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Dear Reader,

For years, the trend in education was to segregate children with special needs, but nowadays we try to include them in conventional classrooms as much as possible.

Inclusion, mainstreaming, integration—these are all different ways of how children with different needs are included in traditional classrooms.

So, is inclusion beneficial, and for whom?

Research over the last 15 years indicates that with the necessary support and proper training, its benefits seem to be overwhelmingly positive for everyone.

Students with special needs gain from increased social opportunities, higher expectations resulting in increased skills and achievements, increased self-respect and confidence, and better preparation for adult life.

But the benefits, surprisingly, were equally shared by students without special needs. They too gained in greater academic success, enhanced feelings of self-esteem from mentoring students, increased appreciation of their abilities and a greater acceptance that all people have unique abilities. They learned sensitivity and empathy as well as strong collaborative skills.

In the workforce, a similar idea is gaining traction, as employers are starting to acknowledge the importance of diversity. The effectiveness of human resource systems designed for a homogeneous workforce is being questioned, as employers recognize the contributions of all different kinds of intelligences and talents.

So it looks like we were created as diverse human beings for a reason: we all have what to contribute.

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Moses gathers the nation of Israel and lists the various materials that they can contribute to the Tabernacle, G‑d’s home on earth.

“Take from yourselves an offering for the L‑rd; every generous-hearted person shall bring gold, silver and copper . . .” (Exodus 35:5)

The Rebbe explains that each of these materials represent a different persona in the nation. Gold represents the purity of the tzaddik, the fully righteous individual. Silver (kesef in Hebrew, which also means “yearning”) represents the baal teshuvah, the returnee. Copper, the least expensive of metals, represents the sinner.

We might have thought that only a tzaddik who is removed from the enticements and ensnarements of this world, has the ability of transforming it into something holy. Or, we might believe that only a baal teshuvah, who intimately knows the negativity of this world, can transform its lowliness into loftiness. But the Torah teaches us even the sinner must be included in this endeavor, and has what to contribute.

Amazingly, G‑d’s home on earth is not complete without each of their contributions.

No matter our spiritual standing, no matter our intellectual abilities or our emotional intelligences, we were all handcrafted by our Creator to make our world a home for G‑d.

And, whether we consider ourselves low or high, righteous or wicked, someone with limited abilities or someone super-talented, we are all needed. As unintuitive as it may initially seem, each and every one of us has what to gain from the other!

What a golden (or is that copper?) idea!

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

Dear reader,

Though Jews began settling in Iran about 2,700 years ago, the reign of the Shah (from 1941 to 1979) was considered a particularly golden age. Jews thrived economically under his modernization plan and the vast majority, numbering around 80,000, was middle or upper middle class. Jewish schools, shuls and cultural organizations flourished.

And then, in 1979, it all changed.

Strikes and demonstrations paralyzed the country as the Shah left Iran for exile. Soon afterwards, guerrillas and rebel troops brought Ruhollah Khomeini to official power as the Grand Ayatollah—their “Supreme Leader” of the country.

Almost overnight, Iran was transformed from a pro-Western monarchy to an anti-Western authoritarian theocracy. Expressions of anti-Jewish animosity intensified. Pamphlets threatened “death to the Jews” as a wave of anti-Israel sentiment swept the country.

Amid the chaos of the Revolution, the Rebbe took immediate action while it was still possible. He arranged the rescue of Jewish youth and teenagers from Iran. In 1979 and 1980, several thousand Iranian children were flown to safety to New York.

I can’t even begin to imagine the turbulent emotions of these families. Parents allowing children to leave with strangers to an unknown land; children parting from parents not knowing when or if they would ever be reunited.

I also can’t imagine the logistics of suddenly absorbing such huge amounts of youngsters, finding food, housing and educational arrangements, while slowly gaining their trust.

Fast-forward 37 years. The year is 2016 in Marina del Ray, Calif.

It is Sunday afternoon, and I just arrived on the West Coast. I am in the car of Rabbi Danny Yiftach who is driving me to his Chabad center in Marina del Ray to lecture for his community. As I ask him a few questions, his story begins to emerge.

Rabbi Yiftach was one of those children that the Rebbe saved from Iran.

He recalls the flight. He recalls being housed in different locations in New York, at one point in an empty hospital building, before finally being sent to study in yeshivah in Los Angeles. He recalls the letters he wrote to his family back in Iran and the few phone conversations that he was able to have, all guarded due to security. It would take decades for him to be united with both of his parents.

I sit in the car marveling at the courageous path taken by this humble individual. But most of all, I am getting a sense of his strength of purpose. Though soft-spoken and unassuming, this chossid carries a fire in his heart.

And his mission today is to ignite that same fire in the souls of the youth and adults in his community.

Just as the Rebbe did for him so many years ago.

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

Dear reader,

I recently returned from the West Coast. On my last day there, the woman who drove me to my destination in Riverside offered to show me around her city. Hiking with Brittney in mid-January along paths littered with towering palm trees and picturesque tropical flowers in sunny California was a huge treat.

