In most days, Barclays Center in Brooklyn is filled with thousands of fans from all over the tristate area. They gather to cheer their team on to victory or to mourn with them in defeat. But on 26 Adar, a different sort of crowd will be gathering. They will come not to make noise, but to listen; not to be excited, but to be inspired. Thousands of Jewish women of all ages will attend, eager to learn more about a remarkable woman who has had a tremendous impact upon every single one of them.
Who is this woman? Surely, it must be someone they know from the community, perhaps a relative or a teacher with whom they share a close bond. In reality, though, it is a woman whom almost none of them have met personally. In fact, she never set foot on American soil.
Her name was Sarah Schenirer, and she was the founder of the Bais Yaakov movement that resulted in the establishment of schools all over the world. In the city of Krakуw in prewar Poland, she planted the seeds for the Torah education of hundreds of thousands of Jewish girls.
Educators are often respected, even revered, but clearly those gathered in enough numbers to fill a sports arena must have a deep emotional connection to Sarah Schenirer. This is because in Torah education, teachers do much more than instruct—they are role models, figures who live what they teach.
It is nothing short of extraordinary that the values personified by Sarah Schenirer are so relevant to the women and girls of our generation. We can catch a glimpse of those values and the spirit of the Bais Yaakov movement by reading some of the letters Sarah Schenirer wrote to her close students.
You may remember reading about Rebbetzin Yenta Mannes, a student of Sarah Schenirer. Rebbetzin Mannes was born Yenta Wrobel in Zaremby, Poland, and was recruited by Sarah Schenirer to attend the Bais Yaakov seminary in Krakуw. After she graduated, she taught for some time in Telshe, Lithuania. During her harrowing years in Shanghai, she married Reb Hillel Mannes and helped start a Bais Yaakov school for refugee girls.
After the war, the Manneses moved to Wickliffe, Ohio, where she continued her chinuch work. (To learn more about Rebbetzin Mannes and the Bais Yaakov of Shanghai, you can purchase the book A Bridge Between Two Worlds, published by KFHEC.)
The Mannes Collection is now part of the archives at KFHEC, and in commemoration of Sarah Schenirer’s legacy, we are honored to share excerpts of a letter that Rebbetzin Mannes received from her.
Less than a year before her death in 1935, Sarah Schenirer penned these words to her “dear daughters”:
“Because the summer has arrived so quickly, I am afraid that the yetzer hara has, chas v’shalom, begun working on my children…
“[The yetzer hara] screams, ‘How long will you be so foolish and sweat in such uncomfortable clothing? … One can clearly see that the world has moved on; don’t be the exception!’
“Yes, my dear children! The yetzer hara has his fine phrases… But you must answer him with pride: ‘No! No! And a thousand times no! We will not be fooled and we already know your tricks! You convince us with your words, and then you go before the heilige Bashefer to prosecute us.’”
She further encouraged her students by writing, “We want to follow in the footsteps of our mothers Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. We will never stand still in our Yiddishkeit! We know that Hashem has chosen us from all the nations… Therefore, He gave us His trust; thus, should [we] not strictly adhere to it?
“Yes, my children! Stay strong! Stay strong! … Even if the entire world will mock you, stand firm! Stay strong! Our Torah banner wave…”
Do we not face the same tests today? Can we not hear the confidence and understanding in these words, which continue to instill pride and kavod in generation after generation?
This is the reason Jewish women will come to this event en masse. Like the fastpaced action of a basketball game that begins to fade with the final buzzer, the fashions of yesteryear disappear quickly. But though style may change, the pressures of the secular world forever tug at our sleeves, luring us with the promise of shallow satisfaction. Mothers and daughters will gather because they draw strength from the message of Sarah Schenirer. As long as Bais Yaakov schools flourish worldwide, her legacy will live on.
May her neshamah have an aliyah, and may we continue to learn from her timeless example for many years to come.