Chinese-Israeli ed-tech startup teaches kids to code

Shanghai-based LeapLearner represents the first global venture built from the ground up by Chinese and Israeli cofounders.

Chinese students rank best in the world in standardized tests but don’t excel in thinking out of the box. Israeli kids aren’t great test-takers but have exceptional innovation and problem-solving skills.

Chinese students rank best in the world in standardized tests but don’t excel in thinking out of the box. Israeli kids aren’t great test-takers but have exceptional innovation and problem-solving skills.

LeapLearner, the first Chinese-Israeli startup, puts those qualities together in a disruptive online and offline platform to teach kids coding along with critical 21st century skills including innovation, self-learning, problem-solving, creativity and adaptability.

During the three-week self-learning program meant to be used outside of school, children as young as five are guided in examining the coding in games they play and then learn how to change variables in the code of those games. For example, in Pac-Man, children can change Pac-dots into bananas and Pac-Man could appear as a pet dog.

LeapLearner helps users progress in their coding expertise from variables to natural language programming to Java Script, culminating in an in-person or online hackathon to build a video game from scratch. This gives the kids a way to get acquainted, work together, and connect with adults who can help them advance.

“Whether you want to be a philosopher, doctor, lawyer, artist or banker, you must be literate in the language of the future,” says CEO Ami Dror.

 LeapLearner launches commercially on June 1 in Shanghai, in September in Latin America, and in early 2018 in Greater China, India and the Middle East. The multilingual platform also will be provided free to children in European refugee camps, pending a deal with a hardware partner.

“Places that give strong weight to education in the family are our target market,” says Dror, noting that Chinese families invest a high percentage of their income in their children’s education.

A screenshot of education start-up LeapLearner’s mobile platform. Photo: courtesy

LeapLearner was created in 2016 at Za

itoun Ventures, an Israeli hybrid investment firm cofounded by Dror and Forsan Hussein. Aaron Tian, a well-known Chinese math teacher, is CEO of the LeapLearner China in Shanghai.

“I had the idea for a company that teaches kids soft skills, and I wanted to start with coding because the process teaches children how to innovate and problem-solve,” Dror tells ISRAEL21c from Shanghai.

Taking advantage of cultural strengths

Dror’s close friend John Wu, formerly the CTO of Alibaba in China, loved the idea.

“He said, ‘You have to do this in China because they’re struggling in soft skills.’ So I went to China and was introduced to two top educational companies. They said it was a super-innovative idea but wouldn’t be easy because of cultural differences.”

Tian, Dror and CTO Leo Zhao not only believed they could overcome those differences but even take advantage of the best of both worlds, namely “the Israeli ability to solve problems and deal with challenges from different angles, and the Chinese way of dealing with conflicts very harmoniously and getting things done quickly,” explains Dror.

Zaitoun is the major shareholder in LeapLearner but most of its $5 million in seed money comes from Chinese investors including Wu. The company has some investors in the United States and in the Arab world “who believe in the vision,” says Dror.

He moved his family to Shanghai, where he is handling strategy and product design alongside the LeapLearner staff of about 50 people, many of whom do not speak English. Hussein is managing the Israeli end of the business in Haifa.

Dror, a serial entrepreneur who taught himself to code as a child, is a fellow at the Aspen Institute-linked Aspen Global Leadership Network. This worldwide community of entrepreneurial leaders from business, government and the nonprofit sector share a commitment to using creativity, energy and resources to tackle societal challenges.

Dror says it is the Aspen Institute GLN that infused him with the vision of making LeapLearner available for free in refugee camps and he is actively looking for ways to make this happen.

In general, however, LeapLearner users will pay a “tuition” fee for the program.

You’re setting your child up for failure if you do this one thing

Every parent wants their kids to be happy. They’ll do whatever it takes to see them smile. But does that come at a cost?

Researchers have weighed on the one generational trend that’s setting children up for failure: participation prizes. Here’s how:

The expectation of reward

A psychological phenomenon known as the overjustification effect results in children who are less likely to perform well when they knew they would receive a reward at the end. In sports, participants care less about working hard and succeeding because they know they’ll get a price, regardless.

Later on in life, your child may be less likely to work hard when studying, applying for schools, internships and careers because as a child, they grew up believing that hard work doesn’t make that much of a difference – the outcome will still be the same.

Trophies kill competition

… and competition inspires incentive. If children know they will get a reward, what is their motive for developing problem-solving skills that will put them ahead of their competition?
Do you remember the dreaded field day in elementary school? The day jam-packed with activities like the mile run and the long jump? Some classmates loved field day. It was the highlight of their school year. Most of the students, however, dreaded it. While a scarce few students would give field day their all, the rest of the students did the bare minimum. Some kids took eight minutes to run the mile, others took twice as long.
And at the end of the day, everyone received the same identical ribbon for participating. How did that make the hard-working students feel? Did their passion, preparation and hard work even matter?
Some parents will argue that competition is not healthy for children. But competition is inevitable in schools and in the workforce, and it’s crucial that children learn how to combat it at a young age so they can be better prepared for the future.

