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Hearing loss advocacy makes for a wonderful trip to Israel

Sound Advice by Ruth D. Bernstein

At the Wall in Jerusalem

At the Wall in Jerusalem.

I went to visit my friend Cynthia in Israel a few weeks ago. Cynthia and I met in 1982, when I was working for the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in New York and she was working at the Keren Kayemeth, the Jerusalem home office for JNF across the world. Management decided to take the Directors of the JNF USA offices to Israel because many of them had never seen the projects they were promoting. Under the supervision of our bosses, Cynthia and I arranged the itinerary for the trip, using fax machines to communicate. We met face to face for the first time in Jerusalem and have been good friends ever since.

The trip started inauspiciously when my El AL flight was delayed five hours at JFK. When we finally got around to boarding, I was in the first group on the plane because I identified myself as a passenger with hearing loss to the staff at the check-in desk. I told the flight attendant in my section of the plane I had a hearing loss. She informed staff, who made the effort to communicate with me by speaking directly to me. The El Al preflight video is in Hebrew with English captions and English with Hebrew captions. No problem there!

Jerusalem Old City skyline.

Jerusalem Old City skyline.

It was midnight when we took off for the ten-hour flight. Outside of being woken up at 1:30 AM and asked if I wanted dinner, to which I said a grumpy “go away,” the trip was uneventful. I did not watch movies but read a book on my iPad and slept intermittently. We were not allowed to use smart phones because they interfere with the flight system used by the pilots. The plane landed at Ben Gurion, Israel’s international airport, at 5 PM. I went through Passport Control, where my passport was photographed and I was a given a photo “ticket” to put through the security scanner, collected my suitcase, met Cynthia, shared a huge hug and went home with her.

Sights and sounds of Israel

The next morning, Cynthia and I joined a group she had organized. We all took the commuter train and enjoyed a fascinating visit to Tel Aviv University’s I. Meier Segals Garden for Zoological Research, “a unique wildlife research facility that also advances conservation and education issues. The zoo is the only one of its kind in the world to be devoted exclusively to research on indigenous Middle Eastern animals, with findings helping to improve the quality of life of animals both in captivity and in the wild.”

Ticket and information desk at the train station.

Ticket and information desk at the train station.

I was pleased to see the hearing access logo at the train station’s ticket and information desk. Every seat on the train had electric plugs above the windows. Israelis are wedded to their cell phones and computers and don’t go any where without them.

In addition to the zoo, Cynthia and I visited the Old City, The Wall and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which has an assistive listening system as does the Rabin Center near Tel Aviv University.

Hearing loss advocacy at work

I was not surprised by the presence of hearing assistive technology at the places I visited. It represents the passion and hard work of Professor Jerry Reichstein, a former staff member at the Center for Hearing and Communication (then known as the League), who moved to Israel many years ago. In addition to his other work, he was the founder of Bekol, the Israeli hearing loss advocacy organization. As Travel Chair of advocates for better communication/ a.b.c., I had the pleasure of working with Professor Reichstein, writing and producing a brochure about hearing access for the Israeli hotel industry, which he published and distributed. You can learn more about Professor Reichstein’s accomplishments in a 2013 issue of the IFHOH Journal (page 13).

I’ve made many trips to Israel over the years, the first for the Bar Mitzvah of my eldest son at the Wall in January, 1970. This time, I stayed ten days and enjoyed every minute, as I always do. The history, enthusiasm for life, beauty of the country and ready hearing access, as well as the gracious, loving hospitality of my friend Cynthia, are good reasons for me to return soon!

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