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What Matters Most

A small flicker, a smoldering ember. If left unchecked, it can become a raging inferno, consuming everything in its path. Unless someone stands tall and douses the flames. Four tales of courage

When a second girls’ school opened up in our community, the consensus on the street was that this was a positive development. After all, the community was growing, and competition was a good thing, no?

Rumor had it that the administration of the first school didn’t think so, but if they were upset at first, as time went on, the old school’s administration apparently came to a resigned acceptance. Bais Rina was here to stay.

We chose to send our daughter to Bais Rina. We’d heard glowing reports about the principal and the staff. The one drawback was the school’s lack of a building. Even several years after it had opened, the Bais Rina students were still learning in caravans and a rented shul hall. The old school, Moreshes Chana, was also dealing with a lack of space, housed in a dollhouse-sized building, with caravans taking up most of the yard.

That year we were having municipal elections, and, coincidentally, the new community center that had been promised for years suddenly began to materialize. As construction on the sprawling new building progressed, some communal institutions began to set their sights on the old community center.

Our principal, Rebbetzin Hindy Lewin*, was among the earliest to grasp the opportunity. She was also fortunate enough to have connections in the local government, and, with the siyata d’Shmaya of good timing and a well-presented case, Bais Rina was awarded the old community center. We parents were thrilled, and, as summer vacation began, our girls were already looking forward to being in their new premises the next year.

But over the summer, things changed. It started insidiously — whispers, complaints, claims, implied accusations. Over in City Hall, different connections were pulled. By the time Rebbetzin Lewin got wind of what was going on, it was too late. The municipality informed her that, for various legal and technical reasons, come September, the coveted building would be handed over to Moreshes Chana.

September was only a week away.

 

When the news broke out among us Bais Rina parents, it unleashed a firestorm. We were livid at this shocking turn of events and at the underhanded way in which it happened. To steal a building out from another school? How could a Torah institution stoop so low? No one could talk about anything else.

When we received the invitation to come to an emergency meeting for the entire parent body at the school the following evening, we speculated eagerly about what the principal would tell us. The real story behind this scandal? The steps being taken to win back their building? Would we be going the legal route? The political route?

The next night, the room was packed with furious and curious parents.

None of us were prepared for what the principal actually said.

“Good evening,” Rebbetzin Lewin began. “I appreciate that you came out tonight, because I have something very important to discuss with you.”

We all leaned forward in our seats.

“As you know, we’re going through a difficult crisis right now. We expected to have a new building next week but, unfortunately, as of now it doesn’t look like that will happen.”

One father spoke up. “Have you tried Lederman on the City Council? He’s helped me in the past, I’m sure that I—”

The Rebbetzin held up her hand. “I appreciate all offers of help, and anyone who has a suggestion, please see me afterward.” She looked at the rumbling crowd. “But that’s not why I called you here today. I want to speak to you about something far more urgent: your daughters’ chinuch.”

That surprised us into silence.

“The problem of the building is on my shoulders, and I’ll deal with it, one way or another. But the chinuch of our girls is the concern of us all, and it’s so much more important than any disagreement over a building.”

She straightened her shoulders and swept her gaze around the room. “If our girls learn machlokes from this incident, if they learn to hate their fellow Jews, that will be much, much worse than anything that’s happened until now. I called this urgent meeting to ask all of you, please don’t discuss this in front of your children.

Her voice rose. “Don’t let them hear your anger or your criticisms of the other side. If the girls ask you about it, tell them that this is what Hashem wanted, that we have to try to understand and forgive our fellow Yidden.

“And please,” she beseeched, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the anguish on her face, or the feeling that swept over me at that moment, dousing the fire of indignation, replacing it with a flame brighter and truer and tall enough to touch eternity, “please, I’m begging of you, let’s teach our children shalom.”

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 691)

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