We all know that over-used quote, “life is not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” Participation prizes ignore that important (yet cliché) life lesson. Children can no longer enjoy activities they participate in (whether that’s a sporting event, arts event or something else) because they’re so focused on what they’ll get out of it.
In elementary school, I was a part of my school’s annual talent show from first grade to fifth grade. The last two years, school faculty members decided to give out ribbons to every participant – and it killed the mood of the show. While no one “won” or “lost”, having a reward at the end of it all ruined the point of the show: we were no longer there to showcase our talents, we were there to be rewarded for our talents.
It establishes expectations
Children are being taught that it’s OK to fail, because they’ll still receive the same reward as the winners.

And yes, of course it’s OK to fail, but not because we are still all winners even when we lose. Failing at something can be a great learning opportunity for children. But with participation trophies and endless praise, what they’re learning from failure is that there’s no difference between that and success. Children today grow up not knowing how to handle rejection – an essential life skill.
They give children a false idea of success
Established expectations also comes with a sense of entitlement. As children grow up they’ll soon realize life didn’t turn out quite the way they had hoped it would. Maybe they didn’t get into their favorite college or their dream job wasn’t actually for them.
That inability to grow from rejection has made our children feel they deserve more or better than what they have. They’re asking “where’s my trophy?” Start now and allow your children to feel sad about losing. This will give them the opportunity to reflect on how to improve and handle loss in the future.
If your child has ever received a participation trophy, it doesn’t mean you have failed as a parent. Take this as an opportunity to teach your child about hard work and success. Remind them that activities aren’t about winning or losing, it’s about doing your best and enjoying your time.
Most importantly, let your child know that you will love them no matter how successful they are.
By Emily Brady ( JWR)

How to Improve Your Child’s Behavior

One good deed will bring another.

“One good deed will bring another good deed,” says the Mishna (Ethics of the Father, 4:2). There is so much wisdom in this statement. The more we focus on the good, the more motivated we are to do more good. This Torah idea that good brings good is actually the basis for Cognitive Behavioral Psychology, a technique used to effectively combat anxiety, depression and a variety of other mental health issues.

“One good deed will bring another good deed” is also a very effective tool for correcting and reinforcing good behavior in our children. The key to raising good kids is to “look for the good” in them and in their behavior.

Parents have a tendency to focus on their children’s negative behavior while overlooking the good. We can train ourselves to see good even in the little things our children do. Once we are focusing on their positive traits we can then compliment them, which will in turn nurture more positive behavior.

But there is a trick. When pointing out children’s good behavior we want to be as specific as possible and focus on the actual positive behavior that we are noticing. Phrases like “great job” or “good boy” are too general and don’t work. In the long run it just makes children feel more insecure and less capable.

Here are some examples of how we can use this technique to help our children improve their behavior in many different areas.

To stop difficult behavior:

Instead of focusing on the negative: “You can never take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Try this:

“You were upset that you could not get a cookie at the bakery. You asked a lot of times, I said ‘no’ a few times and then you did not ask again. You were able to calm down after a few minutes.”

To handle sibling rivalry:

Instead of focusing on the negative: “Why is your first reaction to always hit your brother? Why can’t you just tell him what you want?”

Try this:

“I saw you raise your hand to smack him. Then you put your hand down. You remembered not to hit.”

To limit temper tantrums:

Instead of focusing on the negative: “You get upset about the silliest things!”

Try this:

“You were so angry and upset that you couldn’t have a Popsicle before dinner. After you cried for a bit you were able to pull yourself together and come to dinner.”

To encourage learning:

Instead of focusing on the negative: “You spend so much time learning about cars, instead of doing your schoolwork!”

Try this:

“You really like to learn about things that interest you. You use the Internet, the library and you ask questions to get the information you want. You are learning how to research different subjects. That will be good for when you are an adult”

To encourage kindness:

Instead of focusing on the negative: “Why can’t you just share all of your toys with Sara?”

Try this:

“You gave Sara one of your dolls. That doll is one of your favorites. That is sharing. You were being kind.”

To encourage good manners:

Instead of focusing on the negative: “Why do I always have to remind you to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’?”

Try this:

“You said ‘please’ when you ordered your ice cream and ‘thank you’ when you got it. You know how to be polite.”

Using the concept of “One good deed will bring another good deed” or “looking for the good” can be a game-changer in our parenting. It gives us a better perspective and generates a tremendous feeling of positivity. It transforms potentially ugly and harmful interactions into positive relationship building moments. And you are modeling to your children how to focus on people’s positive behavior and maintain an optimistic attitude. You can’t get more positive than that.

More about the Author:

Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, is the Director of Parent Outreach for A+ Solutions, facilitating “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk” workshops as well as workshops based on “Siblings Without Rivalry.” Adina also runs ParentingSimply.com and is available for speaking engagements. You can reach her and check out her website at www.parentingsimply.com or www.thinkaplus.com.

5 Parenting Goals for Every Family

How to ensure your children have a productive year.

