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Deaf American Jewish culture in historical perspective.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, the question of who had the authority to represent, teach, and preach to deaf American Jews was highly contentious. On the one hand, there were many deaf Jews who had attended deaf schools and were integrated into mainstream deaf cultural organizations--notably the New York School for the Deaf in Fanwood, which fostered ties with Jewish clubs, and the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf. Among the pupils of these schools were Marcus Kenner, Samuel Cohen, Samuel Frankenheim, and David Rabinowitz, all of whom rose to positions of leadership in deaf America. (1) To other deaf Jews, especially poor immigrants from non-English-speaking homes, the deaf mainstream proved inaccessible and/or uninviting, mandating discrete cultural, institutional, and religious spaces for deaf Jews such as existed for deaf Christians. (2) For these individuals, the larger Jewish and deaf communities had failed to address their dual needs as both Jews and deaf men and women. Indeed, these communities were each in their own way oblivious to the fact that deaf Jews might have ambitions or concerns of their own. Last but not least, there were deaf Jews who criticized the notion of a distinctive deaf Jewish identity, among them Alexander Pach, a portrait photographer and fiery contributor to America's preeminent deaf newspaper, Silent Worker, who worried that an articulation of deaf Jews' difference might alienate them from deaf America and even put their patriotism in question. (3)

In certain respects, these debates mirrored those taking place in both the deaf and Jewish worlds during the early twentieth century. Like deaf Americans of other backgrounds, deaf Jews were then taking part in the ongoing struggle over who was best equipped to educate, vocationally train, and socialize deaf youth, and in what manner. Deaf Jewish children, like deaf youth of other backgrounds, were caught up in the disastrous pedagogic "solution" to the "problem" of deafness known as oralism. Through the teaching of lip reading and speech, oralists sought to integrate deaf people into hearing society; the strictest oralists also waged a campaign against sign language and deaf culture. Proposed and imposed in the late nineteenth century by hearing social workers, teachers, and others engaged in deaf education, oralism remained entrenched in America's deaf schools for a century, despite vociferous resistance on the part of the deaf. (4) If debates among deaf Jews reverberated with the concerns of the deaf world, they also echoed conversations circulating in the wider Jewish world. Whether Jews ought to express, maintain, or even intensify markers of Jewish difference was in some sense the modern Jewish question, one vividly alive to early twentieth-century Jews of nearly every national, political, religious, and ethnic stripe, be they native-born or immigrant, assimilated or observant, urban or rural, wealthy or working-class, American, European, or Middle Eastern, hearing or deaf. In the immigrant cauldron of early twentieth-century New York City, as elsewhere, this question was played out through the shaping of myriad forms of Jewish culture and politics, as well as a broad range of Jewish institutions, including some designed specifically for and by the deaf.

This article argues that deafness and Jewishness were categories that intersected and informed one another in the United States in ways that historians have, thus far, failed to appreciate. To this end, the following pages explore the intersection of deafness and Jewishness by focusing on flashpoints in the history of deaf American Jewish institutions, labor, and culture rooted in early twentieth-century New York City: the inauguration of the Horeb Home and School (HH) in 1906; the reinvention of the Institution for the Improved Instruction of Deaf Mutes (IIDM) as an explicitly Jewish institution in 1910; the creation of spaces for worship for the Jewish deaf; the shaping of the Society for the Welfare of the Jewish Deaf (SWJD) and, with it, the country's first labor board for the deaf in 1913; and, finally, the inauguration of a prominent, nationally circulated newspaper, The Jewish Deaf, published between 1915 and 1925.

As it historicizes these events, this article points to two suggestive issues that merit further exploration. The first is that early twentieth-century American Jewish deaf culture was shaped by multiple, overlapping Jewish immigrant histories. Many of the American Jewish deaf youth that hearing and deaf Jewish leaders, educators, and rabbis were so eager to guide and instruct were immigrant Jews of eastern European origin. Some of these young men and women had begun their education in schools for the Jewish deaf in Vienna, Berlin, Minsk, and London, or were the children of graduates of those schools. (5) Hearing immigrant Jews, on the other hand, were among the most prominent pioneers of cultural and educational institutions for deaf Jews in America. Jews of German origin were crucial to establishing the IIDM and staffing it in its earliest incarnation, when it did not explicitly define itself as a Jewish institution. The founder of the school, Bernard Engelsmann, had experience working in deaf Jewish pedagogy in Vienna. Others, like Dr. Mark Blumenthal, who has been credited with introducing lip reading to the United States, were distinguished well beyond deaf Jewish circles. (6) German Jews, however, were not the only hearing pioneers of Jewish deaf institutions in America. Also among this cohort was Rev. Henry Pereira Mendes, the Sephardic and British-born preacher and hazan of New York's Congregation Shearith Israel, who led the IIDM through a reorganization as a Jewish-sponsored institution in 1909; Rabbi Albert Amateau, a Turkish-born Sephardic Jew, future leader of the Sephardic Brotherhood of America, editor of the Jewish Deaf, and director of the SWJD from 1913 to 1925. By the 1930s, the leadership of deaf American Jewish cultural institutions expanded to include both eastern European Jews and women when Tanya Zolotoroff Nash succeeded Amateau as director of the SWJD, a role she held from 1933 to 1968 before becoming director of the Hebrew Association for the Deaf. (7) These and other hearing Jewish advocates for the deaf furthered the diverse composition of American Jewish deaf culture. They also aligned this milieu with European deaf cultural models, according to which the principal societies for the deaf were led by hearing directors rather than deaf ones. All told, deaf and hearing Jewish activists for the Jewish deaf--immigrant and native born; German, British, eastern European, and Turkish; Sephardic and Ashkenazic; men and women--wove together diverse cultural histories, intellectual traditions, and political experiences to create plural forms of deaf American Jewish culture.

Why has the struggle to establish educational institutions, vocational training, and religious environments for America's early twentieth-century deaf Jews been neglected heretofore? What theoretical advantages may be generated from the wedding of deaf and Jewish histories? Because the answers to these queries point to the persistence of dynamics that arose in the historical period under scrutiny, let us begin by addressing these historiographic questions in some detail.

Between Historiographic Worlds

Undoubtedly, the story of America's deaf Jews has not been fully understood by scholars of Jewish, deaf, or American history, just as these Jews were not fully understood by the leadership of the mainstream deaf and Jewish communities of early twentieth-century America. For their part, scholars of American Jewish history have made virtually no mention in their work of the history of deaf people, deaf culture, or deafness as a physical or cultural attribute. (8) In this silence the field is neither more nor less culpable than any other branch of American history, since, for the most part, deaf and disabled individuals remain unexamined historical figures. (9) And yet when it comes to writing the history of deaf Jews, unique obstacles arise. Perhaps for scholars of Jewish history this omission is born of the persistent romance with the idea of Jewishness as a culture of the spoken word, or perhaps the field is overly cautious of linking Jews to physical difference, as antisemitic literature has historically done. (10) Possible, too, is that scholars of Jewish culture inherit from rabbinic literature and law a bias against the cheresh, that is, the deaf Jew who, along with the mentally ill person and the child, is deemed incompetent--unfit to serve as a witness, be counted in the minyan (prayer quorum), effect a marriage or divorce, or dispose of property--and is therefore stigmatized. (11) Also relevant is the intellectual list of the field. Scholars of Jewish history have always given pride of place to Jewish assimilation into majority linguistic communities or (when it comes to the Sephardic cultural world) into linguistic communities deemed ideologically desirable. The story of a Jewish subcommunity that was unable and, in some cases, unwilling to assimilate linguistically into the national community and/or Jewish majority runs counter to this interpretive grain, challenging the coherence of the modern Jewish acculturation narrative.

