Community day schools have played a vital role in maintaining Jewish life in America, particularly in communities outside of the major Jewish population areas. The graduate of such schools owe a debt of gratitude to the memory of Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz (1888 – 1948).
Born in Hungary, Rabbi Mendlowitz (who preferred to be referred to as Mr. Mendlowitz) arrived in America in 1913. After teaching for seven years in a Scranton, PA, Talmud Torah and then running a small ice cream business in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Rabbi Mendlowitz accepted a teaching position at Yeshiva Torah Vadaas, one of the few elementary school yeshivas in America, in 1922.
Rabbi Mendlowitz brought a new energy to the students. When he assumed the role of principal, Rabbi Mendlowitz surprised the school’s board by informing them that he expected each board member to attend Torah education classes as well.
One of the great challenges of Jewish education at that time was the fact that most boys* only received a primary Jewish education. In 1926, Rabbi Mendlowitz accomplished the first of many surprising achievements in Jewish education, opening Mesivta Torah Vadaas, a high school for Jewish boys. A few years later, after realizing that these dedicated young men needed a venue in which they could continue their Torah studies, he created Beth Medrash Elyon, a kollel (a learning institute for young married men, in Spring Valley, New York) .
If Rabbi Mendlowitz had focused only on his own students, his accomplishments would still have been significant. However, wanting to see Torah education flourish everywhere, he helped other yeshiva high schools come into existence, even to the point of sending them some of his best teachers. Additionally, along with several other community leaders of the era, Rabbi Mendlowitz helped to create Torah Umesorah, an organization dedicated to creating and supporting Jewish day schools across the country.
Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz passed away on 3 Elul, 1948.
*Bais Yaakov, the movement for girls’ Jewish education, was still in its fledgling stages
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