We begin the school year with blank notebooks, pages fresh and clean. Backpacks are free of crumbs and leaked box drinks. Children wake up early in anticipation. We try to get to school a bit before the morning bell and start the year off on the right track.

But slowly the familiar patterns start to appear. The kids are going to sleep way past bedtime, waking up with just a few moments to spare. A child leaves his notebook in school and must scramble to find a friend whose fax machine is working. Nights spent struggling over homework for hours, studying for tests left for the last minute, assignments forgotten, cliques and social politics – it feels as if we are going backwards instead of forward.

How can we make this year different from all the others? How can we take our hopes and wishes for positive change and turn them into a reality?

Transition between summer and school can be difficult for children – and for parents. Any change in life can bring nervousness, worry, and irritability. Children often have a hard time adjusting to new situations, unfamiliar teachers, and the more rigid schedule needed during the school year. When feeling overwhelmed, our kids may express their emotions through becoming argumentative, fighting more often with siblings, or withdrawing into themselves. And parents can find it difficult to keep calm and not lose themselves in anger when things don’t go right.

Instead of just accepting that this is the way our home is meant to be, let us think about reachable goals that we can work on. When we create a plan, we can do away with unnecessary failures and strive to help our children feel and be more successful.

My 5 Parenting Goals

1. Keep My Eyes Open

Sometimes we notice that something does not feel right with a child but we get distracted. We are all very busy, it’s true. We have great pressures and responsibilities pulling us in too many directions. The child who seems a little ‘off’, not himself, snappy or more quiet than usual is trying to tell us something. But it is easy to tuck this information away in a back pocket and only realize that something is wrong when a crisis occurs. We then think back and recognize that the signs were there, we were just too preoccupied to pay attention.

Don’t allow problems with your child to fester and grow. Open your eyes and observe if a child seems sad, withdrawn, distant, more moody than usual, or angry. Recognize if there seems to be greater confrontation between this child and siblings, if friends stop calling or coming over, or if the child can’t seem to find his place in school. Because before you know it, half the year can go by and what could have been a small problem has now become a ‘situation’ that requires major time and investment and causes terrible aggravation.

2. Develop a Working Relationship with Teachers

Reach out to your child’s teachers before your child reaches ‘zero hour.’ Many parents feel as if teachers are their opponents and don’t realize that we are are all here to try and help our children grow in the best way possible. If you think that there may be an issue, it is a good idea to set up a meeting with the teacher and ask how you can work in harmony. Too many parents call teachers to demand and accuse instead of saying that we would like to solve this problem together. Before going to the principal with a complaint, see if you can first diffuse the situation.

If there are any special concerns going on in your home, do not wait for the teacher to find out through your child’s acting up in class or failure to keep up with schoolwork and poor grades.

When a grandparent falls ill, if there is a health issue, financial stress, marital upheaval, problems with siblings, or any other factor that may affect your child’s academic or social success, it would be wise to enlist your child’s teacher as your confidential ally and gain her/his understanding. You can believe that most teachers would go the extra mile and extend to your child an open heart.

3. Work on Social Skills

Help your child be successful this year by preparing him not just academically, but also socially. School is not simply about getting straight A’s, it is also about learning how to get on with others and knowing how to develop friendships. A child who is happy in school is a child who can focus on studying and doing well. He wants to be there and be a part of things. One who believes that school is all about academics and no social life unfortunately makes a big mistake.

How can we better teach our children social skills?

  • Set rules and follow through with consequences when needed.
  • Set routines for meals and bedtimes that establish stability.
  • Develop your child’s ability to put himself in the shoes of others and grow more sensitive.
  • Help your child learn how to express frustration, disappointment and anger without hurting others or retreating into sullenness.
  • Establish basic rules of conduct: no hitting, kicking, biting, spitting, (no hands allowed), and no hurting others through our words.

4. Help Children Become Independent

When children feel as if they are gaining skills and becoming self-sufficient, they grow more confident in their abilities. You will watch their self-esteem take off. Each year, every child should be able to point with pride to a newfound skill or added responsibility that comes with age.

We can help our children grow independent and flourish by:

  • Teaching our children to pick out their clothing, dress themselves as they grow older, tie their own shoes, pack school snacks, make lunches the night before, set their own alarm clocks instead of waking them up, and having children put away their books and organizing themselves.
  • Allow a young child to complete puzzles and feed himself on his own and as he grows, to do his homework and projects by himself. It is much healthier to tell a child that you will check his work when he is done instead of sitting beside him and correcting the answers as he goes along. Book reports and science projects should not be parent’s homework.
  • Have your child help around the house and gain responsibilities instead of waiting to be served. Some skills children can help with are putting away laundry, setting and clearing the table, helping to serve guests, baking, cooking and keeping their room in order.

5. Communicate with Each Child

Our children should never be afraid to speak with us. No matter how tough the topic, even if they messed up badly, they should not fear that we will hate them or want to close the door on them. Our love must be unconditional. True, there may be consequences or emotions of disappointment, but they must know that we are here for them. After all, we are their parents and if they cannot believe in our love for them, whose love can they believe in?

