Tanya Rosen is the owner of Shape Fitness. She recently released a kosher, home-workout DVD for women. Dr. Natalie Zelenko is employed as a radiologist at the Cancer Center at Maimonides Medical Centers. Igor Lempert works as an actuary for New York Life. What they and thousands of others share is a life of Torah Judaism, despite having been raised in secular environments and due to the education and warmth they received at Be’er Hagolah Institutes.
In the 1970’s Marc Ratzersdorfer formed a welcoming committee to greet the flood of immigrants from the Soviet Union and provide them with assistance. Marc and his friends from the Young Israel of the West Side visited the hotels where the Russian immigrants were placed. Over and over he heard the same plea from those he met, “Please find a Jewish school for my children.”
With firm resolve, Mr. Ratzersdorfer set out to do just that. In a meeting at the Ratzersdorfer home on Motzei Shabbos HaGadol 1979, all those present decided that a school must be opened. Mr. Zev Wolfson donated the seed money, a Vaad Hachinuch was formed with Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l serving as chairman along with many prominent rabbanim, they hired a principal and Be’er Hagolah was born.
They secured the basement of a school and hung curtains to create makeshift classrooms. Be’er Hagolah opened its doors to welcome any student who wanted a Jewish education. Hundreds of children streamed into the building, the phones rang off the hook; the demand was enormous. The space they had was inadequate to match the growing number of children seeking to attend.
Rav Yaakov called for an emergency meeting with all yeshiva principals in the New York area. In a passionate speech, he implored them to each accept one class of Be’er Hagolah students into their buildings or these children would be lost to Judaism forever. One principal insisted he had no space in his building, but offered to rent a trailer for the “Russian class.” “No,” said Rav Yaakov, unsatisfied. “You put one of your classes into the trailer and make space in the building for the Russian children.”
The school hosted a bar mitzvah for a number of boys in 1990. At the event, Mr. Joseph Gruss z”l, a prominent philanthropist, approached Mrs. Pearl Kaufman, executive director since the school’s inception, and asked, “What would the boys like as a present?”
“The boys need a building,” Pearl responded. A smile spread across Mr. Gruss’s face and he turned to his friend and remarked in his heavily-accented Yiddish, “Ich red fun a kneppel und zi redt fun di gantze kleid (I am speaking about [giving] buttons and she is [asking for] an entire garment.)” He walked away without another word.
The next day, Pearl received a call from Joseph Gruss who told her, “I am going to build a beautiful building for the Russian children.” Along with noted philanthropist, Mr. Albert Reichmann of Toronto, Gruss invested in a magnificent, state-of-the-art, eight-million dollar building. The project was overseen by Mr. Jason Cury, currently president of the Gruss Life Monument Funds, and Mr. Joel Beritz, vice-president, who invested their time and effort to ensure that every minor detail be perfect. Since then, Mr. Cury and Mr. Beritz have remained intimately involved in Be’er Hagolah.
By the time it was completed in 1991, the impressive complex contained spacious classrooms that could accommodate the student body of nearly one thousand students.
In order to ensure that no parent would be forced to send their child to public school, Be’er Hagolah has never turned away a student due to their inability to pay. Most parents pay minimal, if any, tuition. “When it came time to register my son in yeshivah [gedolah] and I received a tuition statement,” says Tanya Rosen, “I was astounded. I didn’t know that the concept of tuition existed. In all my years at Be’er Hagolah, my parents never got a tuition bill. They would never have been able to afford tuition,” stresses Tanya. “I would definitely have been sent to public school. Because of the love of Judaism that my teachers transmitted, instead of being a statistic in assimilated Jewry, my husband and I are raising our family committed to Torah.”
From Chicken to Education
Gary Rozenshteyn was eleven years old when his mother brought him to register for school. Mrs. Rozenshteyn, an obviously secular woman, was taken aback and obviously offended by being asked to furnish proof of her child’s Jewishness, a routine part of the admissions process. Digging into her purse she pulled out a faded photograph of a distinguished looking elderly Jew with a long, white beard.
“Who is this?” asked the staff. “My father,” responded the woman. “How long ago did he pass away?” they inquired. She answered, “Oh! He’s still alive. He lives with us in our apartment in Brighton Beach.”