Month: July 2020

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Vaeschanan

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

  נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יֹאמַר אֱלֹהֵיכֶם

This week’s haftarah, the first of seven which comfort us after Tisha B’Av, opens with the sentence, “Be comforted, be comforted, oh my nation. Speak to the heart of Yerushalayim and call to her (encourage her) since she was punished doubly for her sins.” The Midrash (Eicha ch. 1) notes that Yerusahalayim is consoled doubly to compensate for her being punished doubly.

This Midrash is not just a play on words. Rav Chayim Shmuelevitz ZT’L (Rosh Yeshiva in Mir, Poland and Yerushalayim, 1902-1979) explains that once the redemption comes, we will be consoled doubly because we will be able to understand that the redemption was actually staged in the very worst of times. The seeds of redemption are sown when we are at our lowest ebb. This is the meaning of the well-known gemara that teaches that Mashiach was born at the time of the destruction.

Reb Chaim also quotes the gemara at the end of Makkos which related an incident in which Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues passed the ruins of the Bais HaMikdash and saw a fox exiting the place where the holy of holies had stood. Rabbi Akiva’s friends began to weep in response to the terrible desolation and desecration they were witnessing. Rabbi Akiva was smiling, and when he was asked for an explanation, he said that the same prophet who said that Zion would be ploughed over because of our sins also said that old hoary men and women, each one holding their staff, will yet again sit in the streets of Yershalayim. Now, that we witnessed the fulfillment of the first part of this prophecy, we can surely anticipate the second part. How did this answer assuage the pain of the destruction?

Rav Chaim explains that the reconstructed Bais HaMikdash and the restoration of our people to our land are going to be on a much higher level of existence than we had in the past. The staffs held by the old people described in the prophecy symbolize abilities that far surpass what old people can do today. The destruction paved the way for this new existence and that is part of the consolation for our people. While the pain for our people is very real and justified, it is still mitigated with the knowledge that it isn’t for naught. It is purposeful and it lays the foundation for a brighter future.

The Jewish people have always overcome their generation’s adversity with the belief that tomorrow will be better. That isn’t enough. We must not only have faith in Hashem that he is just and kind. We must also have trust in his judgment. We must believe that he is always creating a brighter future with today’s events. We will be able to fully understand this at the time of redemption when the world will reach a perfect state, and we will have the double consolation of being redeemed and knowing that our troubles were actually for our own good.

ATT secures funding for schools

Since the closure of our schools, ATT’s Department of Government Programs has been busy advocating for ATT schools in order to secure funding through the Federal CARES Act: Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF).

Last week Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced that close to $1.5 million in allocations was awarded to nonpublic Jewish schools in the CPS district.

These funds are to be spent in the following ways:

  • Supplies/services for sanitation – including PPE and safety equipment
  • Technology – computers, phones, IT work for remote learning, etc.
  • Any activity authorized in ESSA (i.e. extending the regular Titles IIA, III, IV allocations that schools receive) or IDEA (includes low-income children or students, English learners, children with disabilities, adult education and family literacy)
  • Mental health service –counseling, therapy, trauma, behavioral counseling
  • Planning for and coordinating long-term closures
  • Expenses for managing COVID-19 (training, professional development, and oversight)
  • Summer/extended learning opportunities

Spending of CARES funding must be secular, neutral, reasonable and necessary. CARES funding cannot be used to reimburse nonpublic schools. The spending of this CARES funding continues through September 2021.

ATT will help schools with the procedural details for this spending.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Devarim

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Coming Together

Our sages tell us that any generation where the Temple was not rebuilt in their time, it is as if it was destroyed in their time. The simple understanding of this statement is that if we haven’t experienced the ultimate redemption yet, it is because the baseless hatred that existed then (which the Talmud tells us led to the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdosh), still exists now.

