Daniel Feldman lives in Woodmere, New York with his wife Sandy and son Chaim, 19 (photo above). Daniel is a child of deaf adults, or a CODA, as well as the father of a deaf child. He designs computer training manuals and courses for corporations, schools and individuals. He has written articles about applying ethics to improve people’s methods of learning and encourage better employee relations. Daniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you know, like you, both of my parents, Henri and Ruth, were deaf. So now, with Rosh Hashanah here, let me tell you a Rosh Hashanah story about my father.
As a child, I spent many Rosh Hashanah services sitting next to my father in synagogue and acting as his “middle ear.” That’s a term I made up, because those who play the role of “middle ear” serve as translators, the “ears” that bridge the deaf and hearing worlds.
My father often asked me what the shofar sounded like. He saw that the machzor (Rosh Hashanah prayer book) had “names” for the sounds of the shofar. I tried to describe the sounds to him. Tekiah, I explained, was a single long sound; Shevarim was three short sounds; Teru’ah was several quick, short sounds.
My father looked as I pointed to each word in the machzor that represented the sound, and then watched the rabbi blow each sound on the shofar. Anywhere from 10 to 30 sounds are performed at one time, and these groups of sounds are performed several times throughout the Rosh Hashanah service. At the end of each round of sounds, my father would comment.
“That was wonderful!” he would say.
Or: “That sounded nice!”
Of course I knew he was unable to hear the sounds of the shofar, but he could feel some of the vibrations. And because of my description I believe he could imagine what the sounds were like.
Luckily, you have cochlear implants. You hear all the shofar sounds clearly. I wonder what my father would have thought if he had enjoyed the same advantage, with cochlear implants enabling him, too, to hear the sounds of the shofar.
So much of our prayer experience, and so much of the proper performance of the Jewish commandments, is based on hearing. The chazzan (cantor) in the synagogue I grew up in had a phenomenal voice, singing melodies nobody I have heard since have matched. My father was unable to hear the chazzan’s voice, but he nevertheless gained pleasure from his singing. That’s because he observed everyone else as they listened to him sing. He saw people’s lips moves as they sang along. He picked up a sense of the rhythm of each tune. He could see everyone smile.
So here’s my question: Does it matter if you can actually hear the sound of the Shofar? Or, for that matter, the beautiful voice of the chazzan?
No, I say. Deaf people have an innate understanding and appreciation of such sounds no matter what. I believe the heart intrinsically “hears.”
My father was a true “people” person – he tried to make himself available to help others however he could. You have inherited this wonderful trait from your grandfather. You share a certain sensitivity of the heart.
I think all of us can learn a lot from how the deaf behave during Rosh Hashanah. As with all of life, It’s less about what you hear than it is about what your heart thinks and knows.
You once said as much yourself. “Just because I can’t hear people talk,” you told me, “it doesn’t mean that I can’t listen to what they say.”