Interview with 3 key people in OYYL
WHAT MAKES OHOLEI YOSEF YITZCHOK SCHOOL STAND OUT
Although the Crown Heights community was blessed with a number of schools, Oholei Yosef Yitzchok still manages to stand out. In an extensive interview, three key members of the administration spoke about their backgrounds, their goals for the school, and their visions of education.
INTERVIEW WITH 3 KEY PEOPLE IN OHOLEI YOSEF YITZCHOK LUBAVITCH
By Mordi Wolf
RABBI MOTTEL SCHNEIDERMAN- OYYL Educational Director
Rabbi Mottel Schneiderman, it’s a pleasure to meet you. To begin, what is your role in Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch?
The pleasure is mine. I began assisting my wife, Mrs. Mila Schneiderman, founder and Administrative Director of Oholei Yosef Yitzchok, as an assistant and substitute teacher. Over time I became more involved in the runnings of the school and took on different leadership roles. Currently, I serve as its Educational Director. I develop the curriculums and focus on enhancing the relationships between parents, teachers, and students.
Wow, that’s quite the transition of roles. I would like to hear about your motivation for Education, but before that, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself? Where were you born? What was your upbringing like?
That is an excellent place to start. I grew up in a Russian town named Samara. I did not have a formal religious upbringing. I finished school and went to college. I was first accepted to medical school, but I decided to pursue a career in theater, acting, and directing. For two years I studied acting in the famous car city, Togliatti. Afterward, I moved to Moscow to learn the art of directing. In Moscow, I became acquainted with a Jewish professor in the most prestigious Music Academy in Moscow. With his help, I became the assistant to my professor of theater directing while being his student. When I had a two-month break from my studies, the professor of music suggested that I attend the Steinzalts Yeshiva in Moscow, Yeshivas Mekor HaChayim. At that time, being in a Yeshiva was not on my bucket list, but since this professor had done so much to help me, I decided to enroll. I threw myself into the Yeshiva environment. I found a certain depth for life that I had not experienced before.
After my stay in the Yeshiva, one of the Rabbis suggested that I attend a Chabad Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel named Shamir. I stayed there for two years and then returned to Russia on Shlichus. I taught in the Chabad Yeshiva in Moscow under the auspices of Rabbi Lazar. I returned to Eretz Yisroel, and studied in a Yeshiva in Tzfas for over a year. I continued from there to 770 as a part of Kvutza. Afterward, I went on Shlichus to New Delhi, India, and traveled to jails in Northern India to visit the Israeli inmates.
After my marriage to Mila, I learned in Kollel, assisted a Shliach in Mill Basin, and taught in a Yeshivah Gedolah in NJ. Following these endeavors, while I was searching for the next step in my life, I began helping Mila in Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch, and the rest is history.
You have quite an illustrious and fascinating background. What experience do you have in Education?
Well, as I mentioned before, I taught in Chabad Yeshivas in Russia and America. Before this, I taught in Russian camps throughout my teenage years. In addition, although I have no formal degree in Education, I invested myself within its studies as my wife was working on her degrees. I also did my own research in the field of education and took various courses on the subject.
There are many schools in Crown Heights; what distinguishes Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch? As the Curriculum Director, what unique pedagogies do you implement in the school?
To begin, we place a strong emphasis on skill-based and independent learning. We want our students to have the ability to decode a text on their own without relying on their teacher. Many Chabad schools only use a frontal teaching methodology to educate their students, one where the teachers merely dictate information to the students. In contrast, we believe that children benefit the most when challenged by individual or group thinking. For example, the structure of our Chumash curriculum does not encourage teachers to present the text with the predispositions of the Meforshim. Instead, they ask their students to dissect the Possuk, the meaning of its words, sentence structure, and interpretation; only then does the teacher offer alternative explanations. This allows students to develop their own cognitive abilities.
Secondly, beginning from our youngest classes, we integrate a Middos Toiovis – Character Development – curriculum. The primary focus of our school is to cultivate true Mentchen and inculcate within them a sense of respect for their fellow students and teachers. This curriculum has a tremendous positive effect on our students throughout their school years. Surprisingly as it may be, we do not have ongoing issues of bullying or fighting in Oholei Yosef Yitzchok!
