Month: December 2021

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vaera

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

In this week’s parsha, we come across the four words that represent different levels of redemption. The first one is vehotzasi, alleviating us from the burdens of Egypt, the second is vhitzalti, saving us from the hard labor, the third is vgoalti, the actual leaving of Egypt, and the last is vlokachti, G-d saying that He will take us for His nation. What does it mean to be the nation of G-d? What responsibilities accompany that relationship?

Chazal tell us that there are three qualities that define the Jewish people: being compassionate, having a sense of embarrassment, and bestowing acts of kindness to others. At a time when we are focused and living up to these values, we represent G-d properly. G-d took us out of Egypt for a purpose. It was not just for freedom from slavery, but freedom for living up to these values and changing the world around us.

I heard a beautiful story that took place at the last Siyum Hashas in MetLife stadium. One of the volunteers inside was handed a ticket by a member of the crowd coming in. The volunteer was told that this was an extra ticket that he had and if the volunteer found someone who needed it, he should please give it to him. The volunteer didn’t think there would be a need for it, but he took the ticket just in case.

 A few minutes later an officer outside the gate called this volunteer outside to help him with a situation that was unfolding. There was a man crying, and the officer was trying to calm him down without much success. The man said that he had a ticket for the siyum and had been looking forward to this special day. Unfortunately, when the ticket was scanned, it was discovered that it was not a valid ticket. However, the sad man was convinced that his ticket was authentic and somehow the scanner wasn’t working properly. Security had no choice and refused to let him in.

 When the volunteer heard the story, he immediately pulled the ticket out of his pocket that minutes before he had just received and said, “Here, I have an extra ticket. Use this one.”

The officer was amazed exclaiming, “Wow! That is so nice. We usually don’t see things like that happen here.” The volunteer explained that he had just received the ticket a few minutes before from someone who didn’t need it and wanted to help a person if it proved necessary. The officer replied again, “Wow!  Your G-d is really unbelievable.” 

This is who we are as a people. When we act in the ways that G-d wants us to follow, we are a reflection of G-d in this world and are truly His nation.

Genius Maker: How to Get Your Students on the Road to Becoming Problem Solvers

The ATT welcomed Rabbi Jonathan Chapman LSW to speak to teachers for a professional development course on problem solving. Rabbi Chapman emphasized the need for teachers to have a growth mindset with their students, focusing not where he/she is now but where he/she could be.

He presented the following six steps to encourage problem solving and student growth, a mixture of teacher guidance and student participation:

  1. Learn about the problem – Why is this a problem to begin with? What is the value of having this problem? Ask pre-problem questions – What kind of problem is this? What are the expectations? What are the skills needed to solve the problem?
  2. Question the choices and methods – How have my choices created this problem? Why haven’t I been able to solve this problem? When we approach a problem, the path we choose might bring us closer or further away from the solution. It’s what we do when we realize we are lost that makes the difference. Once we see what went wrong, we need to change our habits and future decisions. Teacher rapport can help with this situation.
  3. Identify patterns and relationships – What patterns exist and what do they reveal?
  4. Question your assumptions – What assumptions am I making about this? How are my assumptions misleading me?
  5. Pose “what if” scenarios – What if I thought about this differently? What if this wasn’t a problem at all? Asking “what if” questions can help identify potential problems early enough so that many can be minimized or eliminated BEFORE they occur, not after.
  6. Brainstorm how to solve the problem – How else could I solve this? How would the problem improve if…? What experiments could I conduct? Brainstorming is an excellent strategy to find out a student’s prior knowledge and give all students a chance to express their ideas. This process shows respect for others and cultivates individuality and creativity. It eliminates the fear of risk-taking and is a great way to promote thinking skills.

He concluded by emphasizing the importance for students to take small steps when trying to solve a problem along with the strategy known as “the Five B’s.”

Brain – If you are not sure, think about it first. Try to work out the answer on your own.

Board – If you are still stuck, look at the board. There is usually a clue or answer there.

