Author: ATT Chicago

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.

Collaborative Problem Solving

Conventional wisdom about behavior reward and punishment

Conventional wisdom leads us to believe that because of poor (passive, permissive, inconsistent) parenting, kids learn to use challenging behaviors to get what they want. Therefore, the logical solution is to motivate compliant behavior through intensive, consistent programs of rewards, punishments and ignoring. Examples include listing target behaviors, creating charts of rewards/punishments and setting up currency systems. But the question is, do these generally tend to work?

Limitations of rewards and punishments

Setting up rewards systems like these can affect children in a number of ways. They can teach basic lessons, facilitate extrinsic motivation and clarify expectations. What they can not do, however, is help kids stay regulated, work long-term, facilitate intrinsic motivation (they can actually de-motivate kids), or teach thinking skills. Furthermore, reward and punishment systems can actually be consequential. If we are constantly telling our children that they are not trying hard enough or that they don’t care, eventually they will look like and act like they don’t care. Additionally, our chronic misbehaviors may actually be trying harder than anyone else to behave. So how then, do we deal with challenging behaviors? First, we must change our perspective.

How to deal with challenging behavior

Research in neuroscience has shown that challenging kids are delayed in the development of crucial cognitive (thinking) skills or have significant difficulty applying these skills when they are most needed. Areas of lacking skills include: Flexibility/adaptability, frustration tolerance and problem solving. If that’s the case, we must look at challenging behavior the same way we look at learning disabilities. The simple philosophy behind this logic is that KIDS DO WELL IF THEY CAN. If they are challenging us, it is because something is getting in the way. It is our job as parents to figure out what that is so that we can help them! 

Intrinsic Motivation

While it often seems that kids aren’t motivated or don’t care, motivation is generally not the culprit for our children’s misbehavior. By understanding what builds intrinsic motivation we will be able to help our misbehaving children feel invested and excited about their day to day lives. According to the Self-Determination Theory, there are three components to feeling intrinsically motivated.

1. Competence: Our children need to feel competent with the tasks they are given. If they are lagging skills they need for a certain daily task (i.e. getting dressed independently or doing their math homework), chances are we will see some challenging behavior.

2. Autonomy: Our children need to feel a sense of independence in their lives as well as opportunities to make choices.

3. Relatedness: Our children should feel they have a close and trusting relationship with us, their parents. With these ideas in mind, we begin to rethink they way we think about challenging behavior.

Skill not Will

Challenging kids lack SKILL not WILL. They are misbehaving because something is missing. Behind most challenging behavior is: a problem to be solved and skills to be trained. Here’s a good equation to keep in mind:

Skills > Expectation = Adaptive Behavior

Skills < Expectation = Challenging Behavior

Lagging skills alone do not cause challenging behavior. Challenging behavior occurs when someone is presented with a problem or situation they lack the skills to handle well. Through this lens, it is our job to both assess which skills are lagging and then help our children learn these skills in an incrementally appropriate fashion. How do we begin to do this?

Ways to help kids solve problems

Look for triggers:

The first thing to look for when trying to help your child manage his/her challenging behavior are triggers. What are the demands that your child is having a hard time meeting? You want to do a situational analysis. Ask yourself the following questions: What is happening before the challenging behavior? What are the contexts/situations which lead to challenging behavior? Who is the child with? What time of day/where is your child when these behaviors occur? Once you have more information you will be able to begin to identify patterns and glean a better understanding of why your child is having a hard time. 

Use empathy:

Once you have a better understanding of what your child’s triggers might be, you can begin to have a conversation with him or her. The key to a successful collaborative problem solving conversation is EMPATHY! The goal of the conversation it to gather information from our child and better understand his or her perspective. When we empathize we are not judgmental, but rather open and curious and even if we don’t agree with it, are willing to accept our child’s perspective. 

Drill down:

What do we do if our child won’t talk? How do we get him or her to talk more? There are four “drilling down” tools which are helpful when it comes to getting our children to be active participants in a conversation.

  1. Clarifying questions: Start open-ended and then narrow in
  2. Educated guessing: Play 20 questions or Hot/Cold
  3. Reflective Listening: reflect in your own words to make sure you understand
  4. Reassurance: “I’m not saying no”, “I’m just trying to understand,” “I know there must be an important reason why…”

Explain your concern

Once we feel that we better understand our child’s perspective and have given them a meaningful chance to be heard, it is our turn to explain our perspective. Rather than start the conversation with ”I hear you but…”, start by stating your concern. Make sure your child understands your concern. If your child escalates at this point, go back to the empathy step. Once you have two sets of concerns/perspectives on the table and your child is calm, it is time to come up with some solutions. collaborative solutions

Collaborate on soutions

When it comes to solving problems, let your child take the first stab at it. It is crucial that you come up with a solution that works for the two of you. If your child doesn’t have any ideas, come to the conversation prepared with a few of your own. Very often you will need to “test” a solution for a week or two see if it works and then re-group to assess. The first solution seldom solves the problem durably. Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t get it right away, this process takes time!

