Below are images and a transcription of teachers’ answers to the question “How has Bais Yaakov changed over the years?” Some context:
- This appeared in the Kislev-Teves 2006 volume of L’chu, Bais Yaakov High School’s student publication.
- This refers specifically to the Bais Yaakov high school founded by Rebetzin Vichna Kaplan and her husband Rabbi Baruch Kaplan, in 1938. (A Bais Yaakov elementary school was established by someone else, whose name and dates I cannot seem to find now and begin to wonder if I was fed a wrong version of history yet again…)
- The BYHS in question now exists on 15th Avenue and 45th Street in Boro Park. The first location, in 1938, was in Williamsburg, and branches opened in Brownsville and Boro Park as the charedi community grew and expanded across Brooklyn. Eventually the branches in Williamsburg and Brownsville closed down, as other schools came in to replace them.
- I know some of the statements below to be false (aside from the fact that they contradict each other at times – oh, what I would give for a basketball team or swimming activity as Reb. Wesel describes!). Reb. Kirzner was a classmate of my mother’s, and Reb. Kirzner’s memory (or “memory”) of an austere, fun-less, learning-loving group of Bais Yaakov girls is just… false. Her yearbook proves otherwise.
- It may not be obvious, but not a single one of these teachers was referring to secular studies when they talked about how much girls loved “learning” (except maybe Mrs. Halpert, who taught American history – note the lack of the honorific “Rebetzin” for her because she was in the “goyish department”). They meant tanach, hashkafa, halacha, etc. – Judaic studies.
Transcription below the images.
Bais Yaakov High School was established over 60 years ago. Many things have changed since its beginning. Many of our current teachers went to and taught in Bais Yaakov in its earliest years. We thought you would find it interesting to read about what Bais Yaakov was like then. You’ll be surprised! Thank you to all the teachers who took the time to answer our questions!
Q: HOW HAS BAIS YAAKOV CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?
- Today the girls are too involved in the extras. Back then, there were less extracurricular activities with a lot less frills yet it was still memorable and enjoyable. Girls then got more of a geshmak from learning another meforash than staying late after school like the girls of today. However, today girls are more sincere.
- Today we have a lot more going on. Our entertainment was the assemblies we had every two months where girls or teachers would speak – even our entertainment had tochen. It was not just fun! For a while, we had Rosh Chodesh assemblies where all the branches would come to Williamsburg and we got to know the whole Bais Yaakov. Then we also had plays but they were not as elaborate as the major productions there are today.
- The school has grown tremendously – we only had two parallel classes! But because of our small size, we had a closer connection to the teachers – also because we had the same teachers two or three years! We felt free to talk to the teachers during or after school and there was a very cozy atmosphere among everyone.
- Our teachers were students of Sara Schenirer so they taught us more hashkafa than you learn today. We also had Rabbi Shlomo Rotenberg for Historia who gave us profound hashkafa. Rabbi Hellman taught us Chumash in addition to being the assistant principal.
- We wanted to learn as much as we could because we hardly knew anything. Today’s girls know so much more and are altogether better.
- Bais Yaakov has always been and still is a part of me. I don’t see any changes!
- Today there is no respect for authority and girls come to school to socialize, not to learn! However, today girls care more about each other and do more chessed.
- We had male teachers for Limudei Kodesh such as Rabbi Hellman, Rabbi Rotenberg and Rabbi Godlofsky. Many of our English teachers were from the public schools such as Mr. Sanfilipo. For English, the teachers stayed in the classrooms and the girls moved around!
- Today girls photocopy notes when they are absent or just did not take notes. We all took notes! When someone was absent, we used carbon paper – there were no photocopy machines. We also did not spend so much on lunch and snacks. Most of us were very poor and we did not run to the store for everything like you do today.
- There was one small store near school, which girls went to occasionally. One time when a girl was on her way there, she saw Reb. Kaplan. Reb. Kaplan said to her, “Why aren’t you wearing a coat?” Teachers were always concerned that girls should not catch cold!
- Everything was done much less elaborately – there were no breakouts and fun was not overdone. For fun, we had trips to the park and just spent time with our friends. We would cut class to walk over the Williamsburg Bridge. Sometimes we hid on the fire escape! Extracurricular wasn’t so fancy – I was the head of the tzedakah campaign, and we stood on the steps of school to collect money. We even went to collect on trains! We looked like homeless people but we collected a lot of money.
- And today I’m the extracurricular Rebbetzin! I love Bais Yaakov. It’s the best!
- Then there was more individual motivation to learn, so even though the classes were less strict, we were more into the learning. When we had free periods, we studied! We were not allowed to leave the building, though.
- Today the world is faster paced with computers and so much to do. Then, things were simpler. The ‘big excitement’ was reading books!
- Now there are so many girls’ schools. The only other schools then were Shulamis and Satmar.
- We had great respect for our teachers because many of our teachers were students of Sara Schenirer.
- We had a chessed program then also, but today it is much bigger.
- One major difference is that there is less emphasis placed on learning. However, “The more things change, the more they stay the same!” Bais Yaakov is still Bais Yaakov!
- Like today, we did have fun, but on a much lower scale. We had sports teams (I was captain of the basketball team!) and our math teacher took us swimming twice a week. The extracurricular was not as ‘shticky’ as it is today, either. Now the ikur and tafel are switched. In my schooldays, we knew not to concentrate on making the extras perfect while forgetting about the learning.
- We wanted to learn and appreciated Bais Yaakov, so Reb. Kaplan did not have to work to keep us focused on the lessons. Today’s teachers need to be circus actors just to get the girls to pay attention! Back then, everything we learned was very precious to us. Today girls are so saturated with knowledge that it has no chashivus for them and they forget everything they learned right after the test.
- We also learned at a much more accelerated pace – the second half of senior year was already seminary.
- On the other hand, girls today have a greater level of caring for each other and do more chessed. The chessed program of today is much more extensive than it was then.