Arrivals: Simon Ash

"Do I get angry with the Almighty for having made me deaf - heavens, no!"

Simon Ash 88 224 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Simon Ash 88 224
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
When I first set eyes on Simon Ash at the absorption center in Ra'anana, he was having an animated conversation with a young woman he had just met. The two were speaking in sign language because Ash is profoundly deaf, and the girl he was chatting and smiling to was the interpreter who was going to help me communicate with him so I could tell his story. In his rather bleak room on the fourth floor, we held our three-way conversation - Ash addressing Lee Dan (who is often seen in a small circle on the evening news broadcasts giving the news in sign language) and she translating all my questions and all his answers, often simultaneously. Since Ash could not hear or even notice if I asked a question, it became quite complicated at times. Fortunately he is very voluble, she is very professional and the picture became clear as we communicated. I was also able to get information from his mother's first cousin, Barbara Abramowitz, who filled me in on the background. He was born in Johannesburg 25 years ago and his road to making aliya alone last year is best understood by tracing the milestones in his young life. His mother, Sheryl, only began to realize there was a problem with her baby when he did not respond to noises or being called by his name. According to the cousin, the family was at first totally devastated by the discovery that Ash was deaf. "But they dealt with it," she says. His bar mitzva in Johannesburg was an emotional roller-coaster ride for the entire congregation, Pine Street Shul. He said the blessings he had learned phonetically, and the rabbi gave his sermon to Simon in sign language which he had studied for a year before. There was not a dry eye in the synagogue that Shabbat. As there was no Jewish facility for him, he was sent to a Catholic school for the deaf where, to his family's horror, he began spouting anti-Semitic diatribes he had heard from fellow pupils. His older brother took him to meetings of the Betar youth group to try and instill some Zionism in his wayward sibling. Much later these same friends, with whom he had studied for 14 years, began getting into drugs and alcohol and he wanted out. He decided he would like to try his luck in Israel and was greatly encouraged by the Betar emissary who suggested he go for a trial period as a volunteer and offered to take him under his wing. BEFORE ALIYA He says his mother suggested he look at a deaf site on the Internet and try and find an Israeli girl who would be able to ease his path once he was here. He made contact with a girl, they wrote to each other and she visited him in South Africa in mid-2006. "We didn't have good communication," he says. "She used American Hebrew sign language and I only used South African and it was embarrassing." The first time he came, he booked into the Ra'anana absorption center and shared a room with other immigrants. He had very little money but he did get to find out about facilities for the deaf and he met the people responsible for deaf sports and played soccer with them, a game he had excelled in in South Africa. For three months he volunteered as a coach at the Onim School for the Deaf in Kfar Saba. He went back to South Africa after four months and informed his family that he was going to make aliya. They were very happy, despite their concern about the difficulties he might encounter, and they helped him through the bureaucratic process in South Africa and in March 2007 he arrived back at the absorption center. UPON ARRIVAL With money a constant problem he found a job in the Ra'anana parks and gardens department, and worked every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., outside in all weather and mostly hating every minute of it. In the evenings he would travel to the Helen Keller Institute in Tel Aviv to learn Hebrew sign language. When his mother visited in December, he stopped working and was accepted to the Beit Loewenstein program in which the deaf are taught on a higher level. This is what he is doing today. During this settling-in period, Simon was greatly helped by the Telfed Association and its various absorption services. ROUTINE He studies at Beit Loewenstein from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., just like a regular school. Then it's back to the absorption center for whatever activities have been laid on that he can participate in. He plays soccer for the deaf in the league sponsored by the Israel Deaf Sports Organization and goes to Tel Aviv three times a week to practice. LIVING ENVIRONMENT He has his own apartment with a kitchen attached, unlike on his first stint here when he had to share. Around the walls he has hung family pictures and articles about him that have appeared in the press in South Africa, in America when he toured with a soccer team and, of course, in the Jewish press with the story of his bar mitzva. CIRCLE He has a very good friend from Ramle who is also deaf and he often visits him and his wife on the weekend. He also has a large circle of soccer friends with whom he traveled to Eilat, where he discovered that he loved water sports. Other friends are mainly deaf for obvious reasons, but everyone seems to know him and people smile and wave to him as we pass. FINANCES He receives a small grant from the National Insurance Institute but mainly is living on savings at the moment. FAITH "I believe in God," he says. "No, I don't pray, I'm basically secular, but I'm grateful to be alive and I don't cry for what I haven't got. Do I get angry with the Almighty for having made me deaf - heavens, no!" PLANS "I'm hoping to learn to do something with my hands - perhaps become a plumber or a carpenter and be able to make a living. No, not gardening, that was traumatic. I'm not afraid of hard work and I'm not lazy. But one thing's sure - I'm happy to be in Israel." To propose an immigrant for an 'Arrivals' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: [email protected]