Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Teves 5766 - January 18, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

Beis Yaakov -
From a Tender Seedling to a Fruitful Tree

by Yehudit Golan


Its beginning was sad but in the end, it is flourishing — Beis Yaakov, whose beginnings were paved with the efforts and struggles of the few against the many. Few in number, few in resources but strong in belief and trust, strong in swimming against the current. We hope that it will continue to flourish and grow till all the daughters of Israel will learn only at schools like Beis Yaakov and as part of independent education.

This is the first of a series that recounts the birth pangs of the first Beis Yaakov, founded in Jerusalem by Harav Hillel Lieberman zt'l.

A fresh morning sun accompanied the schoolgirls, stroking their cheeks with its warm rays. With hurried steps, schoolbags on their shoulders, the stream of small figures flowed right and left, each group to their own school.

In those years, before the establishment of the State, those learning in Beis Yaakov knew how to make do with a little. The girls knew this practically from their first day at school. Those who went to other schools looked down on their friends who made their way to the small Beis Yaakov School located in the building that Rav Hillel Lieberman rented in 5694. They felt themselves important and scholarly, with a curriculum including subjects such as nature and algebra, geography and history, taught at a high level and requiring great scholastic investment. They looked at Beis Yaakov with compassionate dismissal. A small place in a modest building on David Yellin Street where girls learn a bit of this and a bit of that but didn't attain, in retrospect, any real "level."

"Where do you study?" one of the neighbors asked little Shulamit, who walked down the street happily, her schoolbag on her back. "At Beis Yaakov," the little one answered with no hesitation. "What! Your parents couldn't find you a school on a higher level?" wondered the neighbor, wounding the embarrassed girl in front of her. The neighbor's words aptly reflected the atmosphere in the street that penetrated many good homes and caused parents to opt for other places.

The girls in Beis Yaakov concentrated on something else. Most of their energies were directed towards limudei kodesh. The level of Judaic classes and dinim, Chumash, hilchos tefilloh at Beis Yaakov were much more elevated than those given at the Shpitzer School and the like, and the girls who silently absorbed the humiliation and continued to stride each morning to Beis Yaakov, knew deep in their hearts that in their small school they invested their efforts in learning what was really important!

Many parents who woke up from their educational illusion and saw with pain how girls from good homes were straying, began transferring their students to Beis Yaakov and thus, there was a constant trickle of students who were accepted to the higher classes. However, despite the knowledge and the recognition of the educational quality of Beis Yaakov, there where still gaps between the young students. These became more pronounced when the young girls were sent to the nearby Ruchama School to get eye drops.

There it stood, important in its glory, the school with the wide classrooms and an ornate synagogue. "The health watch" with proud students and a full-time nurse answered the call of the Ministry of Health and dropped the antiseptic drops in the teary eyes of the Beis Yaakov students who came there in groups. They returned to their school on David Yellin Street after seeing the splendor and confidence emanating from "Ruchama." It seemed fuzzy but close to heart.

The barricades weren't complete, the limits — sometimes not so defined in their minds, and the advantages of the other school winked at them. Aliza was brought up in a chareidi home and all her sisters were sent to learn in Beis Yaakov but when the time came to register her for first grade, her parents hesitated. Beis Yaakov fitted their worldview but Aliza was so tiny, all skin and bones, and at Ruchama — so they had heard — students got a glass of hot cocoa every day, free!

"They also learn dinim and pray at Ruchama. We'll send her there so that she gets strong and grows," they finally decided. Apparently the glass of cocoa had added value in those days. Aliza, in contrast to all her sisters, was registered there. The years passed and at the end of eighth grade, Aliza refused to attend the Beis Yaakov seminary. All her friends continued in the "Mizrachi" seminar and she wanted to be like them.

Fifty years later — Aliza's family is compromising, at best, while her sisters are running chareidi homes. All because of the coveted glass of cocoa that Beis Yaakov couldn't provide for its students.

The Spitzer School was also an object of jealousy. The fancy school prided itself on the study of science, a real laboratory and annexes which one could not even dream of at Beis Yaakov of those days. "The Health Guard" projected order and organization and looked condescendingly upon the Beis Yaakov students in whose school there were as yet no such impressive societies. The huge yard of the school "named after the nobleman of the house of Lemel" was eye- catching.

"If only we had a schoolyard the quarter of this size," the girls of Beis Yaakov sighed while passing the ornate building on Yeshayahu Street (today a Talmud Torah). "We loved, loved our Beis Yaakov school and we were jealous," the veteran students recall the whirlpool of emotions.

The dressed-up girls walking toward the "Evelina de Rothschild" School also attracted attention. They even had a head covering for their impeccable uniform with one hat for winter and another for summer. The British High Governor, who spread his patronage over the school, gave the girls permission to attend classes even during days of curfew when no one was allowed outside. The girls, many of them from religious homes, felt themselves like nobility, with British citizenship, in contrast to their friends who remained at home, watching them with envy. The morning assembly and the special rules of the school were also something to wave in front of their friends in whose school they weren't even able to have a uniform in those days.

