Teaching Torah at Toras Chaim is an educator’s education on human connection

November 25, 2020

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Former Gomley Chesed Synagogue in Portsmouth has been successfully reimagined as a vibrant hub of Hebrew learning. The Churchland site is the home to Toras Chaim, a lively Jewish community affiliated with United Jewish Federation of Tidewater that stresses Derech Eretz and invokes Torah study as a life guide.

In August, Toras Chaim welcomed Rabbi Yonah Lazar and his wife Shira to Virginia, where Rabbi Lazar stepped into a new role as Head of School.

Rabbi Lazar believes that ‘People of the Book’ are expected to be lifelong learners. His parents were Jewish Day School leaders and his grandfather served as Superintendent of his city’s Public Schools.

During his 30-year career in Jewish education, Rabbi Lazar taught and led cutting edge schools on both coasts, and the former Soviet Union.

“Toras Chaim…with life; for life!,” is more than just a tag line. Children must love to learn and be taught how to learn. Students’ connection to their teachers is paramount.

For that their teaching must be alive and vibrant. Teachers’ love for their students must be evident. Mastery of skills is the second necessary ingredient,” says Lazar.

“People only stay with something they feel they are good at. Bringing Torah learning and ideals to the youth of the Tidewater community is a very lofty task. In today’s confusing world, not to mention mid pandemic, we cannot afford to ‘get it wrong.’”

The Gomley Chesed building recently received a full overhaul, both inside and out.

Project “Put a Smile on Toras Chaim,” is more than vibrant paint colors, LED lighting and waxed floors. School is no longer just about Chumash lessons and math problems.

The Toras Chaim mission is to develop happy and healthy children who love Torah lessons and feel connected to their teachers.

“Our instructors visit their students’ homes and daven at the same shul. These bonding opportunities impact their education during the week, on Shabbos and Sundays, as well as holidays and vacations. It builds an awareness of the whole child and makes them feel special,” says Rabbi Lazar. “As a result, children have more enthusiasm for their math equations because they have the tools and confidence to acquire new skills. At Toras Chaim, learning becomes a way of life. Each child is precious to us. The smiles on their faces say it all.”

This is part of a series of articles spotlighting local and overseas partner agencies that are beneficiaries of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s annual Community Campaign. your dollars at work.

- Lisa Richmon

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