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Beit Midrash-Sarah Scheneirer Print E-mail
Written by Machberes Avodas Hashem   

Yahrtzeit-Sara-SchenirerThe 26th of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Sarah (bas Betzalel) Scheneirer, mother of the Bais Yaakov movement (1888-1935)When Sarah Scheneirer, the founder of the Bais Yaakov movement left this world, she was 52 years old. She died after a short illness in a Vienna hospital in the midst of her work, having led the movement since 1923. When the news of her passing spread, thousands upon thousands of girls and women who had been praying fervently for her recovery, felt that their own life cord had been caught and that they had personally received a paralyzing blow. Tens of thousands had known her personally, had clung to her as to a personal intimate friend and had been known to her. They were her children; they knew her teaching, her manner of speech and her personal ways of life. They had her picture imprinted upon their minds, a living picture, giving inspiration together with vision. Sara Schereirer died an hour before Shabbat. She had asked for the candles to be brought to her bedside, and for the last time she had lit them. There were still burning when her soul returned to God.

 

Sarah Scheneirer would probably never have left her small home in the Kraków ghetto, had not the World War forced her to seek refuge in Vienna. 1915 sees her, a woman of 32, and the Jewish quarters of Vienna, together with thousands of others who had fled from Galicia, struggling to find a temporary home until the storm had abated.

One Shabbat morning, a Rabbi ascended the pulpit to address his congregation. It happened to be Shabbat Hanukkah and he spoke of the Maccabees, their strength, steadfastness, and loyalty to the name of God. His thoughts were clear and deep, his illustrations and examples convincing them fascinating. In the woman's gallery a stranger listened spellbound. She experienced a revelation. What was it that was so new, so striking in the speech that made her breathless with inner excitement? Here were the words she had been longing to find, here was the truth of Jewish teaching. The beauty and the glory of Jewish History were laid clear before the listener in a manner that could not fail to interest. Here were words like sparks that could kindle. Until now she had been groping in the dark, not knowing how to set out to accomplish the task for which she felt the burning desire. Now, listening to Rabbi Flesch of the Stumpergasse, she saw her way clear before her. It would be simple, she would only have to magnify his voice, to pass on his words, so clear, so convincing, to all the women back home were unaware of the fact that such truth existed. Like her, they would be dazzled by the light and then be guided by it. Their desire for learning, that had until now driven them away from home, would then be satisfied, the idea presented to them could not fail to impress them deeply and thus they would be led to respect Jewish life and to cling to it.

So, Sarah Scheneirer wrote down with painful loyalty every speech, every lesson she heard from Rabbi Flesch during the years in Vienna, when she became his constant and most regular and conscientious pupil. The thicker the volume of her writings, the more impatient she grew to go back to Kraków to share the treasures she had gathered.

In 1917 she we turned home; and for 5 years she struggled in vain to find a way of attracting the young ladies of Kraków permanently. She assembled them, it is true, but she failed to hold them. Her words seemed to come back to her empty, and in spite of the growing determination to acquire a circle of listeners and pupils, she found herself alone for a very long time.

But with every failure her determination increased. She kept her treasure close to her heart and her vision clearly before her eyes; she was certain that just as she had been granted the language to speak so she would find the hearts to speak to.

And she found those hearts, willing to listen and to learn, when she finally turned to the children of the town.

Now we have come to the part of her story that sounds rather like an old-fashioned fairytale, when the dressmaker turns overnight into a teacher in the workshop into a classroom, and the customers, instead of sending in their orders, send their children to be pupils of the school. It curious cool indeed, without blackboard, Bell, utensils, or books; with a teacher whose main qualification is her single-minded aim, and her love of the Torah. Who called the teacher to her place? No one ever bothered to ask. The children were all eager to comment to stay as long as they were permitted; the older ones begged to be allowed to help the younger ones. They all loved Sarah Scheneirer and quite forgot that she was their teacher; they spoke to her as to a mother who had always time and patience to listen.

In spite of the primitive set up of the school, the number of children grew rapidly, and soon there were so many in the small room that was impossible to carry on. Sarah Scheneirer saw herself forced to refuse admission to any more children.

Of course, here was something wrong. How can one person teach hundreds of pupils? The solution would be the training of teachers would each be able to teach a group.

So in the year 1923 Sarah Scheneirer started on her own initiative with her own meager means and in her own magic way to train teachers.  This was the beginning of the Bais Yaakov movement, one that would bring 12 year-old Chava Weinberg, my aunt, from the Bronx to Kraków to train to be a teacher to the young women of America.

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