Who Are HSD Students ?
by Sharon Ann Soudakoff
The last issue of JDCC News (Issue #23) had a feature article on the Hebrew Seminary of the Deaf in Skokie, Illinois who currently has seven students enrolled, of which three are deaf. In this issue, these seven HSD students share their insights into Judaism, their studies and future plans.
Deaf Female Educator On Judaism
Kelly Fleming, 23, has completed two years of studies and received a Teaching Certificate from HSD. She is currently looking for employment.
Fleming, who was born deaf, hails from Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She explains that she was attending Gallaudet University when Rabbi Goldhamer came to visit. "I had already planned to join the consortium of universities to major in Judaism," she says, "When Rabbi came, I decided to apply to HSD and came to visit. I really liked what I saw when I went to HSD. I liked the idea of Jewish Deaf education and being able to work inside the Jewish Deaf community after graduation."
Involved in the Deaf Community and as an ASL user, she explains that she was raised in a Christian home but was educated in both Christianity and Judaism while growing up. "I became involved with the Jewish community in about 1988 and have been increasingly more involved each year. Prior to HSD, I was involved with Gallaudet Hillel but other than that I had no other experience with Jewish Deaf."
"My parents are not Jewish. Up until recently, it was believed that my birth mother was Jewish but that is unsure of now, so, yes, I will be going through a formal Orthodox conversion. I have lived as a Jew for about 5 or so years."
"While attending HSD, I achieved 4.0 GPA for three semesters. Having not grown up with an in depth knowledge of Judaism and knowing only a few Hebrew letters of the alphabet upon my arrival, I worked hard to achieve such high standards. It is my hope that other students in the future will not feel discouraged because of their lack of knowledge in Judaism and/or Hebrew language. I also hope that by achieving such a high GPA during my years at HSD, I have helped to encourage other students to work hard to get the best grades they can."
"As well, during my attendance at HSD, I worked part-time, teaching in the Sunday school program, teaching a Deaf-blind girl and teaching a Deaf Lubavitcher boy. Outside of the classroom, my hands were full with my schedule. I gained a lot of experience in my co-operative work with these students, teaching them Chumash, Mitzvos, B'rachos, how to use the Siddur and Tehillim. It was a wonderful experience."
"My last nine months at HSD, I also worked on my thesis which was a very involved project. My thesis, although written in the Jewish school, is aimed at Christians to help them understand the Jewish background and observances of their own religion. Although this may sound contradictory to the essence of attending a Jewish school, it was something I felt strongly about. I am thankful that I have been able to teach Christians about Judaism through my thesis."
Studying To Be Deaf Rabbi
Michael 'Treky' Schaap is 29 years old. "I came from Southfield, Michigan, it is close to Detroit. I went to Rochester Institute of Technology for six years and during that time, got a job at the Campus Ministries office. I was like a secretary there. Well, I had not been very observant in my life but started to get involved with Hillel there. I enjoyed it a lot as well as enjoyed the ministries there. I felt so inspired by all of what they did to help people. One of the ministers, Father Butch Mothersell, he saw that I worked well with people and encouraged me to become a Rabbi for the deaf."
He says it was through a representative at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) that he learned and applied to HSD. "I had thought that my chance of succeeding here at a deaf seminary were pretty good and since it is the first deaf seminary and I would like to the first deaf rabbinical student."
"I was Bar Mitzvahed and knew how to read Hebrew but very slowly. My goal is to... this seems far fetched but what the heck, its a goal. I see too much separation in Jewishness. There is such unity in the deaf culture that we would have some unity in Judaism, I would like to work on bringing together people from all the denominations."
"Obviously in the deaf community, there is also so much hostility to Jews and non Jews. I saw this with my job as a secretary in the Ministry Department. I just think there is a enough hate in the world to stop the hate. I am trying to think of how people can get together with a common interest like G-d who is good and make good out of it."
Schaap says that he has been able to keep up with Hebrew, Bible and Torah classes, "however it is very hard, I don't memorize very well and it is a struggle that I always have to work on, I had come from a special education background."
"I am just finishing the first year, I love it, study all the time as any rabbinical student would but I love it. The only thing that I have had problems with seems to be finding a girlfriend, it seems that my career goal is not an opening statement, seems that people get frighten away for some reason."
