WSJD’s Mission & Vision
Washington Society of Jewish Deaf is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that:
- serves the cultural, spiritual, social, and educational needs of the Jewish deaf and hard of hearing persons in the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area.
- promotes and advocates deaf awareness among the greater Jewish community, including synagogues, community agencies, and schools.
WSJD is the primary organization of, by, and for deaf and hard of hearing residents in the Greater Washington, DC, area, including Northern Virginia and Maryland.
Washington Society of Jewish Deaf:
- Fosters a sense of community, Jewish identity, pride, and culture through socialization, programming, and educational workshops
- Instills in Jewish adults, children and youth a sense of the oneness with the faith of their ancestors
- Acts as an information resource on Jewish community services accessible to the Jewish deaf community
- Networks with other organizations, agencies, and people within the Jewish community to expand accessibility so that all members of the deaf and hard of hearing community may use their services, resources, and facilities.
Who We Are
History of WSJD
“There is no power in the world that can stand against us when we feel a part of our history, part of our people and part of this historic struggle.”
– Natan Sharansky, Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel and former Prisoner of Zion
WSJD Board of Directors thanks the many volunteers who have assisted in the planning of traditional and innovative programs, such ASL High Holidays, Hanukkah, Passover, Shabbat celebrations, havdalah yoga, and museum tours. This historical timeline, which does not list annual events and is not intended to be comprehensive, covers major milestones, participation in events related to tikkun olam (repairing of the world) and special occasions, which have enhanced WSJD as an organization and community. For a more comprehensive list, contact WSJD, at email@example.com.
July: Eyeth Studios created and launched a more robust and new website for WSJD, which replaced the older platform, bringing resources to better alignment with current needs.
June: The ASL Shabbat Coalition issued a statement to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter and the need to do better in improving justice for the Black Community and People of Color.
June 5: In response to racial injustice that surfaced against the Black Community following the tragic death of George Floyd, the ASL Shabbat Coalition hosted a virtualShabbat Service to offer the community nationwide an opportunity for prayers and dialogue. Of the many special guests, the Coalition was honored to have Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe as a guest leader.
May 28: Rabbi Darby Leigh, of Kerem Shalom, Concord, Massachusetts, gave a virtual introduction to Shavuot and led an active discussion of Psalm # 1, in memory of Steve Brenner and his vision.
May: The Hillel@Gallaudet, Jewish Deaf Congress, Jewish Deaf Resource Center and Washington Society of Jewish Deaf, which officially became known as the ASL Shabbat Coalition, was charged with planning Virtual ASL Shabbat Services once a month nationwide.
May 1: As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Hillel@Gallaudet, Jewish Deaf Congress, Jewish Deaf Resource Center, and Washington Society of Jewish Deaf collaborated and launched the first Virtual ASL Shabbat in memory of Steve Brenner and his vision. This event drew over 100 people from throughout the USA and England. Members of the Virtual ASL Shabbat committee included: Naomi Brunnlehrman (JDRC), Susan Cohen (WSJD), Amy Cohen Efron, Shane Feldman, Janie Golightly, Liz Katz (WSJD), Sacha Klein (WSJD Social Media Point Person), Roz Rosen (JDC), Ellen Schein, and Steve Weiner (JDRC).
April: Sacha Klein officially became WSJD’s Social Media tech person to manage virtual events on Zoom on a regular basis during the coronavirus pandemic and WSJD’s Facebook page.
April 9: The Jewish Deaf Congress, Jewish Deaf Resource Center and Washington Society of Jewish Deaf collaborated in hosting their first Virtual ASL Passover, which drew over 200 people spanning from the east coast to the west coast. Liz Katz coordinated the Passover program. Leah Katz Hernandez led the Passover Seder with over 10 readers and participants.
March 23: Steve Brenner, one of the founders of WSJD, passed away on his 83rd birthday. He left behind a rich legacy not to be forgotten. The WSJD community hosted in cooperation with the Brenner family the first Virtual Shiva, at a time when novel coronavirus mandated social distancing.
