Month: November 2021

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vayeshev

Written by: Avrohom S. Moller

This week we begin the story of mechiras Yosef, the selling of Yosef Hatzadik by his brothers. We find many instances in the Torah which highlight the deficiencies and failings of our greatest heroes. Yosef’s brothers are the Godly tribes, the Shivtei Kah, and yet they are faulted with doing an atrocity that defies the imagination. This week, we also have the incident of Yehudah and Tamar which seems to paint the progenitor of Moshiach in a most unflattering and compromised position. Why is it that these people failed in such an exaggerated way and why does the Torah tell us about it?

The Torah wants us to know that the path to greatness is not without obstacles and failures. True heroes have overcome failures and struggles as Yosef’s brothers did. The greatness they achieved in the process surpasses people who are inherently good and uncomplicated. The reality is that a rich life journey is messy and includes many ups and downs before we reach our destination. This is the story of Yosef and his brothers and the story of Yehudah’s ascent to the leadership of Klal Yisroel.

We are preparing to celebrate Chanukah and our victory over the Greek attempt to change our belief system. Greece descends from Yefes, the son of Noach who was blessed that “Hashem shall give beauty to Yefes.” Our sages acknowledge that Greece, in fact, did succeed in refining the aesthetics of physicality, celebrating beautiful art, architecture, theater, music and even philosophy. What was Judaism’s quarrel with the Greek beliefs? It was because Greece saw value only in the physical and the superficial. Being determinists, they denied morality and the principle of freedom of choice making. This reduced all of life to the now and here. There was no judgement, no room to struggle to improve; it was all about your inborn traits and fate.

The Torah is completely at odds with this idea. The Torah says we are all born imperfect and struggle toward perfection. This is why the greatest achievements of our people, including Moshiach himself, come to us in a messy and tortuous process. The point is to demonstrate that it is the journey as much as it is the destination and that we can and should redeem ourselves from the greatest mistakes.
May the coming holiday bring us encouragement and courage to continuously improve ourselves and to believe that we can become better and better!

ATT receives $5 million grant for Chicago-area Jewish day school students

The ATT and it’s REACH program are proud and grateful to announce we have been selected to receive multi-year grants from the Northwest Home for the Aged (NWHA) and Park Plaza. This $5 million multi-year gift, earmarked for operational use for all Jewish Schools in Chicago, is in addition to the funding ATT received from NWHA and Park Plaza in 2019 to support and sustain Jewish day school education across the Chicago Jewish community. 

Funding from the gift will be allocated in three ways:

1. Building well-resourced, highly effective support services departments in all of our Jewish day schools including hiring new resource staff. 

2. Hiring occupational therapists and speech and language pathologists for full-time work in our system

3. Working with all school staff to ensure that student needs are being met in the most inclusive classroom setting.

This gift builds on NWHA’s ethos of service to the Chicago Jewish community for more than 75 years and its mission of providing high quality housing for Jewish seniors. NWHA’s flagship facility is Park Plaza, an independent living community located on the far north side of Chicago.

The ATT honored NWHA with the Crain Maling Pillar of Education at its annual dinner in 2019.

“The Hebrew words l’dor v’dor are literally inscribed into the doors at Park Plaza,” says Alan Caplan, president of Northwest Home for the Aged. “From generation to generation; that’s what we believe in, as individuals and as part of the Jewish community, and that’s exactly what this gift is: a gift that gives from one generation to the next, and the next after that. We at NWHA/Park Plaza are thrilled to make these gifts to support Jewish education in and around our communities.”

The NWHA/Park Plaza grant will have a far-reaching impact on ATT’s REACH program. Rusi Sukenik, REACH’s director of student services noted, “This endowment enables us to provide support to schools and teachers to teach struggling learners in a manner that best fits the student and addresses the needs and learning styles and needs of each student.” Rabbi Mordechai Raizman, ATT’s Executive Director of Operations added, “An endowment of this magnitude impacts our day school community in a profound manner. It ensures that no parent will worry that their child is falling through the cracks. This grant gives everyone a chance to succeed. Programs such as REACH are very costly to sustain. This grant is visionary in its nature and will allow us to provide for children for many years to come.”

