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Tuesday
Oct282014

BELIEVING IN CHINUCH

Beis Moshiach sat down with RMendy Dickstein of Moscow, RLevi Yitzchok Cohen of Tel Tziyon, REren Yaakov Feldman of Elad, RChaim Komer of Tzfas, and RYitzchok Scheiner of Beitar Ilit, five Lubavitcher mechanchim.* We wanted to hear from them about what characterizes Chabad chinuch, about what they have to contend with, about anticipating the Geula as a motivational education tool, and more.

We spoke to teachers, not to principals, not to educational consultants, and not to those who lecture about teaching. Teachers, those who are in the classroom, who spend hours every day with our children, who handle the many challenges that teachers nowadays have to deal with.

We mainly wanted to hear about what characterizes Chabad chinuch and about the tools that Chassidus provides a teacher and parent.

AN ESSENTIALLY DIFFERENT KIND OF CHINUCH

“A Chabad chinuch is essentially different than the typical religious education,” says R’ Eren Yaakov Feldman, a longtime teacher of first grade in the Chabad school in Elad. “Beyond instilling the importance of learning, of halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai that was transmitted from generation to generation, Chabad chinuch places hiskashrus to the Rebbe first and foremost.”

Hiskashrus to the Rebbe as an educational motivator repeats itself often in this interview. “Whatever we teach, we try to show where the Rebbe fits in, what the Rebbe says about it, how it connects to Moshiach. This is how we constantly prepare the children for Moshiach,” says R’ Chaim Komer, also a first grade teacher.

To what extent does the topic of Moshiach and anticipating the Geula affect a child’s chinuch?

“A lot,” says R’ Komer. “When you explain to a child that Moshiach is about to come and we need to get ready, it greatly strengthens the child. When a child feels and internalizes that Moshiach is really about to come and that he has a part in bringing him, then it becomes a part of him; he has a reason to do things. It creates an emotional connection for the child and consequently he does things happily and there will be less of a need to keep after him.”

From what age is it appropriate to talk to the children about Moshiach and Geula?

“At any age,” says R’ Komer, “and the earlier the better. I keep track of students through the years and I can tell you that those who were raised from preschool with Moshiach and Geula, surrounded by it at home and in school, have grown up differently. If you pay attention you can see clearly in bar mitzva age children the difference and impact of anticipating Moshiach on their actions and behavior. I am talking about a completely different chayus in learning, in mitzva observance, in Chabad practices, in dress, in every way.”

“Not a day should go by without Geula and Moshiach,” says R’ Yitzchok Scheiner, a teacher in Beitar Ilit. “We start and end the day with inyanei Moshiach and Geula. The children today live Moshiach. They live the Geula. At home too you need to instill this in the children. Children need to constantly live with the feeling that hinei zeh ba. When the child lives with the Geula, everything looks different – behavior, davening, learning.”

How do you instill emuna in children?

“A critical principle in education is being a role model,” says R’ Komer. “When you yourself are permeated and live with this belief as something tangible and current it affects the children. If you as a teacher are not feeling this way, you have a problem, because the children will immediately pick up on this and will regard it the same way.”

GIVING, HELPING
AND BITTUL

“In a Chabad chinuch there is also the important component of Ahavas Yisroel and giving to others,” says R’ Levi Yitzchok Cohen, a teacher in Tel Tziyon near Yerushalayim. “There is also the point about bittul. We are always telling the children to be ambitious and move forward. But we stress that this ambition in learning is not so I will be the greatest in Torah, to be a tzaddik or a big and famous rav, or for any other personal reason. It is with the understanding that this is what Hashem wants in the world, that I learn Torah and do mitzvos. Being that this is the case, I need to do so in the best way possible.”

How do you explain to third graders about bittul?

“We don’t tell children to have bittul,” says R’ Cohen. “This is not a yeshiva for older boys in which a mashpia sits with the bachurim and explains the difference between bittul ha’yesh and bittul b’metzius. When I say that we teach about bittul, I mean that we teach about the idea that you are not at the top of the ladder of priorities; Hashem is. You are not doing things for yourself, but for Him.

“We convey this mainly through stories. Many stories bring out this point, like the story in the Kovetz Michtavim at the end of the T’hillim about the Baal Shem Tov being greatly mekarev simple Jews who read T’hillim fervently in the beis midrash. Once, his talmidim complained about the special treatment he gave them. The Baal Shem Tov told them to hold hands and he showed them a vision of the enormous pleasure generated in heaven by the recitation of T’hillim of these simple folk.

“I read this story every year to my students and I recommend to everyone that they read this story. Besides bringing out the importance of saying T’hillim, it brings out this point, that to Hashem, the effort and intention are considered, not just scholastic achievement. This encourages weak students and shows them that any progress they make is important. It also provides the strong students with a healthy perspective.”

KNOWING THE HISTORY OF THE ROYAL FAMILY

Stories are a vital element in Chabad chinuch.

“The Rebbe Rayatz repeated what he heard from his father who heard it from his father etc. that the Alter Rebbe said that when they heard teachings from the Maggid that was ‘Oral Torah,’ and when they heard a story, that was ‘the Written Torah,’” says R’ Feldman. “Stories are very important – stories from the Torah, from Tanach, stories of the Tanaim and Amoraim, stories of g’dolei Yisroel throughout the generations, stories of the Rebbeim. I tell a Chassidic story every day to the children. They don’t go home until they hear the daily story.

