Month: March 2020

ATT social workers address Coronavirus challenges

On March 26, the ATT gathered social workers from several schools for a discussion on Zoom responding to parent questions and concerns during Cornavirus. Panelists included: Debbie Cardash, REACH; Carly Krawetz, Hillel Torah; Phil Zbaraz, Ida Crown Jewish Academy; and Rabbi Shmuel Tenenbaum, Mashgiach at Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi

Following is a transcript from the discussion

Establishing norms – we have more skills than we thought we did! By being with our kids as much as we are now, we are learning many things about them that we never knew before.

Last time questions revolved around structure and keeping everyone occupied.

How do I keep everybody structured and supervised while I try to work remotely?

Early childhood: Carly Krawetz:

Find an area in your home that each child can claim as their own. Give them more responsibility for their own learning. Children need breaks every so often.

Middle school: Rabbi Tenenbaum:

This is a transition for every family. Reflect back and think about what worked and what didn’t – then adjust. Reset and strengthen boundaries.

Adolescents: Dr. Phil Zbaraz

Structure is a good thing. Otherwise you are driving in a blinding snowstorm. Structure gives organization to the day and gives clarity. You do not have to account for every minute of the day though. Need to build in some down time. That’s OK.

The kids are going stir crazy. Any  ideas to help them get along better?

Early childhood: Carly Krawetz:

Remind children they have to take turns (just like at school) and you can make a schedule for them. Create new structures as needed.   150 “I’m Bored Jar” Ideas will be shared. Good opportunity to have older children help younger ones.

Middle school: Rabbi Tenenbaum:

 Children/Adults boredom and business stem from the same place – a sense of not being fulfilled or productive. Boredom is often the result if a child does not value what they are doing.

Adolescents: Dr. Phil Zbaraz

 The family can come together a head of time and discuss what to do in times of boredom. Perhaps have a boredom “treasure chest” – that’s where a person goes – pick from the treasure chest of ideas.  There might be a gift to boredom – teach kids how to sit quietly. Lay on the floor with a book on the belly and relish the quiet time. “I’m bored!” With teens, take the statement further, ask the teen what are you needing? Boredom could be ambiguous. Bring them into the conversation. It is not your responsibility to make everything better. There is a difference between problems to be solved and situations to be managed.

What do we do for kids who can’t work independently easily? What if child loses interest and does not call into the ZOOM classes?

Early childhood: Carly Krawetz:

This is new for the teachers so be transparent with the students and involve the teacher to tweak the program if you can. This occurs at any age.

Middle school: Rabbi Tenenbaum:

The school has been getting compliments and complaints – too little work or too much work. The underlying issue is that parents can’t be expected to  know how to manage schooling – schooling is not their specialty. So, the question is How do to manage it? Mom, your responsibility is to be a mother and caregiver and use your best judgment to manage the situation. Be supportive for your children.

Adolescents: Dr. Phil Zbaraz

Try to involve the teacher if the student is experiencing difficulty. If parent is pressured to fix it, that evokes anxiety they can’t resolve. Perhaps the teacher can provide some modification for the student.

As a parent, I am coming down with the virus (mild case) and not feeling well?

Early childhood: Carly Krawetz:

Pair children together to help with tasks. Give kids jobs to be helpful – jobs they don’t normally have. Use Dr. Phil’s 60% rule for the academics as well.

Middle school: Rabbi Tenenbaum:

If there’s a sick mom, there’s a sick family. This is a double transition for the family. Need to adjust the norm to a temporary new norm. Have a family meeting and delegate jobs so each person can undertake something and own the situation. Create an incenetive as well.

Adolescents: Dr. Phil Zbaraz

Use the 60% rule. If we all pull together – let’s try to do 60% of what mom would be able to do. The glue of everything working in the home needs to be the goal – lower the bar. If things fall through the cracks, that’s OK.

I’m very worried about finances, older relatives, how do I help everyone to feel less scared?

Early childhood: Carly Krawetz:

Middle school: Rabbi Tenenbaum:

Everyone is in the same situation of “uncertainty.” Everything falls into that category. Try to think back if there was a similar previous situation in the family and see if there was a management strategy that worked then that can work now. Look to community organizations – ATT, Agudah, Chicago Center for Torah and Chesed, JUF, etc.

