Tag Archive: education

NEW Torah Live Mezuzah DVD Brings Torah to Life!

Educators and Parents around the world have all been discussing how we can make Torah—and Jewish Education for that matter—relevant to our students. After all, it is increasingly challenging to present the timeless treasure that is a Torah lifestyle to kids who are being raised with distractions ranging from an iPad to a Nintendo Wii game. To that end, I’m always into testing new technology to see how it can be used to make Torah relevant. I believe that the good folks at TorahLive are on to something! In addition to their live presentations that they have made on several continents, I recently got a chance to review their very first DVD entitled, “Mezuzah: The Ultimate Connector.” This DVD does not disappoint. It is a highly professional DVD and is replete with information that can be enjoyed by young and old and by the scholar to the layperson.

Truth be told, the Mezuzah is seemingly the one item that adorns the homes of devoutly pious Jews as well as the home of an unaffiliated Jew. However, to your average Jew there is a lot of mystery and unknown laws when it comes to this small yet meaningful religious item. Mezuzah: The Ultimate Connector makes all of the complicated Jewish laws that revolve around a Mezuzah both relevant and exciting. It utilizes great graphics to bring to life quotes from the Torah to the Talmud as well as modern technology such as Google Earth to make such a critical Mitzvah something that any Jew can appreciate and understand!

Mezuzah Promo from Dan Roth on Vimeo.

Vision of using Google Earth for Torah Live Mezuza Presentation from Dan Roth on Vimeo.

Moreover, in addition to a comprehensive overview of both the Halachos and Hashkafah behind Mezuzah, I found this DVD to be real and honest as it even covers such topics as yes—Mezuzah fraud!

Additionally, this DVD is even offered in a Pro-Version which can very much act as a springboard to classroom discussion. All in all, I’d encourage any Educator let alone Parent to purchase this DVD as there is something that will inspire and educate everyone in your class/family.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of Mezuzah: The Ultimate Connector. I did not receive any financial reciprocity from this post.

A Simple Solution to Solving Shabbos Texting!

Earlier today, Rabbi Steven Weil, the Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union noted that, “Everyone’s tweeting about it.”

You may ask, “what is the proverbial it?”

In this case, Rabbi Weil is referring to the The Jewish Week article that highlights the increasing phenomenon of Orthodox teens texting on Shabbos! Indeed, there are already several terms coined for this behavior such as: Half-Shabbos or Shabbos Texting.

Before we even discuss this topic, I want to ask the following question: should this topic be discussed in the open?

I believe the sagely Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai already answered this question for us. The Talmud (Bava Basra 89a-b) relates that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was debating discussing a particular topic in public and ultimately remarked, “Woe to me if I speak, woe to me if I do not speak.” Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai resolved his dilemma on the basis of a passage in Hoshea (14:10) that states, “The ways of Hashem are straight.”

The Maharsha suggests that the reason why he decided to publicize corruption and sin was that even if a sinner may stumble—by putting this information out there—there will also be honest people who will be saved from making mistakes.

I believe that this same resolve can be applied to the now very public discussion of Half-Shabbos.

As someone who educates young Jewish women hailing from all across North America, Administrators and Educators (ranging from the Bais Yaakov world to the Modern Orthodox world) have over the past two years, turned to me for my personal input as far as how to deal with this silent—and now seemingly louder—crisis.

Frankly, this phenomenon should come as no surprise. The use of texting seems to be the preferred form of communication with a teenager. In fact, according to this recent report, the average teenager sends 3,339 texts per month. Moreover, teen females send an incredible 4,050 text per month.

That’s more than 6 texts per waking hour!

Despite us sitting in the year 2011, the above mentioned figures are in line with the words of the Talmud. After all, the Talmud (Kiddushin 49b) notes that a woman is innately more of a communicator, by teaching us that, “Ten measures of speech descended to the world and women took nine measures of speech.” And so, while I have no concrete statistic in front of me, I’d venture to say that this issue is arguably even more prevalent with teenage Jewish girls.

So…how can we even begin to tackle this issue?

I know that there are those who may reply by saying it’s finally time to rewrite the typical Yeshiva High School curriculum. I’ve heard others privately comment that our sons and daughters need to focus on the basic fundamentals of our faith. In other words, our kids should learn more about topics discussed at an Aish Discovery Seminar, and not be bogged down in the archaic Aramaic language of the Talmud. Alas, I will leave these suggestions aside.

