December 2020 - Partners in Torah

Tehila’s Story

Tehila’s Story

Submitted by Tehila Daveed

Imagine this –  It’s March 2007 and a  classroom of rowdy fourth graders is about to greet yet another new teacher.  Although this “problem classroom” may have been intimidating grounds for some, I was excited for the challenge, and happy to have a job after moving back to the States from Israel. 

I still remember so clearly! I walked into that classroom with confidence, introduced myself as Ms. Daveed, and became known as their “saving teacher.” I gave the students assignments and projects based on their interests and really worked hard to get to know each child. 

I remember there were twins in the grade; two sweet boys. One of them was in this class, he was a bit on the quiet side. It’s funny, I even remember where his seat was in the classroom! I recall doing my best to help him thrive, and even have memories of meeting his parents at parent-teacher conferences.

One of the reasons why I remember their mother, Tammy Lovy, is because she also worked at the school.  A few years later, when my daughter also began teaching in this school, she actually worked with Tammy in the Early Childhood Department. They became friendly, and when my daughter got married, Tammy came to the wedding! I didn’t really think much about my acquaintance with Tammy, whom I hadn’t heard of in years. Until… fast forward to a few months ago…

I didn’t really think much about my acquaintance with Tammy, whom I hadn’t heard of in years. Until… fast forward to a few months ago…

Although I’m retired, I’m quite busy with a lot of commitments, but when I saw an advertisement for The Shabbat Learning program through Partners in Torah, I couldn’t resist signing up. “It’s just 3 weeks” I thought, “I can handle this!” 

Yet, when I logged on to register, I was frustrated by the sign-up form because it was asking me to select very specific times of availability! My schedule changes daily and I didn’t want to commit to a time I couldn’t stick to. So what did I do? I just randomly threw out a time and day: Wednesdays at 3pm.

Next thing I know, I get an email with the name of my new Partner: Tammy Lovy!

Honestly, the name sounded familiar but I couldn’t place her. I called my daughter and asked her, “Remind me, do I know a Tammy Lovy?” My daughter said, “Of course! She taught with me, and you taught one of her sons!”

When I called Tammy, we instantly made the connection! She hadn’t realized it was me because I registered for Partners in Torah with my English name, but as soon as I reminded her, we were so happy to reconnect!

The funniest part is that Tammy also had a hard time coming up with a time to select on the sign-up form, so she shared that she randomly chose a time: Wednesdays at 3pm!

It was clearly meant to be that we reconnect and learn together. We love our learning sessions, and I can’t believe that her boys are now 23 years old!

Tziporah’s Story

Tziporah’s Story

Esther the Teacher

Submitted by Tziporah Jensen

“Mom, why don’t you try Partners in Torah? They’ll match you with someone for one-on-one mentoring in learning Judaism, at your beginner level,” suggested my daughter Yael in March 2020. By the time Esther from Partners in Torah connected with me, I was newly diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. The average length of survival was three years…

“I feel this is a wake-up call to shift my negative attitudes and behaviors,” I told Esther.

“Everything in life is a gift, a chance for growth. The Torah studies will help you in every area of life,” she replied.

I had little energy for study. So Esther gave me a  simple first assignment: say the prayer “Asher Yatzer,” each time after I used the toilet. “Thank you, G-d, there are no blockages or ruptures in any of my organs of excretion. Blessed are you, who heals all flesh wondrously.” Since the chemo caused frequent use of the toilet, I was saying this prayer six or more times a day. It reduced my terror to be reminded that G-d was in charge, not cancer, and that much of my body was still working well.

After a month, Esther suggested: “Can you try saying Modeh Ani, the prayer upon arising? And Shema, the prayer before we go to bed…” 

Esther explained the point of our many prayers was to keep ourselves in a state of gratitude to Hashem and to always remember everything comes from Hashem. We’d done this at the Veterans’ Hospital, where I’d worked with brain injury patients. Having them count all they were grateful for was the best way to help their injured brains shift out of anger or fear. Now Esther was helping me do that in the face of my own challenge.

