How deaf and blind Yossi found his voice

The Jewish Chronicle - - Community - BY JES­SICA ELGOT

YOSSI SA­MUELS is a cur­rent af­fairs devo­tee, a qual­i­fied wine-taster and an ex­pert on cars.

But the 35-year-old Is­raeli is also blind, deaf and largely con­fined to a wheel­chair, able to com­mu­ni­cate only through sounds and by out­lin­ing He­brew let­ters on his brother’s palm. He is in the UK to pro­mote the dis­abil­ity char­ity founded by his par­ents.

Born healthy, a faulty vac­ci­na­tion at 18 months caused his blind­ness and deaf­ness and left him ab­nor­mally hy­per­ac­tive. He had no way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing un­til he was eight. Most of the ba­bies vac­ci­nated with the same batch died — the oth­ers are in a per­ma­nent veg­e­ta­tive state.

With his brother Avi in­ter­pret­ing, Mr Sa­muels de­clared: “The state of Is­rael ru­ined my life. We spent eight years bat­tling the state for what they did. When I couldn’t com­mu­ni­cate, I was very an­gry. I was hy­per­ac­tive, full of an en­ergy I couldn’t let out.”

Tak­ing up the story, Avi Sa­muels ex­plained: “We lived in one be­d­room in Jerusalem, five broth­ers, in­clud­ing Yossi. We are seven sib­lings al­to­gether. We al­ways sup­ported each other as a fam­ily, in­clud­ing him in ev­ery­thing, but Yossi was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult.

“My mother was dis­tressed and friends, rel­a­tives and doc­tors urged us to have him put in an in­sti­tu­tion. My mother said she made a deal with God, that if she could find some way to com­mu­ni­cate with her son, she would ded­i­cate her life to help­ing peo­ple like him.”

Par­ents Malki and Kalman took the fam­ily to the US to seek treat­ment for Yossi when he was three. No progress was made and five years later they re­turned to Is­rael, where there was fi­nally a break­through.

“We had a mo­ment with a ther­a­pist — Shoshanna We­in­stuck — when she was spell­ing He­brew let­ters on his palm. Yossi un­der­stood his first word, ‘ta­ble’. His prison was bro­ken down. Now he’s a chal­leng­ing con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist.”

The Sa­muels founded the Shalva char­ity af­ter Yossi’s break­through and its first cen­tre opened in Jerusalem in 1990. Is­raeli Chief Rabbi Yis­rael Lau was also in London this week to pro­mote the launch of a Bri­tish Friends group.

Shalva cares for men­tally and phys­i­cally dis­abled chil­dren, Jewish and non-jewish, in­clud­ing overnight respite pro­grammes. Care is free in 80 per cent of cases. Jerusalem City Coun­cil has ap­proved land for premises for the largest and most ad­vanced cen­tre of its kind in the Mid­dle East.

For Yossi Sa­muels, trav­el­ling to lec- ture about his life and Shalva is one of his great­est plea­sures. “I want to travel across the world, to Australia, South Africa, Ja­pan,” he said. “I hope I can in­flu­ence peo­ple and in­spire them. It’s very cool to be in London. Last night I spent at the pub with some six­th­form­ers, which was fan­tas­tic. I try to show them how I can get through my dif­fi­cul­ties with hap­pi­ness. I pre­fer to be open and out-go­ing.”

His pas­sion for cars — he can iden­tify a make just by touch­ing a door han­dle — took him to Sil­ver­stone for a trip in a race car with a pro­fes­sional driver.

In Is­rael, Mr Sa­muels works one day a week in the re­search depart­ment of an elec­tric car com­pany. “I can tell them things which no one else re­alises about the car. It’s not the tech­ni­cal as­pect; it’s the way it feels.”

Swim­ming and horse-rid­ing are other loves and his in­ter­est in pol­i­tics got him an in­vi­ta­tion to tea at the White House in 2007. A great ad­mirer of the then Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Bush, “I told him to make sure he was firm on Iran and Iraq and to help bring Gi­lad Shalit home. I don’t like Pres­i­dent Obama. He won’t free Jonathan Pol­lard, even though he is un­well.” Mr Sa­muels was due to meet Gor­don Brown yes­ter­day.

“My mother al­ways says if Yossi could ac­tu­ally see the world, he’d prob­a­bly be dis­ap­pointed,” Avi Sa­muels re­flected. “He feels ev­ery­thing so vi­brantly.”

Life in the fast lane: Yossi Sa­muels ( right) at Sil­ver­stone

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