Adolescents: Dr. Phil Zbaraz

What is the level of the worry? Is it dire? Is it just uncertainty? Try to avail the family of resources and programs driven through the community’s agencies. Familiarize yourself with what the resources are. Many are being impacted financially and this is unfolding as we speak. Try to gather helpful information. Re: elderly relatives – are their other family members who can help with the responsibilities of checking in and seeing how they are doing. Perhaps can facetime if possible.

Debbie Cardash: Try to use a “buffet of options.”  Create a gratitude blog for what we do have. Some have compared the current situation to the lack of things in the ghettoes of the Holocaust. Need to maintain a sense of humor. One is allowed to be sad and exhibit feelings but keep things in perspective.

Dr. Phil: Embrace the truth that we don’t have to be perfect at this and we can make mistakes. Sometimes what brings about elevated anxiety is when people only have one bucket to stuff everything into. When the clouds separate, and there is a moment of calm, write a note and put it on the refrigerator – what are the 12 most important things in your life that are non-negotiable and cut into who you are as a human being?  This way you have a separate sacred bucket of what you really value in life and that are enduring (not transient).

Carly Krawetz: Work on self-care with no one size fits all. Deep breathing, family walk, staying connected with others in your community, make a list of what’s in your control (what will I make for dinner?) and what is not in your control, create a self-care log.

Rabbi Tenenbaum: Make a list of some of the nice things that came out of this situation. Like family time together, relaxation time we never had before. There are kinds of speakers, shiurim, and conferences – a yes to one thing is a no to something else. Do not feel bad if you do not have time to log in to the numerous things out there. The market has been super-saturated with these opportunities.

What are anxiety reducing strategies we can do?

Early childhood: Carly Krawetz:

Use a “worry jar.” You out your worries in the jar and they stay there and are put away. Surround children with positive things – a bedtime story, a positive TV show, a game. Talk to your kids. Ask them, “how are you?” Create a worry thermometer to show kids where they are. Often, what you think your kids are worried about are not what they actually worry about. Acknowledge their worries and be empathic about them.

Middle school: Rabbi Tenenbaum:

Almost everyone is struggling with anxiety. Be cognizant that this is out there – seek resources to help you. Reach out to your primary care doctor.

Adolescents: Dr. Phil Zbaraz

Debbie Cardash: Be thoughtful about what you are talking about in front of your children. If parents are anxious, they will project that anxiety in front of their children. What info is helpful and need to know and what is bringing the climate down?

Round robin tip-

Carly Krawetz: Remember to breather. This is temporary.

Dr. Phil: Go to the end of the driveway, pickup your paperl – face the east and say Thank You  for the rising sun every morning.

Rabbi Tenenbaum: Adults are the glue that is holding the family together – take your self-care breaks to keep the family together.

Covid-19 Helpline (non-medical) 224-534-9867

Resources to help children structure their day

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Vayikra

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

This week we begin Sefer Vayikra also known as תורת כהנים, the laws of the priesthood, since it deals with the laws of sacrifices, ritual purity and the special requirements of the priestly caste. It comes after Shmos, the Book of Redemption, where the Jewish people develop from a family to a mighty nation, become a “kingdom of priests” receiving the Torah as a way of life, and building the Mishkan, an earthly “abode” for Hashem to “dwell” in their midst.

The continuum of Seferim Shmos and Vayikra seems to pose a very fundamental question. If we have a very basic belief that all men stand equal before Hashem and that free will is in the words of the Rambam “a basic tenant and a major pillar in Torah and mitzvah,” then why would Hashem create an hegemony of Kohanim who inherit their status and seem to be privileged from birth with their status?

Perhaps the answer is that there are two pathways which one must utilize to achieve closeness to Hashem and success as a Jew. It can be imposed from without by divine decree that a person must follow a prescribed path. His free will is expressed in his acceptance of these rules and restrictions, and when one views these responsibilities as an opportunity to grow, it will bring him closer to Hashem. On the other hand, one has to pursue a course of self-expression and individuality to become closer to Hashem. Autonomy is a pillar of Judaism together with humility and submission to Hashem’s will. Every Jew is a priest, some are given more responsibilities, but all Jews must create their personal connection with Hashem as well.

