Sixty-three Israeli boys and girls celebrated their Jewish coming-of-age in a unique joint bar/bat mitzvah ceremony in northern Jerusalem one recent Monday morning.
All of the children are deaf or hearing impaired.
The bnai mitzvah from around the country participated in a three-month preparatory program in sign language, under the auspices of the International Young Israel Movement and in partnership with the Jewish Agency and the National Deaf Association; the program is directed by native New Yorker Rabbi Chanoch Yeres.
“It gave these children” — most from homes “with very little traditional observance” — an opportunity that many would not have had,” says Daniel Meyer, executive director of the International Young Israel Movement. “Many of these kids would be very self-conscious about having a regular ceremony.”
The ceremony at a Young Israel synagogue in Jerusalem’s Ramat Eshkol neighborhood featured words translated into sign language and displayed on a large screen, and a mass recitation of the Shema under a chupah. After a celebratory lunch, the children visited the Western Wall.
Young Israel’s Judaic Heritage Program for the deaf, which sponsors 16 deaf clubhouses throughout Israel, has arranged bar/bat mitzvah ceremonies for about 250 young Israelis over the last 13 years, Meyer says.
“Here in this communal gathering of children with similar issues they are empowered, and the synagogue is filled with smiles and tears of joy,” he says.