Build Skills

When you engage your child in a collaborative conversation and make him or her your partner in solving problems you are simultaneously helping them build fundamental skills. Empathy, perspective-taking, flexibility, and problem-solving just to name a few. With these skills, we are setting our children up for the task of solving problems independently as they grow and mature.

Important reminders

Some important things to keep in mind as you go through with this process with your children:

  • This is not a “one shot solution.” It takes time and practice! But the good thing is, you can’t really mess up, because in the process you are building a stronger relationship with your child.
  • It is very important to not rush through the stages and to be prepared for each one.
  • Expect the unexpected and avoid any preconceived ideas of solutions.
  • Difficult problems require revisiting, go slow to go fast!

Teachers Gather for Learning, Collaboration

This year’s system-wide educational conference on Feb. 17 was incredible, bringing more renowned national and local education experts to work with our 500 ATT teachers than ever. The Rabbi Dr. Leonard C. Mishkin Teachers Educational Conference occurs each year on Presidents’ Day and is the largest professional development (PD) gathering for ATT teachers.

The program is an opportunity for teachers to learn new ideas and methodologies in teaching, both in Judaic and general studies. Teachers are also able to collaborate with colleagues from throughout the ATT system in workshops and round table 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.

Click here to see some of the national and local experts who joined us.

The response to the program was overwhelmingly positive, both from the visiting speakers and from the educators.

Speakers and partners had this to say:

“It was wonderful to be a part of and so special to see the range of educators represented. I would imagine that beneath the surface there may be tensions but to pull everyone together l’shem chinukh under one umbrella was as impressive as it was moving. Kol ha-kavod.
There is a difference between yekkeshness and professionalism yet you blended the two together beautifully in my every encounter with your office and with the program. Would that all of Jewish education functioned that way.”
Rabbi Dr. Jay Goldmintz
“It was a special experience for me seeing such a range of educators together for a day of learning, the organization and time that must have gone into the planning was apparent as things were very well thought out and coordinated – really amazing!”
Becky Udman, Love and Logic teacher

“I was so impressed with the teacher in-service! What a wonderful opportunity for all those educators to learn from a multitude of diverse presenters.” -Samantha Spolter, JCFS

“It is a privilege and a gift to be able to learn together in our close-knit group. It was great to learn from clinicians doing the work and developing specialized programs to meet the needs of our community after a tragedy. We have such a wealth of talent and knowledge in our Jewish community and I appreciate the chance to be a part of it.” -Elisa Rotman, LCSW

Participants had this to say:

“I was only signed up for the first class that Becky Udman (Love and Logic) gave and I just stayed for the others. She was truly amazing. Everything she said was so tangible and right on target.” -Lizzy Zupnik

“Thank you so much for the excellent presenters you brought in today for us teachers. They were very practical and given over so well!! We appreciate all your hard work always on our behalf.” -Elana Dubovick, Arie Crown

“Thank you for all your hard work in orchestrating what went into today! Months of preparation and endless hours of work. Job very well done, and I look forward to next year, iyH!” -Rivkie Zirkin, Yeshiva Ohr Boruch

“As I was leaving today, many teachers were commenting on how great today was. Yasher Koach on all your hard work!” -Margaret Matanky, Arie Crown

“It is a privilege and a gift to be able to learn together in our close-knit group. It was great to learn from clinicians doing the work and developing specialized programs to meet the needs of our community after a tragedy. We have such a wealth of talent and knowledge in our Jewish community, and I appreciate the chance to be a part of it. -Elisa Rotman, LCSW at Sager Solomon Schechter Day School

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

  • Preparing students to succeed in life by developing their Formative Five Success Skills – empathy, self-control, integrity, embracing diversity and grit 
  • Teaching tefillah and giving children the gift of joy in learning
  • Data-driven instruction
  • Auditory processing disorders in the classroom
  • Prerequisites to connect with students
  • Differentiated instruction in Judaic studies
  • Holocaust education
  • Partnering with parents
  • and more

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. G-d 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

When the Torah relates Yisro’s visit with Moshe Rabeinu and the Jewish people, the passuk reintroduces us to Moshe’s two sons and repeats the reasons that Gershom and Eliezer were so named. Gershom’s name reflects Moshe’s feeling of loneliness, “I was a stranger in a strange land.” Eliezer’s name commemorates Moshe’s escape from the executioner’s sword in Egypt after he killed the Egyptian beating a Jew.

