This article is part of a series featuring rising leaders in business, philanthropy, and community engagement.
Learning Hebrew is a major challenge for school children learning Aleph Beis to Olim Chadashim with advanced academic degrees. One rabbi is helping people of all backgrounds learn Hebrew.
TorahGames.org is a free website featuring educational games. The games are geared for children ages 2 and up. The games help children to review and enhance their skills in Alef Bet, Nekudot, and Hebrew language.
Since August 2016, there have been more than 40,000 unique visits by children across the world. The usership is steadily increasing each month. The site currently averages more than 4,000 sessions every month. Additionally TorahGames.org apps have close to 2,000 downloads on GooglePlay, and will soon be available on the Apple store.
TorahGames creator Rabbi Shmuel Kaufmann describes his motivation behind his success. “Originally, I was simply looking for a way to keep my students engaged in their learning. I quickly discovered the best method was to use interactive games and activities. I began with PowerPoint games. The students wanted to play at home and the PowerPoint games didn’t transfer well. So, I began looking for ways to post the games online. To make a long story short, I slowly taught myself how to program games and posted them online.
Rabbi Kaufmann notes “After seeing how successful it was in my classroom, I decided to share it with other teachers — even customizing games for other teachers to use for their students. The feedback was consistent — the games were fun, engaging and best of all — the students learning skills were improving! I then approached a few people in the community who very generously sponsored the games.”
Rabbi Kaufmann explains that TorahGames.org is the only website that offers free educational games that help children (who learn Hebrew as a second language) to enhance and improve their skills in Alef Bet letters, Nekudot, Hebrew language skills and even Gemara vocabulary. “
Rabbi Kaufmann notes “The site is geared for anyone who is interested in having their children learn and improve their Hebrew reading and language skills.”
From 2nd Grade to the Internet
Rabbi Kaufmann explains the secrets to his success “I teach second grade in Montreal. Being a teacher enables me to design the games with the utmost educational value. Additionally, my students give me instant feedback on the entertainment aspect of the games allowing me to make the necessary adjustments. I have received feedback from countless people telling me how the games were not just engaging and entertaining, but that the games were helping the children with their studies. Lastly, the website is completely Kosher — free from any inappropriate ads or content.”
Many people have dreams of building an organization or social enterprise, but they find the practical steps to be daunting. Rabbi Kaufmann credits the Almighty with his success. “First and foremost, none of this has any chance of materializing without the help of G-d. I have experienced His blessings from the get go, be it finding online resources to learn gaming or finding sponsors for the games and site.”
He continues “Additionally, they say “find a job you like and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” While this was (and still is) an uphill climb for me. It’s been enjoyable as well. I have young children to raise, a class to teach and I direct a Jewish community center in the suburbs of Montreal. That doesn’t leave much time to learn coding, build games, market the games, etc, etc.. Suffice it to say that most of this site was built late into the night. It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. But, those countless hours late at night are quickly forgotten when the feedback consistently comes in expressing how children are not only enjoying the learning process, but are steadily and independently improving their learning skills and experiencing more success in school!”
With such success, one would have thought that Rabbi Kaufmann has years of experience in coding. He explains “I have no prior experience in game design, coding, etc. This was all new to me. As I said earlier, with G-d’s help, I was able to put it together… When there is a will, there is a way. In today’s day and age, there is an incredible access to information. It’s all out there if you have the will and the perseverance to find it. I was able to learn from video tutorials and programming forums.”
As if this were not enough, Rabbi Kaufmann has a standing offer to customize games for teachers at no charge. His site is currently in it’s beta stage, with more updates and new games on the way.