ChillZone Attendance Hits Record High

 

 

ChillZoneIn the dead of the winter, on Saturday nights when most teens are huddled around a screen playing Fortnite, the Chillers are gathering at Oorah’s ChillZones.  This winter, ChillZone attendance hit record highs – peaking at 1,000 participants on some evenings and averaging between 500 and 600 for most of the season.

While these Saturday night winter gatherings have built up a wide following over the years, what made this year different?

“I really attribute this increase in attendance to the dedication and personalities of our Head Chillers,” says Bina Zahner, Oorah’s Camp Organizer Administrator, who supports the ChillZones from Oorah’s headquarters. She and Rabbi Avraham Brog, Camp Director of Boys/ Head of ChillZone, both strive to create programs to engage and inspire children who may not have strong Jewish educational backgrounds.

Aviva is one of those Head Chillers who made a difference this year.  She led the Monsey, NY ChillZone with her friend, Shira. The pair had never organized a ChillZone before and found it both satisfying and challenging.

Great Summer at The Zone

Aviva learned about the ChillZone program last summer when she worked at a counselor at Oorah’s The Zone sleepaway camp in upstate New York. Like Aviva, all the counselors are volunteers tasked with creating a fun atmosphere and transmitting their enthusiasm for Judaism to the campers.  Oorah leaders carefully vet all camp counselors and Head Chillers to assure that they are qualified to serve as role models for the children in their care. Many Head Chillers are often, like Aviva, former Zone counselors.

“It was an incredible summer, and I wanted it to continue,” says Aviva of her experience at The Zone. “I wanted to keep inspiring girls like my campers. I loved dancing with my campers, and I wanted to do that again and sing camp songs and keep giving.”

She added that it is important to her personally to do meaningful things and after graduating from high school, where there were many opportunities to contribute, it becomes more challenging to find those types of projects. Creating a ChillZone was a perfect activity.

Mrs. Zahner explains the Head Chillers are “truly dedicated to our mission. Why else would they come out every Saturday night in the dark and the cold? Some of them travel over an hour to get to their Chill Zone.”

Because they had never run a program before, “we really learned on the job,” says Aviva. Oorah provided lists of campers and past participants to get them started.

Connecting with the Chillers

“We called every name on the list,” recalls Aviva. “We texted past participants. And we put up posters in all the schools”

Once they had connected with potential Chillers, the pair worked to make sure the programs was fun and entertaining so the girls who attended the first time continued to come.

“We tried to make it exciting. We bought colorful tables clothes and matching plates to make it inviting,” says Aviva.

Aviva said it took the couple of weeks for her and Shira to work out all the logistics. They organized races and competition that the girls enjoyed. They worked to create a Jewish learning component, and Aviva notes the girls suggested that someone sit in the center of a circle and read from the text, which the girls then discussed. Oorah provides a selection of material for the Chillers to use. They also enjoyed art projects that Oorah supplies.

Mrs. Zahner explains that the boys have more sports-type games at their ChillZones. From Oorah headquarters, Mrs. Zahner keeps all of the ChillZones supplied with the games, raffles prizes and books that the Head Chillers need to run the programs, which is no small tasks. Every week she arranges a shipment to most of the 35 ChillZones in the U.S. and Canada filled with items designed to delight the participants. There are also two ChillZones in Israel to support students attending Oorah’s Discovery U program there.

And it wouldn’t be a ChillZone without pizza! Aviva said they always ordered extra pizza because they were never certain how many girls would turn up.

“If one girl had a sleep over, all the girls she invited would come,” she says with a laugh.

ChillZone Carnival

Once a year, explains Mrs. Zahner, there is a special ChillZone event. This year, each ChillZone had a carnival with eight or nine booths, games and prizes. Across the country, different ChillZones staggered them for different weeks, but these were highly publicized by the Head Chillers and drew additional attendees, many of whom continued to come for the rest of the Chiller season, which ends with the start of Daylight Savings Time.

Aviva says that at the end of the Monsey program the carnival was mentioned as the girls’ favorite activity in a survey.

Aviva adds she took pictures at each ChillZone and created a video afterwards that she posted on WhatsApp. Now only did the Monsey Chillers love the videos, but other girls saw them and asked if they could come and chill.

All the effort paid off with a special bonding among the girls.  “If one girl couldn’t come or was sick, the other girls would ask to add her name for the raffle.  We really became a ChillZone family,” she says.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Oorah’s TorahMates Program Became My Spiritual Self-Care

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Anniel Nagler is a physical therapist. She lives in Hollywood, Florida with her three teen-aged daughters. For two years she has participated in Oorah’s TorahMates program. She reached out to share her experience.

