Much of the following originally appeared in the Queens Jewish Link (January 3, 2019) in an article by Sima Mandelbaum, when Rabbi Neuman and his Rebbetzin were honored at Bais Yaakov Ateres Miriam’s Dinner.
A smile at the beginning of the day. A warm hello. A concerned “How are you?” These seemingly simple memories of Rabbi Moshe ben Yehudah Yitzchak and Pessla Neuman zt”l, 91, are what generations of students of the Bais Yaakov Academy of Queens hold dear in their hearts. From the years 1961 to 2011, Rabbi Moshe Neuman was at the helm of this Queens institution, shepherding it from a school of 27 students in a tiny building in Corona to a school of close to 850 students in a four-story building in Kew Gardens. Throughout those years, Rabbi Neuman was a consistent and reliable presence for all the girls who learned at the Bais Yaakov, educating in some cases four generations of talmidos.
For more than half a century, Rabbi Neuman and his wife completely dedicated themselves to the youngest members of our klal. Working with each child’s strengths to achieve his or her potential, Rabbi and Mrs. Neuman cultivated and were m’chaneich many of the parents and grandparents you see today in our communities. Whether at the Bais Yaakov of Queens, Toras Emes, or through 613 Torah Avenue, a creation of Mrs. Neuman, they both touched the lives of almost every single family you will meet – families with strong, Torahdikkeh values, with a love for Yiddishkeit that is felt in the home and is lived every day. This legacy of chinuch with warmth is renewed each morning, as the girls enter BYQ in the footsteps of those who came before them.
As a young man, Rabbi Neuman was working toward a degree in tax law, but his obvious talents in the area of chinuch led his rosh yeshivah in Yeshivas Chaim Berlin, Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt”l, to nudge him in a different direction. From his first experience as an eighth-grade substitute, it was clear that Rabbi Neuman was a natural. He “got kids” and was able to reach them on their level, gain their trust, and make them want to learn.
Rabbi Neuman, born in Germany, worked for four years as a third grade rebbe and assistant principal in Detroit. After his marriage to Rivkah Hollander, the couple moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where Rabbi Neuman served as principal of the Jewish Community Center Day School. In the spring of 1961, sensing that it was time for their growing family to return to New York, Rabbi Neuman accepted the position as principal of a fledgling girls’ school in Queens.
The Bais Yaakov flourished under the auspices of Rabbi Neuman, growing quickly from a small school into the thriving institution it is today. What was the secret of his success? Bais Yaakov alumni who attended the school at any and every point during Rabbi Neuman’s 50 years of tenure all point to the same key characteristics: “He knew everyone’s name – first and last,” and, “He greeted us each and every morning with an enthusiastic ‘Boker Tov’ and a smile.” While these might sound like small gestures, it is clear by the deep impression they have made that they were indeed significant and meaningful to his many students.
Hands-on would not be an adequate term to describe the level of care and concern that Rabbi Neuman brought to his position. Any way a child needed to be nourished, he was the man for the job. It would not be unusual to see the esteemed principal bend down and tie a young student’s shoelace. In a letter reprinted in BYQ’s 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album, 1959-2019, Rabbi Paysach Krohn writes that when the Balsam farm on Cross Bay Boulevard closed down, Bais Yaakov had a problem getting chalav Yisrael milk. Rabbi Neuman came to the rescue, schlepping the milk in his car from Boro Park each and every day.
Ruchy (Neuman) Elbogen (no relation to Rabbi Neuman) remembers that as a young student, just four years old, a fellow student put a pearl into her ear. Rabbi Neuman calmly tried to remove it with a straw but was unsuccessful. This was before the days of Hatzalah and cell phones, so the principal took Ruchy in his own car to the Emergency Room at nearby Jamaica Hospital where her mother met them. Sounds like a frightening situation, but Ruchy says that with Rabbi Neuman at her side, “All I recall is calm. And the credit for that lies only with Rabbi Neuman.” The same trust went for girls who needed a splinter or hanging tooth pulled.
“Can I come in and disturb your class?” was Rabbi Neuman’s opening gambit to enter the classroom and spend some quality time with BYQ’s talmidos. As Mrs. Gitty Acker, an administrator in BYQ and longtime third grade morah, shared, she would call Rabbi Neuman into her classroom each time the girls finished learning a parshah in Chumash. He would “quiz” the students, giving them a chance to show off all they learned. He also went into each classroom in the school during Elul to blow the shofar and used to read part of Megillas Esther to Mrs. Acker’s students each year before Purim. “The girls were always amazed when he said the Aseres B’nei Haman in one breath.” In the sixth grade, he would give weekly parshah lessons from Rabbeinu Yonah. He was not a principal who sat in his office. He spent time in the classrooms.