Book – If you are still stuck, then look in your book next.

Buddy – Still not sure? Ask your “buddy” – he/she might know.

Boss – If he/she doesn’t know either, chances are lots of people are confused. This is now the time to ask the teacher for help!

Teachers left with practical ideas to foster a growth mindset and help their students solve problems.

10 tips for a connected classroom

On December 19, 2021, a group of ATT early childhood teachers spent their Sunday afternoon very productively by attending a special workshop given by Morah Chaya Shapiro, an early childhood teacher from Far Rockaway, NY. Her session contained specific strategies and tips on how to achieve the goal to keep students happy, engaged, successful, confident, valued and safe. According to Shapiro, building a connection with students allows teachers to achieve these characteristics of resiliency.

Following are Shapiro’s top 10 tips for building connections in the classroom:

Morning greetings

This is the first opportunity of the day to create a connection. Teachers can give students a choice of their favorite morning greeting. Is it an elbow bump, wave, or high five? This shows that the teacher cares about them as individuals.

For example, Morah Chaya wears a necklace with choices that students can point to when they say good morning.

Soliciting opinions

Asking students for their opinion builds rapport and is a good transition activity. Ask students which picture they like best (from a choice of four pictures). If you do this one on one, you will be more likely to hear the student’s real choice. Otherwise, young students conform to the choices of their peers. Remind students that it’s their answer, not their friend’s answer.


Choices help students develop problem solving skills and ensures they will follow through with something. This improves self-esteem and empowers them because they do have a choice. They are not making a decision out of fear and thus feel more connected.

For example, give some options like the following:

  •  “You may give your friend a turn now or you can give him/her a turn in two minutes. What do you choose?”
  • Let the child choose the toy with which he/she wants to play.
  • And when problem solving: “What choice will you make?” Some have an award “paper watch” that says: “I made a good choice.”

Please notice this

When we take time to notice children (without judgement) and their behaviors, then those students feel connected to the day, the learning, and you as a teacher. Remember to say: “I noticed…” It gives you the opportunity to positively comment on ALL students, even the ones harder to compliment.

Partner activities create a sense of belonging

Assign/choose a different partner every day. Use a gimmick to make it exciting. For example, you can do this with two sticks that have the same color or a heart with the same letter of the A, B,Cs. You can create a “friend” day and have a paper that says, “I have a friend.”  You can ring a bell and say, “Look at your friend. Ask their favorite color, candy, etc.” Share a book as partners. Shuffle partners during lunch time.

Show and Tell

Children love showing things from home. You can have thematic show and tell activities – e.g. transportation show and tells, family show and tells, etc.

Knowing your students

You, the teacher, need to take time to think about your students’ strengths, interests, parents, siblings, fears, hobbies, home life, past experiences, etc. Exploring these areas are especially helpful when dealing with a challenging student.

Getting to the root of the problem

Create empathy by seeing your students in the 3D’s listed below:

  • Deep breath – allows us to access our toolbox;
  • Decide – what’s going on? Are they missing a skill?;
  • Demonstrate – every time there is an incident among children, it is a teaching opportunity to demonstrate the correct behavior. Ask: “Did you like it when that happened?” Then discuss the root of the problem, talk to the child(ren), and determine the real issues so you can resolve them.

Classroom jobs

Every child should have a meaningful job that makes the child feel important, needed, and connected to the classroom. Jobs empower children to be responsible and ready to learn. Some larger jobs can be shared by multiple students. There should be a “substitute” job  (like a substitute teacher) in case a child is absent. Be sure to include a “get well helper” job to makes cards for those students  absent from school due to illness.

Breathing exercises

This gives students (and you, the teacher!) the tools to cope with challenging situations and builds resilience. This can be a job choice for students as well, reminding each other to breathe. You can have a basket with breathing exercises, calming lotion, bubbles to breathe in and out, a windmill from the dollar store, a soft pillow, etc. There are lots of examples at

Bonus tip: “Just Because!”

