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A Letter About Purim

Dear Rabbi Pollock,

I think that it is disgusting that you mentioned the idea that drinking on Purim can be beautiful to your class of elementary school  boys. You are the mentor of impressionable young neshamos. After hearing what you said in class, my own child told me that he wants to drink on Purim when he grows up. I am completely sure you did not think of the effect that your words may have. I merely ask that you pay heed to your words because in today’s world, alcohol abuse is a big problem. 

Respectfully your, 

A Concerned Parent

I have been thinking about what you said since Purim. You are correct. It is not a good thing to make light of such a potentially serious thing as drinking. We don’t want our children to think that this is something that is socially acceptable.

In regards to telling children that it is beautiful to get drunk… a boy came back from Purim talking about his Purim seudah and mentioned that the son of someone well connected to the school was drunk. He was describing the brochos this bochur was giving to people and the songs he was singing. I said that it sounds like this bochur got drunk in the proper way. Unfortunately, on Purim we often see people drinking and ending up doing the things that you described in your email. However, sometimes when a person who is a Ben Torah drinks on Purim, all the externals fall to the wayside and you see his penimius – who he really is on a deeper level. It is beautiful when you see that all this person wants deep down in his heart is to be close to Hashem. I have seen many people crying on Purim that they don’t daven with enough kavanah, that they don’t do their mitzvos carefully enough, that they don’t set aside enough time to learn torah and that they feel that they can accomplish more in their avodos Hashem. I was using the term beautiful to describe this boy’s desire to connect with Hashem because that was truly beautiful. That is what we want every Jewish person to want. This is supposed to be the focus of our life.

Obviously I did not go this in detail in class. A young child can not understand more than the idea that it is beautiful to want to connect with Hashem. But, I think it is important for these impressionable young neshamos to know that this is a focus in life. They are 7 and 8 years old and life is simple to them. We learned about Hagar this year. She was a princess in Paroah’s palace and he gave her away to Avraham because “it is better to be a servant of a tzaddik than to be a princess in a royal palace.” When I ask the boys what they would rather be. Rich princes or servants to a tzaddik? Every single one answered that they would give up all the money in the world to serve a tzaddik. The boys are impressionable. It is obvious to them that this is the correct answer. In another year or two the world won’t be so black and white to them. They will be a little bit more savvy about life. These questions will not seem so simple. Kedushah vs. Money? How many of us adults would be (easily) able to make that same decision.

My goal every day in class is to make Yiddishkeit real to the boys. When we daven, it is because Hashem is really there. When we learn, it is because this is Hashem’s Torah. We daven and learn for people who are sick because Hashem can really make them better. I try to make them realize that Hashem is part of their life and we can get close to Him. That is what I want them to take out of each Yom Tov. On Rosh Hashana we daven to Hashem. “He loves us. Does your father love you? Of course!! Hashem loves you the same way. We can ask Him for anything we want. Do you need a new bike. Daven and ask. He can make sure you will get one this year… or He will say no because it is not the best thing for you this year.” On Succos, I want the talmidim to internalize that we are moving outside into Hashem’s house. I attempt to drive this idea home every single Yom Tov. The same is true when we are learning Chumash. Avraham was a real person who reached the level that malachim frequented his house. He really talked to Hashem. Hashem was part of his life. I want my second graders to know that Hashem is part of our lives also.  That is where the Purim comment was coming from. Perhaps you feel that this was still too much for a second grader and if so, I am sorry. My point was not to romanticize alcohol consumption in the slightest degree. My point was to germinate the idea that every boy in the class can have a personal relationship with his Maker.

Sure, there are people who drink too much and this is completely not okay. If a person looks at Purim as a time to get wasted, then let him get himself wasted someplace far away from our children. They don’t need to see that. Drinking is not okay on Simchas Torah, at a kiddush, at a restaurant or in any other social scene. I emphasized  to the boys that in my house there is a little bit of wine by kiddush on Shabbos and that is it.

