Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Cheshvan 5766 - November 23, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Vechol Bonayich Limudei Hashem

by M. T. Weinberg

Little Raphie (names have been changed for confidentiality), had been a special needs child in the special educational institution called Limudei Hashem. He had progressed beautifully over the years, in leaps and bounds, to graduate and lead a normal adult life. Eventually, Raphie became a teacher to the grandchild of one of his former rabbonim in the school.

Benny, another special child from the school, continued in a yeshiva ketanoh program and later found a job working in a nursing home. One of Benny's friends from school is now learning in a regular yeshiva and found a trade in bookbinding.

And it doesn't stop there: Yudie is now a store manager, and Eli married and started a family. These are just a small sampling of the successes of the special graduates of Limudei Hashem who are now living productive lives out here in the real world.

Limudei Hashem was founded in 1979 (5739) by the American psychologist Rabbi Dr. Aaron Hershel Fried. It was the first chareidi school for special education in Israel. The school has a reputation for advancing children with learning disabilities. Its purpose is to enable boys between the ages of six to 14 to study and develop. It provides them with the tools that are necessary for them to advance and be enabled to be mainstreamed into ordinary educational settings as regular students, and to eventually function in real life situations. Rabbi Moshe Aisenstark is the principal and Rabbi Chaim Perkal is the administrative director.

Why are many of the special education schools primarily for boys?

Boys are three times as likely as girls to be enrolled in special education. In the last 30 years, statistics have shown that a disproportionate number of boys have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities. Researchers say that there are more boys with emotional disturbance (7 percent) than girls (4 percent).

A large amount of literature has been written showing that girls mature earlier than boys. Boys have traditionally been more physically active than girls, and these characteristics are more pronounced earlier in life. Their development is completely different.

Relative to their particular issue and level, girls tend to be more responsible. Even if they have challenges, they can typically be sent to a Bais Yaakov seminary that specializes in their educational needs. They can later be hired and trained to do some kind of work outside the home.

A good example of this is, that Limudei Hashem also tries to hire high-functioning special needs people for certain jobs, such as doing the school's photocopying work. While boys and girls experience failure and self-esteem issues, boys feel it much more acutely because they tend to be more active and their natural place is in the outside world. In the chareidi world the academic pressures are much stronger for boys than for girls.

The educators deal with many issues including various forms of learning disabilities. The disabilities that the educators work with include the learning disabled, such as those with ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia (inability to read), Dysgraphia (inability to write), and secondary emotional issues of self- esteem due to a history of failures. In addition to the above, there are boys who also have physical handicaps that can include metabolic disorders and motor problems. Some of the children also have secondary behavioral problems.

Emphasis is placed on assisting them to understand the gray areas (different feelings) around them and helping them to acquire work skills. Education is designed to teach the boys to perform tasks like anyone else. To deal with these issues, tools and methods that provide positive reinforcement are used to build up the self-confidence and self-esteem of the students. The tools and methods that are used are as follows:

* Computers are used for teaching and for creative exercises that have actually helped children to learn how to read and write.

* Setting individual goals, both short and long term, for educational purposes. Interaction skills and social behavior.

* Occupational therapy improves the participation of the children in their school environment.

* Speech therapy is given to improve interpersonal language skills and is administered at least twice a week, according to the need of the child, as opposed to the once a week allowance of the governmental funding in public institutions.

* Music therapy is used for psychological and emotional issues, and it is also a vehicle for developing self- expression in the child.

* * *

There are only eight or nine children with two teachers or rabbeim in each class. Aside from the regular curriculum that includes reading, math, and Jewish studies, the children also receive therapy in the different areas appropriate to their special needs, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, music therapy, enrichment development, group interaction and special skills workshops.

The classrooms are decorated with colorful charts and graphs, some with gold stickers marking each child's progress to build up his self-confidence. A professional, experienced psychologist also works at the school to provide advice and guidance to the teaching staff regarding the children's behavioral problems and emotional issues. A social worker maintains contact with the parents. There is a library with materials created by the school's librarian, and workshops that teach the boys how to handle tools, electricity, and do household repairs. Each boy is encouraged to use and build on his own talents and taught the skills necessary to function in the outside world. There are also daily minyanim for the older boys.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy (OT) improves motor skills and movement, and affects the whole development of the child. Poor body image affects the child's whole concept of himself. It can affect his posture, the way he walks, his balance, and the way he looks.

The five occupational therapists on the staff play an integral role in the children's Individual Educational Program (IEP) in the school. Occupational therapy is integrated into the classroom where for certain lessons the OT works with the teacher and the speech therapist.

