Month: October 2020

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Lech Lecha

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

In Parshas Lech Lecha, the Torah begins to tell us about Avrohom Avinu and his accomplishments. This information is meant to inspire us and to help us aspire to what we need to do as His children who invoke His name and His merit on a daily basis. A big focus in the account of Avrohom’s life is the 10 nisyonos, tests, which Avrohom Avinu endured and prevailed during his lifetime.

It is interesting that although all of the Patriarchs were faced with adversity, it is only Avrohom’s that are described as nisyonos-tests. Perhaps the answer lies in the proper definition of a nisoyon. Rashi relates it to the word nes-a banner. Hashem sends people challenges and trials all the time for several different purposes. One of them is to make a person’s righteousness conspicuous and visible like a banner. In this understanding the trial is not a test since Hashem knows this person is righteous; he simply wants it to be obvious to all. Avrohom Avinu was chosen by Hashem to found a Chosen People who will have special status throughout human history. Hashem wants the world to understand why it is Avrohom and no one else that was chosen. Once the world sees the unwavering loyalty and sacrifice of this founding father, it all becomes clear.

The Ramban has a different understanding of the term nisayon. He explains that it is indeed a test, but the intention is not for Hashem to gather information. It is so that the tzaddik actualizes all of the potential that he has. This way he can be rewarded and he will understand himself better. This will allow him to reach even greater heights in his love and service of Hashem. According to this, we might suggest that Avrohom Avinu’s tests were a gift to him. He had taken a stand against the entire world and Hashem wanted to give him a vote of confidence and show him how strong he is. When Avrohom overcame these challenges, it encouraged him and gave him more strength to continue his career of opposing idolatry and all of its attendant problems.

We live in tumultuous times and many are feeling very challenged. It is helpful to remember that adversity is often a vote of confidence from Hashem to help us realize our own innate abilities and strength. When we view it in this way, we will be empowered to rise to the challenge and overcome it with flying colors.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Chayei Sarah

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

In this week’s Parsha, the Torah describes Avrohom Avinu’s trusted servant Eliezer’s quest to find a suitable wife for Avrohom’s successor, Yitzchak Avinu. He goes to Aram Naharayyim and meets Rivkah at the well. He runs toward her after he sees her filling her jug and asks her for water. She responds by offering him water and also to water his camels. Rashi, quoting the Midrash, explains that Eliezer ran toward her because he was excited to see that the water rose toward her and she filled her jug with a minimum of effort. This fact is derived from the difference in the language describing her filling her personal jug, where it says ותמלא – she filled, in contrast to her watering the camels, which is described as ותשאב – she drew, implying that she had to lower her pail to the water.

The question is that if Rivkah was so righteous that the water rose to spare her extra effort when she came to the well, why didn’t it rise as she rushed to fill the trough with hundreds of gallons of water for the 10 camels?

Rabbi Levy Yitzchok of Berditchev (18th century Chassidic master) explains that the righteous are granted favors in this world when pursuing their needs in this world. However, when they are doing Hashem’s work, they prefer that they exert the maximum effort to accomplish these tasks. This is supported by the Mishna in Avos – לפום צערא אגרא – The payment is commensurate with the difficulty.

Therefore, it would not have been a favor for Rivka to make the water rise while she did the chesed of watering Eliezer’s camels.

When we do Hashem’s will and it involves effort or inconvenience, we should regard that as a bonus. It is an opportunity to show our love and loyalty to him. This is the true measure of being an eved Hashem – a servant of G-d.

Supporting changing mental health needs for students in the 2020-2021 school year

We recently  welcomed Megan Hoffman, LCSW and Emily Crane, MEd from the Compass Health Center to present to ATT teachers about how to support day school families as their children’s needs change dramatically this year, sometimes on a daily basis. 

Our job as teachers and as the ATT is to help students thrive. As part of that, we are working hard to implement tools and strategies to promote positive mental health. 

When the pandemic first started, this sentiment resonated with a lot people: “We are in the same storm, not the same boat.” When we consider the disparities among how equipped families are to deal with the ramifications of this time, it’s clear that each family and individual continues to experience it differently. 

Mental health anguish can often feel like a flood of very complex emotions. When the biblical flood threatened the world, Noach built an ark to keep life moving forward. Now it’s our job to teach our children how to build an ark. Only this time instead of gopher wood, we have tools from organizations like Compass to help students thrive in the most challenging circumstances. 

