Kerem Shalom is proud to announce that the congregation’s rabbi, Darby Leigh, is the second author of the chapter, “Religion and Deaf Identities” in the newly released “Deaf Identities: Exploring New Frontiers.” The book, by Dr. Irene Leigh, Darby Leigh’s mother, and Dr. Catherine O’Brien, offers an academic, multicultural perspective on D/deaf identities and experiences.

Rabbi Leigh was the perfect expert to offer the Jewish viewpoint for the book—he is one of few D/deaf rabbis in the world. As an expert in Torah who has traveled extensively teaching Torah analysis, he could offer the full analysis of moving in D/deaf and non-deaf religious worlds.

Medical advances identified Leigh’s deafness as an infant, making him part of the first generation to receive intervention and hearing aids at such a young age. He is an eloquent verbal (English and Hebrew) and American Sign Language (ASL) communicator, and he is an expert lip reader.

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Leigh received a bachelor’s in religion summa cum laude from the University of Rochester. He then toured with the National Theater of the Deaf and served as a social worker and counselor at the New York Society for the Deaf. Leigh earned a master’s in religion from Columbia University and his rabbinic ordination and an MAHL from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

Soon after Leigh became rabbi at Kerem Shalom, congregants showed interest in learning ASL. The first class was introduced about four years ago and was popular with both members and individuals from the greater community. When congregants expressed a deep interest in the ASL community and culture after completing the first semester, Leigh introduced the idea of an ASL choir.

The unique choir meets with Leigh to select songs and prayers they wish to share at Kerem Shalom services. “I am particularly proud that we translate as a group from Hebrew into ASL,” shares Leigh. “We think about meaning, intent and physical expression. And then we get together and rehearse.” With the rabbi conducting, the ASL choir debuts their newest pieces at High Holy Day services in the fall and then offers their pieces at select services throughout the year. Watching the choir, accompanied by cantorial soloist Rosalie Gerut, is a truly moving and spiritual experience.

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