Greenside Batmitzvah a sign of the future
While Eden spoke in English, a translator stood beside her and delivered the same speech in sign language.
It took inclusivity to new heights, ensuring that the hard of hearing were as much a part of the proceedings as any other congregant.
“My late mother was extremely hard of hearing, and my uncle was born deaf,” says Eden’s mother, Esme. “I’ve grown up with deafness around me, and often played the role of interpreter. This time, we wanted it to be different.”
Because of her sensitivity to the hearing impaired, Esme committed herself to making sure that her surviving aunt (who is also hard of hearing) could be included in the family’s celebration.
“I missed the opportunity to do it at my son’s Barmitzvah, and was determined to do it this time around. Inclusivity is so important. While they may be physically present, the deaf don’t actually know what’s going on, and aren’t fully part of the celebration.”
Esme consulted Greenside Shul Rabbi Mendel Rabinowitz about her idea, and he agreed that everyone present should feel included. “I saw a challenge we could easily overcome,” he says.
“There’s no halachic reason why we couldn’t have someone in shul proficient in sign language and able to help others.”
Rabinowitz consulted with a few people in his search for a translator, eventually finding Nicolene du Toit, an accredited sign-language translator. Although Du Toit was sent a copy of Eden’s speech prior to the Batmitzvah, she had to translate Rabinowitz’s sermon without any such preparation.
“I prepare all my sermons in my mind,” laughs Rabinowitz. “ I want to speak from soul at these occasions with no paper involved. Nicolene spoke as I did, professionally conveying my message to Eden in a way that everyone present could understand. There were few dry eyes by the end.
“It was just the right thing to do.”
Esme says of the experience, “The congregation was blown away. They welcomed it, and felt that it made the occasion special.
“My aunt was impressed, especially because this was the first time anyone had really done something like this. She’s used to having the family translate for her, or give her a copy of a speech beforehand, but this time she was fully involved.”
Rabinowitz says there’s no reason not to include everyone if the circumstances allow it. “People no longer think that being blind or deaf automatically excludes a person,” he says. “It’s no longer ‘too bad’, but an opportunity to help and include whoever we can.”
He emphasises the need for the community to do more to include the disabled. “More than 20 years ago, our shul was one of the first to buy a wheelchair and later install a toilet for the disabled,” he says. “People needed it, so it wasn’t even a question.”
“The idea of inclusivity isn’t new, but it’s more central than ever where shuls are concerned.”