Thursday, January 11, 2018

PARSHAS VAERA 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaera
25 Teves 5778/January 12, 2018
Mevorchim Chodesh Shevat

Everything is relative. Someone forwarded a copy of the memo sent home to the parents of Torah Academy of Boca Raton, Florida, last week, which read: “With predicted temperatures in the 40s and 50s tomorrow, we ask you to please be sure to send a coat or a jacket tomorrow with your children…. Stay warm!”
Here on the upper east coast, we braced ourselves for a walloping storm this past Thursday, which they titled a “Bomb Cyclone.” Giving such dramatic names definitely helps engender hysteria, which the news stations love to promote.
  It dumped a few inches of snow, forty mile an hour winds, and was followed by days of Arctic weather, where daytime highs were in the single digits, and nighttime lows were below zero. Safety and precautionary notes were sent around to prevent frozen pipes and other such issues.
Meanwhile, out in Minnesota, they were experiencing the same weather, and were trying to figure out what everyone on the North-East Coast was getting excited about.
During Thursday morning’s storm, after davening shachris in shul, our oldest child, Shalom, and I headed home in my non-four-wheel drive. There wasn’t much snow on the ground, but the roads had not been salted or paved well by that point.
Someone asked me for a ride home. I told him I would be glad to do so, as long as the car could make it up the steep hill going up to his street. I didn’t really think that would be an issue, until I made it a third of the way up, and could not proceed any further. The wheels spun but we weren’t moving at all. I drove back down the hill, and apologized, and let him off at the bottom.
Then, we had the challenge of trying to make it up the steep hill leading up to our home. As soon as we began heading up the hill, the car seemed to struggle mightily with the road. However, we were moving, though literally inch by inch. I shifted gears, turned the wheels, floored it, and then let up, as we continued to make our painfully slow ascent. As we continued to inch our way up I doubted that we could actually make it to the top, but without much choice, I continued to try.
As we were nearing the top, I noticed in my icy rear-view mirror, a taxi, which obviously had four-wheel drive, fairly easily cruising up the mountain. In another minute he whizzed by us, and proceeded on.
Thankfully, we made it home, though the normally four-minute drive, took almost five times as long.
In my first position after graduating with my degree in Social Work, I had the privilege to be the School Social Worker in Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch, a yeshiva for boys who struggled academically in the main-stream schools. What is most remarkable about the yeshiva, is the positive atmosphere and general happiness that is apparent on the faces of the students.
The founder of the yeshiva, Rabbi Binyamin Rabinowitz, explains that as a rebbe in a mainstream yeshiva for many years, he always had a few students who couldn’t keep up with the class. Despite the great effort they invested, at times even with tutors and outside assistance, they just couldn’t keep up with their peers.
I could not imagine what it would be like to have the feeling I had driving up the hill so painfully slowly, with another car passing me effortlessly, every single day. Often the deep pain and shame of those precious students emerges during their adolescence in unpleasant ways.
It was for that reason that Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch was founded, to offer those students a supportive and nurturing environment, where they could feel accepted with their academic challenges, and taught how to be successful despite them. The yeshiva continues to be that wonderful haven and services our community, living up to its lofty mantra of building and educating every neshama.
Although my role was to emotionally support the students, I learned many things from those students and from the incredible rabbeim that I was privileged to work alongside.  
This will probably sound unbelievable, but this article isn’t an appeal, nor was I even asked to write it. (Of course, I have no doubt that the yeshiva could benefit greatly from donations....) But my experience during the snow storm, reminded me of the yeshiva and its students and the amazing work they, and their dedicated rabbeim and teachers do, in trying to reach the soul of every student, in his/her unique manner.
Bais Hachinuch was my first real employment. Consistent with their goal of building people, the menahel Rabbi Naftali Eisgrau, offered me my first position, and never stopped encouraging me. (He still does!)
In recent months, I have met a few of our former Bais Hachinuch students in different locations. At times, I recognized them instantly, while other times they introduced themselves. What’s remarkable to me, is how happy they are to see me. I have heard from other Bais Hachinuch rabbeim that they have had the same experience when meeting former talmidim. No matter whether the talmid has gone on to learn in yeshivos, or has gone out to work, they seem to recall those nurturing years in Bais Hachinuch with fondness.
Could there be a more beautiful goal than to seek to help every child climb the hills of life, no matter what kind of tires or engines they were born with?!
Personally, I am still deciding whether it’s worth the added expense of four-wheel drive, or maybe to just move to a place where they must send a note home to parents to tell their children to bundle up because it’s considered unusually cold at 50 degrees.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

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