There was a beautiful woman called Jana Orbach who was deaf in one ear and almost deaf in the other. She was born completely deaf in her left ear and her hearing was slowly deteriorating (as is for all of us) in the other.
There is a very handsome and very tall man whose name is Menachem Orbach, who was born with two perfectly functioning ears, but, following a surgical procedure to cure his meningitis at 10 months old, his hearing was completely lost. Menachem is, in fact, as deaf as a deaf man could be. To illustrate his inability to hear, I could say that if you turn on your stereo and turn the volume as high as possible, he still won’t hear it.
Jana and Menachem are two people who made love sometimes in the late Autumn of 1984 and begat, doting and dazzled by their infant, the person who wrote these words, on the 28th of August, 1985.
Mom said it was an easy delivery.
I am Jana and Menachem’s second-born (to be followed by no other offspring), and my name is Shai Orbach. As a son of a deaf father and a hard-of-hearing mother, I proudly title myself as CODA, a child of deaf adults. Because my particular “CODA-ness” is a bit intricate (it’s not just “two deaf parents”, the hearing loss is not genetic, etc.) , I have chosen to begin this article in this fashion. From now on, I will focus mainly on what it was like to be an Israeli CODA, and what it is like, in general, to be a child of deaf adults.
As a short clarification of why it is that I chose to write of my parents in this manner, it is fit to mention that my mother passed away last April (April 1st, 2007), on the very same day I completed my 3 years-long IDF military service.
It is hard for me to recollect much of what it was like being a young (infant, toddler, and eventually, boy) CODA. As an infant, I know as I was told by my grandmother and other family members that I was a quiet infant, crying very little and all-in-all, giving my two parents a good deal of serenity as is possible for any parent with a very young child.
My parents, at first, did not sign to me much, and rather chose (I would bet, due to family pressure for being “normal”), to communicate with me using their voices. This was not a big problem for mother, who was hard-of-hearing, and if I yelled really hard (even that eventually stopped working), she noticed that I’m calling her name. I did, however, know sign-language enough for very simple conversation, so the reason my sign-language today is fluent (and is enough for me to use it for interpreting) is because I was exposed to ISL (Israeli Sign Language) from a very early age.
It is, unfortunately, also important to point out that the fact that mom and dad chose not to teach me ISL caused a major communicational barrier between them and myself until young teenage, in which I began teaching myself the “missing words” in my vocabulary.
Regardless of the daily communicational hurdles my folks and I had to overcome, we, that is, my sister Keren, myself, Shai, my father, Menachem, and my mother, Jana, were a rather happy, rather normal family.
The most “not normal” thing about my family, and notably the only thing outstanding in our family (in a country with a huge variety of sub-cultures and customs) is the fact that we were, in plain terms, Deaf.
I consider myself and my sister, with our perfectly functioning ears, to be Deaf. The capitalization of the word Deaf in this instance is not a bizarre typo. I distinguish between a person who cannot hear or interpret voices into meaningful units of speech (words) as “deaf“.(this is not my idea, but I can’t recollect to whom the credit for this usage belongs to)
This, of course, is opposed to a person who belongs to the subculture of the Deaf. One might be Deaf even if he/she is completely without any disability, or, for all intents and purposes, armless, legless, blind, and anosmic.
I was Deaf ever since I was born. I was climbing chairs as a little ankle-biter during deaf-parties, utterly silent excepting a roar of laughter or a sharp intake of breath, and, of course, the “tsk-tsk” noises often made by signers who use their lips simultaneously (as far as I know, the most common of all deaf people).
Due to the fact that I signed very little, and hence spoke very little to my parents, I was a very, almost pathologically quiet young boy. At one instance, I was examined by a psychiatrist who merely stated that I’m “gifted”, an ego-booster that members of my family mention quite often. At this point, I wish to say that if I am gifted in any way, I would like someone to ruthlessly pinpoint what that gift is, as I’ve been wondering all my life whether there really is a gift I possess. (Off-topic, the meaning of the name Shai in Hebrew is “gift”. Usually a small, unremarkable gift, but a gift, nevertheless J )
Being a CODA is a huge, tiring, heart-tearing, emotionally-exhausting responsibility. A deaf parent should have a right, as any, to bear children and care for them, and, this I say of personal experience, have them well-bred as any other parent (and perhaps even better so).
But deaf parents must also be aware that their CODA offspring will endure the yoke of CODA at all time. This yoke is the ever-renewing “CODA task” that must be fulfilled. As young children, Keren and I learnt very quickly how to deal with bankers, technicians, correspondents, mailmen, neighbors, plumbers, etc. Needless to say, as two children who could barely sign, it was a bit short of a nightmare. But somehow, we fared through it. Keren managed most of the CODA work (but not all of it!) until I became a bit older. Then, at a critical point in every Israeli person’s life, Keren joined the IDF, which leads me to the next chapter of my CODA experience: Teenage.
By my teens, doing CODA-work was something that Keren and I did somewhat alternately (with, I must admit, a bias towards Keren, older and more experienced).
When I was about 15 years old, Keren joined the IDF. I’m not exactly sure of the exact time when this actually happened, but at this point, it basically meant that at a time where “CODA-work” was plentiful, I was all-alone with two deaf parents. At this time, I decided it would be impossible to be their advocate without exquisite fluency in sign-language, and so, in about 3 months, I turned from an illiterate, mostly “lipping” CODA to a full-fledged ISL interpreter for both my mother and father, who, now older and more prone to medical care, daily required my help.
To explain what this period was like, I wish to introduce a term that I’m not sure exists in ASL (or in any other sign language that readers of this post might be using). In ISL, there is a word for “dad”, and a word for “mom”. The word for “parents” is, actually, a compound of these two words. Of this came the word between Keren and me, who, instead of calling them “the parents” (that’s the “Hebrew way of saying it”) –”momdad” (aba-ima in Hebrew).
So, as a lone CODA with a fresh (and ever sharpening) sign language, I became the mediator between my dad and the salesperson. I became the words in the mouth of the man on the phone, and my hands became the conduit for my mother’s part in the conversation.
I received, then, what I viewed and still view as the most noble of professions:
I became an interpreter.
To father, this was mainly dealing with the hurly-burly of his daily life. He dragged me down to all sorts of places.
To mother, to the very (painful) end, I became the man between her and the doctor. I signed words like “feces” and “menstrual blood” (at times in which I wasn’t exactly sure what these things were, but still knew how to sign). I took her to a myriad of clinics and hospitals to be examined and treated by a myriad of doctors, and have prescribed a myriad of medicine.
My mother, blessed forever be her indulgent name, was an ill woman. She became ill sometime during my early teens, I’m not sure which came first, the liver cirrhosis or the diabetes, but these two sufficed to create another (huge) responsibility for Keren and I: caretakers. We monitored her sugar-blood levels, and quite often accompanied her for the most meager of undertakings, and not, as it were, for “interpretation jobs”
TO BE CONTINUED…