Twice a week, we discussed the lessons contained in that week’s Torah portion. Torah had the answer to all questions, from the simple to complex. Was saying something negative about someone, even if it was the truth, a bad thing? How should I handle an intrusive neighbor? The more I learned, the more I realized I’d been engaging in thought, speech and behavior that secular society deemed okay or even admired, like witty sarcasm, but were spiritually depleting.

Esther introduced me to Guard Your Tongue, a book defining lashon hora and teaching how to avoid it. Every day I read another short lesson.

I asked: “Esther, I’m trying not to say anything negative. But what about when someone is verbally attacking me? Can’t I attack back?”

“You can never embarrass a person publicly, even if they’re engaged in bullying. Call them aside and appeal to their better nature. Don’t criticize them publicly,” she said. 

Now I understood why  I felt bad after reducing someone down to size with a clever quip. I’d reduced my own spiritual level, too. 

I began listening to great podcasts Esther sent during daily walks. I set up a routine of Torah study and began keeping Shabbat fully. I threw out all the nonkosher items in my kitchen. My greatest fear had been spending the short time I had left in pandemic isolation. I began to view the combination of a pandemic and cancer as the crucible I needed to devote myself to learning the precious gift of Torah, my birthright. 

Tziporah with daughter, Yael

“Mom, you sound like a different person!” said Yael over the phone from her college dorm. I’d made more personal progress in six months with Esther, than in a lifetime of attempts at self-improvement. Each day I took care of my body–chemo, healthy food, acupuncture, vitamins–but the center of my life was getting closer to G-d through study, prayer and mitzvot. Yael had been trying to become more observant for two years on her own. Now she had a kosher, Shabbat-observant home to return to from college and a parent interested in discussing Torah wisdom with her.

As my soul discarded poisonous thinking and behavior, my body did its own healing. The cancer retreated, the blood markers returning to normal. “This is wonderful!” said my doctor, “Let’s hope you can live a normal lifespan.”

But I was no longer as focused on the length of my life as its quality. Thanks to studying with Esther, I understood a good life was always long enough

Yehuda’s story

Yehuda’s story

The Gift of Learning Partners

Submitted by Yehuda Zimberg

Hello, My name is Yehuda Zimberg. I’m from New York, I am 26 years old, and I have a stutter.

I have been stuttering since I was eight years old. There wasn’t any traumatic experience that caused it; it just popped up out of the blue. I would not consider it a terrible stutter, but a stutter nonetheless. The fear and humiliation of stuttering made me very self-conscious and I became shy, quiet, and reserved. This was not the person I wanted to be, but rather the person I became due to my stutter. My parents took me to get speech therapy and constantly reassured me that everything would be fine. I met with wonderful people who helped along the way (Deirdre Casey, Uri, and Phil Schneider, Yanky Kaufman to name a few), but my ego was at a point where I was too stubborn and proud to get help or let people help me. Over the years, I learned to deal with my stutter – I wasn’t happy about it but I learned how to live with it.

Fast forward a few years later… I am in Israel learning in Yeshiva. I was in Jerusalem one day and went into Mannys Book Store. As I was browsing the shelves, a title jumped out at me: “The Gift of Stuttering.” I thought to myself: “who is this sick guy calling stuttering a gift?! Stuttering is a curse!”…

Of course,  I picked up a copy, skimmed through the pages, became intrigued, and purchased the book. Moe Mernick is the author’s name, and the book is about his personal journey confronting life challenges, i.e., Stuttering.

While reading through the book, I could not help but that Moe and I have a lot in common. I have a stutter; Moe has a stutter. I am a Kohen; Moe is a Kohen. I use Preparation H… Never mind the last part, but you get the idea. 