Therapy aims to maximize the participation of the children across the following areas of occupation:

* Activities of daily living: Independent dressing (tying shoelaces, hanging up coats), washing hands after the bathroom, ritual washing before eating, blowing noses, eating in a socially acceptable manner, and functional mobility like crossing roads independently.

* Participation in the classroom: Includes activities needed for being a student and participating in the learning environment such as organizational skills, writing skills such as holding a pencil and supporting the page with the other hand, pencil grip and control, cutting and pasting, coloring in delineated form, manipulating small objects, using an eraser, a sharpener, a ruler, writing numbers and letters, and organizing written work.

* Leisure time and play: Effort is put into improving play with their peers, developing skills and interests, and opportunities for appropriate leisure activities. Socialization and appropriate interactions are structured in a play environment.

Intervention of the Therapist

In order to maximize the child's participation, intervention occurs at three levels:

1. The child: One-on-one therapy or in a small group such as a writing workshop, play group, gross-motor skills or perceptual motor skills workshop.

2. The environment: The OT evaluates the environment where the child has to function and she manipulates this environment to achieve his maximum participation. This includes adjusting his seating, the lighting, the acoustics, the pen, the slope of his table, and the lighting. One fun example of this is when the child with a very tight pencil grip uses a vibrating pen for the first few minutes of the writing lesson. Another example is when a child who has ADHD and low postural tone sits on a therapeutic ball and the input he gets helps improve his attention and writing skills.

3. The task: Whatever task the child has to do is adjusted to meet his need, e.g., the size of the lines, the size of the font, or the layout of the work on the page, the steps or stages that he has to follow, the amount of support he is given, and the medium of the presentation.

Occupational therapy is fun and the children love to come into the therapy room. Recently, one kid said that the OT room is the best in the school because it has all the kef things. The fun that they have in OT ensures their high level of motivation for their very difficult challenges.

There are many interesting pieces of equipment in the OT room, but one that really caught my eye is the colorful Ball Bath. The Ball Bath is a container large enough for two children to have fun in. It's filled with many soft colored plastic balls. In the Ball Bath, the child is embraced by the soft balls, and this sensation of the even pressure of the balls on the skin has a calming effect on the nervous system. This can be beneficial for the hyperactive child.

When the school purchases their OT indoor and outdoor play equipment, each piece of equipment is specially selected by the occupational therapists for its gross motor and socialization benefits. For example, swinging, bicycle riding, sliding down a slide, and climbing are important for developing gross motor skills.

Speech Therapy

For two years, Moshe, a seven-year-old boy, could not learn to read. The speech therapist working with him tried an American method new to Israel in order to work on his phonological awareness through the multi-sensory medium, the Lindamood Lips Program. Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate sounds. While they are hearing and strengthening their awareness of the sounds, they are also working on feeling each sound and recognizing how and where the sound is produced. By the end of the year, Moshe knew all the letters and vowels and was able to read short words, which for him was a very major accomplishment.

Ephraim was talking but no one could understand what he was saying. Ephraim has Dyspraxia, a limited ability to plan motor movements in order to speak clearly. This does not mean that the child will never be able to speak, chas vesholom. It just means that he has limited "planned" control over the muscles in and around his mouth used for speech. Before one puts his motor skills into action, he must first think and plan how he is going put his muscles to work. It all starts in the brain before even a single muscle can move.

The speech therapist very patiently worked with him on learning how and where each sound is made. Again, through the use of the Lindamood Lips Reading Program, this child was able to internalize the movements for each sound and very quickly learned how to produce all of the sounds appropriately and spontaneously. Today, Ephraim speaks in full, clearly understandable sentences.

The task of the speech therapist is quite varied. It includes working on deficits in the areas such as: Communication skills, speech clarity, voice production, fluency, organization of spoken language, vocabulary, auditory processing, memory, and various thinking skills.

For example, to develop thinking and sequencing skills, the child is taught that language must be organized and planned before spoken. The child's speech therapist has a variety of toys for the child to play with. They play games with the child and act out situations as in real life. They teach various skills through the use of creative projects such as making signs, miniature Succos, and the story of the ten plagues before Pesach, etc. There are showcases in the corridor of school that proudly display some of the children's creative projects. To improve vocabulary and memory, stories are told and acted out. Each child's goal is developed based on his specific needs and the activities are personalized according to the goals. In order to help a child, the speech therapist must recognize the personal successes of each and every child relevant to his own personal growth.