Lastly, we do not measure the success of our students with technical tests which examine their memory or guessing skills. Instead, we grade them based on their critical thinking, attentiveness, and innovation of ideas. We believe that each child has varying strengths and abilities in learning, and they absorb and express information in their way. As such, our student assessments cater to these differences.
What are the qualities you search for when you hire staff?
First and foremost, we believe a teacher must be self-motivated and passionate about Education. Then, if someone fits that criteria, they have to be open to learning new methods of Education and interested in developing their skills, whether their teaching, classroom management, child development, or interpersonal skills. Lastly, the candidate has to be willing to cultivate the ideals and values which the school promotes in the students’ education.
Do you have any dreams you wished to see at Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch?
One of my many dreams is that our school should become one of the mainstream schools in Crown Heights. Having our own building will strongly enhance the quality of our chinuch as well as the quantity of new enrolling students.
We believe that, from a Yiddishkeit and Chassidishkeit standpoint, as well as from an Educational perspective, our school is an excellent choice. We synthesize a forward-thinking Educational philosophy together with Chinuch Al Taharas Hakodesh. Every Chabad child, no matter their skill levels or background, could thrive within the walls of Oholei Yosef Yitzchok!
Before we end off, can you describe your feelings about the Nurtured Heart Approach® and why you feel it is revolutionary in the field of Education?
The role of an Educator is to inspire a child for intrinsic change, which will manifest itself in extrinsic transformation.
Boruch Hashem, our Rabbeim, generously showered us with directions to install a genuine Lubavitch’er Chinuch. Especially our Rebbe, who dedicated countless letters and Sichos to the topic of Chinuch.
The Rebbe stressed that our approach should be not to dwell on negativity; instead to increase in positivity. This idea is expressed in the Hayom Yom for 28th of Menachem Av. The Rebbe writes that by strengthening the healthy components of the body, one can simultaneously heal their unhealthy elements.
Accordingly, NHA® is a powerful tool that enables an Educator to perceive the innate good within their students. This positive reinforcement motivates the students to grow in an utmost healthy and wholesome manner.
MILA SCHNEIDERMAN, OYYL Administrative Director
Mrs. Mila Schneiderman, thank you for taking the time to talk. To begin, what is your role in Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch?
I wear a lot of hats. I am the Founder of Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch, and currently serve as its Administrative Director.
Before I ask you to describe the school’s beginning and your role, what is your background? Where did you grow up? Tell our readers a bit about yourself.
I was born in a small but well-known town named Samarkand into a Bucharian family. My family has roots in Uzbekistan spanning approximately 800 years. My ancestors were quite prominent Mekubalim in Samarkand.
I am the youngest of five in my family. My childhood and young-teenage years coincided with the fall of Communism. My family was very traditional. We observed Shabbos and Kashrus and were very close to Chabad. We always had the picture of the Rebbe in our house. By that time, the Rebbe had sent Shluchim to Samarkand, and when I was ten years old my father enrolled me into the Chabad day school. We had a lot of interaction with the Rebbe’s Shluchim and the Bnei Akiva Shluchim in Samarkand, so I had many opportunities to learn the Hebrew language and further my learning about Yiddishkeit. Life in the old city of Samarkad was very simple; my father was a very successful businessman earlier in his life and later worked in our local synagogue. I graduated high school when I was 15 years old, and began teaching in the local Chabad Hebrew School. Concurrently, I studied in a beauty school and later worked in a local salon. My father passed away at the young age of 55 when I was only 16 years old.
