Teaching the ABC’s of proper speech


By: Robert Sussman

Say Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation (CCHF) and what comes to mind? If you answered: the annual videos that are shown each Tisha B’av, enjoyed by thousands around the Jewish world, you wouldn’t be alone, but the CCHF does so much more than that. And it was on a trip last year to Eastern Europe that was arranged by the CCHF that Shelley and Jaron Tobias and Dr Avron Urison began to learn all about the multi-faceted work of the CCHF. “On one of the bus rides,” Shelley explains, “they told us all about some of the anti-bullying programmes the CCHF runs. The video they showed us got me hooked and I immediately turned to Jaron and Avron and said we have to bring this to the schools in SA!” Avron took on the roles of fundraising and organising the community-at-large projects, while Shelley spearheaded getting the CCHF curriculum into the schools and Steven Firer became the financial officer for the organisation. And thus South Africa’s very own Chofetz Chaim Educational Foundation (CCEF) was born!

Although the CCEF is brand new to SA, the CCHF is well-established, having been founded by Michael Rothschild in 1989 for the purpose of spreading the teachings of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, ztz”l, famously known as the Chofetz Chaim, after the title of his classic text on the laws of loshon horah (lit: evil tongue), which deals with Torah prohibitions against gossip, slander, and defamation. Since then, the CCHF has been developing innovative methods for promoting the Torah’s wisdom on human relations and personal development, using a wide variety of communication tools – apps, books, posters, hotlines, audio/video presentations, newsletters, groups, school curriculum – as well as the latest technology (including a daily whatsapp message that got its start right here in South Africa), with a goal of heightening “awareness of such essential values as judging others favourably, speaking with restraint and integrity, and acting with sensitivity and respect.” Via their school programmes, they aim to teach children the art of proper speech – to prevent bad habits from forming – and via their programmes focused on adults, they aim to teach and inspire people towards thoughtfully breaking their bad habits, while simultaneously inspiring them to make good ones.

Since founding the CCEF late last year, Shelley and Avron haven’t wasted a second, racing to get everything in place. “The CCHF has been trying to bring their programmes to SA for a long time,” explains Shelley, “they take being here very seriously and believe we can work as a team to bring the message of Shmirat HaLoshon (guarding our speech) to all of SA.” Thus far, the CCHF has sent two representatives to help get the ball rolling, Boruch Reiss, who produces all of the videos the CCHF puts together, and, more recently, Rabbi Shea Steinberg, who serves as a school liaison. After receiving samples of the various school programmes available, Shelley started meeting with the many Jewish schools in Johannesburg to introduce them to the many offerings from the CCHF and to get them on board – check out the text boxes describing the many programmes that will eventually be available here. The CCEF proudly provides these programmes at no cost to the schools. Participating schools presently include: Bais Yaakov, Hirsch Lyons, Johannesburg Cheder, Maharsha, Sandton Sinai Primary School, Shaarei Torah, and Yeshiva College.

Due to cost and time constraints, both the result of starting so close to the end of last year, the CCEF began with just three offerings to Johannesburg Jewish schools. The first was Konei Olam, a programme developed for Grades 2 and 3 which focuses on middos (good character traits) and features a young boy, named Yoni, who travels around the world, visiting such countries as Russia, China, Australia, and the USA, and teaches mitzvot along the way. Children in the programme receive “passports” that get “stamped” each week with stickers from the eight countries that they visit, in each one learning a new middah, along with a sticker as an incentive that helps the children master each weekly lesson on good manners, including being kind to others, patience, honesty, and gratitude. The second was Mishmeret, an informal programme focusing on Grade 11 girls, which seeks to inspire students through fun activities to improve their relationships with other people, while also taking up formal study in the form of daily learning of one-page of the Shmirat HaLoshen Yomi (a daily dose of guarding one’s speech). The third was the formal Hizaru programme which covers ona’as devarim (causing pain with words), a weekly programme to inspire and educate students in the tools for using the power of speech in a positive way.

The original plan was to grow the number of programme offerings each year, until the full CCHF curriculum was made available to every Jewish school that wanted it – with the hope of eventually spreading these programmes beyond Johannesburg, making them available to all of the Jewish schools throughout South Africa. Building upon the tremendous success of Rabbi Steinberg’s recent visit, however, things have kicked into hyper drive, as the response from teachers and principals has simply been overwhelming, with everyone asking that all of the programme options be made available straight away. And Shelley and her team, with the help of the CCHF, have pulled out all of the stops to make it a reality! While some schools have opted to use one programme across all grades in their school, adapting it as needed to suit each grade-level, other schools have opted to have each grade focus on its own unique programme. And work is already well underway to get things started in the Jewish schools in Cape Town, with both Cape Town Torah High and Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School recently jumping on board.