Impact of COVID-19 on mental health in uncertain times

Trauma, grief and loss all have respective psychological, behavioral, social and physical reactions. Everyone has lost something due to the pandemic, and the grief is personal and specific to each individual. This loss could look like a loss of a loved one, loss of connection with school, peers and participation in cherished activities.

Some may experience the loss of routine, safety and certainty of what will happen in the future. The combination of these losses can lead to a loss of personal identity and new or intensified mental health struggles. 

Educators are also experiencing these losses and are learning how to support their students and colleagues through grief. It’s even more crucial now to normalize and allow a safe space for others to talk about emotions. It’s not always possible, but humor or a silver lining can be healing. 

Once the losses of the pandemic are validated, the Kubler-Ross model of the Five Stages of Grief can be a helpful guide for understanding what students are feeling. Some students may feel shock, denial, frustration and depression at times. Students will benefit greatly from having a teacher that is able to help them navigate these emotional waves. 

Emphasis on emotions

Developing and expanding emotional vocabulary is a helpful way to cope with difficult situations. Knowing our emotions helps us get our needs met, in other words, “If you name it, you can tame it.”  

A great starting point is recognizing that feelings are not facts. There are resources such as  Lindsay Braman’s emotion-sensation wheel to expand emotion vocabulary. This method works by giving students the vocabulary to be able to share their feelings more comfortably.  Once an emotion is identified, the teacher can ask the student if they can think of anything that would help in this situation. 

Teachers should have a chart or graphic with faces of various emotions easily accessible in the classroom to help a student feel more comfortable when asked, “How are you feeling today?” This allows students to separate themselves from the emotion. Oftentimes, emotions pass and this method helps students move through the emotions more smoothly. 

Stress and distress reactions

Pain is unavoidable at times, and teaching acceptance around what cannot be controlled may help students avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms. Teachers can work with students on a personal “stress survival guide” to help them nourish their body, mind and soul. 

For the body, encourage students to get enough sleep, exercise, eat well, practice deep breathing, listen to calming music, etc. To help put their minds at ease, encourage talking about their stressors, have them keep a journal, learn to prioritize time, and set healthy habits and rituals. Engaging in positive self-talk, taking a break from social media, accepting stress as normal, trying mindfulness and finding ways to relax are all ways to help nourish the soul and keep from getting burnt out.

Though a certain level of anxiety during stressful times is normal, there are indications when additional help might be needed. 

Here are some stress and distress reactions to watch out for:

  • Significant changes in sleep patterns
  • Increase in physical/somatic symptoms
  • Increased irritability, increased distractibility
  • Increase in isolation and avoidance
  • Decreased sense of safety
  • Increase in frequency and intensity of worries
  • Avoidance of fears
  • Engaging in excessive reassurance-seeking behaviors
  • Major shifts in mood or activity levels
  • Talk of suicide or self-harm
  • Substance use
  • Intrusive thoughts about Covid that are impairing

Mental health in the classroom

To promote healthy mental health in the classroom, it’s important to manage expectations versus reality around school. This can be achieved by normalizing the range of reactions and creating a space for students to talk about how their year is going. 

One way to begin this dialogue is to ask students if they have questions or concerns about the future and uncertainty. In this conversation, it’s appropriate to say, “I don’t know” when there aren’t clear answers which can actually help validate fears around uncertainty, feelings of isolation and loneliness.

It’s important to master and then teach students how to hold the dialectic, or find the balance between acceptance and change. This inspires students to identify what is in their control and what is beyond. Mindfulness strategies and emotional regulation can help with this.

By taking some time to enhance classroom management strategies, educators can work towards helping students thrive despite the present challenges. Teachers can implement morning meetings, have break-out groups on Zoom, have one-on-one check-ins with students to see what is going well and what needs some work.

Having the students participate in these ways can help create accountability in students. It may also be helpful to use games in the classroom as a way to creatively combine learning with some much-needed entertainment and unwinding.

Ways to help students cope

Encourage boundaries – Maintaining proper boundaries is even more important with social distance and virtual learning. Kids and adults are both feeling overwhelmed with connecting with others via technology, and it’s necessary to have proper boundaries in place to be able to “turn-off.” Identify consistency and availability within the context of boundaries. 

