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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 27, 2010 PAGE 15A By Johanna Ginsberg New Jersey Jewish News WHIPPANY. N.J.--Al- though she herself is not deaf. Dena Bodian developed a fascination for American Sign Language during her childhood in New Jersey. "I was in Florence Heller's kindergarten class at Morris- town Jewish Center. and~she taught the Shema with sign language," she said. "Later. when I attended the Hebrew Academy, we used to bentsch [say the grace after mealsl in sign language. "I signed the Shema to myself at night for 10 or 15 years. It didn't seem strange to me atthe time. but I guess it was quite unorthodox." Unorthodox or not, it stuck. "Having been exposed to sign language at a very young age before I could even read I guess I always equated sign languageMith Judaism," Bodian said. In June, Bodian was able to combine both passions when she was ordained as a rabbi by the Hebrew Seminary of the Deaf. a Chicago-based insti- tution that trains clergy and "Visually impaired stu- dents may now rejoice at who they are," says Joan Myles, founder and direc- tor of Yismehu. "They can deepen their Jewish iden- tity, learn alongside their sighted peers and move into full participation in Jewish community." Thanks to the innovation of distance learning tech- nology and Myles' own life experience, Jewish learning has become more accessible coast to coast through the newly established nonprofit organization Yismehu. Yis- mehu provides instruction- al materials in large print or Braille. sound recordings, and web access, establishing the one-to-one relationship that nurtures student prog- ress. Yismehu's mission and educational techniques put the needs of blind students front and center. Funded entirely by grants and dona- tions, Yismehu's distance learning program is free to visuallyimpaired students. A 2009 MAJS graduate of the distance learning program of S.iegal College of Judaic Studies in Cleveland, Ohio. Myles knows all too well the frustrations blind students face when trying to access educational op- portunities. "My town lacked the program I wanted to study, and I couldn't drive to where it was offered. So distance learning was the perfect solution." she says. Myles concentrated her graduate studies in Jewish education to enrich her own learning as well as that of her b'nai mitzvah students. "I wanted to be able to ground my stu- dents in Judaism, to teach them more than the words of the pt'ayers." She studied Torah and Tal- mud, Jewish curriculum and teachers to serve the needs of the Jewish deaf and hearing- impaired. Bodian, 31, and two other women rabbis were ordained by the 13-year-old institution, which is associ- ated with the Conservative movement's Jewish Theo- logical Seminary. Ordination marked the latest peak in a lifetime of involvement and early lead- ership in Jewish life. "I grew up in a kosher home and we made Shabbos every week. I remember as a kid every Friday night my fa- ther took me to shul," Bodian recalled. "Now that I look back. itwas probably away to give my mom a break--other people took their kids to the park; we went to shul. I was the only kid there." She decided herself by fourth grade that she wanted to attend day school and her parents, Louis Bodian and Helen Kloder, enrolled her at the Hebrew Academy of Morris County. At that time. it was affiliated with the Conservative movement and had not yet adopted an egalitarian approach. "When I was there, girls did not have a part in services. Hebrew. But her thoughts returned again and again to the lack of resources for blind persons wishing to deepen their knowledge of Judaism and strengthen their connection to Jew- ish life. "When I came into Judaism as a blind adult, my first teac.her was Rabbi Gary Ellison. He was eager for me to learn whatever interested me, to become as involved as I wished. I wondered if everyone has a supportive community like Temple Beth Sholom." As part of her thesis, Myles surveyed Jewish religious school teachers. "Too often, teachers just don't know what to do or where to turn." she says. "I founded Yismehu to fill these gaps and to reach out to older persons suffering vision lOSS, tOO." In her previous work as rehabilitation teacher for the state.of Missouri, Myles taught Braille and other daily living skills to some of the 4.6 million Americans over 40 currently dealing with visual impairment. "Older persons are a treasure to the Jewish com- munity," she said, "we need to keep them involved in it." About Yismehu: Yismehu is dedicated to fostering and strengthening Jewish identity for visually challenged students of all ages by expanding learn- ing opportunities in Jewish practice and culture, by enabling direct access to Jewish texts, and by devel- oping the personal skills needed to participate fully in Jewish liturgy and com- munity life. Yismehu also facilitates specialized camp programming, and acts as an advocate and consultant. For more information, visit