In truth, more than once, Rav Lieberman, who ran the school and even taught there during that time, tried to enstate a uniform that would unite all the school's students. But these were futile attempts. The uniform, together with a beret with the symbol of Beis Yaakov, was worn only for a short time. In the days when, for the most part, girls wore second-hand clothes, and the relatives from America sent what they could, there was no way to order a blue skirt and blouse the color of the sky. That's where the initiative ended (to be taken up again after the Second World War).

Slowly but surely, despite the schools radiating around it, Beis Yaakov grew, promising a true Jewish education, walking in the light of gedolei hador without veering right or left.

In the days of terror and shelling that preceded the war of 5708, and during the war itself, the street outside beckoned to the Beis Yaakov girls to join it for its humanitarian gestures and acts of chessed. The students, with compassionate hearts and the enthusiasm of youth, felt the pressure of general society, waiting expectantly to see if they would lend their hand to help. And so, the girls turned to the principal to ask for permission to be in the hospitals to help and support the injured in those frenetic days. In order to add weight to their request, they asked: "Can it be? Is it permissible to stand by indifferently at such a difficult time? It is compassion and pikuach neffesh!" Among the girls were students who today are important teachers and rebbetzins.

Rav Hillel Lieberman was aware of the atmosphere in the street. He even descended into the depths of the whirlpool of emotions that overwhelmed the girls, blurring the main problem in a guise of public service and duty. But he was definitely not confused. "All this is known to Maran the Brisker Rov and our Torah leadership," Rav Lieberman explained to them with determination, "and they decide the matter. If they have told our girls not to volunteer in the hospitals, you have no permission to go there, even if you don't understand why. And about this it is said, 'You shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you, right or left.' (Devarim 17). Even if your leader tells you that right is left and left is right."

Without any unnecessary explanations, discussion or philosophical debate, he informed the girls of the guiding principle of Beis Yaakov. Not everyone understood it in those days and they again felt, perhaps even more so, that they were a minority against a majority. However, certainly when they grew up — they understood better.


Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for trees, was devoted at Beis Yaakov to learning the laws of terumos umaasros — a topic of which people from abroad weren't aware. They tasted new fruits and practiced the laws of which blessings take precedence. Not far away from the ornate building of the Ruchama School blew other winds. They went out to plant trees amid much ceremony and the eyes of the girls wandered wonderingly, "Why them and not us?"

The "Tachkemoni" boys' school (today a traditional Talmud Torah) was also a neighbor. There, in the spirit of Zionism and pioneering, were held ceremonies and parties, which more than once attracted the attention of the Beis Yaakov girls. On the eve of Shavuos, the girls' eyes followed the colorful parade that went out of the "Tachkemoni" school. The ceremony of bringing "the first fruits" took place in honor of the Keren Kayemet and the sheep at the front drew everyone's stares like a magnet. He was decorated with flowers and followed by children carrying decorated baskets of fruits and vegetables.

The Ruchama School did not lag far behind. The same day, a splendid parade carrying sweets left the school for the offices of the Jewish Agency.

"Why don't we have that?" the girls' looks questioned again and again. "What's wrong with a colorful parade and this kind of celebration?" Without big words, without lengthy explanations that little girls couldn't fathom, Rav Lieberman said with characteristic serenity but with a decisive tone: "They are going there, and we are going here."

"Things that were said in simple honesty, calmed us down," says Mrs. Dina, "even though we were little girls. And maybe because of that, we well understood the solid hashkofoh. The knowledge that your path is not our path and we mustn't even approach it."

"The principal knew how to impress in us the feeling of pride that this isn't our path," sums up the Rebbetzin Ezrachi (nee Chadash), "and he places his heart in the path of Hashem."

During those days, when Beis Yaakov was in the minority and without a budget, the principal of Ruchama, Professor Feivel Meltzer (the son of Maran Hagaon Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l) approached Rav Hillel Lieberman with what sounded like a strange request: "Let's make an agreement," the principal asked, whose school had a much larger enrollment than Beis Yaakov, "Let's not compete with each another. You don't take my students, and I won't accept your students."

Rav Lieberman smiled. He felt like the poor man dressed in a fur coat, so to speak, and, amused by the idea, asked, "Which of your students would come to my school?" Only a few years later, the Ruchama school faded out until it closed completely while Beis Yaakov is flourishing and growing.


The blessed increase wasn't foreseen even in the most optimistic forecasts. In the days that preceded the opening of Beis Yaakov, Rav Lieberman arrived at the apartment that was rented at 26 David Yellin Street and asked himself: "What will we do with such a large apartment?" The apartment had two rooms and the foyer seemed big enough even optimistically. In those days, when the Jews in the country numbered all of 600,000, and only a small minority of them were Torah- and mitzvah-observant in every sense of the word, it seemed that the dream of 1,000 Beis Yaakov students seemed much too optimistic.

[to be continued]


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