Popular production from JEM with collaboration from Tzivos Hashem looks to new year of growth
By Aharon Loschak
When Mrs. Chanie Pinson, now the principal of Bais Rebbe middle school for girls in Los Angeles, CA, was growing up in Crown Heights, a special part of daily life was the privilege to attend the rallies held for children by the Rebbe in 770. The rallies were exuberant, uplifting, and most of all, gave her a chance to hear the Rebbe’s words firsthand, tailor made for her and her young friends.
The challenge? It wasn’t always easy to grasp everything the Rebbe was saying.
“I remember coming to school the next day and comparing notes with other girls who were at the rally the day before. If someone was able to come up with even one line, one idea from the rally, they were duly rewarded. A whole paragraph? That was already next level,” Pinson remembers.
Fast forward some thirty years, and stop a sixth grade student in Bais Rebbe in the hallway and ask her, “What did you learn from the Rebbe today?” Chances are, she’ll be able to spit back a surefire answer within seconds.
“It’s really credit to Connection Point,” Pinson explains. “It is truly inspiring to see the girls listening to a sicha directly from the Rebbe with no middle person, really tuned in and understanding the point the Rebbe is making.”
Bringing the Rebbe Directly to the Children
Conceived just a few short years ago, Connection Point is the brainchild of Rabbi Levi Plotkin, stewarded to maturity under the guidance of Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin of JEM. As a bochur in Yeshivah, Plotkin was accustomed to watching videos of the Rebbe, blessed as we are with the wealth of media already available from JEM.
“It dawned on me one day as I was watching a farbrengen and listening to the Rebbe explain something that, ‘Hey, I really understand what the Rebbe is saying!’ The more I listened and the more I actually was able to follow, I felt naturally more connected. It really is so simple: If you listen to someone and really follow what they’re trying to say and take it in, you will feel connected to that person,” Plotkin explained.
Looking to bring that same feeling to the younger generation, Plotkin quickly realized a gaping void that needed to be filled. To be sure, there are plenty of media options for young children, productions that process and develop the Rebbe’s ideas to a younger audience, but what of the Rebbe’s words that were addressed directly to the children? After all, there are hours of video footage of rallies that were made uniquely for children, full length talks the Rebbe crafted for his younger audience. So why not let today’s children hear these talks for themselves?
Recognizing the challenge of keeping anyone’s attention for longer than three seconds, certainly the attention of a young child, Plotkin knew that he needed to get creative. With the help of Rabbi Shmotkin from JEM and Rabbi Shimmy Weinbaum from Tzivos Hashem and their collective experience, Connection Point was born: A complete program that brings the Rebbe’s children rallies to Lubavitch schools across the globe—and actually grabs the children’s attention.
Looking for a generous patron with bold vision, the team at Connection Point found Mr. Yossi and Mrs. Nechama Dina Katz, local philanthropists in Crown Heights, and after one look, they immediately understood the great impact the program could have. The Katzs have been stalwarts behind Connection Point, increasing their support from year to year.
It is an extensive package, but the basic format of the “Classic Program” for grades 5-8 is made up of three “rounds” of four-week programs throughout the school year. A particular rally is chosen for each round, and over the course of four weeks, the children watch the entire rally.
The magic lies in the preparatory materials and support all along the way. With hefty prizes all along the way and flashy, upbeat branding, the program has students on the edge of their seats, clamoring to hear and truly understand the Rebbe’s words spoken to them.
As Weinbaum exclaimed, “The program is preparing the chayolim for the Geulah when we will have Real Rallies with the Rebbe once again.”
“It Really Works”
“The incredible thing is that it really works,” says Rabbi Yehoshua Lustig, a principal in Oholei Torah School for boys in Crown Heights. “It’s the real deal. For so long, we operated under a false notion that the Rebbe’s words had to be packaged in so many layers to make it accessible to children, and this program clearly demonstrates that when done correctly, the children can hear it directly from the Rebbe, understand it, and enjoy it, too!”