Scholars of deaf history, for their part, have also generally neglected the cultural nexus of Jewishness and deafness; exceptions include Susan Burch, who has explicitly historicized the role of Jews and Jewishness in the deaf past, and John Van Cleve, who created relevant entries in his The Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness. (12) Aside from these sources, Jewishness has been little attended to, even in instances when it is, to a Jewish historian's eyes, blatant. An example can be found in Douglas Baynton's splendid studies of turn-of-the-century American immigrant policy. Baynton explores the cases of countless deaf would-be immigrants (many eastern European Jews among them) whose appeals for entry to the United States were handled--and, in many cases, rejected--by the Bureau of Immigration. While presciently analyzing the histories of deaf immigrants and the immigration policies they encountered, Baynton fails to consider whether (or how) his subjects' Jewishness might have interacted with their deafness, either in rendering them unfit in the eyes of officials or in shaping their experiences as deaf migrants. (13)

That scholars like Baynton have passed up the opportunity to view "Jewish" as a category of analysis may be explained, at least in part, by the traditional tendency of scholars of deaf studies to emphasize deaf culture as a singular, discrete, and unified phenomenon. This emphasis, crucial to the field in its institutional and theoretical formulation, has forestalled exploration of the multiplicity of the deaf world. As Catherine Kudlick noted in a recent review of the field of disability history (of which deaf history is sometimes understood as a subgenre and sometimes as a competing field), exploration of race and gender has been problematically sacrificed by scholars of deaf history in order that its coherency be maintained. (14)

Although the history of deaf Jews has fallen between the cracks of deaf and Jewish studies, the historical record makes clear that deafness and Jewishness were categories that intersected meaningfully to shape both the deaf and Jewish worlds. Deaf and hearing Jews, for example, were at the forefront of deaf education and cultural activism in Europe and the United States in the early decades of the twentieth century, and especially in New York City, where they were strikingly numerous. One hearing activist for the deaf who assembled statistics on the state of deaf education for New York's children noted with surprise that according to his admittedly unscientific calculations, 2.5 percent of the deaf children matriculating in New York public schools in 1908 were Jews, while another source estimated that New York City's deaf Jewish population at 50 percent of the city's deaf population. (15) While the latter figure is likely inflated, even the lower estimate underscores the visibility of Jews among the city's deaf, and suggests that the percentage of the deaf population which was Jewish was in perfect proportion to, or perhaps even slightly exceeded, Jews' share of the population in the larger New York landscape, which reached 25 percent by 1914. Because of the numerical strength of Jews in New York City (a concentration that existed in few places in the world), a concentration of deaf Jews emerged, with accompanying institutions and a sensitivity to their needs that was unlike anything that existed before or elsewhere. (16)

As the following pages argue, by exploring the shaping of deaf American Jewish culture in early twentieth-century New York, we may enrich our understanding of the history of Jews and Jewish culture on the one hand, and the deaf and deaf culture on the other. Even more important, the pages that follow present the opportunity to view these seemingly discrete worlds as mutually constructing.

The Founding of the IIDM and the Horeb Home

In 1909, Rose Basso was fourteen years old, "bright, ambitious, and grateful." The young Sephardic woman had become deaf two years earlier as a result of an illness. Now, in the words of the principal of New York's Children's Aid Society, she was "fast becoming mute." (17) Basso was being educated in New York's public schools, but with the onset of her deafness, this was proving to be an increasingly inhospitable educational environment.

Basso's educational options were limited, and in certain respects unsatisfactory from both a deaf and Jewish perspective. Many deaf youth in New York matriculated in mainstream public schools, where teachers were ill-trained to address their needs. According to censuses conducted by Rev. Henry Pereira Mendes in 1908 and 1909 with the sanction of New York public school superintendent William Henry Maxwell and in cooperation with the city's principals, this was a significant student population indeed. Mendes' surveys revealed that 1,600 deaf children were enrolled in New York's public schools, 1,400 to 1,500 of whom were school-age and roughly zoo more of whom were sixteen or older. Three to four hundred of these students could be identified by name as Jewish. When children who did not attend public schools were added to the statistics, Mendes found that there were many more deaf Jewish children in New York in need of better schooling. The Lower East Side alone, he reported, contained as many as 700 deaf Jewish children all of whom lacked a proper educational environment. (18) Superintendent Maxwell was not oblivious to the needs of deaf children in his charge. At the time of Mendes' survey, the school district--under some pressure--was opening a day school for deaf pupils on East 23rd Street. The school was ten blocks north of where it was needed most and too small to resolve the district's problems, but it was a beginning nonetheless. (19)

If many deaf youth found themselves adrift in public schools designed for the hearing, many deaf Jewish students were stranded in non-Jewish deaf environments, some of which may have exposed them to missionary pressures. These schools included a Catholic school, St. Joseph's School for the Deaf, located in the Fordham neighborhood in the Bronx; and the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, located at 163rd Street and Fort Washington Avenue, was run as a Protestant school. Finally, there was another option for deaf education that provided a friendlier social and cultural environment for Jews, but did not publicly identify as a Jewish institution or incorporate Jewishness into its curriculum. The Institution for the Improved Instruction of Deaf Mutes (IIDM), created in the 1860s and housed at 67th Street and Lexington Avenue, was technically nonsectarian but had been established and run by Jews for some thirty years. As we will see, however, for many families of and activists for deaf Jewish youth, this school was not duly Jewish in emphasis.

According to its Jewish former president, Dr. Mark Blumenthal, the IIDM was for the first twelve years of its existence "specifically understood" to be "for the unfortunate Deaf-Mutes of our own faith." (20) The institution was the brainchild of Bernard Engelsmann, a Jewish immigrant to New York who had served as a teacher in Joel Deutsch's Jewish deaf school in Vienna. Engelsmann began tutoring deaf "Hebrew children and others" after arriving in New York in 1864 and, in association with the parents of his pupils, he established a more formalized school in 1867. At this point, the Association for the Improved Instruction of Deaf-Mutes, as it was called in its early years, "consisted mostly of Hebrews," and parents sought to recruit other families who so identified. Until at least 1895, the school's officers were all Jews of central European origin. (21) Yet despite these Jewish aspects of its history, the IIDM never classified itself as a specifically Jewish institution, perhaps because of its reliance on public funds, a factor that explains why Edward Allen Fay categorized it--somewhat incorrectly--in his three-volume Histories of American Schools for the Deaf (1893) as a "public school." Technically, the school remained a private institution, but as of 1871, it was receiving $10,000 annually from the New York state legislature, providing it offered admission to any pupils the state directed its way. Over the course of its first thirty years in operation, the IIDM's annual expenses were met almost entirely by the city and state, which also funded the construction of its buildings. (22)

It is not clear if, in these early decades of the IIDM's history, the state was sending the institution mostly Jewish students, whether the Jewish percentage of the student body declined over the years (and, if so, how quickly), or if there was some unspoken understanding that it functioned as a Jewish school. Regardless, according to Blumenthal, at some point the sectarian impulse of the IIDM's founders was derailed. In personal correspondence, Blumenthal expressed his view that this happened "by the adoption of a misnamed liberal policy--entirely against my convictions and advice--[according to which] non-Israelites having no sympathy for our faith and religious laws were placed in the Board of Directors and thus the way opened for diverging from the intentions of its founders and supporters." (23)

Blumenthal's formulation brushed over an unsavory moment in the IIDM's history; it is likely that the shift in leadership and direction he outlined was actually catalyzed by financial scandal. In 1902, New York Controller Edward M. Grout, finding irregularities in the IIDM's use of public monies, demanded that the institution "show cause why the city should continue to support it or contribute to its maintenance." (24) The principle accusation behind Grout's demands was that the IIDM had been collecting public monies for teachers' salaries and student and facility maintenance over the summer months, when the school was not functioning. After an investigation, these charges were upheld by the State Board of Charities, which demanded "a complete reorganization of the institution" under penalty of a cancellation of public financing. The Board of Charities also recommended the selection of an entirely new board of trustees. (25) It was this, rather than the associated financial penalty, that seemed to most infuriate the IIDM's leadership. The institution's board and officers viewed the accusation as "a matter of great gravity" that reflected not only on "the living, but ... on the dead." (26)

Whether the IIDM's officers felt that antisemitism underpinned the Board of Charities' accusations eludes the historical record. Regardless, the institution's trustees did their best to raise the funds required to keep the IIDM in operation. These efforts, however, came to naught. Within six years, the IIDM was declared insolvent and plans were afoot to transfer its oversight to the New York City Board of Education. (27)

At the time the financial scandal broke in 1902, the IIDM's student body was no less than 65 percent Jewish (140 of 215 pupils). And yet, in Mendes' view, the school was "in no sense sectarian ... though founded ... and managed originally by Jews, and [overseen] today by a Board, many members of which are Hebrews." (28) The lack of outward Jewish identification to which Mendes referred greatly piqued families and advocates of Jewish deaf youth, who wanted the IIDM to deepen its Jewish nature rather than dilute it, a process that seemed inevitable were the Board of Education to assume oversight of the institution. "The injustice is that the 67th St. Institution is in no way Jewish," railed Mendes. "It has no Jewish services, no Jewish instruction, no Jewish dietary laws are observed, not even Passover [is celebrated] and of course not Sabbath." (29)

Mendes might have noted further that the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, an ostensibly Protestant school, enrolled as many if not more Jewish children than the IIDM. As a result, even greater numbers of deaf Jewish children than most realized were being denied religious instruction. "The Jewish parents of the community are crying for an institution to which they can conscientiously send their [deaf] children," reported the New York Times. (30) The situation galvanized Mendes, who became convinced that New York required a Jewish institution for the deaf. Rather than see the IIDM be placed under the auspices of the Board of Education, Mendes began to hatch plans for its reinvention as an explicitly Jewish institution.

