Signing off on their rite of passage

Deaf children celebrate their bar and bat mitzvas.

deaf boy bar mitzva 311  (photo credit: Jacob Batist)
deaf boy bar mitzva 311
(photo credit: Jacob Batist)
In a unique ceremony Monday morning at the Beit Yaakov synagogue in Jerusalem’s Ramat Eshkol neighborhood, 52 deaf and hearing-impaired children celebrated their bar and bat mitzvas.
Proud parents, family and friends looked on as the children experienced the rite of passage with the aid of the Judaic Heritage Program for Israel’s Deaf and Hearing Impaired (JHPIDHI), sponsored by the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel.
“This program works to connect [deaf and hearing impaired] children with both their own Jewish community and the greater community of Israel,” explained Rabbi Chonoch Yeres, Program Coordinator of the JHPIDHI. “The obligations for Jewish children to take part in a bar or bat mitzva has no lines or boundaries.”
Like any other bar mitzva, the boys wrapped their arms in tefillin, were draped in tallitot (prayer shawls) and received an aliya to signify their coming of age. The girls recited the hadlakat nerot, the blessing over Shabbat candles, and were called up to the pulpit for a collective recital of the Shema Yisrael prayer.
A sign language interpreter accompanied every speech and blessing.
“We are deeply proud to be able to share this stellar occasion with these young people and their families,” stated Rabbi Chaim Wasserman, president of the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel. “The emotional charge seeing these challenged youth be able to participate as all others in this rite of passage in life is indescribable unless you witness the event personally.”
“After providing them with the education in Jewish religion, Jewish ethics and Jewish heritage, we bring them together in Jerusalem as the apex of the program,” said Rabbi Yeres. “This not only provides the students and families from all over Israel with a joyful visit and celebration, but a way create bonds for the future.
Started 15 years ago, the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel’s Judaic heritage program works to provide the deaf, hearing impaired and deaf-blind people of Israel with religious education and the ability to serve as active Jews and people in both the religious and secular worlds.
The program receives partial sponsorship from the Jewish Agency for Israel and works in close ties with the Association of the Deaf in Israel.