Elaine Matlow Tal-El
Newly designated Founder and President of AVIsrael

A new EARA for an Organization about Hearing

Thirty years of listening and learning. Black and White Credit: Debbi Cooper. Colour Credit: Eli Tal-El

In one of the courses in which I participated on leadership in the third sector, I learned that one can lead an organization successfully for ten years- perhaps even extend to fifteen years. After that, it is time to step down and allow for someone else to take the helm with fresh energies and vision.

In  2022 I reached my fifteenth year as the Executive Director of AVIsrael. It has been an amazing journey and I have given my whole heart to the purpose of the organization- to facilitate learning spoken language for children with hearing loss/deafness so that they can be fully included as equals in the hearing world.

I began this journey with the diagnosis of my own children, Dana and Tamar, some 30 years ago. It was May 22, 1992,  Eli’s and my wedding anniversary, and the date of the first hearing test at which we learned of the girls’ profound deafness. It has been a whirlwind of learning since that date- both as a family and later, as the chairperson for 13 years and later the Executive Director of AVIsrael , the first organization in Israel dedicated to bringing the auditory-verbal method of rehabilitation of children with hearing loss to learn, to listen and to speak.

Back in 1994, representing the auditory verbal approach and trying to bring it to Israel was revolutionary. A small group of parents and professionals (many of us olim to Israel) organized in order to improve/normalize the lives of children with hearing loss in Israel. As parents, Eli and I were fortunate to meet children who had been raised abroad through the auditory-verbal method that taught them to listen through the use of hearing technology and to learn full spoken language.

Having met other families dedicated to this mission, we established AVIsrael in 1994, an NGO, and began our pioneering efforts. We hosted the first AV workshop in Israel and brought Warren Estabrooks, a world leader in the AV approach to Israel to expose the local scene to the wonders of AV. Over the years, we brought seminal leaders to Israel to teach and to help families with children with hearing loss maximize their children’s potential. We parents recognized that knowledge is power and took it upon ourselves to publish “The Power of Hearing”- the first book for parents in Hebrew on hearing loss and the auditory-verbal approach. We understood that parents need to understand the subject of hearing so that they can advocate for their children.   We spoke and presented AV before government agencies, and members of Knesset,  in our attempt to change the agenda for supporting families of children with hearing loss. We enjoyed some success – and yet there is so much more to be done.

We went against the stream and advocated for full inclusion in regular educational frameworks rather than the recognized Rehabilitative Day Care centers that are government sponsored to this day. We advocated for the use of hearing technologies as early as possible, from bilateral hearing aids, and in time, bilateral cochlear implants and personal FM systems for amplification. AV parents, empowered with knowledge and devotion to their children’s welfare, went as far as Israel’s Supreme Court to advocate for the inclusion of bilateral cochlear implants into the national health basket- and won!

The AV approach requires full parental involvement- participation in each speech therapy session as partners, learning the tasks and goals for the week ahead. No child learns to speak in a 45 minute speech therapy session. It demands the full engagement of parents, the home, the extended family, the community- this is where meaningful learning takes place.  AV parents are bold and prepared to invest what is needed to secure their children’s future-despite the fact that the onus of costs falls on them as parents who choose the AV method forfeit the government funding available through other hearing organizations.

It is now thirty years almost to the day of our children’s diagnosis with profound hearing loss, twenty eight years since the founding of AVIsrael, and the fifteenth year of my tenure as the CEO of AVIsrael.

As a diligent student, I am taking to heart what I learned about leadership and am stepping down as the CEO of AVIsrael. After a profound search process, the board of directors of AVIsrael has hired Erella Yellin, for the position.  Erella brings a new profile to the position as AVIsrael’s CEO. A native Israeli, a trained lawyer with years of experience working in the government sector, specifically in the Legacies Department of the Ministry of Justice, Erella represents the fact that AVIsrael is no longer an import but a thriving indigenous entity. For all of the AVIsrael staff and professionals as well as all of the children with hearing loss today and those in the future, I wish Erella years of success in bringing AVIsrael to new heights.

We begin a new “EARA” for the organization with hundreds of graduates, tens of students and professionals trained by our organization, and four AV centers across the country (Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Sdot Negev and a new center in Haifa). We are dedicated to training more speech professionals from across the country and beyond  in the cutting edge AV approach. Thanks to developments in technology and research, AV is recognized as the approach most suitable for the rehabilitation of children with hearing loss today.

More than ever before it is possible for every child in Israel with hearing loss to fulfill his/her dreams. I have seen our graduates and know that it is possible.  I for one am looking forward to seeing what the new EARA has in store for children with hearing loss in Israel and AVIsrael’s role in making everything possible!

About the Author
Elaine Matlow Tal-El was born in Toronto and made aliyah in 1980. Married to Eli, an Israeli-born filmmaker, they are parents of four daughters, the youngest of whom were born deaf. Dedicated to helping their children fulfill their dreams and potentials, Elaine and Eli, along with another family of olim, established AVIsrael (1994), an NGO, whose purpose is to make the AV (auditory-verbal) approach accessible to all children with hearing loss in Israel to learn normative speech and language and thrive in the hearing world. After 15 years leading the organization as CEO, Elaine is the newly designated Founder and President of AVIsrael.
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