The Story of the First Beth Rivkah in Europe
March 7, 2017
Beis Moshiach in #1060, Beth Rivkah, Chabad History, France

In the fourth installment of this series we presented a letter from 1947 which discusses the first steps of the Beth Rivkah girls School which was established in France for the children of the refugees, the first Chabad girlsschool in the European continent. In this ninth installment we return to the story of Beth Rivkah in France, and the support of the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to this project. This installment covers the 1950s plans for the teachersseminary, and the 1960s expansion.

This school, as the rest of the Chabad educational institutions in Europe and North Africa, were directed by Rabbi Binyamin Eliyahu Gorodetsky, the Rebbe’s personal representative.

These fascinating documents are part of the JDC Archives (which were digitized and uploaded online, thanks to a grant from Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE).

Planning the Teachers’ Seminary

On December 31, 1951 [Teves 2 5712], Rabbi Binyamin Gorodetsky penned a letter to Mr. Judah Shapiro, the director of the Educational Department of the JDC office in Paris, discussing the plans for opening a Chabad Teachers’ Seminary to train teachers for Morocco:

Up to my knowledge, during your visit to the States there will be considered among other questions the education activity in Europe and חוץ לארץ countries beside Europe according to the plan submitted by the newly organized department of the סוכנות.

As far as I know the סוכנות intends to organize in France Seminaries for Moroccan children to prepare teachers for Morocco. It is rather a long time since we also have planned to establish in Paris a Seminary for Moroccan boys and girls for the same purpose but the project was postponed because of some technical reasons and also because I knew that the AJDC was against bringing children from Morocco to France. Now when I see that the attitude of the AJDC has changed I should like to ask you to consider our plan when you discuss this matter in the States. We intend to establish a Seminary for about 40 Moroccan boys and 30 girls. There will be no housing problem as we shall place them in our institutions in Paris but the AJDC must help with everything necessary for the pupils except housing.

Excuse me for bothering you once more and wish to stress that the only thing I am asking is that the question about our Seminary in Paris is considered when the education plans for 1952 are discussed. I hope that when we meet personally we shall be able to speak about the necessity of such a seminary sponsored by our organization in France notwithstanding that we already have such institutions on the spot in Morocco.

A few days later, on January 4 1952 [Teves 6 5712]] Rabbi Gorodetsky received a response from Mr. Shapiro, stressing that their attitude has not changed, and they will not support any educational programs in France:

I am hurrying to answer this letter of yours because I realize that you are improperly informed about JDC’s plans and program for 1952.

… I do not know from where you received your information that “the attitude of the AJDC has changed,” for it has not changed and we do not anticipate reversing ourselves on this matter. If your thought of establishing a seminary in France for North Africans were to develop further, it would have to be the entire responsibility of your organization without any hope of obtaining AJDC assistance.

I shall, of course, be glad to discuss this with you upon my return to Paris, but believe that you should have at the earliest moment this statement of JDC policy in this matter.

“Has Everything
Been Forgotten?”

Rabbi Gorodetsky did not despair and continued trying to get the JDC to help with sponsoring Chabad’s  schools in Europe, and had various meetings with the heads of the JDC in Europe to discuss this matter. It seems that his efforts were not successful and in the summer of 1953 he fired off a letter summarizing his efforts and feelings on the matter.

In a lengthy letter dated July 20 1953 [Av 8 5713] and addressed to Mr. Herbert Katzki (JDC – Europe), Rabbi Gorodetsky makes the case for additional funding both for Morocco and France, and specifies his disappointment with the JDC attitude. The following quote summarizes his feelings:

This all made a very bad impression on me and I asked myself whether the JDC staff members treated our organization as it has been treated by the AJDC for the last 33 years, or everything has been forgotten and the AJDC has changed its policy towards our organization; whether the JDC began considering our organization as its own organ inasmuch as every JDC officer had the right to dictate us whatever he understood or wished but with regard to financial support we remained quite a foreign body, or did the AJDC continue to consider us as a world renowned organization, the first and only one of its kind to work at religious education on such a vast scale…

If all this was only a misunderstanding and the AJDC is willing to treat such an organization as ours in the right way, then surely the negotiations AJDC – Lubavitch can again take the same character as before which is more suitable for both our organizations.