Music Therapy

Shlomo, an ADHD child, was very hyperactive and had a lot of emotional issues, as he came from a dysfunctional home. He had problems with his parents and siblings. To calm him down and teach him how to control his behavior and his emotions, his therapist played the piano, while he learned to play a drum. The stable rhythm and tonal music helped him to learn to control his impulses.

Music Therapy is effective in treating psychological and learning disabilities usually caused by neurological problems. There are many aspects to music therapy in teaching the child how to behave, vent his anger, handle his frustrations, and use his self-expression, all in a non- destructive way. Instead of hitting someone in his anger and frustration, the child learns how to beat a drum. The child can learn how to control his emotions and calm himself down by discovering the beat of his own rhythm.

The music therapist writes a musical program for each individual child. If the child is aggressive or frightened, the therapist will play slow soothing music while having the child play with a musical instrument such as a harp, a guitar, or a xylophone. If the child has communication problems, he might be given a wind instrument such as a horn to play with and blow into in order to experience making his own sounds. The child then learns to communicate in a non- verbal way, as a bridge to a verbal communication. He can then enjoy having control of the instrument and the sounds he is able to make.

A Hot Issue

A hot issue these days in chareidi circles is the infiltration of these special education institutions by the Sherut Leumi Program. Gedolei Yisroel were very upset recently when they learned that several chareidi special needs programs were making extensive use of girls in the Sherut Leumi program to help them achieve their goals.

In a psak din issued in Elul, 5712 and signed by HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer, HaRav Dov Berish Weidenfeld (the Tchebiner Rov), HaRav Zelig Reuven Bengis, and HaRav Tzvi Pesach Frank, even national service for girls is forbidden in Israel, and not just army service.

When asked if they had been approached with an offer, the response was that they had not been approached recently. In all probability, since Limudei Hashem is the oldest religious special education institution in Jerusalem, it was always well-known that the Board of Directors held to a steadfast rule on this issue, because the gedolim were very much against it.

Special Activities, Events and Projects

One of the more recent activities was instituted in conjunction with Cheder Itri, their next door neighbor. It is a real one-on-one weekly Chavrusa Program for the older boys. This program fosters integration, helping the students to get along with other boys, while giving an additional boost to their self-confidence and self- esteem. Visits to gedolim, and volunteering at Ezer Mizion, Yad Sarah, and other chesed organizations, are also new programs.

Every year, The Ladies Auxiliary of Limudei Hashem sponsors a number of special activities and events. These events include the yearly Simchas Beis Hashoevoh special raffles, where the children go out and sell raffle tickets for the school. As I walked through the school, I noticed in hidden corners a collection of sacks and bins full of various new items that were donated and collected from different sources, waiting to be offered to the public and marketed as possible Chanukah gifts or personal treasures for the pre-Chanukah Shoporama sale. Many of the activities include the participation of the children.

Every Succos, the school has a Simchas Beis HaShoeva for the students, their families and friends. For two hours, the children are treated to the entertainment of Israel's own Rebbi Alter, singing and dancing, a juggler, and specially prepared pekelach filled with delicious treats.

The big event of the year, also organized by The Ladies Auxiliary, which helps set the budget for the year, is the Melave Malka Milchig Buffet Dinner for women. This year's event is scheduled to be held at the Binyanei HaUma Convention Center in Jerusalem on November 26th (24 Cheshvan 5766). The special guest speaker will, b"H, be HaRav Mendel Weinbach. The Guest of Honor will be Rebbetzin Miriam Kagan, the mother of the first principal of Limudei Hashem, Rebbetzin Rena Lichtenstein, who was appointed by Rabbi Dr. Aaron Hershel Fried, the founder of the school. The Journal is being printed in the memory of Rabbi Pincas Rosenbaum zt"l, a hero who saved many Jewish lives during World War II while masquerading as a Nazi. A special song was composed for the evening by one of the school's music therapists, entitled "Vekol Bonayich Limudei Hashem" (And All Children Are Students of Hashem) to set the theme of the evening.

Mrs. Zeisel Blumenfeld, the school's Public Relations Spokeswoman and Fundraiser, is currently preparing a book of stories about special children and their challenges as told by their parents, siblings, teachers, therapists and other professionals — and the children themselves. They are currently accepting stories. They may be written in other languages and will be translated into English.

My thanks to the following people at Limudei Hashem who contributed the information that made this article possible: Rabbi Moshe Aisenstark, Principal; Mrs. Zeisel Blumenfeld, Public Relations and Fundraising; Mrs. Lynn Davis, Occupational Therapy; Mrs. Chaya Fine and Mrs. Devora Weinberger, Speech Therapy; Mrs. Ravital Marder, Music Therapy.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.