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Sign Language is his Native Tongue

Thanks to Beit Berl student Maor Ben-Zeev and his colleagues, Israel’s hearing-impaired community was able to enjoy Eurovision – the huge international song contest that was held in Tel Aviv this year.

Israeli Sign Language is actually Maor Ben-Zeev’s mother tongue. He was born deaf and his family is also deaf. He attended a regular school that integrated several classes of hearing-impaired kids. Maor, 26, plans to become a teacher and is currently studying Special Education and Environmental and Agricultural Studies at Beit Berl College. “I never had a deaf teacher with whom I could identify and who could act as a role model,” he explains. “I want to be a teacher for deaf children so that I can show them that a deaf person can do everything.” 

Maor is part of the “Sign Now” initiative under the auspices of the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, which aims to make music accessible to the hearing-impaired community that uses Israeli Sign Language (ISL). He was recruited to provide sign language translations for the Eurovision semi-finals and finals, which were livestreamed on a special YouTube channel and website. Preparations began about four months prior to the mega-contest. The Eurovision sign language team included two people who can hear and are experienced sign language translators, and three deaf signers, one of whom was Maor. “We all worked together in harmony, but the work process was long and exhausting," he elaborates. “We received the songs in English and translated them to Hebrew and then to ‘deaf language’ – written words that correspond to signs – and only then we adapted them to ISL.”

Third-year students in Beit Berl’s Special Education track specialize in one of three fields: learning disabilities, developmental disabilities or hearing and language disabilities. Those who choose the latter, like Maor, take courses that prepare them for teaching hearing-impaired pupils, and they also learn sign language. Dr. Pnina Shavit, head of Beit Berl’s Special Education track, explains: “This is a unique program and we have students who come to Beit Berl from all over Israel specifically because of this track that trains teachers to work with the hearing-impaired. Our graduates open a world of educational opportunity for Israel's hearing-impaired community.” 


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