By Yitzi and Asna Horowitz
I remember when we started talking about a kindergarten for our daughter and our reaction to the rumors and then advertisements about a new girls’ school opening in the Far Rockaway/Five Towns area. While we had some skepticism, we wanted to explore all our options, so we scheduled an interview with Rabbi Neuman.
It was 9 a.m. on a cold Thursday morning and our daughter had been through more than four hours of interviewing with other schools that week. She was tired and had made it clear that she was not interested in going another two hours with a different unfamiliar adult. We walked into the shul where Rabbi Neuman was conducting interviews and he introduced himself to her before even acknowledging us. We were impressed with Rabbi Neuman’s ability to make our daughter feel immediately warm and comfortable. We were impressed with Rabbi Neuman’s warmth and the importance he placed on teaching children to enjoy learning and have a geshmak for Yiddishkeit. We were impressed with his ideas of infusing the academics of a Bais Yaakov education with a love for Hashem. Our daughter was impressed with the lollipop Rabbi Neuman gave her—her first ever! Still, sending to a new school is scary. What will happen if they don’t get enough students? What if they don’t live up to their promises of the hashkafic background of the new families? What if his idealism was just a sales pitch?
We continued our exploration and decided to attend the school’s open house. We met Mrs. Zytman, the preschool director, and got to hear her talk about her experience as a school principal. She explained her educational philosophy of hands-on and interactive learning. She explained her attitude toward chinuch as bringing out the uniqueness of each girl and enhancing their strengths while also challenging their weaknesses. She talked about developing a classroom setting that enhanced real relationships between the girls and gave them a strong sense of community. Rabbi Neuman talked about his vision of having a school made up of families where Yiddishkeit at home is real and not perfunctory. It was evident that he was true to his word as we got to mingle and meet some of the other parents who were also interested in the school.
We took the plunge. Our daughter started Bais Yaakov Ateres Miriam in September 2012. I sit here a year later, shortly after the first parent-teacher orientation. Bais Yaakov Ateres Miriam is not an idealistic pipe dream anymore. It is a beautiful reality where most, if not all, of the idealism that we hoped for has come to fruition. Our daughter has blossomed in ways we could not have imagined. She talks about her classmates, teachers, and the hanhallah nonstop. Her teachers, experienced with accelerated teaching degrees, are fun, exciting, and have clear educational goals for each student. Rabbi Neuman knows every girl’s name, the names of their parents, and of many of the girls’ siblings! Mrs. Zytman has a comprehensive educational philosophy which is clearly being transmitted through her teachers to our daughter. The teachers use play, among other things, to help their students learn. The girls have an interactive role in class and take a lot of initiative in deciding what projects to do and how to do them. Although she is in kindergarten, she is learning to read, math, problem solving-skills, social skills, and critical-thinking skills.
Yiddishkeit and learning has come alive for her and her friends and they seem to be loving it! During parent-teacher orientation, we had the opportunity to sit in her classroom and listen to the teachers explain the ins-and-outs of all that goes into their teaching method. We schmoozed with some of the other parents who commented that they wish they could re-enroll in school and do their education all over again! Our daughter’s teachers are attuned to her strengths and encourage them and have also made it their mission to challenge her weaknesses in a firm but gentle way and help her grow. They proactively call us to check in and are also accessible to us by phone. They share insights with us about our daughter, clear indicators that they know her well.
She has made friends and with the active involvement of the teachers she has learned to acclimate herself to girls who are both similar to her and not similar to her. All the girls in my daughter’s carpool contingency agree that included in their list of “best friends” is Rabbi Neuman. Drive by the school in the morning and watch Rabbi Neuman and Mrs. Zytman as they stand in the street eagerly welcoming their “precious talmidos” (as they call them) to another day of school. Heyson Road is bursting with energy as the girls jump out of their carpool or off their bus, clamoring to talk to Rabbi Neuman or Mrs. Zytman before bounding up the stairs into their classroom. I often wonder who is more excited to see whom, the students or the hanhalah! Hang out at our house at the end of a day and listen to our daughter as she can’t stop talking about all the different things she experienced at school that day. She is not just learning information; the school is teaching her how to think critically and they are cultivating a love for learning in her. Her motivation to continue learning once she’s left the classroom keeps us laughing, smiling, and on our toes.
A young mechanech once complained to Rav Pam, z’l, that he felt worn out and tired from teaching. Bewildered, Rav Pam asked the rebbi how long he’d been teaching. “I’ve been teaching for 10 years,” answered the rebbi. “What do you teach?” asked Rav Pam. “I’ve been teaching tenth-grade Gemara.” With a smile, Rav Pam answered, “Now I see your problem. You see, I have been teaching for close to 70 years and have never felt worn out a day in my life from teaching. The difference between us is that you teach Gemara and I teach students.”
Bais Yaakov Ateres Miriam is certainly teaching their students and not just focused on a cookie-cutter curriculum.
Hashem appears to have sent us a beautiful partner in our quest to be mechanech our daughter in her love for Hashem, her personal development, and for giving her the skills she needs to succeed in life. And for that we are eternally grateful! v