February 23: The WSJD Caring Committee was renamed in memory of Terry Bittker, who conceived the idea of a Caring Committee to provide guidance and support from a Jewish perspective in times of sadness, joys, and life cycle events. Terry Bittker passed away on May 25, 2019.
February 16: WSJD sponsored the bar mitzvah of Aaron Strom which took place at Temple Beth Ami. WSJD presented him with a certificate and engraved Kiddush cup. Lay leader Hillel Goldberg prepared him for the bar mitzvah.
November 10: The WSJD hosted the Babka Bake in a partnership with Shaare Tefila Congregation in Olney, Maryland. Susie Gershowitz, Tracey Rattner, and Shaare Tefila President Judy Bresler coordinated the event.
June 2: Sofia Seitchik, author of “The Light of Deaf Women: Inspirational Stories from Deaf Women Visionaries, Artists, Founders, and Entrepreneurs” presented her experience as a Deaf Jew growing up in Uzbekistan and immigrating to the United States.
March 10: Elijah Rosen Strom, son of Sarah Rosen and David Strom, became the first deaf child to have his bar mitzvah under the pilot project between WSJD and Temple Beth Ami.
March 9: WSJD bought a bulk number of tickets for the “Crying Hands” production, which told the story of Deaf victims of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, for distribution to its members. Over 60 WSJD members watched the show in Washington, DC.
February 1: WSJD collaborated with Temple Oseh Shalom of Laurel, MD for a potluck dinner followed by an ASL interpreted Shabbat service and discussion session led by WSJD member Steve Weiner on the topic of “What It Means To Be Jewish and Deaf.”
January: WSJD President Susan Cohen gave a presentation to the Inclusion Committee at Adas Israel on how synagogues can be more Deaf-friendly.
November 1: Following the tragic anti-Semitic Tree of Life* O L’Simcha Congregation attack in Pittsburgh, PA, WSJD held a vigil with a message of solidarity of support in memory of its victims, at a restaurant space within the Promenade apartment building. Twenty eight members of WSJD congregated for the brief vigil service. Liz Katz led the discussion session.
January 28: In a partnership with Hillel@Gallaudet and Adat Shalom, WSJD hosted a “Shmooze, Nosh, and Learn” with Shirley Pinto, guest speaker from Israel. Shirley presented a talk on “Jewish/Arab Relations: Deafhood & Religion.”
August 13-16: WSJD assisted in the planning of the Jewish Deaf Congress Conference, “Chicken Soup for the Jewish Deaf Soul: Looking Back, Looking Forward.” The conference was held at the Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel. The Conference Team included: President Jeffrey Buxbaum, Vice President Jeffrey Cohen, Treasurer Vicki Lowen, Member at Large and Historian Steve Brenner, and Member at Large Jeffrey Dunefsky.
WSJD sold one cemetery plot that was donated by a WSJD member..
Jewish Deaf Congress formed a new board. Board members included: Jeff Buxbaum, President; Andrew St. Cyr, Vice President; Vicki Lowen, Treasurer; Jeff Cohen, Spokesperson; Steve Brenner, Member at Large; Jeffrey Dunefsky, Member at Large; Suzanne Dahan, Member at Large.
May 15: WSJD collaborated with Jewish Day School and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington in hosting “Two Worlds: Israeli Dance” performance by Israeli performers, Jill and Amnon Damti.
April 24: “A Taste of Passover: A Nonchalant Evening of Food and Conversation,” with guest Marla Berkowitz, a Jewish Deaf educator from Ohio, was held at Jeff and Susan Cohen’s home.
April: WSJD hired Dina Rae Padden as its part-time Program Director.
Hillel Goldberg was selected to serve as Vice President on Hillel@Gallaudet Board of Director..
Paula Tucker vacated the Director of Hillel@Gallaudet position, which she had held for over ten years.
