Month: February 2021

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Tezaveh

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

It’s Not About Me

In this week’s Torah portion, Tezaveh, the name of Moshe is omitted. Commentators wonder why his name is omitted. The next question they ask is why in this specific Torah portion is his name absent since it appears in every other portion since his birth.

The understanding of many is that when Moshe in pleading on behalf of the people to G-d, one of the times they sinned, he said, “Erase me from your Torah.” Those words had an effect; his name needed to be removed from the Torah as a fulfillment of that statement. That only explains why his name had to be erased somewhere but why in this specific Torah portion?

There is a beautiful lesson that is being taught here. Moshe never wanted to be the leader. He begged for Aaron, his older brother, to take the position. However, G-d appointed him and although He gave Aaron a role as well in the process of the redemption, Moshe was clearly the leader. Aaron’s role was that of the Kohen Gadol and his responsibility was being the leader in the service of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).  This week’s portion deals with the vestments of the Kohen and is about Aaron and his descendants that would inherit the priesthood after him. In a way, G-d grants Moshe’s request for Aaron to be the leader by not mentioning him when it is time to put the spotlight on Aaron. This was the week that focuses only on Aaron as Moshe truly wanted to show respect for his brother.

It is a great lesson in life to be able to step aside and give the proper respect to those around us when that respect is due. We should all be able to look for ways how we can think about others first like Moshe who throughout his life lived by the principle it’s not about me.

Annual Teachers Educational Conference goes virtual and exceeds expectations

Once again ATT adjusted its mirror, pivoted and surpassed the many challenges to hold its usual annual Teachers Conference Day (TCD) for 600+ teachers.

With Rabbi Avrohom Moller and Mrs. Chani Friedman at the helm and a dedicated committee of school representatives, this year’s virtual professional development exceeded everyone’s expectations. 

With 49 sessions and 41 noted international, national and local presenters, there was something for every interest and grade level, pre-nursery – high school, focusing on the current topics of today’s educational environment.

Chaya Shapiro’s presentation

The virtual conference removed several challenges, in-person social distancing and masking, the weather and parking. It proved to be the perfect vehicle for presenter-participant engagement and small group and large group discussion. Gauging from the feedback that ATT received (see testimonials below), the conference was a smashing success.

Participants were thrilled to stay home on what proved to be a Chicago winter storm, and gifts of hot cocoa bombs from the ATT were a welcome bonus.

Because the event was virtual, the ATT was able to draw from renowned leaders in general and Jewish education around the world.

Mrs. Suzy Koontz

ATT’s Teachers Conference Day is an opportunity for teachers to get a glimpse of new ideas and methodologies in teaching, both in Jewish and general studies. Teachers are also able to collaborate with colleagues from throughout the ATT system in the workshops and small teacher-facilitated discussions. While this program is just one of many professional development opportunities for educators that the ATT offers throughout the year, the sheer number of attendees and speakers makes it the most exciting. Chicago is the only city in North America with a system-wide umbrella organization like the ATT for all the local Jewish day schools, which makes this PD day an exciting program that is unique to our city.

Courses were on topics as diverse as the speakers and teachers themselves, including topics like:

Rabbi Jonathan Rietti, MEd
  • Emotional regulation and challenging behaviors
  • Central auditory processing disorders
  • Student engagement and motivation
  • Content specific skills and critical thinking
  • Technology tips and tools
  • Strategies for dealing with the effects of the pandemic
  • Kinesthetic strategies for literacy and math
  • Nurturing resilience in students
A session from Danielle Bloom, EdD

Speakers and partners had this to say:

Thank you so much for the opportunity to present to your teachers this morning. I have received so many lovely emails of thanks and appreciation from your teachers.
^ Suzy Koontz, Math and Movement, Movement and Literacy, New York

Many thanks for having me in your line up for speakers at this very professionally run teacher training course. I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly it all went, thank you.
^ Rabbi Jonathan Rietti, New York

Thank you very greatly for the honor of being part of this valuable and exemplary program.
^ Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox, Los Angeles

I really enjoyed being a presenter and had a wonderful audience who was engaged, respectful and asked great questions. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of such a wonderful day.
^ Stephanie Dickstein, LCSW, Elizabeth Mayer School, School District 73.5

