Ever since 1956, when the very first convention took place in New York City, the Jewish Deaf Congress (formerly known as the NCJD – National Congress of Jewish Deaf) long ago earned a cherished place in the hearts of Jewish deaf people in the United States. It is the address where everybody can meet up with former classmates and reminisce about the old days. It is also the place where so many Jewish deaf singles have found their matches – among them, my parents.
I come from a deaf family – my parents and siblings are all deaf. My mother is also the founder and president of the JDCC (Jewish Deaf Community Center), and she was involved with the JDC for many years in different capacities. I attended several conferences as a child with my family. So when I became vice president of the organization two years ago, it signified something special for my family – perhaps an indication that the JDC continues to be relevant to the next generation.
The last weekend of May saw a beautiful national conference in Washington, D.C. It was the 28th biennial gathering, and it drew almost two hundred people. California was represented, and so were Florida, Indiana, New York, Philadelphia, and many other states. We had a contingent of eleven French attendees, in addition to several Israelis. Young and old alike participated.
The diverse nature of the conference, of course, meant that we needed to meet the various needs that came along with it. We had a staff of twenty one interpreters – some of them translating from ASL (American Sign Language) to IS (International Sign) in order that our foreign participants would be able to follow along; others working as Deaf-Blind SSPs (support service providers), repeating what the presenters were saying for the benefit of our several Deaf-Blind members; yet others translating from ASL to spoken English for the approximately ten hearing people who joined us. We also provided Typewell services (in which a professional captionist typed down the speakers’ words, which then appeared on a large screen for the audience to read) for some of our bigger events. This conglomeration of services and resources was an amazing sight to behold, and it went smoothly, thanks to the help of our interpreter coordinator, Nancy Topolosky.
The program itself was a great mix of American and Israeli influences. We were honored with the presence of Ms. Merav Horsandi, Chief of Staff to the Israeli Ambassador in Washington, D.C. She spoke passionately to our audience about the growing threat of delegitimization to Israel. Other Israeli influences on the conference included a series of workshops on Israeli Sign Language, presentations from students who attended past trips of Taglit Birthright-Israel and an Israeli-themed reception on Thursday evening.
As Jews have spread around the world, they have taken their Judaism along with them and infused it with a flavor of their host country’s culture. The Jewish identity of the deaf community is no exception. Deaf Jews have a distinct outlook on Judaism, and our conference reflected that reality. We had an art workshop called “Working with Watercolors: A Exploration of Jewish And Deaf Identities.” A panel discussion featuring prominent deaf Jewish lawyers focused on accessibility in the Jewish world. Especially touching was a group discussion on Shabbat afternoon, where several Jewish deaf people were asked to share their thoughts on their Jewish identity. There were Persians represented along with Russians, and of course, Americans.
Deaf rabbis attended this conference, along with community leaders, lawyers, teachers, dentists, yoga instructors, students and many others. It was truly a cross-section of the Jewish deaf community here in America. This year’s JDC conference served to remind us that our community is still going strong, and more importantly, that we still have many great things to accomplish. From seeing and sensing the uplifted spirit and exuberant atmosphere of the gathering, I just know that we can do it.
I would like to end this write-up with a big thanks to the outgoing board, with which I had much fun working. Special recognition also goes to the volunteers of the Washington Society of Jewish Deaf, the staff of the Park Hyatt, our sponsors and the various other people who worked together with us to help make the conference a great success. I also would like to wish the best of luck to the next board of the Jewish Deaf Congress.
Yes, the Jewish Deaf community – just like any other group – is evolving and developing new challenges. But the JDC conference gave us an opportunity to stop for a moment and take a fresh look at ourselves. After several long days and nights of passionate discussion, we also got hints of what the future will bring.
If you came to the conference, you’re surely excited by now. I know I am.
To learn more about what the Jewish Deaf Congress is, and how we have served – and continue to serve – the American Jewish Deaf Community, please visit our website at www.jewishdeafcongress.org.