Month: May 2020

A Taste Of Torah – Shavuos

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Soon, the Yom Tov of Shavuos will begin. On Shavuos, we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai to our ancestors. The question arises why are we remembering the first Luchos (Tablets) that were given on Shavuos and not the second set of Luchos that were given on Yom Kippur?  The first set of Luchos didn’t last due to our ancestors’ sin in building the golden calf while the second set remains with us today. Shouldn’t we celebrate the one that lasted? What was so important in the giving of the first Luchos that we celebrate its time of giving?

The Ramchal (a prominent 18th c. Jewish philosopher) explains that the first encounter at Mount Sinai still has an effect on us today. That was the moment that we were commanded to follow Hashem’s mitzvos. We were given the charge to live a life with a higher set of values and morals than the rest of the world. G-d gave us the ability to make an impact on this world and that ability doesn’t leave us even when we fall short. It is always there for us to tap into. Therefore, we celebrate on Shavuos the potential we all have for greatness by accepting the mission that G-d gave us.  May we all be able to reach inside ourselves and fulfill our potential in our daily lives.

REACH support during distance learning

Learning virtually presents new challenges for students at all learning levels, but for students with learning disabilities or other challenges to learning, the struggle is even greater. Virtual school during COVID-19 means that many students are struggling to stay motivated and focused while learning at home, with technology glitches and endless distractions.

REACH (Resources for Educational Achievement Collaboration and Health) educators are working remotely on a regular basis with students with learning challenges. The REACH instructors use a variety of specialized methods to ensure that students of varying ability levels are able to learn the material. They work hand-in-hand with classroom teachers to modify assignments, add a visual component to the learning, break down the content and reinforce skills. Together, these educators work with students on achieving individualized goals and tailor the instruction for them.

REACH teachers are optimizing remote learning for each student they support

  1. Modifying assignments from each student’s classroom teachers
  2. Adding visual components to the lesson, this is especially helpful in those classes that are taking place exclusively on audio
  3. Breaking down the content into smaller sections to allow for mastery
  4. Reviewing and reinforcing new skills that are taught in remote lessons
  5. Individualizing goals, specifically tailored to each student

REACH teacher Aviva Lopin works with primarily fourth and fifth-grade students at Yeshiva Tiferes Tzvi (YTT). Aviva listens to her students’ recorded audio classes, and then she reviews and co-teaches the material to her students in a real-time virtual conversation. 

Parents are key partners in remote learning. “I’m blessed with the best, most supportive parents who help the students stay focused by helping them get prepared for the lesson with any materials they need, and with their flexibility,” said Aviva. 

Estie Siegal is a REACH teacher who supports students in grades K-8 at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School (ACHDS). She has daily Zoom sessions with each of her students. During her experience with remote learning, Estie has noticed that her students are actually benefiting from one-on-one attention without the normal classroom interruptions. She has seen tremendous growth in her students and feels that, despite these unforeseen challenges, they are thriving.

Throughout this time of remote learning, Estie acknowledges her students are working extremely hard. “I focus on their strengths to build them up. They are most receptive when starting with their strong points and individual interests whenever it is possible.”

Shoshana Perlmuter is a REACH teacher who works with students grades 1-8 at both Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov (JDBY) and ACHDS either through Zoom or over the phone. She focuses on maintaining  routines  with the students that she teaches in her  reading groups Shoshana reports that students are sometimes less distracted when learning by phone.  

She has been customizing the packets distributed by JDBY teachers and modifying the material for the students based on their individual needs. Shoshana tries to enhance the lessons to make them interactive and more engaging with computer activities. “Making the lessons more dynamic and interactive on the screen makes it more appealing, and I try to make it as engaging as possible.” 

A parent of one of Shoshana’s students says, “My daughter looks forward to her Zoom with Miss Perlmutter. That means the teacher is doing a good job engaging her and she’s really gaining from it.”

Like students, REACH educators needed to adapt quickly in the methodology they employ to assist students effectively through remote learning. 