I want to thank you for the opportunity to teach this morning and to congratulate you on a very well-organized event. I hope you get great feedback on the entire day.
^ Nina J. Henry, LCPC, CADC, JCFS Chicago

Thank you for inviting me to speak at the educational conference today.  I enjoyed speaking to my group of teachers, and it was an honor to share and learn with them.  I hope the rest of the day was a success.
^ Melissa Fisanich | English Teacher
Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School – Annette M. & Theodore N. Lerner Family Upper School Campus

Thanks again for the opportunity, and for putting everything together for another successful ATT conference. Even the pandemic didn’t stop you guys!
^ Daniel Alkhovsky, Co-Director Walder Science

Thank you so much for the opportunity to present yesterday. Both my own session and the joint session I did with my brother were learning experiences for us.
^ Danielle Bloom, New Jersey

Rona Novick, PhD

Participants had this to say:

כל הכבוד  ! Wow- as someone who signed up and participated- the process was seamless. And the sessions were good and thought provoking. And imagine if we were not virtual and we would have had to go out in this weather ? HKBH takes care
^Arona Lichtman, Arie Crown Hebrew Day School

R’ Rietti was excellent! By far the best one I’ve been a part of in a while! (His sessions were) all very good. Thank you.
^ CR Feldman, Cheder Lubavitch Hebrew Day School

Every year I learn.  Every year I grow.  Every year I’m inspired. Every year I am very thankful.  This year was truly outstanding.  Every word and every moment was filled with knowledge, guidance, practical tools and inspiration! 
Surely every benefit to every student, every teacher and every school that will come from these classes is a zechus for all of you who made this learning possible.
^ Ronya Friedman, JDBY

Thank you for planning today!! It was really fun and useful. I liked all my presenters!
^ Marsha Arons, ICJA

Rabbi Zvi Grumet

The teachers here were Mrs. Levin, Mrs. Chaya Eichenstein, Mrs Faith Neuman, Mrs Devorah Goldstein, Mrs PIller and Mrs Mannes and myself.  We all watched the same sessions together– Mrs Hebel, Rabbi Raizman and Rabbi Rietti. We had positive feedback even from some of our most critical teachers!  Thank you very much for a robust, well run program.
^ Sara Neuman, BYHS

The session with Rabbi Rietti was absolutely amazing! Thank you. 
^ Sara Atlas, JDBY

Thank you so much! Everything was so organized. BH there was a lot to learn. All my presenters were excellent!!
The best part was the Bracha of not having to leave our houses today. Chasdei Hashem!!!
^ Sarah Leah Grinblatt, Arie Crown

I stayed by R Jonathon Rietti for all three sessions because I was so enamored with his discussions.
^ Rivkie Levitin, JDBY

I’m not a “tech” person – at all. You couldn’t have made the registration process more clear & more easy to follow. Also, I could have listened to Rabbi Rietti all day long! Not only was his content so educational & well-organized, but R. Rietti’s whole demeanor made his presentation most enjoyable.
^ Ahuvah Klein, Arie Crown

I really enjoyed the sessions that I attended today. Although hopefully next year we will be back to normal, I hope that we can still consider presentations on Zoom. For next year perhaps we can find someone who can discuss teaching Hebrew.
^ Shelley Stopek, ICJA

Thank you for all your hard work!  All three sessions were excellent and practical! 
^ Rusie Cziment, Arie Crown

Thank YOU! I just wanted to thank you for an amazing ATT teachers day. I enjoyed all the sessions and gained a lot both practically and spiritually.
^ Susie Rosen, Arie Crown

This was a great format for me personally.  I really enjoyed all the sessions!  The hot cocoa bomb was an added plus!! This took a lot of work to make it happen!
^ Yosepha Krohn, JDBY, BYHS

Mr. Alkhovsky’s math session was great!  I gave him Excellent in all categories and then wrote this.  “He shared research and then let us experience it for ourselves.  The games were great as is, but also have the ability to adapt to our students needs.  LOVED IT!”
^ Stephanie Pederson, ICJA

Rabbi Binyomin Segal

I have not heard systematic feedback from faculty yet, but the 2 sessions I went to (Danielle Bloom and Shani Taragin) were outstanding. Shani generously stayed around and answered questions through most of session 3. Both sessions pertained to ongoing work and discussions our Tanach department is having.
^ Dr. Jeremy Kahan, ICJA

