Deaf Students Interviews
Sharon Ann Soudakoff, Editor
In the last issue, we reported on education for Jewish deaf children. How can a deaf child get a formal Jewish education? My husband David and I have two deaf sons. Which school should we send them to? Is there a such program? We interviewed seven students that attended a Jewish Day School in the Greater Los Angeles area and here is their experiences.Judy Shmovic Gunter - Activist Judy and I met through our speech therapist, Barbara Bain's office in Westwood in the early 1960's.
Judy explains that she got her Jewish "education" by growing up in an orthodox household with Jewish books from the library or bookstores.
In 1967, when she was five years old, Judy attended Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf's Sunday School. She went to Saticoy from first to sixth grade. From the fourth to sixth grade, Judy attended Hebrew School at the Valley Jewish Community Center twice a week after school, (now known as Adat Ari El). She had a private Hebrew tutor during seventh grade until she broke her leg in a bike accident after a tutoring lesson.Judy decided to apply to Emek High School, an Orthodox Jews School, in North Hollywood (now named Valley Torah Center), in the eighth grade. She did it without her parents' knowledge. She talked to Rabbi Stepen, who was married into her family, but was judged on her own ability to keep up with the other students.
That year Emek started classes two weeks in advance of the public school, and Rabbi Stepen insisted on those two weeks serving as a probationary period in which Judy had to demonstrate her ability to keep up with the rest of the class, especially in the secular studies. She met the test and was allowed to continue until graduation.<
Her parents admits that the reason Judy applied on her own is that they frankly underestimated her ability to successfully manage a double program of religious and secular studies in a totally hearing environment. Thank g-d she proved them wrong.
She became very active in Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf's activities such as Havurah, serving on the board, and holiday events. We both attended National Congress of Jewish Deaf's convention since 1982.
Judy says it helped to have Orthodox parents, that she was raised in a Yiddishkeit atmosphere. However, because they don't drive on Shabbat, she spent many Shabbats at home, bored to death. Judy still keeps kosher because it has become second nature to her, but she no longer observes Shabbat. She says her "hearing" Jewish experience is what keeps her staying Jewish, but at a price of being an isolated deaf Jew. She is constantly trying to combine the Jewish" and "deaf" into one, but there are some areas where she will still need to participate in "hearing events" such as holidays, so she can continue to be an educated Jew.
Looking back, Judy explains she did not really enjoy going to a Jewish Day School because she felt isolated and communication was difficult. But she applied to Emek, not her parents! It was merely to go to school in safety, free from drugs, violence, peer pressure and avoid school busing.
After taking a sign language course at Pierce College, Judy attended California State University, Northridge for a few years where she took a Hebrew class before she transferred to Rochester Institute of Technology and graduated in 1985.
She met her husband, Arthur Gunter at the 1986 NCJD Convention and they now live in Rochester, New York. Judy has been executive Secretary of the National Congress of Jewish Deaf since 1990.
Rebecca L. Lesser Dubowe -Rabbi Rebecca, who was born deaf, says her Jewish education began at home and was even more structured by attending a Jewish day school. If it wasn't for the cooperation between the headmasters and my parents, it would not have been possible. Home was where Shabbat was always celebrated and preparation for holidays took place.
In Kindergarten, she went to the Conservative Temple Beth Am Religious school for three years.
When Rebecca's parents first tried to enroll Rebecca at Akiba Solomon Schecter Day School, the headmaster said, "let's see how it goes for six months." He never said, "No," but her parents said to give her a chance and if it didn't work, they would take her out. Rebecca stayed there for four years from the third to sixth grade. After sixth grade, she had a private tutor with her brother once a week. Rebecca attended Hebrew High School briefly and continued to study Hebrew in college.
I first met her and her mother, Jo Ann at a dinner just before we went to a panel discussion at John Tracy Clinic. Rebecca had graduated from Fairfax High School. We became very good friends while we were students at CSUN. We always enjoyed comparing notes, and challenging each other when we talk about Judaism!
She first started meeting other deaf and Jewish deaf students while at California State University, Northridge and naturally, started to learn sign language.
Rebecca taught Sunday School at Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf in 1986 and tutored some students there to prepare for their bar/bat mitzvah.
After two years at CSUN, she transferred to University of Judaism where she graduated with a bachelor's degree. lt. was at that time when she decided to apply to rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College. She wanted to become a Rabbi because of her love for studying all parts of Judaism, particularly Jewish texts and history. She chose to become a Reform Rabbi because she believes in the right to make personal and individual choices. She was ordained in 1993 after studying at HUC for five years. The HUG Dean told her that if she would be patient with them, they would help her and in return, they would be patient with her. They were very supportive and even had a TDD in the Dean's office.
Rebecca loved her "Jewish upbringing." She comes from a very active Jewish family, observed holidays attended cultural events, and who participated in temple, going to Jewish camps and living in a multi-ethnic community especially in Junior and High school really made it a positive experience.
She is married to Michael Dubowe and they have two daughters, Rachel and Arielle. Rabbi Rebecca now works as Assistant Rabbi at Anshe Emeth Temple, a congregation of 700 hearing families in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is the first deaf woman to be ordained as a Rabbi!
Ornah's name was first mentioned when I reamed that my stepbrother Brian's teacher at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High School had a deaf daughter who attended a Jewish day school.
