By Michael Jacobs
The renovations at Congregation B’nai Torah remain highly visible as they enter the final month of Phase 2, but one of the most important improvements is heard but not seen: a hearing loop system that enables people using hearing aids to hear clearly in the sanctuary and beit hamidrash at the flip of a switch.
B’nai Torah is the first Atlanta-area synagogue with the system.
A grid of copper wiring beneath the carpet broadcasts the signal from the sound system directly to anyone who activates a wire called a telecoil within a hearing aid. When the T-coil is on, the hearing aid grabs the electronic signal instead of amplifying all the nearby sounds.
Most hearing aids have T-coils built in, so their owners don’t need an additional device to connect to an FM system or to sit in the line of sight of an infrared system, said audiologist Rita Chaiken, who was instrumental with husband Fred in installing the system at their shul.
The frequency response of the loop system is tuned to each user’s hearing loss, and there’s no interference from other users or any maximum number.
There is one limitation, Chaiken said: “You have to be sitting up.”
Mike Exelbert, a B’nai Torah member who uses a hearing aid and is involved in overseeing the renovations, said adding modern technology to a 30-year-old building made for an interesting project.
Chaiken said it would have been easier and cheaper to set the loop up in only part of the sanctuary, but B’nai Torah didn’t want to create the stigma of a special section.
“No one thinks twice about the fact that someone wears glasses,” Rabbi Eytan Kenter said. “We want to be a place where we celebrate those things that make us different.”
Exelbert credited Rabbi Kenter with establishing B’nai Torah’s commitment to inclusion.
“That’s just part of this bigger plan that B’nai Torah has for making itself accessible to people with disabilities,” said Chaiken, who urged nonmembers with hearing impairment to visit B’nai Torah to experience the system. Her hope is that other congregations will install the system, for which she’s happy to answer questions.
“We’re not looking for exclusivity for this,” Exelbert said.