Do some fun unannounced activities “just because.” Examples include: put on music and dance, finger plays, read a story, paint a picture, puppet show.

By the end of the session, the participants were looking forward to Monday morning to put some of the wonderful tips they had learned into action! 

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Shmos

Written by Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Parshas Shmos

After coming down to Egypt as a family, the Jews come of age in that country. Egypt, a culture that is alien and whose values were at odds with our Torah and way of life, is the cradle of our nationhood. The possuk (Devarim 4:20 Yirmiyahu 11:4) refers to this experience as the כור הברזל – the smelting furnace. This is not the melting pot that American immigrants experienced when they came to these shores. It was a crucible of searing pain and suffering.

While the written Torah’s detail of this experience is terse, the sages (in the Gemara and the Midrashim) elaborate on the pure evil and terror that was wrought upon our ancestors. We dwell upon this experience at our Seder on Pesach and the Torah expects us to remember that we were slaves in Egypt. Clearly, this was a learning experience from a loving G-D. If so, what are the lessons we are to learn that resonate throughout the generations and are relevant to us today?

While the answer to this question is multi-faceted, let us look at some of the more obvious ideas and themes that the Egyptian experience taught us. The first is that we can withstand a lot of adversity if we stand together. For example, when Moshe encountered two rivals, Dasan and Avirum, fighting and they insinuated that they had betrayed him to Pharaoh, he exclaimed, “Now the matter is understood.”  Rashi explains this statement to mean that Moshe now understood the reason for the Jews’ suffering. This betrayal and lack of loyalty and respect of a fellow Jew (who had killed to defend a hapless Jew being beaten to death) was the basis for the terrible suffering of the nation. When we left Egypt, we had to demonstrate that we had corrected this national flaw by lending each other precious items, displaying our trust of each other. (See Shmos 11:2.) 

The next theme illustrated in the parsha is that we need to communicate with Hashem in order to merit His salvation. While Hashem had promised to redeem us, that promise was only activated when He heard the cries of pain and anguish which the Jews directed to Him. This is an important lesson. We cannot think since Hashem is aware of our situation, we don’t need to do anything. We need to ask for His help for Him to respond.

A third important lesson demonstrated is the fact that culture is not the same thing as morality. We are often deceived into thinking that human advancement in the arts and the sciences produces superior human beings who are better equipped to make moral and just choices. Egypt was the seat of human civilization; yet they abused other humans and engaged in morally decadent  behavior. This lesson was not lost on the Jewish people who experienced it again in the Greek period and most recently in Nazi Germany.  We respect and appreciate the wisdom and revelations that Hashem gives each generation, but we need to balance that with the firm adherence to the moral values which Hashem gave us in His Torah.

2021 Rabbi Isaac Mayefsky Memorial Lecture

Close to 200 parents and teachers of school-age children joined the Associated Talmud Torahs on Motzaei Shabbos, December 11, 2021, to attend the 35th Annual Rabbi Isaac Mayefsky Memorial Lecture.  This annual parenting program featured the captivating speaker and educator, Rabbi Jonathan Rietti.

The presentation, Raising Resilient Children in a Confusing World, focused on strategies for effective parenting. Rabbi Rietti provided many practical suggestions to help parents and teachers as they teach children how to bounce back when faced with adversity. He presented the following ideas:

Children are created B’Tzelem Elokim and from conception, they have been endowed with unbelievable growth powers as they develop into adulthood. Children and “successful” adults are inherently resilient – no matter how often they fall, they try again and again and again.

Life is experienced in one’s brain. The world happens through us – not to us. Thus, thought is extremely powerful. Even our emotions are impacted by our thoughts. Humans “feel” their thoughts.

What are some thoughts/strategies that help us build resilience?

—– The sun is always shining – even when it is a cloudy day. A trip in an airplane above the clouds proves that.

—– When the mind is cluttered with concerns, one cannot see with clarity. A snow globe is a perfect example of this. Try to let the “snow” settle and consider your next thought.

