The Jewish Deaf Foundation, founded in early 2014, aims to bring innovative Jewish educational projects and programs to the Deaf community. We focus on all kinds of age groups, from toddlers through senior citizens. Our headquarters is based in Brooklyn, NY, but our programming reaches people from all over the world. We dream of building a strong and proud community made up of Jewish Deaf individuals. Our programming is always in sign language, and we ensure accessibility for the wider community through sign language interpreters and other methods. We believe that every Jewish Deaf person deserves to have direct access to the beauty of our rich Jewish heritage.
A Brief History
The origins of the Jewish Deaf Foundation can be traced to early 2010, when the Jewish Deaf Multimedia website was started up by Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff, originally from Los Angeles, CA. Shortly after graduating from Yeshivas Nefesh Dovid, an international yeshiva for Deaf boys in Toronto, Canada, he returned home and realized that there were very few opportunities in the Jewish Deaf community for Deaf Jews to learn about their Jewish heritage.
Then entered Jewish Deaf Multimedia. Dozens of ASL videos on Jewish topics were uploaded to the website in its first year, and many more followed in the subsequent years. Each video is subtitled in English (some are even translated to Spanish, French, or Russian as well), thus enabling access for the wider Jewish community, including those who are hard-of-hearing, oral, or hearing.
In spring of 2013, the idea for a Jewish summer camp for Deaf boys was born. After discussions with the Chief Rabbi of Russia, Rabbi Berl Lazar, it was decided that there would now be a Deaf program at the annual Camp Gan Israel Moscow. It was a very successful program, and the Russian-speaking Deaf campers returned home, prouder and more knowledgable of their Jewish identity.
The next thing to hit the Jewish Deaf community was a grand menorah lighting ceremony on the campus of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. – the world’s only liberal arts university for the Deaf. It was organized by Rabbi Soudakoff, and hundreds of participants attended, both in person at the event and online through a live video hookup. The event has already become an annual tradition, with plans for a second menorah lighting ceremony to take place at Gallaudet this winter on December 16, 2014.
It soon became clear that there needed to be an organization that would conglomerate all these various projects under one big umbrella, for the benefit of the Jewish Deaf community. Thus was the Jewish Deaf Foundation created. Now all these projects would have one home and one address for the community to turn to.
The summer of 2014 saw the start of an even more ambitious summer camp project, with an international roster of Jewish Deaf campers. It took place at Camp L’man Achai in upstate NY, and the campers came from all over the world – even from as far as Russia, Israel, and Germany. The Jewish Deaf Foundation is proud to have been the guiding force behind this project, and as we expand into even deeper frontiers, the Jewish Deaf community will always be our first priority.
The Jewish Deaf community deserves to grow and thrive. With your support, we will make this happen.
How is the Jewish Deaf Foundation different from all other organizations?
For – and by – Jewish Deaf people.
We believe that the leaders of the Jewish Deaf community must come from the community itself. Through our projects, we’re building a new generation of leadership. It’s time already.
We stick to tradition.
Our activities are always guided by the eternal values of Judaism. When it comes to providing a quality Jewish experience for our community, we don’t water down anything. Our organization is led by a young Deaf rabbi with years of experience working in this community.
We have a global vision.
Our world today is a tiny global village. We are interconnected as never before. We promote the building of bonds between Jewish Deaf communities around the world – be they found in America, France, Russia, Israel, or elsewhere. In the past, to be a Deaf Jew is to be isolated. Not anymore.
Big and bold – always.
At the Jewish Deaf Foundation, we want to create projects that bring excitement to the Jewish Deaf community. With us, nothing is ever too big. The more we assert our Jewish Deaf pride, the stronger we are as individuals and as a community.