Sharon Ann Dror, born deaf, didn’t enjoy seders with her hearing family while growing up in a traditional Jewish home in Santa Monica. She could read lips, but she couldn’t see peoples’ faces as they read from behind their Haggadot. &’009;
“I felt frustrated and bored,” recalls the 38-year-old marketing manager, the founder of the Jewish Deaf Community Center. “I couldn’t understand anything. I just read the Haggadah by myself, over and over. I wished that I could hear.”
Passover wasn’t the only time Dror felt shut out of Jewish life. Her parents attempted to enroll her in Hebrew school but couldn’t find one willing to take a deaf child. Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf in Arleta, offered religious school in sign language, but it was far away and Dror didn’t know how to sign. She was raised in the oral communication method, which means she communicates by reading lips.
Dror was finally able to attend school at Chabad in Westwood, where “the rabbis had to keep moving their mustaches so I could read their lips,” she says. &’009;
Those experiences turned Dror into an activist.
In 1992, Dror, now the mother of three deaf children, founded the Jewish Deaf Community Center to create more opportunities for deaf Jews in L.A. The JDCC provides seders, High Holiday services and other programs with a traditional Jewish bent and kosher food (Temple Beth Solomon is Reform). &’009;
Ultimately, though, Dror became dissatisfied with the center’s annual sign-language seders. “The problem was that many deaf Jews did not have a Jewish education, so they didn’t understand what was going on,” she says.
The result, this year, is a brand-new, multimedia educational seder, developed by Dror and JDCC board member David Rosenbaum with a grant from the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation.
On March 31 at Burbank Temple Emanu El, up to 170 deaf Jews and their relatives will gather at small tables, family style, with a leader at each table. They’ll gaze at two large TV monitors at each end of the room that will project Haggadah text and pictures describing essentials such as the seder plate. There will be a voice for hearing people to follow as well.
“The seder will be totally accessible for everyone,” Dror says. “For deaf people, the key is that the seder is visually oriented, because deaf people are visually oriented. I’m hoping that when our deaf participants go home, they’ll say, ‘I finally understood the whole Haggadah, for the first time ever.'”