$60,000 From JDC For The New Building

During the following years Rabbi Gorodetsky managed to convince the JDC to participate in supporting the Beth Rivkah School in France, both the primary and the seminary, and in 1964, when a $100,000 building was completed, the bulk of the funding came from the JDC. On May 14 1964 [Sivan 3 5724], when the building was completed, the JDC proudly sent a press release about the new school building and the dedication ceremony:

Jewish Leaders from Four Countries at Dedication of Lubavitcher School

A new $100,000 building to house the Lubavitcher Beth Rivkah Teacher – Training Seminary for girls was dedicated in Yerres, France, last week; it was announced by Moses A. Leavitt, executive vice-chairman of the Joint Distribution Committee. Attending the ceremony were Jewish religious, education, and welfare leaders from France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Great Britain.

Representing the major organizations which gave funds for the building were: Charles H. Jordan, director-general of the Joint Distribution Committee; H. Oscar Joseph, chairman of the Central British Fund for Jewish Relief and Rehabilitation; and M. Sanouiller, Mayor of Yerres, who represented the French Government’s Social Action Fund. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany also provided funds for the new school.

Speaking on behalf of the JDC, which allocated $60,000 to the project, Mr. Jordan pointed out that the seminary is part of a many-sided effort of the JDC and French Jewish educational and welfare agencies to provide the thousands of Jewish newcomers from Algeria and other North African countries with vital educational, cultural, and religious facilities. The JDC receives its funds chiefly from the campaigns of the United Jewish Appeal.

Mr. Jordan said that over $3,500,000 was earmarked in France in 1963 by JDC, the Claims Conference, the French Jewish community and the French Government for Jewish schools and multi-purpose synagogue-centers, especially in areas which have newly-developed Jewish communities and no facilities.

The Lubavitcher are a Hassidic sect, originating in Russia, dedicated to bringing up children in the Orthodox Jewish way of life. They maintain schools in Morocco, Tunisia, France, the United States, and Israel. The Beth Rivkah school at Yerres was established in 1956 with a grant from JDC and the Claims Conference as a religious boarding school for some 76 girls from six to seventeen years of age.

A teacher-training department was added in 1958 to meet the growing shortage of teachers qualified to teach in day-schools and Talmud Torahs in France. The shortage has since been intensified by the massive influx of Jews from Algeria. The new building was designed to separate the age groups, relieve overcrowding, and provide adequate classroom facilities for higher-level instruction. The modern, attractively-furnished structure has accommodations for 30 students (three to a room), four classrooms, laundry, kitchen, and other facilities.

The school offers a three-year course combining Jewish subjects, general education, teaching methods, and child psychology. It has achieved high scholastic standards and its students, mostly from North African countries, have been assigned to teaching positions in the French Jewish communities immediately after graduation.

1966: Four More Classrooms

A mere two years after the new building was completed, the school needed to expand, as is described in communication between the Budget Department of the JDC in Geneva (directed by Mr. Julian Breen) and Mr. Charles Jordan (JDC – New York), dated December 14 1966 [Teves 1 5727]:

This is with reference to Moe Levine’s memorandum addressed to you of December 13 1966 in which he deals with the request of the Lubavitcher for support of a project of $25,000 for the construction of four new classrooms in their installation at Yerres.

… You know, of course, that after much negotiation Rabbi Gorodetzki has agreed to place our financial arrangements with his organization on a more or less normal basis. We have agreed to cover 55% of their operating costs including (and this is important) repair and maintenance charges within certain reasonable limits. Now that we have a working agreement as to the extent of the Lubavitcher participation in programs of mutual interest, it should be extended to comprise capital expenditures as well. Consequently it is recommended that we take a rather firm line on holding the Lubavitcher to a contribution of at least 45% toward the $25,000 project now contemplated.

…To sum up, there probably is no argument about the merits of the project. There is not only justification but also an obligation on our part, in the light of the attitude we have taken vis-a-vis other organizations with similar requests, to expect the Lubavitcher to make a reasonable contribution to the project.

1967: Build an Additional Floor

A few months later, in the summer break of 1967, the plan expanded and in addition to the four new classrooms there were plans to build an additional floor to the Teachers Seminary Building. This is described in a Memo dated June 12 1968 [Sivan 16 5728] sent from Mr. Moses Levine (JDC – Geneva) to Mr. Julian Breen, head of the JDC’s Budget Department in Geneva, describing the advancement of this project and its estimated costs:

…(6) At the meeting the late Mr. Jordan and I had with Rabbi Gorodetski in Paris on August 4th, 1967 (see my memo to the files of 14th August 1967) Rabbi Gorodetski stated that the Lubavitcher could only contribute $10,000 to the projects of an additional floor in the Seminary building and a pre-fab for 4 new classrooms (estimated to cost 70,000 frs.). The late Mr. Jordan stated that the Lubavitcher should meet their commitment (of $10,000) and we would see about the extent of the Lubavitcher commitment to the project of an additional floor once we knew how much money could be obtained from other sources…