Rabbi Neuman knew how to turn even bitter moments into sweet ones. Mrs. Chana (Goldberger) Fendrich recalls nostalgically how when she was thrown out of class and sent to the principal’s office, Rabbi Neuman offered her a candy and told her not to tell anyone. (Of course, now the entire Queens community knows. Sorry, Rabbi Neuman; the secret is out.)
Many BYQ faculty members still spoke to Rabbi Neuman on a regular basis. He had a very close relationship with the teachers. As one teacher says, “Rabbi Neuman could get us to do anything for a student because we knew that he was willing to do anything. There was no such thing as saying no.”
Mrs. Nechama Jurkowitz, Limudei Kodesh Principal at the Bais Yaakov, recalls that Rabbi Neuman would sit with the teachers, and both listen to them and give over to them. “Teachers felt it was worth coming to school to teach, and also to be taught by Rabbi Neuman.”
Rabbi Neuman didn’t just know every student’s name. He knew everything about them there was to know: their challenges, their strengths, what might have worked for them in the past, and what did not. He looked for the best in each child so he could inspire her to bring out her kochos and reach her potential. Mrs. Tamar (Well) Miller entered BYQ in seventh grade after moving to New York from Chicago. She and her father arrived first, ahead of the rest of the family. She relates that Rabbi Neuman used to check on her all the time. “He always used to ask me how I was doing. I’ll always remember his smile and his warmth. He really cared.”
Mrs. Elisa (Hoffman) Taub, Director of the Midos Program in the Bais Yaakov, attended BYQ as a student and sent her daughters to the school. In her view, “Rabbi Neuman never changed, from when I knew him as a little girl to when I knew him as an adult.” With his signature warmth, everyone felt a personal connection to him. “He always got his messages and his values across through his anecdotes. Eretz Yisrael, ahavas Yisrael, the Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain, the Holocaust – he was always teaching – but you didn’t necessarily feel like he was teaching you – he was putting his heart into your heart.”
Rabbi Neuman’s caring extended beyond his students to the entire klal Yisrael. Mrs. Shifra (Jakubowicz) Silber remembers that every assembly would begin with kapitel kuf-lamed (T’hilim 130), recited responsively as a t’filah “for our brothers and sisters trapped behind the Iron Curtain.” This made a lasting impression on his many students.
Above all, Rabbi Neuman wanted to teach the girls at the Bais Yaakov to have midos and mentchlichkeit. “Stand up for someone older who might need a seat... Call your grandparents before Shabbos.” These lessons were imparted on a daily basis.
Mrs. Jurkowitz captures one of Rabbi Neuman’s unique qualities: “When you spoke to him, you felt like there is no one else in the whole world who mattered to him at that moment. Students felt that way, and teachers, too. He never forgot what you spoke about, and always remembered to ask you about it. It was all about relationship.” She also emphasizes that he allows for people not to be perfect. “People look back at their time in the Bais Yaakov and say, ‘He believed in me, and that gave me the strength to go and achieve.’”
When Rabbi Neuman was no longer physically at the Bais Yaakov, Bais Yaakov students still had a prominent place in his heart. Just a few years ago, Rabbi Neuman was in the Bais Medrash of Cedarhurst with his son, Rabbi Nosson Neuman, and was heard asking the mara d’asra, Rabbi Spiegel, for a brachah. “What type of brachah?” inquired Rabbi Spiegel. “A brachah for shidduchim for all the girls in the Bais Yaakov.” As ever, Rabbi Neuman was still concerned about his girls and taking action on their behalf.
Rabbi Neuman took a sudden fall in shul on the Friday, April 15, the first night of Pesach. The Chazaq Organization spearheaded a widely publicized T’hilim event over Chol HaMoed, featuring a keynote address by Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum, mara d’asra of Khal Nachlas Yitzchok. Several T’hilim chats pushed forth in the weeks since giving strength to the community and family.
The l’vayah was held on Tuesday, May 3, at Shomrei Hadas Chapels in Borough Park. K’vurah followed at Washington Cemetery, Monmouth Junction, NJ.
The Neuman legacy continued at BYQ while Rabbi Nosson Neuman was menahel, and today with Mrs. Brochie Kramer as a teacher. High schools still seek BYQ graduates imbued with the Queens spirit and the touch of Rabbi Neuman. The Queens Jewish Link joins the students of Rabbi Neuman in mourning his passing and sends heartfelt condolences to his beloved wife Rebbetzin Rivkah, their sons Rabbi Shomie, Reb Yossie, and Rabbi Nosson, and their daughter Perel Cohen, and Brochie Kramer. The world of chinuch would not be what it is today without Rabbi Moshe Neuman zt”l.
Y’hi zichro baruch.
By QJL Staff