My father’s passing, coupled with the fall of communism, led us to immigrate to America in 1996. The first place my family lived in America was in an apartment in Boro Park. I went to continue my education in the beauty field, and graduated from Times Square Beauty School. I attended that school for a bit over a year until I was 18 years old. At that time in my life, I was at a crossroads. On the one hand, I had a degree and great job opportunities within the Beauty field. I could have taken a job on Broadway, joining the Art Department on the many shows that took place. But on the other hand, a part of me wanted to focus on something more meaningful and further my Ruchniyos. I was the typical traditional Sfardi Frum girl; I kept Shabbos and Kosher and was searching for depth and passion for my connection with Hashem. I was torn between these two possibilities. Nevertheless, I decided to go ahead and attend a seminary, knowing that I could always return to the Beauty department in the future.
There were many seminary options for me to choose from; I was considering going to Beis Yaakov in Boro Park. Around the same time, my sister and I decided we wanted to see 770. As I mentioned before, we had a solid connection to Chabad. We had a picture of the Rebbe in our house growing up, and we had a 770 Pushka. Visiting 770 for the first time was very powerful, we felt connected to the place right away, it felt like a home. Someone arranged for me to stay at the Melamed’s residence for Shabbos, it was the Shabbos of Yud Shvat, the Yahrzeit of the Frierdiker Rebbe, and I had a most memorable Shabbos in Crown Heights. As a result of that Shabbos, and following my sister’s advice, I decided to enroll in Machon Chana. I attended Machon Chana as a student from 1998-2000, and then as a Madricha from 2000-2002. Those years were transformative years for me. Rabbi and Mrs. Gansburg and Rabbi Majesky, and all beautiful and dedicated teachers had a profound effect on my life.
What caused you to become involved in Education?
Well, as I mentioned before, I had done some teaching in the Chabad Hebrew School in Samarkand, so it was not new to me. After our marriage in 2002, my husband wanted to learn in Kolel for a year, and I was once again unsure of what career I should choose. I wrote a letter to the Igres Kodesh and received instruction from the Rebbe to pursue a degree in Education. After conversing with my Mashpia, I decided to go ahead with it. I received my Bachelor’s Degree and continued with a Master’s in Judaic Studies and Special Education. While I was in school, my husband and I experienced a tragedy. We had a son, Yosef Yitzchok, born with many health complications, and he passed away 19 days after he was born. This hardship empowered me to devote myself to my studies. Throughout my time in college, I would often write to the Rebbe, seeking his guidance and strength. I would regularly receive answers involving the topics of Chinuch, Chinuch Al TaHaras HaKodesh, and ideas about the Friediker Rebbe, whom our son was named after. I understood this to mean that the Rebbe encouraged my studies, informing me that I am on the correct path.
That is amazing! The Rebbe guided you on the journey of your career. Did you open your school straight away?
No, not straight away. For several years, I worked in the field of Special Education in different schools in Crown Heights. Unfortunately, during this period of time, in 2005, we lost our 3rd child, Yosef Yitzchok, 19 days after he was born. The loss shook us tremendously, and I tried to fill the void by going back to study. 4 years after we lost our son I decided to open a preschool. At first, I operated the preschool from my home, but eventually my house became too small, so we rented a space on Carroll Street. Boruch Hashem, our preschool expanded and Mrs. Leah Goldshtein joined me. We began to work tirelessly to develop different strategies of Chinuch for our preschool. We never imagined opening an actual school, but after two years of running the preschool, parents did not want to take their children out of our school and begged us to open a Pre-1A, which we did. Every year, the same thing would happen so that we would open a new class each year. As a result, our elementary school opened, and now Boruch Hashem has classes going through eighth grade.
What initially motivated you to open a new preschool, and as time went on, an elementary and middle school?
There are many schools in Crown Heights, Boruch Hashem. I had the opportunity to send my kids to some of them, and I also work as a SEIT and P3 provider (Special Education Teacher) in many of our local institutions. I found that due to the class sizes being overcrowded, many of the schools did not have the opportunity to cater to each and every child. In addition, most schools use a frontal teaching model that is not child centered. The curriculum and classroom structures are not flexible; they were like a cookie-cutter. If a child fit into the mold, then they would succeed. But if a child needed to express their personality, asked too many questions, or benefited from other methods of learning that the schools are not offering, they would be at a loss. It all seemed very dogmatic to me. From the Rebbe’s letters and directives on Chinuch I understood that education must be “child-centered.” The focus must be on the child’s individual qualities and needs so they could be nurtured into growing, healthily and beneficially.
