|Rachelie Goldschmidt (fourth from left) with members of Bat Torah’s Torah Bowl team. From left are Chevie Pahmer, Leora Zomick, Nicki Kornbluth, Goldschmidt, Daniella Eisenman, and Tzippi Berman.|
Dara Goldschmidt has fond memories of her days at Bat Torah Academy ““ The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School.
“I had a very positive experience,” said the former Monsey resident, who attended the school – then in Suffern – in the late 1970s. In 2008 the school moved into the old Frisch high school building in Paramus.
“It was very traditional and very committed to halacha yet open-minded and Zionist in orientation, always pushing girls to think, to embrace issues, and to become people of the world. It wasn’t a small-minded approach,” said Goldschmidt, who has spent the last 21 years living in the former Soviet Union.
Wife of Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt and founder of the Etz Chaim state Jewish school there, the Bat Torah graduate has a new connection with her old school: Her 15-year-old daughter Rachelie took up studies there last year and will soon enter 10th grade.
Goldschmidt explained that while her two older daughters, now ages 17 and 19, attended school in Russia, the family decided to send Rachelie to Bat Torah on the urging of school principal Miriam Bak.
While the family was in the United States last year – Rabbi Goldschmidt was doing doctoral research at Harvard – “We were in Monsey delivering shalach manos for Purim, and Miriam Bak met Rachelie. She said they’d love to have her if we weren’t bringing her back home with us.”
Even though the parents had originally intended to bring Rachelie back to Moscow, they changed their minds after visiting the school’s new facility.
“Jewish education is much more comprehensive here,” said Goldschmidt, explaining that the state school in Moscow – which she founded in 1991 and now serves some 350 students – is limited in terms of how much ethnic and cultural education can be offered.
“It’s not an intense Jewish education,” she said. “It’s more identity-based.” Her own children, she said, participated in a supplementary track providing more intensive Jewish training.
Still, she said, “the school in Moscow is an incredible miracle. It’s an important key to bringing Jews back to the fold. It takes children from Jewish families, gives them a Jewish identity, teaches them about holidays, and sends them to Israel, where they continue their Jewish education.”
Goldschmidt did not speak Russian when she first came to the country, “but I was teaching within two years,” she said. The school, which started as a kindergarten and is part of the Lauder network, has grown steadily, she said. The network, established by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, embraces several dozen schools in Central and Eastern European countries.
Goldschmidt noted that her husband is based at the Moscow Choral Synagogue, “the only one that was opened legally during the communist years.” Some 200 people attend on a typical Shabbat, she said, while more than 1,000 participate in High Holy Day services.
Rachelie’s adjustment has not been difficult, said her mother, since the girl’s grandparents live in Monsey and her aunt – Danielle Brodie Bloom, a 1996 graduate of Bat Torah – is a teacher at the school.
“She was born here,” said Goldschmidt. “She spent summers here and speaks the language. She feels very connected.”
Principal Bak said she suggested that Rachelie study at Bat Torah because “I felt that the religious environment at our school was a perfect match for the type of upbringing she had.”
Bak further noted that the Bat Torah Jewish history curriculum “aims to make all of our students aware of the origins and the current state of Jewish communities worldwide. Rachelie has a very personal connection with the Jewish communities in America and in Switzerland, where her parents were born, and with the former Soviet Union, where she lives.”
Goldschmidt said her daughter appears to be thriving in her new school, a view echoed by Bak.
“Rachelie is multi-talented and extremely sociable. Her acting and dancing talents were used in our school play, her interest in Chumash was nurtured by her participation in Torah Bowl, and the very friendly social environment at Bat Torah allowed her to make good friends among the students and faculty. She has adjusted beautifully and loves being at Bat Torah.”
“Before I came to Bat-Torah I was very nervous because I hardly knew anyone who went to the school,” said Rachelie. “But I went with the hope and confidence to make friends and at the end of the year I see I made some very good friends.”
In addition, while she struggled academically at the beginning of her studies here, “throughout the year I gained confidence, teachers helped me with classes I struggled in, and at the end of the year I was very happy and proud to see that I achieved many of the goals I set in the beginning of the year.”
Her favorite subjects, she said, are history, Jewish history, and Chumash.
“Even though the classes are difficult, it is worthwhile to work hard,” she said. “Once I get good grades in those subjects, it feel like the biggest accomplishment ever.”
Rachelie pointed out that in Moscow she had never learned “Torah she baal pe,” Jewish oral law, which she is learning now.
“And in Bat Torah, the limudey kodesh [Jewish studies] are on a much higher level, because here the girls have a background in learning Torah,” she said. “In Moscow I went to a school where everything connected to Torah was pretty basic.”
As might be expected, language initially presented a problem, especially as regards English grammar. But, she said, with the help of tutors, she caught up. In addition, “biology and math were difficult because those subjects I learned in Russian and the whole vocabulary both in bio and math is different, which I had to get accustomed to.”
Socially, however, Rachelie was better prepared.
“Teenagers are teenagers – no matter the culture or country,” she said. “After getting to know the girls I felt comfortable like at home. The atmosphere was close and warm.”
Still, “it’s been difficult to live away from home,” she said. “But I have the amazing opportunity to live with my grandparents and get an American education.”
The fact that Rachelie’s mother attended the same school has also been a positive, she said.
“It feels like I have a much bigger connection with the school than I normally would,” she said, adding that her mother got a lot from the school, as she is doing now.