Bergenfield–This winter, Motzei Shabbos is abuzz with a new and exciting Torah learning program for 1st to 5th grade girls. Congregation Ohr HaTorah, presided over by mara d’asra Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky, hosts The Famous Abba for interactive games and learning. The 14-week program, which began in November and will continue through February, is open to the community.
The Famous Abba, otherwise known as Russell Moskowitz, lives in Bergenfield and is a longtime member of Ohr HaTorah. He initially designed a weekly one-page worksheet for his own children to teach children parsha, gematria, Jewish history, Brachot, and Hebrew vocabulary. What became the “Super Shabbos Sheet” is a page filled with word games, trivia questions and discussion starters on the parsha, and also brings in lessons on middos and history.
Moskowitz began sharing the Super Shabbos Sheet with friends and community members in Bergenfield and Teaneck, and after realizing there was a broader interest for such a product, The Famous Abba set up as a small business and launched the Super Shabbos Sheet last year in the Jewish Link. It now also runs weekly in the Five Towns Jewish Times, and is available by email subscription.
Since he was interested in developing more types of Torah-related educational materials, Moskowitz, with his wife Michele, piloted an interactive learning component this past summer, by hosting 10-15 friends and classmates of their daughter, all 2nd grade girls, in their home each Wednesday evening, for an assortment of Torah learning games and activities, followed by ice cream.
“The feedback was terrific. They looked forward to coming each week, even after a long day at camp. The girls were excited to learn Torah over the summer,” said Moskowitz. “Once school started, we looked for an opportunity to build on the success of the summer program,” he said. The result is the Motzei Shabbos learning program, which runs from 6:20 p.m. to 7:40 p.m. each week.
The program’s interactive game is sandwiched between a half hour mother/grandmother/aunt-daughter learning and a pizza or snack treat. During the first half hour, The Famous Abba provides the Super Shabbos Sheet for the girls to work on on their own or with their mother, grandmother or aunt. During the second half hour, The Famous Abba runs one of several interactive Torah learning games with the girls. Mothers, grandmothers and aunts enjoy playing as well. Interactive Torah Games include Torah Bingo, Torah Trivia–a Jeopardy-like game–and Torah Four-in-a-Row. For Torah Trivia and Torah Four-in-a-Row, each table makes up a team. The program has been designed for girls who are dropped off as well. Girls dropped off receive a Super Shabbos Sheet and spend the first 30 minutes learning in a small group with Jordan Silvestri, the shul’s youth director. Then, they join a team for the interactive Torah games.
“We believe that this is the only Motzei Shabbos learning program in the area with an interactive program that is fun and educational for both the kids and parents. Week after week parents and kids come back excited to learn together and have fun,” said Moskowitz.
“It’s so inspiring and a creative way to draw out the Torah learning,” said Rabbi Sobolofsky, who also serves as a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University.
“The Famous Abba provides a special opportunity of mother-daughter bonding through learning. Once Shabbos is over, my daughters excitedly gather their learning material to bring to shul. The Famous Abba’s interactive games and activity sheets keep the girls (and the moms!) on their toes,” said Tova Knecht, a member of Ohr HaTorah.
Dvora Brandstatter, another member of Ohr HaTorah, explained that her daughter is so excited about the program that missing it simply isn’t an option. “I told Adina we might not be able to make it to the learning because we didn’t have a lot of time that night, but she convinced me to take her by saying she didn’t mind coming late and leaving early and not having the food at the end, as long as we could just go for the game,” Brandstatter said.
The program has been a great success thus far, according to Silvestri, whose wife Eileen is co-youth director. “Kids are excited and invigorated by the interactive style which separates it from many other Motzei Shabbos programs. We get roughly 20-30 girls each week and they are always looking forward to what we will be doing. The girls come ready and focused and the energy is there from start to finish. It is a program that Eileen and I have really loved and can’t wait to see grow,” he said.
You can learn more about The Famous Abba, the Super Shabbos Sheet and The Famous Abba’s weekly Chinuch Podcast series (for parents) at www.thefamousabba.com.
By Elizabeth Kratz