By Jeanne Sager
LIVINGSTON MANOR November 4, 2003 You know what they say about birds of a feather.
Jewish kids from across the county flock to Livingston Manor these days with retired Fallsburg teacher Richie Chiger at the dry erase board, Hebrew school is suddenly fun.
What other teacher would bring his yellow-naped Amazon parrot to class?
What other teacher would allow a member of his seventh grade group to bring her cockatiel inside to flit around the room?
After retiring from 34 years of teaching, Chiger is in his first year teaching Hebrew school at Agudas Achim in the Manor.
And the children who attend his Tuesday evening classes are in seventh heaven.
One of the things about Hebrew school is that its school after school, Chiger explained. Kids dont want to go.
I didnt want to go, he continued with his signature laugh. So I try to make it fun.
That means teaching lessons with a twist.
And Tuesday that lesson was kindness, based on a portion of the Torah dedicated to working with animals.
To help the children learn, Chiger, president of the Catskills Exotic Bird Club, brought Emma, his rare parrot, into the classroom.
She, whos actually a he misnamed by a former owner, has been on PBS. Shes been to many classrooms with Chiger over the years always to the delight of the children.
Shes a wonderful motivator for the kids, Chiger said. You can learn so much from animals.
And kindness to animals is part of being a Jew.
Chiger knows its important to teach the children about the High Holy Days and the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. But even more important are the life lessons the children learn the classes that help them prepare for the world outside.
The Jewish faith has a lot to do with being kind, Chiger explained. Theres so much we learn in school, but so little is focused on kindness.
Teaching is probably the most important job in the world, he continued.
And its the schools obligation to meet the needs of the child, not the other way around.
And meeting those needs means going out on a limb, Chiger said, teaching the kids in a way that will excite them to learn.
As for the children in Tuesdays class, Emma was one of the most exciting things theyve seen so far with Mr. Chiger.
I like pets and animals, said Josh Lieberman, 8, of Liberty. [Emmas] really pretty and fun!
It was really fun to have her around.