Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Teves 5761 - January 17, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
The Benefactor
by Sudy Rosengarten

Part II

The following is a true story of moral courage, of the uncompromise of values that has become the hallmark of the Bais Yaakov model of the Jewish Daughter. Names have been changed.

Story synopsis: Abraham Cohen, stingy business magnate, decides to adopt one philanthropic project to ease his conscience. His arbitrary choice is a seedy-looking girls seminary, which he is invited to visit.

Rabbi Schwartz and Abraham Cohen were a study in contrasts. Rabbi Schwartz, cloaktails trailing haphazardly behind him, sidecurls dancing erratically, gesticulating wildly, looking just as disorganized and absentminded as always -- alongside Abraham Cohen, looking very much the giant on Wall Street that he was. Steel grey temples added yet further prominence to his immaculate appearance, his regal carriage, his flawless grooming. His expression plainly showed his surprise at finding himself in such a dump. But good manners prevailed; he just smiled limply and nodded pleasantly to everything Rabbi Schwartz said.

In the corridors, students stood in animated knots, long flared skirts, stockings, high necks, long sleeves. When Rabbi Schwartz introduced him as the school's new benefactor, they greeted him with smiles, blushed if he stared too long at anyone special. Abraham Cohen tried to identify what or whom the girls reminded him of and was shocked when he realized that they simply looked Jewish.

He looked around and saw the girls, not as they were, but as they might be: trim and pert in his Chic Sophisticate Originals, manicured and coiffed. A little less of that wholesomeness and enthusiasm. Poised and mannered like his own daughters. True, he wasn't always sure if they were real... especially when they blinked their lashes and put on the act... But how sleek they were, and so elegant.

To think what he could do in a place like this! He'd shape those adorable lumps of clay into fashionable young debuteens. He'd teach them style, he'd give them grace. He'd resuce those kids from their Jewish ghetto and give them a polish and a poise that would be his signature on their personalities. Jewish mothers like his own were dead and buried. These would become slick young chicks that would be able to hold their heads high in any society.

Abraham Cohen was actually beginning to enjoy himself. Even his wife would be green with envy at his new find. Let the rabbis plan the curriculum whichever way they wanted. If those girls were crazy enough to want to devote their lives teaching something as antiquated as religion, let them go right ahead; they had his blessings. But they'd do it in style!

And Mama! Mama would finally have her nachas and let him sleep nights. He'd have done his share for Judaism. He'd have repaid his debt to the society that had weaned him. Mama would rest in peace at last.


"I'll tell you, Rabbi," Mr. Cohen was saying with a vibrancy surprising even to himself. "Just give me the O.K. and I'll give you a place to be proud of. Of course, I won't interfere with any school policies or curriculum. That's your department. Just allow me to attend to the frills and the bills."

The autitorium got the first treatment. Wall to wall carpeting was installed, velvet draperies hung, gold scrolled wallpaper lined whatever walls weren't paneled. Furniture arrived in three bonded vans. When the weary, rotund dean of Students walked up to the mangnificent podium, you could sense that she felt totally out of place. But hardly anyone was listening to what she had to say anymore. The magnificance all around was too distracting.

Classrooms underwent similar face lifting. A luncheonette was installed. A dormitory for out-of-town students was opened. And personally directing every move was Mr. Abraham Cohen, the tycoon who directed millions in the American economy.

And Abraham Cohen never tired of reassuring Rabbi Schwartz: "I tell you, Rabbi, you're going to have some fine school here one day; the finest finishing school in the whole country."

Rabbi Schwartz nodded happily. Finishing school, shminishing school. As long as the teachers got paid and the electricity didn't get turned off. And the student body had doubled since Abraham Cohen had entered the school. To look at them made your heart swell. True daughters of Sara, who dwelt in the tent; modest, innocent, inconspicuous... With Jewish daughters such as these, Judaism would never perish.

Every so often, Abraham Cohen would march in with a group of business associates. As they looked around the building and observed the girls in anticipation for their `coming out' action, they all showed surprise, totally unprepared to find that such total innocence and honesty still existed in the twentieth century.

"That's just the way my Bubby looked," the vice president of Modish Enterprise whispered to Mr. Cohen, overwhelmed with sudden loving memories of his past. The student he'd pointed to would look down in flustered embarrassment, the blush rising to her face, making her even more fetching. Those Madison Avenue gentlemen would stand in the back of the classrooms, listening respectfully to the lectures that they couldn't comprehend, and witness with disbelief the serious intellectual enthusaistic response of the students to the subject matter being discussed. Before leaving, they'd write out checks in figures the likes of which Rabbi Schwartz had never dealt with before.

When Abraham Cohen arranged for an informal `poise group' to meet after classes, the administration gave it little thought. As Mr. Cohen explained, it was primarily a series of lectures on personal hygiene and good posture. It was, in fact, supposed to be just that. But Miss Carr, who prepared debutantes for their `coming out,' was so aghast at what she found when she met the girls, that she revised the original program; these students needed a lot more. Make up application, hair grooming, understanding fashion trends were just a beginning. A large mirror was installed in the main corridor.

Slowly, hardly noticeably at first, when classes were subsequently dismissed, there were no longer animated discussions about the subject matter just learned. Instead there was a mad scramble for the mirror outside. Mascara and lipstick brushes were carefully lifted out of newly purchased cosmetic kits and face painting began. Of course, it was just to experiment, the girls, laughing in embarrassment, reassured one another.

Unanimous opinion was that Miss Carr was a doll. So patient and helpful. So charming and knowledgeable. And she cared so much about them. How they loved to hear her tell them stories about her students at Sarah Lawrence; of their proms and debuts and beaus; a world so totally foreign to the world that they lived in, so distant from everything they knew or had ever experienced. Nevertheless, the least they could do was pay attention to what Miss Carr was trying to teach them. They should really put more effort into trying to look like menchen. Looking like a shlump was not exactly the seal of kashrus. They could even become goodwill ambassadors of religion. So fashionable. So chic. So poised and charming. And religious too!

So, during recess, they rushed to the mirror and primped and painted and dreamt of all the worlds they would conquer in the name of religion. And even the bell, announcing resumption of class, couldn't pull them away from their newly discovered destiny. Anyhow, that history teacher was really a bore! And the way she dressed! She really looked like a Grandma Moses.

Strange things were happening. Whereas the halls had always been full of laughing, shouting, alive young girls, an unnatural quiet now reigned.

[Final part next week.]


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