Teaneck—Many who viewed the 2013 Sinai Schools video Heroes felt the powerful strength of emotion conveyed by the Minchenberg family. With Sinai’s help, a child with profound learning disabilities developed into a strong young man able to take his place in the community as a bar mitzvah. With over 10,000 hits on YouTube and other social media channels, the video was a viral success.
Sam Fishman, managing director of Sinai Schools, who also serves as its filmmaker with film editor David Jasse of DMJ Digital Media, said he felt the connection viewers made to the 15-minute video contributed to the large increase in attendance at their annual dinner in 2014.
In the months following the release of Heroes, people who had never heard of Sinai called the school office and wanted their child to experience what they saw. As they watched the Minchenbergs tell Tuvia’s story, they became partners in their journey. They went through Tuvia’s ups and downs with his family, and when he arrived at his bar mitzvah, viewers empathized with the enormity of his accomplishments.
How does Fishman decide which families to feature in Sinai videos? Fishman said the audience must first “connect emotionally” to the family and their story and expressed his gratitude to each of the “courageous and generous” families who have allowed their stories to be told.
Fishman describes the chosen stories as those “too big to remain inside the confines of my heart.” Often the decision to ask a family to share its story happens in a flash of inspiration. The videos most often tell the story of one family, but they communicate the essential story of Sinai Schools, telling the story and showing the magnitude of the assistance Sinai is able to provide for students with special needs. They allow the audience to see the changes in the child, and then shows them how the positive transformation impacts the family and beyond.
In Heroes, Rabbi Yehuda and Laurie Minchenberg describe the progress of their three children, thanks to Sinai. Tuvia was seen as a baby with profound disabilities; he started in Sinai in 2007 and achieved his goal: in 2012, he read his bar mitzvah parsha flawlessly—the culmination of his parents’ hopes for him. Fishman, who was at the simcha, stood and listened to Tuvia read from the Torah, and at that moment felt he had to share this story with the world. “Everyone should experience the thrill and the pride of Tuvia’s bar mitzvah,” he said.
In 2014, Sinai told the story of Sara and Soshie Weisz in Sisters, and the viewer was shown what a difference just a few months made as the girls embraced Sinai. Because things, unfortunately, did not work out in the school the girls had been attending, they found themselves at home and without a school in the fall of 2012. A few months into the school year, their mother, Tova Weisz, approached Sinai and asked for their much needed help.
“We knew we had to make it work for the girls. This was so clearly the right place for them,” said Fishman. A few months after Soshie started in Sinai, Weisz called Fishman to express her disbelief at the positive change in Soshie. She had evolved from an angry, lashing out teenager, whose processing disorder and disability meant she might not graduate eighth grade with her peers, to a happy, friendly, and motivated student. She was overjoyed to report that Soshie would be advancing to high school.
When Sam heard her story, he knew it had to be told. Soshie’s story is one of hope, with a future and goals that hold so much promise. One of the qualities that makes Sisters unique is that it is narrated by Soshie herself. With insight into her life and her personality, and with a wry sense of humor, Soshie highlights her teenage side, like any other smart high school student, from her unique perspective of a student in need reaching out for help.
Soshie’s sister Sara, is also a student in Sinai Schools is in the film, which presents Sinai’s Maor High School at the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston. While the Sinai high schools housed in Ma’ayanot and TABC in Teaneck provide functional academic programs for students with developmental disabilities, Maor is an academically oriented high school, catering to students with learning disabilities who are college bound—they take a full academic load and prepare for college like other students their age, but may need smaller classes, additional tutoring, or have other academic or social needs addressed.
“People don’t realize what level Sinai Maor is on,” Fishman said. Seeing Soshie’s success at Maor on film, Fishman said he hopes the message will reach parents looking for this kind of academic environment for their child.
Sinai spends more than $60,000 per child, and relies on the community’s help for its continued success and help them provide financial assistance to families in need of its services.
Click Here to read this article as it originally appeared in The Jewish Link.