Learning the Torah takes time and good teachers. In today’s digital and on-line world students are able to get help without ever setting foot into a traditional classroom, thanks to Liora Cohen, who is using the internet to both her students and her advantage.
Born and raised in Israel, Cohen came to the United States at the age of 33. It never occurred to her that there might be adjustments that she would have to learn about in a whole new culture. What she did know was that there had to be a way for her to teach. “I’ve always been very social, so integrating myself into my new surroundings was never an issue. But finding a way to earn a living was paramount on my mind.”
“My first job was working the Costa Mesa Swap Meet for Tilly’s,” Cohen said. The company was wonderful, and it helped me pay the bills. What I did know was that I had a talent and passion for teaching, and I needed to find a way to use it. I had no knowledge of what it took to study for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, but I have always been in love with the Hebrew language. To me, teaching my students to be as accurate as possible in both reading and in the use of proper grammar to hold up the tradition of the Torah is the most important thing.”
A few months after her arrival, Cohen began teaching Hebrew and tutoring B’nai Mitzvah at Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin, where she still works today. “For 18 years I taught at Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo as well. I also tutor at Temple Bat-Yahm in Newport Beach.”
Cohen wasn’t content to just teach locally. While visiting a friend in Israel a little over 5 years ago, she began tutoring her friend’s child and casually remarked that if he needed help, that they could use Skype. Realizing this was truly an opportunity at filling a very unique niche, Cohen created her website: www.torahwithliora.com.
“With Skype I have all I need to tutor a child for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah,” Coehn explained “I can see the student with a webcam, I can hear him or her with the use of a microphone and there’s no way for a student to leave or hide!”
Cohen also feels that it’s important for students to have fun. Her “fondest hope is that they realize that learning and preparing for this event in their lives and learning our beautiful language is NOT the end of the world! I want them to get silly, enjoy our 30-minute sessions and most important, continue their studies once the ceremony has taken place.” She added that depending on the children and where they are in their studies, sessions might last 45 minutes to an hour.
Cohen went on to say that thanks to improvements in the last few years, she has been able to teach with much better video and audio quality, and there have been no sound delays to contend with, making it a breeze for both teacher and student to understand the nuances of what is being taught. “When I first started, it was a bit difficult, because I would try and correct pronunciations, and my student would have to wait to hear it. Then I, in turn, would have to wait to hear the reply.”
For parents who also want to learn, Cohen says that she’s available to teach them about chanting the Torah and Haftarah lessons as well.
Thanks to the internet and Skype, Cohen teaches private lessons not only in Orange County but Los Angeles, Long Beach, Israel and even Australia.
What Cohen loves most about her time with her students is watching them grow up. “I work with the kids for about nine months. It’s fantastic to see them mature and become confident in themselves and their knowledge of the Torah. To see them stand up at the bimah and show their pride is so heart-warming and one of the most gratifying feelings I can personally have as a teacher.”
While Cohen believes that children should start their Torah training as soon as they start “regular” school, she realizes that it is hard for today’s families to be able to go from one academic activity to another. She maintains that the earlier a child begins to study the easier it is for them to learn the language.
“I’ve been teaching and tutoring for over 26 years and I just love what I do,” she said. “I will never be ‘burned out.’ What I do is my passion. The rewards of seeing my students become strong individuals and be involved in our religion are just amazing. I feel as if I am truly making a real contribution to Judaism and of course, to the kids.”
For those interested in learning more about Liora Cohen’s on-line tutoring, please log onto: www.torahwithliora.com or call (714) 731-4489. To e-mail Cohen, write to:
Liora@TorahWithLiora.com and to Skype: Torah_With_Liora.
“My name is Sam Sheldon,” said the voice on the phone. “My aunt saw your ad in the Jewish Life magazine and gave it to me. I understand you teach Hebrew and B’nai Mitzvah on the internet via Skype. We live in Laredo, Texas.”
“That’s correct. I do teach on-line and in person, of course,” I answered.
“My daughter, Dena, wants to become a Bat Mitzvah.”
“Great. Does she read Hebrew?”
“Does she go to Hebrew school?”
“Dena is not Jewish,” replied Sam. “I am Jewish. I married her mom four years ago and adopted her three children.”
“Oh, I see. Okay.” (What a story I thought, not convinced a Bat Mitzvah would ever happen.)
“I will have to start by teaching Dena how to read Hebrew, and then we’ll continue with the Bat-Mitzvah material. When would you like to have the Bat-Mitzvah?”
“Okay, let’s see how it goes. Shall we start with twice a week? I would like to have the Bat-Mitzvah on January 7, 2012.”
I stated working with Dena (a delightful, beautiful, happy and eager to learn girl) on May 20, 2011. It went so well. Within a couple of months, Dena was reading Hebrew beautifully and accurately, just like I like.
I started believing a Bat-Mitzvah was very possible, after all.
“Why do you want a Bat-Mitzvah?” I asked.
She replied, “I wanted to become Jewish because I heard my dad was. To me it was odd having a Christian mother and a Jewish father. Not knowing anything about being Jewish, I searched on Google what it was. The thing that amazed me the most was the pictures of Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. Since I was about that age, I told my dad immediately. I wanted to be a Bat Mitzvah. I told my dad what I had decided, and he agreed. Becoming Jewish would change my life, and I was ready for it.
I gave Sam the number of Rabbi Dennis Linson of Temple Judea. Soon Dena was working with him on becoming Jewish.
Sam was looking for a Hebrew name for Dena, and naturally she became Dinnah. I started singing to Dinnah, the famous Israeli song “Dinnah Barzilai” and soon enough, Dinnah learned the first line of that song by heart, and we began almost every lesson by singing it together.
Dinnah learned to chant her Haftarah and Torah blessings and some of the prayers, all in Hebrew. She went on to complete her becoming Jewish and was tested by three rabbis. Dinnah chanted the Kiddush from memory. Needless to say, she chanted it flawlessly. The rabbis complimented Dinnah on her excellent job.
Following Dinnah, her mom Maylin, brother Nathan and sister Amber, became Jewish too and Nathan, the little one, was circumcised at the age of 7. Nathan loves to sing Jewish prayers like “Shalom Aleichem” and “Adon Olam.” Just ask him to sing and see what happens.
Dinnah’s Bat Mitzvah took place at Temple Judea in Laguna Woods and was absolutely fantastic.
It was different for me. Although I’ve been teaching Bar and Bat-Mitzvah for almost 27 years, this one was very special. I was so proud, so emotional, excited and extremely happy to be part of this wonderful family.
We keep in touch and soon, Maylin, Amber and Nathan, will start learning Hebrew as well.
The Sheldon family moved to Washington and all of them are very involved in the Jewish community. I call this a fantastic Jewish story.
– Liora Cohen