Hopes To Be Rabbi To Deaf
Steve Katz, 29, hails from Evanston, Illinois. "I am hearing, I have a deaf sister (Paula) and hearing parents. I grew up signing and I really didn't have a Jewish background but I was Bar Mitzvahed."
He says that he wanted to live a Jewish life 24 hours a day. "Being in the Jewish services seemed a great way to do it and I really like to teach and that is the main or original job of a Rabbi. HSD helps me with subjects that I am rusty, in other seminaries expect you to come in with a lot of knowledge. This place helps you out and I feel very comfortable with deaf. I am in my second year soon to be in third."
He has helped at Congregation Bene Shalom services and also helped officiate at a wedding of two deaf people and "I've helped at children's services at the Temple."
"I have discovered that being in our signing choir on Friday nights Shabbat services have inspired me in ways that I wouldn't believe. The frustrating thing is where I can't provide answers to kids questions and their parents expect me to teach them everything."
"HSD is a great place for the Jewish deaf to learn about their religion and culture and how they can make Judaism fit into their lives."
Motivated To Serve Deaf
David Kay is a Chicago, IL resident. How Kay, who is hearing, got involved in the Deaf Community makes a fascinating tale. "My mother has a lifelong friend whose son is deaf. He introduced us to Bene Shalom, the deaf temple in the Chicago area," he explains, "In March of 1990, I was invited to perform at a coffeehouse at Bene Shalom (I sing and play guitar). I didn't know Sign, so I convinced a dear friend with an M.A. in Deaf Education to interpret for me. She was a little nervous, so the guy running the coffeehouse got a back-up person from Bene Shalom's signing choir - a hearing woman named Joanne Goldman. It was love at first sight! I wanted to impress her, so I learned Sign very quickly. I guess it worked, because we were married five months later!"
"I first thought about going into rabbinical school when I was in high school. But I was put off by the politics of the pulpit - it takes a lot of patience and tolerance to be a pulpit rabbi, and I didn't have much patience or tolerance back then. When I got involved at Bene Shalom, I discovered two important things: a community I felt comfortable in and the sad fact that Judaism had excluded the deaf. When HSD was founded, all the pieces of my life came together - what is called in Yiddish, 'besheret'."
When asked why Kay, who is 40, chose HSD instead of Hebrew Union College (HUC) if he is hearing, he says "I love a challenge, and I love being part of something innovative and new. HSD is an experiment - nothing like it has ever been done before. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to be part of it from the very start. HSD got in contact with other major seminaries, and got a wonderfully positive response from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS).
"...Having the opportunity to learn with some really excellent teachers means the most. The classes are small, as are the classrooms, so it feels very personal. And being in text classes - Talmud and Bible in Hebrew and Aramaic - with both hearing and deaf students is exciting, too. It's also frustrating, because our Jewish tradition has taught these things orally for thousands of years - we have to struggle to find ways to make it equally accessible for all the students."
"I've been helping conduct services at Bene Shalom since before HSD was founded. My wife, Joanne, and I conducted the educational children's services, along with Rabbi Goldhamer, for three years. Recently, I have officiated at a few funerals and unveilings. I'm looking forward to the happier events: weddings, baby naming, etc.! In New York, I conducted a Passover Seder with Temple Beth Or of the Deaf - that was a lot of fun."
What does Kay plan to do after ordination? He says that he and his wife, Joanne who continues to sign in the choir at Bene Shalom aren't sure yet... "there is so much work to be done," he says, "We were involved in the Kesher Program this summer, established by Marcia Tilchin with the support of Camp Ramah in the Poconos. For the first year, we have eight families with deaf members (parents or children) for a five-day program. We're looking forward to a longer program with more families next year. I've also done some work through Hillel on a couple of college campuses, including Gallaudet. We also want to continue working with JTS and the other HSD students who will be going on the exchange program next year and in future years, to continue the momentum in the Conservative movement. Then there's also chaplaincy - hospitals, colleges, etc. - and of course be a rabbi for an HAD or helping build a deaf or accessible deaf/hearing congregation. A lot of possibilities!"
Fascinated With Deaf Parents' Temple
Alan Abarbanell is proud that ASL is his first language. "I have three older brothers who are all hearing and not very involved in the deaf community. Being the 'baby', I naturally gravitated towards my parents and their culture, developing proficiency in sign as well as an understanding of their culture."