1970: Buy More Land to Expand

In 1970, the existing building, with the additional floor and additional classrooms, was not enough to handle the growing student body, and the JDC was yet again contacted to help with the expansion of the school. The following letter from May 21 1970 [Iyar 15 5730], from Mr. Louis D. Horwitz (JDC – Geneva) to Mr. Samuel L. Haber (JDC – New York) describes the request:

Rabbi Gorodetzki was in to see me yesterday concerning his request for our help in buying a parcel of land in Yerres to be used for the improvement and extension of the existing school facilities. For some reason or other, you and I have been unable to meet on this subject and come to a clear decision about this request. I told Rabbi Gorodetzki that I would be seeing you in June and that I hope that at that time a definite decision will be reached.

… Julie Breen and I think we ought to take a positive view towards this request. While many people and agencies do a great deal of talking about the need for taking firm steps with respect to expanding facilities for Jewish education In France, relatively little has been achieved, while the Lubavitch record on this subject speaks very favorably for it.

“I am a Chossid of the Lubavitcher”

Mr. Haber responded to the letter a few days later, on May 27 1970 [Iyar 21 5730], describing the financial situation, and describing his appreciation for Lubavitch:

I am sure that by now you are very well aware of the situation which is rapidly assuming crisis proportions in the economy. The very sharp stock market decline is having, and will continue to have increasing and serious repercussions on the UJA cash collections. In several cities which I visited recently, the impact is already beginning to be felt.

…Let me add that I am as much a “chossid” of the Lubavitcher as anyone else, and my long years of association with Rabbi Gorodetski resulted in a profound appreciation not only of the Rabbi himself but also of the movement which he represents. Unfortunately, we feel that we cannot undertake any new projects whether it is a one-time grant, which is not the case in this instance, or any new obligations.

…In short, coming back to the question of the Lubavitcher, I do believe that you ought to take the position, when next you met with Rabbi Gorodetski, that the uncertain situation which throws into question our program for 1971, precludes acceptance of any or all new projects, and hopefully we will be able to maintain those which we now have on our books.

 

 

