Chaya Newman, principal of Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth for 36 years, died last week at 75 and was buried in Israel on Sunday.
Mrs. Newman embodied Bruriah for the many young women from Bergen, Union, and Passaic counties who studied there. She retired in 2007, but today her daughter Shlomis Peikes of Passaic is one of the school’s assistant principals.
Peshi Neuburger of Bergenfield, a teacher at Bruriah for the past 15 years, said that Mrs. Newman’s advice to all her teachers was that the students “don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Born in Israel and raised in Baltimore, Mrs. Newman majored in math at Brooklyn College and later earned a master’s degree in psychology and family therapy at Long Island University. A certified family therapist, she was married to Dr. Avigdor (Victor) Newman and taught in Cleveland, Mexico, and the Yeshivah of Flatbush before being recruited for Bruriah in 1971. The schoolthen had about 50 students. Now it has 400.
“She really raised the bar for education for Jewish women,” Ms. Neuburger said.
Princeton University graduate and Rhodes Scholar Miriam Rosenbaum, Bruriah class of 2007, told the Forward that she was inspired by Mrs. Newman, and described her as “an eishes chayil [woman of valor], brilliant and strong and independent.”
Known for taking an individual interest in each student and creating a broad range of extracurricular activities, Mrs. Newman and her husband also took Bruriah students on Jewish history trips to Europe.
A former student, Chava Finkel, wrote on a memorial Facebook page created by 2010 graduate Hannah Dreyfus: “I will always remember Mrs. Newman with great love and respect. She was a leader and a role model for all of us. She was strong and understanding at the same time. I feel especially lucky to have gone on one of the trips to Europe with her and Dr. Newman.
The page already had many postings by Monday, and 412 “likes.”
Rivka Goldstein wrote: “In our yearbook (’76) she writes a quote, “When you educate a man, you have an educated man, but when you educate a woman, you have educated a family.”
Amanda Bier Lyman wrote: “She touched thousands of girls and their families with her compassion, guidance, honesty and wisdom. She was always available for every girl and treated us all like her own daughters.”
Ms. Neuburger said that at the funeral last Friday in Brooklyn, she heard several Bruriah graduates around her begin sentences with: “If it weren’t for Mrs. Newman…” ending with speculation such as “… I would be the biggest loser,” or “… I wouldn’t be religious.”
“I owe her everything,” Ms. Neuburger said. Formerly a computer programmer, she was invited to Bruriah more than 20 years ago to teach one class and Mrs. Newman wanted her to teach on a more regular basis. It took five years of persuasion before she accepted the offer. “I was not a good teacher at the beginning and she really nurtured me,” Ms. Neuburger said. “She believed in me.”
Mrs. Newman is survived by her husband, Dr. Avigdor (Victor) Newman, and their sons Rabbi Eliyahu Newman, Rabbi Dovid Newman, Rabbi Yehuda Newman, and Rabbi Yaakov Newman, and their daughter, Shlomis Peikes.