It was a day to be remembered for all those who participated
in the Yom Iyun that took place this month in Jerusalem under
the auspices of Mercaz Bais Yaakov in Israel, be they former
students of Bais Yaakov, or mothers of present-day students
in this worldwide movement of hundreds of thousands of Jewish
Numbers like these are difficult to envision, but the scope
was graphically and movingly depicted by the opening speaker,
the only man and the only Hebrew speaker, Rabbi Yeshaya
Lieberman, head of the countrywide network of Mercaz Bais
Yaakov schools for higher education.
He tells us how, on a recent fundraising trip in England, he
arrived at the office of a wealthy businessman for an
appointment. Before him was a Rosh Kollel who had also come
for help but was being rudely abused by his `host.' "You're
all parasites!" the man ranted. "All you do is kvetch
the benches. You don't produce!"
Rabbi Lieberman entered the office next, but he received no
better treatment. "You're even worse than he is," raged the
businessman. "If it weren't for the girls you educate, there
would be no kollelim at all. You perpetuate the system of
Rabbi Lieberman's face lit up as he said, "Allow me to call
my father so that he can hear your words, so that he can take
pleasure in the success of his life's work, the establishment
of the Bais Yaakov movement in Eretz Yisroel."
And what are the dimensions of this success? Again we listen
to Rabbi Lieberman who describes the deep pleasure his
father, Rav Hillel Lieberman zt'l had this year, the
tremendous nachas, shortly before his death, when he
was wheeled into the auditorium that held the two and a half
thousand fourth graders of Bais Yaakov students from
Jerusalem alone as they made their "Aliya leBatya," their
initiation into the Batya youth groups which would supplement
their Bais Yaakov scholastic education with Torah steeped
social activities for the next decade.
With tears in his eyes, R' Hillel zt'l turned to his
son, R' Shaya, and said, "In my most fervent prayers, I dared
not even dream for more than a thousand students, and here
before me is this huge, huge number!"
Mindboggling. Like the stars in the heavens...
Mercaz Bais Yaakov has undertaken the vital project of
preserving and documenting material pertaining to the
historic beginnings and developments of the Bais Yaakov
movement, so much of which was destroyed in the Holocaust,
under the capable guidance of Mrs. Esther Farbstein, head of
the history department. The results, so far -- the project is
still ongoing and involves students in the documentation
course -- were presented for the first time to the English
speaking public in a masterful audio-visual display titled
"The Story of a Movement." It included photos, filmed
interviews, letters, newspaper clippings and a brilliant
Viewing this powerful, moving video presentation would have
provided a full program on its own merits. Each of the
speakers could also have provided a rich program. Altogether,
it was almost overwhelming, leaving a lasting impression on
The audience was swept up. The atmosphere was electric,
almost like a simcha, a happy reunion of
schoolfriends, many of whom had not seen each other for fifty
years! I was moved to see a teacher of mine, Rebbetzin
Rottenberg, who was herself a student of Sarah Schenirer!
But you didn't have to be a former B.Y. student to identify
with Sudy Rosengarten's vivid, down to earth description of
the humble beginnings in Williamsburg, of the elementary
school under Rabbi Newhouse [how well I remember him from
Bais Yaakov camp, his sweeping enthusiasm, his "Chaverot,
Achdut,!" his triumphant Shabbos Nachamu marches, his
living spirit], of the terribly difficult test of leaving a
class for gifted children in public school for a dubious
secular education in this shadow attempt of a school.
The figure of the revered Rebbetzin Kaplan came to life from
the personal descriptions of Rebbetzins Wesel, Dissin,
Ravitz, each in their own style, from their own vantage
point. I personally identified with Avigail Ravitz who was
four grades above me, as she described her situation, a young
bobby-sockser from a Mizrachi day school, full of vigor and
talent, slowly, by osmosis, being transformed into a model
Bais Yaakov student.
Rebbetzin Kaplan did not show her disapproval, she
reminisces. She exuded love and concern for every student so
that you wanted to please her; she was your ultimate role
model. She allowed Avigail to express her unique talents by
forming a dance group -- but had a teacher sit on the
sidelines to make sure that correct modesty and B.Y. spirit
was preserved. In my own case, for example, Rebbetzin Kaplan
channeled my writing talents into a school newspaper, also
carefully supervised for content. [Interestingly enough, I
was able to gauge the tremendous impact of Bais Yaakov on the
times and styles. In my case, four years later, bobby socks
were already out, and the point of contention was knee socks,
which would soon make way for full-length stockings!]
The throbbing spirit of Torah chinuch was highlighted
by an eye-opening lesson in the changing times and changing
needs of a fastmoving society, through Blimi Birnbaum's
fervent plea on behalf of students' needs for understanding
and a relationship with the teacher.
The Yom Iyun was an illuminating lesson in history. We see on
the screen, before our very eyes, the Gedolei Hador of the
pre-Holocaust generation providing support to Sarah
Schenirer, the lone woman with unshakable determination: the
Belzer and Gerrer Rebbes, Chazon Ish, Chofetz Chaim
ztzukm'l. We see the mushrooming of the movement from
a simple sewing room to a multistoried edifice on Stanislava
St., Cracow, with branches throughout Poland, and then onto
the neighboring countries, by popular demand. Before our very
eyes, we see highlighted the various newspaper articles of
the times, photographs of the moving spirit of Bais Yaakov:
Leo Deutschlander, Rav Y. L. Orlean, Rebbetzin Greenfeld, and
Leah Landau, who wrote the script for the video, sums it up
in a touching poem, a tribute to the great but humble woman
of vision, Sarah Schenirer, founder of the Bais Yaakov
movement. Put to haunting music, it became the theme song and
was capably translated into English:
Thinking of you more than ever before
Precisely at this moment
And feeling how you're atremble with awe
At such an accomplishment.
A little woman, a soldier alone
Against the street's enticement
Did you foresee that this would come
Or did you fear disappointment?
When your sweet dream first fluttered its wing
Before you knew, yet, of its way
Did you then guess that time would bring
A day like this today?
And did you picture such a world
Upon your inner canvas
In Cracow when the first little girl
Stepped into your class?
When her two eyes met with your warm gaze
And you whispered welcome
Did you see then in her face
The faces we would become?
Evening, when she left your room
With your hopes of her returning
Could you see in the darkening gloom
Bais Yaakov slowly unfurling?
Raise your eyes and see them all
How they have come to join you
They raise their flags to you enthralled
For all that they have has come from you.
The lights are dim in Cracow now,
The girl has long gone back to her home
Yet through the years just look -- at how
Many girls she's brought for your own!