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Oct212014

THE CHALLENGE OF OUR GENERATION

Our veteran correspondent, RNosson Avraham, who also works as an experienced practitioner in the field of education, recently hosted his friend, Rabbi Avraham Tzatzik, for a one-on-one discussion. Rabbi Tzatzik is a prominent educator in the Chassidic-Chareidi community and the developer of theCycles in Gemaraapproach. They spoke about the main emphasis in education, the correct way to help a child, the dangers of modern-day technology, and the objectives we must set for ourselves

Translated by Michoel Leib Dobry

I recently had the pleasure of hosting Rabbi Avraham Tzatzik, a highly qualified Chassidic educator, father of eight children, developer of the “Cycles in Gemara” approach, and prominent lecturer in all matters of education.

Rabbi Tzatzik has worked his entire life in the field of education. Even before he began the process of returning to his Jewish roots, when he was working in the hi-tech industry, his area of expertise was administering educational programs. Later, when he became a student of the veteran educator, Rabbi Yeshayahu Weber, he entered the field of teaching the principles of Gemara instruction. Through this aspect of his work, he was exposed to the broad field of neurological and emotional disorders among students, which constitute an obstruction to greater progress on all fronts. 

“I understood that it’s not enough to identify learning disabilities. We have to find and provide practical solutions for the child that can help him in his studies.”

While Rabbi Tzatzik is not considered a member of the Chabad Chassidic community, he was proud to tell us about his great appreciation and admiration for the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach and Chabad Chassidus. He also revealed that he was a descendant of a Chassid of the Rebbe Rashab and the Rebbe Rayatz. “My paternal grandfather was R’ Mordechai Tzatzik, a great Chassid filled with complete faith who did tremendous work behind the Iron Curtain. He was the father of six sons and a daughter. While his sons eventually left an observant lifestyle, including my father, his daughter remained loyal to the traditions of Torah and mitzvos. I heard stories about my grandfather from her son, who had been raised in his shadow and had such great admiration for him.”

Just prior to the holiday of Sukkos with its message of Jewish unity, and having been raised and educated according to Chabad principles, I chose the opportunity to have a friendly discussion on the issue of education with my friend, Rabbi Avraham Tzatzik, whom I now present to our readers.

SUITING EACH CHILD FOR HIS EDUCATIONAL “PATH”

It would seem that throughout the history of the Jewish People, there has never been a generation with the degree and number of educational challenges as those facing the various communities and sectors within this generation. I would like to discuss this matter at greater depth, placing an emphasis upon the difficulties and how to solve them.

Rabbi Tzatzik: Indeed, our generation faces many challenges. In my opinion, while there were serious challenges in all the preceding generations, they may have been able to deal with them more successfully. In those days, teachers were determined individuals who saw their educational work as a real shlichus.

From my vantage point, one great challenge is to know how to identify a child’s hardships and to provide the proper response. To attain this objective, we must focus on the child, not the learning. All children are different, even among siblings. “The Torah speaks of four children,” each one has his own built-in system of skills and understanding. In many instances, what’s happening today is that parents and educators send the child for psychological testing and treatment only after all other options have been exhausted and the child’s frustration leads him to a confrontation with his school or his parents at home. 

There are also parents on the other side of the coin. While they are aware and realize that their child has certain difficulties, they take steps that do no more than prevent further damage. For example, for a child who has problems learning Gemara, the parents hire an untrained and unprofessional kollel student to help him understand the learning material. The result is that the child is not helped and the challenges don’t disappear; it merely bolsters the approach of the child’s teacher. The parents end up spending a lot of money, and only several years later do they realize that their child’s educational situation has not improved.

There’s another issue that I speak about a great deal in lectures. The primary reason for emotional and behavioral problems in children was that the mode of learning and conduct isn’t always suited to the child’s character. I generally place children in two categories: a) children with a logical viewpoint, i.e. the intellectual outlook is dominant; b) children with a dominant emotional side, a more prominent inclination towards creativity and imagination, who connect more to drama and art.

Imagine a child, connected to his more emotional traits, who finds himself in a place where emotion is suppressed and greater emphasis is placed on pure intellect. Or, consider the opposite end of the spectrum: an exceptionally logical child finds himself where far higher priority is placed on emotion. What happens to such a child? He stifles his natural strengths, working instead to placate his environment. Consequently, he never experiences true success, as he uses his less prominent strengths. He will never feel accepted. Teachers would do right if they would integrate logic into their class, while leaving room for some home-styled emotional development – not just in Talmud Torahs, but also in yeshivos.

