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Shaare Torah Boys Elementary School in Brooklyn has embarked on a program that brings parashah learning to a new level, to the delight of both parents and students alike. Through a combination of home learning, riddles, testing, prizes and incentives, students have been brought a fresh approach to Torah knowledge.

Each week, the boys receive parashah review sheets to study, and are then tested on the material. Rewards are given for high scorers, including a raffle entry for $500. A unique feature of the review sheets is a riddle which serves as an additional stimulating challenge for the students.

In grades 4-6, the material is reviewed in class with the rabbi, and then reinforced with the take-home study sheets, given out every Wednesday, covering many of the major subjects discussed in that week’s Torah portion. Students in Junior High (6-8), whose primary focus is transitioning into Mishnah and Gemara, work independently. On Sunday morning, a school-wide test is given on the material.

“This program gives the talmidim[students] the tools they need to review and retain vast portions of the parashah that they’ve already learned,” said Rabbi Sonny Cohen, a staff member at Shaare Torah Boys Elementary. “It’s crucial to find ways to stimulate and challenge them.”

The idea behind the program is simple, he adds: “Suffuse our talmidim with fundamental Humash yedi’ot[knowledge] week in, week out. Familiarity is one thing. But to understand the relationships, ages, and storyline through Rashi’s perspective is quite another.”

By the time Purim rolls around, the students will have already studied, and hopefully mastered, large swathsof Sefer Beresheet and Sefer Shemot. Perhaps even more impressive, Rabbi Cohen says, is the prospect of a Shaare graduate having reviewed this information several times by the time he graduates.

“Delightful”

“Oftentimes the secret to success is strengthening our foundations,” Rabbi Cohen reflects. “Ask any gadol [Torah sage], and you’re sure to hear that true mastery of Mishnayot and Gemara is only possible with a thorough familiarity of Humash and Rashi.” Rabbi Cohen proudly reports that Shaare’s students are already amassing, and retaining, a tremendous amount of fundamental Torah knowledge.

“Aside from the obvious scholastic benefit, the ruah[spirit] of the students has surged. Talmidimtake pride in their ability to conquer vistas of Torah knowledge. Additionally, the excitement created by the accompanying weekly riddle is palpable.”

In December, grades 4-8 took their second “Hidon”(contest) on Sefer Beresheet. For each test mark of 90 or above, students receive one entry into the grand rafflefor $500. For each score of 100,
students receive two entries. Typically, through their arduous study and fascination with the material, students are hitting perfect or
near-perfect scores.

Rabbi Cohen says that the yeshiva was looking forward to continuing the weekly program for Sefer Shemot.

“Parents want to know that their children are receiving a phenomenal education,” said Menahel Rabbi Amram Kuessous. “This is one way we can bring more to their learning. This is a tremendous challenge for the talmidim. It has stretched their learning and their comprehension, and now I feel we have to continue this program.”

In one word, Rabbi Cohen explained the results: “delightful.”

“Even students who have struggled in other areas, have risen to the occasion to score beautiful marks,” he marvels. “It’s particularly rewarding to see their newfound pride. Many times it’s about revisiting fundamentals that make the biggest difference. This program has been nothing short of revolutionary.”

“Things You Need to Know”

Parents, too, have been ecstatic about the program, added Rabbi Kuessous. Frieda Harari, whose son Albert, in 6thGrade, is immersed in the program, raved. “We all learn parashah our whole life – we have a basic Jewish knowledge every person should know. I feel like the boys are getting this information in a way that will stick in their heads forever.”

The program’s impact is easy to see, she says. “Really, it’s great. It feels like it gave him more confidence and he can keep up. At the Friday night table, my husband asks difficult questions and my son has a deeper understanding and can answer them.”

As for Albert, he says he takes great pride in participating. “There are staple things you need to know in life, and parashah is one of them. Hopefully I’ll know it for the rest of my life.”

Rabbi Cohen explained that the program capitalizes on the parent-student dynamic by adding a difficult riddle to promote student engagement with parents.

“We pose an intriguing question – and leave it unanswered. Our hope is that it will provide a great opportunity for lively conversation, and thoughtful Torah debate.”

Word of the program has spread throughout the community, Rabbi Cohen reports, to the extent that rabbis from other yeshivot have inquired about how to implement it in their schools. “We take a lot of pride in it and are happy to share.”

At the Forefront of Education

Meanwhile, several other programshave been developed that provide yet another a source of pride for the school, including an Honors Mishnayot program, which is taught to select boys from grades 4th-6th. In Shaare’s unique Berachotprogram, students create a sticker album with illustratedpages, collecting and filling it with 100 full-color stickers. Each sticker shows a photo of a particular food, the berachahrecited before eating it, and the berachah aharonahrecited after eating. “The student becomes more
excited, and better educated about making his daily berachot,” says Rabbi Cohen.

The school has also implemented a new halachah program, covering oft-neglected topics such as tevilat kelim,bishul akum, and shemittah. And Shaare’s Shakla Ve’Tarya Be’al Pehprogram, Rabbi Cohen says, “encourages the boys to take ownership of the Gemara.” Incentives include a deluxe breakfast at Oh Bagel. “The program has already been a tremendous success, and we are excited to watch it continue,” Rabbi Cohen enthuses.

Rabbi Cohen and Rabbi Kuessous firmly believe that standing in front of students and lecturing, hoping that the students absorb and retain the information, is not sufficient. Often, it takes that “little extra something” to ignite a spark of interest – unique and fresh ideas to stimulateyoung minds to learn. “It is for these reasons,” Rabbi Kuessous proudly reflects, “that Shaare Torah Boys Elementary School is at the forefront of education in
our community.”