Ok, so you felt that there needed to be a change of focal point within education. But how do you implement this change? What separates your methodology of teaching from other schools?
Great question! The main focus of our school is individual-based learning. We give full attention to each one of our students, truly catering to their needs. This expresses itself in a few ways:
Firstly, we felt the need to change the general school dynamic and make it a more pleasant place for children to grow. So, in OYYL, through different educational methodologies, we pay a lot of attention to the socio-emotional development of our students.
Secondly, we felt the need to incorporate a skill-based program into our curriculum. Regardless of a child’s background and personality, if they are given the necessary language tools to decode Hebrew or Aramaic, they would be successful. In many other schools and curriculums, we felt that children were over-reliant on their teacher’s help to understand the text at hand properly. They did not learn the necessary skills to read and fully understand Chumash, Mishna, or Gemara adequately. Moreover, their lack of skills caused a gap in their learning, as they spent so much time and effort decoding the text, and not having the chance to understand and internalize it’s meaning. We worked tirelessly to create a curriculum with a strong emphasis on decoding skills so that our students would be confident and capable of opening any given text, reading it, and understanding it.
Thirdly, we created a multisensory curriculum for Aleph Beis and Kesiva. When our children finish Kindergarten, they are fluent in the Aleph Beis, and by the end of Pre-1A, they can effortlessly pronounce the Aleph Beis with all its Nekudos and Havoros. Similarly, we felt that writing was critical, as it enhances hand-eye coordination and brain development; our young students’ handwriting is phenomenal.
In addition, we integrated a vocabulary system into our Chumash classes. Our first and second-grade classes know 800 Sheroshim with automaticity. Our goal is to remove all the technical blockages that are a part of learning a new language, enabling our students to understand the Torah to the best of their ability.
Another important factor in our educational system is that we do not administer tests. We feel that tests create an unhealthy relationship between the teacher, the information, and the student. Instead, each teacher has a progress chart with them and constantly grades their students’ skills based on the chart’s criteria, whether in reading, grammar, or comprehension.
Lastly, We pay a lot of attention to our student’s overall well-being. We do not have fighting or bullying in our school because we have the tools to address Derech Eretz, Ahavas Yisroel, and Midos Tovos at a young age.
These systems that you have in place seem quite forward-thinking and progressive. Do you teach your students secular studies?
As I mentioned before, I began this school with the intention to strictly follow the Rebbe’s directives regarding Chinuch. The Rebbe was adamant that children at a young age should solely focus on learning Torah and not be exposed to any non-Jewish content. Accordingly, our school is structured by Chinuch Al Taharas Hakodesh. We do not expose any of our young children to non-kosher items or animals. We do not have English grammar, Math, or Science classes in our older grades. Nevertheless, our children are learning general knowledge through the prism of Torah. As the famous quote in Pirkei Ovois states הֲפֹךְ בָּהּ וַהֲפֹךְ בָּהּ, דְּכֹלָּא בָהּ- Turn it over, and [again] turn it over, for all is therein. Since the Torah is the blueprint of the world, everything is present within it. Accordingly, by investing our efforts in studying Torah and the performance of Mitzvos, we have all the tools that we need to navigate the world around us.
In order to learn Torah properly a child needs to know how to count, learn their colors, know to read the time, etc; so our curriculum is wisely constructed to teach these concepts through the study of Torah. For example, by learning how to calculate and establish a Jewish Calendar, which requires extensive math skills, our students learn the basic rules and properties of Mathematics.
In Accordance with the Rebbe’s instructions, we put all this effort into our curriculum so our students can receive the holiest and purest education.
It is incredible how you have managed to teach Torah in such a wholesome way. How many students do you currently have, and what are your class sizes?
This past year we had 53 students throughout our boys and girls school. For the upcoming year, 70 students have enrolled. Our classes run from nursery school through Kitta Ches. As you can imagine, our classes are pretty small, with our biggest class having seven students. This grants us the capability to cater to each child in the utmost way.
