The Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel's Judaic Heritage Program for Israel's Deaf and Hearing Impaired (JHPIDHI) held its annual bar and bat mitzvah ceremony late last month.
This year 52 deaf and hearing-impaired children celebrated their right of passage at the Beit Yaakov Synagogue in the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood in Jerusalem followed by a luncheon and day-long program and tour of Jerusalem with their parents. For some it was their first visit to Jerusalem.
The unique ceremony was the culmination of several months of training for deaf boys and girls who explored the basics of Judaism and the ethics of Jewish adulthood. "We are deeply proud to be able to share this stellar occasion with these young people and their families", Rabbi Chaim Wasserman, President of the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel, said. "The emotional charge of seeing these challenged youth participate as all others in this important life event is indescribable unless you witness it personally."
'No lines or boundaries' (Photo courtesy of Young Israel
Established in 1995, The Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel's Judaic Heritage Program (JHPIDHI) is the only program providing Israel's deaf, hearing impaired and deaf-blind with critically needed religious education and the tools to function as active complete Jews and people in both the religious and secular worlds. A major communication gap often prevents the deaf in Israel from participating in Judaic culture and ritual.
"This program helps connect deaf and hearing impaired children with both their own Jewish heritage and the greater community of Israel", Rabbi Chonoch Yeres, Program Coordinator of the JHPIDHI, explained. "The obligations for Jewish children to take part in a bar or bat mitzvah has no lines or boundaries".
The meaning of prayer
Like any other bar mitzvah, the boys donned tefillin (phylacteries), draped themselves in tallitot (prayer shawls) and received an aliyah to signify their coming of age. They also "signed" the blessings for being called up to the Torah. The girls were called up to the podium for a collective recital of the Shema in sign language. A sign language interpreter accompanied every speech and blessing.
The entirety of this experience, both the preparation ceremony and the event itself allows the deaf youth and their parents to understand the meaning and importance of prayer.
As a way to mark this event as a significant "life passage" event, participants received a prayer book (Siddur) and watch. Boys also received their own pair of tefillin and girls receive Shabbat candlesticks.
The Council of Young Israel Rabbis is a non-profit organization that works to enrich Jewish Heritage and culture through creative and innovative programming and projects. The program is endorsed and receives partial sponsorship from the Jewish Agency for Israel and works in close ties with the Association of the Deaf in Israel.
To make a donation or for more information please contact Rabbi Michael Strick, Director, Council Young Israel Rabbis in Israel at www.youngisraelrabbis.org.il .