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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There Are No Words…

Constantly striving and pushing oneself to reach higher spiritual heights is definitely not easy, especially when faced with countless obstacles along the way.  Being the only observant Jewish student at Saba University in Massachusetts, Tzvi felt this as an all too real reality.

Since becoming part of the Oorah family a couple years ago, Tzvi has become closer to Judaism through experiencing “the authentic Yiddishkeit that I absorbed while attending Oorah Shabbaton’s and Chagim at The Zone,” to put it in his own words.  Recently, Tzvi shared with us an amazingly inspiring story that not only touched our hearts, but our very souls.  The story has spread like wildfire throughout Oorah, and now we are sharing it with you, to get inspired and to see just how much Hashem watches over those that love His Torah and Mitzvos.

Because Tzvi’s words are so heartfelt and meaningful, we wanted to share his exact emails so you can gain a truly clear understanding and appreciation for what he has experienced.  While the emails are a bit long, we strongly encourage you to spare a few minutes to sit down and absorb Tzvi’s inspirational experience.

This is the email Tzvi wrote to us regarding his school exams falling out on Yom Tov:

“Because being religious means a lot more to me than just wearing a Yamukah (religious head covering)……

Being (almost) the only observant Jewish student on Saba is not easy. Be it my restrictions because of the Sabbath, my Kosher dietary restrictions, or the various time-consuming prayers that are said throughout the day, I would very simply say that being religious on this island while being successful in my studies is highly challenging yet equally demanding. Yet I have managed to accomplish the above and I even do it with a smile, knowing that I am fulfilling my passion to pursue a career in medicine while not giving up an iota of my religious principles. Which bring me to this semester…..

As luck would have it, the Jewish High Holy Holidays falls out exactly on the dates of the semester where I would have school exams. As Saba doesn’t have a synagogue of its own, this means I will be flying to S. Maartin for the holidays. The time conflict is clear in that I can’t be praying at synagogue in S. Maartin, while at the same time writing exams at Saba.

The school’s administration was very understanding of my plight, but as the schools policy is to not reschedule exams solely for religious purposes, there wasn’t much they could do besides commiserate with me.

My passion to pursue a career in medicine is deeply rooted in my religious beliefs. Furthermore, my religion is who I am. If I start compromising my religion based on what is convenient for me and what is not (by picking and choosing which religious rules I want to follow and which ones I don’t) then I am in essence changing who I am. And I am not near ready to do that.

Left with no other choice, I submitted the paperwork for a withdrawal for the Fall 2016 semester this morning. The thousands of dollars lost and the fact that I will have to repeat 2nd semester all over again is a small price to pay than were I to start compromising my values.

That being said, I will be going back to the states on Wednesday morning, and will be returning in a couple of weeks to study and participate so that I will be extra prepared to excel in my studies in the Spring of 2017. While this withdrawal is a step back in the forward progress of my studies, it is a vital and necessary step which will only make me stronger in my values and faith, and which will G-D willing, help mold me into the successful physician I one-day hope to be.

May G-D bless you all,

Zvi”

A couple days later , we received the following email from him:

“Over the past 48 hours, my story has spread like wildfire and my inbox is being flooded with well-wishers & chizuk from people all around the globe (which by the way is such an inspiration to me that I am saving every single email sent to my inbox, so that I can reread them again and again during the ups and downs over the next couple of months). So thank you for your email!

And as every good Jewish story must have some sort of follow up or “inside scoop”, allow me to share with you mine……..

While a withdrawal from the semester and having to restart from scratch next semester might be called by some a massive waste of time and effort, it was completely within my control to make that decision and I was 100% ok with it (and given similar circumstances, I would make the exact same decision). But what was beyond my control was the financial drawbacks associated with that decision. You see, as per school policy when one withdraws from the semester, they lose the financial aid status given to them for that semester, and as I took a Leave of Absence that rule clearly applied to me. As my withdrawal and subsequent financial aid status was based on my religious convictions and not due to any scholastic issues, I was able to talk to the school and work out a very manageable plan regarding my tuition, but I was unable to do the same for my apartment. As my apartment is on a multiple semester contract from a (money loving) landlord who is unaffiliated with the school, I was unable to terminate, sublet or work out any sort of financial arrangement with him. So while figuring out my tuition was already enough to deal with, to top that off with finding a way to pay the full rent on time in a literally vacant apartment and it was kind of overwhelming.

Which bring me to the amazing events that occurred to me yesterday morning…….

I wake up to find an alert from Chase bank. I log into my account to find a direct deposit put there by “Human Care Services”. HCS is a Jewish organization servicing the special needs population in my local community, and I was employed there prior to attending medical school. Assuming that they made this deposit by accident I spent some time yesterday inquiring about this, only to find out that for some random reason they were giving out “bonuses”. And since I was on payroll in the beginning of their calendar year I was thereby eligible for the bonus. Mind you, in the 3 plus years I’ve worked there, I have never ever received any sort of bonus. If anything, I felt like I was underpaid (just kidding!).

