Children spend many hours a day in school but sometimes they need help to learn the material. Naaleh Torah Tutors has developed a cost-effective method to give students the assistance they need to master areas of Jewish studies with which they are struggling and infuse them with the self-confidence that comes from success.
The brainchild of Rabbi Herschel Reichman, rosh yeshiva of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), Naaleh Tutors is an online platform in which a tutor in Israel learns one on one with a student anywhere in the world. Naaleh compensates tutors at the average cost in Israel so American families pay significantly less than the cost of a personal tutor here. Naaleh charges $20 per session, with a higher cost for learning specialists.
The tutors are first rate: Torah scholars in yeshiva, experienced teachers with advanced degrees and retired American principals who are realizing their dream of making aliyah and want to keep doing what they love—teaching children—on a part-time basis. So students are being matched with highly qualified, gifted tutors.
Tzipora Klaver, director of Naaleh and daughter of Rabbi Reichman, said the system has been up and running for a few months and is exceeding expectations. “We started a pilot program with a handful of students and the response has been incredible. It’s a very easy-to-use, interactive and engaging system.”
Rabbi Meir Joshua, principal of Darchei Torah High School in Toronto, has been one of the first to use Naaleh Tutors. The program serves as a resource for selected boys during school hours. “Differentiated instruction, teaching to every child, is hard to do,” Rabbi Joshua said. “Gemara is complicated, sophisticated, there’s a lot going on. If you don’t sit one on one with some boys, they can’t do it.” Rabbi Joshua consults with the student’s rebbe about what daf, what piece of gemara, the student should be working on, and then gives instructions to the tutor.
He found Naaleh Torah Tutors through the Avi Chai Foundation, which funded development of the platform’s website. “I was skeptical about online tutoring; I thought it would feel artificial. But the boys like it. They really enjoy it and walk out with a smile. I’m astounded by how well it works.” And the price is right. “For me to get tutors here would cost $80 per hour.”
Naaleh’s Rabbi Doniel Tisser, who has 20 years of experience in tutoring, said he matches tutors with students from around the world and from all different Jewish backgrounds. “We have Modern Orthodox students who need assistance. In Brooklyn, we have a boy who is very smart but struggling with Mishna. He’s very happy now. A boy in Monsey loves Torah but has learning issues. His tutor says he is very smart but needs someone to help him.” Rabbi Tisser recently got a call from a 30-year-old Baal Teshuva who needs help mastering basic Torah skills. Naaleh works with public school students who don’t have access to Torah learning and with students who need help developing language skills—in Israel for Americans learning Hebrew and in the States for Israelis learning English.
To make the right match, he first looks at the time requested and then searches for the tutor who can be available with the seven-hour time difference. Then he looks for the tutor with the right skills and personality for the student.
“I’m so impressed with the talent,” Rabbi Tisser said. “We have phenomenal talent and well-educated teachers with advanced degrees. I have actually viewed some of the tutoring sessions and I am riveted. These teachers are the top! They could easily be teaching teachers how to teach.” One tutor was a rebbe in an Israeli elementary school for 20 years. Another is a retired principal of a large school in America who loves education and doesn’t want to give it up. And there’s the tutor Rabbi Tisser has known for a very long time. “She was my English teacher in Brooklyn and now she is teaching for us in Israel.”
Perhaps being in Israel gives the tutors even more of a desire to make a difference in a student’s life. “I had a tutor who told one of his students that he was going to the kotel. He asked for his Hebrew name so he could daven for him there. That story is unique to our program,” Rabbi Tisser said.
One mother made a “very emotional” call to Rabbi Tisser to say how happy she was with the tutor. She thought she would have to give her child an incentive to participate but instead he said he “just wanted to be able to learn Torah.”
Rabbi Reichman was a talmid of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and received semicha from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. But he attributes his success as a Torah scholar to all the time his father spent learning with him one on one when he was a child.
“My father took his time studying with me,” Rabbi Reichman recalled. “Many parents can’t do that. They have time restrictions or they may not be qualified. They send their children to school, but if the children don’t get attention, they come out with a less than adequate Torah education.”
As a teacher in yeshiva for many years, Rabbi Reichman saw students who never reached their full potential. “Some were advanced in secular studies and backwards in Jewish studies, not having gotten the skills along the way.” That was his impetus to create Naaleh Tutors. He was already a pioneer in using technology to bring Torah to adults—Naaleh is a platform he founded with shiurim and classes, run by Klaver. Rabbi Reichman brought his idea to the Avi Chai Foundation and they agreed to finance the project. “We built a beautiful website with Avi Chai,” he said.
“Naaleh Tutors is an investment in the future,” said Klaver, “a reasonable and convenient way to help a child succeed in Jewish studies. Struggling, average and gifted students can all benefit from one-on-one Torah study.”
By Bracha Schwartz