A prolific pubic servant, Mendes' work with the deaf seems to have begun in 1900, when he helped inaugurate the Crippled Children's East Side Free School. (31) Nine years later, he helped form and assumed leadership of the Horeb Home and School for Jewish Deaf-Mutes (HH) at 99 Central Park West. The HH was to be short lived--in 1909 it would fuse with a reinvented IIDM. But despite its short life span, its activities were impressive. In defiance of the status of the deaf Jew as cheresh (and in response to the associated stigmatization that deaf Jews encountered in most synagogues), the organization hosted a congregation for deaf Jewish adults. This group, known as the Hebrew Congregation of the Deaf (later as the New York Society of the Deaf), was formed by Marcus Kenner, future editor of The Jewish Deaf and future president of the National Association for the Deaf. The group had its own prayer book assembled by Mendes, held services every Sabbath, and in two years had 200 members and a choir that sang hymns "in the deaf style." (32) Kenner also served as something of an ambassador for the Hebrew Congregation of the Deaf and the HH, traveling, for example, to Philadelphia to lead Yom Kippur services for the Beth Israel Deaf Association. (This recently formed organization, which used the facilities of Montgomery Street's Temple Beth Israel, organized Sabbath and holiday services and lectures for the Jewish deaf. (33))

The HH (and likely Mendes himself) also began training a deaf man to officiate at Jewish services, weddings, and funerals--perhaps Samuel Cohen, a Gallaudet University student from New York who would become the first deaf rabbi ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Two additional accomplishments of the home are noteworthy: it hosted a social club and sponsored a deaf sisterhood devoted to conducting philanthropy in the deaf Jewish world. The latter organization was initially led by the Sephardic and French-born Rebecca Nahoum Amateau, "an apt pupil in sign language." (34) Subsequent projects included the creation of an oralist day school for deaf Jewish youth and formalized instruction for parents who might encourage their children to strengthen their throat and neck muscles in preparation for speech training. (35) The HH's embrace of the latter technique, popular with oralist programs across the country, indicate that the home's shapers aimed to introduce popular pedagogy for the deaf to their own ethnically defined clientele. Lost to the historical record is whether the HH ever initiated polylingual speech training for girls and boys, encompassing the teaching of Hebrew or Yiddish as well as English, and thereby intensifying the Jewish character it offered the deaf community.

A crucial additional aim of the HH was vocational training. In correspondence with school superintendent Maxwell, the president of the HH spoke of "the wonderful results that can be obtained by education of deaf-mutes in making them wage-earners," namely, the development of self-respect, self-support, and happiness. (36) The HH, Mendes hoped, could help assimilate deaf Jews into both hearing and Jewish societies by transforming them into productive workers, religious participants, and properly socialized citizens. The value Mendes placed on the turning the deaf into productive workers through industrial labor, and his habitual description of the deaf as "unfortunates," reverberate with notions about the deaf held by turn-of-the-century hearing oralist advocates in Europe and the United States, among them Alexander Graham Bell, with whom Mendes sought a personal audience. (37) To Bell and his allies, deaf culture and ultimately deafness itself could be eradicated by what scholars such as Susan Burch have termed "Americanization," which, in this case, meant the assimilation of deaf girls, boys, women, and men into the workforce and hence hearing society. (38)

If informed by the discourse of oralist advocates, Mendes' vision of deaf "unfortunates" may well have been shaped by notions of Jewish regeneration circulating in the Sephardic world, across which the Mendes and Peirera families were copiously dispersed. (Mendes' ancestors were rabbis in Mantua, Florence, Pisa, Livorno, Bayonne, Amsterdam, and London, and in the early years of the twentieth century, his relatives ministered to Sephardic communities in London and Birmingham, England; Kingston, Jamaica; Montreal; and New York.) (39) In particular, Mendes' philosophy resonated with that of the Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU), a philanthropic organization founded in 1860 by members of the Franco-Jewish elite, which aimed to educate and thus "regenerate" Levantine Jewry, thereby facilitating their integration into acculturated western European Jewish society. (40) Like most Sephardic intellectuals of the period, Mendes embraced the AIU's goals. In 1885 he even coordinated the first branch of the organization in New York City. (41)

As this suggests, while the history of the HH could be construed as a distinctly American story, as have the histories of so many American schools and institutions for the deaf, the truth may be more complex. The HH, like the IIDM, was the product of various and intersecting global cultural currents and transnational migratory flows--not only those that linked oralist advocates like Bell to Europe (which others have explored before me), but also those that linked deaf Jewish educators like Engelsmann and Blumenthal and Jewish philanthropists such as Mendes to the wider Jewish world. (42) This point gains credence as we turn to back to the history of the IIDM to trace the process by which it was reformulated as a Jewish institution.

Making the IIDM Jewish

The closure of the HH in 1909 accompanied hearing Jewish philanthropists' purchase and assumption of leadership of the IIDM in the wake of the aforementioned financial scandal had resulted in the institution's insolvency and in the disgrace of its leadership. The intention of these philanthropists was to remake the IIDM into an explicitly Jewish institution. The HH would be absorbed into this new institution, which would considerably expand the educational, vocational, and social options for deaf Jews in the New York area. As we shall see, deaf Jewish men and women voiced opinions about the closure of the HH and the reconstitution of the IIDM, but when it came to the process of institution shaping, they were sidelined.

Intense discussions about the future path of the IIDM had begun even before it became clear that Mendes and his supporters would acquire the school, and these discussions dealt with issues much broader than the school's religious identity. When the New York City Board of Education first seized control of the insolvent institution from its original governing board in 1908, it announced its intention to transform the IIDM from a boarding school to a day school, a shift that was in keeping with national trends. Across the country, oralist advocates were arguing that day schools would better preserve family bonds and erode deaf children's relationships to one another and to whatever deaf teachers or staff members they might encounter in the course of their education. This in turn would whittle away the propensity of deaf individuals to use sign language, thereby thwarting the perpetuation of deaf culture. (43)

The news of the impending transformation of the IIDM from a boarding school to a day school was received variously. To many in the deaf community, the possibility that this crucial institution might eschew the boarding-school model was profoundly threatening. As Douglas Baynton has written in a slightly different context, "deaf adults consistently defended the space from which they were urged to escape and from which deaf children were supposed to be rescued." (44) Among those who expressed their disdain for this plan was Marcus Kenner, who wrote as follows to the superintendent of the board:
 I am instructed by the Hebrew Congregation of the Deaf, a large
 majority of whom are graduates of said institution to enter our
 protest against the "Day School" scheme in case established. A
 similar undertaking in Chicago has proven a fiasco. Why repeat it?
 We believe that (as deaf mutes) we as a body are better qualified
 to render impartial judgment as to the wisdom of things that
 chiefly concern us--instruction especially. (45)

Across the country, protests such as this against the shift toward day schools for the deaf went unheeded. However, in this instance Kenner's complaints found a positive reception with Mendes, who, as it turned out, would have a decisive impact on the IIDM's fate.

Mendes did not share Kenner's disdain of deaf day schools--he himself had lobbied the board's superintendent for the creation of additional such institutions in Harlem, Brooklyn, and on the Lower East Side. (46) As he considered the future of the IIDM, however, his concern was not so much with pedagogical approaches as with leadership. Mendes saw the failure of the IIDM as an opportunity for New York's deaf Jews and their families. In his view, the switch to a day school model allowed for the increased involvement of Jewish families and institutions in the rearing of deaf youth and, therefore, for the intensification of pupils' Jewish learning and self identification. Thus, he approached a number of prominent hearing Jews (among them distinguished Sephardim such as his brother, Rev. Frederick de Sola Mendes, and future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo) for support in acquiring the school and making it a specifically Jewish institution. Mendes' determination is clear from the tenor of his appeals, one of which concluded thus: "Obliterate the Horeb Society, obliterate me, obliterate anything and everything rather than let the chance be lost." (47) Many years a preacher, Mendes had at last found his calling.

By May 1909, Mendes succeeded in purchasing the IIDM on behalf of the HH. His intention, perhaps influenced by Kenner and the Hebrew Congregation of the Deaf, was to reopen the IIDM as "a Jewish institution where Jewish deaf-mutes could be lodged." (48) Members of New York's deaf Jewish community, though in some respect sidelined by fundraising that catered to the interests of hearing Jewish philanthropists, were quick to express their thanks. Samuel Cohen, whose rabbinical training had possibly begun with Mendes, wrote that the new IIDM "will be a credit to the Jewish race, which has so long neglected its deaf wards." (49) Cohen's letter to Mendes concluded with a quip that reiterates the importance of viewing the history of America's Jewish deaf through a global lens. "What would [Jacob Rodrigues] Pereira say," asked Cohen, "were he to come back to earth and view the school?" Jacob Rodrigues Pereira, an eighteenth century philosophe, is credited as one of the inventors of manual language for the deaf. Pereira was also descended from a converso family and was, for a time, a formal representative of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community in France. (50) Whether this Pereira had an ancestral tie to Mendes (who carried the Pereira family name as well) is unknown. Regardless, Cohen's comment suggests that he and Mendes were cognizant of the long historical legacy of Jewish activism for and by the Jewish deaf. This legacy stretched not only back in time, but also across space, encompassing the Sephardic as well as the Ashkenazic worlds.

