Our Team

Take a look at who’s behind the magic at the Jewish Deaf Foundation…

Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff, Executive Director

As the founder and executive director of the Jewish Deaf Foundation, Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff is excited to bring his years of Jewish knowledge and community experience into action. He was raised in Los Angeles, California and currently lives in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

Rabbi Soudakoff attended Yeshivas Nefesh Dovid, the world’s only Jewish high school program for deaf boys, located in Toronto, Canada. He graduated with the class of 2009. He subsequently attended Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch – Chovevei Torah’s semicha program and graduated with a rabbinical degree in the winter of 2012.

When he is not online, he spends much of his time running Jewish programming for deaf people in locales as varied as Rochester, NY or Moscow, Russia. In the summer of 2013, he started a camp program in Moscow for Jewish Deaf boys from Russia. You can read more about this project at his   

Avraam Rubinov, Web Developer

Avraam was born in Bukharin, Uzbekistan, and came to New York with his family in 1995 at the age of 12. He started school at PS 47, and then he continued on at Yeshiva Ohr Eliezer in Brooklyn, NY. From there, he attended Yeshivas Nefesh Dovid, the international yeshiva high school for Jewish deaf boys in Toronto, Canada, and graduated in 2006 with high honors. He served as the class valedictorian.

Avraam continued his Jewish studies in the beis medrash of Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, MD. After two years there, Avraam returned to Toronto to do an internship at Oil Change, a web-based company, for two years. He focused on web development, graphic designing, and video editing.

Avraam currently runs his own private business as a graphics designer. His work can be seen at www.argd.8m.com. He is excited to lend his expertise in design to the Jewish Deaf community.

Simon Roffé

Simon D. Roffe has extensive experience working in real estate and the stock market, and now he has remade himself as a Social Media Marketing expert. He is a Syrian Sephardic Jew and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children. His children attend a local Jewish day school.

Simon Roffe graduated from New York University Stern School of Business in 1998 with a degree in finance. He previously held Series 7 and 66 licenses and worked in Real Estate Development in Washington, DC for many years.

In his free time, he loves scuba diving and rooting for his beloved Baltimore Orioles and Washington Redskins. He is also an active member of the NYC Jewish Deaf community. He helps out with the Jewish Deaf Foundation on various capacities.

Diana Abayeva, Event Coordinator

Diana Abayeva – originally from Tashkent, Uzbekistan – lives in Queens, NY. She has years of experience organizing events large and small.

Diana has worked with several Jewish organizations, including the LEAD program of the UJA Federation and F.E.G.S. As a care coordinator of a citywide Health Home program, she has mastered the aspects of coordinating various organization/services.

Growing up, every Jewish holiday was celebrated. Every Friday night was spent with family for Shabbat dinner. Eager to understand more about Judaism, Diana went on a trip to Israel in early 2014 with a group of Russian signing Jews led by Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff, the founder of the Jewish Deaf Foundation. The trip allowed Diana to grasp the history of Judaism and how rich the culture is, and this led her to become more involved with her local Jewish Deaf community.

As a second-generation Deaf individual, Diana understands Deaf culture, including its beliefs, values, and history. Her experiences and years of involvement with the Deaf community sparked her passion to be a certified Deaf interpreter for those who utilize American Sign Language and Russian Sign Language.

She looks forward to contributing her talents to promote the growth of the Jewish Deaf Foundation as a source of Jewish inspiration for the Deaf community – something that is needed in her native NYC.

Leana E. Jelen, MAI, Staff ASL Interpreter

Leana Jelen is a multilingual freelance interpreter in New York City and JDF’s Director of Development. For over eleven years Leana has worked as a leader within a variety of organizations within the Jewish community, including Greater Midwest Young Judaea, Yugntruf Youth for Yiddish, and Chabad on Campus. Most recently, Leana spent three years as a resident and programming specialist for Moishe House Montgomery County where she collaborated with Rabbi Soudakoff to create hugely successful “Silent Shabbat” events. These events were an opportunity for the local Jewish Deaf community to gather and enjoy a home-based meal and discussion, and were also an opportunity for hearing Jewish community members to challenge themselves and experience Shabbat in a voices-off, visual space.

Leana understands the potentially life-changing impact that immersive experiential programming can have. As a child and teen, Jewish summer camps and youth group involvement fueled a lifelong, evolving spiritual journey. As an adult, when she began to learn about ASL and Deaf culture, it was her experiences within the Deaf communities in Rochester and Washington, DC which anchored her as an interpreter. Leana is thrilled to support the continued growth of the JDF as a way of paying it forward and enabling Deaf Jews to build strong Jewish identities and communities from the inside out.