www.yismehu.org. Having that as a contrast forced me to become really active in the shul environ- ment." she said. She dropped out after sixth grade, she said, because she would not be allowed to chant from the Torah. But Bodian took on leader- ship roles from a young age at her synagogue. These ac- tivities, Bodian said, "forced me to take ownership in a positive way it was a great model." After getting a master's degree, Bodian moved to Leesburg, Va., where she served as a lay leader for a small synagogue, worked for an educational video company licensing images and took night classes in ASL translation. A night school classmate told her about the Hebrew Seminary of the Deaf. "I thought. Wowh'" she recalled. She dropped out of the night classes, quit her job and moved to Chicago. Signing has always held a certain fascination for Bodian. "It has a fantastic aesthetic," she said. But even after receiving ordination from HSD, she said. she is "not super-fluent.'" That doesn't mean she doesn't have a significant skill set. She gave her com- mencement address in both English and in ASL. She also has a deep un- derstanding of the barriers people who are deaf face in joining Jewish communal life. "Deaf Jews are a demo- graphic that frequently go unheard. It's hard to find a synagogue that is not wheelchair accessible, but they often fail to address the linguistic issues deaf people face." Bodian said. "The deaf community not only don't hear the prayers, they can't hear the sermons, they can't shmooze during kiddush. It's not a handicap issue you can solve with a hearing device; it's much more a linguistic issue. "It's like speaking Spanish or Russian except Hebrew is no longer the universal equalizer." Bodian said she doesn't plan to focus her rabbinate exclu- sively on the deaf community. "That's not a job ] think I'd be good at," she said, pointing out that she might not even fit a deaf community's re- quirements. In Washington, for example, a deaf commu- nity decided it wanted a rabbi but expressed a preference for a hearing-impaired signer. "But I will know how to make my community more accessible through providing the right resources and offer- ing education for the broader community regardingwhat it is deaf Jews need to be part of the community," she said. And Bodian will be able to work with a hearing family with a deaf child, for example, in a way that another rabbi couldn't. Following ordination, Bo- dian is continuing to work at her student pulpit, Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago. For now, she has no plans to return east. After spending her fourth year at JTS, she said. "I learned that I can't stand the pace of Manhattan." Courtesy of Dena Bodian Rabbi Dena Bodian was ordained by the Hebrew Seminary for the Deaf in Chicago. Currently, she spends much of her time offering adult education classes, working with the syna- gogue's burial society, and running a conversion pro- gram. "I have the best job," she said. "All I have to do is make people fall in love with Judaism!" YOUR NEW YEAR TO YOUR FRIEN AND RELATIVES WITHOUT LICKING STAM If you're like most people, you'll probably wait until the last minute tosend your annual Jewish New Year greetings. And, like most people, you will probably truly regret having waited so long. However, once a year, prior to Rosh Hashanah, you have the opportunity to wish your family and friends and the Jewish community "A Happy and Healthy New Year" through the Special Rosh Hashanah Edition of HERITAGE. ,' No Postage -- No Problems -- No Excuses! Having your personal New Year Greeting appear in the HERITAGE Special Rosh Hashanah Edition, shortly before the holiday begins, will save you time," money, inconvenience and worry about whether or not your cards were delivered.You won't leave anyone out, because your family and friends will be among the thousands of members of the Jewish community reading this special edition. Deadline for Greetings is August 25, 2010. BEST WISHES FOR A HAPPY NEW YEAR Or your peltoe,ll molaloge) YOUR NAME A 19.70 l~2"x 2" D $78.80 3'/4"x 4" May you be ins&ibed the Bookof Lifi fora H ipyy and Hea- hy Year May. the New Year be ever joyous fo, You andYour Family (or your personal message) YOUR NAME (Or your personal message) E DATE OF ISSUE: YOUR NAME $98.50 3,,,"x 5" September 31 2010 L'Shana Tova Tikatevu (Or your personal message) YOUR NAME REETINGS AND BEST WISHES FOR A HAPPY N EW YEAR (Or your personal message) YOUR NAME B $39.40 3u4"X 2" C $59.10 31/4"x 3" r- -- Mail to: HERITAGE GREETING, p.o. Box 300742, Fern Park, FL 32730 i Please run my greeting in your holiday issue, I would like ad (circle one) A B C D E. I am enclosing a check in the amount of $ (all ads must be paid for in advance). [ Or please bill my credit card (check one): Visa Master Card: Card No. [ Expiration Date Signature I Name Address I City/State/Zip t Name(s) on greeting should read: L ....... if.._yOU ha__ve._.an_y.y question._.s,.c.call__HE._.RITAGE at.._.~7__-8.~!-8__787_~, .... I .J