How a Deaf Hillel Director is Helping Deaf Jews Connect to Their Religion

Deaf Jewish Hillel Director is helping the hard of hearing understand their faith in an inclusive community.

Himself having grown up as a deaf Jew, Jacob Salem believes that having services in sign languages in synagogues can reduce the alienation that deaf Jewish students feel towards their faith.

How a Deaf Hillel Director is Helping Deaf Jews Connect to Their Religion[/tweetthis]

The lack of interpreters who can interpret sermons in synagogues into sign language is creating a wide chasm between the Judaism and the religion’s deaf adherents. Jacob Salem, a deaf Jew is on a mission to bring other Jews like him closer to Judaism and Jewish culture by trying to promote the number of interpreters that are there among us today.

25-year old Salem, the first ever deaf director of the campus Jewish program, Hillel, says that he can see how deaf Jewish students are losing their interest in Judaism because they are simply unable to understand their faith. He added that a lot of students are actually interested in Judaism and the Jewish way of life, but it’s the lack of interpreters that are causing a widening gap between them and their religion.

Salem aims at bringing this neglected portion of the Jewish community to the forefront. For him, they aren’t just deaf people. Salem sees in them future rabbis and religious leaders. Hillel is the perfect platform for Salem to breathe life into his ideas, as Hillel is the main platform where Jewish students can connect to their Jewish heritage. Currently working with Washington’s Gallaudet University, Salem already has 45 students who have joined him in their quest to connect with their Jewish roots better.

As the group keeps on increasing, Salem says that he can see how the deaf Jewish students are regaining their lost interest in Judaism. Now that they are better able to understand their faith, he says that there is an increased sense of community and fellowship. The group meets regularly for Shabbat dinner.

Salem says that currently, deaf Jews try to cope up by lip-reading their rabbis during services. However, as a deaf- Jew himself, he says that lip-reading the rabbi is not as good as actually having a conversation with an actual deaf rabbi, who understands a deaf person’s needs better. He realized this when he met a deaf rabbi when on a trip to Israel. Now, Salem wants to take his campaign outside Gallaudet University and regularly meet with religious leaders of various synagogues, discussing the possibility of making services more accessible to deaf Jews with them, i.e., through sign language.

Salem can converse in Hebrew, English, American Sign Language and Israeli Sign Language and is well-versed in Spanish and Latin.


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