Scarsdale mom, advocate for the deaf lauded nationally
November 28, 2011
Written by Rebecca Baker
WHITE PLAINS — At age 11, Alexis Ander Kashar got to experience a whole new
state when her family moved from New York to Texas.
But when the deaf child got her first interpreter as a teenager, she got to
experience a whole new world.
“For the first time I had access to everything,” she said. “I understood
everything around me. It changed my life.”
Her awakening ignited a passion for civil rights that would lead Kashar, a
mother of three from Scarsdale, to be one of the most high-profile advocates
for the deaf in the country. She is not only president of both the board of
trustees at the New York School for the Deaf (Fanwood) in Greenburgh and the
Jewish Deaf Resource Center in Hartsdale, she is the public policy
chairwoman for the National Association for the Deaf.
Her tireless efforts — all done as a volunteer — will be recognized Dec. 5
by Jewish Women International, which has named her one of 10 “Women to
Watch” in the United States.
“Some people ask me why do you do all of this for free?” she said. “I can’t
sit on the sidelines; it’s not my nature.”
Those who know her say Kashar is a charismatic charmer whose unending energy
makes her a formidable presence .
Janet Dickinson said she was so impressed with Kashar that she didn’t
hesitate to accept the executive director’s job at Fanwood last year.
“She sold me on the merits of this school,” she said through an interpreter
. “If it was not for her, I would have thought long and hard about
relocating from Colorado.”
When the school’s state funding was threatened, Dickinson said, she and
Kashar lobbied state lawmakers in Albany together. She said Kashar also
spends time on campus, talking with students, helping them with projects and
advising them on life in the hearing world.
“She’s a wonderful, wonderful role model,” Dickinson said. “There’s a saying
that you should ask a busy person if you want something done. Alexis is
probably the busiest person I know.”
Kashar’s commitment to deaf advocacy started in Arlington Heights High
School in Fort Worth, Texas, when she was assigned a deaf interpreter for
the first time. She became a leader in student government and decided to
become a lawyer, enrolling in law school at the University of Texas, where
she had received her undergraduate degree.
She met her husband in law school, and they began their careers in Los
Angeles. They moved to Scarsdale seven years ago to give their young
children a traditional suburban upbringing.
That’s when she left private practice and dedicated her time to volunteer
She soon found herself involved with the National Association for the Deaf.
Through her efforts, the National Football League provided closed captioning
for nearly all Super Bowl commercials in January.
“That’s what people talk about the day after the game,” she said. “It’s
about being part of American society. We wanted to be part of the
Kashar also wanted her son and two daughters to have something she never did
— a religious education.
Her parents, both of whom were deaf, did not belong to a synagogue because
it was inaccessible to the deaf, and she was unable to attend children’s
“There was no access, so I was not educated,” she said. “I didn’t know what
the prayers meant. I didn’t speak Hebrew.”
As a parent, she ran into similar barriers. Houses of worship are exempt
from the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Kashar was told she had to
bring her own interpreter to the temple. She did at first but was concerned
about others who couldn’t afford it.
“That’s like saying to someone in a wheelchair, ‘Bring your own ramp,’ ” she
said. She became involved in the Jewish Deaf Resource Center about four
years ago and was named its president last year. She lobbied the
UJA-Federation and secured a $20,000 grant to increase JDRC’s outreach to
“I was struck by her passion and sense of purpose,” said Roberta Leiner, a
managing director with the UJA-Federation. “I was moved by her sense of
Bringing deaf interpreters into temples hasn’t been easy. Kashar said
Conservative Jewish leaders were resistant because the rabbi’s words would
be communicated in something other than traditional Hebrew. Today, some, but
not all, Conservative synagogues offer interpreting services.
“It’s a step in the right direction — baby steps,” Kashar said.
Her efforts toward inclusion became personal when her daughter, Leah, had
her bat mitzvah last year. It was the first time her entire family
worshipped together. What made the ceremony even more moving, she said, was
that her daughter’s Torah portion was, “You shall not curse the deaf; you
shall not put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear God.”
Leah, 14, started a sign-language club this year at Scarsdale High School
that already has 30 members and is raising money for Fanwood.
“It’s really important that everyone is equal and no one’s left out,” Leah
To that, Kashar smiled.
“I trained her well,” she said. “Every day you should be able to make a