As if women juggling kids, jobs and spouses don’t have enough to worry about, it seems that we now have to pay attention to self-care. Every magazine I open or podcast I listen to warns that if we don’t make time for self-care, we will somehow roll off the rails. By “self-care,” they usually urge women to spend a day at the spa, get a make-over at Sephora or scarf down a box of chocolate.

Over the past two years, I have learned that the most important aspect of self-care, for me, is nurturing my spirituality and connection to Judaism. It has done more to improve my self-confidence and my family life than a massage ever would. But this journey to discovering my spiritual self was not one that I started willingly.

Several years ago my children began participating in Jewish education programs run by the Oorah organization. Instead of letting the kids do their Jewish thing while the parents did business as usual,   the group leaders recommended a different kind of self-care. They felt that to support my children’s Jewish growth, I needed to enroll in Oorah’s TorahMates program and spend two hours a week studying some point of Jewish observance with a partner Oorah would select.

It was kind of a spiritual Tinder without being able to swipe left – Oorah would select the partner for me.

I have to be honest. When I received the news about TorahMates, I was more than a bit skeptical. As much as I appreciated the concept of Torah study and growing for the betterment of my children’s education, I didn’t really see how my learning with a stranger would strengthen their Jewish identities.

I wondered if I couldn’t do some sort of community service instead.  Or some self-guided learning? I couldn’t imagine how I was going to carve out the time and work out a schedule for me and some unknown partner to sit down and learn. It really was a challenge.

But for some reason – which I now attribute to Hashem’s hand — I was partnered with this really remarkable woman named Chumi.  When we first started learning together, we were both drawn to strengthening our emunah (faith) and found some books we could study with. Some of the books were good; some better than others.  I was always amazed at how Chumi made learning with me such a priority in her hectic schedule,

When we began, Chumi was a mother of five (now six), working full time as a nurse and attending grad school to further her education. I was so awe of her and felt that I had no reason to grumble about the time commitment given everything she was shouldering. If she could do it, I certainly could, too, I reasoned.

As the weeks flowed into months and the months into years, we grew closer and shared more about our personal lives and the ways our emunah is such an integral part of our day-to-day functioning. The hour weekly phone call has expanded. We now speak or text almost every day.  It became abundantly clear, to us both, I believe, that it really was Hashem who brought us together to learn and grow from one another.

I am abundantly grateful to Oorah for providing an opportunity to develop my own spiritual growth and learning of Torah. Oorah’s Torah Mates coordinators were amazing – pairing me with a woman who was a perfect match. Torah learning had not been a priority in my life for many years.  I was always so busy worrying about my children’s growth and education. I put my own development on the back burner. I understand now how important it is for me, as the mother of my household, to have a strong foundation in Torah and emunah.  This is the only way I can influence my children in a positive way.

I am also incredibly grateful for, and amazed by my partner, Chumi. She embodies a person who lives a life that revolves around her emunah.  During the few years that I have known her and have witnessed her countless struggles, I am inspired by the way she is able to call upon her belief in Hashem to and her strength of character, to get through them. She is truly an inspiration to me! I am blessed to be able to learn from her. She teaches me far more from the way she lives her life than I will ever learn in a book.

By studying with Chumi, strengthening my relationship with this woman I admire and increasing my own attachment to Hashem, I have repaired a spiritual part of myself that I had not even realized was damaged.

This is the ultimate self-care. It has restored my inner life and made me a better mother. Doesn’t that beat spending $200 for a face cream at Sephora?

 

Oorah Scholarships Provide Lifeline to Help Students Move from Public Schools to Jewish Schools

Girls Camp for Blog Post

 

The financial meltdown of 2008 and the recession that followed was challenging for many parents who had been considering moving their children from public schools to Jewish day schools.  The financial uncertainty made families afraid to take on an added tuition burden.

Bob and Shelley Greenberg* were among those forced to confront those issues for their three children, who had been happily attending Jewish schools before the financial crisis. Unfortunately, Bob’s employer closed as a result of the recession, and the family had to relocate to a small city in the Midwest, where Bob found a new job.

“There was a real issue with the quality of the schools,” says Bob.  “We ended up sending our kids to public school.

The younger two were okay with public school, according to their father, although they didn’t love it.  But when Racheli, the oldest was ready for high school, the Greenbergs had to make some hard choices.

That was the line in the sand for us,” Bob recalls.  “We really couldn’t send her to a public school for high school.”  Bob and Shelly sent Racheli back East to live with family members, but it didn’t solve their problem.  “We just felt that a girl needs to be with her parents, so it was not a long term option, but Jewish education was that important to us.”

The couple engaged in extensive belt-tightening and prayed devoutly to find a solution for their family. And, as Racheli entered her sophomore year at a Jewish high school, they returned to the east coast, rejoined their oldest daughter and enrolled the two younger children in Jewish day schools.

“My kids are thrilled,” says Bob.  “They are going to schools with both great Jewish programs and great secular programs.  They have grown so much in their connection to Judaism.”

