Being able to hear may not be the biggest concern for these 13-year-old twins, but they’re making sure that everyone has the opportunity.
“Respect your elders” is a given for these teens.
Being able to hear may not be the biggest concern for 13-year-old twins Ari and Benjamin Beal, but they’re making sure that everyone has the opportunity to do so.
The two are following in their older brother’s footsteps, 16-year-old Joshua, to install a hearing loop at the Jewish Community Services Building as part of their B’nai Mitzvah project.
Joshua raised more than $9,000 as part of his Bar Mitzvah project in Nyack, N.Y., more than three years ago. The money went for the county’s first hearing loop, which was installed at Temple Beth Torah, where his father, Rabbi Brian Beal, led the congregation.
A hearing loop enhances the quality and ability of hearing aids. Installed under carpeting, the loop sends signals to hearing aids that have a built-in telecoil.
The hearing loop will be added to Room 200 in the building, a place where many senior programs, banquets and events take place. The installation will be completed in September.
“For a hearing aid user, it’s like turning the microphone system into Bluetooth,” Rabbi Beal said. “So anything that’s said into the microphone is as if that person is whispering directly in the ear of the hearing aid user. It goes through the person’s hearing aid using a telecoil, so anyone with a hearing aid who has a telecoil, which is the overwhelming majority of hearing aids that are made these days, providing that the hearing aid dispenser turns on that function, you can access and use the telecoil. It makes the clarity of whatever somebody is saying extremely accessible.”
Without this technology, hearing aid users often pick up a lot of background noises — the clanking of dishes, static, people chattering nearby.
“By the time the sound gets to your ear,” Beal continued, “it’s all commingled with all these sounds and it’s very difficult for someone with hearing aids to hear in a room. If you cut down all of that interference, whatever’s said in the microphone [via a hearing loop] goes directly to your hearing aid and directly to your ear. You’re able to hear as well, if not better than, most people who are not hearing impaired because you don’t have that background distraction.”
Beal, who is filling in part- time at Beth David Reform Congregation while Rabbi Beth Kalisch is on maternity leave, said the hearing loop was incredibly well received at his previous congregation in Nyack.
“I had congregants literally come to me in tears, founding members of the congregation who said they’ve been coming and haven’t been able to hear what was going on for years, and all of a sudden services became accessible to them again; they heard every word, they were able to reconnect,” Beal recalled. “We found out that there were many, many more people who were wearing hearing aids than we had known. The technology has become so good these days and hearing aids have become so small that people who wear hearing aids, most of the time you don’t know it.”
He said it inspired other congregants to reconnect to the synagogue and also get their hearing checked.
The family moved to Philadelphia when Beal’s wife, Naomi Adler, took the position of CEO at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. He hopes the Philadelphia community will react as positively as Nyack did.
“The same thing is going to happen [in Philadelphia],” he added. “People are going to start hearing what they haven’t heard elsewhere before, reconnect with what’s happening in that room. Hopefully they’ll take it back to their synagogues and make what’s taking place in synagogues accessible to many people who haven’t heard what’s happening for a long time.”
That’s what the twins also hope to do.
“Their B’nai Mitzvah was in the [Jewish] Federation building, so they had a temporary hearing loop that was set up in the room where they had their B’nai Mitzvah. But they wanted to have the hearing loop in the building that’s really the central address for the Jewish community of greater Philadelphia,” recalled Beal of their May ceremony.
Room 200 was already set to get new carpet, which decreases the overall installation costs. East Coast Hearing Loops will take a couple days installing the equipment, which Beal estimated totaled $5,000, all of which the three brothers are covering themselves from their B’nai Mitzvah gifts.
Scott Erlbaum, CEO at Floors USA, offered to cover some of the expense of removing and reinstalling sections of the carpet.
“It’s really been inspiring and wonderful,” Beal said. “Benjamin and Ari really picked up from [Joshua’s] inspiration. Part of my rabbinate has been making Judaism accessible to people with disabilities. … To have the kids on their own make it part of their own values and ideals is really incredible.”
But the biggest part of their project is yet to come.
The siblings plan on reaching out to Philadelphia synagogues, presidents and rabbis to make them aware of this technology.
They also hope to inspire other Bar and Bat Mitzvahs to jump on the bandwagon of this project for their own synagogues.
“They really have their eyes set on making this accessible to people in their own synagogues and possibly churches and other houses of worship as well,” Beal added.
Main Line Reform Temple, where they are also members, is considering a hearing loop.
“People with hearing challenges often have similar feelings, and this is why we chose to work on hearing loops as part of our ongoing B’nai Mitzvah project,” Ari said during his D’var Torah at their B’nai Mitzvah in May. “Lots of people have trouble hearing but do not want others to know. We want people to be able to hear in temple without having to wear headsets that everyone can see. This is why our family arranged for a temporary hearing loop to be installed for this service and why we will continue to try to get synagogues in Philadelphia to install a loop. Already we are working on a loop at one synagogue and another here at Jewish Federation, and we hope to have many others on board soon.”
Although these middle schoolers are working hard for their community, it really is a family affair.
“Joshua did such a great job raising so much money for the congregation back in Nyack,” Benjamin said. “We thought that it would be such a tribute to him and how great he did on his project.
“We wanted to not only inspire the [Jewish] Federation, we also wanted to inspire the rest of the community to go forth with this project and help people with disabilities be able to pray as equally without a disability. Our overall goal was to inspire other congregations and houses of worship to consider installing this technology. We are probably going to hold an open house so people can see how the technology works, and we will definitely help other people looking for a Bar Mitzvah project to help raise money for this technology.”
Many of their grandparents, aunts and uncles also have hearing disabilities, so it hit home for them.
“They’ve come to us, especially after High Holy Day services, complaining that they couldn’t hear the entire service, only bits and pieces of it,” Benjamin said. “It was really getting in the way of how they prayed and worshipped.
“Each of us should get an equal opportunity to pray,” he continued. “I feel that everyone should be able to express as much emotion and passion in their prayers as anyone else. Everyone should be able to hear the rabbi and the cantor as well as anyone without a hearing disability can.”
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