Month: August 2020

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Ki Seitzei

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

In Parshas Ki Seitzei, the Torah tells us that when a man marries, he is exempted from military duty and other communal responsibilities for the first year. The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the intent of this mitzvah is that the young couple will be able to cement their relationship and that investing focus and time will help build that strong foundation required for a stable and happy relationship.

This mitzvah underscores the importance of investing in relationships in order to build them so that  they will endure and prevail over the vicissitudes which every relationship will eventually face. If we are attentive and present in the beginning, the relationship will thrive and be strong. In the best of times, educators  invest in their relationships with students so that there is trust and a willingness in the student to work hard and to face learning challenges. During the recent pandemic, this was critical as teachers and students were physically separated and all had to rely on the existing relationship to continue trusting and learning. As we prepare for a new school year, the ATT planned two teacher training sessions that focused on this theme. These sessions focused on how to create a safe, trusting and close relationship in which teachers proactively plan positive interactions with their students individually to create “relational assets” which can be used when a teacher needs to make demands on a student.

I am departing from my usual parsha message style and addressing the current school situation in particular.

School is in the air! Reopening is happening this week, G-d willing, for most of our schools!! The ATT schools have been working diligently throughout the summer to plan for in-person learning in the fall while being vigilant about the community’s health concerns. Schools are working overtime to comply with the government requirements for safe school reopening and consulting with their medical advisors to add additional layers of safeguards to assure the greatest measure of safety possible. Schools have used creativity and a “can do” attitude to overcome major hurdles and logistical problems to reach this point. Some schools have allocated sizable budgets to enlarging classrooms, creating useable outdoor space such as tents, purchasing screens and partitions and providing viable options for families and teachers who cannot reenter school safely at this time.

The ATT has been working with the schools in helping them plan, share information, and advocate with outside entities who can help. We are helping the system’s teachers be prepared and to feel confident and positive about the new school year with all of its unknowns.

The schools have also done a great deal to make sure that their planning is transparent and clear to the parents. Schools endeavor to accommodate the special needs of families and students who may need to maintain a higher level of separation and are doing a remarkable job within the constraints of what is possible. Please continue to work with your child’s school while recognizing the difficulties we are all facing and the limits that this pandemic has placed upon us all. This period has been very taxing, and the best way forward is to work together.

The best way to prepare your child is to be positive about school reopening while acknowledging the hardships and uncertainty which come along with it. We are going to do this and focusing on the positive will make this journey easier. A good attitude about these challenges will strengthen our resilience, adaptability and perseverance.

A lot is hinging on our schools’ and parents’ efforts. We should all daven that our efforts are blessed with success.

ויהי נועם ד’ אלקינו עלינו ומעשה ידינו כוננה עלינו ומעשה ידינו כוננהו

May Hashem’s favor be upon us and the work of our hands be successful!

Mask hacks for the new school year

Getting back to school safely this year will require all of us to be on board with masks

When it comes to getting kids to wear masks to school this year, they can look to so many professionals who wear masks all the time already. Policemen, firemen, construction workers, doctors, nurses, scientists and the list goes on of jobs that require masks. Reminding kids of this is just one of the ways to inspire them to wear their masks with pride. 

Masks have become part of the new normal to keep yourself and others safe, but school will likely be the first time your child has to wear a mask for so many consecutive hours. 

There are ways to make this more manageable and maybe even a little fun for kids. Though kids are often more adaptable than we adults anticipate, it can still be hard for children to comprehend why it’s so important to wear masks, and it can be even harder to actually keep them on. 

Why we wear masks

It’s important to explain to your kids just a little bit of the science behind wearing masks so that they can relate to the importance of wearing them. The more children understand why they need to wear masks, the more willing they will be to actually wear them.

For starters, the CDC says, “COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”  

The candle test 

One effective and engaging way to get a kid’s attention is a fun science experiment. Bill Nye recorded his experiment where he attempts to blow out a candle wearing different face coverings. He starts with a scarf wrapped around his face and successfully blows out the candle. In another attempt, he attempts to blow out the candle wearing a cloth face mask and is unable to extinguish the flame. 


##WearAMask ##LearnOnTikTok ##TikTokPartner

♬ original sound – billnye

Although this cannot necessarily prove that the mask you are using is effective in containing droplets, it is a fun experiment to do with children to show them what the mask is supposed to do. If your child can easily blow out the candle, it is probably a good indication that you should get a different mask. 

Get kids involved to wear masks at school

Another great way to encourage your child to actually wear his or her mask is to have them involved in the selection process. 

  • Sit down on Amazon or any other website and peruse masks together or print a selection for them to review.
  • There are also DIY masks that you can create as a project together as a family. 
  • Grab some iron-on decals or stickers and let your child decorate their own mask that they will be excited to wear. Check your school’s guidelines to see what kind of rules your schools has for masks.

