The opportunity to learn from our stories - opinion

Our challenges can either be sources of regret and sorrow, or our building blocks for future success.

 LEARNING IN Ohr Moshe retrains students to believe in themselves. (photo credit: Levi Dovid/Ohr Moshe)
LEARNING IN Ohr Moshe retrains students to believe in themselves.
(photo credit: Levi Dovid/Ohr Moshe)

As a child, I remember the world being a complicated place. Life at home was fine. I was blessed with a great family, a good neighborhood in the United States, a love for play and to enjoy life like most kids should. The reason life became complicated, was the increased importance and time spent at school.

School, to put it lightly, was not a place I really understood: I went, I sat. I listened. But I did not have even the tiniest hint what the teachers meant and what the assignments were focused on.

My parents later told me, that many meetings were happening behind the scenes, and the trips we went on to special offices where I was asked to color, answer questions, tell new people what strange ink blots looked like to me, were all attempts to figure out what could be done to make school a place where I could learn. It was not fun.

I remember teachers excusing me from the classroom. I remember being given countless hours to play basketball in the gym. (You would think I should not be half bad at it.) I remember teachers telling me that while the “regular kids” were learning, I should just go to the back of the room and color. So, I did. I was a kid. Wouldn’t you?

And thus began my journey. For the next four years I went to the mainstream school near Washington where they poked and prodded with “out of the box” ideas for creating smaller learning environments where hopefully I would thrive and begin to succeed. They tried their best, but I just kept working on my skills in basketball.


In the middle of fourth grade, after memorizing the number of lockers and floor tiles there were in each hallway of the school building, I was moved to a special education classroom in Baltimore. The change was immediate.

While my childhood was a time that I look back on with memories of difficulty and stress, I know that being through the process of confusion and doubt helped build me to be who I am today.

From student to headmaster

Today, following emigration to Israel, I serve as the headmaster of Ohr Moshe, a special education middle/high school in Beit Shemesh, Israel. A school I started with three critical ingredients: Endless effort and a relentless belief that we would succeed against all odds; unlimited support from my dear wife; and an intimate understanding of what it means to be a special education student. It was key to really be connected to their experiences and struggles because I was once them.

University, and the experience in the front of the classroom will only prepare you so much. Having been in their seat, and still proudly carrying some of their diagnosis, is who I am. I am them. They know this. I tell them all the time.

Yet, of course, with time also come additional challenges from utilizing technology in our learning, to learning in a second language, immersed in a new culture – challenges many of my students, and their immigrant families, face every day.

All our struggles and stories are different. We have been places and we have faced adversity. Our challenges can either be sources of regret and sorrow, or our building blocks for future success.

Ohr Moshe provides the answer for students who need that smaller class size, without a sacrifice to their level of education. We offer a full bagrut (matriculation) exam in small individualized learning settings. Being a school that also attracts a lot of olim (immigrants to Israel) we help them meet the challenges of learning in a second language. We engage them and introduce them to the new culture in which they did not grow up.

We all have the ability to help those who had the struggle we overcame ourselves. Not only can we but we all have the calling to do so as well. I see each student who comes into my school as a little me, embarking on what will hopefully be a similar journey, with glowing results.

I have even looked at my past as the greatest gift I could have received. As a result, I, together with our excellent teaching faculty, have been able to help hundreds of students, from facing confusion and doubt, to become confident exemplary members of our world.

So, what is your calling? Who are you charged with helping? Look back, and then look forward.

The writer, a rabbi, is the founding principal of Ohr Moshe Special Education School.