When asked how Abarbanell, who is 33, decided to study to become a rabbi, he says "I have many reasons for pursuing a life in the rabbinate. First and foremost would be my love of G-d. I have experienced G-d in many facets of my life, and feel a deep spirituality and connectedness with my Jewish heritage. My parents were in many ways the catalyst for my decision (although I didn't consciously decide to do this until my parents had passed away). They were both wonderful people who yearned for Jewish education, spirituality, and culture."
"My father was one of the founders of the HAD in Chicago, and my mother, a president of Congregation Bene Shalom for 10 years. They were extremely proud of their contribution to the Jewish community (a synagogue for the deaf) and I always remember how important the temple was in their lives. It really inspired me to want to be a part of that accomplishment and see that their work continue for future generations of Jewish Deaf."
"I must also say, that I had Rabbi Goldhamer as a strong role model. He was, for me, the quintessential rabbi. He was caring, articulate, fascinating and very learned. I saw what he did with members of the community, and always said to myself, I want to be doing that when I grow up!"
"Finally, my love of sign language, and ability to transform the liturgy via ASL has always been a tremendous source of inspiration. I frankly CANNOT pray without signing. It is a powerful mode of self expression, and prayer is exactly that. With all of the rolled together, it seemed the ideal path for me to follow."
In September, Abarbanell will spend his fourth year of HSD studies by taking required courses at JTS in New York. "In addition to my studies, I'll also be working part time with several of the deaf congregations in the NY area (as a student rabbi). I have already begun to travel there once a month to conduct Shabbat services for them, and have just fallen in love with the people. They have been marvelous to me, it seems to be a reciprocal situation. I look forward to that part of my NY experience very much!"
When asked about his Judaism upbringing, he says that he attended school here in Chicago, and had his Bar Mitzvah at Congregation Bene Shalom. "I signed and spoke Hebrew and English throughout," he recalls, "my friends at the time thought I was brilliant!"
Deaf Graduates As Rabbinical Aide
Steve Horwich, also a Chicago, IL native, is one of the three deaf students enrolled at HSD. He graduated in August as a rabbinical aide "... that means like Assistant Rabbi. My job is some conduct lead for deaf service and most read Hebrew Torah, teaches Hebrew class for deaf children and adult for future bar/bat mitzvah, visit hospital prayer healing, members of Temple and also next fall I will studying for internship at HSD with Rabbi Goldhamer, he teach me like practice Rabbi.
"I like HSD very much. I had learn new things. My interpreter help me understand class and few teacher is helpful for me for Torah class, Talmud, Jewish laws, family living, history and many more things. It is very good program."
Will Horwich attend JTS in New York for the exchange program? "I would like to go but I dropped to New York JTS next fall" he responds, "because it is very hard program. My friend HSD in New York told me it is very hard program. Most teacher speak too fast not good for me and no deaf students at JTS at the past. HSD is very basic program.
"I will looking for full time job somewhere and second job for part time job at Temple teaching Hebrew and Sabbath services too."
What about his upbringing? When "...I was growing up, I have not learn Hebrew and bar mitzvah. When I learn Hebrew age is 28 year old. My bar mitzvah was very successful. Now I am teaching Hebrew for deaf children, two already bar mitzvah at 13 years old and now I teach deaf man age is 60's years old. He learn Hebrew very well, next year he become bat mitzvah after 13 years old, that mean never too late any age, like young, middle or old."
Gill Brociner, 39, hails from Haifa, Israel. He started, and is still, learning sign language when he entered HSD.
Why Rabbi and HSD? "I decided that it was a unique and fascinating and pioneering opportunity to serve and work with the Jewish deaf. I was very impressed by Rabbi Goldhamer's past vision and enthusiasm for working with the Jewish deaf when I met him in the synagogue in Northern California in Fremont."
"... they really need Rabbis to work with them and it is a unique opportunity and it was inspiring and the opportunity to work with the Jewish deaf is a path breaking and dynamic and unique and special opportunity and I felt that there was something that I wanted to pursue that would be very meaningful and special way of expressing my Judaism. My background is in Conservative Judaism. I was Bar mitzvahed in a Conservative synagogue, that is my basic background while I am also am accepting and tolerate of other denominations of Judaism."
"After I graduate from HSD with my ordination, it is my intention to have a pulpit serving a Jewish deaf congregation and in regards to leading services, Jewish education and pastoral counseling and ministering to the Congregation in Jewish life cycle events and providing them a place to go and affirm and celebrate their Jewish spiritually and religion."