Our Stories

Fifteen Years Later

Itta’s Story

I can be ME

Eli

MY Three Sons 

Akiva’s Inability to Read Affects an Entire Family

Under the Chuppa

From Taker to Giver

Choosing The Real World

Revealing the real Asher

Despite all the obstacles – Koby can, too!

A Full Circle

 

Eli

 

Eli is 10 years old. He is the youngest of seven children. When his mother brought him to Achiya, she stated, “This child is disruptive. He destroys everything. He refuses to read and he refuses to eat…”

Rabbi David Ungar, Achiya’s reading supervisor, met with the mother. She is a very strong-minded woman. “I make sure that Eli reads for half an hour every day, but it doesn’t help.”

When Rabbi Ungar sat alone with Eli to evaluate his reading skills, he immediately detected that Eli could barely read and needed to be taught basic learning strategies. He assigned Rabbi Moskovitz, an experienced remedial learning teacher, to work with him. Eli was extremely introverted and sad. But Rabbi Moskovitz had lots of experience working with children like him. He knew that with patience and empathy he would succeed in breaking down the wall that Eli had built around himself.

Within two and half months, Eli was looking forward to his biweekly lesson. He was able to pay attention for the entire forty five minute session. As his reading improved, he began to smile, and even participated in his regular classes..

Next year Eli will continue to work with Rabbi Moskowitz. In addition, three times a week he will get help with learning Gemara at Achiya’s Gemara Department. For many years, Eli has a very low sense of self-esteem Therefore, he is scheduled to receive emotional therapy through Music at Achiya’s Emotional Therapy Department.

Achiya’s professionals are doing all they can to help Eli reach a point where he can realize his full potential. He is a bright child with learning disabilities, and at Achiya he is learning that he can.

Even though Achiya’s prices are highly subsidized, Eli’s mother cannot afford to pay for Eli’s tutoring and therapy. A kind donor has offered to help Eli. He understands that through helping Eli now, we are preventing much greater problems in the future. But dozen of children like Eli are waiting for the opportunity to discover that they, too, can succeed. They need your help.

For more information, please contact Debbie@achiya.org.il

 

MY Three Sons

A few months after the Achiya ADHD Program opened in Bnei Brak, we received a phone call from Yael, a mother of three boys. Two had received remedial tutoring at our learning center. The third was diagnosed with ADHD, at a time when the Achiya ADHD Center was still a dream. He never received the professional help he so desperately needed.

 I love summer vacation. Yes, the schedule (what schedule?) is insane – breakfast at ten, supper at midnight – and between the beach and the pool, there are never enough towels to go around. Yet, despite the craziness, and my overwhelming exhaustion, it’s wonderful to watch Shmuel and Yitzchak, my two older boys relax  a bit. They are both such serious students; they deserve a bit of fun.

But even as I smile at their silly antics (do I hear singing from their bedroom at 3 am?) a voice within me is crying. Yaakov, my youngest son, doesn’t live at home. I don’t know where he lives, or what he’s doing, and from what I’ve heard, it’s probably better that way.

Fifteen years ago, Shmuel and Yitzchak were struggling through elementary school. They were evaluated with learning disabilities and we were advised to bring them to the Achiya Learning Center for remedial tutoring. Twice a week for five years, the entire staff at the Learning Center put their hearts and souls into helping our sons succeed in school. And they did! Today they are wonderful young men: sensitive, considerate, responsible, with real leadership qualities. One is studying in a a top-notch yeshiva, while the other is pursuing a college degree. We are so proud of them!

So when we saw that Yaakov was also struggling in school, we didn’t wait for the situation to deteriorate. We immediately brought him to Achiya for a full evaluation, and assumed that he’d travel the same path as his brothers. We knew from experience that it wouldn’t be easy, but we had no doubt that Achiya would find the key to unlock his potential.

But we were wrong.

The moment my husband and I entered the Director’s office, I sensed that something was not right. The rabbi gave a short cough to clear his throat before asking us to take a seat. “I’m sorry,” he began, his eyes focused on the papers in front of him, “but we don’t have the tools to help your son.”

The Director explained that in addition to learning disabilities, he strongly suspected that Yaakov had something called ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. His mind flitted around like a dizzying merry-go-round, jumping from one thought to the next, which meant that he never really had the time to process what the teachers were trying to teach him.  In addition, he was incapable of sitting still for more than a few minutes.