Now here’s the kicker; The total amount of the bonus check I received matched literally dollar for dollar the entire rent money I needed until I am once again eligible for financial aid, plus $10 to spare! I couldn’t believe how the numbers fit so perfectly, and I redid the math about a dozen times to confirm. (FYI, I’m using that extra $10 towards the purchase of a new Mezuzah in my apartment).

Many times in life we feel that we are being Moser Nefesh (Read: sacrificing) for the sake of religion. We lament that if not for the “restrictions” of Shabbos and Yom Tov or Davening and Halacha, we can have so much more time and opportunities for growth or we can be so much more successful or that we can make so much more money etc. etc. But we tend to forget that its it G-D and not us who is really in control of everything that happens around us. And if G-D wants us to be more successful in our pursuits or to make those few extra bucks, he will turn the world over and find a way to make that happen. We don’t “sacrifice” we aren’t “burdened” and we are not “restricted” because of our religion. If anything, exactly the opposite. Following the correct path of doing Mitzvos, learning Torah, and doing good deeds in the proper way only increases our likeability & favorability in the eyes of our creator, and in return he bestows upon us all the possible blessings. And to conclude with a quote from Rabbi Yoel Gold: “We have to constantly remind ourselves that way before we ever knew there was a problem, G-D has already prepared the solution. All he wants from us……is to turn to him…… trust in him…… and ultimately……. come closer to him”.

As I am (obviously) pretty proud of my story, please feel free to share it on social media and wherever you want or feel free to use this opportunity to forward this email to anyone who can use that pre Rosh-Hashanah “boost”.

Shana Tovah to all and I will continue to make my extended Jewish family proud.”

There are no words…except…we are so proud of you Tzvi!!

Oorah Receives Gift of 20 Paintings From the Artist

Recently, Oorah was the recipient of an unusual gift: a collection of some 20 paintings. These painting were donated by the artist Barbara Green of Catskill, New York.

The paintings are done in Mrs. Green’s unique style, focusing on two historical themes: the Spanish Inquisition and Biblical figures. Typically, the painting features a portrait of an historical figure, with symbolic clues as to what the painting is telling us.

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Queen Isabella of Spain

Barbara paints professionally, and mainly does commissioned portraits. She also did a series on boxer portraits – as in the pugilist sport. These paintings are quite popular, and one is even hanging in the home of the famous boxer, Mike Tyson!

But her husband Gene, also an artist, was a college art teacher who also volunteered in local prisons. When he began teaching inmates about the Holocaust, Barbara created ten posters on the subject.

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King Ferdinand

They also brought paintings to the junior college where Gene worked. In order to “bait” the students to view the pictures, Barbara painted circus themed paintings as a metaphor for the Holocaust. Gene actually overheard one student telling another, “Let’s go see the circus paintings!”

The paintings went on display in several locations, including a six-month stint in Glen Cove, NY.

Then Barbara, always a reader, came across the term “Marrano.” This spurred her to start researching the Spanish Inquisition, and eventually her Spanish Inquisition series was born.

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5252 is the date of the Spanish Expulsion on the Jewish calendar.

When they showed slides of her work to Hebrew Union College, the college told them it was the perfect time, as they were having an exhibit on the 500th anniversary of the Spanish expulsion in 1492. She thus found a forum where her series would be able to be widely viewed.

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When asked about her influences, Barbara cites mainly late 19th century American artists, like John Singer Sargent and Thomas Eakins. Being a realistic painter, she also points to classic painters such as Rembrandt and Caravaggio.

After starting to study with a TorahMate from Oorah, her painting changed in small but significant ways.

“Oorah has changed the way I think. It really gave me a new point of view,” Barbara says.

Barbara’s recent donation of 20 paintings was her way of thanking Oorah for adding so much to her life. Oorah is very grateful in turn to Barbara Green for enriching us with her participation in the TorahMates program and for her beautiful paintings!

Livin’ In A Booth

TrampolineFour hundred lucky people got to experience the first Sukkos Yomim Tovim at TheZone, Oorah’s gorgeous facilities in the Catskill Mountains, and a further six hundred arrived for the second set of Yomim Tovim. Staying in cozy hotel-style accommodations may not be quite the same thing as wandering in the desert with the Ananei HaKovod overhead, but none of the attendants were complaining (especially when it rained)!

The special quality of the holiday was amplified by the intensive preparations Oorah’s event planner, Mrs. Shayndy Abrahamson, and by all the volunteers who worked so hard to bring a fun and lively ruach to the clean mountain air, the air of Sukkos, Chag LaShem.

