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A Man of Principal

Yisroel Besser

Generations come and go in New York’s Bais Yaakov of Boro Park, but one thing has remained the same: the principal. Assuming the position was a difficult decision for Rabbi Osher Lemel (Oscar) Ehrenreich, who wanted to serve as a maggid shiur teaching Torah. He took it anyway, if only as a stopgap measure. More than five decades later, he’s still at the helm of the largest Bais Yaakov elementary in North America, continuing to guide with unique wisdom and humility.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Imagine, if you will, an emerging Jewish community, so small that it doesn’t even have a girls’ school of its own. It’s in a neighborhood that seeks an identity, with first- and second-generation Irishmen and Italians slowly resigning themselves to the fact that the Jews, steadily flowing in, hold the brushes in their hands — that they will decide the color of the canvas.

So the numbers climb, and the community gets a girls’ school. The students come, slowly but surely, and the school grows. A young, idealistic man with an air of authority about him leads the blossoming institution, steward not just to a school, but to a concept: Bais Yaakov.

There is a cloud hovering over the school: he has to educate young, sincere girls and fill their hearts with pure, undiluted emunah against the backdrop of some of the most horrific events in our history. He has to teach them to believe even as many of their own parents carry the scars and wounds, teach them to sing even as the sounds of muffled sobs fill their long nights.

So he taught them, and they believed.

They grew older, moved on, had daughters of their own.

And he taught the daughters too.

He had a “shprach” (roughly: language) for the newer generation, just as he’d had for the first one. The little school flowered, becoming a big school, meeting the demands of the community, which had not just grown, but exploded all around it.

And then a third generation came in, the children of the rebirth, children who’d never known — and couldn’t even conceive of — the suffering of their grandparents. The children of today, to whom the term survivor means something so different from what it once did.

Imagine that the same principal still leads.

And imagine that the community is Boro Park.

 

 

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