The Hashkafa of Alternative Education

Dear Friends,

The idea behind self directed learning can be illustrated in the following story. Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, Zt"L, famed Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, was faced with a situation, in which a student's behaviors were making it difficult for him to remain in yeshiva. Despite his best efforts, Rav Ruderman was not able to rectify the situation and he felt that he had no choice but to tell the young man that he could no longer be a part of the yeshiva. Just before having this difficult conversation with this young man and his family, and close adviser approached the Rosh Yeshiva and commented that the reason why this boy was having such a hard time was that the Rosh Yeshiva did not practice washing mayim acharonim. Rav Ruderman was puzzled by this comment, as he had no idea why his washing mayim acharonim would affect this young man's behavior. His colleague explained that if this young man had attended a Chasidishe yeshiva, it would have been his job to bring the rebbe water for mayim achronim. As a result of his carrying this sense of purpose and responsibility, he would feel a true sense of meaning and value, that he then would no longer carry out negative behaviors.

It is this notion that lies behind alternative learning models and the Keser Shem Tov program: Given the opportunities to grow and to shine, young people will step up and make the most of them. Our staff and community of supporters believe deeply in focusing on the sense of Tzelem Elokim and Chelek Eloka Mima'al that lies in the heart of each and every child. Every single person is born with certain middos and kochos, and it is our goal to help them use those innate gifts to their greatest potential. The Keser Shem Tov program aims to find those strengths in each and every child and to help them thrive.

Shimon Hatzadik teaches us in Pirkei Avos (1:2) "על שלשה דברים העולם עומד, על התורה ועל העבודה ועל גמילות חסדים. " The world stands on three pillars: Torah, Avodah, and Gemillus Chasadim." Using this mishna as our anchor, we give young people the opportunity to invest themselves in these three foundational parts of Jewish life. The endless broadness of wisdom of the Torah has a part in it for everybody, and we encourage our students to find their cheilek in the Torah. For some this will involve traditional, intense Yeshiva learning; for others, it will be reading English books; for others, it will mean engaging in meaningful conversations. The learning can happen in a Keser Shem Tov hub, a local shul, a private home, or whatever place is best suited for learning. Avodah is a way of making our own efforts to develop our fullest potential. This is done through the process of creating meaningful tefilla experiences for our students, as well as allowing them to discover their own potential and strengths in a myriad of ways. Finally, gemillus chasadim is how we connect to others; by being an active part of the Jewish community and a foundational part of our program, each student is given opportunities to give to others in their own way.

David Hamelech teaches us that "רְחָבָה מִצְוָתְךָ מְאֹד" "Your mitzvos are very broad." (Tehillim 119). Keser Shem Tov aims to expose our students to the great breadth and beauty of Torah life. We encourage them to find community mentors and connections, to create new learning opportunities, and to expand their horizons in ways that make sense to them. We allow each and every one of them to fulfill their potential, whether it be textual learning or becoming the boy who brings the rebbe the mayim acahronim, finding deep meaning, purpose, and value in all that they do.

While this educational approach is not meant for every child, we believe strongly that there are many children in the frum community who would benefit greatly from it. If you think perhaps this program would be good for your child, please do hesitate to get in touch with us to learn more.