Deaf performer Douglas Ridloff gives poetry workshop at the Ki’Ach School for Deaf children in Jerusalem. (Yissachar Ruas) (Yissachar Ruas)
Signtalkers ASL Slam

“We are deeply honored to be coming to Israel, a country with a sizable deaf community, active in all segments of today’s society,” says founder and executive director of SignTalk Foundation.

By United with Israel Staff

SignTalk Foundation, a US-based non-profit organization that promotes, fosters and advances public awareness of the signing community, is launching its online social network, SignTalkers (signtalkers.com) in Israel this month.  An initial launch celebration took place in New York City at WeWork on May 8th.

“SignTalkers gives members of the Signing Community — both hearing and deaf — a space for thoughtful, thriving, and engaging conversation,” said Dr. Joseph Geliebter, founder and executive director of SignTalk Foundation.

Furthermore, “Unlike other social media platforms, this exclusive space will serve to provide a home away from home to meet, share and interact with members of the signing community around the world.”

New York-based performer Douglas Ridloff, a prominent member of the deaf community, kicked off the launch in Israel this week, where he presented a series of workshops and performances across country.  Ridloff is best known as executive director of ASL Slam – a monthly event that offers the stage to audience members to come up and rap, rhapsodize and rehash or just relate in sign language – and for his poetry via sign language and visual storytelling presentations, providing a captivating experience for both hearing and deaf audiences.

“We are deeply honored to be coming to Israel, a country with a sizable deaf community, active in all segments of today’s society,” said Dr. Geliebter.

“SignTalkers’ goal is to build an online home where international members of the signing community can come together. It will also provide a platform for the general public to embrace sign language and ensure that the deaf are afforded equal access and benefit from culture, media and overall society,” he added.

While in Israel, Ridloff and the SignTalkers group will be hosted by IYIM, the International Young Israel Movement, which is actively involved with programming and support of the Israeli deaf community. Ridloff and SignTalkers will be visiting and working with several Israeli organizations and meeting deaf children, artists and theatrical performers.

‘Remarkable Ability to Bond’

With the Deaf Sports Association, Ridloff will be joining a tour at the Holon Children’s Museum, which includes an exhibit that replicates the experience of the hard of hearing and will be presenting a workshop to athletes.

According to Leah Schlager, program director of SignTalk, the highlight of the week was the SignTalkers launch event on Tuesday at Nocturno in Jerusalem, where Ridloff.

“There is an inherent beauty in communicating while deaf in that even while sign language has its own variants in different countries, there is a remarkable ability to build a bond with different cultures and nations, which is the beauty of the SignTalkers community,” she explained.

Earlier in the day, Ridloff participated in a bar mitzvah celebration for over 100 deaf bar/bat mitzvah children from throughout Israel. Sponsored by IYIM and the Jewish Agency for Israel, the ceremony and visit to the Western Wall, presented in sign language, was the culmination of a year of programming especially designed for this community.

‘Every Child Deserves to be Counted’

“The message of this ceremony is that every child in Israel deserves to be counted and to celebrate in a way that respects their specific needs and interests,” stated Daniel Meyer, executive director of IYIM. “A deaf child needs to know that they are loved and able to experience this coming of age experience the same way as every other child in Israel.

Having Mr. Ridloff join as a role model for these children is the icing on the bar mitzvah cake.”

“We hope this visit and these performances around the country will help connect the different communities, without boundaries and separations, unifying them into a true partnership,” said Ridloff ahead of the visit.  “I have long heard about how receptive Israel is to advancing the needs of the hard of hearing and Deaf community.”