The community-at-large initiative – which has set the lofty goal of reaching each and every Jewish adult in South Africa with the teachings and importance of proper and positive speech – has started with a very popular programme called 30 Seconds A Day, a short summary, literally one cell phone screen page of information, related to the laws of guarding one’s speech (along with a bit of Torah perspective) sent out as a whatsapp message. [To sign up: download whatsapp, sms subscribe to 0836585935, and save that number in your contacts.] Plans are also in the works for the launch of a short daily shiur focusing on the laws of proper speech to be given by local rabbis in shuls across South Africa, as well as special Rosh Chodesh women’s shiurim to be organised in communities around the country. The goal is to take these laws – which can be quite complex and intricate – and communicate them in simple and easy-to-understand ways.

And Jewish Life is also getting in on the action – having just started a new column devoted to these same topics with the help of the CCEF called A Kind Word, A Kinder World written by CCHF staff writer Sara Gila Margulies.

For more information on any of these programmes or to sign up your school or community, please contact: cchfsa@gmail.com

TIKI – Grades 2 to 5

Tiki is the loveable knapsack mascot of CCHF’s anti-bullying programme. He’s used to depict scenarios that teach children to respect themselves and others. Using a story that will ring true, Tiki teaches kids that they have power tools to make decisions, choosing to act and speak in a respectful way.

Lessons include: each of us is a person of value; solving problems on our own; when and how to share information with a responsible adult about negative/harmful behaviour of others; how to be an “upstander” and not a bystander when witnessing hurtful behaviour, etc.

SHIPUR B’DIBBUR – Grade 0 to Grade 1

A programme created to cultivate positive speech in young students, enabling them to form and sustain strong, meaningful relationships with others. The curriculum includes many age-appropriate social skills and concentrates on speech, especially as it applies to peer relationships. Monthly topics and weekly sub-topics, each representing another idea, are taught twice a week through a variety of methods such as engaging poems, discussion questions, fun colouring activities, inspiring stories, and role-playing scenarios.

Lessons include: words affect our relationships; think before you speak; the domino effect; greetings and smiles; how mean words deflate; negative nicknames; etc.

KONEI OLAM – Grade 2 or 3

An innovative middos (character traits) programme using fun and excitement to help students internalise fundamental traits. Students travel on an exciting worldwide adventure with Yoni, as he traverses the world and experiences the sights and sounds of eight fascinating countries in his quest to acquire good middos. When they complete their journey at the end of the year, they have a personal passport packed with beautiful pictures of each sight – and precious middos to apply to their lives. Daily lessons include theme-based scenarios, questions, activities, take-home contests, and practical applications.

Lessons include: alacrity; truth; kindness; patience; thinking about others; being happy with what one has; honouring parents and teachers; appreciation.


CCHF’s premier programme, being used in over 160 schools, is designed to help children build life-long habits of guarding their tongues from inappropriate speech using fun, excitement, and plenty of motivation. Daily lessons are comprised of halachos (laws) and true-to-life illustrated stories to make the learning as engaging and applicable to children as possible. Weekly and monthly reviews that solidify the lessons are also included.

Lessons include: listening to and believing loshon hora; giving the benefit of the doubt; avoiding loshon hora; causing animosity between people; making damaging statements; etc.


A programme created to help students uncover the power of positive communication and the essential building blocks of friendship. The curriculum includes many age-appropriate social skills and concentrates on speech, especially as it applies to peer relationships. Each segment of each daily lesson was researched and developed to be both user-friendly and impactful for students through engaging stories, activities, role-playing, daily-dos, etc., to help every student absorb and apply the lessons.

Lessons include: greeting others; paying attention to tone of voice and choice of words; empathising; respecting privacy; etc.


A programme designed to impress upon the students the tremendous devastation that ona’as devarim (causing pain with words) causes and to give them the motivation and tools to overcome their urge to speak it. The twice weekly lessons comprised of thought-provoking introductions, true-to-life stories, engaging comics, and practical applications, impart the outlook and halachos (laws) of ona’as devarim to the students in a powerful, yet practical way.

Lessons include: putting the brakes on anger; being blind to another person’s worth; feeling unimportant; knocking others down to pick ourselves up; etc.

HIZHARU – Grade 11

A programme focused on teaching laws and Torah perspectives on causing emotional pain to other people. These weekly exciting, inspiring, and educational lessons will give students a solid foundation and the knowledgeable tools how to use their power of speech as a positive force.

Lessons include: understanding the devastating power of mockery; handling insults; how to apologise; how to correct with respect; including those who get left out; etc.

MISHMERET – Girls, Grade 11

A fun and informal programme to inspire students to grow in areas of bein adam l’chaveiro (relationships between people) and guarding their speech, focusing on one theme per year, with a different aspect of that theme focused on each month, along with daily study of the Sefer Chofetz Chaim (devoted to the study of proper speech).

Lessons include: See positive – instead of viewing people’s downsides, view their upsides; Question your questions – where might they lead? Will they make the conversation take a loshen hora turn?; Inclusion – creating new friendships, getting to know new girls and widening our circles.

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