Thinking through the whole conversation in class and reading your email, I was wondering if perhaps,  a better response to this kid could have been, “Ew, that is disgusting.” and then just to move on to the next thing in class. Perhaps it would have been better to sidestep this whole idea and not expose these precious young boys to something that has the potential to be misused. On the other hand, I am nervous that by not exposing these precious neshamos to ideas that are essential to life as a Torah Jew that something eternal might be lost. It is precisely at this time when their minds are so impressionable that they are able to understand that the reason we were put into this world is to connect ourselves to Someone greater.

I am not writing this to try to change your opinion in the slightest. I feel that just as you took the time to express sentiments, it is important that you should hear mine.

Once again, I appreciate your candor and your taking the time to put your thoughts into writing. It is obvious from seeing your son’s actions in class just how much effort you are putting into him to make sure he grows up to be a Ben Torah and Yorei Shamayim that we will all be proud of.

Your Son’s Rebbi

Rabbi Yisroel Pollock


A Look Back

 Yesterday, I looked back at the first essay I wrote for my educational technology course, entitled My Educational Technology Mission Statement. I wanted to see if anything changed over the past nine months since I started the course. Perhaps I came to some new understanding about myself or technology that I had been unaware of. And I wondered what the repercussions might be if it changed… or perhaps even more frightening, if it didn’t change after nine months of being immersed in educational technology.

                I originally wrote that Judaic Studies teachers and General Studies teachers have different goals regarding the use of technology. I explained Judaic Studies teachers are preparing the students for a Torah life. Their goal is that the student should be familiar and comfortable in all aspects of Jewish life. Technology is only there to help with the task, but not an end in itself. A General Studies teacher is given the task of preparing the student for a successful career. They need to guide the students in general knowledge as well as keep them up to date in the latest technological innovations to ensure they are competitive in the workplace.

                Over the course I have interacted with many dedicated Secular teachers. I must backtrack and say that overwhelmingly they see technology as a tool to help teach the knowledge to the children. Their goal is not technology for technology itself, but rather to train the children to think and to apply what they know. Of course, Judaic and General teachers have different objectives because they both serve a different purpose in a child’s life. That is why our children need both of them. The General studies teacher is teaching for general knowledge that a child needs for life and the Judaic studies teacher is teaching toward what the child needs to live a Jewish life. Both are important and necessary. In regards to technology, all teachers use them in the same way. To enhance the student’s knowledge.

                That was where I backtracked from my original thoughts. I joined the course originally because I was looking to find a better way to integrate technology in a purposeful way into my classroom. I still firmly believe that we all must evaluate each technological tool before we use it and ask ourselves if this adds to the lesson I want the students to learn.

                I enjoyed learning about the ISTE standards that give expectations for what a student is expected to know in each grade. I appreciated the opportunity to work on each web 2.0 tool to figure out ways it could be used to enhance the teaching that is happening in my classroom. I would have liked to work on more collaborative projects because I feel that this is an area where technology has a huge advantage over the established way. I feel that students can accomplish so much more when they collaborate together. I would have enjoyed seeing that in action a little bit more.

 It was also amazing to see how quickly technology is changing. In the textbooks that were written only a couple of years ago, there was nary a mention of mobile technology. Nowadays many people are only using iPads. Computer sales are down and people need to use them less and less. Some of the tools we learned about might not be around in the next year or two. Something bigger, better or more effective is already out there. However, I have the tools to keep myself up to date on the latest trends in educational technology. I learned about those too. And I will keep up with what is going on and keep connected to people in my PLN to make sure that I can give my students the knowledge that they need and deserve.





There Is Nothing Wrong With Your Life – Second Life

Have you ever tried a virtual world such as Second Life? It was recommended that I check it out. I signed up and tried it out. I can’t imagine using it for my students. You are in a virtual world. Sort of like the Wolfenstein 3D that we used to play as kids. (Did I just date myself – What games did you play as a kid?)  You can move around wherever you want (No evil Nazis) and interact with the world. There are other people who are logged into that same world and you can connect with them. It is sort of like a strange social network.

