“The Second Deaf Rabbi in America” by Hannah Karp

Hannah Karp (age 15)


Shema Yisrael Adonai
Eloheinu Adonai Echad

All your life you knew you wanted to be a rabbi
You wanted to sing and dance and pray
You wanted to engage people in this search for truth.
But you pushed the thought away.
A deaf rabbi? You asked yourself.

Your parents who could not hear
Gave you, their deaf son, the tools to speak
Hearing aids, speech therapy, and soon you could talk

Next, you discovered the metal music that shook your bones.
You found community and faith when you attended concerts
You found God in a mosh pit
Among the freaks and geeks surrounding you, you realized it was OK to be different

You didn’t know if what you experienced were sounds
Or simply vibrations
Either way you were feeling something
Whether you are hearing or deaf
Guides the rhythm of our paths
Gives each step we take somewhere to go

Then March 27th, 2004. The March of the Living.
At the place where Nazis killed one million of us, you knew
You crouched over a pale puddle of water

And you saw your grandparents faded faces, faces of those who had survived
You felt every member of the human race lining up before your heart
And you heard.
You heard this vibrant voice inside of you that said it’s time to go home.

When you tried to take Hebrew classes
Tried to learn the archaic symbols and shapes that define Jewish prayer
They said, “I’m sorry, we don’t offer classes for people like you,”
And now you stand on the platform at the front of the sanctuary
Polished wood against shiny black dress shoes
You face your fellow human beings
Now you are the second deaf rabbi in America.
You tell us that religion is about taking strangers into your arms
You thank the interfaith couples for giving you their children because
There aren’t many of us left.
You start each service with a declaration of love for
All skin colors, all abilities and disabilities, all sexual orientations
Everyone you meet you greet with a smile.
It doesn’t matter what bad things they’ve done, what they haven’t overcome
To you the idea of people itself is beautiful.

God is when you tuck your children into bed at night and
Put up your thumb, index finger and pinky, the sign for love
You teach us about the words on the page but also
The night sky, the rushing water, melting snow, and sunlight
We have Torah study sessions, but we also have services outside
Nights where we just admire the stars and the moon
You teach the congregation how to say “the Shema”
In sign language
You smile as you watch the children spread out their arms
The sign for God, for Adonai

You’ve never heard what the Shema sounds like
Only the suppressed muffle of inaudible speechlessness
Mute sounds of harmonic echoes
Silence’s dazed imitation of unified speech

But I know you can feel the energy of the ancient words dancing inside of you
You can sense a culture, a people, so old yet still standing strong
You know the feeling of hundreds of people declaring their love
You know the satisfying silence of
Every person standing in front of their metal folding chairs
Facing the golden eternal lamp, the flame that is always burning
All thinking the same blessed thought in unison

Shema Yisrael Adonai
Eloheinu Adonai Echad

from 2017 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Hannah Karp: “Through writing poetry, I am able to understand the world and myself more deeply, creating connection with both the natural world and the people that it contains. I write because there is no feeling more powerful than when you are able to capture a piece of yourself on the page and share it with those around you. Writing poetry empowers me to bridge differences, foster empathy and bring people together.”

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