JERUSALEM — SignTalk Foundation, a US-based nonprofit that advances public awareness of the signing community, celebrated the international launching of its online social network, SignTalkers, in Jerusalem on  May 20, with a signed performance by New York based poet and performer Douglas Ridloff.

“SignTalkers gives members of the signing community, both the hearing and deaf, a space for thoughtful conversation,” said Dr. Joseph Geliebter, founder and executive director of SignTalk Foundation.

The virtual space, he said, “will serve to provide a home away from home to meet, share and interact with members of the signing community around the world.”  A member of the deaf community, Ridloff traveled to Israel to kick off the launch and present a series of workshops and performances around the country.

He is best known as the executive director of ASL Slam, as well as for his poetry via sign language and visual storytelling presentations.  “SignTalkers goal is to build an online home where international members of the signing community can come together,” said Geliebter.

“It will also provide a platform for the general public to embrace sign language and ensure that the deaf are afforded equal access and benefit from culture, media and overall society.”

The program was co-sponsored by the International Young Israel Movement, which is involved with programming and support of the Israeli deaf community.   Ridloff visited with several Israeli organizations and schools, meeting deaf children, artists and theatrical performers, including performers with the Na LaGa’at Theater group.

He plans to tour with the Deaf Sports Assn. and the Holon Children’s Museum, which includes an exhibit that replicates the experience of the hard of hearing, and will present a workshop to athletes.  He participated in a Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebration for 80 deaf and hard-of-hearing children from throughout Israel.

The ceremony and visit to the Western Wall were presented in sign language, and are the culmination of a year of programming specially designed for them.  Daniel Meyer, executive director of IYIM, noted that “the message of this ceremony is that every child in Israel deserves to be counted and to celebrate in a way that respects their specific needs and interests.

“Deaf children need to know that they are able to experience this coming-of-age experience the same way as every other child in Israel.  “Having Mr. Ridloff join as a role model for these children is the icing on their Bar and Bat Mitzvah cake.”

Jewish Agency chair Isaac Herzog, who attended the ceremony said, “Each and every one of us remembers our Bar or Bat Mitzvah for all our lives. For many years, the Jewish Agency has partnered with the Young Israel movement to help bring this tradition to the hearing-impaired community, who are unable to enjoy this experience like others their ages.

“This ceremony is therefore a deeply emotional one for all of us — and their parents, in particular — and I welcome this opportunity to wish all of those celebrating a big mazal tov.”