Baruch Bricklin Dor L'Dor Fund

My father, Baruch Bricklin z"l, was dedicated to Jewish education, both for himself and for others. He attended Gratz College in Philadelphia, becoming their first recipient of a Bachelor in Hebrew Literature degree. He headed the Gratz Alumni Association, and was a long-time Vice President of Philadelphia's Solomon Schechter Day School. He sent his own children to Schechter, starting from the very first day it opened when it was still unproven. I remember him carefully teaching me himself to lay tefillin and to blow the shofar.

Baruch trained as an engineer at both the University of Pennsylvania and, during WW II in the Army Specialized Training Program, at Stanford University. He was always open to trying new technology if it was helpful to the task at hand. Upon seeing how useful a mobile car phone could be in the early 1970's (way before today's cell phones) he got one for use in his printing business. He took a course about computerized typesetting from one of the pioneers in the industry, well before it became the norm. Typing on a computer was one of the first "regular" things he did after emerging from a coma after his head injury.

After Baruch died in March of 2010, we, his family, decided to establish a fund in his memory at Gateways: Access to Jewish Education in Massachusetts. Gateways' mission is to "...ensure that Jewish children with a full range of learning styles, abilities and challenges succeed academically, socially, and spiritually to their fullest potential." Our family is dedicated to helping children with special needs and Gateways serves parts of that population that would otherwise not have access to Jewish education. That fund, named the "Baruch Bricklin Dor L'Dor Fund" ("generation-to-generation"), is specifically for purchasing technology that enhances the children's ability to do Jewish learning and participate in prayers and rituals. Like my father's use of technology, this is not just to have technology that is "cool" but rather to have technology that is helpful to the task. We and many of those who knew my father have donated, and are continuing to donate, money to this fund.

So far, as a start, the Fund has been used to purchase two Apple iPads and related software and accessories. This was a decision made by Gateways personnel. I also managed to get a donation of a large-screen TV for use in teacher training and for other purposes.

As an iPad developer myself, I was fascinated by a report I received from their director of Jewish Education Programs. Here is what I learned:

At first blush, the uses for the iPads seem like things that could be done in less technical and expensive ways. However, the special needs of the children being served, with differing dexterity, learning style, and cognitive abilities, limit the usefulness of those "traditional" methods. These are children for whom a traditional school is usually not an option and who were previously unable to participate in Jewish education at all. They now have the ability to use simple gross motor movements to initiate complex responses. They now can benefit from the multisensory input and output features of the technology. This has given them access to Jewish education in ways unavailable before. In addition, the "consumer-level" nature of the devices and their use means that teachers can tailor material themselves to individuals.

The Gateways iPads are loaded with games and learning tools for many Jewish and educational subjects along with more traditional tools like word processors and media players. They have apps for learning and writing in Hebrew and for learning Torah. There are apps that bring Bible stories and Jewish holidays to life for children who can't read or are not interested in traditional books. Gateways teachers have adapted other material so that those that can't read can listen, or those that can't turn a page can "swipe" on the screen to feel in control and move at their own pace. They use the music and recording capabilities to record themselves and share with others. There are games to set up and light a menorah as well as recite the Passover Four Questions.

Some of these uses may seem trivial to one of normal abilities, but the joy of being able to "light" a candle on command or initiate the recitation of a prayer can provide a major feeling of inclusion to one unable to do it otherwise. Many of us spend so much time learning to perform rituals the exact "right" way that we miss how miraculous it is when someone who was unable to do it at all is finally able to observe a mitzvah or follow a tradition and be a participating member of their congregation or family Seder.

This report of how Gateways is using their iPads reminded me of an email I received from the mother of a user of the iPad note taking application I wrote. By allowing her son with Cerebral Palsy to write with large strokes directly with his finger and have the lines shrunk down onto math and spelling homework sheets, the iPad let him do this homework for the first time himself without needing to dictate to others.

There has always been controversy about the use of technology in education. Can a computer really improve learning? The experience here shows that at least in this sphere, with this population and these tools, technology most certainly does make a big difference. Previously-challenged children go from "unable" to "able" and from "uncomprehending" to "comprehending." Versatile personal technology, easily shared by teachers and students, and able to be usable without the need for fine motor control or high verbal abilities, opens new doors. Some of us in the old days with visual challenges found out that with the old technology of glasses we didn't have to always sit in the front of the class to see the blackboard. Now devices like the iPad, made popular and affordable because of games and "my cat walks on the piano" videos, are similarly breaking down learning barriers for those with cognitive and physical challenges.

It is the second anniversary of my father's death and time for new disbursements from the Fund. Given the success so far, Gateways is looking to move forward based on what they've learned. They plan to purchase additional iPads, headphones, portable speakers, and portable projection equipment. (They have been using a larger projector with a paper table cloth as a screen.) The more iPads they can get the better. They are also hoping that as people upgrade to newer devices they will donate their old ones to this worthy cause - even the first versions of the iPads have proven extremely useful.

Micah Zimring, who as a teenager and young adult worked closely with my father when he lived next door doing calligraphy and graphic design for Bar-Mitzvah invitations and other Jewish material, has designed a logo and special sticker to place on the technology resources that they purchase.

I wrote this to update those who have already donated to the Fund at Gateways, and to inform others who may want to donate in the future. I also wrote it so that people can learn from Gateways' experience and see how technology can help in ways that may not have been obvious at first. That's how it often is with technology. It is developed with some specific purposes in mind but when it gets in the hands of many people with additional needs some of those people then find wonderful unforeseen ways to apply it. With respect to the technology being used by Gateways, to all of the hardware, software, and app developers, and to the teachers: Yasher Koach! You did a great job!

-Dan Bricklin, March 14, 2012

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