It was everywhere. Madrid, Paris, New York, Moscow – everyone was watching. I’m talking about the FIFA World Cup, of course. According to statistics, a full 1/9 of the planet watches the proceedings of this tournament. We’re talking here about hundreds of millions of people. From distant corners of the globe, people watch the same ball bouncing on the screen and cheer for their favorite teams.
Well, there's another global event coming up, though not on the scale of the World Cup. Next month, boys are flying in from Israel, from Russia, from Germany and from all over the United States to New York City. What for, you ask? To participate in a Jewish camp. For many of them, it will be their very first time living and experiencing Judaism among their peers.
I am proud to be behind the planning of this unique program for Jewish deaf boys between 8-16 years old.
For too long, there been an unfilled gap in the area of Jewish camp for deaf boys the world over. Of course, there are Jewish summer camp programs in Los Angeles, New York City, Jerusalem, Moscow, and many other exotic locations. But what has been missing is a program that addresses the distinct needs of children who are deaf. For people like myself, our primary mode of communication is in sign language. When such children participate in a mainstream camp, they lose out, communication-wise. They have no idea what is going on, and they have a hard time developing friendships with the other children. Perhaps this explains why very, very few Deaf children attend a Jewish camp.
This year, Camp L’man Achai in upstate New York, will serve as the home base for our Jewish Deaf camp project from August 7 through 18. Our program will run alongside their regular camp session. However, we will balance out the program with our own Deaf counselors and sign language interpreters. For most of the day, the children – hearing and deaf – will play together. But when it comes to activities that depend heavily on listening, like a concert, for example, or storytelling around the campfire, we will have a parallel activity for the Deaf children to participate in and enjoy. As the boys will be communicating in different sign languages (including American Sign Language, Israeli Sign Language, and Russian Sign Language), it will be a fun task to find some common ground. The truth is, though, language barriers are no match for the language of the heart. There will be plenty of brotherly love to go around at our camp, especially due to our shared Jewish deaf background.
This year, we are already expecting around 15 boys. I am in constant touch with them and their families, and they are so excited for camp. I don’t know about you, but when a child is excited about something Jewish, I think it is a great sign. Too often, Jewish children grow up into Jewish adults who have a negative perspective on Judaism because of their less-than-ideal childhood experiences with Jewish things. Whatever the reason, it is of obvious importance that we make a positive impact on our children during the crucial period of growth and development of one’s identity. Our camp, which will be chock-fulll of exciting activities and enriching Jewish lessons, promises to do just that.
And yes, we will be playing soccer at camp too.
To find out more about our deaf summer camp program, please contact Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff at email@example.com.
Editor's Note: The hope is to create a parallel program for girls for next year.
Rabbi Soudakoff is a well-known figure in the Jewish Deaf community, and the executive director of a newly-formed nonprofit, The Jewish Deaf Foundation. Despite his deafness, he earned a rabbinical smicha degree from Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch – Chovevei Torah in Brooklyn, NY. He lives in Brooklyn and travels extensively to varied locales such as Moscow, Toronto, and Washington, D.C. He also serves on the board of the Jewish Deaf Congress, a national organization for Deaf Jews. One of his earliest projects for the Jewish Deaf community is the Jewish Deaf Multimedia educational website.