How do you say New Year in Hebrew? Rosh Hashana. Easy enough. But what if you or your interlocutor cannot hear, or speak?

The Institute for the Advancement of Deaf Persons in Israel ( is launching a computerized “pictionary” for those who use sign language, with more than 700 sign patterns for Jewish terms, in the Israeli sign language.

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The dictionary with pictures include entries in English and Hebrew, and the signs were painstakingly amalgamated and documented from Israeli users of sign language, who had naturally developed signs for terms such as shofar, Rosh Hashana and kapparot. The dictionary is being translated into Russian.

Not all of the terms in the Jewish world are included among the entries, since some of the words haven’t a sign pattern agreed upon yet. There are around 650,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in Israel, of whom 15 thousand are deaf.

The computerized medium of the dictionary enables a videoed view of the sign selected, conjured by writing the word in English or Hebrew.

“We compiled this dictionary with a few important goals in mind,” said Yael Kakun, executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of Deaf Persons in Israel, such as “expanding the vocabulary of signs for Jewish terms in Israeli sign language, answering the needs of a broad usership – deaf and hard of hearing students, researchers and professionals, hearing family members – and disseminating the signs throughout the Jewish world.

“We hope the dictionary will help bring out the beauty and uniqueness of the Israeli sign language, and also make Judaism more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing in Israel and the world,” Kakun said.

The Israeli sign language is only 70 years old, and has a unique grammar. This visual lateral language is a linguistically organic and comprehensive system of language expressed through hand gestures.

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