Ready. Set. Shoot!
That’s what children all over Israel have been doing in the past week. They’re not your typical child, though. Every one of these children is deaf or hard of hearing. Their primary language is not Hebrew, but Israeli Sign Language.
The Jewish Deaf Foundation, a newly launched non-profit organization launched less than a year ago and based in Crown Heights, is running a contest for deaf and hard of hearing Jewish children in Israel.
The children are asked to create a video – up to two minutes long – that answers the following question: “What’s your favorite Jewish holiday, and why?” All the video submissions will be brought before a panel of three deaf Israeli judges, who will choose the winning boy and girl. (To read more about the contest in Hebrew, click here.)
What are they winning? A chance of a lifetime. They will be receiving a ticket to fly to New York City to participate in the world’s only summer camp program for Jewish deaf children.
Based upon the success of last year’s program at Camp L’Man Achai which attracted boys from many states and countries, a new girls’ program will be opening up this summer. Camp Gan Israel in the Poconos is the proud host of the girls’ program, which runs from July 1 through 21st, 2015. The boys’ program will also be repeated at L’Man Achai, from July 29th through August 18th, 2015.
What makes our camp unique? Besides for the fact that we insist all of our camp counselors be deaf and fluent in sign language, we embrace the unique identity of our campers. Many of our campers come from fully-deaf families, with deaf parents and siblings. They attend deaf schools and have deaf friends.
And when these children arrive at our camp, they are immersed in a beautiful world of Judaism – an experience that most, if not all, of these children encounter for the first time in their lives. Finally they know what it’s like to attend a Torah class and not feel left out. At long last, they can ask all the questions they were always curious to know about – and get an answer back in their native language. Now, they are among peers who are just like them. For deaf Jews, this is a very rare opportunity.
At our camp, we are building Jewish-Deaf identity. We fuse the best of Deaf culture with the profound wisdom of Judaism. It’s an unique challenge, and we love it. And evidently the children love it as well. Here are some of the things they have been saying about us:
“I knew my grandmother is Jewish, but I never realized that I was Jewish too – till I came to camp.”
– Aleksandr Yakovlev – St. Petersburg, Russia
“We are so happy that our sons went to Camp L’Man Achai this past summer. Ever since they came home, all they have been talking about has been the camp. They had a wonderful time, and most importantly – they are so proud to be Deaf and Jewish.”
– Vered and Eyal Shalom – Or Yehuda, Israel
“Wow! My mother never told me about all this!”
– Joel Pennington – Houston, Texas
So why are we telling you about all this? Because we believe you can help make this program a success.
We have two main challenges:
1) There are many financial costs involved in creating a camp program, especially an international one like ours. Children have to be flown in to our camps, tuitions have to be covered, and our staff needs to be paid.
This summer, we are looking at a budget of up to $80,000 to bring 40 Jewish deaf and hard of hearing children – 20 boys and 20 girls – from all over the world to a Jewish camp. We are already expecting campers from Israel, France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, England, and many other countries. Children are also coming from states including California, Arizona, Texas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
We are looking for people to partner with our camp project financially. If you believe in our project, please contact us at [email protected] to discuss how you can help our community. Additionally, please share this article with those who may be able to help.
2) As much as we have advertised, we know that there are always a few people we haven’t reached out to yet. That’s where you come in. If you know of a Jewish deaf or hard of hearing child anywhere in the world who communicates in sign language, please contact us today. By connecting the child’s family with us, you are ensuring this child’s connection to Yiddishkeit. We have come a long way from the days where deaf children were essentially put away somewhere out of sight and told they could not be fully-practicing Jews. Today, with leaping advances in deaf education and communication technology, deaf Jews are on a par with everyone else.
We believe in you. Imagine the difference you can make with just a few clicks.
To learn more about our 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, please click here. To make a donation, click here. We are the only organization in the world that provides deaf Jews, everywhere they may be, with all their spiritual and cultural needs on a comprehensive level.
Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff, the deaf camp program coordinator, as well as the executive director of the Jewish Deaf Foundation, may be reached at [email protected]
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