Teachers should encourage self-care. One creative way to help students with this is by playing “Self-care BINGO” and have categories like reading, being kind, creative activity, dancing, playing outside, etc. Teachers can start by creating their own self-care board and show clear boundaries on food or technology to model a sense of balance. 

Validating vs. fixing- It’s imperative to distinguish between validating problems and fixing them. Validation doesn’t mean there aren’t expectations or consequences and the behavior should be redirected if inappropriate. Although it feels natural to want to help someone by finding a solution to their problems, sometimes all they need is to be told, “I hear you, but we need to move forward” and discuss it another time if it remains a problem.

Consistency, predictability and uncertainty – Schedules and routines when possible help students stay grounded when so much around them is uncertain. There should be a clear understanding of expectations, rewards and consequences and students should be guided toward finding the delicate balance between consistency and flexibility. 

Even if they don’t know where the river is headed, they should know what the boundaries of the river beds are. When a teacher practices acceptance around not knowing, students can learn that uncertainty is a part of daily life. Teachers cannot predict the future, but they can help students learn how to cope and FACE COVID. 

Focus on what is in your control
Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings
Come back into your body
Engage in what you are doing

Committed action (engage in our values)
Open up
Identify resources
Disinfect and distance

4 mental health boosts for students

  1. Radical acceptance

Identifying what is within our control and what is not means having students ask themselves, “What am I the boss of?”  By teaching students that they don’t have to like what is happening but accepting reality can help them cope with life’s uncertainties.

Remember – Pain + non-acceptance = suffering. 

  1. Grounding techniques

Use this while radically accepting to get students through difficult moments. Grounding exercises include: taking a break, petting your pet, 4×4 breathing exercises, using the 5 senses to get the mind off of it, using fidgets. Teachers can have students identify their own coping tools. Youtube has many videos on breathing exercises that can help students in stressful moments. The book Alphabreaths:The ABCs of Mindful Breathing and other similar books help kids get through stress. 

  1. Gratitude 

Teach students through exercises to bring their awareness and attention to what they are grateful for. Ask students to name just one thing we are grateful for this week, as a class, as a community? Even on Zoom the chat feature can be used for this type of exercise.

  1. Goals and motivation

Setting and striving towards a goal is a great tool to boost mental health. Teachers can use goal-setting in the classroom or during remote learning. Once the goal is set, work with the students on how to gradually achieve it by breaking it into smaller steps, establish clear expectations and encourage motivation. 

Keep in mind, it’s impossible to implement every single new technique and expand emotional awareness overnight. Gradually adding in some of these elements to already planned lessons and being more mindful going forward will help teachers help their students grow and thrive. 

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Noach

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

After the flood, the Torah describes an incident where Noach planted a vineyard and drank a little too much and became drunk. As he was lying immodestly in his inebriated state, Shem and Yefes, his sons, covered him showing respect for their father.  Rashi points out that the verse, Vayikach shem vayefes es hasimla, says vayikach (and he took), the singular form, not vayikchu (they took), the plural form, which is confusing since they both participated in the act. Rashi states that the singular form was purposely used to teach us the importance of how a mitzvah is executed. Since Shem’s performance of the mitzvah was completed with more heart than Yefes’ was, his reward was much greater. His children merited the mitzvah of tzizis, the mitzvah of wearing tzizis (fringes), a mitzvah that is done daily while his brother’s children were only guaranteed a one-time reward, a proper burial if killed during war.

Rashi’s explanation illustrates not only the importance of how we do a mitzvah, but the powerful responsibility that we as parents and teachers have as role models for our children. Two people did the same exact mitzvah, yet their rewards were worlds apart. From this we learn that the execution of a mitzvah entails two parts, the physical action of completing the mitzvah and the way we do it. Are we putting our hearts into it? Are we connected to what we are doing or just going through the motions?

As parents, it is our duty to take advantage of the many opportunities that arise to demonstrate the beauty of mitzvos to our children. Excitement, preparation and joy of doing mitzvos can easily be transmitted to our children if we take the time to put our hearts into it. It may just mean an extra minute or two, but the results will be everlasting.

