Washington D.C. Area Deaf Celebrate Shabbat

Washington D.C. Area Deaf Celebrate Shabbat

Conversation in sign language ensues prior to the start of the Shabbat.

by Lubavitch.com Staff - Frederick, MD

September 24, 2014

It was quiet in the large room filled with Shabbat guests engaged in animated conversation. Sitting around tables in Frederick, Maryland, all 100 guests were communicating in sign language, enjoying a rare opportunity to celebrate Shabbat in preparation for the High Holidays where everyone felt comfortable interacting and celebrating together.

The D.C. area is home to the largest population of deaf people. “Since living here, I’ve met many Jews who would benefit from such programs,” says Rabbi Baruch Labkowski, the Chabad representative, together with his wife Frumy, to Frederick.

When Labkowski was introduced to Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff, the director of the Jewish Deaf Foundation and an alumnus of the Ohr Elchanan Chabad Yeshivah in Los Angeles, CA, he raised the idea of hosting a Shabbat as this one.

“We were not expecting so many people; the large turnout made us realize how important this is, and we will plan many such events over the coming year,” Labkowski says.

Soukakoff quickly developed a rapport with the guests. “He is an energetic rabbi who connected to all the guests,” Stephen Brenner, president emeritus and founder of the Washington Society of Jewish Deaf, wrote in an email to Lubavitch.com. “He knows how to illuminate the Shabbat world.”

Rabbi Labkowski, who learned the basic sign-language letters as a child from a Jewish newsletter, says he was inspired to utilize every opportunity to assist the deaf community, recalling that the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, would grant private audiences to the deaf, speaking to them in sign language. He also notes that at time at many of the Rebbe’s public gatherings, there was a sign language interpreter.

“This is an exciting moment for all of us,” Brenner summed up his experience. “We would love to have [Soudakoff] come again and again in the future.”

See also:

Israel Deaf Football Team Does Shabbat With Chabad at Wimbledon

Chabad And The Orthodox Union to Host Shabbaton for the Deaf

Local Chabad Center Leads Challah Baking Workshop for Deaf

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