Jewish diversity, inclusion, and acceptance are the hallmarks of NWHA/Park Plaza. The community’s residents span the spectrum of Jewish observance and experience. Many are lifelong Chicagoans. Others have moved to Chicago to be close to adult children and to enjoy a secure, supportive, and fully modern and updated facility. Park Plaza provides a rich Jewish life that includes broad based programming as well as kosher meal service. Park Plaza recently completed a major renovation to allow it to continue to provide a high quality of life to its residents.

The cross-generational aspects of Park Plaza are obvious the moment one enters. “Local school kids, grandkids, great-grandkids … they’re here all the time,” said Elly Bauman, Executive Director of Park Plaza. “Kids are here to celebrate Shabbat and holidays, to visit relatives, and to volunteer. It’s part of what helps us fulfill our mission of providing Jewish seniors with a life that’s not just comfortable, but which has dignity and meaning.”

“It’s just really what Park Plaza and Northwest Home for the Aged are all about,” added Alan Caplan. “We put ‘l’dor v’dor’ front and center, the first thing you see when you enter the building, whether you’re a resident or a first-time visitor. It’s what grounds the Jewish community. 

Northwest Home for the Aged couldn’t be more pleased to put our primary principle into action with these gifts. They are investments in the future of our community.”

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vayishlach

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

In G-d We Trust

In this week’s Parsha, Vayishlach, Yaakov faces a dilemma. He is about to encounter his brother, Esav, who hates him and continues to plot against him. Because of their history, Yaakov has no idea how Esav will behave when they finally meet. The parsha teaches us that Yaakov prepares for this confrontation by doing three things. First, he sends Esav a present. Second, he prepares his camp for war. Third, he prays to Hashem for a peaceful meeting.

The unusual point to note about these preparations is that the Torah also states twice that Vayolen Shom, and Yaakov slept. Two questions arise from this statement. First, how could it be possible for Yaakov to sleep when he is preparing for a confrontation that might conclude with his death? Secondly, why does the Torah assert that Yaakov slept twice?

With these two mentions of Yaakov’s sleeping, the Torah teaches us an important lesson for life. Yaakov did everything he could possibly do to be ready for his encounter with Esav. He sends the customary present, makes the necessary preparations for war, and he prays to Hashem for a successful outcome. At this point, Yaakov understands that there is nothing else he can do to guarantee a positive conclusion when he meets with Esav. He realizes that the meeting between Esav and himself is in Hashem’s hands. Having faith in Hashem, he peacefully sleeps recognizing that not everything is in his control.

This is a valuable lesson for us to emulate. It is only natural for us to fret over circumstances that concern us even when they are not in our control. From Yaakov’s behavior we learn that the first step in dealing with unpleasant situations is to put forth our strongest efforts in the hopes of solving them. The second step is the acknowledgement that sometimes we do not have the ability to control everything and after doing our best, it is time to move on. This step is a difficult position to accept but a crucial one for our own peace of mind and true Bitachon (trust) in Hashem.

Public speaking tips from renowned Jewish personality

At the heart of teaching is the daily practice of public speaking. A masterful educator who also masters public speaking can have his or her students rapt attention. And a weak speaker, no matter how hard he or she prepares the lessons, will be less effective in the classroom.

That’s why we welcomed Rabbi Henoch Plotnik for our first professional development class of this school year, together with Walder Education, to offer public speaking tips to ATT rebbeim. Rabbi Plotnik is a rebbe at Yeshivas Kesser Yonah and a popular speaker in our community and U.S. cities.

The fast-paced class for rebbeim of all grades presented numerous strategies to give effective presentations in a public/classroom setting.

Rabbi Plotnik shared tips for engaging content and professionalism:

Maintain perspective – always remember who your audience is and plan accordingly.

Prepare – one can never prepare “too much.” Be clear on the language and be sensitive to every individual present. Have citations clearly available and never misquote pesukim or Chazal.

Be clear – Ask yourself, “Is the message clear?” Try to emphasize at least one powerful line.

Be effective – Try to make your content personal. Responsibly use the technique of name and place dropping. Above all, don’t fake it – your audience can tell.