Work on communicating with your child this year. I am not just speaking about when you must call him in with a problem like failing grades or after you received a call from his teacher. I am talking about daily interactions where you share a smile, a good word, a laugh, a story, or a meal together. The main thing is that you put the time and energy in so that he knows that he matters in your life.

  • Talk to your child every day-even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  • Put down your iPhone , turn off your laptop when your child (or you) return home, at mealtimes and story times, and when you pick your child up from school. Look at him and make eye contact while having a conversation.
  • Speak to your child in the tone and with the words that you wish he would use with others.
  • Express your love every day, no matter how tough the day.

I know that some days will bring unforeseen difficulties and that some children seem more challenging than others. But at least we will know in our hearts that we have tried our best to help our children navigate the road of life successfully.

About the Author:

Slovie Jungreis Wolff is a noted teacher, author, relationships and parenting lecturer. She is the leader of Hineni Couples and daughter of Rebbetzen Esther Jungreis. Slovie is the author of the parenting handbook, Raising A Child With Soul. She gives weekly classes and has lectured throughout the U.S.,Canada, Mexico, Panama, and South Africa.

 

ABC’s of Bar/Bat Mitzvah

A 7-point guide to the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony.

Caterer? Photographer? What is the essence of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah? Here are the seven key points you need to know.

(1) Bar Mitzvah Basics

First, let’s understand what the words “Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah” actually mean. The phrase translates as “son (daughter) of commandment” – i.e. the young person becomes responsible to observe the commandments (mitzvot) of the Torah.

The purpose of the commandments are to keep our lives focused on what’s truly important: family, community, and a relationship with God.

Although we commonly refer to “having” a Bar Mitzvah, technically speaking, this is impossible. The term “Bar Mitzvah” refers to a status, in the same way that being a student or parent is a status.

A Jewish boy automatically becomes Bar Mitzvah when he turns 13 years old, and a girl at age 12. (In general, girls tend to mature earlier than boys.)

On a deeper level, just as their bodies are growing and changing, so too their souls are growing and changing. Kabbalistic tradition says that a person’s spiritual being has several levels of soul. A new level of soul (called neshama) comes into awareness at Bar/Bat Mitzvah time. This is the time when moral awareness and sensitivity fully develops, enabling young people to take responsibility for their actions.

One’s actions after reaching this stage of life are considered more significant for another reason: The Talmud explains that a mitzvah performed because one is commanded, is considered greater than a mitzvah performed voluntarily. This is because a person has a natural aversion to fulfilling an obligation. Overcoming this aversion is a sign of maturity, and this is what the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrates – reaching the stage of obligation.

(2) Synagogue Event

On Shabbat (and various other days), the Torah – a scroll containing the Five Books of Moses – is read publicly. The Torah is divided into 54 portions, following an annual cycle, with one portion read each week in the synagogue.

The weekly portion is further sub-divided into seven sections. At Shabbat morning services, people are called up and honored with saying the special blessings before and after the reading of each section.

The Torah is removed from the holy ark, and then carried to the bima, the raised platform from where the Torah is read. While the Torah is being carried, everyone stands out of respect.

Colloquially speaking, when people say, “I had a Bar Mitzvah,” it means that they had an aliyah to the Torah in synagogue. “Aliyah” means to “go up” to the bima.

The Torah scroll is meticulously written by hand by a God-fearing scribe. A number of rules ensure that the Torah is written with perfect accuracy, thus maintaining the unbroken chain of tradition back to Mount Sinai.

On the Shabbat following his 13th birthday, the young man is called up to the Torah. This calculation follows the Jewish calendar. At the conclusion of his final blessing, some synagogues have the custom to good-naturedly pelt the young man with candies.

At this point it is customary for the father to recite the following blessing:

Following this, the bar mitzvah boy reads a portion from the biblical prophets, called the Haftorah. During a period of persecution 2,000 years ago, Jews were forbidden from reading the Torah, so they instituted a reading from the prophets that corresponds to the theme of that week’s Torah portion. The Haftorah is read with a unique traditional melody.

Following services, the congregation usually joins in a Kiddush, a small lunch that begins with a blessing over wine.

(3) The Reception

One popular feature of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration is a reception. This should ideally be held on the day which the young man/woman becomes 13/12 years old. If necessary, the celebration may be postponed somewhat.

There are different practices regarding what is done at a Bar Mitzvah celebration. It is proper for the young person to relate some Torah thoughts at the celebration – i.e. the famous Bar Mitzvah speech. The speech usually contains ideas from the weekly Torah portion, and emphasizes the young person’s commitment to Jewish values.

And what about that Titanic-themed party with Hollywood-style special effects? It’s important that the festivities should not become so ostentatious that the spiritual significance becomes secondary. The new adult should appreciate that this is a celebration of maturity and responsibility, a message which will carry through for the rest of their life.

(4) The Gift

Now what about the ubiquitous Bar Mitzvah gift? In the old days, the gift of choice was a fountain pen, then a Walkman, and today an iPod.