“These kids get into a lot of trouble in school. They just don’t have the patience to listen to the teacher, or do their homework, or get involved in class projects. Teachers complain that although they’re smart, but uncooperative. Their minds work so quickly that they immediately jump to conclusions, and are constantly interrupting people.Bbecause they take have the time to think before they act, so when they’re angry, they’ll kick or hit, without giving a thought to the consequences.”

He was describing Yaakov to a T.

Fifteen years have passed since that day.  During those years, I watched Shmuel and Yitzchak struggle, succeed and finally, thrive, while Yaakov struggled and failed, until finally, he simply gave up.

I’m grateful that today, the Achiya  ADHD Center is available to provide children like my Yaakov with the help they need. I just hope that by telling this story, parents will realize the importance of bringing their children for professional help. It’s not a luxure. It can literally save a child’s life.

 Akiva’s Inability to Read Affects an Entire Family

Eight-year-old Akiva felt that he was a failure. Unable to read, he spent his days either dreamily staring out the window or entertaining his friends as the class clown. At home, he expressed his frustration by fighting with his siblings and angering his parents. Akiva’s behavior had a negative impact on the entire family. His mother was exhausted and frustrated with her inability to cope. Her negative emotions filtered down into her interactions with the children, and with her husband. Although during the intake, Akiva’s parents reassured us that they were not on the verge of a divorce, domestic harmony was definitely lacking.

 

Rabbi Unger immediately grasped that Akiva’s reading problem was closely related to his emotional problems. So in addition to the technical aspects of teaching Akiva to master the art of reading, his tutor was given instructions to build up Akiva’s sense of self-esteem and work with him to develop a healthy coping mechanism.

 

After close to a year of coming to the Learning Center twice a week, Akiva was a different boy – and his family was a different family. In an emotional note to the staff, Akiva’s mother wrote, “When we first came with Akiva, we were embarrassed to tell you that we were considering divorce. But now that our family life has completely changed, I can tell you that not only did you save our son, you also saved our marriage.”

It is, then, no wonder that Akiva’s parents were tremendously grateful to the staff at Achiya.  “In addition to the fact that you saved the soul of our son,” they said, “you rescued the heart of our family and prevented it from coming apart.”

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 Under the Chuppa
Yossi’s story

 

Rabbi Gombo, Dean of the Achiya’s Learning Center, tells the following story:

 

“One of my neighbors made a wedding for his daughter. I arrived at the hall just before the chupah. The groom, a young man who I had never seen before, literally jumped up as I walked into the room and embraced me in a huge a bear hug. He then proceeded to burst into tears. My initial shock turned into a sense of deep emotion when the young man said, ‘You changed my life. I thought I was nothing – a failure – and that I would always be a failure. But then, my parents brought me to Achiya. My entire life turned around. I had been positive that no one would ever want to marry me, but now, thanks to the Achiya family, I will soon be standing under the chupah! This is the happiest day of my life!’’”

 

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From Taker to Giver

David’s Story

 

One day, a young man came into the offices of Achiya together with his younger brother, Ari, a boy of around seven. While taking care of all the administrative details, he kept on flashing huge smiles to Yochanan Eisner. As part of the initial intake, Yochanan Eisner asked the young man why, as a resident of Rechovot, was he traveling all the way to Bnei Brak, to the Achiya Learning Center, when he could probably find something closer to home.

 

“Don’t you remember me?” the young man asked, his face now one enormous smile.

 

It took a few moments for Yochanan Eisner to realize the young man’s identity. “Dovid’l, is that you?” he asked in disbelief. “I can’t believe it!”

 

Indeed, it was “Dovid’l”, the same David, who had come to Achiya  thirteen years before. At the time, his parents were disappointed and disillusioned in their oldest son who was struggling to keep up with his schoolwork. Over a period of four years, Dovid came to Achiya once a week yo receive the support and guidance he needed to realize his potential.

 

Yochanan Eisner recalled David’s Bar Mitzvah. The entire staff of Achiya’s Learning Center was there to enjoy the ‘nachas.’  “I’ll never forget your speech, David,” he said. “You read it with such confidence. We were all so proud of you!”

 

“It was the trust that you placed in me that led to my success,” David responded. “That’s why I’m bringing my brother here. Because of the guidance you gave me, I am studying Special Education at Achiya’s Teachers’ Training College. It is my dream to give to others what I received at Achiya.”

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Choosing The Real World

Yochai’s story

 

Yochai lived in a small Moshav between Bnei brak and Jerusalem. Twice a week he and his mother would travel for over one and a half hours each way so that Yochai to attend the Gemara Comprehension Division of the Learning Center.

