A Sarah Schenirer of our times, Mrs. Chaya Newman was a trailblazer in the field of women’s Jewish education. She inspired and guided thousands of students and fellow educators with the careful curriculum she created, and example she set. She had the rare gift of bringing out the best in her students, commanding respect while remaining as loving and accessible as a grandmother. Mrs. Newman shaped Bruriah into a top school known for its stellar academic reputation, the close relationships between teachers and students, and as a place where limudei kodesh and limudei chol were not in opposition but instead complement each other. She welcomed students from diverse backgrounds into Bruriah, and the school’s alumnae reflect this inclusiveness.
Mrs. Newman was able to think big, while maintaining her careful attention to detail, especially when it came to her students – she would notice, and compliment, even the smallest achievements. Sitting in the front row during production rehearsals, she would retie someone’s sash, note the lighting, and admire the set. Multiple times a week she spoke to the student body, through the morning announcements students grew to love. In particular, the month of Elul marked a unique practice of Mrs. Newman – she recited the perek of L’David daily with the entire student body, every line pronounced just so in a pattern that strikes a chord in the memory of every Bruriah student.
While she was known and loved by thousands, no one can paint a picture of what Mrs. Newman uniquely accomplished more accurately, more movingly, than the students whose lives she changed. After hearing of her passing, we asked students and alumnae to share how she changed their lives, and the stories came pouring in. The responses, sampled below, range from the general to the specific. All, however, pay tribute to a humbling truth about one person’s ability to alter the Jewish future.
Mrs. Newman was known for her aphorisms, each one containing a bite-size slice of riveting truth. One such aphorism, to which she dedicated her life was: when you educate a girl, you educate a family. Taking that to the next level, when you educate a family, you educate a future. May we be worthy to learn from Mrs. Newman’s example, continuing to build up the Jewish future in her memory and honor.
Rochel Sokoloff, Bruriah Graduating Class of 1975
Mrs. Newman , a”h, came to Bruriah when I was in ninth grade. It was my first year at Bruriah, and hers as well. I had heard that she learned to drive over the summer preceding the school year in order to make the trip to Elizabeth from Flatbush. That single fact amazed me. I saw it as a sign of determination and the sheer will of dedication. I was right. Mrs. Newman set in motion a high school resplendent with fine teachers, both in Kodesh and Chol. Our Kodesh teachers, many of whom traveled in from Lakewood every day, inspired me and shaped my future in a myriad of ways.
Some fifteen years after graduation, I began my own career in chinuch habonos, first as a high school teacher, and today as Dean of Students in Tichon Meir Moshe in Far Rockaway. Mrs. Newman’s leadership continued to inspire me, as I participated in a number of Torah U’Mesorah workshops she ran. What a thrill for both students and principal to work together! Most recently, I was looking forward to participating in the Torah U’ Mesorah Principal’s Fellowship, which she headed. Alas, the Ribono Shel Olam decreed otherwise. I will however continue to inculcate in our students the wonderful lessons she taught me, both as a student and as an educator. Mrs. Newman, we will continue to walk in your footsteps and dedicate ourselves, as you did, to inspire our students to reach for the stars.
Malka (Witkin) Korbman, Bruriah Graduating Class of 1976
As a Bruriah alumnus from Mrs. Newman’s “earlier” days at Bruriah, (I was in the first 9th grade to be in the present main building which we had lovingly referred to as “the new building” at that time…) and as a sister, sister in law, aunt and mother to numerous Bruriah alumni – Mrs. Newman was not just “a principal” – she was a legacy. She hired amazing faculty who introduced us to Tanach, Historia, Halacha, and Hashkafah on a much higher level than we ever thought possible. These mechanchos were wonderful role models for us and helped to shape the way we and our daughters are building our own “batim ne’emanin b’Yisrael“.
I am forever indebted to Mrs. Newman for the outstanding chinuch she provided to so many members of my family. As a wife of a popular Bruriah AP Psych teacher, and now a mother of another Psych and Limudei Kodesh teacher, it warms my heart to know that we are continuing Mrs. Newman’s legacy. Honestly, I could fill a book with my gratitude and personal reflection s- a great idea actually! Mrs. Newman truly was an “Eim Kol Chai” and her roshem is felt every day by our family. Yehi zichronah baruch.