In its first year as a reconstituted institution, the IIDM enrolled 227 students between the ages of five and fourteen. How many were Jewish is unclear. Eighty were New York residents whose tuition was paid by the state, just over thirty were New York residents supported by their parents, and nearly one hundred were foreign nationals whose tuition was paid by their home country. (51) Five hours of pupils' school days were devoted to general education, including instruction in lip reading and vocalization in English, according to the oral method. Promotional pamphlets generated by the school stressed that sign language and "the manual alphabet" were decidedly not in use. Physical education was conducted in an in-house gymnasium and in Central Park, a short walk away. Industrial training occupied two hours per day and was conducted in a four-story building adjoining the school. There, boys were instructed in carpentry, cabinet making, painting, glazing, woodworking, and tailoring, and girls in cooking and sewing. Even pupils as young as five years old were trained in "habits of industry and economy." (52)

In all of these respects, the reopened IIDM did not differ dramatically from other American schools for the deaf. Indeed, the educational, vocational, and recreational curriculum of the institution suggests that its overseers were well attuned to popular pedagogy for the deaf. This vision encompassed not only what and how children should learn, but who should teach them. Like its peer institutions, the IIDM employed mostly female teachers, a portion of whom were drawn from the school's own teacher-training program. Opened shortly after the IIDM's reconstitution as a Jewish institution, this program was soon graduating upwards of nine teachers each year. (53)

Nor did the IIDM sever its ties with city and state financing sources, as the figures regarding government support for student tuition mentioned above indicate. In addition to providing aid to individual students, New York State also offset roughly 60 percent of the school's operational cost in 1921, at a time when the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies contributed approximately 17 percent of the budget. But this did not prevent the institution from retaining a strong Jewish identity. Its trustees, teachers, and the majority of its students were Jewish, and it also continued to be referred to as "Jewish" by the popular press. (54) The historical record is unclear on exactly how the reorganized IIDM was able to accept such significant public funding and still maintain its sectarian identity. Perhaps state and local officials became more flexible than they had been in the nineteenth century because the new trustees provided needed leadership for the school. A more likely explanation, however, is that the failure of the IIDM to claim a public Jewish identity during the nineteenth century had resulted not so much from the strictures of government policy as it had from the fears of sensitivities of the German Jewish founders. In contrast, the new leaders of the IIDM--given their different backgrounds and the now diminished stigma of Jewishness in the larger world of educational and social services--were simply more determined and less fearful of asserting their distinctiveness.

The new IIDM was most distinctive in bridging deaf and Jewish educational standards and in cultivating a distinctly Jewish social and cultural space. In contradistinction to what was available to Jewish students in other schools for the deaf, Jewish students at the IIDM observed the Jewish Sabbath, religious festivals, and dietary laws. They were also offered religious instruction by Rev. Barnett Ehas, later a rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina, and for many years a worker on behalf of the Jewish deaf, and by an otherwise unidentified Mr. Brill, who was "a graduate from a Jewish Deaf Mute Institution in London." (55) If this instruction included the teaching of reading, lip reading, or oral communication in Hebrew, then it established a remarkable and uniquely polylingual environment for deaf youth. There is no clear evidence, however, that this was the case. (56) (Given the IIDM's emphasis on the mainstreaming and the "Americanization" of its deaf pupils, it is likely that instruction in Yiddish would not have been offered even if the language was spoken in many pupils' homes).

The existing evidence suggests that the IIDM did succeed in nurturing its students' sense of themselves as Jews. Consider the example of Henry Plapinger and Annie (Anne) Bernhardt, IIDM graduates who wed in 1911 (Bernhardt also was a teacher of sewing at the institution). The Plapinger-Berharndt union took place in New York's Temple Emanu-E1 and was officiated by Elzas orally and in sign with traditional Jewish rites. According to The New York Times, the wedding was "crowded by men, women, and children, over nine-tenths of whom were deaf." (57) To understand how much this gathering owed the IIDM, it must be compared to another deaf Jewish wedding that took place some years earlier. The pair united in that wedding, Mary Bister and William Greenbaum, met at the non-Jewish School for the Deaf and Dumb on Madison Avenue. Like Plapinger and Bernhardt, Bister and Greenbaum were married by a rabbi, according to traditional rites, and in a synagogue. While the two weddings were equally Jewish in content, however, Bernhardt's and Plapinger's appears to have been the more culturally deaf. For example, it was conducted before an overwhelmingly deaf gathering, while the wedding of Bister and Greenbaum was witnessed primarily by nonsigning friends and family, and was conducted both orally and in sign language. "If we don't have a spoken ceremony," explained Bister, "no one at the wedding will know that we have been married, and if we don't have the ceremony in the sign language, we shan't know that we are married ourselves." (58)

The stark difference between these weddings--both witnessed by Jews, one performed for a hearing gathering, the other for a deaf one--may reflect the personalities of the couples involved rather than larger historical trends. Indeed, both Plapinger and Bernhardt would prove remarkable activists on behalf of deaf and deaf Jewish culture, later helping to found the National Congress of the Jewish Deaf. (59) The exceptionalism of these individuals notwithstanding, it is possible that Plapinger's and Berhardt's culturally deaf wedding and future activism was encouraged by their participation in the IIDM's culturally deaf Jewish community. Similarly, the relative absence of a deaf Jewish community at Bister's and Greenbaum's wedding can be explained, at least in part, by the pair's background as graduates of a mainstream deaf educational institution. In offering deaf Jewish youth religious instruction, a discrete social space, and an overwhelmingly Jewish environment, the IIDM deepened the Jewish identity of its students, fortified the boundaries of the Jewish community, and, at the same time, nourished deaf Jewish culture. (60)

The Society for the Welfare of the Jewish Deaf (SWJD)

Due in part to the achievements of the IIDM, deaf Jewish men and women in New York were able to acquire vocational training in the first decades of the twentieth century. Once their education was obtained, however, their entry into the workforce was by no means guaranteed. Nationwide, deaf mean and women and their hearing advocates were attuned to this issue. As Robert Buchanan has demonstrated, demands for local and national labor bureaus for the deaf were intensifying. (61) Deaf Jews and hearing Jewish activists for the deaf did not merely follow these developments; through the SWJD they created the first "systematic and recognized" labor board for the deaf in the country. (62)

Created in 1910, the SWJD represented a partnership between the Hebrew Congregation of the Deaf and various hearing organizations within the Jewish community (including, most prominently, the United Hebrew Charities). Deaf Jews constituted the leadership of the SWJD, while administrative support came from Judah L. Magnes, a Reform rabbi, Zionist, and prominent Jewish communal leader; it also received considerable financial support from Abraham Erlanger, a committed hearing advocate for the Jewish deaf, wealthy clothing merchant, and generous philanthropist. (63) With Erlanger's donation of more than a half-million dollars, made sometime between 1914 and 1917, the SWJD was able to expand in size and scope. To oversee this process of growth, Magnes employed Albert Amateau, a recently immigrated Turkish Jew who held a degree in social work from Columbia University (Amateau would subsequently attend and be ordained as a rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America). At this point, Amateau's experience with the deaf was limited. (64) More qualified was his wife, Rebecca Nahoum Amateau, who had worked with the HH's deaf sisterhood some years earlier. Positions of leadership in the early twentieth-century deaf and Jewish worlds, however, were rarely assigned to women.

