Chinuch of Today Weekend Inspires and Empowers Local Parents and Teachers
Over the last weekend, the Los Angeles Jewish community had the opportunity to hear from world renowned chinuch experts at the Chinuch of Today events, brought here by Yedidim, an Israeli organization dedicated to supporting and mentoring English-speaking teens and pre-teens living or studying in Israel.
The weekend opened at Young Israel of Hancock Park with two workshops. The first, by Rabbi Shais Taub, was on the subject of raising spiritual children in a material world. Rabbi Taub spoke about balancing our children’s material and spiritual needs. “American Jews are a product of a great experiment,” he said. In previous generations, Jews were forced to prioritize spiritual needs over physical ones, and that ensured our survival. Now, for the first time in Jewish history, we have material security. However, the experiment failed, and our spirituality is in danger.
Do we need to go back to a simpler lifestyle in order to regain spirituality? Rabbi Taub explained that instead, we can use the material prosperity in service of spirituality. “We have all the money to give our children the best ruchniyus that ever existed in this world.”
In the second workshop, Dr. David Lieberman gave parents practical tips for transforming relationships with their children. He emphasized hearing our children out, validating their feelings, and communicating in positive ways.
Over Shabbos, the visiting rabbis spoke in different communities. Young Israel of Hancock Park hosted Rabbi Zev Leff and Rabbi Yaacov Goodman, founder and director of Yedidim. Rabbi Dovid Kaplan spoke at several locations in the La Brea area, giving a special shiur for women, entitled Tefilla and the Navy Seals, at a private home. Dr. Lieberman lectured at Mekor Hachaim in Encino, and Rabbi Menachem Nissel lectured at Westwood Bet Knesset.
On Motzaei Shabbos, a Think Tank was held at Moshe Ganz Hall, where a panel consisting of the visiting rabbis as well as two local ones—Rabbi Yaakov Krause and Rabbi Asher Brander—answered questions submitted in advance. The questions ranged from partnering with our children’s schools to teaching emunah.
Among the recurring themes of the evening was the importance of the parents’ relationship with their children. Rabbi Taub called it “the most important tool parents have today.” The panelists described different ways to connect with children, such as bonding over sports and engaging in mutually enjoyable activities.
Another recurring theme was the importance of shalom bayis and having a united front, both between the two parents and between the home and the school. “The first thing in chinuch is shalom bayis,” said Rabbi Kaplan. Rabbi Leff recommended choosing a school with values that parents feel comfortable supporting. He also emphasized approaching each situation on an individual basis rather than following some generic advise. “What’s fine for one family may be horrendous to another family,” he said. In case of differing opinions between the spouses, he suggested consulting an objective third party who knows their particular family well.
Another theme was exposure to secular values and people who espouse them. The panelists agreed that it is important to be honest with one’s children. When questions come up, parents must answer them as best they can in age-appropriate ways. Rabbi Taub suggested taking a proactive stance and putting children in a position of influencing rather than being influenced. Rabbi Nissel related his own experience of living in a smaller Jewish community. “Our children became very strong when they felt they were on a mission,” he said.
On the subject of teaching emunah, Rabbi Krause said, “Emunah can’t be learned. It has to be experienced.” He recommended sharing hashgacha pratis stories with children and creating an atmosphere in the home of speaking about Hashem on a regular basis. Rabbi Brander suggested speaking about niflaos Haborei. “Life is a living laboratory of emunah,” he said. Addressing teachers, Rabbi Nissel said, “Always involve Hakadosh Baruch Hu in everything you teach… Every Rebbi is a shadchan between the students and Hakadosh Baruch Hu.”
On Sunday morning, the weekend continued with Rabbi Leff’s talk to mechanchos, hosted by the Los Angeles Teacher Center of Torah Umesorah. Rabbi Leff emphasized the importance of a teacher’s work. “A melamed shares the same occupation as the Ribbono Shel Olam,” he said. He compared teachers to the sun that provides light, warmth, and stability. Like the sun, a teacher must enlighten her students, not just by telling them what to do, but by explaining the beauty and importance of Torah and conveying to them that mitzvos are intended for our own benefit. Keeping Torah might not be easy, but it is worth the effort.
Warmth entails believing in one’s students and their tremendous potential. Stability means being trustworthy. “You can only teach somebody if they trust you,” Rabbi Leff said. He also spoke about the importance of being a role model and teaching by example.
Another Sunday morning event was held at Toras Emes Junior High and consisted of three parallel workshops for parents. Rabbi Goodman spoke about raising “perfect” children. He stressed the importance of self-esteem in children and outlined a five-step action plan, with an acronym GRASP: finding ways to show children that they are capable by providing feedback that is good, real, accomplishment-based, specific, and purely positive.
At the same time, Rabbi Kaplan spoke about parents setting precedents, and Rabbi Nissel spoke about growing with your teenage children.
At the close of the Chinuch of Today weekend, parents and teachers came away inspired and empowered to implement positive changes in their homes and classrooms.