The Wonderful World
By Chaya Shandel Mandel, MS, SAS, SDA, and Shoshana Rybak, Psy.D., NCSP
In 1963, disabled children with multiple handicaps or mental retardation had few school options available. Parents could keep their child at home or they could send him or her to a program that did not meet their special needs. The Kahn family decided to establish the Hebrew Academy for Special Children to serve the needs of these children. From the start, the program was characterized by professionalism, with a focus on the individual needs of each child. Their vision continues to motivate the programs that comprise the HASC educational facilities today.
What started as a small program in New York City has now blossomed into programs serving over 1,100 children in six New York State locations. HASC comprises preschool, special-education programs, school-age programs, and a summer residential program for special children–Camp HASC.
The early-intervention program is designed to service eligible children from birth to age three who have developmental delays. Evaluations and services can be offered in the child’s home or day-care center, or at the HASC school site. Service coordination, parent support groups, and parent training workshops are available.
At the preschool programs, services for eligible children aged three to five are provided in small classes in inclusive or segregated settings. Each class has a licensed special-education teacher and one, two, or more (depending on the needs of the children) teacher assistants. All therapies are available and conducted on-site. Parent workshops and support groups are conveniently scheduled.
The SEIT/RS (Special Education Itinerant Teacher/Related Services) program is designed for children aged three to five who require special education or therapeutic services but remain in their home, nursery school, day care, or play group environment. Monolingual as well as bilingual evaluations and therapeutic services are provided.
Our school-age program provides special education for monolingual and bilingual children between the ages of 5 and 21. We also have a unique classroom with its own nurse for medically frail students. The focus is on the attainment of functional skills, including activities of daily living, academic achievement, and socialization. Assistive technology, music therapy, and an adaptive computer program are incorporated into the curriculum.
This year we are expanding our program to a middle school and a high-school concept. The high school will concentrate on independent life skills and pre-vocational training. The vocational program is broadly aimed at providing every child with skills, attitudes, and experience in working in the outside world with as much independence as individually possible. Travel training takes our children from the very beginning of learning directions through the more complex maneuvers required in independently traveling by bus or train from school to a job site or from the job site and back. Job training also starts at a basic level of volunteering once a week at several schools, hospitals, or political offices, and continues with more complex training for work at public and private offices and commercial and retail establishments.
The interpersonal behavior component emphasizes the acquisition of the positive attitudes, work ethic, and social skills needed to persevere at a job and get along with others. In addition, students are trained in basic domestic skills, such as independent shopping, money skills, housekeeping skills, cooking skills, and maintaining good nutrition. These skills are also expected to be put to use in leisure-time planning, which is a subcategory of independence training.
Above all, HASC is proud of its service learning projects–its chesed projects where the students in the vocational/transitional program engage in community service of giving to others, volunteering to help at various institutions such as hospitals, preschools, and yeshivas. The students learn firsthand what it is to give to others: They learn that despite the many challenges facing them, they have something valuable to offer the world and that they, too, can make a difference. The students incorporate their IEP goals in their projects and the service learning projects, in turn, strengthen their academic, social, and adaptive living skills.
The HASC summer program provides over 350 mentally and physically challenged children and adults the opportunity to learn and enjoy a sleepaway camp experience while engaged in an academic setting. The program seeks to maximize the development of each individual’s potential by providing educational and therapeutic services combined with a full range of recreational activities. v
In Its Ninth Year
Yeshivas Doresh has begun its ninth year–the sixth year in Florida since the dean, Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Salfer, moved to Miami from Cleveland, after having learned in the Telzer Kollel for more than 14 years.
Yeshivas Doresh is for high-school and post-high-school boys, ages 13 and up, who have challenges with kriyah (reading), havanah (comprehension), or just managing in the usual mainstream classroom. The bachurim come from around the U.S. and Canada, and are of various backgrounds–chassidish, Chabad, Sephardi, Young Israel, yeshivish, etc. This diversity has been welcome to many who have wanted to take part in a variety of the yeshiva’s programs, such as the night seder, melaveh malkas, Shabbos onegs, Thursday-night kumzitz in the dark, and others.
Yeshivas Doresh has found a home in the Bukharian Nier Abraham Congregation, adding flavor to both the yeshiva and the shul. The bachurim of the yeshiva enjoy singing and dancing, and the yeshiva has taught the shul members many new niggunim, while the shul has taught the yeshiva many of their traditional tunes and zemiros. The bachurim are taught to go over to each person in the shul whom they don’t recognize and introduce themselves, which in turn has created a welcoming environment to all. One New York bachur remarked, “I have become somewhat of an out-of-towner here–but don’t worry, my parents are very happy.”