I don’t know about anyone else but I enjoyed my presenters this morning.
^ Hedy Wechsler, JDBY

Today was an amazing ATT Teacher Conference Day. More than 600 day school teachers were in attendance! Of course, unlike other years, these presentations took place over zoom, but the content and the breadth of topics were fantastic.
^ Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Dean, ICJA

First of all, thank you for all your work to make today’s classes as successful as possible. I very much enjoyed both classes. I am hearing from other Rebbeim that Rabbi Rietti’s class was amazing.
^ Rabbi Avrohom Landsman, Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi

I really enjoyed all the sessions I was in. 
^ Meira Schur, Arie Crown

I cannot adequately express my gratitude for YOUR incredible labor of love in doing EVERYTHING to make yesterday the successful conference day that it was! It was an honor to be on the committee and to moderate. The classes that I attended were well presented and meaningful. I am sure that the entire menu of classes that you put together were all equally so.
^ Chaya Minkus, Arie Crown

I wanted to share with you how much we appreciated the ATT in-service day, especially Rabbi J. Rietti’s speeches.  I attended his first session, along with a number of moros/teachers who were attending the classes in the JDBY building.  His presentation was so engaging and his content was extremely relevant.  The feedback from the teachers post-session was incredibly positive and many of the teachers who had signed up for other classes for sessions two and three, decided to attend Rabbi Rietti’s sessions instead.  Throughout his presentation there was silence in the room, with all teachers riveted to his every word.  At the end of each session, there was overwhelming positive feedback! I noticed that he gave many teaching strategies, but also put a big focus on how we, as adults, can be resilient and not get lost in anxiety during these trying times.  This is EXACTLY what our teachers needed to hear!  We are finding that many teachers are currently dealing with so much in their personal lives, that it can be hard for them to be emotionally present with their students.  I speak on behalf of many of the moros and teachers here in JDBY, telling you how phenomenal Rabbi Rietti’s speeches were, and how much they were appreciated.
^ Mrs. Breitman, JDBY

Thank you for a wonderful program and such a variety of workshops and lectures. Teachers felt they gained and learned. Also thanks for the attendance report.
^Tamar Friedman

Thank you for an outstanding conference day.  The variety of topics were excellent, touching upon such relevant and important topics with experienced and outstanding speakers.  It was difficult to choose just 3.  I look forward to the recordings to be able to access some more great classes.
Thank you as well for the attendance sheet.  All of my Limudei Kodesh teachers participated for all three courses and were actually looking forward to the classes they chose.  Many voiced difficulty in deciding which interesting course to take.  The attendance sheet will help me follow up on the classes they took. Thank you again.
^Leah Rivka

Thank you! I wanted to let you know, every teacher really enjoyed their sessions. The entire day was well organized and the speakers were fantastic!
^Shoshana Safirstein, Director of Early Childhood, ACHDS

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Terumah

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

The Torah gives us the following instruction for assembly of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) walls. “והבריח התיכון התוך הקרשים מבריח מן הקצה אל הקצה – The center rod passed through the inside of the planks (of the Mishkan walls) bolting them together from end to end.”

This passuk describes a wooden rod passing through three walls of the Mishkan, north, west and south. The Gemara (Shabbos 98A) tells us that they were able to miraculously push this rod through the walls and turn the corners as it was pushed in for a total of 50 cubits (approximately 80 feet). What does this rod symbolize and why the need for its continuity from end to end? Furthermore, Rashi tells us that Yaakov Avinu planted the trees that provided this wood. Why did he do that?

Reb Zalman Sortzkin (Lutzker Rov 1881-1966) explains in his Sefer- Oznayim LaTorah that the Jewish people have many divisions and the different communities have different temperaments and character. It is exceedingly challenging to unify the Jewish people around a cause and the only unifying element is our Torah. We can travel through time and space and the only common theme we will find in our eternal nation’s history and dispersion is the Torah and its way of life.

When Yaakov Avinu was on his deathbed, he was concerned that his children would go separate ways after his death. They reassured him by saying Shemah Yisroel, affirming that their faith in Hashem would keep them together. Yaakov planned that the Mishkan would be the central focus and unifying factor for the period in the desert and beyond (Yehoshua Chapter 22).