Remember, the speech starts early – people notice your image and posture, even before you start speaking. Wait for order, dress appropriately, and be physically comfortable yourself.

Watch your words

  • Avoid “um” and quaint expressions. Not everything is amazing and unbelievable.
  • Keep introduction short and attention grabbing.
  • Translate, translate, translate.
  • Keep stories and parables relevant.
  • Keep it short. 12-minute segments are most effective to maintain the audience attention span.
  • End once and once only.
  • Leave with a call to action to the audience!

Miscellaneous strategies

  • Use voice inflection and animation.
  • Be careful with media and handouts – make sure that the technology works if you are using technology.
  • Know the room – make sure you will be audible.
  • Keep things simple, not actuarial.
  • Pay attention to previous speakers so you do not repeat messages.
  • Remember – the speech/presentation ends after you sit down.

The presentation was a model of what public speaking should be. Everyone who attended was entertained and enlightened. More importantly, rebbeim left excited to try the skills in their classrooms.

This class is among dozens of professional development classes the ATT offers to Judaic and general studies teachers each semester.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vayetzei

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

The Ladder of Life

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Vayetzei, our forefather Yaakov has a dream. In this dream, G-d shows him a ladder that is on the ground with its top reaching the heavens. Many commentaries explain that G-d used the ladder to convey a message to Yaakov that in addition to following in his father’s footsteps, he needs to continuously grow. The question arises – why is he being given this message now? Shouldn’t this message have been given to him when he was much younger?

Horav Yeruchum Olshin, one of the Roshei Hayeshiva of Beis Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, NJ, points out that this was a critical time in Yaakov’s life. He was about to enter the world of Lavan, his corrupt uncle, and once there he was about to be challenged in ways that he couldn’t imagine. His morals, values and integrity would be put to the test. He recognized that and prayed that when he would eventually return to his father’s home he would have retained the levels of righteousness he had before he had left. However, G-d was telling him that it wasn’t sufficient to just maintain levels of righteousness; one needs to continuously grow. Yaakov’s task while in Lavan’s house was to overcome whatever challenges he might face and continue his spiritual growth.

What a great lesson for all of us. We must realize that our own education in yeshivos and growth in our synagogue life is not enough. We can’t remain stagnant in our growth. Instead, we need to view our interactions of daily living, no matter what the conditions might be, as opportunities for us to continuously develop, mature and flourish. We must emulate our forefather Yaakov and keep climbing the ladder of life.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Toldos

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

The Torah describes the birth of Yaakov Avinu and Esav and contrasts them right away. Esav is described as ruddy and hairy and his name Esav, means he’s already “made” and finished. In contrast Yaakov’s physical appearance is not mentioned at all. Instead, his behavior of being an “innocent (or wholesome) man always in the study tent” is given as his description. Esav is defined by his external appearance because that is his path in life. He did not see life’s mission as one of constant growth and improvement. He saw the purpose of life to be an ongoing pursuit of desires using his talents and the opportunities for worldly pleasure as they present themselves. This outlook is reflected in his response to the negotiation with Yaakov about the birthright. Esav scoffs at the idea of leadership and responsibility, “I am going to die. What do I need this for?” He is saying that life is short, and he doesn’t have time for that sort of thing. (Remember the bumper sticker – He who dies with most toys wins)

Our great king Dovid was also described as being ruddy. This means that he was also a bold person, capable of bloodshed. The difference between him and Esav is that he spent his life refining his character and struggling with the challenging aspects of his personality. That is a life which is well spent and that is how one achieves greatness.

At the end of the parsha, it is interesting that Esav himself understands that he has missed the potential in his life when he realizes that he won’t receive the blessings of his father. He complains that Yaakov took his firstborn rights. This seems odd since he scoffed at the whole idea earlier in his life. It is obvious that when Esav stood at this major crossroad in his life where his destiny and that of his progeny were  being determined, he was able to comprehend that growth and responsibility are the true purpose of life and that he had missed the mark.

This stark contrast between a life of growth and self-improvement vs. self-indulgence and regression is important to understand early in life. It enables us to set a course that will give us a life of meaning, fulfillment and goodness.