I believe the answer to beginning to solve the crisis of Shabbos Texting starts with the one word that defines what teens are doing when they text. That one word is: communication.

In my capacity as Overseas Director of Bnot Torah/Sharfman’s I have the unique opportunity to travel to various Jewish cities and neighborhoods throughout North America. In so doing, by davening at the local Shul or visiting a kosher eatery I enjoy being able to get a firsthand look at Jewish Americana.

And so, I’m pleased to have seen signs in various schools and other community establishments that beseech people to respect the prayer service by not texting during Minyan. Likewise, I saw a sign in several Yeshiva High Schools that encouraged a strict adherence to the laws of Lashon Harah by reminding students to “think before they text.”

These signs are nice. They are graphically pleasing and looked catchy. They communicate to the reader an ever important Jewish ideal. Moreover, the poster encourages teenagers to join committees or groups that will help create awareness towards Lashon Harah, Tzniut, and so on and so forth. However, before printing any more signs asking people to not text and to Daven, I believe we need to have signs and campaigns that champion, restore and evoke pride to all who observe Shabbos!

Just as Yeshiva High Schools have a S.N.A.P. (Shomer Negiah And Proud) Committee I encourage any school to have a S.S.A.P. (Shomer Shabbos And Proud) Committee. We must do something even at a student/grassroots level that will engage our youth to learn about the beauty of Shabbos and not simply be, as one person cited in The Jewish Week article said, “bored.”

The desecration of Shabbos is a dangerous spiritual disease in our midst that cannot be taken likely. At a physical level, the Surgeon General’s warning steers people from cigarettes. At a spiritual level, we must communicate and steer our children and students just how very meaningful Shabbos is to us. Fittingly, it was just announced this week that the Surgeon General will further communicate to the public at large the dangers of cigarettes. The Surgeon General’s warning on cigarette packs will soon be replaced by a much larger and more graphic a) image and b) warning! If the Surgeon General is upping their awareness I believe we need to do our part on a spiritual plain and create an infographic and campaign to educate teens about what sanctity, and by extension, how fully celebrating Shabbos allows us to experience kedushah in the physical world.

Without this form of communication, countless Orthodox teenagers will sadly view Shabbos as and not a day filled with kedushah. Rather, it will simply be a day to nap and read the paper. Frankly, I must admit that I could see myself also getting pretty bored if this was my understanding of Shabbos. I mean, let’s be honest. Who reads the newspaper anymore?

I hope that this article will come as a wakeup call to us all.

I hope that many are invigorating to communicate or to explore once again the beauty of Shabbos.

In so doing, we can begin to restore Shabbos as The Holy Day of Rest before it simply becomes known as, The Holy Day of Texts!

If you have any insights on this topic please share them in the Comments Section

Why I Respect Salman Khan & Charlie Harary!

I’ll admit it. I have only recently heard of Salman Khan. Prior to hearing of this “Professor 2.0,” if you would have mentioned the name Salman Khan, I would have easily assumed it was a new dish at a high end fish restaurant. In all seriousness, what Mr. Khan has done is something that we should all respect! Here was a bright young man with a future that only seemed to suggest that he would become rich…if not certainly comfortable. He was a senior analyst at a hedge fund (prior to the onslaught of the Great Recession), holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, an M.Eng and B.S. in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, and a B.S. in mathematics from MIT.

On paper and in person Salman Kahn is one impressive individual. And then…he gave it all up!!!

Why?

It all started when he tutored his cousins by posting math tutorials on YouTube. Six years later, he has posted more than 2,000 tutorials, which are viewed nearly 100,000 times around the world each day. Currently, he is the founder and faculty of The Khan Academy a not-for-profit organization with the mission of providing a FREE world-class education to anyone, anywhere. It now consists of self-paced software and, with over 1 million unique students per month. What’s more, ALL 2000+ video tutorials, covering everything from basic addition to advanced calculus, physics, chemistry and biology, have been made by Salman.

I’d venture to guess, that there’s not many people who will give up a life in the finance world to start from scratch and build an online academy. However, that’s exactly what Mr. Salman did. He had a dream and he made it a reality!

