Photographs courtesy of IYIM, Nachshon Phillips.

How do you say Mazal Tov in Hebrew sign language? This question was answered by proud parents, grandparents and friends of 83 very special young adults in Jerusalem this May. The celebrants traveled from as far as Eilat in the South and from the country’s Lebanese border communities to the North to celebrate together as one.

The 2017 annual International Young Israel Movement (IYIM) – Bar/Bat Mitzvah for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired was the largest celebration ever held for this special population.

The day began with buses coming from all over Israel to Jerusalem. The new arrivals were treated to a performance by Deaf actress Revital Cohen. This was followed by a mini-shiur by educator Tzachi Kind, who had traversed the country giving preparatory lessons to the celebrants for their special day. Whether communicated in sign language or speech, the excitement of the participants was palpable, and their parents’ joy filled the air.

The ceremony, held in Jerusalem’s beautiful Beit Yaakov synagogue, saw the presentation of gifts by Daniel Meyer (Exec.-Director, IYIM), Liat Witzman (Jewish Agency for Israel), Linda Geller, Mili Steinberg (Director, SHEMA) and Navit Malachi (Director, National Deaf Association – Israel).

After all of the male celebrant had finished putting on their tefillin – many for the first time ever – they were called to the Torah for a group aliyah. Together, they signed or recited the blessings, and Rav Chanoch Yeres (Director, IYIM Jewish Heritage for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired) read the Torah to the entire assembly. It was then the young women’s turn to alight to the bimah for a poignant recitation of Shema.

Following a scrumptious celebratory lunch, celebrants along with their families made their way to the Old City of Jerusalem for a series of educational tours. They concluded at the Western Wall for a closing ceremony: an opportunity for each bar/bat mitzvah to place a note in the Wall and say or sign some very special personal prayers.

The feedback from the celebrants and family members was overwhelmingly positive. All the participants agreed that this fundamental Jewish milestone – one that might have otherwise gone uncelebrated – had forged their entry into the greater community, inspiring their continued Jewish journey into adulthood.

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