Melissa (Danto) Rayman, Bruriah Graduating Class of 1987
Mrs. Newman taught me some tricks for educating my own students when she handled our ninth grade strike beautifully. We went on strike (picket signs and all) around the school – too much work, tests – the usual. Instead of reprimanding us and getting angry, she smiled, listened and took out a video camera to record us as she thought it was creative and cute. Because she handled it with grace, when the break was over, we all dutifully marched back to class without further disturbance.
Since my over 300 students (so far) have thus benefited from Mrs. Newman’s lessons, (some of whom are already teachers themselves) you can add those to her numbers. Not to mention my family – I sent my only daughter to Bruriah as well – it made me feel like a million bucks when I walked into the ballroom for the open house and Mrs. Newman not only recognized me after so many years, but greeted my daughter with such enthusiasm. That daughter is now happily married and living in Yerushalayim, ready to continue the chain that Mrs. Newman helped create.
Beth (Stadtmauer) Held, Bruriah Graduating Class of 1989
When I think of Mrs. Newman I can’t help but smile. She was a great principal, but more importantly, an amazing role model. She always made herself available to her students. In my junior year, my grandfather was niftar, which was very tough for me. When I returned to school, while my mother sat shiva, I was met with an unsympathetic teacher. I excused myself from class and marched to Mrs. Newman’s office where she offered words of comfort and let me cry my eyes out. Her words of chizuk helped me through the day.
Rebecca (Sheffey) Spirn, Bruriah Graduating Class of 1995
Mrs. Newman drove me home every day to Brooklyn, where I was boarding, for the first half of ninth grade. I was a scared freshman very far away from home but she managed to make me comfortable and helped ease my transition very much. Over my high school years I had many occasions to travel back and forth to Brooklyn with her, and benefit from her wise, honest, caring advice and ideas. She often told me I should express hakaras hatov to the family I had boarded with and always was a source of wise counsel. Most of all, she was directly responsible for making Bruriah the school it was, which was a very wonderful place and for me. I would never have been the person I am today had it not been for Bruriah. And Bruriah would never have been the place it was without Mrs. Newman.
Miriam (Weiss) Lerner, Bruriah Graduating Class of 2008
Mrs. Newman was and will always be my example of a dynamic educator. She helped build Bruriah in to a successful institution where Jewish commitment, academic rigor, and positive school culture serve as the school’s core identity. I chose to pursue a career in formal Jewish education perhaps to emulate Mrs. Newman’s dedication.
Rina Eisenberg, Bruriah Graduating Class of 2008
What was so remarkable about Mrs. Newman was that despite her own diamond-hard convictions and hashkafos, she had a big enough heart and a broad enough mind to love and accept girls of so many backgrounds, viewpoints and ideologies, and to create a school where all of them could be valued. She came into Bruriah from her own yeshivish background and created a school where girls from public school, day school and Bais Yaakov could learn and grow. The lessons of understanding, acceptance and true ahavas Yisrael that she imparted through her actions and through the magnificent school she built are what really changed the way I think and behave. My Bruriah friends and I are all vastly different, but that deepens our relationships rather than destroy them. That is entirely a credit to Mrs. Newman. She encouraged me, and so many others, to grow and to strive for more, while showing that it’s possible to reach great heights without looking down at anyone else.
Daniella Lejtman, Bruriah Graduation Class of 2010
For a period of 60 days a year, from Rosh Chodesh Elul until school would break for Sukkot, I distinctly recall how Mrs. Newman would stand in front of the ballroom and say “L’David Hashem, Ori V’Yishi.” I don’t need to explain how she said it; if you were there, you know. She stopped in all of the correct places. She felt what she was saying and that feeling, that experience, passed over to all 400 of us in the ballroom.