This statement is hard to comprehend. There were so many generations before us that contained very worthy and righteous people. If the Temple wasn’t rebuilt in their generation, what chance do we have?  The Chofetz Chaim Z”L (Rabbi Israel Mayer Kagan, leader of the Jewish people pre-World War II) who was responsible for a major initiative in learning the laws of loshon hora (evil speech ) and was known for his meticulous attention to loving his fellow Jew is a perfect example of such a person, and if he wasn’t successful in experiencing the ultimate redemption, what can we do?

The Sfas Emes (19th century Chasidic Rabbi) explains the statement of our sages in the following manner. Our charge is to be builders. G-d demands of us effort, not perfection and completion. The sages are telling us if the Temple wasn’t built in “your” time that means there was no effort made to be a more sensitive people to eradicate the baseless hatred, and, therefore, we are no different than those living at the time the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed. However, if we are putting forth effort to love our fellow Jew, then we are a generation that can be worthy of that redemption. 

I once read the following in one of Rabbi Mattisyahu Solomon’s, (the Mashgiach of Lakewood Yeshiva), seferim. It seems in tragic times, we rally and come together. Why do we have to wait for that to happen? It is time to start coming together, whether it be for a simcha, such as a shalom zachor, or simply calling someone you know to show that you care. Be a part of the community. Let us not wait for the tragedies; let us be pro-active in creating an atmosphere of unity among all Jews. May we merit to be a generation of builders to see the future redemption in our times.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Matos-Masei

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

These Are the Stations of the Jewish People

This week’s second parsha, Massei, begins with a listing of the 42 places that the Jewish people camped in during the journey from Egypt to Eretz Yisroel. It begins with Raamses in Egypt and ends with the encampment on the plains of Moav overlooking Jericho. What is the purpose of this listing? Rashi gives the explanation that it is a retrospective reflection on all of the travails that our people endured during the stay in the desert and that in spite of those difficulties, Hashem stayed with us and pulled us through.

As a people, we have endured much travail and barely survived many of them. Our survival is a testimony to G-d’s covenant with His chosen people and the tenacity of the Jewish spirit. The challenges to our existence and our eventual triumph over these challenges are not the entire purpose of these difficulties. When Hashem places his people in any setting, it has many positive outcomes for us as a people. Every station that we have been placed in has provided us with opportunities to learn about ourselves and to integrate new abilities into our national character. An example of this is the Spanish period where we developed the field of Jewish philosophy, poetry and Hebrew grammar. Sure, there were grave threats to our spiritual and physical safety, and it didn’t end well for us, but we did gain these important competencies because of our 500 year stay there. This is true for individuals as well. Every community we live in and every relationship we have polishes us and adds to our competencies.

Parshas Massei is read during the three weeks of mourning for the Churban, the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. We are sad for the loss of our national pride, the dispersion of our people, our alienation from Hashem and the manifestations of his closeness to us. At the same time, we should reflect on how far we have come, the areas we have developed, and the strengths we have gathered during our long exile. This will give us comfort and a feeling of purpose for what  we have endured as a people.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Pinchos

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

The Three Weeks

Every year when the Hebrew months of Tamuz and Av return, they contain the period of the three weeks. This is a time where tragic events took place in our history which ultimately led to the destruction of both Temples on the ninth day of Av. During this time, we conduct ourselves with customs of mourning and refrain from making weddings, listening to music, etc.

The Torah portion of Pinchos is usually read during the three weeks. This Torah reading includes a section that deals with all of the Yomim Tovim (Festivals). Isn’t it ironic that during the weeks of mourning and sadness, we read in the Torah portion about festive times? Since there is no such thing as a coincidence in Judaism, there must be an explanation for this juxtaposition.

Reb Elimelech of Lizensk (18th c – Rebbe) explains the reason we read this portion during this time of sadness and mourning is so that we shouldn’t be swept away by the various mourning rituals practiced during this time frame. We are being reminded that this part of our history will pass, and we will once again rejoice during the festivals in the temple. A famous expression gam zeh yaavor (this too will pass) personifies this idea.