It seemed to me that there were too many distraction and places that I did not want to visit. Every other world seemed to be for the purpose of meeting people and doing things that you would never do in real life. Why would you want to interact with a strange person who hangs out in make believe worlds, of whose gender you have no clue. You haven’t an inkling of their true appearance. They are trying to be someone who they are not. At least in Facebook and Twitter the people you meet are purported to be who they say they are. It is possible that there are people on Twitter who I am following, but are not teachers, yet they act and seem like teachers. I grant you that it is possible, however they need to be able to communicate coherently in the ongoing conversation. If they can fake it that far then let them say their piece. In Second Life, the people are purposely trying to be people whom they are not. I do not want my students using something like this. There is too much “bad” that could happen. Stick to your real life. There is nothing wrong with your life!

That is my opinion. Is there a way you envision using Second Life in your classroom. Would you send it home as a homework assignment? What are your thoughts about Second Life in general? Please comment below.

There’s An App For That

     In the Education Technology course I am taking there has been a lot of focus of late on using the myriad of different web productivity tool available online. There are many useful tools that save a lot of time and effort. Tools that are a low cost way to help us accomplish in our teaching and in our everyday lives. On an almost daily basis we use these tools without even thinking about the service they are providing to us. It has been fun to try out different tools as they are introduced in the course. The truth is that I enjoyed trying out Web 2.0 tools even before I started the course.

     As I went through this week’s chapter, I felt a nagging feeling of being bothered. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Perhaps it was that every quote was from before 2010…. but a lot of the statements were still accurate. Spending some time thinking about it, I realized that I haven’t been trying out as many Web 2.0 tools on my computer because there is usually an app for it on my phone. Lately I have spent less time on my la[top and more on my iPhone. Most of my email is sent from my phone. I tweet from my phone. I bank from my phone. I can blog from my phone. I video edit from my phone. I take and edit pictures from my phone. I shop from my phone. Just about any new Web 2.0 tools in on my phone via the App Store. 

    When the course textbook was written way back in 2010, the iPad was yet to be introduced. There were only 140,000 apps in the App Store – not the million apps that there are now. People didn’t use mobile devices to access the internet the same way. Just look in the news. Computer sales are down. Tablet sales are up. The iPhone and iPad are game changers. Yes, we still use the web tools, but now they are called apps. 

    If I had to pick my productivity tool…I would say it is my phone. I don’t need to surf to a website anymore. I just click on the app and it is right there. I can do everything that I need to do on it. My computer doesn’t go on in class that often anymore. My phone is my camera. My phone is my voice recorder. My phone is my iPod. If my personal classroom setup was a little more advanced, I would be using Apple TV to project my iPhone screen onto my Smartboard.  All of Web 2.0 is on my phone. I find that I don’t take out my laptop unless I need to type for a larger amount of time and do not want to use my thumb to do it. 

         My phone is replacing a lot of the things that I used to do on the computer. It is not exactly Web 2.0 and it is certainly not free. However it is the portal to all things Web 2.0. It is an all in one productivity tool giving me easy access to the tools that I use on a frequent basis.

     Looking back on my textbook that was written just a couple of years ago gives me an appreciation for how fast technology is advancing. It is so easy to forget. Of course we remember the good old days before cell phones. But do we really recognize the progression we have made. Do we see how much it has made our lives easier. Sometimes we need to take a second to appreciate what we have. We need to find the time to stop and think about the evolution of technology and to find a way to help ourselves remember where we were and how far we are going. But if you can’t find the time….there is probably an app for that also. 

Throw Out That Translation Packet

“What does the word mean?”

“I don’t know?” replies your child.

“Weren’t you in class?”

You are frustrated. For homework, your son was supposed to review and summarize three pessukim and he doesn’t know them. You are having a hard time figuring out if he was even anywhere near the classroom when the Rebbi taught the Chumash. You start looking through the house. Perhaps you still have the teitch packet that the Rebbi sent home on the first day of the year. It takes twenty minutes to find the crumpled up packet under your son’s bed. Can there be a better homework solution?