“The goal of stories is, first of all, the lesson in them,” says R’ Feldman, “but that’s not all. It is supremely important for a Chassidic child to grow up with knowledge of the lives and activities of the Rebbeim, the dates pertaining to their lives and those of their families.

“The Rebbe Rayatz wrote the Shalsheles HaYachas (Lineage and Biographical Outline about the Rebbeim) and had it printed at the beginning of the HaYom Yom for a reason. Chassidim need to be knowledgeable in the history of the royal family, i.e. our Rebbeim, their families, and their activities.”

That’s important for chinuch?

“Definitely. I sometimes meet Lubavitcher young men from Chassidic homes who don’t know the birthdays and the days of passing of the Rebbeim. If you consider yourself a Chabad Chassid, you need to at least know the main dates.

“The preschool teachers generally do very well with this,” says R’ Feldman, “at least regarding the special dates. They prepare the children so that there is no child going into first grade from a Chabad preschool who is not fully aware of the major Chassidic holidays.

“There is also supreme importance to Chabad customs and various subtleties,” says R’ Feldman. “For example, saying T’hillim on Shabbos Mevarchim is a practice that we treat as an absolute obligation. Although we are first grade, we place a great emphasis on this in class. Every Shabbos Mevarchim, one of the items on the paper we send home is how many chapters of T’hillim did the child read on Shabbos.

“Or, for example, saying Modeh Ani with hands together and head bowed or Chabad customs related to Pesach that we place a serious emphasis on. These are things through which we strengthen their hiskashrus to the Rebbe.”

MOTIVATION FOR SUCCESS

Getting back to the topic we started with, hiskashrus to the Rebbe as a motivator for success in chinuch, all the teachers agreed on this.

“Whatever we teach, we train the children to look at things from the Rebbe’s perspective,” says R’ Menachem Mendel Dickstein, a teacher in Moscow. We were interested in hearing about chinuch in a special place like the Chabad community in Moscow!

“For the most part, it is like any other yeshiva, but of course there are things that are unique to our location. For example, the connection with the students and parents is stronger since even after school, the students and parents and the teacher see one another in shul. Likewise, the students have hardly any social life outside of the friends from school.

“When it comes to hiskashrus to the Rebbe, naturally when children grow up on foreign soil they know that their parents are devoting their lives to the Rebbe’s shlichus and the connection is stronger. This is why, with us, everything is immediately connected to ‘what would the Rebbe have done in this situation,’ and ‘what can I do to give the Rebbe nachas?’”

Chabad schools are willing to take all kinds of students. How do you instill a Chabad atmosphere and hiskashrus to the Rebbe in a classroom when you have students from all kinds of backgrounds?

“In my classroom there are all kinds of kids,” says R’ Cohen from Tel Tziyon. “I always talk about the Rebbe, but I don’t do it in a way that will offend any student or the rabbi of his group. The best way is through telling stories. Tell a lot of stories about the Rebbe and the message will get through. In our class, the children know that we respect all types of Jews and it is absolutely forbidden to speak disparagingly about other groups.”

Besides teaching first grade, R’ Komer is a guide for groups of students who come on trips to Tzfas. He meets thousands of students from all backgrounds.

“There is a direct connection between the child’s social-economic situation and their behavior,” he says. “What you can see clearly in groups from Chabad schools is a willingness on the part of the teachers to invest a lot, out of a sense of shlichus, so that they minimize these gaps and bring even those students from weak backgrounds to high levels.”

PROPERLY HANDLING A CHANGING REALITY

Modern technology presents challenges today to Judaism in general and a Chassidishe chinuch in particular. In other sectors, they placed a ban on all new technology. How does Chabad chinuch deal with this phenomenon?

“I don’t think there is any allowance to own a Smartphone,” says R’ Komer, “certainly not for a mechanech. That is my opinion and I have not found a single rav who allows it. There is no other option; we need to stand strong on this issue. True, the Rebbe said to make use of technology, but I think technology crossed a certain line in that it is found in everyone’s pocket.

“In class I talk very carefully about it since many parents have these gadgets, but if they ask me, I take a strong position on the matter.”

“In Moscow, most of the children have a computer at home which is connected to the Internet,” says R’ Dickstein. “The shluchim need the Internet for their work and for most kids this is the only way they can connect with the outside world, with family and friends. At the same time, we definitely demand that they use a proper filter and that parents supervise the sites that the children have access to.”

“We don’t chase the darkness away with a stick; we turn on a light, and a little light dispels a lot of darkness,” says R’ Scheiner. “Maybe a wiser course would be to include the children in a discussion about how they think they can use these gadgets for holy purposes. At the same time, we don’t need to put ourselves into danger.

“The question is how we as teachers treat the subject in our classroom. What we do is use these things to strengthen the educational and Chassidic aspect of chinuch – through experiential means. Or when we watch videos of the Rebbe, of davening, farbrengens associated with special days, etc. we explain to the children what they are seeing, especially if we were there and saw and experienced it ourselves.

“There are also parents who need to bring all kinds of technology into their homes for their work. Obviously, they know that: 1) their children don’t need free access; it is only in their presence or with the supervision of an older person who is familiar with these things and knows which things the children can be allowed to see and which not; 2) when children, for whatever reason, have access to technology, they need to make certain that it will be used solely for Chassidishe things.”

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