October: Kelby Brick resigned from the Director of Jewish Life & Learning position due to his new full-time job with the Maryland Governor’s Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
The Caring Committee, officially formed with Terry Bittker as the chair along with Tracey Rattner and Marcia Zisman, as a resource to the WSJD community. The Caring Committee’s charge included providing assistance to the bereaved, such as transportation or shiva coordination. The committee began to recruit volunteers.
Cantor Karen Webber Gilat presented training sessions to members of the Caring Committee on developing the foundation and framework of the committee.
April 26: Temple Beth Ami and WSJD collaborated as partners in ReelAbilities Film Festival, powered by the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. The film, “Lost and Sound” was shown. After the film screening, Deaf musicians Charles Mokotoff, Janice Rosen, and Wendy Cheng participated in a panel discussion.
April 25: WSJD hosted a preview of a film, “Memories of a Warsaw Ghetto,” produced by film Artistic Director and screen co-writer Alexander Genievsky of Universal Sign Entertainment, in collaboration with Project Manager Jacqueline Greff of Tonal Vision LLC. The film told the story of WSJD member Dr. Eugene Bergman’s life during the Holocaust, and was held at WSJD members Dr. Steven and Tracey Rattner’s home.
April 9: Kelby Brick officiated a public memorial service for Mickey Fields, first Vice President of WSJD, at Peikoff Alumni House, at Gallaudet University. The Ark that both Mickey Fields and Tom Fields constructed was used during the memorial service.
March 29: Hillel@Gallaudet and WSJD collaborated in The Sara and Samuel J Lessans Good Deeds Day, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, at “Ole Jim” in the Peikoff Alumni House, at Gallaudet University. Participants made fleece blankets which were donated to Children’s National Medical Center and Deaf Abused Women Network (DAWN), both located in DC.
Eight cemetery plots were donated to WSJD.
President Jeff Cohen was appointed as co-chair of the Inclusion Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
December 16: WSJD co-sponsored with the Jewish Deaf Foundation at its Second Annual Chanukah Celebration at Gallaudet University. Deaf Rabbi Yehoushua Soudakoff led the Chanukah ceremony. Maryland Deaf artist Ellen Mansfield unveiled a 9 foot tall De’Via Chanukah menorah. Dr. E. Lynn Jacobowitz provided the ASL Entertainment. President Jeffrey Cohen was the guest of honor.
November 2: Members of WSJD participated in the Routes: a Day of Jewish Learning, planned by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, at The American University, in Washington, DC. Director Kelby Brick was one of the featured speakers.
October 15: Kelby Brick arranged for WSJD to participate in an evening of dancing, service, and prayer as part of the Simchat Torah celebration at Oseh Shalom, in Laurel, Maryland.
Kelby Brick was selected to serve part-time as WSJD’s first Director of Jewish Life and Learning. At the Meet and Greet event at the Julia Bindeman Suburban Center, Kelby presented a brief story of Lag B’Omer and engaged the community in a discussion on programming goals for WSJD.
As a representative of WSJD, President Jeff Cohen filled a permanent seat on Hillel@Gallaudet Board of Directors.
February 21: WSJD hosted a Shabbat dinner/discussion session. Cantor Karen Webber Gilat led the service and discussion session on “Leading With Your Heart: Spirituality of Shabbat Service.” Terry Bittker coordinated this event.
February 9: WSJD partnered with Reelabilities Film Festival, a project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, during Jewish Disability Awareness month, for a showing of a film, “Reel Signs.” Dr. Irene Leigh led a discussion of the film with the audience. The event was hosted at Temple Beth Ami, in Rockville, Maryland.
September: Under the leadership of Stephanie Summers, Mickey Fields and Tom Fields designed, crafted, and presented the Ark they had created for ASL High Holy Day services to symbolize the partnership between WSJD b Hillel@Gallaudet. The Ark is stored at Hillel@Gallaudet.
May 30 – June 2: At the Jewish Deaf Congress Conference, WSJD’s secretary Susan Cohen, received the Henry and Anna Plapinger Award, which honored a Jewish Deaf Adult who had contributed outstanding service to the Jewish Deaf Community for over ten years. Other WSJD members who have received the Plapinger Award were: Erick Fleischer (1984), Steve Brenner (1996), and Dot Brenner (2003).