We all need to remind ourselves of this lesson. In looking at our own personal histories, everyone has experienced situations where one would think there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, somehow we end up seeing the light, and we do move forward. This Torah portion is read to bring us that message of hope – to keep on looking ahead. May we all merit to see that light of redemption in the near future.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Chukas-Balak

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Get Real

In this week’s parsha, we read about Bilaam’s attempt to destroy the Jewish nation by cursing them. If we step back and take in the panoramic view of this story, it is mind boggling. On one side, there is an aggressive upstart nation leaving Egypt with a very openly stated goal of conquering Canaan. On the opposing side there are neighboring nations who engage a sorcerer to curse and destroy this threat. If we consider this in modern terms, the neighboring nations’ actions seem childish and naive. Yet, the Torah gives us a full account of the incident and of Hashem’s involvement with Bilaam, eventually bequeathing us with ספר בלעם – The Book of Bilaam, which the Gemara considers a distinct section of the Torah.

There is a very important message in the way this story develops. The Torah is demonstrating to us that there are many levels of reality and that there are spiritual dimensions of existence that are as real and even more real than the physical world that we engage with our senses. Even the non-Jews of the time understood this world and engaged it. The modern world has relegated “all of that stuff” to backwardness and superstition, yet the Torah validates it and deals with it. This is not to suggest that we try to engage with the occult. The Torah forbids it and today’s practitioners are charlatans.

However, the Torah wants us to realize that there is much more to the world than meets the eye. As Torah Jews, we can and should engage the physical world with the mindset that our actions have major ramifications well beyond the physical confines of existence both in terms of time since our time frame is eternity and in terms of place since this world is merely a antechamber to a greater world.

In addition the Torah is teaching us the power of the spoken word. The Gemara (Shabbos 120b) equates speaking with action based on the fact that Hashem created his world by using speech, not actions. This immense power of speech is both positive and negative, and we need to recognize its potency and treat words with the respect it deserves.

ATT supporters raise $425,057 for REACH

Thanks to the generosity of the Chicago Jewish community, supporters of REACH raised an unprecedented amount of money in only 30 hours on a Charidy campaign. During an economic recession and the COVID-19 epidemic, when our communities are unable to gather for the previously scheduled events and celebrations, we at the ATT are humbled and grateful for the generosity of the community that we serve.

REACH is Chicago’s coordinated effort to build Jewish day schools’ capacity to support students with a wide range of needs in an inclusive way. Our vision is to ensure that all Jewish students can attend the Jewish day school of their choice.

Over the past few months of remote learning, REACH has proved even more crucial for students benefiting from REACH support, ensuring these students continue learning during this challenging time.

Thank you to the families who laid the foundation for the REACH program to grow and have such an impact on our day school community: 

  • Oscar A. & Bernice Novick
  • Crain Maling foundation
  • The Walder foundation
  • Rabbi Morris and Delicia Esformes
  • Mr. Eric and Gayle Rothner
  • Robert and Debra Hartman
  • Robinson Family Foundation
  • Along with the parent body that spearheaded the growth of REACH led by the Broner and Sheinfeld families. 

We are grateful for their belief that we can #REACH4more for all of our day school students. Without their support, we would not have had the confidence to run this first-ever online fundraiser for the ATT in the middle of this challenging fundraising climate.

One of the most exciting parts of running this online campaign was hearing the stories that came in from our teachers, parents and partner schools.

Following are a few of the stories we heard during our fundraiser. These are only some of the stories of how REACH help students succeed in school every single year. 