Those are just fine but there are much more meaningful gifts for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Since this event celebrates the young person becoming obligated in the commandments, the most appropriate gift is, naturally, one that gives a deeper understanding of the Jewish heritage and enables one to better perform the mitzvot! (An iPod, s/he can get anytime.)

With that in mind, my favorite gift idea is a tzedakah (charity) box. Every Jew should have a tzedakah box in his home, so he can drop in change on a regular basis. The money can then be given to support a Jewish school or institution – in your home town or in Israel (every Jews’ “home town”). There are beautiful tzedakah boxes made of wood and silver, and you can see a selection here.

The next obvious gift is a Jewish book. There are many hundreds of titles to choose from, so I’ve narrowed it down to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Top 10. Just click on the title to order:

Stone Chumash (published by ArtScroll), an excellent translation of the Five Books of Moses with running commentary on every page
Book of our Heritage by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov (Feldheim), a beautiful overview of the Jewish holidays
The Bar Mitzvah Treasury, an illustrated collection of customs and inspiring stories (by Rabbi Yonah Weinrib and Rabbi Yaakov Salomon; ArtScroll)
The Thinking Teenagers Guide to Life by Rabbi Akiva Tatz (Targum), gripping essays on forging a path through life
Sand and Stars by Yaffa Ganz (ArtScroll), a two-volume book about Jewish history, written especially for teenagers
Shmooze by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith, a fun book that provokes thoughtful discussions on essential Jewish issues
The Long Road to Freedom, by Avner Gold, an exciting historical novel filled with intrigue and insight into Jewish life.
Bible for the Clueless But Curious by Rabbi Nachum Braverman (Leviathan), packed with wisdom on relationships, spirituality and more
Candles in my Window by Beth Firestone, a delightful fiction book about a young girl discovering her Judaism
Triumph – Aish.com’s popular book of inspiring true stories of challenge and spiritual growth.

If all else fails, you can always give money. It is a nice idea to give $18 (or some multiple thereof), since the numerical value of 18 in Hebrew is “Chai,” which means “Life.”

(5) Tefillin

Upon reaching age 13, a boy begins the obligation to put on tefillin every day (except Shabbat and holidays).

Tefillin are two square, black leather boxes, which contain parchments of Torah verses. Attached to each box are black leather straps. One of the boxes is worn on the bicep, and the other is worn on the front of the head.

The two boxes represent the two ways that we serve God in this world: thought (the head) and action (the arm). The arm-tefillin contains one parchment in one compartment, whereas the head-tefillin is four parchments, each in its own separate compartment. This is to signify that in service of God, the two powers must work congruently: We use the totality of our mind to gain the full perspective, and then we act with a singular clarity of purpose.

Inside each tefillin box are parchments containing four Torah sections, which speak about God’s unity, the obligation to observe the commandments, and the responsibility to transmit Judaism to our descendants.

If you’re really feeling generous, Tefillin is a wonderful gift for a Bar Mitzvah boy. Owning a pair of Tefillin (and wearing them!) is an important part of Jewish identity. But since they are expensive (about $400), not every Bar Mitzvah boy has a pair. To make sure you get kosher Tefillin, see here or here.

(6) The First Bar Mitzvah

Now here’s a Jewish trivia question: Who was the first person to have a Bar Mitzvah?

We could actually suggest three answers:

1) Abraham – The first person to begin observing some of the mitzvot was “the first Jew,” Abraham. However, he was older than age 13 when he started, so…

2) Isaac was the first person who was “Jewish” upon reaching age 13. The Torah writes, “And Abraham made a great party on the day” (Genesis 21:8), which the Midrash explains was a celebration for Isaac becoming Bar Mitzvah.

3) Mount Sinai – Only when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai did Jews became truly obligated to observe the mitzvot. Therefore, the Sinai experience was actually a mass Bar/Bat Mitzvah of the entire Jewish people.

(7) What’s Next?

Some have the misconception that Jewish practice is confined to the synagogue, or to an occasional holiday celebration at home. The truth is that Torah and mitzvot punctuate every moment of our lives: setting standards for business ethics, proper speech, honoring parents, what we eat, and even how to care for pets!

We refer to these laws as Torat Chaim, literally “instructions for living.” Torah is the ultimate “owner’s manual” for maximizing our pleasure and potential in life.

Torah is a basis for life’s most important questions: How can I live a meaningful life? How can I build successful relationships, deal honestly in business, and fulfill my personal potential? How can I really make a difference in the world?

Torah study emphasizes building a rational basis of belief, to engage one’s mind, stimulate the intellect through questioning and debate, and thereby nourish the soul. It does not endorse a leap of faith, all-or-nothing decisions, or disengagement from the world.

The goal of any Jew is not only to study the Torah, but to become a “living Torah,” who embodies the lofty ideals of “love your neighbor,” “peace on earth,” “justice for all,” “universal education,” “all men are created equal,” “dignity of the individual,” and “the preciousness of life.” These concepts all originate from the Torah, and these have defined the moral makeup of humanity.