The Story of the First Beth Rivkah in Europe
In the fourth installment of this series we presented a letter from 1947 which discusses the first steps of the Beth Rivkah girls’ School which was established in France for the children of the refugees, the first Chabad girls’ school in the European continent. In this ninth installment we return to the story of Beth Rivkah in France, and the support of the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to this project. This installment covers the 1950’s plans for the teachers’ seminary, and the 1960’s expansion.
This school, as the rest of the Chabad educational institutions in Europe and North Africa, were directed by Rabbi Binyamin Eliyahu Gorodetsky, the Rebbe’s personal representative.
These fascinating documents are part of the JDC Archives (which were digitized and uploaded online, thanks to a grant from Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE).
Planning the
Teachers’ Seminary
On December 31, 1951 [Teves 2 5712], Rabbi Binyamin Gorodetsky penned a letter to Mr. Judah Shapiro, the director of the Educational Department of the JDC office in Paris, discussing the plans for opening a Chabad Teachers’ Seminary to train teachers for Morocco:
Up to my knowledge, during your visit to the States there will be considered among other questions the education activity in Europe and חוץ לארץ countries beside Europe according to the plan submitted by the newly organized department of the סוכנות.
As far as I know the סוכנות intends to organize in France Seminaries for Moroccan children to prepare teachers for Morocco. It is rather a long time since we also have planned to establish in Paris a Seminary for Moroccan boys and girls for the same purpose but the project was postponed because of some technical reasons and also because I knew that the AJDC was against bringing children from Morocco to France. Now when I see that the attitude of the AJDC has changed I should like to ask you to consider our plan when you discuss this matter in the States. We intend to establish a Seminary for about 40 Moroccan boys and 30 girls. There will be no housing problem as we shall place them in our institutions in Paris but the AJDC must help with everything necessary for the pupils except housing.
Excuse me for bothering you once more and wish to stress that the only thing I am asking is that the question about our Seminary in Paris is considered when the education plans for 1952 are discussed. I hope that when we meet personally we shall be able to speak about the necessity of such a seminary sponsored by our organization in France notwithstanding that we already have such institutions on the spot in Morocco.
A few days later, on January 4 1952 [Teves 6 5712]] Rabbi Gorodetsky received a response from Mr. Shapiro, stressing that their attitude has not changed, and they will not support any educational programs in France:
I am hurrying to answer this letter of yours because I realize that you are improperly informed about JDC’s plans and program for 1952.
… I do not know from where you received your information that “the attitude of the AJDC has changed,” for it has not changed and we do not anticipate reversing ourselves on this matter. If your thought of establishing a seminary in France for North Africans were to develop further, it would have to be the entire responsibility of your organization without any hope of obtaining AJDC assistance.
I shall, of course, be glad to discuss this with you upon my return to Paris, but believe that you should have at the earliest moment this statement of JDC policy in this matter.
“Has Everything
Been Forgotten?”
Rabbi Gorodetsky did not despair and continued trying to get the JDC to help with sponsoring Chabad’s  schools in Europe, and had various meetings with the heads of the JDC in Europe to discuss this matter. It seems that his efforts were not successful and in the summer of 1953 he fired off a letter summarizing his efforts and feelings on the matter.
In a lengthy letter dated July 20 1953 [Av 8 5713] and addressed to Mr. Herbert Katzki (JDC – Europe), Rabbi Gorodetsky makes the case for additional funding both for Morocco and France, and specifies his disappointment with the JDC attitude. The following quote summarizes his feelings:
This all made a very bad impression on me and I asked myself whether the JDC staff members treated our organization as it has been treated by the AJDC for the last 33 years, or everything has been forgotten and the AJDC has changed its policy towards our organization; whether the JDC began considering our organization as its own organ inasmuch as every JDC officer had the right to dictate us whatever he understood or wished but with regard to financial support we remained quite a foreign body, or did the AJDC continue to consider us as a world renowned organization, the first and only one of its kind to work at religious education on such a vast scale…
If all this was only a misunderstanding and the AJDC is willing to treat such an organization as ours in the right way, then surely the negotiations AJDC – Lubavitch can again take the same character as before which is more suitable for both our organizations.
$60,000 From JDC For The New Building
During the following years Rabbi Gorodetsky managed to convince the JDC to participate in supporting the Beth Rivkah School in France, both the primary and the seminary, and in 1964, when a $100,000 building was completed, the bulk of the funding came from the JDC. On May 14 1964 [Sivan 3 5724], when the building was completed, the JDC proudly sent a press release about the new school building and the dedication ceremony:
Jewish Leaders from Four Countries at Dedication of Lubavitcher School
A new $100,000 building to house the Lubavitcher Beth Rivkah Teacher – Training Seminary for girls was dedicated in Yerres, France, last week; it was announced by Moses A. Leavitt, executive vice-chairman of the Joint Distribution Committee. Attending the ceremony were Jewish religious, education, and welfare leaders from France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Great Britain.
Representing the major organizations which gave funds for the building were: Charles H. Jordan, director-general of the Joint Distribution Committee; H. Oscar Joseph, chairman of the Central British Fund for Jewish Relief and Rehabilitation; and M. Sanouiller, Mayor of Yerres, who represented the French Government’s Social Action Fund. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany also provided funds for the new school.
Speaking on behalf of the JDC, which allocated $60,000 to the project, Mr. Jordan pointed out that the seminary is part of a many-sided effort of the JDC and French Jewish educational and welfare agencies to provide the thousands of Jewish newcomers from Algeria and other North African countries with vital educational, cultural, and religious facilities. The JDC receives its funds chiefly from the campaigns of the United Jewish Appeal.
