I Can’t Read or Learn….or Can I? | Rabbi Dovid Abenson

Sixteen-year-old Yisroel R, was on the verge of throwing away a life of Torah and Yiddishkeit. His ba’al teshuva parents had been frum for about eighteen years. Yisroel was their bechor. Despite the financial costs, they were exceedingly excited about providing their son with a solid Torah education.

From an early age, Yisroel had indicated signs of restlessness, later diagnosed with ADHD. The Rubinsteins lived in a smaller community where the local yeshivos couldn’t deal with his challenges: There was, in fact, little understanding or appreciation of children such as Yisroel, who was fidgety and behaviorally immature. His parents were heartbroken. They watched their son return from yeshiva day after day, crying and confused. He was repeatedly insulted by his rebbeim intent on “bettering” his character and setting him on the right path and was emotionally bullied by his classmates.

Matters reached a climax in the tenth grade when a classmate punched him in the stomach. “Once again, we were out of there,” Mr. Rubinstein said.

After failing in five different Yeshivos, Yisroel was ready to give it all up.  

“I had experienced so many negative experiences in the Jewish world  that my distrust of the entire yeshiva system had reached a boiling point,” Yisroel later confided. “If you aren’t at the top of the class, then you aren’t worth your rebbi’s time. While a small percentage of top students succeed, the rest of us fall by the wayside.”

Yisroel had given up davening. He wanted to leave the yeshiva and finish his studies in a public high school. Just when all seemed lost with his son, Mr. Rubinstein heard about Shaar Hatalmud in a local Jewish paper. Yisroel could not believe it when his father showed him the ad “I had just bought a one-way ticket for the “I’m out of here” train on the “Never Coming Back” station.”

Educating Yisroel proved far less challenging than I had anticipated. After a thorough evaluation, I ascertained that Yisroel fundamentally did not know how to read. To compensate, he memorized sentences that his rebbi recited. Even more astonishing, he couldn’t recognize half the letters of the Aleph-Beis, let alone the nekudos under them. And those letters he did know, he often confused with others.

Yisroel had attended five Yeshivos over eleven years. Throughout that time, nobody had the slightest suspicion that he could not read. It was not a surprise to me why he found Gemara’s study emotionally and psychologically torturous: Every day he encountered a blatt Gemara, it seemingly shouted back at him, “You are stupid.”

We went back to basics. For the first year, we worked strictly on Aleph-Beis and on developing his reading proficiency. Then, we tackled the translation of the words themselves, slowly building up a data bank of words. It was tedious work, but Yisroel proved an enthusiastic and able student. Rather than attend public school, his parents homeschooled him. He graduated a year later, having combined two years in one. During the evenings, he plugged away at his limudei kodesh studies word by word and pasuk by pasuk. A veil seemed to lift from his eyes within time, as Chumash and Mishnah started making sense to him. His father cried when Yisroel told him he was ready to give Yeshiva another shot.

“That was a crazy year for me. I graduated with honors. I learned how to read Hebrew, something I was never able to do before. I felt energized with thoughts of the future. I boarded the EL AL flight to Yerushalayim to attend the Gesher program at Aish HaTorah. That was eight years ago. I’ve since progressed in my learning, having celebrated my second siyum on the shisha sidrei Mishnah.”

Over the years, I have encountered many Yisroels, who were on the verge of dropping out of Yeshiva. I have also met many serious learners, ( kollel youngermen and Roshei HaYeshiva too) who were not on the verge of dropping out of yeshiva. What they share in common is their lack of certain fundamental skills.

What Jewish household today is not affected by someone who has become disaffected with learning?  Torah institutions grow and flourish and more and more seforim are being published. Yet at the same time, there is an educational crisis. Teaching the fundamental skills of learning has been neglected in our school systems.  

Rabbi Mattisyahu Salamon shlit”a has been in support of my program from the outset. ( It was Rabbi Salamon who encouraged me to train in this field in the first place).

In order to educate parents and mechanchim as to why we are experiencing this phenomenon, I decided to focus on writing a Sefer, for which the Mashgiach gave me a warm haskomo. This book is for parents, students, and Mechanchim. My goal is for all those who are struggling, should have somewhere to turn: a sefer that will give chizuk, practical help, and hope. In the book, I share insights, heartwarming, inspirational stories, and practical step-by-step methods on how to learn a page of Chumash, Mishnah, or Gemara. Finally, after years of work this sefer “I Can‘t Read and Learn”has been written and has been accepted for publication by Feldheim Publishers.

The purpose of this book is to reach as many parents and students as possible, giving hope and practical directives, and as more and more people realize the neglect of fundamental skills in our school system and the problems this is causing, there will be a shift back to the original teaching methods that are our true Mesorah.

A person is a whole world. If it encourages even one rebbi to persevere with basic skills until every child is proficient before rushing ahead, it could help a whole class of children. If it encourages even one Menahel to shift the focus of his school’s curriculum away from content to skills, it could positively impact generations. My hope is that it will help many and become a valuable resource for every home and school.

If this book saves even one Jew, like Yisroel R in the above story, it would have been worth the while to publish it.


If anyone would like to be part of this project, sponsorship opportunities are available.

To pre-order, please WhatsApp/ Text 514 993 5300, call 514 739 3629,

email  [email protected]


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  1. its important to remember that children who go off the derech generally have a mental illness as there is no logical reason for anyone to throw away the beauty of Torah for the emptyness of the world of sheker.

      • The mental health community generally considers leaving the religious community you grew up in, as a potential sign of various different mental illnesses.
        So not quite rubbish and nonsense.
        It is also not accurate to say that they generally have mental illnesses either, as for many of them it is not necessarily a mental illness, rather a trauma that must be properly dealt with.

    • Sadly most of us are just told there is beauty and not taught or shown it. We are guilted and punished into living a Torah life. Be real even if it were an issue of mental illness when you are talking about thousands of kids there’s a reason why so many develope what you call a mental illness.

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