At the Deaf Nation World Expo (an international convention for over 30,000 deaf people) last week, I met a fellow from Finland: Kimmo L.

I noticed him as soon as he approached our booth. Tall and thin with overflowing hair, he did not strike me as Jewish, but when he began to share his story, it became clear that I was quite wrong.

"I am one of three Jewish deaf people in the entire country of Finland," he explained in American Sign Language (yes, there are different sign languages for different countries). "When I was eight, my mother told me I was Jewish, and ever since then I have been interested in the religion." And interested he was. He told me that he had taken courses in biblical and modern Hebrew at his university, in an attempt to learn more about his people and their language.

So right then and there I offered to help him put on tefillin. His reaction was quite touching. “Absolutely!” he said, “I have studied the meaning of tefillin for a while now, and when I visited Israel other people offered to help me put them on, but I always said no. I never felt comfortable, because of the language barrier. They didn't know sign language, and I felt awkward speaking with them. But you - a deaf person - are the perfect person for the job! For you, I am absolutely going to put on tefillin.” And with that, he rolled up his sleeve.

You see, there is a bond that deaf people share. It breaks through barriers, extends past boundaries, and binds people together. And when these deaf people are also Jewish, the bond is even stronger. Kimmo may hail from exotic Finland and I from America, but as I wrapped the straps of the tefillin, we both felt how important it is to be able to relate to your fellow Jew on a personal level. He had said no to many enthusiastic tefillin-wrappers before me, but when we were able to identify with each other, he finally got his opportunity to say yes.

Through Kimmo, I discovered that to really impact a fellow Jew you have to communicate in his or her language. And a language does not necessarily refer to a language of words; it can also mean a language of understanding.