Mrs. Chaya Rochel Zaetz, assistant principal at Bais Rebbe agrees. “It’s truly inspiring to walk in the room and see so many girls listening and tuned in to the Rebbe’s words. They have so much media at their fingertips, and yet here they are, enraptured by the Rebbe’s words directed straight at them.
“Another factor is the very notion that a young student can listen to a sicha of such length and be able to understand it. That alone is so empowering, and gives students such confidence and pride.”
Indeed, as students listen to the Rebbe on an increasingly steady basis, teachers concur that they see visible progress: After listening and paying attention for that long, it’s only natural that students become accustomed to the Rebbe’s unique teaching method, and their connection only grows.
Big Plans Ahead
For the 5781 school year, the Katzs have made a lead grant creating the ability for the project to roll our new programming for a number of additional constituencies.
With the “Classic Program” already in virtually every English speaking Lubavitch school, Plotkin and his crew are working full steam ahead on the next frontier. Their pilot program for high schools already successfully implemented, they are working on yet more programs for even younger children—a “Junior Track” for grades 2-4.
Additionally, the success of the Connection Point High program was in full bloom last year. Girls from high schools around the country were able to receive the Connection Point experience. As a teacher in a Miami high school expressed, “Girls are excited to watch and understand a video of the Rebbe for the first time!” Building on this success, this year, they plan on expanding to many new schools.
“We’re excited to bring the vision back to what it always has been: To bring the children into the room with the Rebbe, and let the Rebbe do the teaching,” Said Shmotkin. That’s the truest connection. “Our goal is to keep expanding until every Jewish child is able to listen to and understand the Rebbe’s words directly from his holy mouth.”
For those like Mrs. Pinson who were privileged to be present at those rallies, it has truly come full circle: From children playing in 770 so many years ago to thousands of children across the world today enthralled and captivated by those same words from the Rebbe.
As Rabbi Lustig put it: “It’s so simple, but at the same time, so special.”
Affiliate Schools 5780:
- Cheder Chabad Boys – Palm Beach County, FL
- Cheder Chabad Boys – Philadelphia, PA
- Cheder Lubavitch Boys – Chicago, IL
- Cheder Menachem – Los Angeles, CA
- Hebrew Academy Boys – Margate, FL
- Lamplighters yeshivah – Brooklyn, NY
- LEC Middle School Boys – Miami, FL
- Lubavitch Cheder Day School Boys – St. Paul, MN
- My Shliach Boys
- Nigri International Shluchim Online School Boys
- Oholei Menachem, Postville IA
- Oholei Torah – Brooklyn, NY
- Oholei Torah 8th Grade – Brooklyn, NY
- OYY Lubavitch Boys – Brooklyn, NY
- Sacramento Jewish Academy – Sacramento, CA
- Tomchei Tmimim Ocean Parkway – Brooklyn, NY
- Torah Academy – Johannesburg, SA
- Torah Academy High – Johannesburg, SA
- United Lubavitcher Yeshiva – Brooklyn, NY
- Bais Rebbe 8th Grade – Los Angeles, CA
- Beis Chaya Mushka – Los Angeles, CA
- Bnos Menachem – Brooklyn, NY
- Cheder Chabad – Philadelphia, PA
- Cheder Lubavitch – Chicago, IL
- Cheder Chabad – Palm Beach County, FL
- Cheder Chabad – Monsey, NY
- Hebrew Academy – Margate, FL
- Lamplighters Yeshivah – Brooklyn, NY
- Lubavitch Cheder Day School – St. Paul, Minnesota
- My Shliach – International
- Nigri International Shluchim Online School Girls – International
- Sacramento Jewish Academy – Girls
- Torah Academy – Johannesburg, SA
- Torah Academy High – Johannesburg, SA
Girls’ High Schools
- Rohr Bais Chaya Academy – Tamarac, FL
- Lubavitch Girls High School – Chicago, Illinois
- Chaya Mushka High School Detroit – Oak Park, Michigan
- Beis Chana High School – Maimi, FL
- Yeshiva Schools – Pittsburgh, PA
- Bais Chomesh – Toronto, ON
- Bais Rivkah – Montreal, QU