"It is my hope that we will all love and guard our beautiful sign language as the noblest gift G-d has given to deaf people."
This was signed by George W. Veditz in his classic The Preservation of the Sign Language, a film made in 1913 in ASL. Veditz was one of the National Association of the Deaf's most prominent presidents, and he was committed to the preservation of sign language in an era when it was increasingly becoming unacceptable.
Languages are one of the tools of humankind. When we use language correctly, we reach a level higher than we would have attained previously. Just as we create tools in order to accomplish something, so too does language serve that goal.
Sign language has indeed been one of the most amazing developments in the deaf community. Because of sign language, countless deaf people over the centuries have been able to share their thoughts and emotions as never before. Sign language comes naturally to those who have no other option but to rely on their hands, and not their mouth and ears. It has given expression to what had once been constrained.
But Veditz says something very important that many of us may have overlooked.
He said that we should love sign language. Is that all? No. He also said that we should guard it.
It is not enough that we should appreciate and take advantage of the "noblest gift G-d has given to deaf people." We also have to guard this gift.
As with everything, there is a benefit and there is a shortcoming.
Money is one of the most famous examples of a gift that must be carefully used. We can use money, or we can allow money to use us. If we are careful to spend money in a way that only benefits, such as giving to charity or supporting a family, then we are using money the way it was meant to be. But when we go shopping everyday in an endless quest to find the latest gadget for the kitchen, or when we spend many hours on overtime at the workplace at the expense of family time . . . we are allowing our desire of money to control our lives.
So too it is with sign language. As Veditz said, "It is my hope that we will all . . . guard our beautiful sign language." We should be sure to guard sign language so that it is always used for the benefit of humankind.
How do we guard a language?
As mentioned above, tools of humankind are used in order to enhance one's life. They are the vehicles used in attaining higher levels.
So perhaps this is what sign language should accomplish: it should enable us to grow and become better human beings. Furthermore, it should help us to become better Jewish deaf people. This goal is something that we should guard.
The infinite wisdom and knowledge contained in Judaism is only now becoming more available in sign language, be it through interpreted lectures, Jewish deaf events, or videos on Jewish Deaf Multimedia. Today, our opportunities for growth within Judaism as deaf Jews are constantly increasing.
It is up to us to choose whether or not we want to guard our language.