As you get your children involved, make sure that you do your best to model mask-wearing in front of them. When you leave for a store, proudly exclaim that you have your mask ready-to-go. Positive reinforcement can go a long way, so when you see your child wearing his or her mask make sure to praise them and highlight the positive behavior. 

Practice makes progress for wearing masks

In some ways it seems like the pandemic has lasted forever, but wearing masks is just one of the many aspects that will take some time to get used to. To make it easier, here are some ways to practice mask-wearing with your kids: 

  1. Practice for short periods of time: Wearing masks takes time to get used to. No one enjoys the feeling of not being able to breathe, especially when it’s still 80 degrees outside. By allowing your child to wear the mask for five-minute increments and gradually increasing the time, you can allow them to get used to wearing their masks for a longer time at school. 
  2. Make it fun: Depending on the age of your child, making a game around mask-wearing could be an effective tool. Introduce masks in playtime by playing doctor, putting masks on stuffed animals, or make it a race to get it on. This will also help ensure that your child can take their mask on and off without assistance. By making mask-wearing fun, you are both encouraging them to successfully keep their mask on at school and also keeping the mood a little lighter. 
  3. Delivering the message: Little reminders throughout the day about the importance of mask-wearing can help them become accustomed to wearing their masks. You know your child best and what interests them, so try to find a way to address mask-wearing in a way they will be receptive to.

Have extra masks handy

Wearing masks may be uncomfortable at times, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. When you find a mask you like, buy extra so that you can keep spare ones in the car, their backpack, and by the front door for easy access. Start with a few masks from different stores to see what styles your kids like best. Masks fit differently depending on each person’s size and facial structure, so what works for one family member may not be ideal for another.

Finding the right mask for your child to wear at school

Don’t settle for a mask that falls off or is uncomfortable to wear. There are some great masks out there that are easy to wear and breathable, but still provide adequate protection for you and your child.  Here are a few top picks for the best masks to start the new school year:

  1. 32 Degrees Kid’s Unisex Face Cover, 8-pack

It may be worth the CostCo membership just for these masks. They are light, breathable and though they are easy to put on, they don’t fall off easily. They are also machine washable and come in an 8-pack so you can keep up with having a clean mask for school each day. They come in a variety of solid colors, vibrant and neutral, and even pass Bill Nye’s “candle test.”  They also have the mask for adults to match. 

  1. Kid’s Unisex Face Mask (3 – pack)

These are your standard rectangle-shaped mask in a variety of colors and designs. They are also machine washable and have a metal nose clip to help the mask stay on better. 

  1. 5y-10y Kids facemask Reusable 100% Cotton Face Mask washable 3 layer 3D with Nose Wire adjustable ear straps filter Pocket & Filter Option

This mask gives you the option to add filters for extra protection and also contain the nose wire. These handmade masks are lightweight, breathable and also have adjustable ear straps. 

  1. Variety 5-Pack of Triple-Layer Cloth Face Masks for Kids

While you are doing some back to school shopping there, Old Navy’s masks come in a variety of solid colors, are breathable and are easy to take on and off. 

  1. Kids’ 2pk Cloth Face Masks – Cat & Jack™

Target’s face masks are soft, comfortable and one size fits most kids three and up. These masks include the nose wire, have two layers and a pocket for a filter (not included.)

A few more notes to consider when buying masks for this year:

  • It is a good idea to buy several styles of comfortable masks so that your child can choose what works best for them.
  • Masks with nose wires often work better for children who wear glasses. If you use a mask with a filter pocket but no nose wire, you can repurpose a blue medical mask that has a nose wire in it, just trim it to size and insert it into the pocket.
  • Some people experience dryness after prolonged mask use. Check that your child has access to drinking water throughout the day.

This school year brings with it many unknowns and challenges, but by taking proactive measures we can make mask-wearing just a little easier and more effective for our kids and teachers to have a safe and successful school year.  

Note that the ATT is not a source of medical advice, and you should ask your pediatrician if you have any questions about the safety of any particular masks.

ATT Announces Another Banner Year in Securing Federal Funding for Its Schools

What does the ATT’s Government Programs Department do? It ensures that our schools receive the Federal funds they are entitled to and that these funds are used appropriately to close the achievement gap and increase student achievement. These funds must be supplemental and not supplant regular school budgets and programs. They must also be secular and neutral, reasonable and necessary. The current programs are part of the Federal program called ESSA – Every Student Succeeds Act.