I wish to propose a different solution, but first let me digress. Last summer was the Siyum Hashas in Metlife Arena. It was a life altering experience for many people there…including me. By learning just (I don’t know if you can say “just” when referring to a Daf of Gemara) one Daf per day, a person could finish the entire Shas in seven and a half years. I will admit. It was inspiring to see how many people finished. I decided that there was no way I would ever finish if I didn’t start. So I started. I still don’t know if I will be able to keep it up for seven and a half years, but at least I started. It feels good to know that I have opened up a Gemara every day since August 2.

Often I learn the Daf by listening to an online shiur. There are literally dozens of online Daf Yomi shiurim. There are even websites that keep track of the shiurim[i] that can be found online. I can enjoy a shiur from a Rav who lives in New York, Chicago or even Israel. If the Daf is not your thing, there are websites with thousands of free shiurim on any Torah topic you could desire.

Why not make let the Rebbeim and Moros in our schools record the Chumash that they teach. They can post it and let the talmidim/talmidos use it when necessary. It only takes a minute to record a possuk with the teitch. Most phones have a recording option. The teacher can even record the possuk in class itself for later listening. By the end of the school year, they could have a database of every single possuk that the class learned.

I am not going to bore you, my dear reader, with technical details of exactly how to create such a podcast. I just want to talk in generalities the few ways that seem to work for me. The simplest way I have accomplished this has been to record a voice memo on my phone. Then I simply send out a class email to the parents with my recording as an attachment. It is not posted anywhere. It is just an email. All I need is my phone and email. (I do have a list of all the parents so I can send to everybody with one click.)

The next level is to record the audio and post it online. I do less of this. When I have a little bit more time, and I will stress, a little more time. It really doesn’t need to take that much time. I will video myself reading the possuk. If you have permission to video your students, take a video them reading it. They enjoy it more. Then, I post it onto YouTube as an unlisted video. I don’t want just anybody to be able to search and find it. Afterwards, I use the link to post it to my webpage. It is there for the parents to see whenever they want it.

If you record the students, then you can only use it that year. When you record yourself, you can use it year after year. Create a database of pessukim for yourself. Let it be accessible to those who need it. The parents don’t know exactly how you translated the possuk. The parents don’t know exactly the tune you used. The parents don’t know exactly what happens in class. Video it. Let them have a glimpse into your classroom. Let them join you in the education of their children.

Not all those who can, should blog

Those who know me, have heard me complain about people who use technology because it is there. They are just out to try the next new thing and struggle in their attempt to make it relevant in the classroom. Usually it ends up as a waste of time for the students. I always stress that Technology needs to be a tool to help you in your lesson. You need to ask yourself, “What am I gaining by injecting this particular piece of technology into my lesson”.

This being said, I turn my attention to The Blog. It seems to me that for some people it is a must. A professional who is being hired by clients should have a blog. The client will want to go online and want to see that the person that he is about to hire is an expert in his field. A blog can convey just that. Some people begin their blog because they have an idea to promote. An example of this would be one of the many blogs on cooking or one that is blogging about the latest great deals that are out.

When it comes to the field of Education, teachers are often among the first to embrace a technology. But then they get stuck. “I just got a room full of iPads and now how exactly will that help me in my history lesson.” Usually they find a creative way to use it…eventually. So when it come to blogging, many teachers decide to make a class blog. It will be a place that they can post homework and let the students ask questions about all types of things and then they can post assignments and homework and then they can post more homework and… it usually ends up a waste of time both to the teacher and the students. There are more effective ways of posting homework. There are more effective ways of getting the students to collaborate together. I think a teacher needs to think of the reason they are making the blog and then go and figure out if this is the best forum to accomplish that goals.

An example that might work. Supposed a teacher assigned a long term science project. The students might blog their findings in an ongoing blog. Or the teacher could have one professionally to highlight their own skills and attributes. An example of this would be a reading specialist who has a blog on ideas that help children learn to read.