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On Site: Rebound

Margie Pensak

Jackie Spivack showed his strength from the time he was born with a challenging handicap. Following two successful careers, he reinvented himself as a master binder

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

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The well-known quote, “You can either allow the obstacles in your life to be the excuse for your failure or you can make them the reason behind your success,” describes Jackie Spivack

I t’s an ancient art, something you’d expect to find in the shop of an elderly craftsman tucked away in a corner of Meah Shearim, not in the modern Efrat bedroom-studio of a retired accountant from Baltimore. In fact, the first time Jackie Spivack was told about Renaissance-era handcrafted bookbinding following his retirement, it was the last thing in the world he’d consider — until curiosity got the better of him. “It was love at first sight,” he says about the hobby and craft he’s now mastered.

Mastering new frontiers, though, is nothing new for Spivack, who at an early age learned to overcome a hurdle most of us could never fathom. Ever since birth, when Jackie was born hearing-impaired, he has never let his lifelong challenges become an excuse for not moving forward. Becoming a Renaissance leather bookbinder is Jackie’s most recent successful attempt to reinvent himself — this time, post-retirement, after successful careers as an accountant and as the owner of an aluminum company. And he’s finally making good on the childhood prediction made by a concerned pediatrician who said he would grow up to create with his hands.

The well-known quote, “You can either allow the obstacles in your life to be the excuse for your failure or you can make them the reason behind your success,” describes Jackie Spivack, who never let his handicap stop him from achieving what might have seemed to be out of his grasp — although, he says, “A lot of people like me, with the type of loss I have, didn’t make it through.”


Jackie’s parents didn’t immediately realize that their premature baby was born hearing-impaired. Back in 1949, you couldn’t know that without the testing available today. They only realized something was amiss when he wasn’t speaking on the same schedule as his older and younger sister, who had verbally surpassed him. At the age of three, they sent him to the world-renowned speech and hearing clinic at Johns Hopkins Medical Center — which would be the beginning of his annual visits.

Jackie is one of the few Jewish Renaissance leather bookbinders, not only in Eretz Yisrael, but in the world.

Growing up in the ‘50s, Jackie’s teacher made him talk without using his hands, in order for him to become proficient in speech and lipreading.

“One day when I was a little boy,” recalls Jackie, “I asked my father, ‘Why do you keep buying me expensive stuff, like a chemistry set or an airplane model? Most of my friends don’t have anything like that.’ It was because the doctor told my parents that they had to buy things that would help me become creative with my hands, since I wouldn’t be able to hear anyone talking.”

The Spivacks sent their three daughters to the local Bais Yaakov, and started Jackie off in Talmudical Academy for kindergarten. “But they couldn’t handle me there, so I went to a class for hearing-impaired children in P.S. 83, in downtown Baltimore, for first grade,” Jackie says. “My teacher happened to be shomer Shabbos, and she was so good, my father hired her to work with me for the next 14 years. It was only after I finished high school that P’TACH created a program for frum special-needs children.”

Switching schools a couple of times, Jackie ended up in a school for special children with all kinds of handicaps. He went for lipreading therapy for one hour, and speech therapy for another hour, every day until ninth grade.

Still, Jackie, remembers, “I never felt comfortable going to shul as a kid. I didn’t know Hebrew until I was ten. As my bar mitzvah was approaching, some people in shul didn’t think I was capable of reading the maftir — ‘Maybe he could just say the brachos,’ they told my parents.

“My mother decided they would go speak to the president of the shul,” Jackie continues. “My mother said to him, ‘Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t speak well either, and he got through everything.’ On the day of my bar mitzvah, I said the maftir. Afterward, about a hundred people came over to me at the bimah and shook my hand, as if to apologize.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 692)

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