There are two points to consider about these pesukim. Why is this information repeated here if the narrative is about Yisro’s visit? The Torah already explained this in Parshas Shmos when Gershom and Eliezer were born. Secondly, if Egypt was a hostile place for Moshe and he was a wanted man there, why did he consider Midyon, a far more hospitable place, to be a foreign land?

The Meshech Chochma (R. Meir Simcha HaCohen of Dvinsk 1843-1926) explains that Moshe Rabeinu wasn’t pining for Egypt as his birthplace but missing being amongst his brothers. In fact, when he returned to Egypt as Hashem’s emissary to Pharaoh, he told his father-in-law, “…must return to my brothers in Egypt and see if they are still alive” (Shmos 4:18). This is in spite of the fact that he was raised away from his people in Pharoh’s palace. This enormous feeling of kinship and concern for his Jewish brethren overshadowed his concern for his own life and safety. It explains why he named his first son to reflect his longing to be with his people and only his second son to commemorate his new lease on life.

The way Moshe conducted himself with his family is the insight the Torah gives us into his personality and his qualification as a leader. The man who would be the intermediary during Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah, needed to have a tremendous love for his people that overshadowed any feeling of self.  This is why the Torah reiterates this information here as the Jewish people were getting ready to receive the Torah.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Beshalach

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Seeing the Future

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion the verse states, “Vachamushim olu Bnei Yisroel maeretz Mitzrayim.Rashi quotes a Midrash in one interpretation that explains the word vachamushim to mean that only one-fifth of the Jewish people went out of Mitzrayim (Egypt), while the other four-fifths died in the plague of darkness. Rav Shimon Schwab (20th century Gadol) asks, “How do we understand this interpretation? The great celebration of our exodus from Egypt is marred by the death of the majority of the people?”

Rav Schwab suggests the following understanding. Perhaps Rashi is explaining to us the effects of individuals exponentially over time. Perhaps not all four-fifths died then, but a minority of people died at that time. Taking those individuals and looking at what could have potentially come from them over time, we get a much more significant number equal to the four-fifths of the Jews at that time.

The Midrash is teaching us to look at the future and realize what potential one individual may have. I heard a story from a great talmid chacham years ago that relays this message very well.

There was a snowstorm one day and only two other boys and he showed up for class. The Rebbe started teaching and was raising his voice and acting out the lesson as if there were a full class of boys in the room. After the lesson, this student asked his Rebbe, “Why did you have to strain yourself today and teach as if there was a full class since there were only three of us in the room?”

The Rebbe responded, “You are mistaken. Each one of you represents hundreds if not thousands of people. The lessons you learned today will be imparted to your families for generations as well as all with whom you come in contact. There were thousands of people in the room today. How could I teach with any less enthusiasm?”

The Midrash is teaching us an important lesson. Don’t underestimate the potential effect of one individual. Each person interacts on a daily basis with many people, family, friends, co-workers, etc. Let us make the most from all of our interactions in creating a Kiddush Hashem wherever we go.

Teachers Educational Conference

The ATT’s annual Rabbi Dr. Leonard C. Mishkin Teachers Educational Conference brings together over 500 teachers to hear from locally and nationally renowned presenters every President’s Day Monday. The program is an opportunity for teachers to get a glimpse at 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 workshops and round table discussions. This program is one of many professional development opportunities for educators that the ATT offers throughout the year.

The conference will take place on Monday, February 17, 2020 at the ATT in Skokie, from 8:45 am to 1:00 pm. The conference will feature many workshops for all ATT day school and high school teachers, from pre-nursery through 12th grade.

We’re excited to welcome some of the following outstanding educators this year:

Thomas R. Hoerr, PhD, University of Missouri – St. Louis, author, educational consultant at the Consortium of Jewish Day Schools, Emeritus Head of the New City School. He will speak on preparing students to succeed in life by developing their Formative Five Success Skills – empathy, self-control, integrity, embracing diversity and grit. 

Rabbi Tzvi Mordechai Feldheim, Rosh Mesivta, Mesivta Kesser Torah, Baltimore, Md., will speak to rebbeim on a curriculum for teaching tefillah as well as and giving children the gift of joy in learning.