Mr. Jordan said that over $3,500,000 was earmarked in France in 1963 by JDC, the Claims Conference, the French Jewish community and the French Government for Jewish schools and multi-purpose synagogue-centers, especially in areas which have newly-developed Jewish communities and no facilities.
The Lubavitcher are a Hassidic sect, originating in Russia, dedicated to bringing up children in the Orthodox Jewish way of life. They maintain schools in Morocco, Tunisia, France, the United States, and Israel. The Beth Rivkah school at Yerres was established in 1956 with a grant from JDC and the Claims Conference as a religious boarding school for some 76 girls from six to seventeen years of age.
A teacher-training department was added in 1958 to meet the growing shortage of teachers qualified to teach in day-schools and Talmud Torahs in France. The shortage has since been intensified by the massive influx of Jews from Algeria. The new building was designed to separate the age groups, relieve overcrowding, and provide adequate classroom facilities for higher-level instruction. The modern, attractively-furnished structure has accommodations for 30 students (three to a room), four classrooms, laundry, kitchen, and other facilities.
The school offers a three-year course combining Jewish subjects, general education, teaching methods, and child psychology. It has achieved high scholastic standards and its students, mostly from North African countries, have been assigned to teaching positions in the French Jewish communities immediately after graduation.
1966: Four More Classrooms
A mere two years after the new building was completed, the school needed to expand, as is described in communication between the Budget Department of the JDC in Geneva (directed by Mr. Julian Breen) and Mr. Charles Jordan (JDC – New York), dated December 14 1966 [Teves 1 5727]:
This is with reference to Moe Levine’s memorandum addressed to you of December 13 1966 in which he deals with the request of the Lubavitcher for support of a project of $25,000 for the construction of four new classrooms in their installation at Yerres.
… You know, of course, that after much negotiation Rabbi Gorodetzki has agreed to place our financial arrangements with his organization on a more or less normal basis. We have agreed to cover 55% of their operating costs including (and this is important) repair and maintenance charges within certain reasonable limits. Now that we have a working agreement as to the extent of the Lubavitcher participation in programs of mutual interest, it should be extended to comprise capital expenditures as well. Consequently it is recommended that we take a rather firm line on holding the Lubavitcher to a contribution of at least 45% toward the $25,000 project now contemplated.
…To sum up, there probably is no argument about the merits of the project. There is not only justification but also an obligation on our part, in the light of the attitude we have taken vis-a-vis other organizations with similar requests, to expect the Lubavitcher to make a reasonable contribution to the project.
1967: Build an Additional Floor
A few months later, in the summer break of 1967, the plan expanded and in addition to the four new classrooms there were plans to build an additional floor to the Teachers Seminary Building. This is described in a Memo dated June 12 1968 [Sivan 16 5728] sent from Mr. Moses Levine (JDC – Geneva) to Mr. Julian Breen, head of the JDC’s Budget Department in Geneva, describing the advancement of this project and its estimated costs:
…(6) At the meeting the late Mr. Jordan and I had with Rabbi Gorodetski in Paris on August 4th, 1967 (see my memo to the files of 14th August 1967) Rabbi Gorodetski stated that the Lubavitcher could only contribute $10,000 to the projects of an additional floor in the Seminary building and a pre-fab for 4 new classrooms (estimated to cost 70,000 frs.). The late Mr. Jordan stated that the Lubavitcher should meet their commitment (of $10,000) and we would see about the extent of the Lubavitcher commitment to the project of an additional floor once we knew how much money could be obtained from other sources…
1970: Buy More
Land to Expand
In 1970, the existing building, with the additional floor and additional classrooms, was not enough to handle the growing student body, and the JDC was yet again contacted to help with the expansion of the school. The following letter from May 21 1970 [Iyar 15 5730], from Mr. Louis D. Horwitz (JDC – Geneva) to Mr. Samuel L. Haber (JDC – New York) describes the request:
Rabbi Gorodetzki was in to see me yesterday concerning his request for our help in buying a parcel of land in Yerres to be used for the improvement and extension of the existing school facilities. For some reason or other, you and I have been unable to meet on this subject and come to a clear decision about this request. I told Rabbi Gorodetzki that I would be seeing you in June and that I hope that at that time a definite decision will be reached.
… Julie Breen and I think we ought to take a positive view towards this request. While many people and agencies do a great deal of talking about the need for taking firm steps with respect to expanding facilities for Jewish education In France, relatively little has been achieved, while the Lubavitch record on this subject speaks very favorably for it.
“I am a Chossid
of the Lubavitcher”
Mr. Haber responded to the letter a few days later, on May 27 1970 [Iyar 21 5730], describing the financial situation, and describing his appreciation for Lubavitch:
I am sure that by now you are very well aware of the situation which is rapidly assuming crisis proportions in the economy. The very sharp stock market decline is having, and will continue to have increasing and serious repercussions on the UJA cash collections. In several cities which I visited recently, the impact is already beginning to be felt.
…Let me add that I am as much a “chossid” of the Lubavitcher as anyone else, and my long years of association with Rabbi Gorodetski resulted in a profound appreciation not only of the Rabbi himself but also of the movement which he represents. Unfortunately, we feel that we cannot undertake any new projects whether it is a one-time grant, which is not the case in this instance, or any new obligations.
…In short, coming back to the question of the Lubavitcher, I do believe that you ought to take the position, when next you met with Rabbi Gorodetski, that the uncertain situation which throws into question our program for 1971, precludes acceptance of any or all new projects, and hopefully we will be able to maintain those which we now have on our books.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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