Sara Schenirer: One Woman’s Impact on the World
July 15, 1883 – March 1, 1935
July 15, 1883
A Polish-Jewish schoolteacher born on July 15, 1883, Sara Schenirer became a pioneer of Jewish education for girls. Highly intelligent, with a strong desire to study, as a young girl, she was envious of her brothers’ opportunity to learn and interpret the Torah and wished she had similar opportunities. Recognizing her interest in education, her father provided her with a steady stream of religious texts translated into Yiddish.
Her situation was not unique as opportunities for women’s education in those years were sparse. The assimilation of her girlfriends troubled her and in response to her efforts to stem the tide of assimilation, they began to call her “the little pious one.”
Self-taught but keenly aware of the glorious role women had played in Jewish history,Sara decided to initiate some type of educational activity for the women of her community.
When a lecture series which she organized for adult women failed to improve the situation, Schenirer began to dream of establishing a school for young girls.
In 1923, together with Rabbi Leo Deutschlaender, Sarah established a teachers’ seminary. Their goal was to train staff for a network of girls schools that would require professionally trained teachers.
Although Sarah lacked formal qualifications in either the Judaic or general academic-pedagogic realm, she soon became the head of a worldwide movement with tens of thousands of pupils in hundreds of institutions.
By 1939, there were more than 250 schools with an enrollment of more than 40,000 students in Bais Yaakov schools. Although she never had any children of her own, her students considered her their mother and greatly revered her.
Tragically, most of her students lost their lives in the Holocaust, but a few surviving students transplanted her mission and ideals in their new homes in the US and Israel. Her vision inspired not only her generation but each successive generation since and more than one million students have benefited from Sarah’s belief in the Jewish woman.
Rabbi Meisels was extremely devoted to the institution and its students and under his tutelage, thousands of young women received an exemplary education in a warm and positive environment.
Yet, the visionary that he was, Rabbi Meisels was also highly committed to the ideals of the school’s namesake and he sought opportunities to make a difference in the wider community. Upon learning of the need to train special educators who would be prepared to work with students with disabilities, Rabbi Meisels founded the Sarah Schenirer Institute for Special Education. By partnering with local colleges and universities, students earned a degree in Education and Special Education, enjoyed careers in the field of education, and made significant contributions to the community.
As the popularity of the program soared, Rabbi Meisels invested heavily in this initiative and expanded the program to include additional degree options and career opportunities for women.
The means have changed, but the goals have remained constant. Thanks to the vision and determination of one woman, the entire community and the world at large, have changed for the better.
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