In Jewish life, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah does not represent the culmination of one’s Jewish education, but rather a stepping-stone to a more mature and profound relationship with Jewish learning.

This is illustrated by the following idea: If even one letter is missing from a Torah scroll, it is rendered invalid. According to tradition, each Jew corresponds to one letter in the Torah. This teaches that each and every one of us has an integral role to play in the future of the Jewish people.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah means to become educated, and to strengthen one’s Jewish pride through knowledge and understanding. It means to grow Jewishly, one step at a time. It means standing up for Israel and respecting every Jew. It means taking responsibility for the world, using the Torah as our guide, because that is the mission of the Jewish people. And most of all, it means to love being Jewish.

Success in achieving these goals is what we wish for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and the beginning of that journey is what we celebrate on this joyous occasion.

Mazel tov!

 

About the Author: Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Rabbi Shraga Simmons grew up trekking through snow in Buffalo, New York, enjoying summers as a tour guide at Niagara Falls. He holds a degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and rabbinic ordination from the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. He is the co-founder of Aish.com, and founder of the Torah study site, JewishPathways.com. He is also the co-founder of HonestReporting.com, and author of “David & Goliath”, the definitive treatment of media bias against Israel (2012). He lives with his wife and children in the Modi’in region of Israel.

 

What are the health & nutritional benefits of pomegranate?

Six Health Benefits of Pomegranate
Do you feel like your diet is missing something? Have you been trying to lose weight, improve your digestion, or just feel better overall? As someone who struggled with her weight for years before finally finding weight loss methods that work, I want to share with you one of my favorite fruits.

The pomegranate has helped immensely in my weight loss and health improvement journey. There are a wide variety of positives associated with consumption of pomegranate fruit, juice and seeds. I’ve investigated six health benefits of pomegranate below.
1. Pomegranate Aids In Weight Loss & Management
Pomegranate aids in weight loss for many reasons (source). First and perhaps most important – pomegranate seeds are low in calories. One serving (about 3/4 cup) of seeds has only 83 calories, making them the perfect snack for people who are watching their weight.

Pomegranate seeds are also high in fiber, with one serving boasting 4 grams. Fiber is important for everyone, but especially those focused on weight loss because it will help you feel full longer. This means you will be less likely to overeat.

2. Health Benefits For Men
Pomegranate juice can decrease a man’s risk of impotency by helping manage arteriosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis is a condition in which blood vessels become blocked, causing many serious health effects including impotence. It is the high level of antioxidants found in pomegranates that helps with arteriosclerosis.

Pomegranates and pomegranate juice can also help treat and prevent prostate cancer. In trials, it has been found that pomegranate juice, because of its high phytochemical content, helps to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and prevent it from metastasizing (source).

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3. Health Benefits for Women
The pomegranate doesn’t discriminate – it just helps men and women in different ways! Pomegranate juice is very good for pregnant women. It contains important vitamins that expectant mothers need, including niacin, folic acid, potassium, calcium, and vitamin C, as well as iron and fiber (source).

Pomegranate juice can also help pregnant women by reducing cramps and sleep difficulty. It also helps the baby by increasing blood flow, decreasing his or her risk for brain damage.

For women, pomegranate juice prevents estrogen-responsive breast cancer cells from growing. The juice has a phytochemical inhibits aromatase, which is used to create estrogen, which in excess increases your risk of having breast cancer.
4. Beauty Benefits For Everyone
Pomegranate benefits your biggest external organ – the skin – as much as it does your internal organs. Pomegranate offers all kinds of benefits for the skin and overall appearance, including the following (source):

Regenerate cells
Pomegranate protects the epidermis (outer layer of the skin) and dermis (second layer of the skin) by encouraging skin cell regeneration. This aids in the repair of tissues, promotes healing wounds, and encourages circulation to the skin.

Protect from the sun
Consuming pomegranate gives the skin compounds that help protect against free radicas, which in excess, can cause sun damage, cancer and sunburn. The oil from a pomegranate contains the antioxidant ellagic acid which helps inhibit skin tumors, protecting the body from skin cancer.

Slow aging process
Pomegranates slow down the appearance of aging. They help prevent common signs including hyperpigmentation, age spots, fine lines, and wrinkles. Pomegranate also softens the skin and produces elastin and collagen, creating a more youthful appearance. Your skin will be firmer, smoother, and more youthful.

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Help with all skin types
Pomegranate will help you put your best face forward. If your skin is dry, pomegranates can help, which is why their extract is often added to skin care products. Their molecular structure can penetrate deep into most skin types to add extra moisture.

If your skin is oily or combination, pomegranate can sooth acne breakouts while minimizing the scarring that can occur after a breakout.

5. Prevent All Kinds Of Illnesses
Pomegranates don’t just provide vitamins for pregnant women. Everybody needs vitamins C and K, and pomegranates provide 17 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C and 20 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin K (source).

Vitamin C is important for a healthy, functioning immune system, as well as fast wound healing, healthy gums, and the manufacture of collagen and elastin. It also enhances iron absorption. Vitamin K is crucial for strong, healthy bones and proper blood clotting.
6. Decrease Other Bad Things In The Body
For men and women who are trying to lose weight, it is especially important to make sure you are keeping your cholesterol and blood pressure in check. Pomegranate lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) and raises HDL (good cholesterol) (source).

