||Miriam Hearing Sister
Miriam Zadek shares her story in this memoir that documents her experiences growing up in a New York Jewish family with both deaf and hearing members from the 1930s through World War II and beyond. Her story is personal and reflective, revealing the sometimes complex and heart-rending dynamics within her family and her community. Through brief and evocative vignettes, Zadek relates her memories of family life, capturing the innocence of childhood, the confusion of adolescence, and then progressing through adulthood. Her recollections evolve from a childlike observance to awareness, pain, and understanding as she matures. Throughout this journey, the author presents a narrative of historical and cultural importance centered on her personal account of the lives of deaf and hearing Jewish people in the mid-twentieth century.
The prevailing ideological movements of the time permeate her family life. Zadek reveals the traumatic impact of eugenics and the fears surrounding the genetic transmission of deafness. She considers the effects of adhering to the oral method of communication in her home when sign language could have given her family the ability to interact with each other more fully. In this environment, Zadek became an astute communicator and learned to adapt to both the hearing and the deaf world, where she was known as “Miriam Hearing Sister.” Her memoir is an elegant literary work that offers an understanding of how biases and stigmas resonate and evolve, and it showcases her loving family of strong women who pushed against stereotypes and have thrived across generations.
Miriam Zadek is a recipient of the Maryland Governor’s Service Lifetime Achievement Award, given in recognition of her more than forty years of service to deaf and hard of hearing individuals, their families, and others seeking communication access resources. She is the founder of Maryland’s only nonprofit American Sign Language interpreting referral agency, as well as the Zadek Family Education Program. She served on the board of the Hearing and Speech Agency (HASA) of Metropolitan Baltimore and most recently was appointed to the HASA President’s Advisory Board. Zadek’s philanthropic impact includes an endowment at Columbia University’s School of Social Work that supports the graduate work of deaf students, or students who are preparing to work with deaf and disabled people.