Talmud Torah Program | Teen Ink

Talmud Torah Program

January 16, 2008
By Anonymous

Last year, I participated in the “Teens Program” at the Samuel Field. This program provides working parents with the opportunity to drop off their kids at the facility so that they can participate in various recreational activities. The program was perfect for me because I enjoy having fun with kids. This year, the community service in which I participated, was the Talmud Torah Program at my Synagogue. It was essentially a continuation of my community service program from last year. I chose it because I love working with kids. It ran on Sundays from 11-1PM. Basically, I took fourth graders out of Hebrew class and worked with them one-on-one. In one session, I taught the kids to read the blessings for the Friday night wine. I gave one child, Ariel, an introduction to the blessing, and told him when and why we say it. I also told him that when his father raises his cup, he should say “lechayim.” He told me he wouldn’t forget. In another session, I taught kids to read the Shema, including the tune. One child, Aidan, learned the tune well. It was nice to watch him read. I’m not really interested in singing, but the one type of singing I do like is the reciting of the Torah. It was rewarding to help the kids, and at the same time, it was good for me because it further polished my cantorial abilities. It was gratifying to see the kids grow religiously and enhance their Hebrew linguistics.
One event in which I participated, this year, was the Yachad Shabbaton. My purpose there was to have fun with the physically and mentally challenged individuals. My goal was to make them feel like they are “hanging out with the cool kids,” and that they were just like any other human beings. One individual with whom I interacted with was Yosef. His disability was that he was a bit slow and had verbal and communication problems. I really felt sorry for him. Even during our first interactions, I felt like we had been friends for the longest time. In spite of his disability, we conversed amusingly. We hung out, and he told me how he likes to record TV programs and keep them for later viewing. He also told me some other things about himself, and although I didn’t understand everything he said, I nodded along and replied with phrases like: “Oh,” “nice,” “that’s cool,” and “wow.” It was important that I acted like an encouraging mentor.
He needed to call his mother to remind her about daylight-savings time, so I lent him my cell phone. He said: “Are you sure it’s okay? – I mean, I could use a payphone…” He hesitated because he had a drooling problem, and he wasn’t sure if I was comfortable lending him my cell phone. So, I told him: “Of course it’s okay Yosef; you’re my friend, aren’t you? What are friends for?” I then saw a smile appear on his face. It was very gratifying to know I had made his day. This was a wonderful experience, and if my schedule permits, I would like to go to one of the Yachad trips in the summer. I made many friends at the Shabbaton, and it would be great to see their friendly faces again.
Another event in which I participated was “Project HOPE.” I helped prepare and deliver Pesach packages for people who cannot afford to buy their own supplies. During the bus ride, I was a bit uneasy because I wasn’t sure how the beneficiary would react. I thought that perhaps she would be nasty to me due to her unfortunate financial status. I was relieved though when I saw my supervisor step out of the bus to accompany me. I was surprised to find that the woman to whom I gave a package was extremely grateful and was so overjoyed to see that people care about her. She thanked me for the gift many times. It was heartwarming to know that I helped someone who needed help. It was my first time delivering Pesach packages. It was a new experience. I remember preparing packages as a kid in middle school. The kids would pack them, and then they would be delivered. This time, I was the one delivering them.
Finally, I participated in a very terrific event – The Special Olympics. It was a lot of fun. My athletes were Eric and Linda. Eric had a beautiful broad smile and was always very happy. His problem though was that he had trouble formulating appropriate responses in conversations. So, basically, “Yeah!” was mostly what he would say. He would also repeat what you said to him in the conversation. For example, when I asked him if he was having fun, he replied: “Fun! Yeah! Fun!!! Despite his difficulty, he was very ecstatic. Linda was more of the quiet type. Her disability was less noticeable. She seemed to be normal, except that she would ignore me sometimes when I spoke to her. I wasn’t offended, obviously, because she didn’t mean to do that. We took our athletes to their main event, which was the running track. Linda came in 2nd in her race, and Eric came in 3rd in his. They both enjoyed themselves greatly. I was at the finish line cheering on Eric, and when Eric was running, I really felt happy for him. His usual broad smile was extended and it was as if when he reached that finish line, he would become normal; his disabilities would disappear. That’s the passion with which he ran. Though he did not come in 1st place, he finished the race – that meant a lot to him. I kept cheering him on and encouraging him. Eric and Linda were overjoyed when they got their medals. They stood up to accept them with much pride. After the tracks, we all had lunch. Then, we went to the Olympic Village. We played games there. Eric and Linda each got their teeth checked. They also made pottery, bottled sand, met with a clown, and did various other fun activities. They had a lot of fun. I was a little surprised though when Eric randomly started screaming for his Uncle Larry. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I was in charge of him, and it was my job to take care of him. I was scared that something might happen to him, but I wasn’t sure what. On second thought though, I reminded myself that he had a disability, and most likely, this was normal for him. In the end, I was able to calm him down. Overall, we all enjoyed the day. Eric’s guardian had told me that Eric was the quiet type, but he ended up being the opposite. He was very enthusiastic, jumpy, and danced a lot. We can learn from this that if someone is in the right environment and is encouraged adequately, they can achieve almost anything. I kept encouraging Eric by calling him “Big Champ,” and that’s precisely what he felt like. Linda, on the other hand, was shyer, but we got her to smile and laugh, and overall, she enjoyed the day as well.
I am overjoyed with all the events and programs in which I participated. Regarding Talmud Torah, it was great to create individual relationships with the kids and watch them enhance their Hebrew over time and learn from their mistakes. It was very gratifying to assist them in becoming Jewish men and women who know how to pray, say blessings, and continue their Jewish traditions. I would definitely recommend all of the programs I participated in to future participants, especially if they like working with kids, contributing to the less fortunate, and simply helping others.

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