SINAI Schools have always been a part of Jordanna Rothschild’s life. Her father is a Vice President on the Board of Directors, and both parents are deeply involved in supporting SINAI, a provider of education to Jewish children with special needs. She helps out at SINAI dinners and events. Jordanna has also been developing her love of art as a ninth grade student in the Frisch High School art track. Seeking to combine both interests, she thought of creating a program in which Frisch students in the Artists Beit Midrash program share what they have learned about studying a prayer, and expressing it visually, with SINAI students. Her idea was enthusiastically endorsed by both schools.
“We are so proud of Jordanna, dreaming up and implementing this remarkable program,” said Rabbi Eli Ciner, Principal of the Frisch School. “This speaks to the essence of what Frisch is about—a program that is student driven, focuses on individuals, and understands that each person has a unique talent. It recognizes that there are different pathways to learning and ways to better the world.”
Marcy Glicksman, Director of SINAI at Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey (RYNJ), knew the idea was a winner when Ahuva Mantell, Frisch Director of Visual Arts, presented it to her. “We are comfortable with art therapy; it is familiar and a powerful outlet. Art is an area of strength for many of our students,” she said. SINAI has been focusing on tefillah as a school, Glicksman noted, so the idea of expressing tefillah through art was especially welcome.
Both groups of students were prepared for the first class in advance. Mantell visited with Glicksman at SINAI to describe the Artists Beit Midrash and explain how she uses art to express tefillah, so that Glicksman could tell the SINAI students what they were going to do. Glicksman came to Frisch to talk to the students about the boys and girls from SINAI, and their different learning styles, along with advice about how to communicate and collaborate with them.
On a recent Monday morning, 16 sixth-grade students from SINAI boarded a bus from RYNJ in River Edge, and traveled to Frisch High School in Paramus, along with a team of SINAI administrators and teachers. This was the third in a series of four classes, and the students quickly found their places with the Frisch mentors they have gotten to know.
Mantell tells the students they are going to make a cartoon, with a drawing of a person and a voice bubble that will include their words. She reviews the Bircat HaTorah prayer, how some behaviors such as kibud av v’ em (honoring one’s father and mother), and making peace between people, are rewarded in this world and in Olam Haba (the world to come). She shows a drawing of cartoon characters Tom and Jerry, perpetual rivals shaking hands, as an example.
She gives the class ideas for the assignment. “Draw a memorable experience where you helped your mother or father and say how you felt when you did that. Maybe there was a time when two kids in class weren’t getting along and you helped them make up. Or, show how learning Torah is equivalent to all the precepts. Learning Torah is like a software update for your system.”
The mentors guide their partners without taking over. Jordanna Rothschild said she asks her partner questions and then helps her draw the idea she wants to get across. One student draws a cartoon about how she is grateful for her family. Another draws a cartoon showing how she helps her mother by washing dishes.
Sharon Karpel, a SINAI teacher accompanying the class said, “This is very beneficial for the students who have some difficulty expressing themselves. Some of them have artistic ability beyond their years.” Rabbi David Pietruszka, another SINAI teacher, said the expression they can get from art is sometimes better than what they can get from a regular classroom.
Later, Glicksman shares some of the children’s comments about the class. “I like my partner. She is very nice to me. On my first visit, the Frisch students were very welcoming,” said one of the girls. And this from a boy in the group: “I think it’s awesome! I like doing art with other material. I think the art studio is awesome.”
Jordanna said her classmates were initially concerned that the SINAI students might feel uncomfortable. “We thought they wouldn’t be able to talk to us but they’re so nice. They have such great personalities. My friends told me they never thought they would enjoy it this much.”
Rothschild is getting as much as she is giving. “This is just a great experience, working with different kinds of people. And it has shown me that I could do different things with art as a career.”
Rabbi Ciner said the class will be used as a paradigm at Frisch for developing new programs and it will expand outwards, as many schools have called him to inquire about it.
“This is the soul of our yeshiva,” Rabbi Ciner said. “Wonderful academics blended with chesed.”
By Bracha Schwartz