Humans of Hebrew College Creating a Braille Torah

By Hebrew College
Leonard-and-Michael-Sarko

Michael: My father, Lenny Sarko and I have been doing Jewish study and work together for a long time. We studied Talmud together when I was an undergrad at Ohio State, and I participated in the havurah/startup synagogue called Am Brit that he helped found in Columbus, Ohio, in addition to many, less formal experiences. Right now, we’re collaborating on a Braille Torah Project, which is in its early stages.

Lenny: My interest in creating a braille sefer scroll began when I had some vision issues in one eye due to Type II diabetes some years ago. I began to learn braille as a way to continue my love of reading, if there should be a day when I lose my eyesight. My rabbinic leanings taught me to question what was available for the Jewish blind and visually impaired and that eventually led me to this project. By creating a braille sefer scroll, we can include Jewish blind and visually impaired people in congregation Torah reading.

Michael: My focus right now is on learning English braille, then Hebrew braille. I will need to be conversant on the specifics of braille reading and writing, especially if I create any education materials to assist clients in using the braille Torah.

Lenny: Our approach is to create a braille sefer scroll using as much standard methodology as is reasonable – from a scribe who knows Hebrew and Braille to maintain oversight and check columns, choice of klaf (parchment) and thread connecting klaf pages, number of columns (we need 239), to consideration of column size, scroll size and notation of letter size variance, and construction of non-steel slates and stylus needed for the Hebrew braille dot creation. (Interestingly, Hebrew braille is actually read left to right.) I also have worked on gathering statistics for the number of blind and visually impaired non-Orthodox Jews in the U.S. to calculate that we would need 200 scrolls to meet the needs of congregations requesting them for a specific Shabbat.

Michael: I am finding that the language and methodology I learned in the Encountering Neurodiversity course I took at Hebrew College in my Master of Jewish Education program have been valuable tools for this Braille Torah project. Inspired by one of my own students, a girl with severe hearing loss, I did multiple projects around the question of how to accommodate students with different degrees of hearing loss. While the specifics are different, the core mindfulness necessary for accommodating students with vision impairment is the same.

(Michael Sarko received his Master’s in Jewish Education from Hebrew College in 2018. To learn more about the Braille Torah Project, contact Lenny Sarko.

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