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Transplanting the Dream: The Legacy of Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan

Danielle Leibowitz

She was an orphan from Baranovich. But she single-handedly brought the vision and the fire of Sarah Schenirer to the distant shores of America. There, she fought apathy, ignorance, and suspicion until she succeeded in planting a tree of Torah whose fruits would change the face of the land.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tu B’Av has always been a special day for our nation. In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, it was a day of rejoicing as the nation filled the yearly quota of wood needed to fuel the divine fire on the Mizbeiyach. It was also a day devoted to helping young girls find their bashert.

This year, Tu B’Av also marks the twenty-fifth yahrtzeit of my beloved rebbetzin — Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan a”h.

Rebbetzin Kaplan was the founder of the first full-day Bais Yaakov High School in America. She inspired a generation of Jewish women who would fuel the divine fire of Torah in America by marrying men who shared their love for Hashem. Rav Aharon Kotler ztz”l acknowledged this point, stating that if not for Bais Yaakov, the yeshivos would be forced to close. It would be pointless to produce bnei Torah, if there were no nashim k’sheiros for them to marry.

 

A Giant of Spirit

I can still recall how Rebbetzin Kaplan appeared to me as a thirteen-year-old girl starting high school. She seemed to be a giant of a person, although physically, she was on the short side. She was impeccably dressed, with not a hair of her sheitel out of place. Most memorable was the radiant smile that graced her face. When Rebbetzin Kaplan was in the room, I felt as if the Shechinah was hovering over her and HaKadosh Baruch Hu was walking right beside her.

This regal, awe-inspiring woman was a study in contrasts. She was soft, warm, and loving, as well as, in her own words, tough as steel. “My name was Eisen [her maiden name] and I am eisen [“iron” in Yiddish].” She was completely open to ideas regardless of their originator — a result of the deep respect she had for every human being. A young ninth-grader would be taken as seriously as a senior teacher. On the other hand, she would not veer an iota from her ideals.

As a young girl, she was a shy, quiet, unassuming orphan, but she grew up with giants of the spirit, and forever after, she stood on their shoulders. Although terrified of public speaking as a youngster, she did not flinch when standing up to those not entirely in sync with the Torah. Her vision was broad and far reaching, yet she was completely grounded in current reality. Everything about her seemed to flow from one seamless whole. Perhaps it was that she appeared to always have an awareness of Hashem before her. He is One, and she viewed herself as His maidservant, attempting to emulate His ways. Rebbetzin Kaplan was brilliant, and her genius was apparent not only in her profound, emotionally charged lessons, but even more so in her interpersonal skills.

In all the years I knew her, I never once saw Rebbetzen Kaplan in a hurry, nor did she ever look upset or flustered. Despite her habit of hesitating before speaking and using very few words, I could sense her sincere love for me. I don’t remember her ever giving me mussar about wearing anklets and short sleeves, nor about anything else. Her mere presence and behavior were more potent than any lecture could ever be. I, like most people she dealt with, considered it impossible to refuse her when she asked me to do something. As her son, Reb Nechemia, put it, she was a gaon in knowing what to say and how to make people feel good.

 

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