Special education is good education. REACH teachers recommend setting all children up for successful remote learning by applying the following principles:

Be understanding. Aviva says the key to successful remote learning starts with being understanding. “The kids are going through this challenge just as much as the adults are. Give a lot of praise for anything positive they are doing.” Estie has found that validating students and empathizing about how hard the situation is has helped students connect to the learning. 

Provide technical support. It’s crucial to support the technology challenges. “When they make a call or Zoom, parents should help them set up the technology so that the students will be less likely to get frustrated and discouraged when it takes extra time,” says Aviva.

Designate a place that is conducive for learning. Try to have a special chair or spot to do work with all their necessary supplies. Some of our parents have even decorated the area to make it extra special. 

Keep lessons short. Shorter lessons, especially for those that are prerecorded, help students stay focused and engaged, especially if some fun is sprinkled into the lessons. Estie uses timers to start and stop a lesson, because when they know an end is coming it’s easier for them to work up to that point.

Make lessons fun. Estie has noticed that challenging students to see if they can do an activity is often more effective than forcing them to do it. She uses Zoom’s whiteboard for teaching and the app Quizlet to reinforce lessons in an interactive way.

Be flexible. Shoshana’s best advice to teachers and parents? “Try your best to be as flexible as possible. Let the students know that even if they don’t understand every little thing, they shouldn’t be so hard on themselves especially during this difficult time.”

Even though they are still socially distanced, these educators are making sure that learning is still within their students’ REACH. 

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Bamidbar

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

This week’s parsha is devoted to the regimentation of the Jewish people during their years in the desert. The 12 שבטים (tribes) were counted and organized into camps with a very specific configuration, while they were moving camp and also when they encamped. Every tribe’s location was specific and collectively they encircled the heart of the camp, the אהל מועד (Tent of Meeting), containing the ark and the holy vessels. This nucleus of holiness was the focal point of communal service and dedication to Hashem. This proximity and visibility of the Mishkan created a sense of intimacy and closeness to the Divine presence.

In contrast to this, there were many boundaries and warnings to the Jewish people to maintain a respectful distance from Hashem’s presence. During travel, the holy vessels were covered to prevent anyone from gawking at them, and they were carried wrapped in their coverings. Throughout the description of the camping and travel arrangements , there were warnings to maintain careful boundaries and that the holy should not be trespassed upon.

Rav Shamshon R. Hirsch (prominent Jewish thinker and Chumash commentator1808-1888) notes the dichotomy in this arrangement. The Tabernacle and the Torah that sanctifies it are the unifying presence in the midst of the camp. This conveys a message of affinity to the Torah, and its constant presence in our lives. At the same time, it was to be regarded with extreme awe and be approached with respect and trepidation. This was to avoid the familiarity that breeds informality and disrespect.

Rav Hirsch explains that these formalities are an expression of the Jew’s relationship to the Torah. The Torah is not a set of values developed by the Jewish people to guide the spirit of the community. The Torah does not emanate from the human soul; it is a G-d given Torah, divinely inspired and written. Our job is to assimilate Hashem’s word into our souls and behaviors. Nothing else will work for us. This is why the Mishkan, the seat of Hashem’s presence, is in our midst; yet, it is separated from us by these boundaries to assure that we have the correct attitude when we relate to it.

We are preparing for the renewal of our acceptance of Hashem’s Torah on Shavuos, the day the heavens opened, and Hashem spoke to us directly. We approach the Yom Tov and the Torah with renewed commitment and love, and we do so knowing that the Torah is here to define us, not the other way around.

Parenting Support During COVID-19

National expert in Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) Jordan Spikes from Think:Kids along with REACH’s CPS expert Tamar Shames answered questions from community members on May 18 on Facebook Live and Zoom. Together they offering support and ideas for helping kids and families cope during this challenging time, based on this research-based behavior method that they use to train teachers. Spikes is a consultant with ATT teachers, training them to use CPS in the classroom, but the method can also support parents in their efforts to build up kids’ intrinsic motivation to make positive choices and solve problems.

Jordan Spikes from Think:Kids

Below are some of the questions and answers they covered

Q: How do you approach homeschooling?

