The National Congress of Jewish Deaf (NCJD) was established in 1956 by Jewish Deaf leaders in New York City who realized the need for Jewish Deaf groups to join together to foster Judaism on a national level in their community. The leaders formed a committee and elected a chairman, Philip Hanover and a secretary, Harold Steinman, to plan a national convention. They decided to call it `The National Convention of the Jewish Deaf.” The New York Hebrew. Association of the Deaf agreed to be the sponsor, and Mrs. Anna Plapinger loaned money to finance it.
The first convention was held at the Hotel Manhattan Towers in New York City and was considered a great success. In addition to the New York Hebrew Association of the Deaf, other founding organizations represented at this first meeting were Chicago Hebrew Association of the Deaf (now known as Congregation Bene Shalom), Cleveland Hebrew Association of the Deaf, and Philadelphia Hebrew Association of the Deaf. The first governing body was voted in with Philip Hanover as president; Leonard Warshawsky, vice president; Shirley Lerner, secretary; and Anna Plapinger, treasurer. The Philadelphia Hebrew Association of the Deaf was awarded the honor of hosting the second gathering in 1958. At the second convention in Atlantic City, N.J., a constitution and bylaws were approved, and a new name, The National Congress of Jewish Deaf (NCJD), was adopted.
In 1988, the NCJD Board discovered that the organization had 501(C)(4) status. Alan Hurwitz, the vice president for administration in the NCJD in 1988, explained, “Our NPO (not for profit) attorney discovered it and recommended that we change to 501(C)(3) in order to qualify for tax exemption and grant applications. When he realized that the NCJD books were not in order, he recommended that we form a separate organization which subsequently became a new organization, Jewish Deaf Congress (JDC).”
In 1990, Hurwitz set up a new 501(C)(3) organization under the name Jewish Deaf Congress (JDC). The General Assembly at the 1994 NCJD Convention in Toronto, Canada, voted to pursue the concept of a single organization which would preserve NCJD’s heritage by officially recognizing the JDC as an outgrowth of the NCJD. This was completed in 1996 and assets and bylaws of the NCJD were officially transferred to the JDC.
The first official NCJD Convention was held in 1956 in New York. In the beginning, these gatherings were held in even years, but as so many Deaf organizations held major events in even years, it was decided in 1998 that future events would be during odd years, starting in 2001. Just prior to that, in 1997, the J DC Board voted to change the name of its biennial gatherings from “Convention” to “Conference.” Highlights of NCJD/JDC Conferences include workshops, the Miss NCJD/JDC pageant, a Shabbat dinner with an awards ceremony, and the election of a national board of directors.
Past conventions had a delegates meeting where representatives from affiliate organizations would make a report of what was going on with their organization and bring up any issues they wanted the NCJD to help with. This would be followed by a general meeting where delegates and the general membership would debate for hours on motions, followed by an election on Friday. There were many committees as well: Ways & Means, Auditing, Nominating, and Resolutions were among a few. Special Interest Groups (SIGs), which were first established in 1986, continue to provide opportunities for meetings on issues of interest to a some members. Currently, there are six SIGs: Rabbis, Interpreters, Parents and Educators, Young Adults, and Lesbians and Gays.
The biennial awards ceremony honors the memory of past notable NCJD/JDC members and recognizes the achievements of current members. The Anna & Henry Plapinger Award, established in 1976, is given to a Jewish Deaf member of a NCJD/JDC affiliate for their past five years of outstanding service to the Jewish Deaf community. The Plapinger Youth Essay Award, established in 1984, recognizes a Jewish Deaf or hard of hearing student age 12 to 18 who has submitted the best essay on a topic chosen by the Executive Committee. In 2001, a category was added for Children’s Age 8-12 Essay. The Celia & Leonard Warshawsky Award, established in 1986, honors a Jewish Deaf adult age 17 to 35 who has made outstanding contributions to furthering Jewish and religious opportunities for young adults. The Philip Hanover Award, established in 1988, is given to recognize the past NCJD/JDC President upon completion of their term in office.
Another conference highlight is the announcement of inductees to the NCJD/JDC Hall of Fame. Those honored are chosen in categories of religion, general leadership, professional, and sports by a panel comprised of presidents of JDC affiliates, NCJD/JDC officers and past presidents, and the Hall of Fame committee. Hall of Famers are Jewish Deaf men and women whose involvement and accomplishments provide a role model for members of the Jewish Deaf community.