Her careful selection of teachers really embodied the message she espoused: love. The teachers at Bruriah truly loved their students, and the relationships that I and my peers have with the teachers is emblematic of the fact that her dream became a reality. The role models in my community are Bruriah graduates. Teachers in seminaries are Bruriah graduates. Lawyers, doctors, nurses, OTs, PTs, speech therapists, teachers, psychologists, genetic counselors, accountants, businesswomen are Bruriah graduates. Shomrei Torah U’Mitzvos, girls and women who are sincerely dedicated to the Almighty are Bruriah graduates. Bruriah graduates. Just the title evokes a certain aura, a certain air that is unique. And I believe that it is all due to Mrs. Newman. Much hakaras hatov to the woman who built up Klal Yisrael, one Bruriah girl at a time.
Nomi Mermelstein, Bruriah Graduation Class of 2010
Bruriah has always been in my family. My mother went to Bruriah and was G.O. president and my Zaidy, Rabbi Wasserman, taught there for many years, making Mrs. Newman a common household name while I was growing up. And then finally it came, my Bruriah interview with Mrs. Newman. I thought I would be nervous, but when I walked in Mrs. Newman knew exactly who I was and I could feel her welcoming me into school with open arms.
As a Bruriah student, I was always excited to see Mrs. Newman around the hallways and to visit her in her office. To this day I still say “L’David Hashem” (Tehillim 27) exactly how Mrs. Newman would punctuate the perek. I remember that at first all it meant to me was spending more time at davening so we could say it together, but once I paid attention to how Mrs. Newman was breaking up the perek, its meaning changed for me. I learned to say the perek with feeling and emotion. I know that every time I say “L’David Hashem” I will think of Mrs. Newman.
Hannah Dreyfus, Bruriah Graduation Class of 2010
The first day of high school is hard enough once. I had to do it twice. In 10th grade, I transferred to Bruriah High School. A boarding student hailing from Connecticut, away from home all over again, my hands shook as I approached the maroon front doors to begin my second first-day. I played it cool, but I did not feel cool. I wore a green-polka dot t-shirt, and my straight, summer-blonde hair hung in a long side ponytail over my shoulder—but no one knew how long I spent the night before, sifting through different outfit options.
When I returned to my classroom after lunch on that first miserable day, there was a small package sitting inconspicuously on my desk. Stapled to the side was a hand-written note. Timorously, I picked it up, thinking there must have been a mistake. But there was no mistake. The package was addressed to me. Inside was a doughnut from Dunkin-Donuts—cheerful pink frosting and white sprinkles blinking up at me. I still remember the colors. And the note, in a warm, cursive scrawl read: “First day’s are hard. I hope you’re doing ok. Just a little something to brighten your day. Please drop by my office later to tell me how your day went.” Signed, Mrs. Newman.
They do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. The mantra, the vision, with which Mrs. Newman ran her school. The conviction that formed my high school experience, and altered the course of my life. I am the confident, motivated, dedicated young woman, committed to her Judaism, inspired to continue inspiring the Jewish future (Mrs. Newman’s mantra ever playing through my mind), because of my years spent at Bruriah. Mrs. Newman was a builder. A dreamer. A doer. I am who I am because of the school she built, with a vision as clear as the sky on this crisp September day, as we all take the moment to remember.
For me, the memories begin with one pink, sprinkled doughnut. Left on the new girls empty desk, five Septembers ago.
Chana Perline, Bruriah Class of 2013
I never had Mrs. Newman as a principal. But she created the safe and beautiful place, Bruriah, that I today call home.
* * * * *
Bruriah High School will be hosting an Evening of Memorial and Commemoration in recognition of Mrs. Chaya Newman A”H’s legacy and contribution to the Jewish community on Sunday evening, December 2, 2012 at 7:30 PM at Bruriah High School – 35 North Avenue, Elizabeth, NJ.
Speakers will include Rav Elazar Mayer Teitz, Rav HaIr of Elizabeth, NJ and Dean of the Jewish Educational Center, Mrs. Newsman’s children, alumni, former colleagues, and there will be a special presentation. Refreshments will be served. There is no charge and it is open to the public.
Alumni are expected from across the tri-state area and due to many requests for it, there will be a live hook up to Eretz Yisroel.
For more information, please call (908) 355-4850 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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