Angels among us: Open mind, open heart

P'TACH is an organization which provides children with disabilities with professional tutoring programs.

children in school 224.8 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
children in school 224.8
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
If a child has a learning problem, the disability must be recognized and dealt with as early as possible or his self-esteem will suffer greatly, says Symie Liff, founder and executive director of P'TACH (parents for Torah for all children). In fact, she says, 90 percent of kids on the streets have learning problems. They were expelled from school for not being able to keep up, then they were thrown out of the house because they were acting up, and ultimately they ended up on the streets. Of course, not all cases are so severe; but no matter what the learning problem, a child needs help to enable him to stay in school and keep up with his peers. To that end, P'TACH provides professional tutoring programs for children aged 3 to 14. "Early intervention is the key," says Liff. "The earlier the better to help raise the child's self-confidence and give him hope for a successful future." Once kids get older, they are more reluctant to take the lessons because of the stigma. Liff founded P'TACH in Israel in 1986 as a branch of the organization that had been operating in New York since the 1970s. With an MA in special education, the New York native started off with seven students in Har Nof. Two years later it became independent and has expanded to 16 schools across Jerusalem. "We have helped 6,000 children so far," says the 52-year-old Liff, who is the mother of a large family. "Our goal is to keep them in the regular classroom and give them the help they need during class time or after school." A staff of 60 professionals provides one-on-one tutoring. They go to their school and take the students out of the class in which they are having problems, such as math or reading, or teach them at one of the afternoon clinics in Har Nof or Ramat Shlomo. But more than a one-on-one tutoring service, P'TACH looks at the child as a whole. The experts involve the child's parents and teachers to help them empower the child to reach his potential. They also use a team approach among themselves. The staff work together, discuss things and offer each other advice. "And they are very dedicated. They do not give up on a child, so the child does not give up, either," says Liff. The P'TACH professionals detect and assess such learning disabilities as dyslexia, reading and oral comprehension, visual or auditory perception, language processing, organizational disorders, communicative disorders and sensory motor integration. During the school year there is an average of 400 children enrolled in the programs. In addition to several other services it offers, P'TACH provides resources for the community such as seminars, lectures and recommended reading for parents and teachers to learn more about learning disabilities. P'TACH has a team of some 30 volunteers who help run its fund-raising events and other forms of assistance. "My job these days is to find the funds to keep everything running smoothly," says Liff. " I work hard raising the money." In addition to working on administration, writing grant proposals and soliciting foundations, she goes to several schools a week to meet with the coordinators and work on any problem that may arise. "I like to be involved in each school," she says. "Our main objective is to open hearts and minds to be able to learn," says Liff. "As the Haggada says in regard to the Fourth Son, the one who does not know how to ask, 'V'at p'tach lo' - And you shall open his mind to learn," she explains.