Jewish Deaf Profile
Barry Strassler Annapolis,MD
A Man Of
Many Trades and Many Tricks
Simon J. Carmel simply defies description. He is a man of many skills and trades. A former physicist. An anthropologist at RIT. A showman magician. A raconteur. A photographer. A world traveler. A linguist of foreign languages. A promoter. A museum enthusiast. A kite flyer. An author. A religious instructor in a summer camp. A former Gallaudet and WGD athlete. An athletic official. A former ski instructor. And much more.
How does he have time for all of these things? Only Simon himself would know. Perhaps he has invented time management before that phrase became today's corporate buzz word.
Perhaps the best description of Simon was given by Jerald M. Jordan, the long time CISS president. "Simon is just like a bull dog; once he bites, he won't let go." When Simon has ideas he does not give up until fruition is reached.
Lets' see: Growth in stature of the World Winter Games for the Deaf. Deaf magicians' convention. A published book of different finger spelling alphabet signs. Growth of deaf folklore as an accepted discipline. A future book in planning on deaf folklore
These are just a few of Simon's many contributions to deaf culture. Simon aspired to be a physicist and worked at the National Bureau of Standards as an x-ray crystallographer. Later on he decided to get into something different - deaf folklore, then an unexplored field, which hasn't yet emerged into prominence.
Deaf folklore fascinated Simon when he mingled with the European deaf during American deaf ski team overseas forays. He was always a good listener, listening for jokes and interesting tales.
Simon then gambled by making a career change, going for his masters and doctorate in the field of Anthropology. When he was in Israel for his field work study he met a deaf Israeli woman who related a riddle to him.
The riddle was as follows: Ten black birds sat on a telephone line. A hunter shot at these birds, but nine flew off but one remained behind. Why did that one bird remain behind? Because that bird was deaf!
That parable, replayed in deaf communities all over the world, became the object of Simon's fascination on what makes the deaf people so unique as a cultural group with mores of its own.
At NTID, Simon's "real job," he is an assistant professor, teaching Cultural Anthropology, Deaf Heritage and Contemporary Social Issues. "Deaf students need to respect different cultures everywhere," Simon said.
No Ivory Tower he is, Simon is pretty much in demand as a consultant. Daily he is peppered by mail, fax and e-mail by students everywhere, and not just at NTID, seeking advice on their future field work projects.
"What was your biggest thrill or honor you have ever won in your life?" Simon pondered at that question. He has several - as a 13-year old youngster in Baltimore, he won the first place in a magicians tournament and was noted by the late Harry Blackmore, the world's most famous magician. Another was being honored by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller for his work with the USA Deaf Ski program. And the latest one was landing a Fulbright Scholar award to study in Russia for six months in 1994. He has won many other honors, though.
Linguist? Simon knows ASL, Russian SL, International SL and a smattering of Hebrew SL. "I also can read and write German fluently and also know a fair amount of Russian," he said.
What is the next "world" for Simon to conquer? Stay tuned.