Meet the deaf MK helping Israelis to feel incoming rocket fire

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Meet the deaf MK helping Israelis to feel incoming rocket fire

EXCLUSIVE: 'Every day I think about what happens if there is a siren and my deaf five-year old son can’t hear it," says Knesset's Shirly Pinto

MK Shirly Pinto
MK Shirly Pinto

The first and only deaf member of Israel’s Knesset has told Jewish News that she’s working on an Israeli start-up to help people with a disability feel rocket sirens rather than hear them. 

Shirly Pinto, a former Israeli air force commander and communications ambassador for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, is married to a deaf husband and has two deaf children.

During her military service, Pinto received the Medal of Excellence from the President of the State of Israel, then the late Shimon Peres, and the Medal of Excellence from the Commander of the Air Force.

After military service, she studied law, embarked on social activism work against injustices experienced by people with disabilities including working to make the health system accessible for all. Elected in 2017 as a member of the Knesset, she was also the first deaf representative in the Zionist Congress.

For her and her family, October 7th was terrifying.

“I was broken. On that day, I realised that I can use my social media to have a public relationship with the more than 70 million people around the world using deaf sign language and those who don’t know what happened in Israel.”

She uses her platform, not just to advocate for the deaf and disabled, but to make news and information about the current war accessible to them.

Pic: Liat Petcho

There are up to 300 forms of sign language globally; with 50,000 Instagram followers and more than 500,000 watching her videos, Pinto uses international sign language in her work “so that everyone around the world who uses it can understand me.”

Shirly Pinto Twitter/X

She says “a lot of people who are watching my videos didn’t realise what happened.  There are a lot who are afraid to come to Israel. There is a hacker who took a photo of me, made me appear naked using AI to try and make me afraid to advocate for Israel. He did it just because I am a woman. It’s another kind of terror. The terrorists’ goal is make people afraid.”

But Pinto says she will “never be quiet. Nobody can shut me up or silence me from telling the truth.”

As well as “communicating in a whole different way” as part of her work, Pinto also promotes people with disability rights.

“It’s who I am. No one can take it away from me. I have been through all the hard situations and the challenges that people with disability have. A lot of people with disability in Israel are finding it very hard. They have no access to hearing, no access to alarms, to sirens. People with disability in Israel have with PTSD.”

Pic: Liat Petcho

Before 7th October, she estimates 1.5 million individuals in Israel had a disability, 850,000 of whom are deaf. Nearly eight months later, “the number has grown.”

With her five year old deaf son in kindergarten, “every day I think I think ‘what happens if he has a siren and he can’t hear it?’. Or if there’s a rocket that falls near to him? It’s dangerous. What will he do in this situation?”

Together with the Israeli government, Pinto is working on a solution, researching a start-up device that helps people with a disability to feel the sirens.

Shirly Pinto Instagram, signing the first line of Israel’s National Anthem

Of the current unprecedented surge in global hatred towards Israel and the Jewish people, Pinto says: “Anti-semitism didn’t start on October 7th. October 7th is just another excuse to hate the Jewish people.”

Her message to the Jewish community in the UK is “to believe in our truth. We are the Jewish people and we are on the right side of history. What is important is to know the facts.

“To know what happened in Israel. Get to the heart of the antisemitism question. If you know your past, you will know your way. I’m sure we will know a better day but all the Jewish people are us.”

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