One on One with Sally Alfaks Atlan

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“The person I am today is all due to my parents who left Syria in 1992 with absolutely nothing. They escaped from an environment where they were persecuted for being Jewish. Both labored to give us everything and were, and still are, my role models.”  ~~ Sally ~~

Ellen Kamaras

Sally Alfaks Atlan emigrated to Brooklyn at the age of three, from Damascus, Syria with her parents, Touneh and Raymond, and her two sisters.  Raymond, a manufacturer, dropped 

everything to relocate his family to America, safe from the dangerous and oppressive anti-Semitic regime in Syria.   

“I don’t remember anything about my journey from Syria to Brooklyn.  My parents didn’t speak English and had no family here.  They were determined to work hard to give their children ‘the best of the best,’ the finest schools and whatever we needed.  My mother gave birth to two sons in Brooklyn.  We first lived in an apartment and then moved to a small house in Gravesend.”

As Sally shared her life story, two important character traits became evident. The first was her immense appreciation, hakarat hatov, that she expressed for her parents.  Their struggles strongly influenced Sally’s life outlook.  The second was her determination.  As you read about Sally, you will see how she consistently demonstrates gratitude for everything in her life and exhibits grit to accomplish her life purpose and objectives.

Sally’s friends describe her as strong-willed, trustworthy, determined, accomplished, caring, and bold, which she agreed with. Sally is a woman infused with candor, confidence, and courage.  And her out-of-the box thinking and strategy have helped her to reach beyond her community bubble. 

Growing up

Sally was tenacious even as a youngster.  “I was a little devil, wanting to do things my way.  I never gave up, trying different approaches to overcome challenges and meet my goals.”  

Sally loved school and studied diligently in grade school, at Ahi Ezer Yeshiva, and at Magen David Yeshivah High School.  “I needed to get my ‘A’” she recalls.  Her efforts were rewarded with high school honors placement and a scholarship to Brooklyn College.

Sally majored in psychology at Brooklyn College out of a desire to help people. She seriously contemplated going pre-med.  She decided that medicine would not fit with her vision of raising a family.  When Sally went to the Sephardic Bikur Holim Career Division for help with her resume, her counselor suggested she explore occupational therapy. Sally researched OT and fell in love with the field. It would satisfy her yearning to be a helping professional and her background in psychology would enable her to understand her client’s emotions.

A Match Is Made 

How meaningful is it that Sally met her naseeb, Yohan Atlan, twelve years ago, through a young man from Canada Yohan befriended on an Aish HaTorah trip to Israel.  Born and raised in Paris, France, Yohan was studying at Yeshiva University when the couple met.   

Remember Sally called herself out-of-the-box?  Marrying a French Moroccan/Algerian Jew is just one example, and the two meld their backgrounds beautifully.

They still laugh about Sally giving Yohan her Blackberry pin number instead of her cell phone number. Guess What?  Her pin number contained her phone number!

Hashem blessed the couple with three boys, Ariel (nine), Gabriel (six), and Eitan (two).  “They are my life,” Sally says proudly.

As newlyweds, Sally and Yohan were both completing their bachelor’s degrees.  Sally was awarded a scholarship to Long Island University for OT graduate school based on her high GPA.  She started her three-and-a-half-year OT program as a new mom.  Yohan had another year to go with his accounting degree before he registered in a one-year International Taxation Master’s program at LIU.

“We couldn’t have completed our training without my parents,” Sally told me.  “My mother helped tremendously with childcare. They still pitch in.”  Both Sally and Yohan agree that the early years were tough. “We built ourselves from scratch, we are a family, we own a home, and are growing. That’s what a marriage is.”

Sally did her field work in diverse settings, including the VA Hospital, Bellevue Hospital, and school settings.  She noted how selfless her veteran patients were and how many suffered from PTSD.  “Bellevue was a real eye opener for me. I was pregnant and was assigned to a lock down psychiatric ward.  I saw and learned about mental illness.”  In the school setting, Sally participated in IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings, collaborating with the teachers and other specialists to set students’ goals.  

Practicing OT

Sally is a pediatric OT.  She currently works in a Special Education program in the public school district and enjoys the challenges and rewards of practicing OT, one-on-one, with children on the spectrum.  

“My approach to my job is to take it day by day and see what the day brings. – every day is a surprise with the kids I work with.”

Sally thanks Hashem for revealing to her how difficult it is for her clients to do tasks that come naturally for other kids.  It’s so rewarding when they can enjoy the playground without a meltdown or use a proper utensil to eat lunch.  Involving the kids in play activities is one of Sally’s successful strategies.

“I wake up every morning, not knowing whether a child will reach his/her goal. They work so hard!  I learn so much from my students about myself, and I have expanded my skill set as an OT.  It’s a wonderful field and so flexible. I have time with my family and do something I love.”

The pandemic was very difficult for Sally’s students who were stuck at home for 18 months.  “It broke my heart.  When we went remote, these kids regressed. They need physical, in-person interaction.” 

Passions 

“My utmost accomplishments are my family and career.  My husband and kids are what motivate me to get up in the morning and be the person who I am, which in turn makes me love what I do.”

Partners in Parenting

Sally calls Yohan “the rock of our family.”  “He is my biggest cheerleader and inspired me to be more open-minded.”

Their life perspectives are similar.  Yohan wants their children to learn to work hard and to appreciate life and people.  

Sally is so proud of Yohan, that he strives to be his best and is caring and humble. “He is a jack of all trades: he has an accounting practice, does a bit of real estate, and he recently bought a plumbing business from a client.”   

Yohan partners with Sally to balance family and careers.  “I wake up with two older kids around 6:30am and do the morning routine with them. I drive to my job at 7:15, while the kids wait for the bus to pick them up at 7:30. Yohan does the morning routine with Eitan and drops him off at school. I pick him up and get home in time for the school bus drop off, of Ariel and Gabriel.  I cook dinner, do homework, showers, and bedtime routine.  If Yohan gets home early, he helps me.  The most important thing is that we work together.” 

Sally taught her children that Mommy loves them, they are number one, but being an OT makes Mommy happy, too. They are so proud of Sally and encourage her daily to get up and do what she loves.

Inspirational Influences

Sally learned unconditional selflessness and hesed from her mom.  Her grandmother Sally, a”h, modeled strength and independence. Yohan, who came to New York with 600 Euros to his name, created a life for himself, demonstrating resilience and drive.

Community and Self-Care

Through her husband’s eyes, Sally has grown to value the community even more.  “We are part of the strongest community in the world.  My husband didn’t have the love and care of this kind in Paris. It’s surreal.”  

Sally thrives on working out to destress from her day. She attends Pilates reformer classes a few evenings a week.

What’s Next?

Sally is getting certified as a feeding and oral motor therapist. “I am fortunate that I can be creative and integrate the sensory component. Some students can’t chew and eat only pureed solids, which is hard to see.”

Enhancing her knowledge and skill set by taking continuing education courses is key for Sally.

Sally’s advice and secret to success?  Follow your dreams and do what makes you happy.  As a woman, be your own person and cultivate independence. Think out-of-the-box and remember that challenges help you grow.  Show gratitude when others help you.

What gives her fortitude?  “It’s always been Hashem. Trusting that the smooth and bumpy stones along the way have made me the person I am and continue to be.”  

I leave you with Sally’s favorite quote: “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I’m possible.”

You can call Sally (646-379-7014), email her, sallyalfaks@gmail.com or message her on Instagram @sallyatlan.

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching.   Ellen works part-time as an entitlement specialist at Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services. She can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com (www.lifecoachellen.com).