We are preparing for Pesach, a time where we relive the אהבת כלולותיך, the sweet love of our union with Hashem some three millennia ago. It is time to reflect on how we relate to Hashem in our special and individual way and also how we conform to his dictates expressed in the Torah.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

This week’s Torah portion discusses the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). As we take a closer look at the instructions to build the Mishkan, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, points out something that needs clarification. Betzalel was the one appointed to build the Mishkan, yet we find in many places where the people are told that anyone who has a chacham lev (wise heart) is invited to come, donate, and build the Mishkan. One would think that clarity regarding the “building committee” is in order when taking on such a monumental project. Is Betzalel the one ultimately responsible, or is it up for anyone to step forward and take the lead?  

Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, answers that we learn an important lesson about communal responsibility from these directions. The Mishkan had to be built. It was the spiritual center that we needed to help us connect to G-d. There is no choice here; the job has to get done. Yes, it is true that Betzalel is appointed as the leader of this project. However, the Torah is telling us that if for whatever reason he is unable to perform this task, someone has to step up. The Mishkan has to be built. One should never think when it comes to spiritual needs that the few who are put in charge should lead the way and everyone else remain in the background. One has to be ready at any time to step up and complete the task.

The heart and soul of every Jewish community are its children and their Jewish education. This is the foundation that makes us who we are. It may seem like there are individuals appointed to the task of leading this effort – Rabbis, administrators, teachers, and lay leaders – but it is incumbent on all of us to realize that at any given time, we have to all be ready to step up and get involved to continue this effort. This is not a choice but a necessity.

In these challenging times this message is speaking to us more than ever. Our shuls and schools have closed their doors. Our children are learning at home. Parents have no choice but to step up in ways they never imagined. Let us utilize this time for meaningful moments of growth for ourselves and our families. Hashem has given us a new reality and challenge now. Please note that there is no challenge that is given without the ability to meet that challenge. We need to believe in ourselves and the neshomos (souls)that G-d has given us that we can find ways to grow spiritually in our homes with our families.

There are many resources available to assist us in learning with our children. Let us tap into as many as we can. One example occurred during the plague in the times of Dovid Hemelech. Chazal instituted saying brochos (blessings) in hopes of bringing an end to the epidemic which it did. Currently, we are unable to say Amen in shul but let us at least say brochos in our homes out loud for others to answer Amen. In addition, let us concentrate a few more moments when saying these brochos.

May we all daven that Hashem find favor in the way we are serving Him now to bring an end to this tzarah and the beginning of a new era with His presence in our midst. The ultimate redemption with  Moshiach Bmhayra Vyomeinu. Amen

Parent Guide in Response to School Closures

In response to the school closures in our community, The Associated Talmud Torahs hosted a session for the community parents with a panel of our schools’ social workers. Panelists included Mrs. Debbie Cardash, REACH; Ms. Carly Krawetz, Social Worker at Hillel Torah; Mr. Phil Zbaraz, Counselor at Ida Crown Jewish Academy; Rabbi Shmuel Tenenbaum, Mashgiach at Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi and Rabbi Ephraim Goldman, TAG.

The discussion focused on responding positively to the unexpected changes and uncertainty that are impacting our community, specifically in our homes.

Below is the transcript of the workshop

This conversation will try to address how to work together to provide a measure of comfort and well-being to all during these trying times. Since this is an adjustment period for adults and children, how can we reduce anxiety and tension at home?

How am I going to manage my stress?
Don’t do it alone. Humans are wired to deal with challenges in community. Reach out to someone – a family member, a trusted neighbor. Chances are what you are feeling will resonate with someone else and you can support each other.

Sleep helps challenges go better so try to get enough sleep. Using the airplane analogy,” always put your own oxygen masks first”. Don’t forget to breathe. Deep breaths help with anxiety. Stress exhibits in different ways. Try to find a moment to reflect on what you think is contributing to your elevated stress. Maybe even write it down so you can organize it.

When you identify what stresses you, you might journal what helps you, and try to provide that help for yourself. This is a time of stress in Jewish homes naturally, post Purim and pre-Pesach. Perhaps discuss with your children how they are feeling stressed. Don’t make suggestions about what is stressing them, listen to them. Then discuss all of these stressors and how the family can work together to resolve the stressors.

What are some strategies for talking to your children?