Besides arranging for the boys to be taught in very small groups with a lot of personal attention, Rabbi Dr. Salfer has developed various techniques to help them develop skills so that they are able to feel comfortable davening, leining, writing, and learning Gemara–and enjoying it.
Bachurim make siyumim in many different limudim and challenge themselves to have goals. They arrange limudim with their rebbeim even through each bein ha’zmanim; the boys understand that learning Torah has no vacation. The overall goal is develop a person who will be able to and will enjoy learning for the rest of his life and be an active klal person.
Yeshivas Doresh offers the students a full high-school general-studies curriculum, as well as vocational training opportunities so that each young man feels prepared to take the next step in his growth. Social-skills training and speech therapy is integrated in the yeshiva to groom each student to be prepared for his involvement in the community. Training includes responsibility for speech, handwriting, cleanliness, and organization in the yeshiva, dormitory, and everywhere in the public eye.
The yeshiva has a warm and caring staff, who are highly experienced and involved in all aspects of the schedule. The boys gradually develop yedios klaliyos and skills in many areas, helping to inspire them for further success in life. They learn to become independent and responsible men who feel that they can try things and be successful. For example, the yeshiva has a weekly melaveh malkah barbecue and speech, which is completely arranged by the bachurim each week. The camping trips are likewise fully arranged by the boys. There is no custodial help; the responsibilities are those of the bachurim.
There has long been a need for special-attention yeshiva opportunities and programs for young men. Rabbi Salfer has said, “We can’t wait until a boy feels like he has failed before we find him a yeshiva for his needs. There is a short window that we have to reach him. Successfully identifying his talents and needs early on and challenging him appropriately, while giving him the opportunity to feel success in what he likes, will give him what to continue building on for life.” Yeshivas Doresh has been successful in creating a model that has reached so many boys and has given them the necessary tools to succeed in life. Yeshivas Doresh has a vocational program that is offered nowhere else. Rabbi Salfer’s mantra is that the yeshiva must seek to provide for those needs. “One hallmark of Yeshivas Doresh is that we seek to develop good community laymen who are bnei Torah, prepared to support their families. Our responsibility is also to give them the skills to earn a parnassah,” he says.
Besides the regular general-studies program, all of the bachurim are offered training in construction, finance, computers, photography, first aid, swimming, self-defense, camping, cooking, sports, voice, and other skills. The older students, who have been in the yeshiva for some time, have the opportunity of training and experience in one of a variety of fields. Each is assessed as to what field would best suit his personality and interest. Some of the young men are being trained in culinary arts, real estate, sports rehab, accounting, computer software, media, video editing, and other fields.
The yeshiva trains the students to be able to lead the davening, lein, act as gabbai–whatever is needed to be an active community person. They run their own minyan for Rosh Hashanah, with the boys leading as much of the minyan as possible. One bachur was trained by Rabbi Salfer to blow the shofar and this year never had to repeat any of the blasts. He said, “I remember when I first came to the yeshiva many years ago and we went on a trip to Lakewood during that first Elul semester. Rabbi Salfer had taught us how to blow shofar and when we davened in the Satmar shteiblach, I blew the shofar after our minyan. Every one of the 40 or more people in that minyan needed me that day. I will never forget that day.”
The yeshiva has videos and articles available at www.doresh.org, which give a warm understanding of the uniqueness of the yeshiva. For more information, Rabbi Salfer can be reached at 216-233-0065 or firstname.lastname@example.org. v
Gedolim Address Dirshu Gathering For Bachurim Entering Yeshiva Gedolah
By Chaim Gold
For three and a half hours they sat quietly, with intense concentration. It was an event to remember, an event to one day recount to their grandchildren. It wasn’t only the appearance of a gadol ha’dor of the stature of HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman, shlita, that so moved them; it was every speaker and all of the words of guidance that they received.
Dirshu’s special gathering at Armanot Chen Hall in Bnei Brak was attended by more than 850 bachurim from across Eretz Yisrael, representing yeshivos from the entire cross-section of Klal Yisrael–Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Lithuanian, and Chassidic yeshivas–who are entering yeshiva gedolah. The asifah, held this past Sunday, just days before the start of Elul z’man, offered them advice from the gedolim on how to properly transition from yeshiva ketanah to yeshiva gedolah and on how to maximize their yeshiva gedolah years.
Rabbi Avigdor Berenstein, a senior member of Dirshu’s hanhalah, described the scene when Rav Shteinman exited the car. “One could see how fatigued the rosh yeshiva was, but when he entered the hall and saw it packed with such a large crowd of serious yeshiva bachurim, who wanted nothing more than to hear guidance, he became infused with energy.”