Jordan Spikes: There are a lot of reasons you don’t have the ability to set everything aside and be a teacher with your student. It is important to remember that you are not working from home and your kids are homeschooling. You are surviving a crisis while attempting to also work from home and homeschool your children.

Tamar Shames: We need to have lower expectations of ourselves and manage self-care at this time. It is important to collaborate with the kids. If a child is struggling or not doing well, it’s not that they are trying to get out of something. We have to think about what is getting in the way. What skills are being required that they aren’t normally having to do?

Q: How to deal with kids losing motivation:

Jordan Spikes: For some kids the block might be that being on Zoom reminds them they miss their friends. Understand it’s okay if they’re overwhelmed. But if it’s a pattern, check in to see what’s going on here from an inquisitive perspective.

Tamar Shames: If kids are displaying behaviors you’ve never seen before or in a frequency you’ve never seen, it’s important to recognize that it’s coming from a place where they now have different expectations and are in a different setting. You have to stretch your empathy muscle.

Jordan Spikes: We’re not excusing our students for not engaging or doing their work. We’re explaining why it’s happening. As adults, If we’re stressed, we take something off our plate at home or work. That’s what we do with kids who are struggling. What if we reduce behavior or stress to see if they are more equipped to face other things?

Communication is key right now:

Tamar Shames: Communication with your children. Usually when our children face something in their lives, we’ve been through it before. But this is an exception that we are experiencing along with our children. So as much as we try to be reassuring, it’s still something unknown so everyone feels collectively. If your family is struggling, having a conversation with a friend or family can help you through this. It’s hard to know what feels normal during this time. 

Jordan Spikes: I wonder if we are putting on really calm faces all the time, they may feel like they have to be okay with this? Hearing that everyone feels their struggles helps our kids who are feeling the same way. This is tough. It is not your job right now to solve the problem. Just be there for them. Try to understand things from their perspective. Just listening helps regulate the human brain. It literally settles the brain down a little bit and can help. This doesn’t have to be a verbal conversation, it can be a note or text because face to face can create urgency. 

Tamar Shames: Sometimes going for a walk or a rhythmic activity can help them regulate themselves and be calm. Nowhere in the history of telling someone to calm down, do they calm down. Don’t try to talk it in the moment of meltdown but it is always best to wait for a moment when they feel calm. You can make it a game. Can I ask you 20 questions to try to get to the bottom of it? I know this is a tough conversation and low bar, no pressure, but when you’re feeling up to it, I want you to know that I want to help you. Be persistent not pushy. 

Jordan Spikes: Once they see we are curious and not that we are trying to change their behavior, that can help them.

How do you know what’s normal behavior versus what’s a real problem?

As a parent, you are wearing so many hats and responsibilities right now. If I believe it’s them naturally pushing boundaries, what would my response be? So then, do your usual consequence. Then, what’s the result? Did that work? If not, maybe they’re overwhelmed

Q: For example not wearing pjs:

Jordan Spikes: What is the expectation which makes wearing sweatpants a problem? What is it that you want them to be doing and why? Maybe it’s a comfort. What’s your concern? Here’s mine. What’s a way we can combine those two?

Q: How do we help kids keep up their motivation? 

Tamar Shames: People are getting tired. 

Jordan Spikes: This is much more complex than we give it credit for. There are a lot of things I’m expected to do, but I do them anyway. Differentiating, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Relatedness and autonomy are two things a lot of us are missing out on. We are looking for opportunities to control what I can control. So it might be that I’m not going to do my work today. That doesn’t excuse it, but it explains it. So maybe look for ways you can give them control over something. 

Whatever you’re doing right now, know that it’s enough.

Tamar Shames: We are also struggling with competency, as we have had to take on jobs we never wanted to do. Autonomy, our choices are being taken from us as well. How to create a sense of choice for our lives. If you’re feeling less motivated, there’s a good reason for that. And however we can still feel connected to people around us in a safe way.

Jordan Spikes: Genuinely ask what’s wrong. I’ve noticed a real difference now. Can I ask what’s going on to try to work toward a different solution?