I understand that Oholei Yosef Yitzchok is integrating a new form of Education based on the Nurtured Heart Approach®. The approach is a relationship-focused methodology to help children (and adults) build their Inner Wealth® and use their energies in successful ways. Before we end off, can you describe your feelings about this approach and why you feel it is revolutionary in the field of Education?
I am genuinely excited to have this long-awaited transition to the Nurtured Heart Approach®. I find this approach to be a very Geulah’dik and redeeming way to positively charge our students for their greatness in a kind, loving, clear, organized, and systematic way. We have implemented this approach with some of our students and have seen great results.
NHA® is not just a “method” that helps manage kids in the classroom. It ignites and inspires students to notice their greatness unfold in a complete transformation. I find this approach to be beautifully rounded, nurturing, and preserving to their relationships. It is a progressive, meaningful, delicate, and yet super powerful tool!
I thank my husband, Mottel Schneiderman, for suggesting NHA to our Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch community; it was a brilliant idea. Also, I have tremendous gratitude to my friend and colleague Leah Goldshtein for further inspiring this initiative.
I cannot wait to see all the kinderlach at Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch this coming school year!
LEAH GOLDSHTEIN- OYYL Preschool Director
Mrs. Leah Goldshtein, thank you for giving us your time. To begin, what is your role in Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch?
I began as an assistant teacher in 2009 when The school opened its doors. Throughout its growth, I have been a co-teacher and a teacher. Currently, I serve as the Preschool Director.
Wow, you have been involved in the school from its birth. Can you tell our readers about your background, where you are from, and what your upbringing was like?
Sure. I was born and raised in the Kyev region, and I went to school in Zhytomyr. Until the age of 16, I knew very little about Yiddishkeit, but thanks to the Rebbe’s Shluchim that came to Ukraine, I began to learn. Over time, I became a Balas Teshuvah. One of the pivotal influences on my shift in life were a few girls that were becoming Jewish in Kyiv at the time. When I saw that these non-Jewish girls were so passionate about Yiddishkeit, I was inspired.
After becoming Frum, I met my husband in Ukraine, and we got married. Soon after, we moved to America and settled in Crown Heights. I enrolled in Machon Chana and learned there. Those years of learning in Machon Chana were very formative years in my spiritual growth.
While I was learning in Machon Chana, I met Mila Schneiderman. She was giving workshops in the community about Education, and I attended her classes. She was the one that encouraged me to pursue a degree in Education and involve myself within its holy work.
Let us back up a bit. What motivated you to attend her classes and pursue Education?
I come from a family of educators. Even though my parents are not religious, they are both teachers and educators in Ukraine. So, I grew up in a household where education was the priority and focal point, and as a result, I had a passion for teaching. My love was magnified once I began to learn Chassidus; the idea of the inherent value of every Yid and the need to express every person’s inner beauty. Moreover, since I was not raised in a religious environment, I needed extra tools to provide my children with a proper Jewish and Chassidishe education. I felt that Chassidishe Chinuch was the greatest thing I had ever encountered, and I wanted to learn the most effective way to pass it on to my children. As I befriended Mila, she guided me in getting my Master’s in Early Childhood and Special Education from Touro College.
You mentioned before that you were involved in Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch at its onset; can you tell us a bit about your journey there?
I immigrated to America in 2009, the year that the school opened as a preschool. I began as an assistant teacher. Over time, the school continued to grow, and we opened an elementary and middle school. Going in, I never imagined having a leadership role in the school, but as it grew, the school needed a Preschool director; so, I organically filled that role.
What distinguishes Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch from other schools in Crown Heights? Is your curriculum different? Are your methodologies of teaching different?
That is a great question. We believe that the sole focus of Education needs to be on the individuality of the child. Each child and class is different, and therefore the content or methods used in our teaching has to cater to those differences.
As a result, we are constantly modifying our curriculum and training our staff. Once a month, we have a teacher’s training day. It takes place in our school, during the school day. We replace all our staff with proper substitutes, and our staff gathers together for a day of training. We treat them to a catered lunch, and teachers have the chance to interact and share with their colleagues.
