Editor's Note: This article originally appeared at chabad.org here.
One of the primary lessons of Chanukah is to increase in light and goodness. This certainly seems to be the case for the deaf Jewish community in the United States, where an expected 700 people will celebrate at no less than four different giant menorah-lightings.
On Sunday, Dec. 6, the first night of Chanukah, Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff of the Jewish Deaf Foundation was joined by faculty and students for the third annual public menorah-lighting ceremony on the campus of Gallaudet University, the Washington, D.C.-based liberal-arts institution where all programs and services are geared for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
When the very first event was held, Steve Brenner, past president of the Washington Society of Jewish Deaf, called it “one of the most unique happening among the Jewish Deaf community in the Greater Washington area for the past 50 years.”
Chabad Gallaudet is a project of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) in Washington, D.C.
Two nights later, on Tuesday, Dec. 8, the party was in Rochester, N.Y., where deaf locals will gathered at the Rohr Chabad House at the University of Rochester for a grand menorah-lighting ceremony with a special 9-foot-high menorah designed by Ellen Mansfield, a Jewish deaf artist. Rachel Soudakoff (the rabbi’s sister, who is also deaf) and Allison Friedman, both deaf students at the nearby National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester (RIT), entertained with unique Chanukah skits. There was also an art gallery exhibition of Jewish-themed De’VIA (Deaf View/Image Art).
Moving right along, the rabbi will be in New York City (at the Park East Synagogue on the Upper East Side, to be exact) for yet another evening of menorahs, art, latkes, doughnuts and festivity. This time, he will be joined by Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, who will be attending the event from Maryland. The night’s entertainment will be supplied by John Maucere, a deaf Hollywood actor who often appears as the superhero “SuperDeafy.”
Then, in time to light the eighth candle, the deaf party will be 3,000 miles west in balmy Los Angeles. Much of the program will be similar to the previous ones, including a repeat appearance from Maucere.
‘Part of the Larger Community’
Sofia Seitchik, founder of Global Deaf Women, says she and her peers are excited to participate in celebrations that feature the “same language, same culture and the Jewish pride in the deaf community” that they identify with most strongly.
One of the most important things,” acknowledges Soudakoff, “is that the celebrations are organized and led by deaf people themselves. That’s the reason why deaf people click with our events. It provides every deaf person with the opportunity to give back and be part of a larger community.
“We have deaf people volunteering for our events; they feel it’s their event. That’s been missing for way too long. We have deaf people coming in largenumbers. We have deaf people talking about our events and telling others to come, too. That doesn’t really happen when the events are hearing-led.”
The rabbi explains that each program is designed to give attendees time to socialize. “Besides for the fact that these events will instill a sense of Jewish pride within the attendees of these events,” notes Soudakoff, “we also want to bring together the wider Jewish deaf community in a celebration of our heritage. How often do we get together to do this?”
Recognizing that there will be hearing friends and family present as well, interpreters will be present at the celebrations.
Looking back at the three years since the first public deaf menorah-lightings, the rabbi says he sees “more people talking about being Jewish and more people thinking about what it means to them. In short, what we have been doing with the Chanukah events has been to make Jewish deaf people stop and think about who they are.”
For Chanukah information — including locating public menorah-lightings — including inspiration, recipes, events for the whole family and more, visit the Chabad.org Chanukah 2015 page here.
Additional resources and events available through the Jewish Deaf Resource Center.