Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Carrying Her Teacher’s Torch

Barbara Bensoussan

Seventy-nine years ago, a childless seamstress passed away on 26 Adar I, and the world mourned. In honor of Sarah Schenirer’s yahrtzeit, her student Mrs. Raizel Wolhendler shares the impact the founder of Bais Yaakov had upon her life — and upon generations.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

 For most of us, Sarah Schenirer seems the stuff of legends. We all know she created a revolution by spearheading Torah education for girls, but those efforts seem long ago and far away. We barely know what she looked like; the only surviving photo shows a rather fearsome-looking woman with a round face, wide mouth, heavy brows, and coal-black eyes.

But to Mrs. Raizel Wolhendler, now in her 90s, Sarah Schenirer was a warm, loving teacher, who kindled a fire for Judaism that warmed her even during her frozen nights in concentration camps. Although many years younger than Sarah Schenirer, Mrs. Wolhendler was also a native of Krakow, and was sent as a young girl to the original Bais Yaakov and then to the teachers’ seminary before war forced the school to close.

Mrs. Wolhendler is of short stature, but she holds herself erect and exudes a quiet dignity. The youngest of four children, Mrs. Wolhendler (née Dym) was born into a family of Belzer chassidim. During her school years in the 1920s and ’30s, when Bais Yaakov schools were still a new innovation, she attended a Bais Yaakov in the mornings, then a Polish school in afternoons.

“The Polish school ran from one to five or six, even on Fridays,” she relates. “We were young girls and sometimes we dawdled on the way home from school, window-shopping, and on some Fridays we arrived home after our mothers had already lit Shabbos candles.

“Frau Schenirer found out we were getting home after Shabbos, and she had tremendous tzaar from it. She went to the director of the Polish school and asked him, ‘Could you make the day a little shorter on Fridays for the girls?’” Mrs. Wolhendler smiles fondly. “Of course, we knew the problem was us, not the schedule! But by speaking up for us, Frau Schenirer gave us the feeling that she cared deeply about us, and cared deeply about Yiddishkeit.”

In the period after World War I, Jewish youth had been greatly weakened. While many of the chassidic boys were still strongly attached to Yiddishkeit — “some of them barely spoke Polish” — the girls got virtually no Jewish education.

“Frau Schenirer was very bothered by this,” she says. “She thought, ‘Who will those boys marry?’ She spoke to her brother about the problem, suggesting that maybe she should make a school to teach the girls.

“The Belzer Rebbe was in Krakowat that time, to see an eye doctor. Her brother offered to take her to him, to give a kvittel. He was the one who spoke for her. The Rebbe asked her, ‘What do you want to teach?’ She answered, ‘Parshah… tefillah… brachosYahadus.’ He gave no reply. Finally she added, ‘Yiddishkeit,’ and then he immediately responded, “Bruchah v’hatzluchah!’ ”


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

When Tragedy Strikes
Shoshana Friedman What are we giving and what are we getting?
One Nation, Divisible
Yonoson Rosenblum Israel isn’t yet suffocated by political correctness
What Am I, Chopped Liver?
Eytan Kobre Far more disturbing is the title’s unspoken implication
Not Just Politics
Yisroel Besser We’re fighting over something that means the world to us
Are We There Yet?
Alexandra Fleksher Seeing other models of avodas Hashem enriches our own
Top 5 Yeshivish Business Ventures
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Different answers to “So, what is it you do?”
Work/Life Solutions with Mois Navon
Moe Mernick “When you set a goal, it’s going to take lots of effort”
Were They Orthodox Jews?
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman This is why I asked, “What difference does it make?”
You Get What You Pay For
Jacob L. Freedman “Get me a real doctor from Harvard who speaks Persian!”
Tunes That Take Me Back, with Levy Falkowitz
Riki Goldstein “It’s amazing how strong music memories are”
All Rivers Wind Up in the Sea
Riki Goldstein Your heartbeat will slow down listening to the new album
Faigy Peritzman A name symbolizes the essence inherent within
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Inject positivity into your marriage to counter burnout
The Game of Life
Rebbetzin Suri Gibber Use your competitive spirit to score high in life
The Musician Part II
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer “It’s an integrative therapy approach. Not boot camp”