Role Models & Heroes: Helen Keller (2013)

By June 23, 2013November 15th, 2018Bnei Mitzvah, Heroes & Role Models
The following essay on Helen Keller was written by Mazal Kaplan Karlick, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project; an example of this can be seen below. The process  improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.

Mazal Kaplan Karlick
June 22, 2013

For many Bar and Bat Mitzvah students beginning the hero/role model essay involves researching and investigating many people before they identify one who can be their hero or role model. But for me, it was easy! Helen Keller has always been my hero! It began when I was in kindergarten and Ms. Farkus read us a story about Helen Keller. Since then, I wanted to read more, and I wanted to know more about Helen Keller’s life. She remained my hero since I was little, because I always admired her actions. She was courageous overcoming many obstacles during her life. It is unusual for a person to stay someone’s hero for so many years except when they make a big impact on their life, like Helen Keller had on me. She changed the way I think about blind and deaf people because now when I see someone who is blind and deaf, I think about all that Helen Keller accomplished. She changed my behavior towards others too. Once I saw a man who was blind and deaf, on my way home from my friend’s house. Rather than ignore him, I tried to help him. Helen Keller helped people and believed in people just like her teacher Anne Sullivan believed in her. Anne believed in Helen Keller, and as a result, she accomplished many achievements.

Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27th, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama. In 1882, she became ill with a very high fever and as a result she became blind, and deaf, and because of this she couldn’t learn to speak. She was so frustrated by not being able to communicate, she often became aggressive. On several occasions, she became violent and almost killed both of the family servants by choking them. As a result, her father and other family members wanted to put her in an asylum, an offensive term for an institution for people with psychiatric disorders. Helen Keller’s mother, however, did not want her to go to an asylum. She read about the rehabilitation of another deaf and blind girl and believed her daughter could be helped as well. She contacted Alexander Graham Bell who was involved with education and the Oralist movement. The Oralist movement worked to reintegrate deaf and blind people into society by teaching them to read lips through touch, by placing their fingers on the lips and throats of the speaker and spelling words into their hands with a manual alphabet. Alexander Graham Bell told Mrs. Keller to contact the Perkins Institute to look for a teacher. The Director recommended Anne Sullivan, who in 1887 was hired to teach Helen Keller.

From my research about Anne Sullivan, I discovered that unlike Helen Keller, who grew up rich, Anne grew up poor, living in a poorhouse as a child. Anne Sullivan was blind due to untreated Trachoma, which is a bacterial infection we call Pink Eye. In 1880 she was sent to the Perkins School for the Blind. She was at the Perkins School for 6 years. While she was there, the teachers had to help her learn to control her behavior. The teachers also recognized that she was smart and encouraged her to tutor younger students. While she was there, she had eye surgery and became partially sighted. She graduated as the valedictorian of her class at age twenty. The Director of her school offered her the opportunity to travel to Alabama to become the instructor of a deaf and blind six-year-old girl named Helen Keller. Anne Sullivan agreed to become Helen’s teacher and stayed with her for the next 47 years, becoming her lifelong companion.

Ms. Sullivan helped Helen Keller to begin to learn to speak and communicate with others. It was very hard but she finally did it. In the late 1880’s to 1890’s there was much discrimination against blind and deaf people. That is why Helen Keller’s success was so courageous. Standard views at the time were that blind and deaf people were disabled and should be put in an asylum. This is what gave her father the idea. However, with the assistance of Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller was able to conquer her obstacles, living a good long life as an educator, activist, and journalist. She taught at many schools for the deaf. Helen Keller died on June 1st, 1968.

Helen Keller overcame discrimination by learning language so she could do things that hearing and seeing people could do, like read and write. She overcame limitations by learning sign language, by learning to read and write Braille, and also learning to speak. She attended Radcliffe College, which is a college for speaking people, and graduated in 1904.

Then Helen Keller helped other people overcome discrimination. She helped them realize disabilities don’t define you. Helen Keller helped others by making speeches around the world. On her 1937 world tour she gave 97 speeches in 39 cities. She traveled across five continents and 35 countries. She worked with an organization called the American Foundation for the Overseas Blind, which in 1977 changed its name to the Helen Keller Institute. Helen Keller worked to treat blindness, and worked on blindness prevention around the world. She also helped create one standard “language” for books. Braille was one of 5 different systems of raised print, but in 1931 she helped make Braille the universal system. By educating speaking and blind and deaf people about everything a disabled person could do, she worked to help sighted people overcome their discrimination against blind and deaf people. This helped empower the disabled to believe that they were capable of becoming whatever they want to be. She also fought for women’s right to vote, child labor laws, and birth control. She was a public socialist so the Nazis burned her books. The FBI monitored her in the McCarthy era, but her disabilities protected her from public denunciation.

Helen Keller accomplished a lot in her lifetime. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1904, when few women went to college. She became a socialist, a suffragist, an activist, a journalist and an advocate for the handicapped. She wrote a book about her life. She was an educator at many schools including The School for Young Ladies, and Radcliffe College. She also helped found the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU is a national organization working to protect individual freedoms and rights through public education, advocacy, and through legal action. Founded in 1920 to fight against unlawful searches and seizures occurring in the aftermath of World War I, it still exists today to protect individual liberties.

Helen Keller was not without flaws. She could be naïve. Sometimes she seemed to care more for ideals like peace and justice than she did for people. She denounced capitalism, but she liked to live well; she was beautifully groomed and her homes had fine furnishings. Right after the death of her companion, Polly Thompson, Helen Keller, angry that Polly had left her out of her will, began wearing Polly’s $8,000 mink coat.

Helen Keller’s groundbreaking actions serve as inspiration for other blind and deaf people. With her as a role model, many disabled people are able to pursue different careers including becoming artists and musicians. Some musicians include Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder. I was so surprised when Ilana, my mentor, told me that Stevie Wonder is blind. I saw him on TV at the Billboard music awards when he won the Icon award. He performed, and then received his award. He looked at the audience, the award presenter and the award. It all looked so natural. My not realizing he was blind until weeks later when Ilana told me that he was blind, and we watched it on YouTube, highlights how well he blends in and functions like a sighted person. That is great and shows how far blind people have come thanks to the foundation laid by Helen Keller.

As you can see Helen Keller is a hero because she has helped many people and she had a great productive life. Her accomplishments inspire me to help others who are less fortunate than I am. But mostly she inspires me to be the most that I can be. To me that’s her most heroic quality!!