December 1: Joan Raciti, Su Robbins, and Tracey Salaway coordinated with support from Michael Pearlman (WSJD Programming Coordinator) an Art & Chocolate Fundraiser/Auction at VisArts, in Rockville, Maryland. Over 200 people attended and over $12,000 was raised for WSJD. Tabitha Jacques and Fred Hartman were the auctioneers. Rabbi Darby Leigh gave a motivational speech on the significance of tzedakah.
November 30: Rabbi Darby Leigh, Deaf Rabbi, led a Shabbat Havdalah dinner and discussion on “The Jewish View on Tattooing,” attended by over 60 people, at the Julia Bindeman Suburban Center of the Washington Hebrew Congregation.
October 7: WSJD hosted a Sukkot Celebration and Community Dialogue “Deaf and Jewish: Canary in a Coal Mine” at Oseh Shalom, in Laurel. Kelby Brick, a member of Oseh Shalom, was the featured guest speaker.
Fall:WSJD went live on Facebook. Iris Mars served as its first social media administrator.
August: Colin Alter, a member of Temple Beth Ami and a master shofar blower, taught a core group of WSJD members to blow shofar for the ASL High Holy Day services. The Core group included: Steve Brenner, Jeff Cohen, Sara Collins, and George Schroeder.
March: The new WSJD website, built by Jerry Callistein, member of Temple Beth Ami, launched.
March 25: Steve Rakitt, CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Washington led a Leadership retreat for the WSJD Board members at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington.
November 20: One hundred and eighteen people attended an Appreciation Dinner in honor of Steve and Dot Brenner’s 40 years of dedicated service to WSJD and the Jewish Deaf Community. The dinner was held at Kemp Mill Synagogue in Silver Spring, Maryland. Jeffrey Dunefsky coordinated this event with assistance from Mike Pearlman and a number of WSJD members. Signature Caterers provided glatt kosher catering service.
October 30: Tracey Rattner and Nancy Topolosky coordinated WSJD’s first “Window into Shabbat” program at the Rattner’s home. Meredith Jacobs, managing editor of Washington Jewish Week, author of “The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat” demonstrated how to make a challah and gave a talk about her book.
September: After several years of lay led services, WSJD hired Deaf Rabbi Ellen Roth to conduct Rosh Hashanah services, held at Adat Shalom in Bethesda, Maryland. Ephrat Dvir and Hillel Goldberg, two deaf lay leaders, led Yom Kippur services. It was also the first time WSJD offered two Rosh Hashanah services during the High Holy Days.
August: WSJD secured 501(C)3 tax-exempt non-profit status.
June: Karen Alkoby, Hillel Goldberg, and Michael Peterson filled three member at large positions on the WSJD Board.
March: Steve Brenner, George Schroeder, Erick Fleischer, Janice Rosen, and Lucy Lewis resigned from the WSJD Board after many years of wonderful service. A new Board was elected. The officers are: Jeff Cohen, President; Suzy Rosen Singleton, Vice President; Jeffrey “Buxy” Buxbaum, Treasurer; Susan F. Cohen, Secretary. Steve Brenner was given the title of President Emeritus.
November 1 and 8: Susan F. Cohen, librarian to the deaf and hard of hearing community of the Montgomery County Public Libraries, and Janice Rosen, librarian to the deaf community of the District of Columbia Public Libraries, both invited WSJD to co-sponsor a program featuring author Eugene Bergman to discuss his publication, The Survival Artist: a Memoir of the Holocaust, at their respective library systems. These programs were respectively held at Rockville Memorial Library in Rockville, MD and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C.
October: Ellen Schein, an interpreter and community lay leader, created a new ASL High Holy Days service model, which became a part of WSJD’s tradition. The new ASL High Holy Days service model pilot first took place at Temple Emanuel in Kensington, Maryland. Dot Brenner arranged for Celebrity Deli to cater the Break the Fast meal.
