May 28, 2024
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A Day of Education and Inspiration: Teaneck’s Community Education Conference

Over 35 schools, yeshivot, shuls, businesses and organizations banded together this past Sunday to hold the 2nd annual Teaneck Community Education Conference at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun. Branded with the mission, “Educating and Inspiring our Children Together,” the program offered attendees the opportunity to receive advice from a wide spectrum of speakers on a variety of topics relating to educating and inspiring children. The event, dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l and spearheaded by Rabbi Reuven Taragin, Dean of Overseas Students at Yeshivat Hakotel and Rosh Beit Midrash at Camp Moshava I.O., drew 500 people over the course of the day.

The achdut that the conference displayed, with organizations and schools from across the spectrum uniting in its support, is one of the reasons why the conference is so unique. “Lets stand one day a year as group,” said Rabbi Taragin. “We had schools like Frisch high school, and on the other hand Heichal Hatorah…From RYNJ to Moriah. The point is that each institution is different but today we can stand together,” he told JLNJ.

The conference’s attendees, which included parents, educators and young adults, were greeted by a registration table where they could obtain the day’s color­coded schedule, monogrammed pens and notebooks containing a personal letter from Rabbi Taragin along with lined paper for note­taking during the sessions.

Mrs. Shani Taragin gave the opening keynote during the breakfast, entitled “Midrashic Models of Education.” The keynote set the tone for the conference’s mission. Quoting from Rav Lichtenstein, Mrs. Taragin explained that “sometimes you can lose the Torah with all the Derech Eretz.” It is crucial to maintain focus on the single­minded presence of Torah as we educate our children.

With five different speakers presenting simultaneously in each time slot, it was difficult for many to decide which session to attend, which is a tribute to the star lineup of noted rabbanim and speakers. “When people go to a program, it’s often a four hour program with four speakers…here, it’s the opposite. Most people had more than one person they wanted to hear in one spot, and that builds an excitement,” said Rabbi Taragin. “They aren’t going by necessity, they are going because they really want to be at that presentation.” The 40 minute session, a pep­talk of sorts, was the ideal amount of time for a speaker to get a powerful point across, while avoiding the restlessness that can ensue from an audience facing a longer lecture.

Together, the sessions covered the whole spectrum of education throughout the ages, with sessions geared towards the elementary school, high school and seminary and yeshiva stages. This allowed attendees to choose the sessions most relevant to them, based on their stage in life and their interests. In a session entitled, “Breaking the Tefillah Apathy,” Rabbi Ezra Weiner discussed how parents can get their children to see the siddur as something relatable. “The only way to connect our children to tefillah is to make them understand that the words that they say are talking to them,” explained Rabbi Wiener. “And not words of David Hamelech that were written thousands of years ago, but…words that connect to us here and now.”

Rabbi Zev Goldberg’s session, entitled, “Raising Women Leaders? Does the Torah Embrace Glass Ceilings?” addressed the tension that often exists between the phenomenal education Jewish women receive today and the communal and familial expectations that they face. Using passages from the Chumash, Talmud, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and the Rav, Rabbi Goldberg explained that God created man and women as one? there is equality between them, but the different genders have different life tasks. “If we spend time trying to dismiss the chasm that exists between males and females, we are doing women a disservice,” he said.

Rabbi Shaul Friedman advised attendees, “When you want to educate kids, there needs to be stages in life. Its clear to me that at an early stage, too many messages are confusing.” In his session, “Are we confusing our kids? Challenges and solutions for educating towards religious Zionism in the modern world,” Rabbi Friedman advised parents to build their children’s faith while they are young, and as they grow older, begin adding some questions, expose different opinions and analytical thought.

Other session topics included: “The Sweet and Easy Way to Successfully Raise Children,” by Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, “Everyone’s Favorite Topic in Chinuch: Straight Talk About Dress Code,” by Dr. Rivka Schwartz, “What Does Not Happen in the Year in Israel,” by Rabbi Yamin Goldsmith, and “How (The Only Way) to Get Children to Identify With Their Parents,” by Rabbi Taragin. These are only a fraction of the sessions that were offered. The conference ended with a closing keynote by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, entitled, “We have Torah and Mitzvot, What about Yiras Shamayim?” which was followed by mincha in the main shul.

Community teachers, many of whom were among the conference’s attendees, noted the program’s importance. As one teacher remarked, “The conference opens up the idea of what can we do to help our children, so the education is for the parents as well, that it’s not just left for the teachers, that the parents are taking a fuller hand in the education of their children, our students. Just as we want our students to learn more, we should learn more about how to help our students.”

The conference was organized solely for the sake of the community. “Nobody made any money here. None of the speakers took money, and the reason why is because this is a community event. It’s free to the public. It’s meant for us all to stand together. And that’s part of the special feeling of the event,” said Rabbi Taragin.

“The essence of this conference is, it doesn’t matter what your title is, we all stand together,” said Rabbi Taragin.

By Esther Hirsch

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