Imagine for a moment an America with no Jewish Day Schools, where over ninety percent of all Jewish children, no matter what their religious affiliation, were enrolled in and attending public schools across the country. This was the state of affairs our parents and grandparents encountered as they settled in communities throughout the United States in the late 40s and early 50s.
The devastating Holocaust of Europe had destroyed nearly all of our national Jewish educational infrastructure. The daunting task of rebuilding Torah and Jewish education for the postwar American Jew in the 1940s was to be filled with a myriad of obstacles and remarkable challenges. Today in America we take the Jewish day school as a given.
During and shortly after World War II there were only a handful of schools, attended by a very small number of talmidim(students). It was a critical turning point for the Jewish people and a moment of great danger for the Jewish people.
Yet, out of the ashes of the churban of Europe arose great Jewish Torah leaders who were determined to raise a new generation steeped in Torah and tradition, no matter what the odds. Failure was not an option and the responsibility was both immense and critical.
Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz
One such giant of spirit was Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zecher tzadik l’vracha, a unique and talented genius whose life’s mission was to build a Jewish Day School movement in communities wherever Jews were found. His credentials were passion, perseverance and a breadth of Torah knowledge which inspired everyone who was privileged to enter his sphere of influence.
Rabbi Mendlowitz understood that he needed to create an army of learned and talented students who could be dispatched to cities and communities around the globe. As he looked across America, he saw a barren landscape of communities without formal Torah education, where assimilation and American culture were attacking our people. His desire was to create a Jewish day school in any community with more than five thousand Jews. The effort to realize this incredible dream would be challenged by many obstacles. One major difficulty was the need to obliterate the notion that blending in and becoming a full partner in the American dream was the only way for the new immigrants from Europe to succeed A good part of the philosophy espoused by these assimilationists was that our children in order to succeed must attend Americas public schools. To do otherwise would ghettoize our children, restricting their opportunity to get ahead and take part in the American dream. This and many other obstacles would require tremendous diligence and perseverance from The rabbi and his hand picked soldiers.
In his short but incredible life he succeeded beyond measure in inspiring and equipping great and talented young men to assume responsibilities for Klal Yisroel’s healing and growth. He utilized every waking moment and every talent at his disposal to create a new generation with new thinking and new ideas to battle the forces against him.
In 1928 Rav Meir Shapiro, the Lubliner Rov and the founder of the Daf Yomi visited the United States to raise funds for his yeshiva in Lublin. During his visit, a meeting of Jewish leaders was called to honor his presence in America. At the meeting attended by many of Americas most prominent leaders and Roshei Yeshiva , Rav Shapiro asked to have Rabbi Mendlowitz seated next to him at the Dais.To those in the room it was a bit odd as Rabbi Mendlowitz was not yet recognized as one of the leading personages of the time. When Rabbi Shapiro was asked why he requested that Rabbi Mendlowitz be seated next to him he said “any person who can stay in America and try and build Torah has the greatest place in Olam Habah (the world to come) and I am honored to sit next to him!