Federal funds are allocated directly to the state and the state allocates these funds to the local public educational agencies. Chicago Public Schools works closely with the ATT to distribute services/materials associated with these funds according to specific government guidelines. The ATT attends consultation meetings with Chicago Public School officials every month to advocate for its schools and has been doing so for over 30 years. When comparing the funds safeguarded by ATT to other states across the U.S., ATT comes out ahead in its per pupil funding across all Title programs.

Beneficiaries of Federal funds include the Jewish school populations in Chicago and the suburbs, including yeshivos. Funds provide resources to schools, administrators, teachers, and students.

Federal Title Funding secured for 2019-2020 topped $2 million and impacted close to 4000 students and teachers. Since 2000, the ATT has secured and processed over $19 million in Federal Title Funding for its schools!

Specific funding programs that are available are:

  • Title I for students experiencing academic difficulties – math/reading remediation, academic coaching, professional development, fine arts, and parent involvement programs,
  • Title IIA for professional development of teachers and administrators,
  • Title III for supporting materials and tutoring services for limited English proficient students,
  • Title IV for technology, program enrichment, and social emotional student health,
  • IDEA Proportionate Share for special ed student referrals and services. Over 100 students from ATT schools were serviced for learning disability instruction, speech/language, and social work during the past year.

ATT is proud of its role in these programs. Its schools are appreciative of ATT’s activism on their behalf and the ATT’s expertise in safeguarding the funding year after year.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Re’eh

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

It Isn’t Easy to Commit

When the Torah discusses the mitzvah of tzedakah, charity, the possuk  says, “כי בגלל הדבר הזה”  –  “as a result of this matter (your generosity) Hashem will bless you in all of your endeavors.” Rashi quoting the Sifri notes the choice of the word “davar,” which literally means thing or matter, can also mean speech or word. Rashi, therefore, explains that one is rewarded not only for the charity he does, but also for the words he said when he made the commitment. What is the importance of the words; don’t the actions speak much louder than the words?

We can understand this in one of three ways. Firstly, the Torah is teaching us the importance of inspiring others when we do a mitzvah. The Mishna in Avos (5:13) says that one who desires to give and that others should give as well is a chasid, a pious person. Our sages instruct us to publicize those who do a mitzvah in order to inspire others to follow suit. (See Yoma 31a). This does not contradict the principle of being modest and humble in our service of Hashem if our public participation in a mitzvah is predicated on the intent to get others to join and not for self-aggrandization.

A second explanation is that making a commitment raises the level of difficulty in doing the mitzvah.  Once a pledge is made, we’ve obligated ourselves to do something and that is uncomfortable. Our sages teach us that one who does things because they are obligated gets a greater reward than one who does things voluntarily beyond what is required of them. This may seem counterintuitive, but it is an important insight into our humanity. We like to be heroes; we don’t like to pay bills. Once we make a commitment, it is harder to stick to it and fulfill what we said.

A third explanation is that when we make a public commitment, we are avoiding the pitfall of cynicism. Often, when people are asked to participate in a worthy cause, they have many reasons to say no. It could be lack of trust of the leadership, non-belief that effort will be successful, feeling that they have a better plan, etc. We are wonderful “armchair quarterbacks” when it comes to communal issues. When we commit to a communal cause, we are avoiding that bad behavior and resisting the cynical response that robs us of communal initiative.

All three of these lessons are helpful when we speak to our children about getting involved. We should do mitzvos with the hope that others will join us. We should make commitments because we become obligated by them, and we should value being part of worthwhile communal endeavors.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Shoftim

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

This week’s Torah portion Shoftim begins with the command to appoint judges and officers over the people. “Shoftim v’shotrim titen lecha  – Judges and officers you shall place over yourself.” The commentaries ask the question, “Why does the posuk (verse) use the singular form of lecha (to you) and not lachem, the plural? Isn’t this a command to the entire people to have judges and officers in their midst?”

The use of the singular form is intentional and conveys a subtle message. This parsha is usually read at the beginning of the month of Elul, the month of preparation before Rosh Hashana where introspection is emphasized in order to create a plan of self-growth for the coming year.  In order to stay the course, if systems, reminders, and safeguards are in place, one is more likely to be more zealous in the performance of mitzvos and successful in resisting temptations and negative influences. 

The Torah is telling us that at times each of us needs to appoint judges and officers over ourselves individually. Each of us needs reassurance and guidance to stay the course and continue to grow as Jews in our daily lives.  Parents, Rabbis, teachers, family and friends play a key role in helping all of us develop and be honest with ourselves. May we all have an uplifting month in getting ready for the coming New Year.

Back to school during COVID-19

As we approach the upcoming school year, we recognize that our ATT teachers, administrators, families and students are concerned about the continued uncertainty of what this school year will look like.

All of our schools are faced with the task of the usual back to school planning, combined with the daunting need to plan for safely educating our community’s children during a worldwide epidemic.