With Erlanger's backing, the SWJD was able to leave its original home in the United Hebrew Charities Building (at 356 Second Avenue) and purchase and remodel three adjoining houses at 40-44 115th Street. The shells of these buildings were left intact and the interiors refurbished to accommodate a swimming pool, a library, classrooms, a recreation room, an auditorium with a 450 person capacity that doubled as a synagogue; a hall for theater presentations, parties, and dances; a gymnasium equipped with athletic equipment; a dormitory for deaf immigrants without lodging; and several meeting rooms. Behind the facility was a private garden and basketball court. (65) An apartment on the building's top floor accommodated the family of the executive director, who from 1913 to 1925 was Amateau. (66) Undoubtedly, the site was impressive, unique not only in the Jewish community but also in the larger deaf world. Henry Gaillard, a French deaf leader and activist who toured deaf America in the summer of 1917, reflected on how anemic Parisian cultural organizations for the deaf, including those sponsored by the Jewish community, seemed when compared to the SWJD. (67) Indeed, Gaillard lauded the organization for giving "true proof of [the] civilized status" of the Jewish deaf--a strikingly Republican formulation. (68)

Under Amateau's leadership, the SWJD labor bureau was initially the most active branch of the organization (see Figure 1). As Amateau explained in a statement to the 1914 Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf (CAID), "our chief aim is to get a position to fit the applicant and not, as it has been the custom, to fit the applicant into any position." This he and applicants achieved on a case by case basis, traveling "from house to house, from factory to factory, from shop to shop, [to] interview the employers, explain the work for the deaf, and find out whether they have any work which a deaf man can perform, and thereby earn his living." (69) Over a ten-year period, from 1913 to 1923, the SWJD labor bureau averaged between 130 and 200 placements annually. This figure was highest during the First World War, when employment for America's deaf was particularly plentiful, and lowest during the Great Depression, when the jobs obtained by the SWJD allowed hundreds of deaf families to survive. (70) Most individuals placed by the SWJD occupied low-paying manual labor jobs offering wages averaging seven dollars per week, positions that underestimated the vocational potential of most deaf applicants but were nonetheless crucial sources of income. (71) Some clients of the SWJD were able to earn placement in highly skilled occupations; linotype operators and engravers trained by the organization, for example, earned upwards of $26 per week. (72)


Vocational training was but one dimension of the SWJD's labors. The organization extended small-scale loans of tools and other workplace implements, organized social clubs, and hosted English classes for deaf immigrants (most of whom were likely to be Jews of eastern European origin from a Yiddish-speaking milieu). (73) Additionally, the organization provided its clients religious opportunities by sustaining and lodging the Hebrew Congregation of the Deaf (see Figure 2.) and by offering personalized religious instruction by Amateau, who by this point had become an ordained rabbi. In this fashion, Amateau became the first rabbi of a congregation for the deaf. (74) As the Silent Worker reported of his Sabbath services: "The interested attention [is] invariably given to what [Amateau] says in his sermons which he delivers in the sign-language so forcefully, simply and clearly, indicating that he exercises a magnetic influence over his congregation and it is not surprising that the fundamental tone characterizing these services has attracted large numbers of deaf weekly." (75) In time Amateau was joined by two other rabbis who facilitated his religious leadership of the SWJD: Rabbi Felix Nash, a hearing graduate of the Chicago School of Social Work, and the aforementioned Elzas. Both of these men learned sign in order to minister to deaf Jewish congregants and oversee outreach programs. Nash's wife, eastern European-born Tanya Zolotoroff Nash, was instrumental in working with the congregation after her husband's death, when she commenced a thirty-five year (1933 to 1968) directorship of the SWJD. During this time she also was active in the shaping of the National Congress for the Jewish Deaf and served as director of the Hebrew Association for the Deaf. Under Tanya Nash's leadership, the organization changed its name to the New York Society for the Deaf. By 1937 it was estimated that 750 deaf Jews worshipped with this community and/or with associated religious organizations in New York City and Brooklyn. (76)


While emphasizing its clients' Jewish needs, the SWJD was also careful to attend to their status as deaf men and women. Strikingly, the administration of the SWJD aimed to facilitate deaf members' integration into the wider deaf cultural landscape urging them to "organize or join any of the existing fraternal societies or clubs" for the deaf, in particular the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf and the National Association of the Deaf. (77) At the same time, there is neither evidence that the SWJD took any practical measures to encourage the forging of such ties, nor that it did anything concrete to help promote or nurture a distinctive deaf identity among its members. Thus, while in theory the cultivation of both deaf and Jewish identities were inextricable components of the SWJD's mandate, in practice the organization's ties to the Jewish world held a greater valence than its connections to the wider deaf cultural landscape.

The last of the SWJD's mandates was the publication of The Jewish Deaf (1915-1925). Called by one scholar "one of the most forceful and articulate independent deaf periodicals," the journal was housed in and printed by an in-house print shop also used for vocational training. (78) Occasionally the journal paid special heed to the concerns of deaf Jewish readers, but its readership reached well beyond the deaf Jewish community. For this reason, the publication was lauded by its competitor, Silent Worker, for being "devoted to the interests of all the deaf everywhere." (79) The journal also excited the interest of other Jewish presses, among them the Ladino-language La America. (80) The journal's contributors included such prominent non-Jewish deaf activists as Alice T. Terry and the Episcopalian clergyman Rev. James H. Cloud, both of whose writings appeared in prominent deaf periodicals of the day. Its editors, however, appear to have been Jewish to the last, including Amateau, Kenner, and board of governors' member Leo Sulzberger. (81) One of the most important features of The Jewish Deaf was its independence, particularly relative to most other members of the so-called Little Paper Family of newspapers exchanged among American schools and institutions for the deaf. While the latter journals tended to be published by deaf schools and supervised by school superintendents, The Jewish Deaf appears not to have been tightly controlled or censored by its editorial board. As a result, the journal became a rich site for the formulation and debate of issues germane to the deaf world, greatly exceeding its function as a journal of and by the American Jewish deaf. (82)

The conclusion of Amateau's leadership of the SWJD in 1925, and with it the folding of The Jewish Deaf, coincided with profound changes in the Jewish and deaf worlds. (83) Antisemitism was on the rise in the United States and in Europe, and harsh immigration restrictions imposed in 1924 all but halted the flood of eastern European Jews to the United States. Opportunities for the deaf, too, were constricting. Industrial employment for American deaf men and women were at record highs in the course of the First World War, when companies such as the Goodyear Corporation and Firestone initiated the active recruitment of deaf men. Even before the war's conclusion bled into the Great Depression, however, these workers faced layoffs and unemployment, and their hardships would only increase in years to come. (84) The impact of the Great Depression, of course, cut across Jewish and deaf worlds, leaving private Jewish philanthropies such as the SWJD struggling to adjust to new philanthropic norms and an interventionist federal government. (85)

In the face of these changes, the SWJD's mission inevitably shifted. Arguably the closure of its journal in 1925 signaled the society's choice to look more inward than it had under Amateau's charge. Perhaps the deaf Jewish community's emphatic embrace of the leadership of Tanya Nash, who appears to have been less showy than her rather more boastful predecessor, was in part a response to this shift in direction. If in the early decades of the twentieth century emergent forms of American Jewish deaf culture sought to bridge existing institutions in the Jewish and deaf worlds, beginning in the 1930s hearing and deaf leaders of the Jewish deaf seem to have been more concerned with defining and deepening deaf Jewish culture's own hue. In this sense the 1930s proved something of a prelude to the 1960s, when deaf Jewish cultural and institutional forms proliferated, including the National Congress of the Jewish Deaf, the Hebrew Association for the Deaf, the Jewish Deaf Community Center, the Hebrew Seminary of the Deaf, and numerous deaf synagogues, Jewish community centers, camps, fraternities, sororities, and social clubs across the country. (86)

Deaf American Jewish History: Toward Conclusions

This article has reconstructed the history of deaf Jewish Americans and the cultural and institutional forms they constructed in tandem with hearing Jews in the early decades of the twentieth century. It has argued that deafness and Jewishness were personal, cultural, and institutional markers that intersected and informed one another in crucial ways. Nowhere was this more the case than in New York City, home to an unparalleled concentration of deaf Jews and of institutions dedicated to serving their needs.

While some deaf American Jews in the period under study looked to the deaf Jewish organizations mentioned here as primary sources of support, fellowship, and identity, others affiliated with them only in passing. Still others avoided them totally and were aligned with mainstream deaf organizations not self-consciously designed for Jews. These variations are not markers of disorganization among deaf American Jews, but rather indicators of the inherent richness and complexity of their identities and the historical contexts that shaped them. Deaf American Jews and the hearing Jews who collaborated with them were a divided collective, demarcated not only in a linguistic sense (that is, signing from nonsigning) but, rather more intricately, by a host of individual qualities. Poor deaf immigrants like Rose Basso may have desperately required the support of hearing activists such as Mendes, the Amateaus, or the Nashes, while native-born deaf Jewish men and women, Pach and Kenner among them, were better integrated into the deaf and Jewish mainstream, more professionally accomplished, and therefore wary of the meddling of hearing Jewish leaders whose philanthropic instincts they distrusted. In their diversity, deaf American Jews were no different from the hearing Jews who worked with them--men and women who were Ashkenazic and Sephardic, immigrant and native-born, sympathetic with the notion of deaf culture and rather more inclined to reform it.

The diversity of this story is part of what renders it so compelling a research agenda. American Jewish historians and deaf historians have been unaware of the many important intersections between their fields. And yet much fertile territory lies therein. Further scrutiny of deaf American Jewish culture promises to diversify the study both of Jewish culture and deaf culture, and to highlight their many fascinating intersections.