Past Pogrund Family Essay and Judaic Artwork Winners

2020-2021 Pogrund Family Essay Winners

Mendel Brackman – 3rd Grade – CLHDS-B
Chayala Reiss – 3rd Grade – JDBY
Shlomo Zalman Walters – 3rd Grade – CLHDS-B
Rikel Bergstein – 4th Grade – CLHDS-G
Rachel Burian – 4th Grade – JDBY
Yossi Rokach – 4th Grade – YTT
Ayla Wittlin – 4th Grade – ACHDS
Gabriel Barsky – 5th Grade – Akiba
Zachary Kupietzky – 5th Grade – HT
Leah Pam – 5th Grade – JDBY
Baila Privalsky – 5th Grade – JDBY
Yocheved Ehrlich – 6th Grade – JDBY
Bracha Yehudis Fuerst – 6th Grade – JDBY
Eliana Malka Perkel – 6th Grade – ACHDS
Chana Schechter – 6th Grade – CLHDS-G
Yaakov Chaim Shkop – 6th Grade – YTT
Kira Wittlin – 6th Grade – ACHDS
Chana Leah Bassman – 7th Grade – JDBY
Levi Benjaminson – 8th Grade – CLHDS-B
Mordechai Gordon – 8th Grade – YTT
Yaakov Naftali Gross – 8th Grade – YTT
Akiva Meer – 8th Grade – YTT
Mottel Moscowitz – 8th Grade – CLHDS-B
Hershy Perkel – 8th Grade – ACHDS
Levi Schechter – 8th Grade – CLHDS-B
Malka Shapiro – 8th Grade – JDBY
Dovid Tzvi Walters – 8th Grade -CLHDS-B
Levi Wolf – 8th Grade – CLHDS-B
Yudi Zalmanov – 8th Grade – CLHDS-B
Deena Weil – 9th Grade – HSBY
Chaya Toba Chait – 12th Grade – BYHSC

2020-2021 Pogrund Family Judaic Artwork Winners

Hadassa Alkhovsky – 3rd Grade – JDBY
Yaakov Meir Ashkanazy – 3rd Grade – ACHDS
Moshe Grilli – 3rd Grade – ACHDS
Malka Herbach – 3rd – JDBY
Huvi Saks – 3rd Grade – JDBY
Esther Perel Twerski – 3rd Grade – JDBY
Aaron Atkins – 4th Grade – CLHDS
Zaki Kalman – 4th Grade – ACHDS
Shiffy Morgenstern – 4th Grade JDBY
Rachelli Moskowitz – 4th Grade – JDBY
Brocha Francis – 5th Grade – JDBY
Ruchele Galster – 5th Grade – JDBY
Dani Greenland – 5th Grade – ACHDS
Zachary Kupietzky – 5th Grade – HT
Gitty Morgenstern – 5th Grade – JDBY
Rochel Alkhovsky – 6th Grade – JDBY
Tzvi Francis – 6th Grade – YOB
Shimon Kirshner – 6th Grade – ACHDS
Eliana Levitt – 6th Grade ACHDS
Aidee Morgenstern – 6th Grade – JDBY
Evie Moskowitz – 6th Grade JDBY
Ahuva Handler – 7th Grade – JDBY
Rivka Mandelbaum – 7th Grade – JDBY
Cheved Morgenstern – 7th Grade – JDBY
Neomi Saks – 7th Grade – JDBY
Tzvi Lowinger – 8th Grade – YTT
Sarah Saks – 9th Grade – BYHSC
Devorah Leah Twerski – 10th Grade – BYHSC

2019-2020 Pogrund Family Essay Winners

Yitzy Kadin – 3rd Grade – YTT
Chaya Cohen – 4th Grade – JDBY
Chani Dugan – 4th Grade – CLHDS
Avigail Goldberg – 4th Grade – ACHDS
Yosef Hershkovich – 4th Grade – CLHDS
Golda Kanter – 4th Grade – CLHDS
Eliana Malka Perkel – 4th Grade -ACHDS
Rachel Leah Rokach – 4th Grade – JDBY
Yocheved Ehrlich – 5th Grade – JDBY
Esther Rivka Morgenstern – 5th Grade – JDBY
Mushka Slavaticki – 5th Grade – CLHDS
Kira Wittlin – 5th Grade – ACHDS
Cheved Morgenstern – 6th Grade – JDBY
Akiva Tokarskiy – 6th Grade – YTT
Ike Borowsky – 7th Grade – AK
Hershy Perkel – 7th Grade – ACHDS
Jacob Rapoport – 7th Grade – AK
Meital Wittlin – 7th Grade – ACHDS
Ariella Boyarskiy – 8th Grade – CLHDS
Esther Chaya Fuerst – 8th Grade – JDBY
Nina Glick – 8th Grade – AK
Mussya Goldstein – 8th Grade – CLHDS
Dina Kalmanson – 8th Grade – CLHDS
Chaya Liba Neiman – 8th Grade – JDBY
Yaakov Pinkus – 8th Grade – YTT
Chaiky Stern – 8th Grade – CLHDS
Deena Weil – 8th Grade – ACHDS
Meira Tova Cohen 12th Grade – HSBY

