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The Jewish Braille Institute

Lawrence Bush
April 21, 2017

The Jewish Braille Institute, now known as JBI International, was founded on this date in 1931 with funding from the Reform movement’s National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, with the intention of creating an international Hebrew Braille system. That goal was fulfilled between 1936 and 1944, and one of the early adopters of the new alphabet, a “Mrs. Harry A. Cole” of Cleveland, began to translate the Torah into Braille (published in 1950). Jewish books and publications are today available from JBI International in English, Hebrew, Hungarian, Russian, Polish, Romanian, Spanish and Yiddish, and the organization provides free services to children and adults in Israel, the former Soviet Union, Eastern and Central Europe, Latin America, Western Europe and all English-speaking countries. The JBI library includes 8,000 Talking Books (about 300 are now recorded each year in various languages), as well as large-print and Braille books. Charity Navigator gives the organization a 97 percent out of 100 rating. There are an estimated 285 million people worldwide who are visually impaired, 39 million of them blind. About 90 percent of these people are in low-income communities, and about 82 percent of sightless people are aged 50 and over.

“We have been taught that R. Yose said: Throughout my days I was baffled by the verse, ‘And thou shalt grope at noonday as the blind gropeth in darkness’ (Deuteronomy 28:9). What difference, I kept asking myself, does it make to a blind man whether it is dark or light? Then the following incident occurred: Once I was walking on the road with a torch in his hand. So I said to him, ‘My son, this torch -- why do you need it?’ He replied, ‘As long as a torch is in my hand, people see me and keep me away from holes in the ground from thorns and briers” (Megillah 24b).

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.