You are doing the best you can and your kids are doing the best they can. And teachers are doing the best they can. No one asked for this. Give yourself the grace to sometimes feel things are not okay and that’s okay.

Tamar Shames: Our job as parents is to do our best to create a safe home environment. 

Social workers respond to challenges of COVID-19

Mrs. Debbie Cardash, REACH,  Ms. Carly Krawetz, social worker at Hillel Torah, Mr. Phil Zbaraz, counselor at Ida Crown Jewish Academy and  Rabbi Avrohom Shimon Moller, ATT all gathered on Zoom for a community-wide session to support parents navigating homeschool and parenting during Coronavirus.

Previous sessions were forward-looking: What’s it going to look like? Now, we are nine weeks in. We have figured out many things. It is time to move forward and anticipate the issues we will be facing in the coming weeks.

How will we manage the uncertainty in a way that reflects our values? We are looking at a new reality. What should we address heading into the unknown?

Dr. Phil:

Let’s look at where we just came from? We were told all we needed to do was “shelter in place.” People seemed to be able to do that task. Now we seem to be in a transitional phase. It is not so simplistic anymore since there are multiple layers now – financial, religious, relationships. Each new dimension adds more complexity. So, the phase now is more complicated and will require more sensitivity as to who we are and what our values are. People become more reactive during these times and act in a way that is not out of calm. This leads us down different paths when we need to make decisions.


We will begin to see in our homes that people want to do different things in our homes. Setting rules and boundaries needs to happen in a supportive and respectful way. This will look different in different families.

Rabbi Moller:

We all respond to an urgent crisis as human beings with adrenalin and strength. Eventually we lose our heroism and our sense of selflessness as the reality continues for a while. Our regular personality comes through. The sprint is over but the marathon is still on.


When we are receiving conflicting information, how can parents navigate this? Children push back and can find opinions that support their viewpoint.

Dr. Phil:

There’s no one size fits all approach. We all approach things differently. When illness strikes, people reevaluate their lives. On a global scale the world has been shaken out of autopilot. We always did things as part of our routine. Now the world has been asked to take off the autopilot setting, and conscious decisions govern everything. The level of change, decision making, and awareness is unprecedented. It has caused people a lot of fatigue – compassion fatigue, quarantine fatigue, zoom fatigue, etc. Cannot gloss over these things.


We want to get back to our normal lives. Need to do self-care especially now since every stress becomes a real challenge to maintain control and happiness in our homes.


Our cognitive functions are working way to hard. This contributes to fatigue. We all need to own and honor that it is harder to do things which sets us up for frustration and diminished demeanor. Don’t take on hard conversations if you are not prepared for it.

We all suffer from momentary lapses of judgement. Need to rally the troops and ask shaalos and model this for the children. It is OK for our children to see how parents react to stress in a positive way.


If you weren’t feeling frustrations and anxieties, that would be abnormal. We are all at a different place in our feelings.

Dr. Phil:

Our families are experiencing shedding of their routines/rituals/ typical responses and reactions and as much as people are trying to hold on to things, they will find that there are things that need to fall away especially if they affect a person’s ability to adapt. Do not hold onto things that will not help you cope and that will not help at this time.


At the beginning we spoke about the importance of structuring the home during this time of e-learning. Now that we are almost through with this portion, you will figure out how to adjust to the changes that will take place over the summer.

Dr. Phil:

There is a sense of loss – Need to talk about the immediate milestones of our students that look different now. We are missing developmental milestones – graduations, class trips, other activities, Israel, etc.

Challenge – can no longer live in the imaginary moment – need to hit the pause button from that and focus on today. This can be a gift to ourselves – the “present moment” – and a greater understanding of who we are as a person. What can we do for our children with their “right now” needs? The slowdown of the world has caused us to pay more attention to the here and now.


It is OK to relish the moment. Playing games, spend time together, as much as there is loss there is tremendous opportunity for growth.

How can we advocate effectively for our children with the school? What are some tips to reach out for your child?


Teachers and staff are certainly willing to work with parents at this time to help their children. Any feedback and constructive feedback from parents are welcome. Making individual plans is important. Be honest and reach out to the child’s teacher in a respectful, kind way. Teachers are still able to make accommodations and modifications.