 

It’s difficult to learn Gemara – the text itself is extremely brief, and there are no vowels or punctuation marks. But for Yochai, learning Gemara was especially challenging. His father was not at all religious, so he was not able to review the material with him or help him with his studies. His mother was observant, and dedicated to her son’s education, but lacked the Torah education to help her son.

 

Twice a week, after a long and exhausting trip, mother and son would appear at the Learning Center. There, Yochai was given the strong foundations he needed to material learning. He eventually was able to stand on  his own two feet and study without a tutor. By the time Yochai graduated the Center, he was at the top of his class, and continued his studies in one of the best yeshivot in Israel.

 

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Revealing the Real Asher

The insistent rain of knocks on the door of the teachers’ room caught Rabbi Kagan in the middle of drinking his cup of coffee.  “Rabbi – the head caretaker is calling you – it’s urgent!”  Yair, whose boyish face was usually bright and happy, was now contorted in consternation.  “He says that you just have to come!”

Rabbi Kagan rushed down the hallway.  Strange, he thought – what can the man responsible for the upkeep of the “cheider” want from him?  There in the  hallway, in the middle of a circle of children, stood the caretaker, his arms wrapped around Asher, one of the children in the class.

“Excuse me, Rabbi,” said the caretaker, releasing his grip on the child when Rabbi Kagan appeared.  “It was really dangerous – this pupil of yours almost injured some of the children with my drill!  I had to catch hold of him.”

 “Asher, would you like to tell me what happened?” asked the rabbi, trying to intone empathy.  Really, how much can one try to help a child, with no cooperation?  Had it been up to him, a long time ago this child would have been sent for evaluation and professional treatment.

“They said that I am disturbed, rabbi, and that I don’t understand anything.  I’ll show them – I’ll pound them!”  Asher leaped at Yair, and the rabbi quickly caught him.  From the punches that reached him accidentally, he realized the seriousness of the situation.   Yair burst out crying, covering his injured eye.  Asher hurried away from the battlefield, before he could be held to a reckoning of what he had done.

Sighing, Rabbi Kagan returned to the teachers’ room.  He wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he’d receive an angry phone call from Yair’s parents that evening.  As a parent, he himself would demand that a melamed take care of such a problem.  Chaim Gilbert’s parents didn’t stop  at calling Rabbi Kagan about the deep scratches their son had on his face the week before; both the principal and the supervisor told him about the shocked reaction of Chaim’s parents, and about their insistence that the guilty child be taken care of – and right away!

On his way to the evening session of Achiya’s teacher training, Rabbi Kagan was still ruminating over the events of the morning.  Right from the very beginning, he had  loved teaching and enjoyed his work , and from the time that he began to receive professional training, he felt that everything he  did was even more effective… but the story with Asher clouded his feelings of satisfaction and success.

In the beginning of the year, he had thought, naively, that  he would talk to  Asher’s parents about their son’s problem. Surely, they would  want to seek the advice of the educational counselor in the cheider and to take Asher to professional evaluation and treatment.  He had been totally unprepared for the barrage of invective that he had received.  If we were to believe the father’s claims, it was Rabbi Kagan who was the only guilty party in all of Asher’s difficulties.  The sole reason for Asher’s failing to learn anything, for his violence with other children, for all his severe behavioral problems – everything has its root in Rabbi Kagan.

It was difficult for him to concentrate on the lecture.  Asher’s problem was still bothering him.  Suddenly, a few sentences caught his attention.  Rabbi Gruzman, the lecturer, was speaking about school- wide communication: the description he gave of a conflict that can arise between parents, the teacher and his pupil fitted the situation that was bothering Rabbi Kagan  – to a “T”.

He went over his discussions with Asher’s father in his mind.  Perhaps Rabbi Gruzman’s new approach would solve the problem?   Placing the responsibility squarely in the hands of the parents – stressing, again and again, that the responsibility lies only with them… while gently, but insistently convincing them that they would have to recognize that there is a problem… this was an innovative approach.  A new angle – it was certainly worth trying.

He decided that his next conversation with Asher’s father would be… as if a chance conversation.  That way, it would be easier to try the new approach, without starting off on the wrong foot.  Davvening “mincha” in the shul next to Asher’s house would afford him the opportunity he needed.

“Reb Levi,” he smiled at the father, “how are you?”  “Just fine, thank you, Rabbi Kagan.  Nu – how is my Asher doing?”  the tone was confrontational.  Rabbi Kagan found himself searching for the words he had so painstakingly prepared at home.  What now?  Should he be complimentary?  Should he ignore the problem? When he had heard Rabbi Gruzman’s lecture, everything seemed so clear, so convincing.  But – how, exactly, does one begin?