* The author thanks Robert Buchanan, Susan Burch, Eric L. Goldstein, Tony Michels, Devin Naar, Aron Rodrigue, and the anonymous readers for their perspicacious comments on this article. Thanks also to Benjamin, Sarah, and Jack Jason for sharing their personal archives and, more importantly, for being relentless proponents of deaf and Jewish culture.

(1.) The particularly Jewish dimensions of those Jews who acculturated into the larger fabric of deaf American culture are, for obvious reasons, harder to track. These figures are nonetheless crucial to a synthetic history of deaf Jewish culture in America, a project that exceeds the capabilities of this article. Astute on this topic is Susan Burch, "In a Different Voice: Sign Language Preservation and America's Deaf Community," Bilingual Research Journal 24 (Fall 2000): 333-54; and Burch, Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900 to World War II (New York: New York University Press, 2002).

(2.) Catholic schools for the deaf and an Episcopal mission for the deaf have existed since the early nineteenth century, and by 1900 seven deaf men had entered the Episcopal priesthood. See Burch, Signs of Resistance, 46-52.

(3.) Pach contributed the regular column "The Silent Worker with The Silent Workers" to Silent Worker from 1896 to 1929. For his critique of the Society for the Welfare of the Jewish Deaf (hereafter SWJD), see Silent Worker 32 (Dec. 1919): 68. Pach was aware that deaf organizations could be inhospitable to Jews, and he encouraged members of the SWJD to join the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf as it grew more inclusive. See Pach, "Frats," Jewish Deaf 4 (Dec. 1918): 18-19.

(4.) Douglas C. Baynton, Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign Against Sign Language (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

(5.) These schools functioned in a Jewish milieu, but their emphasis was on general education and vocational training rather than Jewish education, per se. On deaf European Jews' educational and institutional opportunities before the Holocaust, see Attain Loewe, "The Contribution of Jewish Professional People to the Education of Hearing Impaired Children in Europe," in Proceedings of the 18th International Congress on Education of the Deaf, ed. Amatzia Weisel (Tel Aviv: International Congress on Education of the Deaf, 1995), 1-7; Isidore Harris, Jubilee History of the Jews' Deaf and Dumb Home, 1865-1915 (London: N. P. Vallentine, 1915); Horst Biesold, "The Fate of the Israelite Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb in Berlin," in Looking Back : A Reader on the History of Deaf Communities and Their Sign Languages, ed. Renate Fischer and Harlan L. Lane (Hamburg, Germany: Signum Press, 1993 ); and William O. McCagg, East Europe and Deafness: History of the First Hungarian School for Deaf Children of Jewish Descent from 1817-1836 [videorecording] (Burtonsville, MD: Sign Media, 1992). A portion of Jewish deaf youth attended general schools for the deaf. On deaf people's experiences in the Holocaust, see Horst Biesold, Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 1999); Irving Greenberg and Jane Alpert, Deaf People in the Holocaust: The Extraordinary Story (Jackson, NY: Lexington School and Center for the Deaf and Jewish Heritage Project, 2003); and Eleanor C. Dunai, Surviving in Silence: A Deaf Boy in the Holocaust: The Harry I. Dunai Story (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2002). See also Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf's website: http://www. (accessed Aug. 15, 2009).

(6.) Edward Allen Fay, Histories of American Schools for the Deaf, 1817-1893 (Washington, D.C.: Volta Bureau, 1893), 2:7-8; New York Times, Jan. 25, 1871, 8.

(7.) On Amateau, see "Pioneers and Pioneer Work for the Jewish Deaf of New York," Silent Worker 30 (Nov. 1917): 28; Albert Amateau, "The Americanization of a Sephardic Turk," interview by Rachel Amado Borntick, Mar. 26, 1986, box 3, folder 1, Albert J. Amateau Manuscript Collection, manuscript collection 604 (hereafter cited as AAC), Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (repository hereafter cited as AJA); and "Haham Albert J. Amateau, Z'L: Obituary of a 20th-Century Sephardic Advocate," available online at (accessed Aug. 15, 2009). On Mendes, see Henry Pereira Mendes Manuscript Collection (hereafter cited as HPMC), series A, file 1/4, AJA; and David de Sola Pool, "Henry Pereira Mendes," American Jewish Yearbook 40 (1938-1939): 41-60. On Nash, see New York Times, Sep. 14, 1987, B3; "Religion: For Deaf Mutes," Time, Mar. 19, 1934, 22; and Sydney Stahl Weinberg, "The World of Our Fathers and the World of Our Mothers," American Jewish History 88 (Dec. 2000): 549-50.

(8.) Most of the influential works on Jewish life in early twentieth-century New York City make no mention of deaf Jews or their cultural institutions: Hasia R. Diner, Lower East Side Memories: A Jewish Place in America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002); Susan A. Glenn, Daughters of the Shtetl: Life and Labor in the Immigrant Generation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990); Arthur A. Goren, The Politics and Public Culture of American Jews (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999); Goren, New York Jews and the Quest for Community: The Kehillah Experiment, 1908-1922 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970); Jeffrey S. Gurock, When Harlem Was Jewish, 1870-1930 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979); Irving Howe and Kenneth Libo, World of Our Fathers (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976); Hadassa Kosak, Cultures of Opposition: Jewish Immigrant Workers, New York City, 1881-1905 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000); and Tony Michels, A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, zoos). For a passing reference, see Moses Rischin, The Promised City: New York's Jews, 1870-1914 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977): 103.

(9.) See Susan Burch and Ian Sutherland, "Who's Not Yet Here? American Disability History," Radical History Review 94 (Winter 2006): 127-47; and Catherine J. Kudlick, "Disability History: Why We Need Another 'Other,'" American Historical Review 108 (Jun. 2006): 763-93.

(10.) On tropes of the Jewish body, see Sander L. Gilman, The Jew's Body (New York: Routledge, 1991); Gilman, Freud, Race, and Gender (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); and Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, People of the Body: Jews and Judaism from an Embodied Perspective (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992).

(11.) Abrams, Judaism and Disability; Jerome Daniel Schein and Lester J. Waldman, The Deaf Jew in the Modern World (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav Publishing House for New York Society for the Deaf, 1986).

(12.) Burch, "In a Different Voice" and Signs of Resistance; Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness, s.v. "Religion, Jewish," and "National Congress of Jewish Deaf."

(13.) Douglas C. Baynton, "'The Undesirability of Admitting Deaf Mutes': U.S. Immigration Policy and Deaf Immigrants, 1882-1924," Sign Language Studies 6 (Summer 2006): 391-415; Baynton, "Defectives in the Land: Disability and American Immigration Policy, 1882-1924," Journal of American Ethnic Studies 24 (Spring 2005): 31-44.

(14.) Kudlick, "Disability History," 785. Related issues arise in discussions of multiculturalism and the deaf world. See Lois Bragg, Deaf World: A Historical Reader and Primary Sourcebook (New York: New York University Press, 2001); and Kathee M. Christensen and Gilbert L. Delgado, Multicultural Issues in Deafness (White Plains, NY: Longman, 1993). For a recent study of the intersections of deaf and disability histories, see Burch and Sutherland, "Who's Not Yet Here?"

(15.) In 1915, Albert Amateau estimated New York's deaf Jewish population at 5,000. See U.S. Senate, Proceedings of the Twentieth Meeting of the Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf, 63rd Cong., 3rd sess., no. 986 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1915), 64. Henri Gaillard wrote that of 10,000 deaf residents of New York City, 500 to 3,000 were Jews. See Henri Gaillard, ed., Gaillard in Deaf America: A Portrait of the Deaf Community, 1917 (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2002), 62. A sober assessment of New York's early twentieth-century deaf population places the total at 3,000. See Butch, Signs of Resistance, 114. The aforementioned study was conducted by Mendes, who estimated that the city was home to 1,500 deaf Jewish children. See New York Times, May 27, 1907, 3.

(16.) The latter point should make clear that while Jews are prone to a number of genetic mutations that may result in syndromic or nonsyndromic deafness, deafness is not now, nor does it appear ever to have been, more common among Jews than among other populations. See, for example, T. Ben-Yosef and T. B. Friedman, "The Genetic Bases for Syndromic and Nonsyndromic Deafness among Jews," Trends in Molecular Medicine 9 (Nov. 2003): 496-502; Z. Brownstein et al., "The R245x Mutation of Pcdh15 in Ashkenazi Jewish Children Diagnosed with Nonsyndromic Hearing Loss Foreshadows Retinitis Pigmentosa," Pediatric Research 55 (Jun. 2004): 995-1000; and J. Zlotogora, "Hereditary Disorders among Iranian Jews," American Journal of Medical Genetics 58 (Jul. 1995): 32-37.