I more than agree with what you’re saying. I see this clearly in my own work. To sharpen this point, it might be appropriate to note that the prevailing ideal among certain sectors to place unrealistic goals for the students, e.g. the obligation to become great Torah scholars, has had tragic results. This is because, practically speaking, only a few people can attain such a level. Furthermore, it is uncertain that this is the mission that G-d has designated for them, and when they fail, it can potentially break them.

Rabbi Tzatzik: I speak a great deal about this with parents and teachers, and there are those who criticize my line of thinking. There is a concern that if a parent or a teacher introduces additional elements to the classic approach to Torah study, it harms the ideal that learning is everything. I reply to them that it’s possible to connect anything to Torah study. For example, they can ask students to make a presentation on a story from the Gemara or the Mishna or as a means of explaining halachos in Shulchan Aruch.

For example, if they want to do some creative artwork, they can build a sukka when they study the relevant Mishnayos on its halachic dimensions, or a model of the Beis HaMikdash when they learn Hilchos Beis HaBechira in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah. The same applies on the home front: give children an opportunity to express themselves in a variety of ways instead of restricting them to just one method.

I’d like to get back to the challenges and then add something. In my opinion, the biggest challenge is giving quality time to our children. Today, parents are working from sunrise to sunset. As for those who don’t work, they don’t always have the emotional time their children need. Therefore, they have to set a regular time to be with each of their children individually – learn with them, play with them, and listen to them. 

I meet many parents who don’t really know their own children, and this is the heart of the problem. The Rebbe Rashab determined that every parent must think about the education of his/her children for at least half an hour each day. When we as parents invest sufficient thought into and quality time with our children, we find ourselves deeply involved. Therefore, it will be far less likely that we will be caught totally unaware of our child’s weaknesses in his Gemara studies or his failure to take his homework seriously.

THE DREADED TECHNOLOGY

Rabbi Tzatzik: I would like to speak about technology and multimedia, which in my opinion is the great illness of this generation. No Jewish child or youth can claim immunity from these modern tools. Even the Gentiles have already understood the educational destruction they cause. As a teacher and in Chabad in general, how do you deal with this matter?

Chabad rabbanim have come out clearly against cellular devices with unscreened Internet and unlimited home Internet usage. While Chabad yeshivos have forbidden the use of any Internet devices, in truth, there is a great deal of work to do on this matter. Today’s students have undoubtedly been exposed to things that children of their age never would have seen or heard before.

In the past, there were those who attacked Chabad when it taught Chassidus over the radio, and the Rebbe replied that the radio is a tool and it depends upon how we use it. With regard to Internet, Chabad’s approach is that the tool is neither kosher nor un-kosher, since it can be used to spread the path of Yiddishkait. However, most regrettably, the potential for damage is very great. There can be no doubt that we must limit and filter its use more and more. While it seems that there is a tremendous awakening on this subject, it is clear to everyone that it is far from satisfactory. 

Rabbi Tzatzik: There was a time in the past when I would make many computer presentations as a means of explaining the methods of Gemara study to my students.

This had a most impressive effect, and the students truly enjoyed them. However, at a certain point, it became clear to me that together with Gemara study, I was exposing them to the wealth of possibilities proposed by the media, and I feared that I was connecting them to the computer and its gimmickry, not their learning. Therefore, I moved from computer aids to more traditional illustrations. In the final analysis, I not only think that the Internet, but everything connected with the computer is a disgusting form of muktzeh.

Without question, there must be balance. The educational approach that uses only visual aids can create external stimulation that will detract from the actual presentation, thereby lessening the level of learning ability.

THE THREEFOLD CONNECTION: FATHER, MOTHER, AND CHILD

I would like to talk about obedience and setting limits. This has also become a matter of much concern in our generation. In the past, there was a clear distance between parent and child. Today, it seems that in many homes it’s the children, not their parents, who set the agenda. 