Many overweight men and women also suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure) which can lead to a variety of problems, including heart disease, heart attacks, aneurysms, and kidney failure (source). Drinking just 1.7 ounces of pomegranate juice per day can lower blood pressure by as much as 5 percent.

Pomegranate can also decrease the risk for osteoarthritis by preventing cartilage deterioration, and it prevents plaque from building up in the arteries, which can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure.

With so many great health benefits of pomegranate, everyone should try to include more in their diet. Some people avoid pomegranates because they are difficult to cut up and serve, but this video shows you how to do it easily:
Get yourself a fresh pomegranate or some pomegranate juice from the grocery store today, and start consuming it regularly. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you start to notice improvements in your weight loss and improved health endeavors!

 

New York Jewish Parenting Guide

Children Have An Especially Hard Time Crossing The Street When On Their Mobile Phones

Pedestrians who talk on the phone put themselves in danger, but the risk is even greater when it comes to children. Now that the summer holiday is over, millions of kids are roaming the streets while talking or texting on their mobile devices.

A study conducted by researchers from Israel’s Ben-Gurion University unequivocally shows how a child pedestrian’s ability to safely cross the road is hindered more during a cell phone conversation than an adult’s.

Crossing the road is not an easy task. According to the study, “it demands pedestrians to integrate cognitive, attentional and motor control abilities.” In order to safely cross the road, “pedestrians must look for approaching traffic, signs, signals, and listen to auditory cues indicating of approaching vehicles.”

Pedestrians are also required to complete several cognitive tasks, such as: estimate the speed and distance of traveling vehicles and assess their arrival. Thus, “visual, auditory or cognitive based distractions, which may draw attention from the crossing task, can cause pedestrians to miss critical information from the environment, and as a consequence, make wrong assessments and be exposed to higher risk of collision,” according to the study.

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Furthermore, US statistics show that 20 percent of the third-graders (aged 8–9) own cell phones, 40 percent of fifth-graders (aged 10–11) do, and 83 percent of middle school students (aged 11–14) carry mobile devices.

“Although many children carry cell phones, the effect that cell phone conversations have on children’s crossing behavior has not been thoroughly examined,” BGU‘s Prof. Tal Oron-Gilad said in a statement.

According to the researcher, one-third of the road traffic fatalities in low- and middle-income countries are among pedestrians. “This high level of involvement is particularly meaningful for child pedestrians as the proportion of child pedestrian fatalities is significantly high relative to adults,” she adds.

The study, which was published recently in Safety Science, was conducted at the BGU Virtual Environment Simulation Laboratory, one of the world’s most sophisticated traffic research facilities, which enables researchers to measure pedestrian reactions to virtual reality scenarios. BGU’s pedestrian dome simulator consists of a 180-degree spherical screen aligned with an accurate three-projector system large enough to immerse a participant within its circumference, according to the university.

The simulator experiment was conducted in a virtual city environment with 14 adults and 38 children who experienced street-crossing scenarios paired with pre-determined cell phone conversations. The subjects were requested to press a response button whenever they felt it was safe to cross, while the researchers tracked their eye movements.

“The results showed that while all age groups’ crossing behaviors were affected by cell phone conversations, children were more susceptible to distraction,” Oron-Gilad says. “When busy with more cognitively demanding conversation types, participants were slower to react to a crossing opportunity, chose smaller crossing gaps and allocated less visual attention to the peripheral regions of the scene.”

 

In addition, the researchers found that the ability to make better crossing decisions improved with age. The most prominent improvement was shown in the “safety gap” – each age group maintained a longer gap than the younger one preceding it.

According to Oron-Gilad, it’s important to take the new findings into account when training young pedestrians for road safety and “increase public awareness with children going back to school.”

By Einat Paz-Frankel, NoCamels

 

Israeli Researchers Decode Autism Genes

According to the Autism Society, the prevalence of autism in US children increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 (1 in 150) to 2010 (1 in 68). This makes autism the fastest-growing developmental disability.

In a new study, Israeli researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev say they have taken “a step closer” to understanding the genetic basis of autism, which they hope will lead to earlier diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Dr. Idan Menashe, Mr. Erez Tsur and Prof. Michael Friger studied the sequences of over 650 genes that are associated with autism and discovered characteristics that distinguish them from other genes in the genome. Their research was recently published in Behavior Genetics

A unique signature

Among the distinct characteristics of autism genes is their exceptional genomic length, which is even longer than other brain-expressed genes of closely related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. Additionally, the authors found a unique genomic signature in these genes that was shaped by negative selection, an evolutionary process that removes disruptive mutations from genes over generations.  

Menashe and his colleagues also searched for evidence of positive selection in these genes. Such a mechanism could explain the presence of autism in the human population. However, no indications of positive selection acting on autism genes were found. Thus, autism susceptibility mutations are maintained in the human genome probably because they cause the disorder only in combination with other genetic and/or non-genetic factors. 

