Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Though I don’t fit the typical definition, if every alumna of a Bais Yaakov is a “Bais Yaakov girl,” then I could be called one too. Growing up on the Lower East Side, I attended the local Bais Yaakov elementary (official name: Beth Jacob of the Lower East Side). But those were different times, in a unique community, at a unique Bais Yaakov. The girls came from a variety of backgrounds; there was no uniform and no insistence on uniformity.

Our school was small and heimishe – my entire class could fit around one lunch table – but somehow we graduated with a solid Torah and secular education and fond memories to last a lifetime. While the colossus founded by the visionary Sarah Schenirer continues to animate communities across the Jewish world, it seems to me that the Bais Yaakov model has become, over time, more monolithic in hashkafa and approach. This is unfortunate. To paraphrase the oft-cited parenting metaphor, students need to be given both roots and wings. Encouraging each girl to discover and develop her own unique gifts and aptitudes will only make for a stronger Klal Yisrael.

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Ziona Greenwald, a contributing editor to The Jewish Press, is a freelance writer and editor and the author of two children's books, “Kalman's Big Questions” and “Tzippi Inside/Out.” She lives with her family in Jerusalem.