The Congregation Bene Shalom of The Deaf and Hearing: A Community of Inclusivity
The Congregation Bene Shalom (based in Skokie, Illinois) is an inclusive synagogue dedicated to making everyone feel welcome, and to do this they have sign language interpreters at their events and services. The congregation has been around for 48 years, and is compiled of Jews from all walks of life. The clergy and staff who work here understand that many people’s experiences differ—but, that does not mean they should struggle to get the religious and spiritual connection that others can through regular services, events, and activities.
From bar/bat mitzvah’s to weddings, this synagogue wants to makes every person’s special days one of smooth communication and joy. This is accomplished with a mix of hearing and deaf or hard of hearing rabbinical teachers and students. Their singing director, Sari Daybrook (deaf), even teaches sign language classes.
Their Rabbi, Douglas Goldhamer, works to make understandable messages as a respected scholar of Kabbalah. Goldhamer, along with his Assistant Rabbi, Shari Chen, even do one-on-one healing prayers, and offer educational classes for those seeking more in their spiritual journey. They welcome non-Jews who are curious, and embrace them as full participating members if they choose. They turn no person away with their commitment to inclusivity.
Sari Daybook, the singing director, has been a member of Bene Shalom for 32 years. Which is a majority of her life as she is only 38 years old! She started as a student when her family first joined, for bat miztvah, and progressed to being a teacher’s aide, then to being a teacher, and finally to her current status in the choir, a sign language teacher, and a rabbinical student. She has loved every minute of being part of the community—it is her “second family,” “a home away from home”.
As a child she faced judgement with her status of being deaf. Her family told her she would never be able to learn and speak properly, and that realization and implication of being less due to being deaf was painful. That did not stop her family from doing all they could to make sure she had ever tool in order to learn and grow. The inclusivity of Bene Shalom was a gigantic part of her journey of growth, and having confidence in herself as she was.
The coronavirus made some difficulties for the Congregation, but they trekked on. Sari continues her sign language classes over Zoom, just as the entire Congregation has continued to meet and pray over Zoom. As their Rabbi says, “We are all part of God, we are all one with God.” This Congregation is determined to make sure all have the ability to be a part of God—no matter their ability to hear, and no matter their ability to physically meet.