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October 3, 2012

Baltimore Hebrew Project Reaches Out to Hearing Impaired

From: Baltimore Jewish Times (subscription) - Oct 3, 2012

By Ron Snyder

Rachel Dubin has long wished she could fully enjoy services at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

Dubin, 35, has severe to profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and hears through two cochlear implants. For years, the only way she could follow along with the service was to watch the reader’s lips while trying to read along.

That all changed on Rosh Hashanah.

It was during the holiday that Dubin, along with many other hearing-impaired congregants, took full advantage of Baltimore Hebrew’s newly installed hearing loop system. The hearing loop works by transmitting audio from a public address system directly to telecoil-equipped hearing aids and cochlear implants.

The telecoil functions as an antenna, relaying sounds directly into the ear without background noise just like Wi-Fi connects people to the Web, said Dr. Ira Kolman, a congregation member and an audiologist who was one of the main donors that made the system possible.

“We have many members of our community who have trouble hearing services, even with hearing aids, and we felt like we needed to do something to allow them to fully enjoy coming to services,” Dr. Kolman said.

Baltimore Hebrew comptroller David Weis said the congregation examined several options before settling on a telecoil system, which most of those with hearing aids today can use fairly easily. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, 69 percent of all hearing aids dispensed in the United States today have telecoils.

“It’s important that we try to be sensitive and responsive to those members who have a disability,” Weis said. “The technology is there, and we saw no reason we shouldn’t do this. We hope this is a research not just used by our congregation, but by the community at large, who can use our building to host meetings and other community events where those with hearing impairments may be present.”

The Baltimore Hebrew hearing loop project, which also was made possible through donations from congregation member Betty W. Cohen and the Selma T. and Joseph Wagner Fund, was installed in the sanctuary, Straus Social Hall, Hoffberger Chapel, Dalsheimer Auditorium and Goodwin Center.

The congregation also purchased several portable transmitters for people whose hearing aids are not compatible with the system. Dubin, who has been attending Baltimore Hebrew all her life, said the difference was amazing, as she can now just turn on the telecoil in both her implants and hear the rabbis and cantor during the services.

“This means so much to the congregation members with a hearing loss,” Dubin said. “They don’t have to go ask an usher for an assistive-listening device and try to make it work with their hearing aid or cochlear implant, and they don’t have to self-identify as a person with a hearing loss. … The new loop means that BHC is committed to communication accessibility. This is very important to me and to others with hearing loss. As a lifelong member of BHC, I am very proud of my congregation for being so welcoming and accessible.”

Reaching out to those with hearing loss is an issue that continues to resonate with many in Baltimore’s Jewish community.

This includes Rabbi David Kastor and his wife, Tchia. The Baltimore couple has worked with Our Way for the Jewish Deaf and Hard of Hearing to assist Jews with hearing loss for the last 17 years.

Our Way, an agency of the Orthodox Union, developed nearly a dozen booklets that include signs for various Jewish prayers and holidays. The latest was “Signs of Sukkos,” which presents key visuals for Hebrew terms using American Sign Language for the blessing of dwelling in the Sukkah, along with the Hebrew text and the English transliteration, according to an OU news release.

“I really enjoyed knowing that the deaf community would benefit from it and enable them to celebrate the Jewish holidays in meaningful ways according to their own needs,” Tchia Kastor said.

Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, national director of Our Way, said Baltimore’s Jewish community has been at the forefront in working to ensure that those who are deaf and hard of hearing can fully participate in all areas of the religion.

Rabbi Lederfeind said this includes the work of Rabbi Mordechai Shuchatowitz of Agudath Israel, a parent of hearing-impaired children whose research of hearing aids and cochlear implants led to interpretation of halakha to ensure people could use their devices during holidays and Shabbat.

“It’s so important that we find ways to include everyone who wants to participate,” said Rabbi Lederfeind, who was born to deaf parents and has two deaf daughters. “There is wonderful work being done in Baltimore to help those that are deaf and hard of hearing feel connected.”

Copies of the booklet may be obtained by contacting: Our Way, Orthodox Union, 11 Broadway, New York, NY 10004, Rabbi Lederfeind at 212-613-8234 or

Ron Snyder is a JT staff reporter —

©2012 The Baltimore Jewish Times