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Tenacious Teachers of Tiberias

Esther Teichtal

Today many girls have to beg to be admitted to the Bais Yaakov of their choice. But in the 1940s and ’50s, it was the teachers — many of them just out of school themselves — who did the pleading. A look at the struggles and triumphs of the early years of Bais Yaakov in Eretz Yisrael.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Birds chirping in the bushes accompanied 17-year-old Rivkah Zalaznik’s every word — they almost seemed to be delivering a running commentary on her lesson — but the group of girls before her didn’t seem to notice. Not many years younger than herself, they sat in a haphazard circle on the rocky shores of the Kinneret, and picked at the odd blade of grass as they studied parshah in the hot summer sun.

These ten girls were the sum total of the Tiveria Bais Yaakov’s student body in the 1940s. The embryonic school did have a bricks-and-mortar classroom of sorts: a three-room rented apartment that doubled as their teachers’ lodgings at night. But someone, somehow, at the organization’s headquarters inJerusalemhad defaulted on the rent and their incensed landlord had evicted them, lock, stock, siddurim, and Chumashim.

Rivkah and her two colleagues — the entire school staff at the time — simply relocated down the hill to the banks of the glistening blue sea, where they camped out beneath the open skies for a week or so, until the funds came through.


The Pioneering Spirit

Rivkah was among the first teachers dispatched by Rabbi Hillel Lieberman, founder of the Bais Yaakov movement in Israel, to travel outside Jerusalem. Tzfas, Haifa, Beer Sheva, Rosh Ha’Ayin, and Tiveria, to name but a few, were all slated as potential centers for new Bais Yaakov schools. Of all these, Tiveria seemed to hold the most promise, since a fairly large nucleus of frum families were already settled there.

The staff of the new school — three idealistic girls freshly graduated from the Jerusalemelementary school — settled in a dilapidated apartment that had to serve as both dorm and classrooms. Though still in their teens, they were in charge of planning curriculums, teaching kodesh and chol, and creating a stimulating, fun environment for girls not much younger than themselves. The relatively small age difference didn’t seem to matter. As the only teachers available to infuse the fire of Yiddishkeit into the old yishuv community then residing in Tiveria, their youthful enthusiasm and deep-seated convictions more than made up for what they lacked in years.

It wasn’t simple. Home was distant, and to call their parents they needed to place a request with the telephone company first, and then wait — sometimes for days at a time — till their turn arrived to hear a comforting voice at the other end of the line.

When trouble reared its bothersome head — as it did with the traumatic eviction — they had only their own creativity to fall back upon, amid heartfelt supplications to the One Above.

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