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Finally, the authors used the unique genomic characteristics of autism genes to identify additional candidate genes for the disorder. They showed that this evolutionary signature is highly efficient in capturing well-established autism genes. These findings broaden our understanding about the genetic mechanisms that are involved in autism, and provide new tools for the discovery of new candidate genes.  

We are a step closer to understanding the genes associated with autism and understanding the biological process that is involved in the disease,” Menashe told The Times of Israel. “This study gives us a tool to help identify additional autism genes, using the genetic signature we have found, and from there hopefully to be able to diagnose autism earlier.”

By Yonatan Sredni, NoCamels

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, 125 East 85th Street, New York, NY

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, 125 East 85th Street, New York, NY

The Consulate General of Turkey in New York and Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun are honored to present a conference on “The Ottoman Turkish Sephardi Jews: Inclusion and Prosperity”

Date: Sunday, April 10, 2016 starting at 9:45 am
Venue: Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, 125 East 85th Street, New York, NY 10028 (between Park and Lexington Avenues)

Brunch with Sephardic delicacies will be offered
Free admission

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Speakers:
– Mr. Ertan Yalçın, Consul General of Turkey

– Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun

– Dr. Mark Meirowitz, Moderator, Asst. Prof. SUNY Maritime College

– Mr. Naim Avigdor Güleryüz, Project Coordinator, Jewish Museum, İstanbul, Turkey
“The Jews of Turkey – From the Quincentennial and Beyond”

-Dr. Ozan Arslan, İzmir University of Economics, İzmir, Turkey
“The Young Turks and the Ottoman Jews at the Beginning of the 20th Century: Converging Interests and Common Threat Perceptions in a Polarized Europe and the Near East”

– Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis, Graduate Center, CUNY
“Sephardic Houses in Ottoman Damascus in the Late 18th and 19th Centuries”

 

Weaning baby triggers this surprising effect

Israeli scientists find an unexpected link between weaning and the ability of pancreatic beta cells to regenerate. Are there implications for diabetes?

By Abigail Klein Leichman

Israeli medical researchers unexpectedly discovered that only when a baby is weaned off mother’s milk does a formerly unknown developmental step in the process of pancreatic beta-cell maturation begin to occur.

In experiments with lab mice, this critical developmental step appeared to be triggered exclusively by the change of diet.

The surprising discovery was made while scientists were attempting to understand why only a small subset of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas of adult organisms can replicate – leading to tissue regeneration – and why the number of replicating cells declines with advancing age.

The study results were published in the March 9 issue of the medical journal Developmental Cell by Prof. Yuval Dor and research associate Miri Stolovich-Rain at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada, in collaboration with Prof. Benjamin Glaser from the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Hoping to understand the effects of aging on beta-cell replication, the scientists induced hyperglycemia – a condition of excessive glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream – in suckling mice, expecting that because of their young age their beta cells would exhibit a superb regenerative ability.

Instead, the researchers discovered that the mice actually didn’t begin to develop the cellular machinery that allows for tissue regeneration until after they were weaned from high-fat mother’s milk (or formula) to high-carbohydrate chow.

In addition, insulin secretion in response to high levels of glucose was much lower in the suckling mice than in adult mice.

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When to wean
“The data suggest that regenerative potential is a trait of mature tissues, which has to develop actively, similar to functional maturation, rather than an innate feature of newly born cells,” said Dor, a developmental biologist.

The researchers concluded that the dietary transition from fat-rich milk to carbohydrate-rich food kick-starts the maturation of beta cells so that they can replicate and secrete proper amounts of insulin in response to conditions such as high blood-glucose levels.

The exact molecular signal that sets off these events is still to be determined through further research that could help advance the understanding of diabetes and even how to treat it.

It’s possible, for instance, that the maturation step associated with weaning can be relevant for attempting to direct the differentiation of embryonic stem cells into fully functional beta cells for transplantation to diabetes patients.

 

Next, the Israeli researchers plan to study how premature weaning in mice and in humans may affect the long-term health of beta cells and the chances of developing diabetes .

Dor is careful to stress that the published findings should not make mothers fretful about weaning their babies from breast milk or formula too early or too late.

“We are NOT saying in this paper anything about the long-term effects, good or bad, of premature weaning,” he wrote to ISRAEL21c in an email. “What we found is that weaning triggers beta-cell maturation and that it is a previously unrecognized part of this important process.The long-term impact of interfering with the process by premature or delayed weaning is being studied now.”

The research was funded by grants from the Beta Cell Biology Consortium of the US National Institutes of Health, the JDRF, the European Research Council, the Helmsley Charitable Trust, the DON Foundation, BIRAX and the I-CORE Program of the Israel Science Foundation.

Previously, Dor and James Shapiro, a world renowned researcher in islet transplantation for diabetes at the University of Alberta, Canada, identified a key signal that prompts insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas to form new beta cells in mice. This breakthrough may ultimately help researchers find ways to restore or increase beta cell function in people with type 1 diabetes.