First, how old are they? That affects the nature of the questions, the tone, and what the conversations might sound like.

Pre K-Middle school: be honest with them, show empathy, and check in with them. This age has simpler concerns, e.g. “what about my birthday party?” Listen to them and their needs. Ask them what they’ve heard and what they are feeling. Don’t make assumptions as to what they need. Meet them where they are emotionally and developmentally. Explain that schools are closed to keep them safe and healthy. Don’t give too much information but just enough.

Adolescents: Older students might miss their academic challenges. Students who participate in team sports are impacted with respect to their physical needs. Perhaps they can go out running with friends. They may miss emotional needs through friends as well as their spiritual needs. Try to ascertain what domain is really impacting them? Parent should tell children that it is OK to feel stress. Reassure children that we are here to support each other within families and within the community. Do exercises that can relieve stresses and relax people.

Remember that children need their social peer interactions. Reassure them and encourage them to interact with siblings and call their friends. Teamwork activities help. Also, involve the children in the decision making. Empower them to have their voice in how the day will be orchestrated.

Unpredictability provides a lot of stress for adolescents and humans in general. The sooner the family can come together and provide structure and some predictability will help relieve the ambiguity and uncertainty that exists.

Recognize that there will be a certain level of chaos.

What can we do to create structure?

Keep some of the school’s culture and structure encoded even at home. A good morning starts with a planned night.

Davening, some learning, breakfast, lunch, supper provide structure. This is important for all ages. For younger children, you can use pictures for creating the schedule.

Children who are starting to read and older children – silent reading in the schedule or some other independent work.

Chores: We all have jobs – including children. Parents and children can each make lists of what needs to happen before Pesach. That will help many of the chores get done where everyone agrees. Children should help in the kitchen. That will be a lesson learned as well.

Cooking teaches math and cooperation. Parents who are structured will model for their
children how they are dealing with this situation as well. By giving children too much power will make the situation much worse. Children will need to do chesed at home to help siblings when necessary.

Take care of your own health: Parents must take care of themselves too. Decide what you as a parent need during the day. Children will get their needs met (sometimes at the expense of the adults). Be thinking of healthy, high protein food so we can all be as patient as possible.

What are things a parent can do when the stress has built up over the days together and things appear to be coming unglued?

Try to evaluate what kinds of things you need to let go of to reduce the stress level and get things back into manageable level? Do you need help from other people? Lean on neighbors, extended families, community. Talk to your children.

How do adults take care of their own needs? Make a list with your spouse and children and let them know what this looks like. Children might have to do something while the adults have their time that they need.

How will our children learn?

We need to provide them with a learning structure with some accountability. This will take creativity. The children might be able to help each other – in reading, learning. There will be technical difficulties. We need to laugh and be transparent with children that things will not be perfect so need to be flexible as we try to do our best. Make lemonade out of lemons.

Parting advice tips:

It is OK that we do not have all the answers. We will all do our best to answer questions. Don’t forget to breathe. Feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress are not new phenomena. Yes, this situation is unprecedented but dealing with adversity is nothing new. There has never been a time in our history where we have not been challenged. We have the innate ability to rise to the challenge. We are doing this in community – we are not alone even if at moments we feel alone. Therefore, reach out to others.

We are in it with the world together. We have the choice to laugh or cry. Make the best out of it and rise to the occasion.

Rabbi Ephraim Goldman speaks about the use of technology and its challenges:

Everyone has different levels of access. Once you allow the use of technology it is very hard to cut back on its use later on. Remember, there will be long term consequences. While a movie might calm children for two hours, it is not a perfect solution, just a temporary Band-Aid. If children are not getting along with each other, they will start up with each other again after the movie.

  • Following are suggestions of what we should be doing all the time:
  • Children should never have access to technology in their own privacy behind closed doors. Any access must be supervised and out in the open.
  • Technology use should not be too close to bedtime. This interrupts sleep patterns.
  • Technology use should not be too long at one time. Use 20-30 minute increments at a time. Then do something else more active and engaging.
  • Everything we give to children should be filtered.
  • Have a conversation with children re: why these are precautions taken with technology.
  • We can show our children there are learning benefits to using technology properly. The weeks ahead will see many new shiurim online and via video conference.
  • There is a vast difference between passive and active engagement with technology. Children who use technology must be involved in some kind of activity which is healthier and uses their minds. Some examples: Google maps – type in any address and zoom in. Can Google world locations and see them and learn about them. Scratch – coding for kids. Be cautious of any activities that interact with the outside world – these can be very dangerous.