2019-2020 Pogrund Family Judaic Artwork Winners

Erez Dallal – 3rd Grade – ACHDS
Yonah Goldman – 3rd Grade – ACHDS
Tova Gittel Gottesman – 3rd Grade – JDBY
Zack Kalman – 3rd Grade – ACHDS
Chani Margolies – 3rd Grade – JDBY
Shiffy Morgenstern – 3rd Grade – JDBY
Rachel Moskowitz – 3rd Grade – JDBY
Ilana Ninio – 3rd Grade – ACHDS
Naama Ninio – 3rd Grade – ACHDS
Brocha Francis – 4th Grade – JDBY
Ruchele Galster – 4th Grade – JDBY
Tamar Rena Burian – 5th Grade – JDBY
Eliana Levitt – 5th Grade – ACHDS
Aidee Morgenstern – 5th Grade – JDBY
Talia Rubin – 5th Grade – ACHDS
Meira Schultz – 5th Grade – HT
Mordechai Sherman – 5th Grade – YTT
Malka Cohen – 6th Grade -JDBY
Ahuva Handler – 6th Grade – JDBY
Rivka Mandelbaum – 6th Grade – JDBY
Neomi Saks – 6th Grade – JDBY
Aviya Ezra – 7th Grade – AK
Lilac Marcus – 7th Grade – AK
Racheli Morgenstern – 7th Grade – JDBY
Sam Nagorsky – 7th Grade – AK
Sari Freimark – 8th Grade – AK
Adyra Jones – 8th Grade – AK
Sarah Yocheved Saks – 8th Grade – JDBY
Verdit Szmulewitz – 8th Grade – AK

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Berashis

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Meeting the Enemy Within and Without

Parshas Berashis tells us about the creation and of the creation of the most noble of creations – man. The Torah tells us that man is created in the image of G-d and was originally placed in the Garden of Eden where he was to be served by the rest of creation as the master of Hashem’s entire world. The story quickly takes a turn where the evil inclination depicted as the cunning serpent seduces Chava, Eve, into eating from the Tree of Knowledge. She in turn involves Adam and the future of mankind is altered for all of time.

We learn this story as very young children and we must adjust our understanding as we mature. The purpose of the Torah’s narration is not to entertain; it is to teach us practical lessons for life. We intuit that there is great depth to this story, but we must seek some level of understanding to be able to gain the self-awareness that is necessary to deal with our evil inclination.

Rav Samson R. Hirsch (1808-1888), leading Rabbi and Chumash commentator in Germany, understands that this story is a primer in how man’s physical senses entice him. We are tempted by the allure of a physically satisfying experience to forget our morals. This temptation often leads us to rationalization. We can become quite philosophical when we justify depraved behavior, but the real rationale is the seeking of pleasure.

Rav Yisroel Salanter (1809 – 1883), the father of the Mussar movement, describes this as the internal Yetzer Hara,evil inclination. This is our natural gravitation to satisfy our animal spirit which lusts for pleasure. There are other internal tempters which he identifies as emerging from our imagination. We dream up all kinds of realities to strive for and many of them can destroy us. Ambition, greed, jealousy and lust for pleasure and power are all forces in our psyche which can have a very positive function, yet they can wreak havoc with our lives.

Reb Yisroel points out that this story also describes an external tempter. The serpent is the outside influence which introduces us to unseen temptation and to unknown influences. These can be societal pressure, a poorly chosen friend or an unexpected encounter which throws us out of equilibrium. It can also be the exposure to extreme materialism and consumerism which can turn out to be a bottomless pit for us. We must recognize these as well and understand the potential harm these external temptations can have on us.

We are told this story as a cautionary tale. Hashem wants us to understand the enemy within and without so that we can be strategic and stay away from trouble before it happens. We have turned a new page after the exalted days of Tishrei, and when we head back into our daily lives we should strive to use this lesson well.