April 10, 2024
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April 10, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Quietest Reunion

(Courtesy of Yachad) On Sunday, April 30, a group of Jewish adults who are both Deaf and blind reunited in Teaneck after four years apart. From 2010 to 2019, the Jewish Deafblind community from across North America and Israel gathered in Baltimore every two years to experience a fully accessible traditional Shabbat weekend and socialize with new and old friends. This was a lifeline for many who had very limited access to Jewish life cycle events, Jewish institutions and Jewish education. The 15-20 participants all live with dual vision and hearing loss and benefited from the 50-70 volunteers who joined each shabbaton to interpret and guide them.

After the 2019 shabbaton, COVID set in, everything shut down and Deafblind individuals were even more isolated than most. Depending largely on sighted people to access stores, appointments and each other, Deafblind individuals were cut off from socializing, shopping, local/national/international news, and almost everything during the COVID lockdown when they could not have visitors and had no access to the technology that most of us were depending on—phones, computers and Zoom gatherings.

During that time the Deafblind Shabbaton Committee, under the auspices of Baltimore’s Associated Jewish Federation and led by Dr. Sheryl Cooper, Sara Leah Kovacs and Yael Zelinger, sent out monthly emails, accessible in large print, Braille and American Sign Language, sharing information and ideas about timely Jewish holidays as well as news about one another. The committee also mailed holiday packages to the Deafblind individuals for Sukkot and Chanukah and had matzah personally delivered to each individual from their local Chabad for Passover.

In 2022, the Committee hosted two small-scale Deafblind reunions—in Israel and Baltimore—to bring constituents and interpreters together after too many years apart. With such an enthusiastic response, a bigger reunion was planned for the tri-state area.

The Macks Center for Jewish Connections, an agency of Baltimore’s Associated Jewish Federation, along with Yachad, a division of the Orthodox Union, and an anonymous sponsor collaborated to bring this community back together last Sunday. Thirty Deafblind individuals, SSPs (support service providers, also known as co-navigators) and interpreters gathered to reconnect over lunch and activities. Hailing from Israel, Washington, D.C., Maryland, New York and New Jersey, this tight-knit group of friends and colleagues was excited to gather and catch up on each other’s news. They also took time to memorialize two key members who passed away this year, Dr. Jeffrey Bohrman and Mrs. Sara Leah Kovacs. Using a variety of unique communication methods, including Tactile and Pro-Tactile ASL, hands felt each other’s warmth and smiles shone as they felt the connection and camaraderie of the Jewish Deafblind community.

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