Picture this: You are dealing with significant stress, and you enter your chosen house of worship, eager to enjoy a meaningful worship experience. Instead, you find yourself struggling to hear enough to make sense of what is being said and sung. You leave more exhausted and stressed than you were when you walked in.
Sadly, this disappointment is routine for the 48 million Americans struggling with life-altering hearing loss. “Missing worship” is a primary frustration experienced by hard-of-hearing Americans of all ages. As one area member of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) put it, “It’s ironic that, when you most need a supportive worship community to help deal with your deafness, you feel most shut-out. The basic design of most sanctuaries makes them echoing architectural nightmares for people with hearing loss.”
Until recently, concerned congregations had no truly effective options for helping hard-of-hearing members and guests. As Katherine Bouton made clear in her national best-seller, Shouting Won’t Help, increasing the volume of sanctuary loudspeakers does not significantly improve hearing. The issue is clarity, not loudness.
During the past two years, however, congregations across America have been taking advantage of new “hearing loop” technology which, at its best, can offer hard-of-hearing congregants “20/20 hearing.” This technology uses a loop of wire, installed in the sanctuary, that transmits the output of the sound system to telecoils (or “t-coils”) implanted in most current hearing aids and/or Bluetooth streamers. When the hearing-aid wearer is sitting in the “looped” portion of the sanctuary, the telecoil functions as a wireless antenna that filters out other noise and delivers clarified sound from the sanctuary microphone directly to the listener.
The Flemington Jewish Community Center (FJCC), Hunterdon County’s Conservative Jewish congregation, recently completed the successful installation of such a “hearing loop” around the pews in its sanctuary.
Catherine O’Shea who, along with her husband, Art Wetstein, is a member of the FJCC, is also a hard-of-hearing volunteer and an active member of HLAA. Last summer she shared information on hearing loops with FJCC leaders, including Michael Wolf, a former president of the synagogue. He is a pharmacist but has become well versed in sound-system technology through his avocation as a musician. After agreeing to organize and oversee the loop installation, Dr. Wolf recruited a team consisting of FJCC members Keith Gerstein, Nathan Lefko, Daniel Wasserman, and Adam Wolf. Together, the team managed to install the loop in time for the recent Jewish High Holy Day services. A special gift to the FJCC covered the cost of the looping.
Hard-of-hearing members of the congregation reported that the loop made “all the difference” in their ability to fully participate in High Holy Day services. The loop has been so enthusiastically received that Dr. Mindy Engle-Friedman, president of the FJCC Board, has announced plans to loop the synagogue’s main meeting room as well.
Concerned members of other congregations who would like further information on looping options may contact Catherine O’Shea in care of the office, Flemington Jewish Community Center, 5 Sergeantsville Road, Flemington, NJ 08822.