A key factor in finding this happy solution was the financial assistance provided by Oorah.

Oorah was our spiritual lifeline,” says Bob. “Without the scholarships Oorah provided, this would be a moot discussion. My kids would have had to attend public schools.”

Oorah provides Jewish day school scholarships and Jewish high school scholarships for families that want to move their children from public schools to Jewish day schools. Bob acknowledges that some people feel uncomfortable applying for financial assistance, but he says Oorah handled the application process with great sensitivity.

Racheli has graduated high school and has moved on to the next level —  a woman’s seminary in Israel.  “We are thrilled every day with the way she is growing in Yiddishkeit,” says her proud father.

Bob advises other Jewish parents in his position – wanting to move their kids out of public schools and into Jewish day schools and Jewish high schools but worry about the financial cost —  to contact Oorah and apply for tuition assistance.

“Oorah enabled my kids to go to summer camp in a proper environment. It enabled them to go to yeshiva.  I can’t imagine a better way for people in challenging situations than to turn to Oorah. I have a tremendous amount of gratitude,” Bob concludes.

*The names of the family members and certain details have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TorahMates Partners Learn From One Another

Two women

There is an old saying: if you want something done, ask a busy person.

That would describe Chumi, a mother of six children ranging in age from one to 13 who also has a fulltime job as a nurse. And, by the way, she’s enrolled in a master’s program.

But even with so much on her plate, Chumi had a deep desire to give more. So she signed up for Oorah’s TorahMates program. She and a woman she had never met, Anneil, began having weekly phone conversations, discussing the concept of emunah (faith) and studying texts on the subject.

Chumi wasn’t even expecting to benefit from the mentoring experience herself. She just wanted to give to someone who needed her. But, to her surprise, she has ended up learning as much from Anneil as Anneil is learning from her.

“I never thought in a million years it would turn out this way,” says Chumi. “The fact that we study emunah really it brought it to life. I thought I was stronger in emunah before, but I have learned so much.”

Chumi says that Anneil has recommended online lecturers that Chum listens to regularly and describes as “life changing.”

Fast forward two years, the two women have developed a deep relationship over and beyond their learning experience. Although they have never met in person, Chumi says they text and email almost every day.

“It was definitely a personality match.  We’ve become very close. It is more than just the learning,” she adds.

We often hear that mentors receive as much as they give. But until we spoke with Chumi, we didn’t know how true that is.

“I didn’t think I would get anything out of it,” admits Chumi. “I was very altruistic. I wanted to be a giver. But I have learned so much from her.”

 

Learning Hebrew: Another Bonus for Jewish Day School Students

If your child had the opportunity to go to Jewish Day School, would you send him or her?

Think about it.

There are so many reasons to send Jewish children to a Jewish school. It increases their Jewish identity. It surrounds them with Jewish friends who share your family’s values. Your child will never have to make up work missed because she took off to celebrate a Jewish holiday.

One advantage you may not have thought of:  as a student at a Jewish day school or high school, your child will learn Hebrew as a living language. Unlike a public school, where French or Spanish is taught a couple hours a week, many day schools are integrating spoken Hebrew into the curriculum, even in pre-K classes. So your child will have the opportunity to become bi-lingual with all the benefits that it entails.

A recent study by the AVI CHAI Foundation, an organization that supports innovative Jewish education in the U.S. and Israel, cited many examples of creative ways that Hebrew is being integrated into the Jewish day school curriculum both as a modern language and through the study of Jewish texts.

While Hebrew has a special meaning in Jewish schools,  learning a second language has other benefits. Research shows learning a second language creates patterns in the developing brain that help students succeed in other areas of study, including improved reading skills, social studies, and math.

A report published by the National Education Association attributed the benefits of learning a second language to improved self-image, self-esteem, and satisfaction. Students able to speak a second language have better listening skills, sharper memories, are more creative, are better at solving complex problems, and exhibit greater cognitive flexibility, according to the report.

Results from the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) show that students who had studied another language for four or more years did better on both the verbal and math portions of the test.

Wouldn’t this be a wonderful opportunity for your child?  They can attend a school immersed in Jewish values and receive an exceptional education. Parents often say the high cost of tuition keeps them from sending their children to Jewish day schools or high school. But what if the cost factor was eliminated?

Did you know that financial aid is available from Oorah?

Oorah sponsors camps and afterschool programs to strengthen children’s and teens’ Jewish identity.  Oorah welcomes the opportunity to help these students take the next step — moving to a Jewish day school or Jewish high school — by providing scholarships.

To apply for a Jewish day school scholarship or a Jewish high school scholarship,  simply fill out the preliminary scholarship application. Someone from Oorah will be in touch with you to help you take the next step.

Tuition Scholarship Preliminary Application