The only known photograph of Sarah Schenirer, taken for a passport
Sarah Schenirer (1883-1935) was born in Cracow, Poland to a Hasidic Jewish family. She left her elementary school at age 13 due to her family’s poverty, and took on a job as a seamstress. Meanwhile, she envied her brother’s opportunities to study Torah, and dreamed of creating similar opportunities for women. One by one, her girlfriends assimilated and left the Orthodox Jewish fold. Troubled by this development, Schenirer understood that girls were losing their connection to Judaism primarily as a result of ignorance. She resolved to start a Jewish girls’ education network, and in 1917 opened a girls-only kindergarten for Jewish studies. The school was called “Beit Yakov”. (The name comes from a Biblical verse, referring to God’s command to Moses at Mt. Sinai to instruct the women along with the men.) The idea flourished quickly, inspiring a “Bais Ya’akov” movement across Jewish Europe. By 1923, Schenirer had to establish a teachers seminary to train new instructors, who taught young girls both Torah and secular subjects. The movement gave rise to camps, clubs, a monthly magazine, international conferences, and even its own publishing house to print textbooks. Sadly, Schenirer passed away from cancer, childless, at the young age of 52. At the moment of her passing, over 200 Beit Yakov schools were operating in Europe and beyond, with 35,000 girls studying diligently. Many of these girls referred to Schenirer as Sarah Imenu – “Sarah, our Mother”. Schenirer had a reputation as a wise and caring pioneer, as well as a modest and holy woman. She did not allow photographs of her to be taken, saying “I don’t need anyone to remember what I look like, I want them to remember my vision.” Her vision is alive and well today, with hundreds of Orthodox Beit Yakov girls schools still shining all over the world.
Words of the Week
God is the ultimate oneness, and everything Godly in our world bears the stamp of His unity. All evil derives from the distortion of this oneness by the veil of divisiveness in which God shrouds His creation. – Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch
Sigismund Schlomo Freud (1856-1939) was born in what is today the Czech Republic to Galician-Jewish parents. His father, a once-Hasidic wool merchant, brought the family to Vienna where Freud grew up. A natural academic, he absorbed his studies effortlessly and became proficient in 8 languages. His favourite were the works of Shakespeare, which he read his entire life and are said to have greatly influenced his theories. He became a doctor and worked for several years in hospitals, asylums, and clinics before starting his own practice specializing in nervous disorders. At the same time, he married the daughter of Hamburg’s chief rabbi and they would go on to have 6 kids. After learning hypnosis in Paris, Freud found that a certain patient was able to open up to him while hypnotized and in the process of talking out her problems, brought about her own relief. Freud realized that patients need only be guided to speak freely, with no need for hypnosis. He also found that much of their issues were reflected in their dreams. By 1896, he abandoned hypnosis entirely and created “psychoanalysis”. From his own experiences and that of his patients, he put together a series of new theories about the mind, emotions, consciousness, religion, dreams, and sexuality. He published a range of books and papers, and delivered lectures each Saturday night. On Wednesdays, he led a small discussion group with 5 other physicians, all Jews. The Wednesday Psychological Society would evolve into the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, and spawn many other such groups across Europe and the world. Freud would go down in history as the founding father of psychoanalysis. His ideas inspired a proliferation of new literature in psychology, philosophy, science, and sociology. Despite the rise of the Nazis and the burning of his books, Freud was determined to stay in Austria until he was finally convinced by colleagues that his life was in danger. After much difficulty, he escaped to London (though 4 of his older sisters could not, and perished in the Holocaust). He continued his work, analyzing patients and writing more of his ground-breaking ideas. After battling an oral cancer for nearly two decades – a direct result of his smoking addiction – he reached a critical state of illness and a decision was made together with doctors and Freud’s daughter to end his life. After several days of high-morphine doses, Freud passed away on Yom Kippur.
Words of the Week
Someone else’s material needs are my spiritual responsibility. – Rabbi Israel Salanter
Asenath Barzani (1590-1670) was born in Mosul, Iraq to the chief rabbi of Kurdistan, Shmuel Barzani. After her father’s passing she took over his role, serving as the head of the Mosul Yeshiva and teaching Torah to the masses (preferring to do this from behind a curtain, for she was also very beautiful). Asenath was given the title Tanna’it (“Great Teacher”) and was known for performing incredible miracles, including reviving a dead dove, bringing a legion of angels down from Heaven, and fighting crime using only her mystical powers. To this day, people make pilgrimages to her grave in Iraq.
On the other side of the world, in the Ukranian town of Ludomir, lived a woman named Hannah Rachel Verbermacher (1805-1888). After a midnight incident at a cemetery, where she had a certain revelation, Hannah Rachel transformed into a highly respected Torah teacher famous across Eastern Europe (she, too, gave her speeches from behind a screen for modesty). Many Hassidim became her devoted followers, building a synagogue and study house for the great ‘Maid of Ludomir’. Some even called her rebbe, and she was often seen wearing tefillin and a tallit (which stirred up quite a bit of controversy). At the end of her life, she made Aliyah to Israel and is said to have joined a descendant of the great Yemenite sage Shalom Shabazi in the mission of bringing Mashiach. However, according to legend the angel Eliyahu came down to stop them, for the world was not yet ready!
Words of the Week
Don’t ask for a lighter burden, ask for broader shoulders. – Jewish Proverb