SignTalk Foundation, a US-based non-profit organization that promotes, fosters and advances public awareness of the signing community, celebrated the international launching of its online social network, SignTalkers in Jerusalem last night with a signed performance by New York based poet and performer Douglas Ridloff. An initial launch celebration took place in New York City at WeWork on May 8th.
“SignTalkers gives members of the signing community — both hearing and deaf — a space for thoughtful, thriving, and engaging conversation,” says Dr. Joseph Geliebter, Founder and Executive Director of SignTalk Foundation. “Unlike other social media platforms, this exclusive space will serve to provide a home away from home to meet, share and interact with members of the signing community around the world.”
Sponsored by the SignTalk Foundation, Ridloff, a prominent member of the deaf community, traveled to Israel to kick off the launch and present a series of workshops and performances around Israel. Ridloff is best known as Executive Director of ASL Slam and for his poetry via sign language and visual storytelling presentations, providing a captivating experience for both hearing and deaf audiences.
“We are deeply honored to be in Israel, a country with a sizable deaf community, active in all segments of today’s society,” says Dr. Geliebter. “SignTalkers goal is to build an online home where international members of the signing community can come together. It will also provide a platform for the general public to embrace sign language and ensure that the deaf are afforded equal access and benefit from culture, media and overall society.”
The program was co-sponsored by IYIM, the International Young Israel Movement, which is actively involved with programming and support of the Israeli deaf community. Ridloff and SignTalkers visited with several Israeli organizations and schools and meeting Deaf children, artists and theatrical performers, including performers with the Na LaGa’at theater group. At the Deaf Sports Association, Ridloff will be joining a tour at the Holon Children’s Museum which includes an exhibit that replicates the experience of the hard of hearing and will be presenting a workshop to athletes.
In advance of his Israel debut Ridloff said, “There is an inherent beauty in communicating while deaf, in that even while sign language has its own variants in different countries, there is a remarkable ability to build a bond with different cultures and nations, which is the beauty of the SignTalkers community.”
Ridloff also participated in a bar and bat mitzvah celebration for 80 deaf and hard-of-hearing children from throughout Israel. Sponsored by IYIM and the Jewish Agency for Israel, the ceremony and visit to the Western Wall was presented in sign language and is the culmination of a year of programming specially designed for this community.
Daniel Meyer, Executive Director of IYIM said, “The message of this ceremony is that every child in Israel deserves to be counted and to celebrate in a way that respects their specific needs and interests. A deaf child needs to know that they are loved and able to experience this coming of age experience the same way as every other child in Israel. Having Mr. Ridloff join as a role model for these children is the icing on the bar mitzvah cake.”
Jewish Agency Chair MK Yitzhak Herzog (Zionist Union) who attended the ceremony said, "Each and every one of us remembers our bar or bar mitzva for all our lives. For many years, the Jewish Agency has partnered with the Young Israel movement to help bring this tradition to the hearing-impaired community who are unable to enjoy this experience like others their ages. This ceremony is therefore a deeply emotional one for all of us and their parents in particular and I welcome this opportunity to wish all of those celebrating a big mazal tov."
Merav and her hard-of-hearing daughter Harduf from Hod Hasharon were visibly moved by the whole experience. “On a normal day, my daughter has to work so hard fit in and be like everyone else,” Merav said. “But today, and at these special events for children just like her, she can just be herself. These programs, including the ones run by Shema throughout the year, do wonders for her self-confidence.”
“We hope this visit and these performances around the country will help connect the different communities, without boundaries and separations, unifying them into a true partnership,” said Ridloff.