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Liberation From Isolation

Yehoshua_SoudakoffFor participants in a deaf seder, signing is the norm and no one feels like an outsider.

Yehoshua Soudakoff
Special to The Jewish Week
Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I’ve never heard the Passover Haggadah. I’ve heard of it, of course, but never heard it, the actual words.

Like the rest of my family and the guests seated around our seder table every year, we all are deaf. With 40 to 50 guests joining us for the two seder nights at our house, the atmosphere is always casual, the dress informal (except perhaps for my suit and matching black hat); almost everyone knows each other. We come together to celebrate the Jewish holiday of liberation.

Photo: At a seder for the deaf, Yehoshua Soudakoff sits among other people who sign the words of the Haggadah instead of reading them.

For some people, liberation takes a physical form. For others, it is emotional. Growing up in a deaf family, I never really appreciated the feeling of being just like everybody else. In our house, my deafness was never something “different.” My mother, father and siblings all had it too. It was just something we had that others didn’t.

I remember joining our extended family’s seder one year. It was great spending time with my grandparents and cousins, but it just wasn’t the same as home. At home, I could communicate with anyone I wanted without any obstacles. At home, I could take part in the reading of the Haggadah. At my cousins’, my deaf family and I could only passively watch along as everyone else proceeded with the seder, one person leading and the rest listening or engaging in lively conversation. Lip reading when you don’t know if the person is speaking Hebrew or English is no easy task.


David Kurs — a New Leader for Deaf West

DWest1Features by Julio Martinez
March 7, 2012
LA Stage Times

Since its birth in 1991, Deaf West Theatre (DWT) has known one leader — Ed Waterstreet, the first deaf artistic director of an American theater company.  During his tenure, DWT established itself as a vital, contributing member of the stage community both locally and nationally, producing 40 plays and four musicals, including the 2001 staging of Big River, which went on to the Mark Taper Forum and then to Broadway, receiving a Tony nomination for best musical.

Photo: Director Simon Levy addresses the cast of "Cyrano", interpreted by Elizabeth Greene

DWest2On March 2, DWT board president Mark Freund simultaneously announced the retirement of Waterstreet and the appointment of David J. Kurs as the new artistic director, just in time to oversee the company’s collaboration with Hollywood’s Fountain Theatre in the premiere of Cyrano, written by Stephen Sachs. It’s a modern, re-imagined staging of Cyrano de Bergerac, performed in a synergistic intermingling of spoken word and ASL signing.

“This is a perfect partnership for us, ” Kurs affirms. “Stephen Sachs [as co-artistic director of the Fountain] was a key player in the early days of Deaf West Theatre. The theater gave Ed [Waterstreet] his first office space. Stephen directed a couple of our productions; and Stephen, [Fountain producing director] Simon [Levy], and [Fountain co-artistic director] Deborah [Lawlor] have been very supportive of the mission of Deaf West over the years. Stephen also wrote Open Window, which was a Deaf West co-production at the Pasadena Playhouse, and he has remained good friends with Ed throughout the years. So it was natural for Ed to reach out to him about adapting Cyrano.”

Photo: David Kurs; Photo by Tate Tullier

Cyrano, helmed by Levy, is scheduled to open at the Fountain on April 28, with Kurs serving as co-producer, along with the Fountain’s Laura Hill.  “This production model seems to work well for us,” says Kurs.  “We maintain good relationships with many theater companies. We’ve done three co-productions with CTG (Center Theatre Group). Of course, we plan to return to our home base eventually.”  Home base is Deaf West Theatre in North Hollywood (NoHo), which is currently being leased by Antaeus Theatre Company.

DWest3Previously, Kurs served as Deaf West’s artistic associate.  He was an associate producer and ASL master on Deaf West productions of Pinocchio (2011), My Sister in This House (2010) and Children of a Lesser God (2009), and he wrote and produced the multimedia young audience show, Aesop Who? (2008). A graduate of Gallaudet University, Kurs has worked as a freelance writer, producer and filmmaker. He has also been active in the local and national deaf community, serving as the president of the board of directors at GLAD (the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness).

Photo: Matthew Henerson and Amber Zion in the 2011 production of "The Adventures of Pinocchio"; Photo by Ed Krieger


Jewish Deaf Group Launches "Jewish Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Awareness Shabbat - May 5, 2012

SabbathJDRCThe Jewish Deaf Resource Center (JDRC) is proud to announce that the Shabbat of May 5th, 2012, is being recognized as Jewish Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Awareness Shabbat.  The JDRC builds bridges between Jews who are deaf and hard-of-hearing and the organizations which serve the Jewish community throughout North America.  The goal of this Shabbat is to raise awareness about including individuals who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, as well as their families and friends within the wider Jewish community.  JDRC's President, Alexis Kashar, added, "We strongly believe the Torah reminds us of the importance of being sensitive to all individuals.  When one family member is denied access to the wider Jewish community, the whole family is often without access to Jewish communal life for generations."


Synagogues incorporate karaoke megila readings

03/06/2012 02:52

Orthodox Union distributes Purim materials to make the holiday accessible to deaf, elderly, learning disabled, small children.

By Orthodox Union

The Orthodox Union is holding 200 “karaoke-style” readings of Megilat Esther during Purim for the hard of hearing, deaf and elderly in synagogues across the US, UK, Israel and Australia.

The unique readings will be conducted with the help of PowerPoint presentations beamed onto giant projector screens, enabling participants to follow along visually as they see the words being read highlighted in front of their eyes.

The words are projected in both Hebrew and English and include special graphics depicting Haman’s malevolent and wicked character.

Purim is an exuberant and high-spirited holiday in the Jewish calendar involving fancy-dress, benevolent gift-giving and the consumption of large quantities of alcoholic beverages.



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