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Jewish Deaf Education

How do Jewish deaf children get a formal Jewish education? My husband David and I for example, have two deaf sons. Which school should we send them to? Is there a such program? So I decided to do some research and this article will fans on Jewish Deaf Education around the country.

Being Jewish and deaf is a double dilemma. It is difficult trying to be Jewish and meet your communication needs at a Jewish day school. No special education programs are currently available for Jewish deaf students in the Greater Los Angeles area. Many of us were taught the oral method, so resources were even more limited. Sunday School at Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf in Arleta was always the only option. Sign language is used there.

In my personal situation for example, my parents wanted to enroll me at Hillel Hebrew Academy. The Academy wouldn't take me in because they did not have the resources for my needs, so I never had the opportunity to participate in a Jewish day school.

To my surprise while researching, however, seven Jewish deaf people did attend Jewish day schools here in Los Angeles. I interviewed all seven students about their experiences and it will be featured in the next issue.

Hebrew Institute Of The Deaf
To this day, only one Jewish day school for the deaf students exists. It is called the Hebrew Institute of the Deaf (HID), an Orthodox school in New York, founded in 1965 by Rabbi Moshe Ebstein who had two sons,one deaf and one hard-of-hearing. HID has had to struggle to exist from the beginning. The Orthodox Jewish community was not receptive. Funding was difficult, and qualified orthodox deaf-education teachers who were also Orthodox Jews were at a premium.

In the late 1980's HID was losing money, so they started accepting multi-handicapped students. The deaf children left and went to their local neighborhood school (either with a deaf program, or a deaf residential school). It has since, been renamed the Hebrew Institute of the Deaf and Exceptionally Children, where majority of the students are multi-handicapped and non-Jewish.








   Jews' Deaf and Dumb Home - London, England.

In 1990, Ha'Azinu opened the doors for the hearing impaired Orthodox community in Brooklyn, NY. The Hebrew word 'Ha'Azinu' means to hear, and this group helps parents of deaf children obtain financial support for hearing aids, FM system and speech therapy. They believe in mainstreaming Jewish children into Yeshivas, and are in the process of organizing support groups for parents with Jewish deaf children.

Reality Didn't Take Place
Also during 1990, a young hearing man named Rabbi Moshe Honch Levin who was very involved with the Jewish deaf community in Michigan, and its deaf Orthodox Rabbi David Rabinowitz had big ideas of opening a Jewish Deaf Yeshiva for Boys. He came to the National Congress of Jewish Deaf's convention in New Jersey in 1990 asking for support from the Jewish deaf communities. They wanted to start it in Baltimore, Maryland. Sad to say, reality never took place due to different philosophies in teaching methods (oral, cued or ASL,) and lack of support from the Orthodox community.

First Europe Jewish Deaf Institute
In the June, 1915 issue of The Jewish Deaf , publication in New York, writer D. De Sola Pool believes that the earliest Jewish Institution for Deaf Mutes was established in 1844, in Nikolsburg, Austria..

Hirsch Kollisch, a hearing manufacturer and philanthropist, made the institute possible. Hisdesire was quickly realized, and in three months the school was brought into existence at Hirsch Kollisch's expense. The institution opened with seven pupils. The Jewish community of Nikolsburg began to decline in numbers after 1848, and Kollisch moved to Vienna. For these reasons, the school was transferred to Vienna in 1852. Kollisch died in Vienna in 1866. Let us hold in grateful memory the name of the man who planned, endowed and opened the first school designed exclusively for Jewish deaf mutes.

Germany Jewish Deaf Institute

Israelite Institute of the Deaf - East Berlin

Israelite Institute for the Deaf, a private Jewish residential school for deaf children was founded in 1873 in East Berlin-Weissensee, Germany which, unfortunately, is well known for a plaque on the wall saying, "From this house 146 deaf Jewish citizens were dragged by fascist bandits and murdered in 1942. Memorial to the dead. Reminder for the living." It no longer exists.

England School

Jews' Deaf and Dumb Home - London, England

The Jews' Deaf and Dumb Home in London, England, an oral school, opened in 1865. They bought their own building in 1897 on 101 Nightingale Lane. They were officially opened on May 14,1899 after renovations work were completed. Children learned Hebrew, so they can read fluently and translate simple prayers and parts of the biblical book of Genesis. In other European Institutions for Jewish deaf mute children, students also learned elements of Hebrew. Such children, when they grow up, surely never can forget that they are Jews. It would be a good thing if all our Jewish children could be taught some Hebrew.

They renamed the school to, "The Residential School for Jewish Deaf & Blind Children" on May 31, 1934. They were evacuated during World War Two in 1940-1946. Fifty students moved to Havering House in Milton, Pewsey near Marlborough in Wiltshire. The war ended in 1945. The children and staff moved back to their school building on Nightingale Lane on May 13,1946.

Temporary Site: Wiltshire, England
Residential School for Jewish Deaf & Blind

The largest number of enrollment was 63 in 1910 and the lowest in 1965 which led them to fold on December 19, 1965.

The name of the school in Budapest, Hungary was, "Israel Deaf & Mute Institute." It opened in 1876 and folded in 1949. Unfortunately, 65% of the students were killed by the Nazis.

Everyone needs pride in their heritage and this also includes Jewish deaf people. Judaism is not only a religion but also a culture. The best way to maintain a link of generations would be to raise Jewish deaf children through appropriate educational program where they can learn history and traditions.

It is interesting to note that the above four Europe Jewish deaf schools used the oral method since sign language was not widely used. All were Orthodox programs as the Reform and Conservative movement didn't exist in Europe at that time.

No Jewish schools for the Deaf remain in Europe.

In the next issue, we will interview students who actually attended Jewish Day Schools in the Los Angeles area.

Thanks to Ruth & Percy Morris for the photos from England.