Rav Shteinman addressed the significant transition inherent in entering yeshiva gedolah. “Every bachur must understand that before each new stage in his life he faces something akin to a yom ha’din, a day of judgment. He requires such rachamei Shamayim to succeed. Now that all of you are entering a new stage in your lives, progressing from yeshiva ketanah to yeshiva gedolah, you need to intensely daven, for success and growth.
Rav Shteinman then quoted the well-known words of the Vilna Gaon, who says, “There is no such thing in this world as a person who is stationary. He is either rising and growing or he is falling. A person must recognize that the fact that he can constantly better himself is a great quality that only a human being possesses. Nevertheless, this wonderful quality also demands tremendous vigilance. He must see to it that he is always in sustained ascension, because if he isn’t, he is automatically in descent.”
Rav Asher Ben-Naim, mashgiach of Yeshiva Birchas Ephraim, began, “The gathering of so many bachurim, who have come during their bein ha’zemanim to hear words of guidance, is the ultimate response to those who seek to still the voices of the yeshivos. What are you doing during your vacation? You have come to hear chizuk on how to best utilize your years in yeshiva gedolah! Can there be a greater simcha in the celestial world than this?”
In a comprehensive shmuess, the rosh yeshiva of Slabodka, Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, said, “The main hatzlachah of every bachur is dependent on the yeshiva gedolah years. That is why the milestone of entering yeshiva gedolah requires supreme dedication. If someone starts this new era on a high level, that level will continue for years into the future. Conversely, if a bachur suffices with starting off this new stage with mediocrity, that too may continue for years. . . . It is in these years that he must accept upon himself to fully and totally immerse in Torah learning, and to have real, authentic yiras Shamayim. He must also make up his mind to wholly dedicate himself to cultivating good middos, to be humble, to listen to a sevara that his friend conveys instead of immediately rejecting it. Humility is the key to all other middos tovos.”
Rav Hirsch explained, “My rebbe, HaRav Aharon Kotler, zt’l, would say, ‘Human nature is such that a person is afraid to accept upon himself the full yoke of Torah and yiras Shamayim. He thinks that perhaps it will be too hard for him.’ Rav Aharon Kotler said, however, that he is making a mistake. He doesn’t realize that when he accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah without compromises he will automatically begin to taste the sweetness of Torah.”
Rav Moshe Hillel continued with precautionary words, “Not all bachurim feel the sweetness and geshmak of learning immediately. For some it takes a bit of time. If, however, he perseveres, eventually he will have a true geshmak and satisfaction in learning.” The Slabodka Rosh Yeshiva also profusely praised Dirshu and its accomplishments in helping bachurim accept upon themselves the yoke of Torah and helping them to attain the goal of learning and knowing Torah.
Rav Dovid Hofstedter, Dirshu’s nasi, spoke about the fact that a bachur might periodically deem himself incapable of accomplishing the goals that have been set for him. He might think, “It is beyond my ability.” “In reality, however,” Rav Dovid said, “a person does not know the special strengths with which he is endowed. If he jumps in and tries with every fiber of his being, the siyatta d’Shmaya comes along empowering him to draw on latent strengths which he did not know he possessed.” Rav Dovid also spoke about the importance of each bachur’s having a rebbe and attaching himself to a rebbe. “One can’t learn from a sefarim shrank or just from sefarim. One needs a rebbe who will teach him right from wrong.”
Rav Chaim Avrohom Weisel, mashgiach of Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin, urged, “A bachur never knows what nisayon, what spiritual hurdles, await him, but one thing that will certainly cause him to fall is a friend who exerts a negative influence on him.”
Rav Uri Weisblum, a talmid muvhak of Rav Shlomo Wolbe and a mashgiach with decades of experience assisting bachurim addressed the common feeling of many bachurim who were at the top of their class in yeshiva ketanah but upon entering yeshiva gedolah find themselves with considerably larger classes which boast other bachurim who are far more gifted. He guided them on how to deal with feelings of inadequacy and how to strengthen themselves.
Another very important issue addressed by Rav Weisblum was sleeping in the dormitory. While in most yeshiva ketanos in Eretz Yisrael, bachurim sleep at home, in yeshiva gedolos, they sleep in dorms. Acclimating to a dorm and cultivating the personal discipline to go to sleep on time and get up on time is new and requires thought and effort. This uncharted territory becomes much easier to navigate when a bachur enters yeshiva gedolah knowing what he will face, Rav Weisblum stressed.
The special event for bachurim was the third annual such event hosted by Dirshu. It has been enthusiastically embraced by the gedolei Yisrael as an important primer for any bachur entering yeshiva gedolah. The necessity of the event was mirrored in the faces of all the bachurim who exited the auditorium, clearly uplifted, filled with simcha and a conviction to implement the advice and continue growing! v