The way that Moe was describing his struggles made me feel like I was meeting an old friend who understood everything that I was going through. Even the little things that were easy for someone else, such as being asked your name, ordering food, or talking on the phone, Moe and I found extremely difficult. 

However, I think the point that spoke to me most is that Moe has this confidence to embrace his stutter; to be open and forthcoming about it. He writes that when he would meet new people, he would often say, “I would like to introduce you to my stutter; he might pop up soon to say hi.” He showed that a stutter is not something to hold you back from accomplishing your goals. It is not something to be afraid of. It is just another piece of the puzzle, making up the larger picture of one’s life. To me, the very idea of being forthcoming and open about stuttering was taboo. The very thought that I could introduce myself to someone and say I have a stutter was something I never dared to do until I read Moe’s story.

My time in Israel came to a close, and I returned to New York to begin dating. Using Moe’s openness technique, I started the dates off by introducing myself and my stutter. People were so taken aback that I was comfortable with my speech! They saw this as a plus in my personality. Long story short, I got married to a wonderful girl, and we now have a child! I work as a Concierge in a nursing home, which forces me to meet and talk with people and their families every day. A job your typical stuttering person wouldn’t be signing up for! I do not believe I would’ve had the confidence to pursue this job or get married if I hadn’t read The Gift of Stuttering.

Another thing that happened during my time in Israel is that I got hooked to the teachings of Reb Noach Weinberg. Since then, I have invested a lot into buying his books and other similar reading material to help deepen my connection to Judaism and hopefully some else’s. 

My sister joined Partners in Torah almost 2 years ago, and she says it has changed her life. We speak on the phone pretty often, and I offer books or reading material that may help her and her partner deepen their connection to Judaism. She has been telling me for the past year: “Yehuda, you’ve got to join Partners in Torah!” I kept pushing her off saying I do not think I am ready to take on such an undertaking. 

Then, a few weeks ago, she sent me an email showing how the Shabbat Project and Partners in Torah were teaming up for a “get your feet wet 3-week learning experience.” She said the material is given to you by Partners in Torah, and all you have to do is read off a paper 30 minutes a week for 3 weeks. I told her I would think about it. After debating in my head for a few days, I hesitantly agreed, but only this one time! She was very excited and sent me a link to sign up. The form asked what the best time available to learn is; I filled out from 5-8 AM, not really thinking someone is available at those times because A: it would be too early, and B: people are on their way to work. 

After I submitted it, I was told it might take a few days until they find someone compatible. They said to be on the lookout for a text or an email to notify me if they found me a partner. 

A few days later, I got a text saying they found me a partner and that I should check my email for more information. I logged onto my email nervously and saw they partnered me up to learn with someone from Israel at 5:00 AM on Tuesdays. What was my partner’s name? None other than… Mr. Moe Mernick. I did a double-take, and I reread the email slowly to make sure my eyes were working properly. I quickly called my sister to tell her they found me a partner, and his name is Moe Mernick. She got very excited over the phone and asked, “Do you know who that is?!” I said, “Unless there are two Moe Mernick’s, the one I am thinking about is the one who wrote the book The Gift of Stuttering.” She replied, “I know, but do you know who that is?!” Now I know that I have a stutter, but I did not know she also has one! So I told her again, “Yes, he is the author of the book that has influenced me in a great way!” She said, “Not only that… Moe Mernick is also in charge of Partners in Torah!”

When Moe and I started on that first Tuesday at 5 am, just to be sure, I asked him if he is the one who wrote the book, and he responded yes! I then proceeded to tell him all that you have just read and said, “What are the odds that the algorithm set us up?!”

The three weeks of learning ended, and so did our official learning partnership. But I finally took the plunge and signed up to be a participant for Partners in Torah!

Looking back at the 3-week learning experience, I am still so awed at the amazing “coincidence” that I was paired up with Moe Mernick! 

This why I truly believe our partnership is truly A Match Made in Heaven.