AHI EZER YESHIVA The Much-Beloved Institution Moves Forward

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By: Ellen Geller Kamaras

“My outlook as an occupational therapist is that everyone I work with is somebody’s child. For my students and clients, occupational therapy is about the job of living, helping them function, and gaining the skills of daily living.”

Mozelle Chabbott Tobias grew up on East 3rd Street between Avenues S and T in Brooklyn, in the Syrian community just blocks away from where she currently lives.  She likes to jokingly say,“I never changed zip codes.” Mozelle attended Magen David Yeshivah Elementary School and Yeshiva of Flatbush High School. The youngest of four children, Mozelle was blessed with three older brothers, and was called the fourth brother or a tomboy. She competed and kept up with her brothers, becoming quite athletic and skilled at softball, tennis, golf, and other sports.  In fact, she loves to golf with her husband, and was in a women’s softball league with her adult daughter.

Mozelle’s parents, David Chabbott and Norma Esses Chabbott Tawil were born in the United States.  Her paternal and maternal grandparents were born in Aleppo, Syria and emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s and 1920, respectively. The Chabbotts were very close with Mozelle’s great uncle, Isaac Shalom, A”H, the founder of Magen David Yeshivah, and an esteemed philanthropist. He taught them about leadership, community responsibility, and a life of giving. From her parents, aunts, uncles, and older cousins, Mozelle absorbed the values of hard work and drive, taking on leadership roles and focusing on hesed and helping others.

As Mozelle and I talked, I noticed how dynamic she is. I was impressed by her energy, drive, focus, determination, and discipline, as well as her passion for her family, friends, and career, and her joie de vivre, an ardent and upbeat enjoyment of life.  Mozelle noted that in some respects she is very traditional and mainstream “Syrian,”and in others she is an outlier, having created a robust career in her 30’s and balancing it with her roles as a devoted wife, mother, daughter, and grandmother.

Who is Mozelle Tobias?

To answer this question, let’s return to Mozelle’s life story.

Mozelle met her bashert, David Tobias (nine years her senior), the summer after she graduated high school in 1980. She had one semester at New York University (NYU) under her belt when they married.  Mozelle was studying mathematics and “really, really, loving it.”  After the wedding, Mozelle left college and took on the traditional role of housewife and mother. She explains that she didn’t even have a thought about staying at NYU. . .“No one said anything, not my parents, not my husband. . . I didn’t know I was even allowed to continue my education.”  This was the norm at the time for Mozelle and her peers in the community.

Baruch Hashem, Mozelle gave birth to three boys, Joseph (married to Leigh Cohen), Daniel (married to Sarah Shamah), and Abraham, and two girls, Sophia and Norma.  Mozelle became actively involved as a parent at Magen David Yeshiva and at Sephardic Bikur Holim (SBH).  She was busy raising her children, working as a PTA president, treasurer, chairing Chinese Auctions, and volunteering at SBH.

Fast forward to 1998, when Mozelle’s youngest child was three and in pre-school, and Mozelle’s tenure as PTA president was ending.  She explains: “I had a gnawing ache to go back to school.Her desire was not driven by financial reasons; she simply yearned for the knowledge. At 18, Mozelle loved math and science. Eighteen years later, she chose to go into a helping profession.  As a mother and nurturer, the therapies spoke to her, and she chose occupational therapy (OT).

Mozelle compares OT to social work, since it is so diverse, and looks at the whole person versus one torn muscle.

With 19 NYU college credits, Mozelle enrolled at Long Island University (LIU) to complete her undergraduate degree in OT, and she went on to complete a Masters in OT. Mozelle describes herself as energetic, nurturing, a multi-tasker, almost compulsively organized, focused, determined, and disciplined.  These traits helped her barrel throughthe prerequisites and finish her degrees and training in six years. She graduated as valedictorian with a Dean’s award and she spoke at graduation.  Mozelle’s husband and children were extremely proud of her and considered her an inspiring role model. Mozelle said at the graduation, “Whatever you believe in – work hard and you can achieve it.”