In so doing, Mr. Khan is truly rich, for he enriches the lives of millions of people the world over. To learn more about his life work, and his enlightening educational model, I encourage you to set aside time to watch this Ted Talk:

As a Jewish educator it is my hope that we can see brilliant laymen and individuals from within our greater community walk in the footsteps of Mr. Khan and consider not even dropping their profession entirely, but giving of their time and expertise, to educate and empower the future of Klal Yisrael. Solely assuming that, “I’ll just leave it up to the Rebbe,” is not a path that will lead us on new modes of conveying the ancient wisdom of the Torah.

One such person that I can think of is Mr. Charlie Harary.

Mr. Harary is the First Vice President of Residential Operations and Legal Counsel of RXR Realty, (a multi-billion dollar Real Estate Company based in New York). And yet, as someone who considers Rav Shmuel Brazil his Rebbe and who spent time in Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv, Mr. Harary gives not solely of his money, but he spends countless hours using his innate and intangible talents (on the weekends as well!!) to educate and inspire young Jews through live presentations as well as a plethora of videos that are posted online.

I’m glad that innovative educational initiatives such as TorahLive exist. I believe that for good or for bad this method of education will be necessary in hundreds of Jewish classrooms around the globe.

Likewise, due to the economy, Hebrew Charter schools have formed (see here).

In short, I see our current stage in Jewish history as a transformative time period. Do we need to solve the Tuition Crisis?

Yes!

But in addition to figuring out how we can afford the cost of a Jewish education, we need to solve the seemingly increased disconnect between Educators and contemporary children who stare at a screen for hours and hours a day (see here).

Our goal should be to show the “Facebook Generation” that the greatest book that there face should be in is called the Torah!

And so, that is why I respect Salman Khan & Charlie Harary…and why you should as well!

Educating the iGeneration: Hundreds of High Quality Free Fonts!

Several months ago I was asked to give a presentation at the KISHOR SOCIAL MEDIA CONFERENCE held in Jerusalem, Israel. My particular topic was, The Facts: What Your Students are Doing with Social Media. And so, since the presentation I have found myself being asked in various venues for my insights as to how we can attempt to reach and inspire the iGeneration. The answer is not a simple one. If however we are to start somewhere, I believe the answer lies in how we present our ABC’s! Allow me to explain…

Let’s be honest.

Being a teacher has  never been a simple walk in the park! Today, students readily have the latest gadget available to them at home…and even in school. For instance, see the caption to this picture taken by an Administrator at a well known Yeshiva High School in New York. It’s no surprise that one may postulate that it’s arguably harder than ever before to get a student to look at a source sheet or a text book. After all, as the New York Times reported here, children ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of some sort of a screen, including but not limited to:  computer, television, and their very own smartphone.  Moreover, the new Pew Internet Report on Teens & Mobile Phones has documented that 1 in 3 teens sends more than 100 texts a day!

As the Overseas Director of Bnot Torah/Sharfman’s, I find myself particularly aware of this phenomenon. It is not surprising to me to read that it has been documented just how much girls are more voracious texters than boys. After all, the Talmud (Kiddushin 49b) related to us all many years ago, that regardless of the means of communication, women “speak” a lot more than their male counterparts.

All things considered, in today’s day and age it is even possible for a student to physically sit in a classroom but not really be “in class?” You see, there are teenagers who can text for hours on end, while seemingly sitting in the classroom “listening” to the teacher. In actuality, they have their cell phone neatly situated behind their back and are sending virtual notes to their friend across the room or in another classroom. Indeed, it has been reported that 64% of teens with cell phones have texted in class and 58% of teens whose school bans phones have texted in class! Furthermore, prior to the concept of SMS or texting, if a teacher managed to intercept a note being passed in a classroom, one might have been able to make sense of the words and discern what was silently taking place in your classroom. Nowadays however, a teacher needs a Dictionary of Texting Terms so that he/she can decipher such abbreviations as OMG, DMC, or LOL :)

