Bat mitzvah project benefits students at SINAI Schools

Gabby Schiffman’s bat mitzvah project not only made perfect sense for her to do.

It was perfect in every way.

Gabby, a 7th grader at Yavneh Academy who turned 12 in June, may have had her bat mitzvah party delayed because of Covid, the return to summer camp, and other factors, but she didn’t delay doing a chesed for the students at SINAI Schools.

Gabby, whose family lives in New Milford, ran a gift drive for the SINAI students whereby directors of the Bergen County SINAI Schools (the principals) made a wish list of items that they wanted or needed.

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A SINAI student at Ma'ayanot enjoying a gift from Gabby

Gabby, assisted by her mother, Tamar, created an Amazon wish list of those items and sent it to their family and friends. The gifts that ranged from Judaica books, novels, board games, cooking items, weighted medicine balls, game and play items for speech and physical therapy — to name a few — are things that are used by the schools for therapies, life skills, and academic and Judaic studies classes.

The Schiffmans collected the goods at their home and close to Chanukah and even sometime afterwards, Gabby and her mother delivered them to the SINAI Schools offices.

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Gabby and her mother, Tamar, delivering their donated items to the SINAI Schools offices

For her part, Gabby, who loves to play tennis, create art, cook and is a member of her school’s Chesed Team, said through her bat mitzvah project, she learned how diverse a student body attend the SINAI Schools, and how adept and skilled the schools are at teaching each child in his or her own way.

“It showed me about what SINAI was about and how different students learn differently,” said Gabby, who was most especially touched by the receipt of many thank you notes and photographs of students using the items she donated.

Gabby, whose family consists of mom Tamar, father Jay, and five of her siblings, Hannah, 18; Isaac, 17; Josh, 14; Eva, 10; and Zachary, 7; participated last year in a similar Chanukah drive for SINAI Schools. In lieu of gifts for one another, Tamar said, her husband’s family brainstormed a toy drive for the SINAI Schools. It was a big success.

“The whole mission of SINAI Schools is really so important,” said Tamar. “For a parent of a child with special needs of any kind, it can be so overwhelming. It is so amazing to have SINAI as a resource for the whole community. They serve such an important role and what they do is very special.”

Tamar added that the mitzvah project was “so targeted, so purposeful, and with such meaningful and immediate results that it really made Gabby feel like she had her bat mitzvah.

“This was so doable and the whole project was such a pleasure. Gabby saw what she was doing was going to be so helpful for the students. And , she got a good understanding of how different kids are different learners.”

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The Schiffman family

Serving children across New Jersey and the New York metropolitan area, SINAI operates eight inclusive special education schools for children with a wide range of developmental, intellectual, and complex learning disabilities. In order to meet each child’s specific academic, social, and emotional needs, SINAI creates a completely individualized program for each student, incorporating a wide variety of cutting-edge therapies, and a professional-to-student ratio greater than 1:2. Furthermore, each of their schools is integrated within a mainstream Jewish day school or high school, where our students are considered full members of that school’s culture and community — inclusion in its purest form.

SINAI Schools has two elementary school campuses in New Jersey and two elementary school campuses in New York. In New Jersey SINAI is in Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston and Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge. Both campuses serve children in Grades 1-8. In New York, we have the Irving Montak SINAI School at SAR Academy in Riverdale, and SINAI at YCQ (Yeshiva of Central Queens).

Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Rothwachs, Dean of SINAI Schools, said, “We are so impressed that this is how Gabby chose to mark her bat mitzvah, by sharing her celebration with others.  It is so meaningful for us to see young members of our community seeking out ways to create connections with our SINAI students.  Her initiative has helped raise awareness and sensitivity in everyone who contributed to her initiative.”

For their part, teachers along with the students were thrilled.

The SINAI teachers were able to turn this into a learning opportunity for their students.  After the classrooms received their gifts, the SINAI teachers and students discussed the importance of showing hakarat hatov, gratitude, and worked together to write thank you notes to Gabby.

That alone, is a great gift.

Heidi Mae Bratt is the editor of the Jewish Standard's "About Our Children" section.

To read this article as it originally appeared in the Jewish Standard, Click Here.

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