Mozelle’s children were 3, 7, 10, 11, and 15 years old when she started her six-year journey.  She believes her youngest child Abraham became very independent as a result of seeing her juggle school and family.

Mozelle expresses her gratitude to her husband David for his loving support and help with the children while she was back in school.

Mozelle wasn’t the only one in the family who reinvented herself. Her husband David recreated his career at age 55. He signed up at Touro College, where he completed his bachelor’s degree. He earned his Master’s in Social Work from the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University. He now proudly works as a case worker at SBH.

Mozelle chose pediatrics as her specialty in OT. She has been with the NYC Board of Education for 13 years at the Roy Campanella Occupational Training Center P721K.  Her students have multiple handicaps including autism and Down syndrome.  She loves them dearly and explains how sweet and innocent they are.  Although chronologically they are  aged 14 to 21, cognitively, they are between 6 months and 3 years old.  Mozelle’s goal is to help her pupils gain skills of daily living, i.e., to dress and feed themselves, write, and navigate their environment.  She works with them mostly on a one on one basis.  The school has a worksite, a nursing home where her students function in a more natural environment.

Mozelle is employed full time at P721K from 8:00am to 3:00pm. She also has a private practice where until recently she saw patients four days a week after her primary job. She has recently cut down to three days a week and shorter hours in order to spend more time with her mother, family, and friends.  Her private clients are children spanning from 6 months to 12 years of age. With some of these clients Mozelle also does early intervention.  She works with her clients on general education (e.g. writing) as well as SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) issues.  Mozelle is trained in SIPT, Sensory Integration Praxis Test. SPD is a “neurological disorder in which the sensory information that the individual perceives results in abnormal responses.”

When Mozelle became an OT, her intent was to work part-time, 3 days a week.  Having received a scholarship from the Board of Education, she was obligated to stay with them for three years. When her commitment ended, she decided to remain and she still finds her job very fulfilling after 13 years. Mozelle explains, “It’s about making a difference in my students’ lives.”

Accomplishments and Challenges

Mozelle emphatically says her family is her proudest accomplishment – My family always comes first.”  She and David raised their children to be moral and good people and she loved being a very actively engaged mom.  She is the proud grandmother of three boys, and loves watching them in shul, the same synagogue that her own children attended.  Mozelle takes her grandchildren to the park, museums, and even to perform hesed with SBH, such as delivering flowers to the elderly.

Mozelle and David emphasized the value of education, and all their children went to, or are enrolled in, college or graduate school.  When her oldest was a high school freshman, Mozelle reviewed college applications to prepare her kids for what the colleges would be looking for.  Mozelle’s children affectionately say she missed her calling as a high school Guidance Counselor.

I was in awe of Mozelle’s ability to organize and carve out time for work, family, friends, exercise, and more. This is how she achieves work-life balance.  She calls it “switching gears.” 

Mozelle doesn’t bring work home with her, and she designates non-working hours and specific days for spending time with her husband, children, mother, grandchildren, and friends.

Mozelle’s Passions

Mozelle is passionate about her family, her work, sports, travel, reading, and life itself.  And let’s not forget Zumba!! She describes the fire inside her, motivating her to continually take on challenges. 

Mozelle sums it up by declaring, “I like to work hard and play hard.”

Her Advice to Aspiring Occupational Therapists?

Volunteer first to understand what OT is, get educated on what the requirements are to get into an OT program, and remember it’s not a race, do it at your own pace.  There are lots of interesting specialties to consider, including the hand.  She also encourages the students she mentors to continue school when they get married.

What’s Next?

Mozelle loved school and learning. She still takes lots of professional development courses.

When she retires B’ezrat Hashem, in addition to spending time with family, Mozelle plans on auditing college classes, taking shiurim, doing OT with adults, volunteering, exercising, and traveling.

You can connect with Mozelle at mozietob@gmail.com.

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching.  Ellen helps people find their passion, purpose, and positivity in life and relationships. Ellen can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com(www.lifecoachellen.com).