As a deaf, gay man in a hearing family in Israel, El-ad Cohen felt alone growing up, particularly after the tragic death of his mother and the breakdown of his family. As an adult, he feared he would never find a partner in the small deaf community where he lived.
The Israeli documentary, “The Sign for Love,” is Cohen’s first-person account about starting his own family through a shared parenting arrangement with his friend, Yaeli, a young lesbian woman who is deaf. His intent is to show viewers his version of family and parenthood.
The filmmaker and his co-director, Iris Ben Moshe, are Franklin & Marshall College’s 2019 DeRoy Jewish Artists in Residence. During their Feb. 14-15 visit to campus, Cohen and Ben Moshe will meet with students, screen their acclaimed film and follow with a question-and-answer session.
“This event dovetails with my research and teaching interests on the cultures of disability in Israel,” said Marco Di Giulio, F&M’s associate professor of Hebrew language and literature, and chair of Italian and Judaic studies. “Currently, I am working on a research project focused on the emergence of the deaf community in pre-state Israel.”
Di Giulio, who invited the filmmakers to campus, taught a course last fall that focused on how disability is represented in Israeli contemporary literature and cinema.
A winner of international awards, “The Sign for Love” follows Cohen and Yaeli as they raise their baby. The film unfolds poignantly as they decide to conceive, face parenting challenges, and embrace the ways that a child can repair a family.
When he was young, Cohen’s mother inflicted guilt on him for being deaf. “Raising you is like raising three kids,” she told him.
“People would say that everything I have achieved in my life is despite the fact that I do not hear, and it is a mistake,” Cohen said. “I’m deaf all my life and that’s what motivated me to be who I am today. I do not feel I’m missing something because of ‘hearing loss’ and that's my resilience.”
The filmmakers said they intentionally did not focus on the couple’s sexuality in the documentary, but kept the story on parenting and family.
“We hope the film will bring people new insights into their families,” Ben Moshe said.“We tried to present different social models. We tend to imagine the perfect person in a very specific way and within a very specific family. The film offers different identities that do not meet the model of the ‘perfect person,’ a person who does not necessarily hear.”
Cohen said, “Until our film, all the films made on the deaf were made by hearing directors and from the point of view of the hearing directors. We hope that [our] film will open the eyes of viewers to the life of the deaf community and their feelings from their point of view.”
Screening of “The Sign for Love” is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 14 in the Bonchek Auditorium in the Ann & Richard Barshinger Life Sciences & Philosophy Building.