“REACH performs miracles! Students who would otherwise be totally lost in the classroom and not gain much from regular instruction are given the tools to enable them to achieve. REACH empowers students, building them up and scaffolding them to succeed.” ^JDBY teacher

“The REACH teachers have been wonderful during COVID.” ^ACHDS parent Ilissa Shenker

“Vanessa Cantz [REACH teacher] is incredible. She goes above and beyond. She adapts her lessons to fit each child and have each child thrive in the classroom. She uses different techniques that engage the children and bring out academic success and potential.” ^YTT parent

“They support the teachers and cooperate with everyone to bring out the potential in the child. They invest in the children and partner with parents and act as a liaison as between teachers and parents. This has been a huge ingredient for the success of my child. REACH filled a huge void. The caliber of staff and curriculum keep on improving along with REACH’s relationship with the schools.” ^JDBY parent

“When my daughter started REACH she was barely able to read. Her skills in Judaic and English subjects were very weak. Because of the belief of Shoshana Grossman [REACH teacher] and the REACH staff in JDBY, my child has grown every year. My daughter has been able to spend more time in the classroom while continuing to enjoy her relationship with REACH teachers.” ^JDBY parent of a 4th grader

“Our son attended public school from nursery through 3rd grade. Before entering 4th grade we made the decision to enroll him in the REACH program at ACHDS and have been thrilled with the results. With the extra attention and resources devoted to his development, our soon to be 7th grader (!) has continued to make progress in his general studies classes, has fully caught up in Hebrew kriyah, loves leading davening and learning with his rabbeim. Most importantly, he now fully feels part of the family.” ^ACHDS parents

“As a fourth-grade teacher and working with REACH on a daily basis, I’ve seen the tremendous benefits of their services both with my students receiving REACH support and how they have enriched my classroom. Taking the load off of the teacher, who has a responsibility to ensure each individual student reaches her academic capacity during the year, REACH ensures that their students’ needs are met, all within the framework of the classroom.” ^JDBY teacher Brooke Dordek

“REACH has played an important role in our son’s life since he was in 1st grade. He’s developed relationships with many of his teachers, and they’ve been an important source of support and help for us through the years. They’ve helped him gain many skills and build on his many strengths. We thank reach deeply for the effort, energy, and time they’ve devoted to our son and the many other students that they serve. We’re so very grateful! ^ YTT parents Rabbi Josh and Laura Marder

“Our son has been a part of REACH for several years now. REACH has the most amazing educators. They are attentive and supportive, and it is so crucial to have a liaison at the school when the need arises. They all go above and beyond the call is duty. It is a service that fills an irreplaceable need in the schools.”

YTT parents Micha and Amy Rose

“My daughter is now happy to attend school.” ^ACHDS parent Jodi Miller

“The help of the REACH teachers during COVID- 19 has been fantastic. My daughter made progress even during the crisis. This is what REACH is about, not just doing but going above and beyond the call of duty.” ^ACHDS parent Zehava Allen

“We have been part of REACH from its inception. The REACH teachers don’t only teach classroom skills or academic skills they teach lifelong skills. The teachers are animated, and so open and honest with my son that it creates a better bond. Because of that, he tries harder so that his REACH teachers get nachas from him.” ^Elie and Shifra Schreiber

“It is with tears in my eyes that I look back at my son’s growth at YTT over the past five years. Mrs. Cantz [REACH teacher] and Rabbi Chapman [REACH teacher] have gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that he keeps up with his peers, academically and socially, while helping him acquire the skills he needs for reading and writing in both Hebrew and English. 

REACH is fortunate to have such wonderful employees, and we are fortunate to have the REACH team behind our son.” ^YTT parent

“We love REACH. They do so much for my child. During Covid-19 they were fabulous with Zoom. They really love our daughter.” ^ACHDS parent Naomi Lopin

“Without REACH, I would not have been able to do homeschooling. They modified the material to fit my child’s needs. They made special worksheets for her. Shoshana Perlmutter [REACH teacher] calls every day to work with her. This was fantastic. Mrs. Jeramias [REACH teacher] did a reward program and sent out prizes.“ ^JDBY parent, E.K.

There is so much uncertainty in the world right now and in education. But as we enter our tenth year of serving the Chicago Jewish day school community, one thing is clear. REACH has the drive and dedication to continue doing the important work of ensuring that every Jewish child has the opportunity and tools they need to succeed in the day school of their choice. When one child in our community is empowered, our whole community is lifted up.

Learn more about REACH here.