Kastor explains, "it would enrich your knowledge in Judaism through videophone. It is a click way to enjoy invaluable lessons and it gives you a wonderful opportunity to pass your wisdom to next generation. It also helps especially for anyone who couldn't get interpreter or far away from a Jewish establishment."

Design a course or tailor the program that is suitable for you, including 8 weeks of Jewish topics. Here is the list of courses to select.

Basic: Learn about Jewish holidays, Parsha (Weekly Old Testament), and Jewish Lifecycle.

Intermediate: Learn about Jewish holidays, Parsha (Weekly Old Testament), Jewish Lifecycle, & Basic Hebrew writing.

Advanced: Learn about Jewish holidays, Parsha (Weekly Old Testament), Jewish Lifecycle, Basic Hebrew writing and reading, Lifecycle, and Mitzvos.

Understanding Parsha - Old Testament: Learn to read and discuss Parsha. It involves with some commentary to understand what it is about.

Introduction to Jewish Lifecycle: Learn about the steps of life such as Baby Naming, Circumcism, Bar & Bat Mitzvah, Wedding ceremony, & Death.

Introduction to Jewish holidays: Learn all Jewish holidays such as purpose, customs, etc.

Bar Mitzvah Package: Teach and instruct him in order to be ready for Bar Mitzvah ceremony.

Special Guest Friedman At Shabbat Services

Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe's Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, CA will host Jewish Deaf Community Shabbat Dinner and Services in commemoration of Yom Hashoah -  the Holocaust Remembrance Day with Special  Guest speaker, Charlotte Friedman, who is a Jewish Deaf victim of the Holocaust and will share her story at the Shabbat service.

In 1938, Mrs. Friedman was a deaf student in Berlin studying art when Krystallnacht took place, unbeknownst to her...the next morning...she got up and walked to school...saw all the burnt buildings and broken glass...got to school and the headmaster said, "For heaven's sake-what you are doing here? GO HOME!".

It will be on April 21, 2006. Dairy Buffet Style Dinner will be served at 6pm and Shabbat Service begins at 7:30pm. Cost of dinner: $13.00 per person. Checks to be paid and mailed to: Temple Adat Elohim 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362. Your check will be your RSVP. Deadline is April 17th. We prefer not to take payments at the door due to Shabbat observance.  RSVP's are a must as spaces will fill up quickly.

For more information, contact Rabbi Dubowe at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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