Contact Us

Silent Music: Teaching Our Deaf Children

Silent Music: Teaching Our Deaf Children

 Email

Editor’s Note: We have retained the correct spelling of the names of the individuals in this article, although it is not consistent with our site’s spelling.

Many mothers of special-needs children have learned that happiness is a choice, that they can “create” joy in their homes. When life hands these extraordinary women seemingly insurmountable challenges, they focus on the positive. By stressing what they and their children can do, rather than dwelling on limitations, they succeed in building vibrant, loving homes. That’s the case with Khana Globman, a mother and grandmother living in Philadelphia.

Khana already had three hearing children when she gave birth to a deaf son, Mordekhai. “There was absolutely no deafness in our families on both sides—we’d never even met any deaf people.” After Mordechai, Khana Khana already had three hearing children when she gave birth to a deaf sonhad twin boys who were also deaf. Khana next had a hearing son, followed by her youngest son, Yossi, who was profoundly deaf, then a hearing daughter.

“My son Mordekhai took it very hard,” Khana recalls of Yossi’s birth. “He cried and cried, ‘Why did G‑d give us another deaf child?’ I said to him, ‘Where else should this baby should have gone? We already know sign language; we’re ready for him!’”

Whereas other mothers might have seen only negative, Khana remembers those years as full of positives. “Babies can learn sign language much more quickly than they can learn to speak. This is a gift that G‑d has given them—using their hands more quickly.” By the time Yossi was born, Khana’s entire family could sign, and he was much less frustrated than his older siblings had been.

She enrolled her children in a school for the deaf near their house. “The first time I went to the school for the deaf, it was very frightening to me. Kids made guttural sounds. I thought, Is this going to be my kids, not talking?” She soon got used to the atmosphere, though, and encouraged her children to speak as well as sign.

After some anti-Semitic teasing in their local deaf school, Khana enrolled her children in a Jewish boys’ school. Mordekhai went first; Khana and her husband had to convince the school’s principal that their son could be mainstreamed. Two years later the twins enrolled in the Jewish school, and three years after that, Yossi joined them. Their district could provide a sign-language interpreter for English language subjects, but no interpreters for Hebrew could be found. So, Khana took the matter into her own hands—literally. For years she went to school each day with her sons and acted as their shadow in class.

Khana took the matter into her own hands—literally

“I had to take Talmud,” Khana remembers, “which went totally over my head. It was definitely a challenge for me, and it was hard for them to have their mother in the classroom. But they were grateful. My youngest daughter was two when I started interpreting, so I brought her with; she played with the preschool kids while I worked.”

Khana says she’s lucky. Throughout her life, she explains, she seems to have been given precisely the tools she needs to meet her challenges. When she was in her 20s, for instance, Khana completed an M.A. in English, then went on for a Ph.D. She was studying in Israel at the time, however, and soon decided it was absurd to study English in a Hebrew program. She stopped her doctoral studies and took a job teaching English as a Second Language, which she felt was a more practical option in a foreign country. Years later, she was able to use these teaching skills to help her sons. “It was such a siyata d’Shemaya,” Khana says, using the Jewish expression for “a blessing from the heavens.”

Another “tool” Khana was given was getting involved with the Philadelphia branch of P’TACH, Parents for Torah for All Children, which helps provide educational resources for children with special needs. Khana originally got involved because a neighbor’s child had learning challenges, and Khana wanted to help.

But Khana soon found that there were very few resources for deaf children in her local Jewish community. A visit to New York for a deaf families’ weekend convinced her she needed to create her own resources back home in Philadelphia. “The first time we went [to a weekend for the deaf], Mordekhai saw an older man with a yarmulke and hearing aids, and he went and pointed. Then he came back to me—he saw it was normal, that there were people who looked like him.” Khana eventually became president of P’TACH and expanded its activities to aid a wide range of children, providing resources for special needs children’s schools.

Life continued to be full of challenges. Two of her deaf children thrived, marrying and having children, Life continued to be full of challengeswhile two are still struggling to find their way. Worse still, Khana’s oldest son was involved in a serious bus accident when he was nineteen, and he sustained severe traumatic brain injury.

“I was told he’d never walk again, never talk, never see, never hear,” Khana says. “But thank G‑d.” What is there to be grateful for in such a tragedy? Khana is clear: his prognosis wasn’t quite as bad as the doctors first feared. “He’s still here,” Khana says. “Everybody is important, everybody has value. And he’s a functioning human being.” For that, she is profoundly thankful.

Today, Khana still works with special-needs children and serves as president of P’TACH. And she still sees everything that has happened to her and her children as a blessing. “G‑d gave me this challenge. He could have given me many other kinds of children. But this was something we could work with! I’ve grown tremendously as a result.”

Yvette Alt Miller, Ph.D., is a mother and adjunct professor of political science living in Chicago. She is the author of Angels at the Table: A Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat (Continuum, 2011).
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
3 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Dian Thompson Jamaica November 13, 2013

THis was really inspirational. I am a teacher of the deaf and I am really passionate about this gift that G-d has given to me. This story has shown me that we are never to quit even though it can become overwhelming at times. Continue sharing these wonderful stories, they are really inspirational and encouraging. Shalom Reply

DRB Wellington, FLA November 12, 2013

One can always learn..... Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece...one can always learn that life will always have challanges for each of us...and growing and learning to incorporate them into our lives with a positive attitude is a must.

What an inspiration this family sets for us...we can all learn alot about everyday life and Judiaism here.

Thank you so much for sharing....and always looking forward. Reply

Anonymous November 10, 2013

Thank you for sharing this story, it was encouraging.
I am trained as a teacher also, now helping my son who has no speech at all due to his condition, although he can hear. I feel as though he has taught me more than I can ever teach him over the years. He wakes with a big smile every morning, and everyday is a new day. There is no yesterday or tomorrow , but only today, right now.
I hope that I will be able to contribute to the world like Khana has , through what I learn. Reply