For the last 3 years the museum has hosted activities for people with special needs and disabilities: activities for families with children with special needs, tours for the blind and sight impaired, courses for guiding those with special needs and many other programs. (You can read about them in previous posts in the blog.)
Within the framework of these activities some very special and inspiring people come to the Tower of David Museum. One of them is Yehonatan Shayovitz, 34 years old, a resident of Ramat Gan and director of the project “Pass It On in Signs” from Access Israel.
Yehonatan, who was born hearing impaired tried to navigate the world through reading lips and hearing aids. By the time he was 17, the hearing aids were ineffective and he underwent a cochlear implant. The transplant improved his residual hearing but not enough to be classified as a fully hearing person and he needed to deal with an environment which was still was not completely accessible.
In the army he encountered the deaf community and its language for the first time, and thus he discovered that there was another way to live life – a life in which hearing does not stand at the center and doesn’t define everything.
At the age of 27, the internal part of the cochlear transplant broke and Yehonatan chose not to undergo a new transplant because he felt that he was living a full life, even without his sense of hearing.
“Sign language connects people.
In my opinion, the cochlear implant solution is a small part in the patchwork of possible solutions. The general solution is the human solution – a solution which understands that there is a place for deaf identity, a solution which gives a space to other methods of communication, a solution in which the challenge of communicating with others is common and doesn’t just fall on people who are hearing impaired. The real integration is not seeing the distinctions blurring and disappearing; a true unity is an amalgam which allows distinctions to exist within the varied shapes of life and varied shapes of communication that exist in our world.”
And from this point, he and Reut Dadon-Kuzak – Coordinator of Special Needs Activities at the Tower of David Museum, suggested a course for learning sign language here, at the Tower of David:
“Through the many years that I have guided and taught Israeli sign language all over the country, I never had such a special experience as I did in the museum. This group of students contained the entire country. Jews and Arabs; secular and religious; young and old; and also hearing, hearing impaired, and deaf. These opportunities for meeting different people afford points of view and communications which are not possible in other places. This experience intensifies when I find myself teaching in such an ancient place which is full of splendor as is the Tower of David. The same walls, which have soaked up so much history, provide a setting today for men and women who have decided to learn a language in this setting. It is a great honor for me to be counted in the social change in which we create, together with the staff of the museum, an accepting, accessible environment as cultural poetry which enables a varied group of people to learn from each individual.”
The Tower of David Museum hosts activities for families of children with special needs and for adults several times a year. We arrange for a sign language translator to accompany these activities in order to make the experience accessible to all visitors. In this way we built a connection to Access Israel – by contacting the translator through them. Over the course of time, we became acquainted with Yehonatan who is the course director of Pass It Forward in Signs. The connection was immediate; he said to me that they were looking for a place in Jerusalem to hold their classes – and I immediately told him that he had arrived at the right place, the Tower of David Museum!
I participated in the summary session of the first course and I was excited. I met a varied group which only 2 months prior didn’t know one another and through the duration of this course formed special connections among themselves . When I saw Yehonatan teaching the lesson and the participants of the course speaking with him, I understood what a wonderful language sign language is. Even though I don’t know how to say many things in sign language – I do know “Tower of David”, “thanks” and “hurrah” – I succeeded in understanding more or less what they said.
I saw a group which was thirsting for this language and eagerly learning each new word. I bless this cooperation through which we have the honor to meet wonderful people and are privileged, even if only a little bit, to advance the topic of accessibility.”
Eli, one of the participants, says:
As a guide at the Tower of David, from time to time I guide groups or families which are unique and it was always a special experience which gave me a taste for wanting more..
One day I received a special present – an invitation to participate in a course to learn sign language at the Citadel! Of course I jumped at the offer and within a few days I attended my first class.
The experience was suddenly finding yourself in a room with about 20 other people, the majority of whom you do not know.. and we all know the natural inclination is to immediately open up with a basic conversation: Where are you from? What brought you to this course?, etc. Simply to speak. But in our amazing teacher, Yehonatan’s class, you can only speak in sign language! Suddenly all of your spoken Hebrew is not worth anything, and instead of the rustle of a new group gelling, there is silence, within which seeps a new language.
I will never forget my sign name that I received in the first class. When I laugh, I have a deep dimple on my right side. So from then on, instead of signing ‘Eli’ – he passed it on in signs – my name became: smile, point to the dimple; and that’s it – I have an identity in a new language, and am part of this wonderful group. In silence but through lots of jokes, hand movements, facial expressions, learning and understanding, there is so much that goes beyond words.”