At Magen David Sephardic Congregation this week, they held an American Sign Language (ASL) Shabbat. This included having an interpreter to sign parts of the prayer service as well as the Dvar Torah speech after services. The speech was given by a member who is hearing impaired and whose “voice” was the interpreter that we all listened to.
The speech was beautiful about the Torah portion of Noah. The speaker asked:
If G-d wanted to destroy the evil world, why did He have to do it in 40 days (and not just instantaneously)?
He answered very well that the 40 days were for Noah to learn to be considerate, compassionate, and caring towards others in need. Noah cared for his family and all the animals on the ark. Each had unique needs, such as the type of food and care they required, as well as the time of day for these. Over this time, Noah was able to learn and grow his character and become the “Ish Tzadik” (righteous person) that G-d knew he could be.
Similarly, we can all learn to value and respect the diversity of everyone that is out there. Each of us is different and requires understanding and care according to who we are and where we come from. The speaker mentioned that he loves being part of this synagogue and community because of all the types of different people that attend: Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Chabad, and Breslow; Israelis, Iranians, Moroccans, Syrians, Americans; Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform; white and black; hearing impaired and hearing, and more.
He quoted from Psalms (145:16):
You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
He asked, lifting his hand up high and opening it up with his fingers raised: “What is the significance of the image of G-d opening up his hand to satisfy each and every one of us?”
And he answered, with each finger separated and different, that G-d recognizes our diversity and provides for each of us accordingly. Even though we are all G-d’s children, we are diverse and different too, and G-d treats us for who we are and provides for us. In turn, we need to emulate G-d and recognize and appreciate each other’s differences, including those with special needs, and help each other as we would want Hashem to help and care for us.
This was such a beautiful message; I was literally sitting in the synagogue and crying, watching the speaker sign and listening to the voice from the interpreter. I really believe that all our synagogues, schools, work places, and organizations need to better incorporate diversity and disability into the environment, and not just by paying meaningless lip-service to it, but by enabling everyone to come, feel welcome, participate, and be together as all children of G-d naturally should be.
Finally, it was beautiful to have the synagogue let someone who was deaf have the pulpit and the ability to speak to us. It would be so awesome for everyone’s voice to be heard. We take our abilities (such as speaking, hearing, and being mobile) for granted. So let’s design the community with all the people in mind and give everyone a true voice. In the end, it’s not just what they say, but some things are communicated more than words.