Rabbi Tzatzik: As someone who teaches children, I can tell you that it’s very easy to identify these youngsters based on their conduct, and this is indeed a serious problem. Parents must establish a clear system of rules and regulations, which above all must be clear to the parents themselves. There are some parents who tell their child: “Tatty doesn’t let, right?”, and then wait for the child’s approval…

From my perspective, the father doesn’t ask, he lays down the law. After the parents decide, they must logically choose which issues to emphasize and on which they are prepared to be more flexible, since you obviously can’t forbid everything. 

Chassidus clearly explains the role of the father at home, the role of the mother, and the role of the child. This threefold connection usually remains unbroken, provided that it functions the way it should. When one of the three doesn’t work properly, this has a negative effect upon the child. A child who feels that his parents are a crutch grows up with a serious lack of confidence, although it often appears that he is controlling his parents out of a sense of overconfidence. In practical terms, his conduct is actually a cry for help: Set limits for me, let me feel more secure.

I speak with parents who tell me that their child won’t agree or he’ll create chaos. It’s difficult to hear such talk. A parent must tell his child ‘No’, not just ‘Yes.’ A child has to defer to his parents’ authority. 

Furthermore, we must say that as parents and educators, if we devote enough time to our child and listen to him, much of the opposition and defiance disappears. A child often objects because he fails to get positive attention and subsequently looks for negative attention. Thus, we unknowingly play into our child’s hands, instead of controlling the situation.

I definitely support the idea of showing respect for the child. My father always says, “Show respect for another, and he will respect you. Smile at him, and he will smile at you. Make an effort, and you will see that it works.” So too with our children: They also deserve our appreciation and respect, and then you will see that they’ll show respect for you as well.

A SALUTE TO CHABAD EDUCATION

Rabbi Tzatzik: I would like to salute Chabad education for the interaction provided in its educational institutions between excelling and weaker students, and between homegrown Chassidim and those raised in other sectors. If we’re talking about unity within Chabad, I think that first and foremost, it begins there, and it is easy to distinguish.

In the class that I teach, there are twelve students, only two of whom are from Chabad homes. The Chabad ideal is that we don’t leave a single Jewish child behind, even if he is not academically or intellectually “successful.” There is no such thing as a second-class Jew. I personally received my education in Kfar Chabad, and naturally, all my classmates had come only from Chabad homes. In contrast, my wife had been raised in Tzfas, and she told me that most of the girls in her class came from non-Chabad homes. Yet, not only did this not prove to be a harmful phenomenon; they even considered it a shlichus to influence their classmates about the spirit of Chabad. Every Jew is an entire world, and we don’t look at a person’s external garb. 

Rabbi Tzatzik: Since you mention Chabad, I’ll tell you about an incident that I’m sure you’ll like. I have pictures of animals and scenic views on my computer. When my students are particularly engrossed with their learning, I show them these pictures. 

On one occasion, there was a Chabad boy to whom I showed the pictures, one of which included tigers and elephants. He looked at the picture and cried, “Ich! Treif!” It was only then, as a result of this response, that I first became aware of the Rebbe’s position on the whole subject of non-kosher animals. This is clear testimony to the powerful influence of the Rebbe instilling within younger people a sense of disgust for all forms of impurity.

MOSHIACH DOESN’T BELONG JUST TO CHABAD

It’s no secret that the main emphasis in Chabad education is how everything must be infused with the subject of Moshiach and the Redemption. We see clearly when a child who lives in great anticipation for the coming of Moshiach, each of his actions takes on a unique vitality. How does the issue of Moshiach appear in other sectors?

Rabbi Tzatzik: I want to reveal an open secret: Moshiach doesn’t just belong to Chabad. I recently distributed a questionnaire to non-Chabad children I had taught, and one of the questions was: What do you expect will happen next year? All of them replied that Moshiach will come! I am a firm believer that we must educate our children accordingly. Yet, even when we succeed in instilling this belief, the success will not be complete as long as we remain in exile. 

There’s an old folk story about a Russian villager who asked his wife to daven that Moshiach should come. When she asked why, her husband replied that he had heard a rumor that the Cossacks were heading towards their town. If Moshiach will come, he explained, we will go to Yerushalayim and be saved from them. “Perhaps it would be better to daven that G-d take the Cossacks to Yerushalayim,” she told her husband. “Then we’ll have peace and tranquility.” This represents a galus mentality – a concealment of G-d’s Divine countenance. There is no doubt that teaching people to have a true anticipation for Moshiach’s coming is extremely helpful to the whole concept of Jewish education.

 

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