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A Career of Caring

Barbara Bensoussan

After extricating herself and her family from a life of poverty, Batsheva Mandel was driven to help other children whose lives had been marred by tragedy or disability. Batsheva, who helped found Ohel Children’s Home and Mishkan Bnai Yisrael, left this world last Kislev, but her groundbreaking contribution to the welfare of Jewish children carries on.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Born in 1928, Batsheva knew firsthand what it was like to be traumatized by hard times. Her family was severely hit financially when she was a child of about nine or ten, and a younger sister, Gittel, passed away at the tender age of two. Batsheva’s mother was pregnant at the time, and given the circumstances, she was unable to take care of the other children for some time after giving birth. With no one else available to care for them, Batsheva’s grandfather brought them for a temporary stay at an orphanage established by German Jews inLower Manhattan.

“She was only there for maybe a month,” says her daughter Esther Cohn, a birthing coach, childbirth educator, and mother of nine who lives in Beit Shemesh. “But that experience was enough to make her decide that one day she’d build a better home for children who needed somewhere to go. It became a dream of hers.”

Batsheva’s sister, Mrs. Marilyn Bennett, remembers the grinding poverty suffered by the family. “We were five children growing up during the Depression,” she says. “Our father was a shirtmaker, but times were so hard and there was never enough work. He enrolled for a job through the WPA, where they sent him to cut trees in the forest — my father, with his delicate hands! A tree ended up falling on his leg, injuring him, and ultimately resulting in a tumor in that spot, which later killed him.”

While not the oldest child — there were two brothers above her — Batsheva had a fierce drive and can-do spirit that made her the leader in the family. Early on, she decided to take life into her own hands.

“My mother never really had a childhood,” Esther says. “By age 14 she decided she was going to support her family and dropped out of high school. She got a job in a shoe store, later worked as a bookkeeper and went to school at night.” Eventually, Batsheva would earn an MA in psychology and education fromLong IslandUniversity.


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