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Her Life, Our Classroom

Leah Gebber

Mrs. Yehudis Jaffe’s principles of education were a remarkable fusion of authentic mesorah and cutting-edge technique

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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BE PREPARED “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” Mrs. Jaffe would say. She was very particular not only that we prepare a lesson thoroughly, but that we practice it in front of our peers and tutor before entering the classroom. At all hours of the evening, she would go to sem to watch the girls role-play the lessons they were due to deliver the next day

"M y students are her students.” It’s a sentiment shared by thousands of teachers, world over, alumnae of the teacher-training program in Gateshead seminary, developed and headed by Mrs. Yehudis Jaffe a”h. Committed to instilling each and every child with the sweetness and yashrus of Torah, Mrs. Jaffe’s principles of education were a remarkable fusion of authentic mesorah and cutting-edge technique. Former students reflect on the lessons of her life.

Each morning, the legendary founder of the Gateshead seminary, Rabbi Avrohom Kohn, ztz”l, would wake up his children. He’d lean down and say, “V’hiskadishtem, v’hiskadishtem!” an imperative to spend the day sanctifying Hashem’s name in this world.

To Mrs. Jaffe, this became more than an unusual morning wish. Its message infused her life’s work. Because Mrs. Jaffe did not simply stand at the front of the classroom of 50 Bewick Road. Through the thousands of teachers she trained, she stood behind the teachers’ desk of innumerable classrooms.

“Middos are caught, not taught,” was a maxim Mrs. Jaffe received from her parents, Rabbi and Mrs. Kohn, z”l. And indeed, Mrs. Jaffe’s chinuch was not confined to the whiteboard and the classroom; her very life was a lesson. In her role as an “eishes chaver,” she supported her husband, Rav Ezriel Jaffe, yibadel l’chayim, Rosh Yeshivah of the Gateshead Yeshivah L’tzeirim Tiferes Yaakov and Yeshivah Gedolah Ohr HaTalmud, both in his learning and in his own chinuch endeavors.

It’s easy to spot a visionary, those people with big ideas and sweeping dreams. They crackle with energy and creative ideas. Then there are those people who exude calm serenity. Mrs. Jaffe married enormous idealism with menuchas hanefesh. To be around her was to be inspired to use your gifts and talents for Klal Yisrael, while at the same time partaking of her gentle humor and calm demeanor.

Her students remember:

On Influence

I was not going to be a teacher. Everyone in my family was a teacher, and I wasn’t like them at all. I was going to do something different. I was one of Mrs. Jaffe’s helping girls — probably placed there to keep me on the straight and narrow — and one day, instead of baking a cake, she asked if I’d help her son with his homework.

One of Mrs. Jaffe’s philosophies was, “Never give your students information that they can give you.” She explained that the teacher’s job is not to stand at the front of the classroom and lecture, but to draw the information out of her students — and teach them where to find more

Her little boy was in the dining room. His assignment was spread out on the table. I sat down — and he disappeared under the table. I got down under the table with him — and he jumped onto his chair. I jumped up there with him. He decided he wanted to play football (soccer), so I joined him, kicking a ball to and fro in the front room — a place where I’d usually have been on my best behavior! Eventually, we got the homework done.

That experience made me know that I could tackle the job when a woman called me about her son. He was 12 years old, and she didn’t think he would ever learn his bar mitzvah pshetel or haftarah. Could I help out? I thought about how I reached Mrs. Jaffe’s son and agreed.

I spent a few weeks that summer sitting by the roots of a huge oak tree, while the almost-bar mitzvah boy perched at the top. From where he sat in the branches, he sang the haftarah. I followed alongside, occasionally calling up a correction or two.

When his bar mitzvah rolled around, the boy was word-perfect. And I was ready to step into a classroom. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 571)

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