Over the summer, we have seen our schools meet this challenge with creativity, perseverance, resourcefulness and much hard work. 

As the State of Illinois currently remains in Phase 4, all ATT schools are scheduled to open on time and in person. Each school, depending on its size and population is working hard to determine how to reopen in the least restrictive, yet safest manner. Schools will be following the Illinois State Board of Education and state and local boards of health guidelines.

In addition, some schools have seated medical oversight and planning committees to assure that their school is not just fulfilling the governmental guidelines, but more importantly, they are applying them correctly and effectively. Schools also have access to the ATT medical advisory board comprised of infectious disease doctors, school nurses and a pediatrician.

It is our hope and Tefillah that the situation continues to improve throughout the coming school year. At the same time, we are reassured to see our schools all building on lessons learned last spring and planning for contingency scenarios if stricter social distancing and possibly a return to remote learning is required. All of our schools have the common goal to minimize the disruption that might arise. 

ATT has worked with the Jewish Federation and other funders who are eager to help financially stabilize the schools and help them meet their needs in continuing education. The ATT acknowledges the generosity of the JUF and the Walder Family Foundation for very substantial support and concern they continue to show for our schools.

Helping ATT schools access available funds

ATT has been assisting schools in accessing and maximizing public relief funding by identifying opportunities, helping schools navigate the process to access these funds and assuring that local school districts, who typically are the gatekeepers for Title funds and the ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund), are distributing these funds equitably and in accordance with Federal rules.

Below are some recent ATT activities in this area:

  • Consultation with Chicago Public Schools and four other public school districts to access the Federal CARES Act/Education Stabilization Fund and understanding appropriate uses of the funds. These consultations consist of the exchange of information and monitoring that our schools are getting their fair share.
  • Numerous collaborative discussions with other nonpublic school representatives of the Illinois Coalition of Nonpublic Schools regarding opening schools in the fall and accessing CARES Act funding.
  • Informing ATT schools of the processes they need to follow as details about the new funding unfold.
  • Forwarding communication from the Illinois State Board of Education that impacts our schools.
  • Assuring that remote learning requests are eligible for Title I funds.
  • Successful efforts with Chicago Public Schools to reinstate IDEA Proportionate Share special education services for eligible students so that services could resume remotely. These services include speech, LD learning specialists and other LD interventions.
  • Managing the required paperwork for Federal Title programs and tracking their progress for payment.

Our schools have also been able to access Federal Payroll Protection Loans (PPP) to assure that staff will continue to remain employed. ATT and JUF assisted schools in accessing this opportunity, and all of the schools benefited from this critical financial infusion.

To support our schools, the ATT is overseeing training to make this year as successful as possible.

ATT has been convening its Principals Council more frequently so that principals can hear each other’s ideas and concerns and network effectively. Schools can exchange information, successes and resources to help meet the increased needs of this time. This week’s meeting focused on reopening, planning and surveying schools’ reopening needs.

Individual schools and teachers have received support for technology in education, best practices and content.

ATT will be providing several professional development courses over the remainder of the summer break to help teachers gain confidence and insight into the new realities of our students’ learning needs.

ATT is proud of its partnership with its affiliated schools and its role in assuring that our schools continue to thrive and grow so that your child will experience the best education that we can provide.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Eikev

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Leadership at Its Best

In this week’s Torah portion Eikev, G-d tells Moshe to relay the following message to the Jewish people. “What does G-d ask of you but to fear Him?” The Talmud analyzes this statement and makes the following observation. In using the term what, it implies that the matter is quite simple. With that, the Talmud wonders is fear of G-d a small and trivial thing? To truly have an awe of G-d in one’s everyday life is the work of a lifetime. Therefore, how can it be phrased in such a manner that makes it seem like it is an easy thing to attain?

The Talmud goes on to answer that yes, for Moshe, to have an awe of G-d is a small thing. However, we are now left wondering how this answers the question asked above. G-d commanded Moshe to relay this message to the Jewish people. This wasn’t a command to Moshe alone. Yes, it may be easy for him, but it is certainly not easy for the rest of Bnei Yisroel.

There is a great lesson in leadership to be learned from this. A leader leads by example. If a leader exemplifies and demonstrates a characteristic trait to the masses and makes it look easily attainable, the masses will follow his lead. It is true, on our own, to attain the level of fear and awe of G-d may be an arduous task. However, now, that we, the Jewish  people, experienced Moshe’s leadership, we realize that to relate to G-d, fear G-d and to live an inspired life of observing Torah and mitzvos is attainable.

Having a role model from which to learn is a great lesson for all of us as parents, educators, lay leaders, etc. We all need to have special individuals in our lives that enable us to strive for more than we could have imagined in our own spiritual growth. We must then, in turn, try to become role models for the next generation.