Board of Directors

Irina Normatov

Irina Normatov, woman entrepreneur behind The Wealth of Joy, LLC, is also known for her involvement in many projects, including project manager of Global Deal Women and camp activity coordinator of the BizGenius Youth Scholars Camp at Gallaudet University. She has also served as an event planner consultant, with over 100+ events under her belt since she was 16 years old. Her very first event was prom chairperson at MSSD in 1996. Irina also formerly worked as the Northeast Regional District Manager for Purple Communications Inc.

Irina believes in the importance of understanding her clients’ perspective and speaking their language. She has strong roots in her Jewish spiritual identity, which is why she is honored to serve on the Jewish Deaf Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Irina’s long-term goal is to become a recognized motivational speaker and storyteller, guiding people to perceive the power of joy. We must appreciate the little things in our life in order to fulfill our inner joy, authenticity, peace and happiness. Irina enjoys cultural stories, foods, events, traveling, cooking, photography, listening to music and spending time with her cherished family and friends.

Dr. Stephen F. Weiner

Stephen F. Weiner (Avimelech ben Moshe) is currently a professor at Gallaudet University after serving as the university provost for the past seven years. Steve earned a doctorate from American University and other degrees from Gallaudet University. He has held various administrative posts in different organizations in different parts of the country for the last 37 years.

A native of Brooklyn, NY, Steve grew up in a Jewish Deaf family and attended three schools for the deaf and three regular schools. He began his Judaic education under Reb Dovid Rabinowitz and was bar mitzvahed under the direction of Temple Beth Or, which was at that time supervised by then student rabbi Lawrence Hoffman. He is married to Tammy Lanier Weiner, and they live in Davidsonville, Maryland. They have two children: Sarah who lives in Colorado, and Abraham, who lives in Pennsylvania.

Jackie Roth

Jackie (Jacqueline) Roth is native to New York City. She grew up in Crown Heights and is now returning to her “roots” in support of Jewish Deaf Foundation. Jackie is excited to lend support to build a place for Jewish deaf people to explore and embrace their heritage and spirituality. Having grown up in a Deaf Jewish household where religion was pretty much about food and not much else, she is discovering the meaning of Judaism at this time in her life. Since deaf and hard of hearing people are small in numbers, we need each other to build a “village”, so to speak. Rabbi Soudakoff is that leader, who with his team will bring Judaism into the lives and homes of members of the deaf and hard of hearing communities. Start-up organizations are exciting and offer so many possibilities and opportunities; Jackie looks forward to take this organization forward.

At present, Jackie is a licensed Real Estate Broker with Douglas Elliman in New York City. A consummate professional, she’s had an eclectic career that includes work in non-profit organizations, the entertainment industry (producer, Sound and Fury), education, and administration.

David Birnbaum

David, CEO and President of Stuart B. Consultants, Inc. and its subsidiary, Birnbaum Interpreting Services, is a leading Deaf entrepreneur with over 20 years of management experience. Deaf since birth, David received his Bachelor of Sciences (Mathematics and Computer Sciences) from Gallaudet and his Master’s Degree (Mathematics and Computer Science) from Johns Hopkins University.

In addition to his business expertise, David is highly respected in the world of academia as an Adjunct Professor in the disciplines of Computer Sciences and American Sign Language, in addition to being an accomplished writer and widely sought public speaker throughout the country. In February 1995, David broke new ground by launching BIS, one of the only Deaf-owned and operated sign language interpreting companies in the nation. He has built a corporate team that is on the cutting-edge of quality service delivery.

David is also very proud of his Jewish heritage. He is an active member of his local community organization, the Washington Society of Jewish Deaf. He is excited to be a part of the Jewish Deaf Foundation team and looks forward to giving back to the community with his business expertise and knowledge.

Rachel Moskowitz

Rachel is a freelance ASL interpreter from Brooklyn, NY. She graduated from the interpreting program at LaGuardia Community College and has been working in the field for more than ten years now.

Her desire to share her passion for Judaism with the Deaf world served as the impetus for the undertaking of interpreting Torah lectures online. (The interpreted classes may be seen here.) It is this same passion which fueled Rachel’s desire to make time in her busy schedule to join the Jewish Deaf Foundation’s team of directors. She comes aboard with a strong Jewish educational background and close ties with the Brooklyn Jewish community (especially in her neighborhood of Borough Park).

Rachel’s outspoken nature and dreams of creating a utopian society has led her to write articles and speak out as a Deaf advocate in the hope that there be more integration and accessibility in the Jewish community. She also enjoys traveling to different communities as a volunteer interpreter on Deaf shabbatons (weekend programs), which she views as a wonderful tool for integration and inclusion of Deaf individuals in the greater Jewish community.

When she isn’t putting her heart and soul into interpreting for her deaf clients, she can be found spending precious time with her nieces and nephews, which brings her much joy and ranks high amongst her raisons d’être. Those who know her are inspired by her optimistic nature and beautiful outlook on life.