“Baruch haShem, baruch haShem,” he answered, with the ring of an all-too-standard reply.  “What do you have to say about him?”  No.  I’m not getting it right….But to his surprise, there was already a change in the expression on Asher’s father’s face.

“He’s just fine, Asher.  At home, he’s always just fine.  When he’s not being annoyed in cheider, he’s really just fine.”  “I’m so happy to hear it,” answered Rabbi Kagan, pleasantly, intrigued at the surprise registered on Asher’s father’s face.  With the unexpected change in the opening of their conversation, Mr. Levi’s enmity had begun to soften.

On his way back home, Rabbi Kagan replayed his conversation over and over.  Perhaps there had been no major difference between this and previous conversations, but Asher’s father had been noticeably not the same as usual.  In the continuation of their exchange, he had even let slip a comment about Asher’s lack of obedience at home.  Such a “confession”  had been totally impossible in their previous talks.

The softening process demanded a great deal of patience from Rabbi Kagan.  Had it not been for the weekly lectures in the Teachers’ Training Center at Achiya, it is doubtful that he would have been successful in persisting.   Every day, he worked hard to convince himself that Asher’s parents were the only ones responsible for him.  Responsibility, given from Heaven, for educating their son lay squarely on their shoulders: the only real way to help Asher was to respect those responsible for him, and to recognize that they were the only ones in control of the situation.

The classroom door revolved on its hinges for the twentieth time that evening.  The parent who stood in the doorway was far more familiar to Rabbi Kagan than any other parent.  It was none other than Asher’s father.  “Rabbi Kagan, I have something important to tell you today.”  As usual, the tone exuded confidence.  It was only  thanks to the many conversations that they had had in the past that Rabbi Kagan was able to perceive the difficulty underneath the hard mask on the face of the man who stood in front of him.    “Asher’s mother, may she be well, and I have made an appointment with Dr. Katz, the children’s psychologist in our health fund.  I think that you, here in the Talmud Torah, have to understand that if a child displays wild behavior and is not successful  in his learning,  it doesn’t mean that he’s just a mischievous boy.  It could be that he really needs help.  We heard from friends of ours that Dr. Katz helped their son.  And we want to see what he is going to say about Asher.  We’ll tell you what the psychologist has to say, and don’t forget to fill out the forms that we are going to bring you.  The people at the health fund say that the Talmud Torah has to cooperate with them.”

Rabbi Kagan imagined the reactions he would get from his friends in the training course.  When he decided to try the new approach that he had learned in Achiya, he did so because all his previous attempts had failed.  In his wildest dreams, he had not expected such far-reaching success.  With this amazing breakthrough, he dared to hope that Asher would discover that he, too….CAN!

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Despite all the Obstacles – Koby can, too!

 

“Do you know that I’m going into fourth grade?” asked the sweet boy sitting across from me, eyes shining with visible excitement.

I smiled at him and answered, “Great!”  In my heart, I felt surprised: what was the big excitement?   Isn’t this just a most ordinary occurrence?

Not for Koby.

Until now, Koby had been a pupil in special language kindergartens, and in small classes.   Next year, Koby will go to a regular school.  It’s a celebration – not only for him, but also for his parents, and – of course – for us!

Koby arrived at the child development center in Achiya about six years ago.  From that time, the multi-disciplinary staff helped him to reach this great day.

Rivka, an occupational therapist, tells us: “When I met Koby for the first time, I saw him as a child with a poor self image, a child who had no confidence in his ablilties; there was a significant difference between his level and that of his peers in regard to a wide range of functions.  Motor difficulties expressed themselves in his difficulty to be acquainted with his body and to make use of it as he needed.  He had trouble in recognizing his written name and in writing it, in drawing, in cutting out forms with a scissors, and many other activities.  It became clear to me very quickly  that our first goal would be to give Koby the feeling that he was capable of achieving:  this is how the long process of therapy began.

Sheila, who works in clinical communications, added: ” Koby’s story was not at all simple for him, or for us, the therapy staff.  His difficulties were of a complex nature.”  He found it difficult to enunciate words and had poor comprehension.

Tammy, an occupational therapist, said: “The biggest problem that prevented Koby from making progress was his lack of motivation.  Somehow, we managed to work with him in spite of this serious obstacle.”

Noa, who is a clinical communications therapist, adds: “When I began working with Koby three years ago, he was very passive.  Slowly, but surely, he began to change his behavior, and became a child who actively cooperated with us.  From that minute, he made noticeable progress.”

