It was a tragedy the reverberations of which were felt by Jews throughout the United States and Israel: a plane crash that took two sisters, their grandfather, and a cousin. It was a private plane. The grandfather, Moshe Menora, a Skokie native, was the pilot. He was taking the girls on an outing.

Rikki and Racheli Menora, A"H (photo credit: courtesy Dror website)

Rikki and Racheli Menora, A”H (photo credit: courtesy Dror website)

When something like this happens, it belongs to a wider community. All of us feel it and none of us forget.

And yet I almost did.

Maybe that’s why I was put in a particular place in a particular time: to remember what happened and to learn that in the darkest patches of life, beautiful things can flower.

Last week, Heather Barr Cohnen invited me to watch her present a Bridge It seminar in conjunction with her partner in this venue, Shira Ehrlich. Heather founded Bridge It as an educational advocacy group for new immigrants (olim) and also offers seminars in learning methods that can help to span the learning gap for this group. This particular Bridge It seminar, the first of four, would take place in a Beit Shemesh school, the regular venue for an evening program sponsored by Dror.

And here is the place where something began to nag at me—something familiar. Heather had told me that Dror was founded by a woman named Sima who’d lost two children in a helicopter crash—but it wasn’t a helicopter, it was a plane crash. I’d begun to remember.

After the accident, Sima started Dror, an evening program to give an assist to young girls from a variety of backgrounds, with the entire gamut of school and learning difficulties. The girls are mostly 7th, 8th, and 9th graders, at that delicate time between elementary school and the start of high school, where so many kids tend to slip through the cracks of the educational system. Sima knew from her own parenting experiences that when girls got the right sort of educational boosts and some extra sports thrown into the mix, not only did their grades improve, but their self-esteem improved, as well. This is what Sima hoped to provide the girls in Dror.

Dror helps the students receive evaluations, which are not always covered and tend to be pricy; provides academic tutoring, one tutor to two girls at a time; and offers sports activities to boot.

Girls having fun at Dror. (photo credit: Sima Menora)

Girls having fun at Dror. (photo credit: Sima Menora)

Heather and Shira’s Bridge It workshop, it is hoped, will help the teachers and tutors at Dror better address the needs of their 40 young charges. Some of the girls enrolled in Dror, for instance, are new immigrants, struggling to learn Hebrew. Oftentimes, such language difficulties are confused with learning potential, which can, in turn, have an impact on self-esteem. This is why I was here, to watch and learn on behalf of my organization, Kars4Kids, which offers tutoring and mentoring services to children.

It was when I was introduced to Sima Menora that my memory kicked into high gear. I was fairly sure that Menora was the surname of the girls and grandfather whose lives were lost in that tragic accident. Yet here was Sima: pretty, petite, and fashionable. It was hard to put it together in my head: devastating loss falling on such slight shoulders, turned into an achievement of massive proportions in the form of good works on behalf of girls around the same age as Rikki and Racheli, A”H, the daughters Sima had lost forever.

I spoke to Sima about Dror. “The tutors aren’t just tutors, they’re mentors, too. The relationships run very deep,” Sima told me.

The freest bird, Dror logo.

The freest bird, Dror logo.

We traded business cards and Sima explained the logo and the name of the organization founded in memory of her daughters. “Dror stands for Derech Rikki V’Racheli, the Path of Rikki and Racheli, and ‘dror’ is also Hebrew for the freest bird there is. By addressing the educational difficulties of these young girls, we give them the freedom to pursue their own paths in life.”

Sima excused herself to catch up with Yael, a teacher to one of the Menora girls, A”H. Yael has been instrumental in establishing and implementing Dror and you could see the warmth that has developed between the two women. I went to see if I could help Heather and Shira set things up for the seminar. Heather handed me a quick and dirty key she’d written up to help me understand the presentation I was about to witness.

Munchies showed up in the form of pizza, falafel, and Coke. Yes! We grabbed our snacks and then settled in for the show.

Heather and Shira explained that every child has the ability to learn. When a child falls through the cracks it is because of a gap in the learning process. Heather hopes to provide teachers with a better understanding of the neurocognitive processes that support learning. With a good handle on how the brain learns, teachers can deliver an effective learning experience to each and every student in the classroom.

Heather Barr Cohnen (left) and Shira Ehrlich (right) demonstrate effective teaching methods to the tutors at Dror. (photo credit: Sima Menora)

Heather Barr Cohnen (left) and Shira Ehrlich (right) demonstrate effective teaching methods to the tutors at Dror. (photo credit: Sima Menora)

The two women, with the aid of a PowerPoint show and props such as colorful beads and plastic cups, demonstrated learning techniques for teaching the first chapter of Genesis and how to multiply by three. Learning, explained Shira, takes place on four levels:

  1. Concrete
  2. Semi-concrete
  3. Semi-abstract
  4. Abstract

Alas, most teachers skip the second and third levels of the learning process.

The difference between Heather’s method of learning and what most of us get out of school is like the difference between cramming for a French test and becoming fluent in French. You might get an A on that French exam, but someday when you get to Paris, you’ll have trouble ordering a meal in a bistro.

With Heather’s method, on the other hand, you learn the material using all your senses and brain processes the first time around. There are no gaps in the learning process, and as a result, the material you learn enters your long term memory. Best of all, the Bridge It method doesn’t take more time, it just sinks in.

I liked it. I liked it a lot. The thing I liked most about the seminar was the energy of the two women, Heather and Shira, for their subject. They were excited by this stuff. Passionate. And you could see their method works.

I hope to follow the progress of Dror as the teachers complete two more sessions with Bridge It, followed by a final session just for the students on how to fulfill their dreams. What Heather wants most is to give every person in Israel, a chance to fulfill learning potential to the fullest. “With our Bridge It workshops we hope to add a link to the Israeli school system. We send our children to doctors that understand anatomy and hire lawyers well-versed in law if we need to file lawsuits. Now – we are hoping to educate teachers in not just theories of how to teach but how the brain actually learns, and how to be prescriptive to every student.”

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