All in all, I believe that if a teacher or lecturer is using source sheets or has prepared a presentation for the class to view as a Power Point Presentation or wants to engage the classroom utilizing a SMART Board, one of the easiest, quickest, and most cost effective ways  that you can captivate your audience (other than saying that whomever comes to our school receives an iPad and MacBook as this University did to incoming freshman!)  is through the use of relevant typography. Indeed, as proven here and here certain fonts can convey to the brain a wide array of emotions. In so doing, you aren’t just putting words in front of your audience. Rather, you are forever aided by the eternal appearance of each and every letter that exudes from the page. Indeed, I found a font that the letters from A to Z very much appeared like a Krembo. I used this font for a class entitled, Eating is Tikkun, in which we learn about some of the spiritual activities that takes place when we eat. That said, from the moment my students saw the font they remarked, “hey that kinda looks like a Krembo!” In so doing, the class began with the students doing the engaging…and not the teacher, and by extension, I found that they were much more captivated to learn about the topic.

Just as the companies that market their gadget are keenly aware of branding and font usage, we the educators of the iGeneration, should consider means (I believe I am merely presenting one) in which we can utilize similar methods and techniques to maximize the learning experience.

And yet, procuring a database of such high quality fonts may come with an expensive price tag. A company wanting to sell you the latest tech-toy may have such finances, but certainly in the current recession, I am not aware of any school or educator who has extra money laying around to invest in additional fonts. Accordingly, while there are still some people who associate Twitter, as being a website that informs you what your friend had for breakfast, there are millions of people who realize that if you follow the right Twitter Accounts, it can and is an effective tool to come across valuable information in a short amount of time.  In light of the above, thanks to Twitter, I have managed to slowly collect, over the past several months, hundreds of high quality fonts that will enable you to build and enhance your branding, or strengthen the words in your presentations, classes, flyers, essays, and so on and so forth. Best of all, they are all FREE!!

To access the fonts simply click on any of the 14 images found below and you will be directed to the appropriate link.

I’d appreciate hearing from you in the Comment Section (found all the way at the bottom) as to other methods you have tried/considered using to teach and reach the iGeneration.

Enjoy!

Introducing the iTalmud

iTalmudThroughout the “Tech World” many people waited with anticipation to hear Steve Jobs introduce an Apple iTaplet. While Steve Jobs has now formally made his announcement, people have been miffed as to why the iTablet was not the name for their new device! Instead, Apple is calling their new device the iPad. Indeed, there have been more than a handful of critics who have not been so kind to the name of this Tablet device that Apple will soon release.

Well, today I got to see not the iTablet, but the iTalmud for the very first time!

Allow me to explain…

During my years in Yeshiva, regardless of where I studied, be it in America or Israel, year in year out, it was necessary to have a bookbinder bind the Gemorah, the tractate of Talmud that the Yeshiva would be learning. Reason being, between learning various chapters and pouring over this Sefer, for sometimes 12 hours a day, the pages and the binding of this particular work would quickly become worn. Indeed, there is almost this silent code of understanding that if your Gemorah looks a bit “beaten,” it invariably means that you have been learning “shtark” and have been devoting much times to diligently mastering the topics in this tractate of Talmud throughout the night and day! And so, many Bachurim would not simply bind their Gemorah. Instead, many Bachurim take the opportunity to also have the binding of their Gemorah stand out and have a cool design. What’s more, while some people in contemporary society are proud of their tattoo or their shoes or what have you, for a Yeshiva Bachur, the way in which his Gemorah is binded is not only cool, but could also acts as a Siman, a sign that that this is HIS Gemorah!

You see, in large Yeshivas, where thousands of young men are pouring over the SAME text, it is quiet easy to loose your Gemorah, and never see it until several weeks later…let alone the end of the Zman (the equivalent of a Semester in the Yeshiva system). And so, in order to help differentiate your Gemorah, people would have the bookbinder etch with tape (or perhaps in different colors of tape!), on the side of the Gemorah, a neat design, your initials in Hebrew or English, and so on and so forth….

And so, when I stopped to Daven Mincha in a particular Jerusalem based Yeshiva and saw how this individual had added a creative Siman, a sign to help him quickly identify his Talmud, I took a quick picture and decided to share it with you all:-) I decided to dub this Talmud, the iTalmud. Apple and Steve Jobs has surely done a wonderful job of marketing if a Yeshiva Bachur in Jerusalem feels that it would be cool to brand his Talmud with their iconic logo!


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