December: WSJD established a Havurah, a special interest group of Jewish Deaf Families, under the leadership of Sam Sonnenstrahl. The first Havarah meeting took place during the Chanukah party at Gaithersburg, MD.
1996 NCJD Convention: Isadore Zisman was inducted into NCJD Hall of Fame and Steve Brenner received the Plapinger Award at the national convention held in Chicago, Il.
October 19: WSJD and the Board of Jewish Education co-sponsored a second workshop for interpreters at the Board of Jewish Education building.
September 16: Lilly Shirey staffed WSJD booth at a Deaf Culture Festival in 1995. Several WSJD members assisted her.
May: Five WSJD members (Sylvia and Meyer Rosenblatt, Adele Shuart, and Steve and Dot Brenner) participated in a two-week tour of Israel, sponsored by NCJD. Alan Abarbanell was the interpreter for this trip.
March 20: WSJD Board member George Schroeder converted to Judaism at the Jewish Community Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. WSJD members witnessed the ceremony.
April: Ben Estrin and Dot and Steve Brenner represented WSJD at the opening dedication ceremony of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Joe Rosenstein and Sheryl Cooper interpreted the ceremony.
April 26: Helena Schmitt gave a presentation on the Holocaust and David Bloch displayed his artwork at Gallaudet Chapel Hall during a WSJD-sponsored Sunday brunch.
October 20: WSJD members went to Baltimore for a tour at the Baltimore’s Historic Lloyd Street Synagogue, the third oldest synagogue in the U.S..
January 31: The College of Jewish Studies of the Board of Jewish Education of Greater Washington offered classes on Introduction to Judaism at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD. This course, open to the public, included members of WSJD. It was co-sponsored by the Board of Jewish Education, Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, Congregation B’nai Israel, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, Congregation Har Shalom and Temple Beth Ami.
1990 NCJD Convention: Sheldon Blumenthal and Debbie Sonnenstrahl were inducted into the NCJD Hall of Fame at Meadowlands, N.J. Roz Rosen was the keynote speaker at this convention.
May 18-20: WSJD and NCJD co-sponsored a Shabbaton at Camp Milldale in Reisterstown, Md. The topic of this gathering was “Enlighten Your Jewish Mind”. Steve Brenner was the chairperson of this event and was assisted by Jeff Dunefsky, Terry Bittker, Hillel Goldberg, Marcia Zisman, and Helena Schmitt. Rabbi Fred Friedman officiated the Shabbat services. Hillel Goldberg and Alexander Fleischman were the workshop speakers. WSJD was honored to have three Israeli students attend this event.
December: WSJD became incorporated in the State of Maryland.
May 21: WSJD participated in a community forum sponsored by the Board of Jewish Education on “Interpreting Religious and Cultural Settings” at the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington (UJAF) building in Rockville, Maryland. This led to the establishment of the Judaic interpreter network in the Metropolitan Washington area.
March 18-20: WSJD sent Ben Estrin as its representative to a meeting in St. Louis to discuss the reorganization of NCJD and the need for delegates to give affiliates better representation.
September 7 : Rabbi Fred Friedman gave a talk on Rabbi Akiva and the 9th of Av.
1984: 1984 NCJD Convention: Erick Fleischer, WSJD Board Member, received the Plapinger Award at Brown’s Hotel in Loch Sheldrake, New York. The Plapinger Award, established in 1976 in memory of Anna and Henry Plapinger, is given to a Jewish Deaf member of a NCJD/JDC affiliate for five years of excellent service to the Jewish Deaf Community.
May 1: Gallaudet Hillel Jewish Students Association and the WSJD co-sponsored a Nazi Crimes Against the Deaf Exhibition at Gallaudet College Ely Center Multipurpose Room.
1982 National Congress of Jewish Deaf Convention. WSJD sponsored the national convention of the NCJD at the Washington Hilton Hotel, in Washington, D.C. Approximately 300 people attended.
