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In Silence

Growing Up Hearing in a Deaf World

Ruth Sidransky

Publication Year: 2006

At last, Ruth Sidranksy’s groundbreaking book In Silence: Growing Up Hearing in a Deaf World is back in print. Her account of growing up as the hearing daughter of deaf Jewish parents in the Bronx and Brooklyn during the 1930s and1940s reveals the challenges deaf people faced during the Depression and afterward. Inside her family’s apartment, Sidransky knew a warm, secure place. She recalls her earliest memories of seeing words fall from her parents’ hands. She remembers her father entertaining the family endlessly with his stories, and her mother’s story of tying a red ribbon to herself and her infant daughter to know when she needed anything in the night. Outside the apartment, the cacophonous hearing world greeted Sidransky’s family with stark stares of curiosity as though they were “freaks.” Always upbeat, her proud father still found it hard to earn a living. When Sidransky started school, she was placed in a class for special needs children until the principal realized that she could hear and speak. Sidransky portrays her family with deep affection and honesty, and her frank account provides a living narrative of the Deaf experience in pre- and post-World War II America. In Silence has become an invaluable chronicle of a special time and place that will affect all who read it for years to come.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press


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pp. 10-11

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pp. 12-13

Above all I am grateful to the Deaf for a rich language. Sign. It is the language of my parents, my language, the language from which this writing bloomed. I want to thank those who made this book possible. Andrew Bromberg, who suggested the book, Marvin...

Family Tree

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pp. 14-15

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pp. 16-35

If there were a way, if I could, I would write this book in sign language. I cannot. Signs do not transpose to the printed page; they are understood only in the flesh, hand to hand, face to face. And so I write in universal printed English, words to conjure the magic of my first...

Part 1: My Beginnings

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1. Hands

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pp. 38-48

I looked for my mother at the window. She waited for me to appear every afternoon on my return from school. I was five years old and warned not to cross the cobblestoned street until she waved me on...

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2. School Days

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pp. 49-71

All summer long my mother’s hands lilted, preparing me for the first days of school. “Soon soon, September come, you go to big, wonderful school, be with hearing children, learn read, write, talk good English words.” “Ben,” she signed to my...

Part 2: The World of My Parents

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3. School for Benny and Mary

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pp. 74-93

“You like school now?” my father asked. “Yes, I love school now. You love school when you were a little boy?” my hands asked. “No, I not like school, not learn enough. I not always deaf, my father put me in school, I was afraid.” “You not always deaf? I not....

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4. A Deaf World

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pp. 94-115

My mother and father knew almost everyone in the deaf community. Their exclusive society was created in the schools they hated, in the schools that barely educated them. The Deaf, as they called themselves, entered deeply into the lives of one another. They formed a protected...

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5. Mary

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pp. 116-134

Mary never forgot who she was. She held me to her, weaving me into her life, refusing to allow me to forget who she was, refusing to allow me to be invisible, insisting that I remember her story and her family’s story, insisting that my deaf family was not as important as...

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6. Mary and Benny, a Love Story

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pp. 135-155

I watched my mother tell me of her mother’s sudden illness and death. “She too young to be so sick, to die. She was thirty-nine years old, and me only nineteen years to lose a mother.” And I remember thinking as I had done through my girlhood that mothers were for mourning. My mother..

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7. Benny

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pp. 156-186

No one called him Benjamin. He was Ben, or sometimes Benny. The hearing called him Benny. I called him Daddy Ben. He signed his name Benjamin. And when they called him “Benny the dummy,” my ire rose. Dummies do not make joy. And my father made joy. He massaged his chest, his right hand...

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8. Benny and Ruthie

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pp. 187-201

In winter, when the icy air hit my lungs and I gasped for breath, when the air was clean, when the snow fell on my face turning my clear cheeks red, my father took the sled from its corner in the closet and announced, half signing, half speaking, “We go for a ride in snow, before...

Part 3: Growing Up Hearing

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9. Childhood Lost

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pp. 204-222

One winter’s day in 1936 my father Benny rode the bus to Philadelphia. Cornered by the Depression, desperate, he went to his hearing brother Irving to borrow money. Irving, young, without cash reserves, unable to help, turned...

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10. When Other Children Die

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pp. 223-235

Death was remote and forbidden, yet it entered my life at moments when I was most open to wounding. We didn’t talk of death at home, except on rare occasions. But when it came into our lives, we saw it and then brushed...

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11. Prayer

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pp. 236-250

I remember the men chanting. I hear them. I see them rocking back and forth, gently striking their breasts. I see the children run around them, the little ones between their legs. The davening goes on, the children are noticed, but not admonished. They run out of the...

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12. The West Bronx

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pp. 251-270

As 1941 drew to a close, the declaration of war against the Japanese filled me with terror. How could I go to school? How could I leave our small apartment? Who would protect my parents and tell them that air...

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13. Benny, My Touchstone

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pp. 271-282

Benny lifted me from darkness. He spoke. He made sound for me. He struck the night air tooting New Year’s Eve paper horns. He pranced to the sound. Back and back into the reaches of his soul he issued sound’s passion. He patted his hand over....

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14. High School

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pp. 283-301

I wanted answers. I didn’t understand all the messages filtering into my mind. Why didn’t the small ant make a sound I could hear? Where was the joyous yell of the eastern sunrise? And where was the sweet murmuring of sunset, of the day at rest? Was there a secret to all this....

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15. Fantasies

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pp. 302-310

In the warmth of my bed, I struggled once more with sound. I pulsed a mental string across the room’s corners, straining to see sound, to see something. I pulled the down comforter over my head, pushed the night sounds into the corners, into the crevices from which they...

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16. College

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pp. 311-323

There was a betrayal of the words I had stored, of the dreams I had hidden from myself. My father refused to allow me to go to college. “You are seventeen now. Now you must go to work, help support me and family. I am tired. I work hard. Now it is your turn.” I looked at him with...

Part 4: Voices

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17. My Deaf Family

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pp. 326-332

I listened to the road talk, to the subway talk, to the country talk, to the city talk. I was eager to speak with my voice, with my hands. I was eager for the touch of talk. But there was a time when deaf touch revolted me. When I was eight years...

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18. Benny Dies

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pp. 333-340

In the last year of his life, my father spent the month of December in intensive care, attached to a heart monitor. He was eighty-one or eighty-two years old; the date of his birth was never clearly established. The records had burned. Was he born in 1902 or 1903? He insisted it was 1903. “No matter,” I said to him, as....

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19. Mary

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pp. 341-351

One day in June Momma had a stroke. One day in June Momma lost her language. The phone rang. I was listening to music, quiet, at rest. A strange woman’s voice said, “I was with your mother, sitting on a bench in front of the supermarket. I touched her...

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pp. 352-359

There is a legend that tells of a young man named McCarthy who had a speech impediment, a man without song on his tongue. One day, walking on the grounds of a grand Irish castle, he saw a damsel in distress. She had fallen into a swift stream. Rushing to her aid he...

E-ISBN-13: 9781563683787
E-ISBN-10: 1563683784
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563682872
Print-ISBN-10: 1563682877

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 7 photographs
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Parents with disabilities -- New York (State) -- New York -- Biography.
  • Sidransky, Ruth.
  • Children of parents with disabilities -- New York (State) -- New York -- Biography.
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Biography.
  • Deaf -- New York (State) -- New York -- Biography.
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