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Helen Keller Travelled to Israel to Work with the Jewish Institute for the Blind

I Learn as Much as My Son from Helping With His Homework

By: Daniel Horowitz
Published: March 13th, 2013 in News » World
I’ve often had supposed “friends” mock me who, at age 52, is the father to an almost-eight-year-old, and a recently turned four-year-old.

“They keep me young,” I implore those who tell me (brag, actually) ad nauseum that their own sons or daughters are about to be married or are expecting children of their own.

It is not a cliché. I know it sounds as if I’m rationalizing my relatively late entry into the world of fatherhood, but it’s true. They keep me young. When they witness something with their eyes for the first time, be it a hockey game, a snowfall or a movie, it’s as if I, too, am experiencing that joy again, as I did with my parents decades ago.

And, when it comes to learning, I find that when I help my son Eli with his homework, I benefit from it as much – if not more than – him.

Not only are some of long-lost Hebrew language writing skills coming back to me, but I continue to learn things that I didn’t know before – or, perhaps did, but have since long forgotten.

For example, for some reason I grew up believing that Helen Keller – the prolific American author, political activist, and lecturer, and the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts – was Jewish.In fact, Keller, who was born in 1880 and passed away in 1968,overcame the Herculean adversity of being blind and deaf to become one of the 20th century's leading humanitarians,

But, after helping Eli research his English homework earlier this week, I realized that Keller – the subject of the extraordinary film “The Miracle Worker”, was not a Jew, but she had some very strong connections to the Jewish world.

For those of you unaware of her heroic life, Helen lost her hearing and sight at 19 months as the result of a fever, yet, she ultimately become perhaps the most influential crusader for individuals who are hearing and visually impaired.

So, why did I think this remarkable woman was Jewish?

Probably because Keller - a religious Swedenborgian (a small Christian denomination) - visited Israel shortly after its establishment, as part of her ongoing and passionate mandate of raising awareness and promoting equal rights for the disabled.

During a 2010 display called “Helen Keller: A Daring Adventure,” at New York City’s American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) where Keller worked for 44 years, Keller’s largely unknown involvement with Jewish and Israeli communities was made very public.

During her visit to the Jewish state, Keller met with, among others, Golda Meir, then Israel’s Minster of Labour, and worked with the Jewish Institute for the Blind.

A photo of her and Meir was displayed in the exhibit. The foundation also showed letters the two ladies wrote to each other long after their initial meeting.

According to Helen Selsdon, AFB’s archivist, one of the display’s most profound Keller piece was a letter she wrote to the Student Body of Germany in 1933, shortly after German universities burned a book she wrote on socialism, along with countless others that challenged Nazi Germany’s ideas. In the letter, which was part of an exhibit in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Keller wrote, “History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas…. Do not imagine your barbarities to the Jews are unknown here. God sleepeth not, and He will visit His Judgment upon you.”

So, while this remarkable woman was not Jewish, her contributions to Jews dealing with the same challenges she once overcame, continue long after her death.

Related articles: Helen Keller, Israel, Jewish Institute for the Blind, Golda Meir, The Miracle Worker
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