The center rod holding the separate planks together symbolizes this value. The Tree of Life is our Torah and it is the only source of unity for us. Rabbi Saadya Gaon (882-942) writes, “Our nation is only a nation because of its Torah.” The miracle of bending the corners signifies that this unifying force defies the rules of logic and is the secret of our eternity.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Mishpatim

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Eternal Commitment

AT the end of this week’s Torah portion, the famous phrase Naaseh V’nishma is quoted. Our ancestors stated, “We will do what is commanded and then we will listen.” They took the ultimate leap of faith and put their trust in G-d to follow the Torah and its commandments. The Talmud relates that at the actual giving of the Torah, G-d picked up a mountain and was holding it above their heads. G-d says to the people, “Either you accept the Torah or you will be buried there.” The commentators wonder about this sentence. It would seem the correct way of saying it would be – If you don’t accept the Torah, you will be buried here – since G-d is holding the mountain on top of them. What is the meaning of you will be buried there which seems to reference another place?

The Tzobiner Rav z”l (a 20th century revered Rav) answers that G-d was explaining to them the importance of this acceptance. Just like we need air to breathe physically, we need the Torah to breathe spiritually. When B’nei Yisroel accepted the Torah, it was not just for the moment, an acceptance of here and now. Rather, an acceptance for all generations in the future as well. He was illustrating that without the Torah and its values it is as if one is dead. There will be your burial place is a reference to later at any point in time if one chooses to live devoid of these values.

Today we have many challenges in our society that confront our values on a daily basis. We need to keep making the choices that will keep the eternal flame of the Jewish people alive. G-d is still talking to us. We just need to respond.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Yisro

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

This week’s parsha contains the Aseres HaDibros – the Decalogue. According to several early commentators the entire body of the 613 mitzvos are encompassed in these 10 commandments. When we read this parsha, both as parshas hashavua and on Shavuos, it is an opportunity to relive the awesome experience and responsibility that we received as we stood at the foot of Har Sinai.

The first commandment is, “Anochi Hashem – I am Hashem your G-d who took you from Egypt from the house of slavery.” This seems like a preamble, not a commandment. Most authorities, including the Rambam, say that this is in fact a commandment to believe in G-d. Let’s examine this verse in order to fully understand what is being demanded of us.

Firstly, we should take note that the 10 dibros are presented in singular form (אלקיך – your G-d, הוצאתיך – took you out, לא יהיה לך; לא תרצח – You shall not… all in the Hebrew singular form). This is different from other sections of the Torah that contain laws which are addressed in the plural form. This is because the basis of the giving of the Torah is personal; all observance is about having a personal relationship with Hashem. There actually seems to be a contradiction in the concept of mitzvos. There is a standard halachic formula of how Hashem is to be obeyed and his universal laws are kept by each and every Jew. However, there must be space for individuality and an expression of everyone’s uniqueness. The Torah expects us to strike a balance between compliance with a set of rules and having a dynamic experience and relationship with G-D. A Jew must work his whole life to be close to Hashem and have a personal relationship with him all the while as he or she is living within the parameters of the halacha.

Secondly, Hashem describes himself as the one “who took you from Egypt from the house of bondage.” This is the principal of divine intervention and involvement. G-D is not a reclusive divine being who is above all and is withdrawn from the petty doings on this earth. He is intimately aware and involved in our affairs. He does not tolerate injustice. He cares about every being and intervenes when he deems it necessary. Furthermore, he drew the Jewish people out of the house of bondage so that He could have this closeness with them. The term “house” of bondage connotes more than mere slavery. Rav S.R Hirch, z’l, explains that it refers to a situation where anyone born and living in that house is stripped of any sense of self, which is the essence of his humanity. In Egypt, we were reduced to being “things,” mere chattel to be deployed for the benefit of our masters. When Hashem drew us out of Egypt, he restored our humanity, made us responsible to him and changed our lives and our outlook. We were free to make choices and the Torah is there for us to help us make good choices.

This commandment is about having an active relationship with Him. It is about recognizing that He has a profound interest in us and in our success. He took us out of Egypt so that we can rise to our potential and be his servants. However, servitude to Hashem is completely different than the enslavement in Egypt. Serving Hashem entails choosing, knowing what he expects of us by learning his Torah and basing our life on those wishes.

As Jews, we pass the heritage of the Torah from generation to generation. The primary message is that we are a people who belong to Hashem because he made us human again, and He did so to give us His Torah. We transmit this through word and deed creating another golden link in the chain from Sinai.