By Rabbi Yonah Berman for eJewish Philanthropy
I recently spearheaded an online adult education program called Changemakers. This program brought together 30 Orthodox synagogues across North America to share in a four-part Zoom lecture series under the auspices of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, where I am the Director of Alumni Engagement and Chair of Professional Rabbinics. Each lecture in the Changemakers program focused on Jewish figures who have made a difference in the world, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Sarah Schenirer and Rabbi Avi Weiss. One particular session, led by YCT’s President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Dov Linzer, focused on how the traditional Jewish understanding of deafness and deaf people has evolved over the last century due to the revolution in accessibility and availability of educational resources to those who cannot hear.
We were receiving hundreds of registrations from around the US, Canada and beyond. I was very excited to get the program running without a hitch, when I received the following email:
Can you please tell me if your upcoming Zoom session on the status of deaf people in halakha will be accessible to deaf and hard of hearing participants? If it is, I would like to register.
Name withheld for privacy
And it hit us like a ton of bricks: How could it be that we were running a program speaking about a sensitive topic that relates to the inclusion of a group of people, without providing the basic mechanisms to include those very people? With the encouragement of Rabbi Linzer, whose lecture motivated the letter-writer to reach out to us, I spent the next week hustling to find a solution.
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