—– The media manipulates the minds of adults and children and entices both to be “free” when really, the encouragement is to be out of self-control. True freedom is being in control of one’s life.

—– Smartphones and social media always present the option to explore or ignore what is being projected. You can choose to ignore.

—– You can’t stop thinking but you can always control the next thought. You are born with a filter – your mind – and you are always one thought away from changing your mind. You cannot have two thoughts simultaneously.

  • Negative thoughts are draining.
  • Letting go of negativity allows one to start again.
  • Pick out the weeds of your thought garden so that the positivity is not overtaken by the negativity.

—– Bad news gets our attention because it’s news. Focus, instead, on the good news that happens daily. Resilience = paying attention to G-d’s reality.

—– We are role models for our children.

  • Influence your children by staying in control when faced with adversity.
  • V’Shenantam L’Vanecha – “chew” (from the root of the word for tooth – shein) and savor the taste of what you experience in front of your children. How you live through challenges in front of your children will make an impression on them.
  • V’Dibarta Bam – It is never too late to build a relationship with our children. Speak with them – ask them questions. Keep the dialogue open and bring out the resilience that is innate to them as humans. The most powerful place to do this is face to face in the home environment. Do so with simcha and passion.

—– G-d has a plan for us – our history proves this. Though we have suffered many calamities as Jews, we are still here, and this proves the resilience that we have from birth.

This lecture is part of the ATT’s expanded program designed to address the challenges of creative teaching and rewarding parenting.   Over the years, it has become an excellent resource for parents and teachers of children of all ages.   

Rabbi Isaac Mayefsky was a gifted educator who, in the course of more than 40 years of communal service, developed many key programs within the Associated Talmud Torahs, including the Russian Transitional Program and the Dr. Oscar A. & Bernice Novick PTACH Special Education Program.


A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vayigash

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, Rashi (a well-known commentator) shares two perspectives regarding how Yehuda spoke to Joseph when trying to save his brother Benjamin after being falsely accused of stealing the silver cup. In one viewpoint Rashi maintains that Yehuda takes a strong stance when speaking with Joseph. The question is raised why one would risk taking a strong stance when dealing with one’s brother’s life. Instead, would it not be wiser to adopt a more conciliatory tone to secure one’s brother’s release?

The answer given is a powerful one. Yehuda promised his father to bring his brother home safely. He assumed the responsibility of his brother’s safety. His behavior when speaking to Joseph reflects his commitment to that responsibility. Yehuda’s actions provide a wonderful lesson for all of us. They illustrate that true responsibility creates ownership and with that comes a sense of urgency to react with a greater passion to accomplish one’s goals.

A Taste of Torah – Chanukah

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Just a Moment

During Chanukah, the special prayer, Al Hanisim, is added to our tefillos (prayers). This tefilla thanks Hashem for the miracles He performed for the small Jewish army during the battle against the more formidable Greek one. When one looks closely at this prayer, there seems to be a glaring omission. There is no mention during the prayer of the miracle of the small jug of oil that was found allowing the candles to remain lit for eight days. In fact, there is no mention of the candles until the last line which states, Afterwards (referring to the battle) they lit candles and this line seems almost an afterthought. However, if one understands the true focus of the prayer, this line becomes the most powerful one.

After the war, what was the first thing our ancestors did? They did not sit back and enjoy the moment or run a ticker-tape parade to celebrate. Instead, they immediately returned to the Bais Hamikdosh (temple) to re-establish the Avodah (daily services) there. They were inspired by the miracles they witnessed during the war and acted on that inspiration right away. These actions, in turn, brought about the miracle of finding the jug of oil.

This series of events is what we need to keep in mind and to teach our children.  When moments of inspirations are acted upon at once, good things will follow. A famous quote states, “Moments can be momentary or momentous; it all depends on how you use it.” Remember, a moment of better concentration in tefillah or a moment of doing an act of kindness with more thought or a moment of thanking Hashem for all that He gives us can make a monumental change in our lives.