In conclusion, this is the beginning of a conversation. We hope to use this format to reconnect in the future. Comments can be forwarded to If families have more issues that require more intensive support, connect with your physician or health

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Ki Sisa

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

This week’s parsha, Ki Sisa, starts off with the passuk,Ki Sisa Es Rosh Bnei Yisroel – When you lift up the heads of Klal Yisroel and count them.” Why is this terminology used? Why not just say count them? The meaning becomes clearer if we try to understand what Chazal tells us. The reason that Klal Yisroel is being counted and each one of them is giving the machatzis shekel is that it served as a kaparah for the  sin of the golden calf, an atonement for each one of them.  Thus, the next question arises – so how was this act an atonement?

To help explain this idea, I share this beautiful thought. What was the root of the sin of the golden calf? Bnei Yisroel thought Moshe wasn’t coming down from Har Sinai, got nervous, and didn’t think it was possible for them to continue without him. Hence, they made the golden calf as an intermediary to help them because they thought they could not connect to Hashem directly. However,  the truth is they made a big mistake because Hashem gives everyone, every individual, the power and the ability to believe in himself/herself to be able to connect with Him directly.

This idea is exactly what the passuk is revealing. “Ki Sisa es rosh Bnei Yisroel – When you lift up the heads of Klal Yisroel and count them.” Hashem gives everyone a precious neshama, a precious soul,  and the ability to recognize Him and to serve him properly which means to serve him directly without anything or anybody in between. This is the message we must share with our children. All of us can talk to Hashem, daven to Hashem, do His mitzvos. We can connect everyday with Hashem if we just lift up our heads and believe in ourselves and do not think that we are too little or insignificant to connect with Him.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Tetzaveh

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

When Haman broached the topic of annihilating the Jewish people with Achashveirosh, he introduced the Jewish people as being, “…one nation which is scattered and divided amongst all the other nations.” He meant to tell Achashveirosh that the Jews cannot get along among each other and certainly not with other nationalities, and, therefore, they constitute a threat to the country. What Haman didn’t realize is that in this description, he paid an unintentional compliment to the Jewish people. When he said they were one nation, he acknowledged Jews care for each other’s welfare and take responsibility for each and every Jew, no matter where they are and how they live.

Rabbi Yaakov Galinsky z’l, a famous maggid and Rosh Yeshiva of Chadera, tells a personal story in this vein. During WWII, he was exiled as a Polish citizen within Stalin’s Soviet Russia. Since he was an enemy alien and had no legal standing, he was considered an enemy of the state. Moreover, as a yeshiva man he was also considered to be a subversive and a counterrevolutionary. He spent a considerable time on the run, and one night, he found himself on a train station platform in Bucharia.

Train stations were carefully watched by the NKVD and Reb Yaakov could not get a train out. Without papers and a place to stay out of sight, it was simply a matter of time before he would be arrested and sent to Siberia. As he looked around hoping to find some way out of his dilemma, he saw a cobbler with Jewish features working in a small shop at the railway station. In desperation, he decided to approach this man and ask him for shelter until he could slip onto a train and get out of town. He hesitated since he knew that if he was mistaken and the man was not a fellow Jew, he would be handed over to the police immediately. He decided to approach the man and blurt out Shema Yisrael and see what the cobbler’s response would be. Sure enough, the man responded with, “Baruch Sheim Kvod…” In some way, Reb Yaakov communicated his predicament to the man, and this person took him home and sheltered him for 11 days at great risk to his family and himself.

Many years later Rav Galinsky reflected on this selfless kindness and sacrifice this Buchari Jew had shown him in spite of the fact that their lives, language and cultures were entirely different. This is one of Purim’s major themes. When Jews come together, miraculous things happen. If we focus on our common peoplehood, take responsibility for every Jew’s well-being and ignore how we differ from each other, then we will overcome any adversity. This is why we emphasize mishloach manos and maatanos l’evyonim as important mitzvos that display our care for each other. A joyous and inspiring Purim to all!