There is no doubt, note the surprised and happy therapists, hearing the good news, that the constant cooperation of Koby’s parents contributed greatly to his success and helped him to overcome his difficulties – both physical and emotional.

Noa:  “Koby’s parents went to different libraries in search of suitable reading material that would improve Koby’s ability to express himself and  encourage developing his comprehension.  I was always amazed at these special parents who gave so much of their energies toward helping, while raising a large family.

Rivka:  (social worker) Koby’s parents accepted the recommendations of the therapeutic staff in the Child Development Center and put Koby into a language kindergarten; later on, he was in a small, supportive class.  The parents understood that this was for his good. They did not hesitate to act upon the recommendation of the staff that they participate in sessions for parental guidance, in order to improve Koby’s behavior, aiming at helping his progress in therapy: they came to each of the meetings.  The results were quickly noticeable – Koby began to close the gaps in his learning, and to feel much better about himself.

Koby’s success story is unique: It’s a celebration for all of us here at Achiya.  His is only one example of the many and varied success stories of children who arrive at Achiya.  The secret?

When the long treatment period had ended, Koby’s mother wrote us: “Thank you very much for all your patience, your efforts, support, heartfelt empathy, professionalism and sincere desire to help, while preserving the spiritual atmosphere in which we want to bring up our   children.  Thanks for everything!”

This, then, is the secret of Achiya’s therapists:  by joining all those points together, with a constant faith in the principal that – with help from Above -  they will be able to teach children that they …… CAN!

 

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A Full Circle

 

A few weeks ago, Itta, a music therapist specializing in Emotional Therapy, asked to speak with me. It took great effort for her to speak calmly; I could sense the tears that threatened to bubble to the surface. “Debbie,” she began, “I know that our work at Achiya is important; that we are giving children an opportunity to grow up normally, but something happened today that made me realize just how important our work really is.”

 

Of course I was all ears.

 

“A few days ago a client was referred to me for an initial intake and consultation. The father’s long hair was topped with a small leather kipa and he was wearing very stylish patched and bleach-stained jeans. The mother dressed much more conservatively; it was obvious that she was trying to fit into the Haredi world. Over the course of our hour-long conversation, I learned that they were both reformed drug addicts who had absolutely no understanding of what was expected of them as parents, except that they sincerely wanted the best for their daughter, an only child. The mother was newly religious; the father, secular, and that, of course, was a point of contention between them. The parents grudgingly admitted that several years ago their daughter had been terribly abused by one of the father’s ‘friends.’ Now, at age seven, she was floundering in school, prone to temper tantrums, and a social outcast.

 

“To tell you the truth, I really didn’t feel like taking on such a complicated case,  especially since the Emotional Therapy Department general does not take clients from Tel Aviv – we have enough work to do in Bnei Brak and Elad! But the parents literally begged me to treat their daughter, explaining that everyone they spoke to recommended Achiya and insisted that I be the one to treat her.

 

“I accepted the challenge, and hope that I will be able to help this child find within herself the ability to become whole again. As part of the intake process, I gather information from key people in my client’s life – parents, teachers, tutors, youth leaders and so on. So this morning, I had scheduled a telephone conference with the child’s teacher, let’s call her Mrs. Kohen.

 

“Mrs. Kohen was extremely warm and open. I won’t go into all the details of our conversation – that, of course, is confidential – but I will say that the situation is even more complicated than my initial assessment and that in addition to my work with the girl, Achiya’s social worker will need to work with the parents. Mrs. Kohen and I spoke for over an hour. At the end of the conversation, she said, ‘Itta, I realize that this will be a challenge. But I know that you can do it. After everything you did for us, I trust you implicitly.’

 

“’After everything I did for you? I had no idea what she was referring to.

 

“’Don’t you remember?’ she asked. ‘You saved my daughter, and our family.’ Suddenly, everything clicked and I recalled the case. Several years before, Mrs. Kohen had come to Achiya for help for her 12 year old daughter whose disruptive behavior was destroying the family. I spent a lot of time working with the girl, and then mediating between her and her parents. After close to year of therapy, I felt that the family was back on track, and closed the file.”

 

Itta’s eyes were wet. “So many children come to us for so many different types of therapies. We help them – we literally pour our souls into them – and then they leave and, except for the occasional thank you letter, we never hear from them again. We never know the end of the story. Today, I got caught a glimpse of what I’m doing here. I can’t help but feel overwhelmed with emotion. It’s such a privilege to be able to save a child’s life.”