Running Girls

By all accounts, Sukkos at TheZone was a rip-roaring success. The feedback is still pouring into Mrs. Abrahamson’s inbox. Here’s a sample of feedback from those attending the first days of Sukkos at TheZone (all photos from Chol HaMoed):

Y: I wanted to thank you for a wonderful experience at the Zone.  It was truly a rewarding experience spending Sukkot at TheZone.  We are grateful that we were able to partake in such a lovely gathering.

S: We all loved TheZone, despite the rain! E. and I enjoyed the lectures,  the magical Yom Tov atmosphere,  and learning from so many amazing people we met!

The kids loved the huge Sukkah, the freedom of running around free, petting the bunnies, and the loud communal singing during meals!

We cannot wait to return whenever we are invited back to TheZone!

Thank you, Oorah for this amazing opportunity!

Lama Lo

V: The Succah is magnificent and the ambience uplifting. The food is plentiful and the accommodations impressive. The program is enjoyable for adults and children alike. No detail is overlooked and each specific element is calibrated to ensure a delightful Yom Tov for each and every guest.

R: Thanks a lot for sponsoring us to the recent yom tov event and for sending me 4 minim set free of charge which I am very grateful for. Although I cannot pay you back in dollars and cents for your kindness, I would like to give the following feedback since I cannot pay you back at this point in [any] other way:

  • Amazing hotel campgrounds plus the free activities (boats, horses, bikes, trails) provided almost a 5 star hotel experience and all for free. Truly outstanding!!!
  • My 9 year-old son enjoyed the dinnertime quiz event and prizes event.
  • Re the vorts during the meal, I liked the one by the clean shaven guy that helps run the TorahMate program (don’t remember his name) that tried to explain the mission of Oorah in this event, which was a question on many people’s minds.
  • My wife enjoyed the weekend very much, firstly because it gave her a much needed physical rest, and secondly it was a meaningful peek for her into the American haredi world which she has never really seen, since she is only familiar with the national religious world in Israel where she became religious some 20 years ago.
  • Nine year-old son H. definitely enjoyed the activities and freedom to run and play unsupervised and engage in all the fun activities that your ample and well stocked grounds provide.
  • Sixteen year-old daughter A., [found it] an opportunity to reconnect with her mom and brother in a pleasant setting, and [it was] a peek for her into the American haredi world which she has never seen, since she is only familiar with the national religious world in Israel where she grew up.

Tzedaka

Here’s a sample of feedback from those attending the final days of the Yomim Tovim at TheZone:

E: Thank you so very much.
My children and I enjoyed it very much.
It was our first time joining Oorah and the holidays in TheZone.
Every part of it was great and enjoyable.

I didn’t get a chance to come and introduce myself and family.

But did want to thank you for the wonderful chag!

Tefillin Help

K: Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to spend such a great chag at TheZone! We enjoyed every single second of it. From the shaking of the very floor of the shul, to the untimely, but delicious meals, the chag was simply amazing. The speeches and programs has created sparks of inspiration in our hearts, and this kind of inspiration stays with us throughout the year. We have never met such kind and selfless people who have such a  passion to give, and who give everything they can when they do! Once again, Oorah has proven the statement, “It’s more than a camp” correct. TheZone is a camp, a home, and a direct road to inspiration. Thank you so much for everything!

M: This was a wonderful program. I never saw hakafot like yesterday. I was inspired by the custom you held of leaving the candles in the Aron while the Torahs were removed for hakafot. I had the opportunity to discuss this with Rabbi and Mrs. Kleinman.

TheZone

Thank you again for all that you do to make sure these programs run smoothly.

K: Thank you for having us.  I was hooked up with a great TorahMate person.  Having Oorah in our life is a blessing.

Overhead Kids

 

From a Thankful Parent

I would like to humbly thank those making the decision to have granted {our daughter} a scholarship the last three years. My husband and I have watched our daughter blossom into a fine young Jewish woman with the morals and priorities any parent could ask for. She is a sponge to Torah learning and loves her life as a …. student. She participates in religious and secular and extra-curricular activities and we couldn’t be more proud. The friends she has chose are of the same cloth and she is now immersed in a world of Torah life. We are very grateful to Oorah because if not for Oorah’s financial help we would not be close to being able to afford the very costly tuition of Jewish high school. {She} is a child/young lady who is growing in her Yiddishkeit with every fiber of her body and soul………… We each continue to learn and it has all been so wonderful for our family as a whole.

A Thank You for the Purim Box

From a grateful Oorah kiruv family:

Thank you so much for the Purim box!!! My kids were so excited to open it and did not even wait until I got home from work to open!!
They were actually waiting as they knew it was probably coming any day! Thank you thank you, I will hopefully forward a picture of them in costume in front of the beautiful box. The story and mitzvos in the box was so very nice and the poster.
Also thank you for the camel hat. Is it possible to get one more as both my boys really want it. If you have run out, then its fine, but we love them.I may even wear it to a Purim party!
Thank you OORAH, you are amazing.