Underscore that this has to be done with respect. The teachers are also under a lot of stress and fatigue. They are human beings as well.

Dr Phil:

With teenagers, it is vital for part of their day to have an area carved out for their own individual creativity. Parent could help identify what those areas of creativity are for their children. Many of these opportunities for creativity have been taken away from them. Families should come together and talk about this.


This is very important.


Harder for adults to carve out their own creativity. Need to take time for this.

Rabbi Moller:

We need to respect the human need for ceremony and symbolism. These life cycle events are extremely important. Need to be able to use our creativity to create something memorable out of the current situation. Seize the moment and incorporate the positive aspects of anything that that we cannot do because of the current crisis. We cannot replace the anticipation and excitement about major events that are cancelled but we need to be creative to make these replacement events memorable. Ironically, because they will be different and novel , they will be much more memorable.


Children are resilient and if we act appropriately to them, it might be enough for them.

How honest should we be with our children about our handling of the uncertainty?

Dr Phil:

Our bodies don’t lie, and our kids have an amazing capacity to read us. So, by trying to hide it away you will cause more disturbance for your children as they see a dissonance  between your words and your body language. Part of the human condition is to feel things. It is a life lesson that you can feel things but it does not mean you will fall apart. You can work through them and transcend them. I am not a believer in putting a mask on and protect child from a natural human response.


It needs to be a balance. Temper your feelings with developmental realities. Perhaps for younger children need to be more protective. Whatever children think of is probably worse than what is actually happening. So, need to share basic truthful statements – these can be a gift to all. Sometimes say, “I don’t have all the answers; when I do, I will share.” Explain your non-answer.


Honesty is the best policy. Try to make sure kids see you are in control, keep routines, and keep them loved and share/focus on what is good in the household at this time.


Structure is always important. That helps everyone. If it falters once it a while that is ok, bring it back. This will help with mental health and physical health hygiene.


Separate the weeks from the weekends.

Final question:

What are a couple of things that we should think about as we go into the next phase of the unknown?

Dr. Phil:

It is vital to really have a very conscious appreciation of our faith and values – that is from where we draw our faith. The doing part of our day is important but it requires an acknowledgement of the Source from  which we draw our strength. We feel much stronger when we are part of something much greater than ourselves.


As we navigate these choppy waters, set rules and boundaries in your house. Don’t forget to enjoy the small stuff. Don’t forget to breathe. Pay attention to where you are now and where you are going.

Rabbi Moller:

When we use the term unprecedented, realize that it’s a matter of perspective. We need our faith. We have had much suffering in our history. It is unprecedented for us, but we can learn from previous historical situations to give us chizuk and  to prevail.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Behar

Walking with You

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

In the beginning of the second Torah portion of this week, we are commanded to walk in the ways of Hashem. Rashi explains this commandment does not refer to doing the mitzvos, but rather,  the effort that goes into the action of doing them. The reward for this effort as stated in the ensuing verses includes peace, prosperity, and that G-d will rest His presence with you and walk with you. How do we understand the meaning of this last blessing? How does G-d walk with you?

The Seforno (a 16th century commentator on the Chumash) explains that walking with you means that G-d is ready to interact with us wherever we may be. We should not limit our interactions with G-d to only designated places for Torah and tefillah. Yes, our synagogues and Batei Medrash are places where the presence of Hashem is felt. However, we have to understand that they do not have to be the only places.

If we do as the Torah commands us, to walk in the ways of Hashem, applying ourselves as much as we can in the effort of doing the mitzvos, we will have the ability to feel His presence wherever we are. It is not about how much we do, but rather about the effort we put forth in doing. This effort leads us and keeps us focused on strengthening our connection with G-d in our synagogues, in our homes, and wherever we may be. The more effort we put in, the more we are thinking about doing His will, which will subsequently lead to feeling His presence in all aspects of our lives.