(17.) The twelve-year-old Basso would have had well-developed speech, of course. By speaking of her impending "muteness," Basso's principal was likely anxious that the young woman would increasingly rely on sign, which apparently he considered an inferior mode of communications, see L. V. V. Armstrong to Mendes, undated, HPMC, series A, file 1/4.

(18.) "Deaf Mutes in P[ublic] S[chools]," 1909, HPMC, series A, file 1/4. This essay is summarized in Mendes to Dr. William H. Maxwell, May 12, 1908, in the same file.

(19.) Mendes to Maxwell, May 12, 1908, HPMC, series A, file 1/4.

(20.) Dr. Mark Blumenthal to Mendes, Nov. 12, 1908, HPMC, series A, file 1/4.

(21.) Strikingly, a history of the IIDM penned by its former superintendent, David Greene (ne Greenberger), does not draw attention to the institution's Jewish roots. See Greene, "The Institution for the Improved Instruction of Deaf-Mutes," in Fay, Histories of American Schools for the Deaf, 2:18. Greene's account does, however, include a list of the institution's earliest trustees and a brief biography of Engelsmann himself. A list of the institution's trustees for various years can be found in the annual directories of the Charity Organization Society of the City of New York. See, for example, New York Charities Directory (New York: Charity Organization Society, 1920), 138.

(22.) New York Times, Jan. 25, 1871, 8; Sep. 27, 1902, 3. The latter article reported that in its thirty-two-year existence, the institution had received a total of $1,667,885.14 in public and $171,046.13 in private funds.

(23.) Dr. Mark Blumenthal to Mendes, Nov. 12, 1908, HPMC, series A, file 1/4.

(24.) New York Times, Sep. 27, 1902, 3.

(25.) New York Times, Oct. 10, 1902,, 5.

(26.) The penalty amounted to $40,770, more than half of which the board immediately advanced in order to ensure the continued operation of the IIDM. See New York Times, Oct. 10, 1902, 5.

(27.) Ibid.

(28.) Mendes to Judge Samuel Greenbaum, president of the Council of Jewish Communal Institutions, Oct. 22, 1908, HPMC, series A, file 1/4.

(29.) Mendes to [Louis?] Marshall, Oct. 16, 1908, HPMC, series A, file 1/4. Elbert A. Gruver, superintendent for the IIDM, agreed with Mendes' claims but insisted that Jewish and Catholic students could pursue religious instruction or observance independently and/or at home. See "Help for Jewish Deaf-Mutes," undated newspaper clipping, c. 1908, HPMC, series A, file 1/4. One cannot help but wonder if the IIDM was reproducing the religious stigmatization of deaf Jews then normative in and by the larger Jewish community.

(30.) New York Times, May 27, 1907, 3.

(31.) Located at 157 Henry Street, the Crippled Children's East Side Free School was supported by the Federation of Jewish Charities and remained in operation through the 1920s. Mendes served as vice president of the organization around 1900. See Edith Gertrude Reeves Solenberger, Care and Education of Crippled Children in the United States (New York: Survey Associates Inc., 1914), 82; and Henry Edward Abt, The Care, Cure, and Education of the Crippled Child (Elyria, OH: International Society for Crippled Children, 19z4), 122.

(32.) On Kenner, see Burch, Signs of Resistance, 49. On the HH, see Mendes to Maxwell, May 12, 1908, HPMC, series A, file 1/4. In the spring of 1910 the New York Times reported that 125 members of the congregation prayed at Temple Emanu-El with Rev. Joseph Silverman. Samuel Cohen provided sign translation for the assembled. See New York Times, Apr. 23, 1910,, 5. For an article on the congregation's twenty-fifth anniversary celebration, see New York Times, Jun. 16, 1932, 46. For Mendes' prayer book, see H. Pereira Mendes, Jewish Prayers for Jewish Hearts: Compiled from Ancient Sources (New York: Lincoln Printing Co., 1900).

(33.) Samuel Cohen also lectured for the Beth Israel Deaf Association. See Silent Worker 20 (Feb. 1908): 87. Silent Worker covered the activities of the Beth Israel Deaf Association with interest: Silent Worker 20 (Oct. 1907): 9-11; (Mar. 1908): 103; (Jun. 1908): 163; 21 (Nov. 1908): 21; and (Jun. 1909): 174.

(34.) Rebecca Nahoum Amateau was also active in the Committee of Education of the Sephardic Brotherhood of America. See "Pioneers and Pioneer Work for the Jewish Deaf of New York," 28; Aviva Ben-Ur, "The Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) Press in the United States, 1910-1948," in Multilingual America: Transnationalism, Ethnicity, and the Languages of American Literature, ed. Werner Sollors (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 70.

(35.) Mendes to Maxwell, May 12, 1908, HPMC, series A, file 1/4; Mendes to Marshall, Oct. 16, 1908, HPMC, series A, file 1/4; New York Times, May 27, 1907, 3.

(36.) Mendes to Maxwell, May 12, 1908, HPMC, series A, file 1/4.

(37.) On Mendes' exchanges with Bell, see Mendes to Maxwell, May 12, 1908, HPMC, series A, file 1/4. On Bell's work with the deaf and genetics, see Nora Ellen Groce, Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha's Vineyard (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), esp. 36-50; and Robert V. Bruce, Bell: Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest of Solitude (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1973). On discourses of productivization, see Robert M. Buchanan, Illusions of Equality: Deaf Americans in School and Factory, 1850-1950 (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1999), esp. 69-84; Baynton, Forbidden Signs, esp. 83-107; and Burch, Signs of Resistance, esp. 99-129. Mendes' vision also echoed the notion, then regnant among hearing activists, that deaf men and women could be positively transformed by industrial labor. See Buchanan, Illusions of Equality; Tricia A. Leakey, "Vocational Education in the Deaf American and African American Communities," in Deaf History Unveiled: Interpretations from the New Scholarship, ed. John V. Van Cleve (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1993), 74-91.

(38.) Susan Burch, Signs of Resistence.

(39.) Pool, "Henry Pereira Mendes."

(40.) Esther Benbassa, "L'education feminine en Orient: l'ecole de filles de l'Alliance Israelite Universelle a Galata, Istanbul (1879-1912)," Histoire, Economie, et Societe 10 (4e trimestre, 1991): 529-59; Benbassa, "Modernization of Eastern Sephardi Communities," in Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jewries: History and Culture in the Modern Era, ed. Harvey E. Goldberg (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 89-99; Avraham Cohen, "Iranian Jewry and the Educational Endeavors of the Alliance Israelite Universelle," Jewish Social Studies 48 (Winter 1986): 15-44; Aron Rodrigue, French Jews, Turkish Jews: Alliance Israelite Universelle and the Politics of Jewish Schooling in Turkey, 1860-1925 (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1990); Simon Schwarzfuchs, Les Juifs d'Algerie et la France, 1830-1855 (Jerusalem: Institut Ben-Zvi, 1981); Zvi Yehuda, "Iraqi Jewry and Cultural Change in the Educational Activity of the Alliance Israelite Universelle," in Goldberg, Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jewries, 134-45. Significantly, the rhetoric of "regeneration" was echoed by established American Jewish philanthropists of German origin who aimed to reshape eastern European Jewish immigrants, thereby integrating them into American society. The term "unfortunates," for example, was not reserved for deaf Jewish youth but was widely used in Jewish orphanage records of the period. On this subtle point, I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer.

(41.) Pool, "Henry Pereira Mendes," 50.

(42.) Attentive to the transnational circulation of philosophies on deafness and to deaf and hearing individuals who moved between Europe and the United States are Gaillard, ed., Gaillard in Deaf America; Sophia A. Rosenfeld, A Revolution in Language: The Problem of Signs in Late Eighteenth-Century France (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001); Harlan L. Lane, When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf (New York: Random House, 1984); Harlan L. Lane, Robert Hoffmeister, and Benjamin J. Bahan, A Journey into the Deaf-World (San Diego, CA: Dawn Sign Press, 1996); and Jonathan Ree, I See a Voice: Deafness, Language, and the Senses--A Philosophical History (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999).

(43.) Most deaf students and teachers opposed the day school movement, favoring the more nurturing (and sign-language-friendly) environment of boarding schools. See Baynton, Forbidden Signs, 65-68. The transformation of the IIDM into a day school was defended in the mainstream press as beneficial for religious "home training." See New York Times, May 27, 1907, 3.

(44.) Baynton, Forbidden Signs, 31.

(45.) Marcus Kenner to the [New York City] Board of Education, Oct. 28, 1908, HPMC, series A, file 1/4.

(46.) Mendes to Maxwell, May 12, 1908, HPMC, series A, file 1/4.

(47.) Mendes to Maxwell, Jan. 27, 1909, HPMC, series A, file 1/4.

(48.) Mendes to Samuel D. Levy, May 12, 1909, HPMC, series A, File 1/4. See also New York Times, May 18, 1909, 9.