Rabbi Yehuda Fogel, MA, Educational Consultant, Consortium of Jewish Day Schools, Mental Health Professional, associate principal of Hebrew Academy of Long Beach Middle School, will address differentiated instruction in Judaic studies as well as data-driven instruction. He will focus on four areas: assessment, analysis action and culture.  

Jeanane M. Ferre, PhD, CCC-A, International presenter, CAPD, will discuss managing auditory processing disorders (APDs) in the classroom.

Miriam Gettinger, Principal, Hasten Hebrew Academy, Indianapolis, Ind. and educational consultant, will discuss parent stewardship.

Rabbi Dr. Jay Goldmintz, Faculty Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School, Author of Ani Tefilla Koren Siddur, Winner of National Jewish Book Award, on religious development and prayer.

Debbie Selengut, Assistant Principal, Bnos Bracha, Passaic, NJ, on prerequisites that the teacher must have to connect with the students and to effectively teach them

Becky Udman, educational consultant, Dallas, Tx, Love and Logic parent/teacher facilitator on empowering students with confidence

Local experts will include:

  • Sherra Bloomenkranz, OTR/L on what data is useful when consulting with an occupational therapist and how you can be a good reporter/observer of student behaviors
  • Tzippy Kohen of Madraigos Midwest on providing teachers with a better understanding of how everyday student stressors and increasingly more frequent traumatic incidents impact both student and teacher. 
  • Lisa Ehrlich-Menard,  MEd, JCFS Response for Teens Youth Advocacy, Coordinator – Outreach and Community Education, on handling the “mean girl” phenomenon
  • Wendy Singer, director of education,Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, will offer a lesson on Holocaust education.
  • Nathan A. Unterman, STEP UP National Ambassador, Emeritus Physics and Materials Science Teacher/Consultant, on how teachers can address the problem the lack of gender parity in STEM fields and specifically physics, using research based resources and lessons.    
  • Sarah Burnstein, Service Operations, Walder Education & Debbie Steinberg, Librarian, Ida Crown Jewish Academy, on moving students into realms of expanded and higher-order thinking by incorporating classroom content into an escape room
  • Nina Henry, LCPC, CADC, Addiction specialist, JCFS Chicago, on identifying the signs and symptoms of mental health problems in young people, while acknowledging that adolescent development makes this process more challenging.
  • Rabbi Phil Karesh, Midwest Regional Director, Orthodox Union, on answering our teens’ questions that arise in class and in life and that relate to Judaism and their lives as teens. 
  • Daniel Alkhovsky, Director DEEP – Developing Excellence in Educational Practice, on math games that foster real meaningful learning in the classroom
  • Sarah Oberlander, Arie Crown Hebrew Day School, on mindfulness in the classroom.

To view more information about professional development, click here.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Bo

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Throughout the narrative of יציאת מצרים – the exodus out of Egypt, the Torah says that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened or heavy. This metaphor is understood to mean that he was being obstinate, and he was being foolishly brave in opposing Hashem’s demand that he free the Jewish people.

Rav Sholom Schwadron, the Jerusalem Maggid, asks why the Torah doesn’t describe Pharaoh as having no heart at all. After all, he wasn’t displaying any good judgment and seemed to be acting with no thought or emotion.

Reb Sholom quotes the Mesilas Yesharim – (Path of the Righteous, a mid-16th century ethical work by R. Moshe C. Luzzato) that explains that Pharaoh and his behavior are an allegory for the Yetzer Harah, the evil inclination, which drives us incessantly and wants us to be so immersed in our daily affairs that we don’t reflect on our spiritual state at all. This makes us vulnerable to all sorts of mistakes and bad choices.

Pharaoh also had moments where he acknowledged Hashem’s power over nature and that he could not challenge Hashem’s wisdom and power. Those occasions were few and short in duration. He immediately returned to his stubborn behavior and refused to follow through on those short bursts of clear thinking. This is described as having a hard heart. He was capable of thinking and seeing the truth; he wasn’t able to act on that truth. His desire for power and control dissipated any impression he had from those short moments of insight.

When we read about Pharaoh and his behavior, we are supposed to look at ourselves and think whether we don’t display similar behavior. Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed by life and we crave control. This may lead us to ignore Hashem and his Torah. These parshiyos help us refocus on what a hard heart can do to us and reminds us that we have the benefit of learning from Pharaoh’s lessons.

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 accompanies 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 the nation of G-d. 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 recent Siyum Hashas in Met Life 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.