February 9: A few WSJD members assisted the St. Elizabeth Hospital’s Volunteer Service for the Deaf in hosting a party for its deaf patients. Erick and Bernice Fleischer, Helena Schmitt, Lilly Berke, and Jean Shickel coordinated games, refreshments and entertainment.
January 18: WSJD volunteers, using TTYs provided by Steven and Dot Brenner, participated in the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington Drive Super Sunday telephone-a-thon.
March: As the Convention host, WSJD voted unanimously to have Alexander Fleischman, local resident of Montgomery County, as the general chairman of the 1982 National Congress of Jewish Deaf Convention.
December 9: WSJD and Gallaudet College Hillel Club co-sponsored a Hanukkah party. Curt Robbins led the festivities.
February 25: Following the performance of the play “The Diary of Anne Frank” at the Gallaudet College auditorium, WSJD hosted a huge reception for the cast and 100 viewers, including a busload of people from Philadelphia and Baltimore. Despite minimal publicity, the old cafeteria in the Student Union Building was filled to capacity until past midnight. Adele Shuart chaired the reception committee with the assistance of Helena Schmitt and Jeanie Shickel. WSJD revealed its new logo. Jeanie, Helena and Adele created needlework using the logo design.
March 23: Needing a logo to represent the organization, WSJD held a logo contest. Mickey Fields’ design was selected as WSJD’s official logo.
April 7: Rabbi Richard Sternberger, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic region of Union of the American Hebrew Congregation, led the first WSJD Passover Seder. Seventy-five members attended. WSJD members elected the first officers. They were: Ben Estrin, president; Mickey Fields, vice president; Roz Rosen, secretary; Steve Brenner, treasurer; Dorothy Brenner, member at large, and Herbert Dannis. Following the election, there was unanimous agreement that WSJD become an affiliate of the National Congress of Jewish Deaf, which was established in 1956 to foster Judaism in the Jewish Deaf Community nationwide.
February: An informal meeting took place at Gallaudet College (now University) to discuss the new organization’s name. Polly Estrin suggested that it be called “Washington Society of Jewish Deaf,” or WSJD, and the membership approved the new name.
November: A meeting took place at Steve and Dorothy Brenner’s residence to discuss forming a formal organization for the Jewish Deaf. Approximately 25 people agreed to form a permanent Jewish Deaf organization to provide access to Jewish religion, education, and socialization.
Tribute to Steve Brenner
March 23, 1937 - March 23, 2020
Steve Weiner, member of WSJD, presented the Tribute during the first Virtual ASL Shabbat Service held in memory of Steve Brenner and his vision.
Stephen Brenner, fondly known as Steve, was a leader in the Washington Deaf Jewish community and one of the founders of WSJD. However, Steve was much more than that. He did many more things that could easily cover several lifetimes. In addition to being a leader and founder, he was a scientist, engineer, tinkerer, humanitarian, cheerleader, and most importantly, above all, a family man who cherished being a loving husband to Dot, proud father to David (Helaine) and Becky (Alan), and a doting grandpop to his five grandsons.
Steve, with his closest ally and supporter, Dot at his side, served the Deaf community for over 60 years without asking for anything in return. They made the world a better place for each of us, our families, our friends, and everyone else. He was so well respected in every community that he was part of – whether it was the Jewish Deaf community, telecommunications access community, families with deaf members, and the community at large. Above all he believed in successive intergenerational leadership which is reflected in daily Jewish life and festivals.
Steve’s priorities were Hashem, his family, the Jewish Deaf community, and the telecommunications community. Yet, he was always very willing to jump into anything else that would help the Deaf community at any time without being recognized just to ensure that people’s lives were better off than they were the day before!
This is what love and commitment to a better world is all about. Truly, we can say Steve had Tikkun Olam written on the headboard of his bed and his life reflected that: Action in pursuit of equity and social justice.
Steve would urge us to continue the work he started and tell us that this time is an opportunity for us to improve ourselves and the world as we know it. Steve is still with us in loving spirit.