(49.) Samuel Cohen to Mendes, Apr. 15, 1909, HPMC, series A, file 1/4.

(50.) Ree, I See a Voice; Lane, When the Mind Hears.

(51.) "Report by Mendes to the Trustees of the IIDM for Year Ending August 31, 1910," HPMC, series A, file 1/4.

(52.) "The Institution for the Improved Instruction of Deaf Mutes," undated pamphlet, c. 1910, HPMC, series A, file 1/4. On IIDM instruction, see also the following item in the journal of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf: "The Association Review," The Association Review 1 (Apr. 1899): 68.

(53.) New York Times, Jun. 14, 1930, 17. On female teachers for the deaf, see Baynton, Forbidden Signs, chap. 3.

(54.) "Fifty-Fifth Annual Report of the Institution for the Improved Instruction of Deaf-Mutes of New York City for the Year 1921," P-23, box 1, 44, Alice David Menkis Papers (hereafter cited as ADMP), American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, New York (repository hereafter cited as AJHS). Popular press references include New York Times, Jun. 14, 1930, 17.

(55.) Future religious instructors included Morton Goldberg, Ida Ullrich, Evelyn Davis, Rose Gibian, and Samuel Wehz. Mendes to unspecified recipient, Apr. 1911, HPMC, series A, file 1/4; "Fifty-Fifth Annual Report," ADMP.

(56.) Archival material pertaining to the practical and symbolic role of polylingualism in the Jewish deaf community does not exist but for a later period. See, for example, Douglas Goldhamer, "Teaching Hebrew to Deaf Children," Zeroa Netuyah [congregational newsletter published by Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf] 1 (Aug. 1984):1-4, in Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf Collection (hereafter cited as TBSDC), AJA.

(57.) New York Times, Sep. 4, 1911, 7.

(58.) Bister and Greenbaum were married by Rabbi Aaron Eiseman in New York's Temple Beth Israel (Seventy-Second Street Synagogue). See New York Times, Mar. 11, 1909, 3.

(59.) Even as a child, Annie Bernhardt was said to be "a special go-between," able to fluently translate lip-read Yiddish into spoken English and vice versa. See Bess Hyman, "The Go-Betweens," from the Congregation News of Temple Beth Solomon for the Deaf, Dec. 1990, online at (accessed Aug. 15, 2009). The Silent Worker subsequently printed a report on the birth of the Plapingers' hearing child, Dorothy, along with a portrait taken by Alexander Pach. See "Types of Children of Deaf Parents," Silent Worker 28 (Jul. 1916): 201. Dorothy Plapinger Polakoff, along with her younger sister, Shirley Plapinger Stein, would in adulthood come to serve as distinguished Gallaudet faculty members.

(60.) One tantalizing subject for future research in this vein is the Union League of the Deaf, a social club founded by Jewish graduates of the IIDM in 1886. The league remained active for a century and, at its peak, could claim 500 members. See Collection of the Union League of the Deaf, 1886-1996, MSS 69, Gallaudet University Archives, Washington, D.C.

(61.) Buchanan, Illusions of Equality, 52-68.

(62.) Burch, Signs of Resistance, 113.

(63.) On Magnes, see Dissenter in Zion: from the writings of Judah L. Magnes, ed. Arthur A. Goren (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982); and the forthcoming: Daniel P. Kotzin Judah L. Magnes: An American Jewish Nonconformist (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2010). Erlanger would serve as the SWJD's president and the IIDM's director. See "An interview," 67-69, box 3, folder 1, AAC; and Erlanger's obituary in the New York Times, Oct. 4, 1929, 23.

(64.) According to one source, Amateau first encountered members of the deaf community as a student at Cooper Union, at which time he served as a projectionist at a silent movie theater and was forced to interrupt a fight between deaf patrons. Amateau's own account of his first acquaintance with deaf peers differs; according to him, one day, intrigued by the signed conversation between two strangers, he initiated a friendship that would last for some time. For the first account, see "Haham Albert J. Amateau, Z"L." For the second, see "An interview," 65.

(65.) Gaillard, Gaillard in Deaf America, 58-59.

(66.) "An interview," 69. Living with Amateau was his wife, Rebecca Nahoum Amateau. See "Pioneers and Pioneer Work for the Jewish Deaf of New York," 28.

(67.) Robert M. Buchanan, "Introduction," in Gaillard in Deaf America: A Portrait of the Deaf Community, 1917 (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2002), 2. On Gaillard, see Anne T. Quartararo, "Republicanism, Deaf Identity, and the Career of Henri Galliard in Late-Ninteenth-Century France," in Deaf History Unveiled: Interpretations from the New Scholarship, ed. John V. Van Cleve (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 1993). On the SWJD's site and services, see Louis A. Cohen, "The Society for the Welfare of the Jewish Deaf," The Silent Worker 27 (Nov. 1914): 35; and "Pioneers and Pioneer Work for the Jewish Deaf of New York," 28.

(68.) Gaillard, Gaillard in Deaf America, 61. Here I echo Sophia Rosenfeld's point that Republican rhetoric developed symbiotically with philosophical and pedagogical visions of the deaf. See Sophia Rosenfeld, "The Political Uses of Sign Language: The Case of the French Revolution," Sign Language Studies 6 (Fall 2005): 17-37; and Rosenfeld, A Revolution in Language. See also, Quartararo, "Republicanism, Deaf Identity."

(69.) U.S. Senate, Proceedings of the Twentieth Meeting, 64. CAID, a professional association founded in 1850, was a staging ground for crucial acts of deaf radicalism including Edward Gallaudet's 1895 defense of the combined system of deaf education. CAID created an "industrial section" in 1895.

(70.) Burch, Signs of Resistance, 114. On positions obtained for deaf workers from 1913-1914, see U.S. Senate, Proceedings of the Twentieth Meeting, 63. For figures from 1914-1916, see Galliard, Gaillard in Deaf America, 62. The figure of 700 may reflect an overlap in these sets of data.

(71.) That the SWJD failed to place its clients into intellectually challenging vocations may be one reason Alexander Pach criticized Amateau and "welfare work planned by hearing people who thought they had a mission to perform in behalf of a lower strata of life." See Pach, "The Silent Worker With the Silent Workers," Silent Worker 32 (Dec. 1919): 68.

(72.) Gaillard, Gaillard in Deaf America, 62-63.

(73.) In these respects, the SWJD was modeled on landsmanshaftn--American Jewish immigrant aid societies organized around ties to specific hometowns in eastern Europe. On the phenomenon of landsmanshaftn, see Daniel Soyer, Jewish Immigrant Associations and American Identity in New York, 1880-,939 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997).

(74.) "Haham Albert J. Amateau, Z"L."

(75.) "Pioneers and Pioneer Work for the Jewish Deaf of New York," 28.

(76.) Phelps' study identifies two houses of worship for deaf Jews in the New York area in 1937. See Grace Warren Rowell Phelps, "The Relationship between Religion and a System of Education for the Deaf" (M.A. thesis, Gallaudet University, 1937), 39. See also Butch, "In a Different Voice," 339.

(77.) U.S. Senate, Proceedings of the Twentieth Meeting, 64.

(78.) Many contemporary newspapers for the deaf were founded to train deaf people in the printing trades. This may have been true of The Jewish Deaf as well. For the quotation, see Burch, Signs of Resistance, 49.

(79.) Silent Worker 32 (Feb. 1920): 126.

(80.) La America, Feb. 12, 1915, 3. Thanks to Devin Naar for this reference.

(81.) John Van Cleve remarks that many non-Jewish contributors, among them Terry Cloud, T. F. Fox, and George W. Veditz, submitted original writings to the journal. See Gallaudet Encyclopedia, s.v. "National Congress of Jewish Deaf."

(82.) Thanks to Susan Burch for these insights. For more on the Little Paper family of journals, see John Van Cleve, A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America (Washington, D.C." Gallaudet University Press, 1989), 98-105; Gallaudet Encyclopedia, s.v. "Little Paper Family."

(83.) Amateau himself went on to attend Fordham Law School, from which he would graduate in 1930. Subsequently he was draw into politics and founded the Sephardic Democratic Club, directing a registration drive among immigrants. See "Haham Albert J. Amateau, Z"L."

(84.) Buchanan, Illusions of Equality, esp. chaps. 5 and 6.

(85.) Beth S. Wenger, New York Jews and the Great Depression: Uncertain Promise (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), esp. chap. 6.

(86.) For a preliminary survey of postwar American deaf Jewish culture and institutions, see Gallaudet Encyclopedia, s.v. "Religion, Jewish." See also Schein and Waldman, The Deaf Jew in the Modern World. Interesting too are the congregational newsletters of Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf in TBSDC.
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Author:Stein, Sarah Abrevaya
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Date:Sep 1, 2009
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