This lesson is so true, especially in the times we are living in now. We don’t have the abilities yet to be in our synagogues. We have been davening and learning in our homes. This time period, as challenging as it has been, has provided us with insight concerning this idea. Walking in the ways of Hashem is wherever we may be at that time doing His will.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Emor

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Our Sages refer to Sefer VaYikra as “Toras Kohanim – The Laws of the Kohanim.” This is because large sections of this part of the Chumash deal with topics that involve the Kohanim, the sacrifices, ritual impurity, mitzvos that pertain specifically to Kohanim,  and the laws of consecration of property that require the Kohain’s involvement. While this holds true for a large portion of the sefer, it isn’t true for many topics that are not specifically related to Kohanim. An example are the laws of kashrus which applies to all Jews equally.

In Parshas Emor  this is very striking. The first half of the parsha deals with Kohain specific halacha; the second half deals with the holidays of the year. Is there a reason that the Torah placed these halachos in proximity to the ones that are relevant only to Kohanim?

An important Torah principle is that all Jews are Kohanim. We are expected to lead exalted lives and to be beacons of spirituality and service of Hashem. The Kohanim are expected to inspire us and be a reservoir that the laity can draw from. Hashem gave the entire nation the designation of “Mamleches Kohanim V’Goi Kadosh –  a priestly kingdom and holy people.”

The general mitzvos that are distributed in these parshiyos such as kashrus, forbidden relationships, yomim tovim and others have the specific purpose of helping us maintain our level of holiness and priesthood. The restrictions on physical indulgence and the requirement to commune with Hashem with  our family life on the holidays are keys to success in this important role that we all hold.

During these sefira days, we prepare ourselves to renew our commitment to the Torah and the Torah way of life. We should think about the exceptional role we are expected to play and make sure that our lifestyle is worthy of the label of “Kohanim vgoy kadosh.”

How to thank a teacher

This year’s National Teachers’ Appreciation week could not have come at a better time. With every parent now forced into the role of their child’s teacher during the COVID-19 pandemic, is there any parent of school age children out there who doesn’t think teachers deserve a raise?! We encourage all our parents to do what they can to recognize and express hakarat hatov (appreciation) to their children’s teachers.

As the Chicago Jewish community’s hub of quality learning, funding and advocacy, we have seen firsthand the works it has required of our schools to facilitate virtual learning practically overnight. This unprecedented time in our modern history has forced all of us to adapt, and teachers have led the charge in ensuring children keep learning and growing even now. They’ve taken steps to assure the well being of their students and have been a calming force of normalcy for students facing so much uncertainty. And they’ve done this on top of managing their own families’ struggles at home.

Following are a few ways you and your children can thank teachers

  1. Write a letter or email: It’s human nature to speak up with complaints, but when is the last time you took the time to offer thanks and gratitude for a job well done? Take a moment to specifically express your gratitude to your children’s teachers. Point out what you have noticed has gone well. A hand written letter or card from you and your child or even an email can go a long way to support a teacher. If you send an email, consider Ccing the administration so that they can also recognize a job well done.
  2. Make a sign and send a photo: Teachers typically enter this profession because love what they do, and right now they are missing the opportunity to connect with their students. Even if your children are having Zoom classes or phone calls with their teachers, it’s not the same as being together. Take a photo of your child with a card or poster he or she made, and you will no doubt make a teacher’s day. If you and your school are on social media, post it there and tag the school to encourage everyone to do the same.
  3. Give a gift: Monetary gifts certainly aren’t necessary, but they do go a long way. Everyone is shopping online these days, so a gift card to Amazon or Target is easy and appreciated. Some of the ATT schools are collecting funds for teacher gifts too, so we encourage you to join this if you can. Not all gifts have to cost money, though. We are a tight knit community, so if you know a teacher personally, your child could deliver a handmade craft like a friendship bracelet, beaded key chain or painted rock to a deserving teacher.
  4. Nominate a teacher for the Hartman Family Foundation Teacher of the Year Award: We believe so strongly in the power of recognizing teachers that we host an annual teacher award where three teachers earn a cash prize and the honor of being named an educator of the year. We can think of no better way to express your gratitude to our teachers than to nominate them for this esteemed award that will be given out next year.