We customize the upcoming month’s curriculum for each class throughout the day. We train our staff in effective communication with their students, and discuss different strategies to implement into our classrooms for the upcoming month. Not only does this day enhance our staff’s ability to educate our students, but it also builds a sense of family and unity amongst our staff.
Additionally, we believe that Education should not be tailored around a curriculum, but rather, a curriculum should be tailored around Education. Our education is Torah; nothing else. A child in preschool ought to know certain concepts pertaining to the world, such as colors and shapes, animals and plants, numbers and letters, yet we teach them all this information through the prism of the Torah. For example, throughout the week preceding Rosh Hashanah, we teach our students about Hashem’s creations, including animals, plants, body parts, and the environment. We integrate colors, shapes, and numbers into our Parsha curriculum.
We believe that it is essential to begin and end our children’s day with lessons about what matters most. As a student goes through our school, they begin to learn different topics in Chassidus in the morning before they Daven. In our preschool, we share a Chassidishe story every morning before the children Daven. Moreover, we created a Middos Toivos curriculum that we integrated into the morning story-telling. This way, our children do not only hear fundamental and integral stories of yesteryear, but they are also learning how to implement their messages in a practical way. We end our day with another story and discussion time, this time focused on Inyonei Geulah U’Moshiach. From a young age, we want to instill within our students a sense of yearning to Hashem, and educate them to work towards this underlying goal.
The method we use to teach Aleph Beis is also originally customized. We created a multisensory curriculum where our children can learn Aleph Beis excitingly and interactively by using all their senses. In general, we focus on ensuring that our students are excited about learning; our students want to come to school and learn! We have a lot of hands-on activities, workshops, and excursions. Lastly, starting from preschool, we treat them respectfully and communicate with them every step of the way. A child deserves to be involved in their own education, and they will benefit greatly from it.
It sounds like you have specific goals and pedagogies in place. What are your criteria for hiring staff?
We look for teachers who believe as strongly about Chassidishe Chinuch Al Tharas HaKodesh as we do. A child should know that the ultimate person to be is a Yiras Shamayim and Talmid Chacham. Granted that as they mature, they will find their path in life, whether it be as a businessman, lawyer, or Shliach. But the foundation of what a Yid is needs to be all-pervading. The staff have the responsibility to inculcate within their students this belief. Furthermore, we want our staff to be self-motivated and passionate about their teaching.
The points that you have mentioned are so unique and vital. Before we finish, can you tell our readers your dreams and aspirations for Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch?
We have many things we would like to see in the growth of our school and many aspects we would like to integrate. But currently, the number one dream is to purchase a building. Even though our students excel in their learning and Chassidishe growth within our temporary placement, the need for a permanent place is evident. Having a structure to house our school would solidify the ever so important Education that we offer.
To conclude, I understand that Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch is integrating a new form of Education based on the Nurtured Heart Approach®. Can you describe your feelings about this approach and why you feel it is revolutionary in the field of Education?
The training course for the Nurtured Heart Approach® has been a life-changing experience for me: inside and out! The ideas, concepts, and techniques of the NHA® seem to be so natural; I feel like I have always had them within me!
The approach is to help guide us through our mundane routines that can become difficult. Often we fall into negative holes and find it challenging to remain optimistic and high-spirited. Personally, the NHA® helps me develop a certain kind of tunnel vision. It helps me to see the greatness within me and focus on all the fantastic and beautiful things that I can do as a human being, a mother, a wife, a preschool director, a therapist, and a friend. Also, it enables me to constantly perceive and appreciate the wonderful people and students I have been blessed to work with. With the NHA®, concepts and teachings of chassidus come to life: “Think good and it will be good,” “Gam zu letoivo,” etc. I am thrilled to have the tools to continuously tap into the energy and greatness of the people and situations around me. I am so grateful to Hashem and our school’s educational and administrative directors for the opportunity to experience the NHA program. I believe it will ignite a spark in our children that has never been seen before, and enable them to grow in an utmost healthy and loving way.