Brittney is artistic, so she showed me some great art spots in downtown Riverside where local artists display their creations. Together we marveled at the intricate architecture in the buildings. And then, my awesome host offered to take me to a very unique and unexpected place.

Tio’s Taco is not a kosher restaurant, so don’t go there to eat. But do go there, as many tourists do, to view the incredible outdoor pathways set on an acre of land. I guarantee you that the sculptures and mosaics will leave you spellbound.

What makes the whimsical artwork so incredible is that every sculpture is made out of recycled everyday objects that you’d be more inclined to find in a junkyard. Beer bottles, soda cans, bottle tops, discarded children’s toys and shells are transformed into giant characters. Held together with simple chicken wire, this leftover trash tells a tale of ingenuity and creativity.

As a young child, the owner and artist, Tio Martin Sanchez, migrated with his family to California from a small town in rural Mexico. He describes how people of poor countries marvel at the trash of affluent, privileged countries. Back in Mexico, Tio created his own toys from whatever scraps of refuse he could find. Upon immigrating, he supported himself by selling oranges on the side of the road. Eventually, he worked his way up until he owned his restaurant.

Despite his success, his artwork attests that he never forgot the treasures that lay buried in what others may regard as trash.

The Kabbalists teach that every created thing possesses a “spark” of Divine energy that constitutes its essence and soul. No existence is devoid of a Divine spark; nothing can exist without the pinpoint of G‑dliness that imbues it with being and purpose. When we use something for a G‑dly end, we bring to light this spark, realizing the purpose for which it was created.

Walking through Tio’s Taco, I couldn’t help but think of the many things that we disdainfully discard as useless or purposeless. Even worse, how often do we treat people in the very same manner!

Tio’s Taco reminded me that if trash can be transformed into art, how much more so should we view each of our life experiences as a potential for something great, containing a wealth of learning opportunities.

And, most importantly, no matter at what state or stage, every individual we meet needs to be seen and treasured—as G‑d’s exquisite artwork.

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

Dear reader,

Want a quick trick to become happy? Try smiling.

In the late 1980s, researchers had subjects hold pencils in their mouths in various ways to mimic smiles or frowns. They discovered that by flexing facial muscles, even without knowing why, their subjects’ emotional reactions changed. Those who smiled rated things much more positively than those who frowned. Additional tests gave similar results.

The researchers concluded that though moods are accompanied by changes in the body, it works the other way as well. Make a seemingly insignificant change to your body—like flexing those smiling muscles—and your brain will notice and react accordingly.

So, “fake it till you make it” seems to have some merit.

Interestingly, we find a connection to this concept in this week’s Torah portion, when we are commanded to make the ark out of wood and cover it with gold.

They shall make an ark of acacia wood . . . and you shall overlay [the ark] with pure gold, inside and outside (Exodus 25:10–11)

The ark was made out of three boxes that were tucked into each other. The larger, visible box was made from pure gold. Inside was placed a box of acacia wood, inside of which was placed the smallest box, also made out of gold. The tablets with the Ten Commandments were kept in this innermost box.

Like the boxes of the ark, we too are made up of layers. On the inside we are made from “pure gold,” a G‑dly soul that is untainted and holy, and wants only to do what’s right and good. The next layer is our conscious self—our temperament, moods and feelings. This part of us isn’t always so pure or shiny. And finally, there is the outer box, the part of ourselves that we allow the world to see through our actions.

We might feel hypocritical to put on a golden face to the world when inside we’re feeling the opposite. Should I act outwardly giving, kind and empathetic when I’m feeling rather “wooden”? Should I present a façade of calmness when I really want to lash out in disparaging anger? Why act in a way that contradicts my true feelings?

But the construction of the ark teaches us that we can improve our feelings through our actions. It’s all right to have some “wooden” moments but outwardly act “golden.” Actions create internal change. Act the part, and you become it.

So go ahead and smile, and watch yourself become happier. Give those coins to charity, and witness your mood become more giving and forgiving. Act calmly, and your anger will begin to dissipate.

Because in truth, you aren’t really acting. Deep down, your inner self is pure gold. Wishing you a golden week!

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW

P.S.: Did you ever try smiling when you were unhappy? Did it help? What other “acts” do you do to change how you are feeling?

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
Often we need a break from our daily routine. A pause from life to help us appreciate life.

A little pat on the back to let us know when we're on track. A word of encouragement to help us through those bleak moments and difficult days.

Sometimes, we just yearn for some friendship and camaraderie, someone to share our heart with. And sometimes we need a little direction from someone who's been there.

So, take a short pause from the busyness of your day and join Chana Weisberg for a cup of coffee.

Chana Weisberg is the author of Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman and four other books. Weisberg is a noted educator and columnist and lectures worldwide on issues relating to women, faith, relationships and the Jewish soul.
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