Ornah attended a private oral school, Oralingua for two years then transferred to ECHO/Horizon for three years. She went to Chabad in the 6th grade for two years which was very hard because it was the first time she was in a Jewish school. She does not have oral interpreters. Omah just completed her first year of high school at Bais Yaakov, an orthodox girls school. When Omah's parents enrolled Omah at Bais Yaakov, they were pretty nice but they dis not know if this was the right school. Omah feels that she has been fortunate to have friends that are sensitive to her needs and help her through the class. She is now 15 years old. She sees a private speech therapist after school twice a week.
I had the opportunity to meet her and her mom recently at a panel at ECHO/Horizon. Ornah does not know sign language. After Bais Yaakov, Ornah hopes to go to UCLA.
Jason MooreJason Moore started attending Emek Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox School in North Hollywood at age four.
Emek did not have problems accepting Jason because he was pretty mainstreamed at the time. Jason's parents, Lori and Jan had to, and still has to, educate the staff on how to work with a deaf student. Lori explains that Jason's experience, like any student at any school has been positive and negative. Lori says she is thrilled that Jason can attend a Jewish day school, but the education is difficult for him to keep up with.
Jason has a younger brother, Andrew, who is profoundly deaf, and has a cochlear implant. As far as Andrew is concerned, he would be test at a Jewish day school. He is currently attending a private oral school, ECHO/Horizon after being in a total communication program at Chase Elementary School.
Osnap & Ben Sperilog
Osnap, hard of hearing, now is eleven and half years old has attended Hillel Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox day school since she was three. Her brother Ben, five years old, profoundly deaf since birth, has also been in the nursery program at Hillel. Their parents says that Hillel has been very extremely good to them. They have been open-minded about taking in their children and have tried to help in anyway they could. Ben's private speech therapist comes to Hillel and work with the teacher on what they need to do or how they need to talk to Ben. They both do not sign, and do not use oral interpreters. Ben has private speech therapy three times a week and got a cochlear implant in late July.
Debbie and I met at a kosher pizza place for lunch in 1985 while she was at Bais Yaakov High School. We were introduced by a mutual friend who was trying to set up NCSY/Our Way.
She was born in Montreal, Canada with a normal hearing. She gradually lost some hearing at the age four while attending Jewish Day School. Coming from an orthodox background, Debbie's parents wanted her to get a Jewish education. Her parents decided to enroll her in an oral school for the deaf in the afternoons while she still attended Jewish Day School.
After the family moved to Los Angeles, her parents wanted to enroll Debbie at a Jewish day school but the school would not take her in. She attended Oral Education Center, now known as ECHO/Horizon, for a short time then went to Melrose Elementary School. A few years later, her parents attempted to enroll her at a Jewish day school, Toras Emes on La Brea. Again, they were not successful.
After all these rejections arid frustrations, they decided to send Debbie at eight years old to New York to live with her grandparents while she attended Hebrew Institute of the Deaf (HID). She was finally able to loam Hebrew and Judaism for three years. She relocated to Los Angeles and was finally accepted to an Orthodox school, Hillel Hebrew Academy. During this time, her hearing had declined to profound deafness.
After being unsuccessful at the Jewish day school because of not being provided accommodations. It was imperative that Debbie have an interpreter in all of her classes so as to interpret the teachers' spoken words into sign language. The following year, she transferred to Bais Yaakov of Los Angeles, She was fortunate to have a teacher and a 12th grade student who were willing to teach her privately. They taught her deep insights of Judaism and Hebrew. However, her secular education was not as good as expected because of lack of interpreters for her classes. Debbie transferred to public school, Bancroft High School which provided an interpreter for all her classes. There was an increasing problem with drugs and weapons in the public school. Her parents decided to send her back to HID in New York again, only to find out that HlD was having problems trying to get enough qualified teachers to teach.
Debbie resumed to Los Angeles to attend Bais Yaakov once again. The school and her parents arranged for a teacher to teach Debbie on a one-to-one basis for one year. She taught both Hebrew and secular studies. She was given seven hours worth of home work each night and a lot was expected from her. It turned out to be a very successful arrangement for she excelled in all of her classes.
Debbie went on to several colleges: Pierce, CSUN, Stem, and then graduated from Regents College (New York) with a bachelors degree in Sociology and Religious Studies. Recently, she just graduated from New York University, Graduate School of Education. She has a master's degree in Deafness Rehabilitation.
Even if I have dreams of seeing a Jewish deaf day school, it would seem to be dim because of the conflicts in the deaf community of using oral, sign language, cued or auditory training. But that's not the only barrier. The Judaism movement branches are also split up into different groups such as Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist.
It is for this reason, the Jewish Deaf Community Center hopes to launch a new Religious School in the Los Angeles area. We hope to have deaf teachers as a role model and our curriculum will be teaching traditional Judaism - wearing kippahs, art & crafts, storyteller, learn the Hebrew alphabet each week, and the blessings for kiddush and hamotzi.
Since JDCC is not affiliated with any specific branch, the school will teach children traditional Judaism practices and explain that some follow this way, while others may be more flexible. They will have the opportunity to learn about all Judaism branches.
We hope the Jewish Deaf Community Center will be able to offer this intensive Jewish education to future Jewish deaf kids to emphasize the importance of being a Jew.
The First Graduate Class of Hebrew Institute of the Deaf - 1973
In Front of Original Building - 2025 67th Street Brooklyn, NY
L to R: Ezriel Yom Tov Ebstein, Francine Esther (Gross)