in memoriam

Celebration of education and the legacy of Tova Rhein z”l

Between now and the end of the month, close to two million students in the Israeli education system will have gotten their report cards. Report cards are an art unto themselves. Every school has its own culture surrounding them. In many schools, it is treated as a special occasion, students are asked to wear white shirts and are given token gifts.  Report card distribution is a celebration of learning and process, not only academic achievements and product. In the school where I work, I am witness to the hours upon hours of thought and work that go into the writing of these documents. Teachers search for the exact right words and tone to convey their connection to and belief in their students, advising with one another and conducting multiple revisions until they get it just right. Teachers conduct one-on-one conversations with their students, allowing them time to share their reflections on their own growth and improvement. It is indeed a true culmination of a meaningful process that we call education.

Yesterday, I attended a very different kind of celebration of education. No, it was not a graduation. It was perhaps surprisingly, at a funeral. It was the funeral of Tova Rhein z”l, dedicated Jewish educator for over 50 years, and Rosh Midrasha of Midreshet Lindenbaum for over 30 years. I call it a celebration of education because that’s exactly what it was; it was a tribute to Tova as an educator, and to the kind of education to which she was devoted. Tova embodied the value of education, the value of giving, the value of hope in the future. As her husband, Rabbi Danny Rhein, dear children, colleagues and friends recounted, she sought opportunities to spread Torah and Judaism to all parts of the world. She did so with deep modesty, responsibility and dedication. As a student in Midreshet Lindenbaum, I remember Tova being warm, insightful, and pure in her motivations. When students challenged her on one protocol or another, she listened attentively and offered her answer kindly and respectfully. No, she wasn’t the loudest one in the room, there were no thunderclaps or spotlights. She was more like the tremors before an earthquake, slight and subtle, yet powerful in what they bring about. Today it might be taken for granted, but in her time, Tova was a spearhead for women’s scholarship as  Midreshet Lindenbaum was the first post high school Israel program for women to offer intense Talmud studies and Megillah readings by women. An attribute that was mentioned by every speaker yesterday, was that she indeed was “tova,” good and pleasant in nature, easy to be with, and simply a role model in how she lived her life. She was dedicated not only to teaching, but to learning, growing, and offering her talents and services to her community.

In light of it being the season of report card distribution, her daughter shared the following story. Every time her children brought home report cards, Tova would cover up the numerical grades and read only the teachers comments; comments about effort, behavior, respect, responsibility, and friendship. She was not interested in the number of the grade, but only in the kind of human being her children were turning out to be. This story reminded me of a personal interaction I had had with Tova. A few years after I studied in the midrasha, I wrote an email to Tova recommending a candidate for the program. The midrasha had become very competitive and I wanted to do my part to help ensure my friend’s acceptance. Tova responded so warmly and matter-of-factly, that the most important criteria for acceptance was good character, and that this young woman had nothing to worry about. She shared that she was so touched by my efforts to help a friend in such a way.

The tractate of Mishna that best teaches us about good character, Pirkei Avot, opens with the teachings of the Men of the Great Assembly. One of their teachings was “V’he-emidu talmidim harbeh,” “and raise many disciples”. We are not only a people of the book, but a people of educators. Tova he-emidah talmidim v’talmidot harbeh, raised thousands of women and children, both by her teachings and by her example. May we remember her for the special person and educator she was, and perhaps specifically in this time of report cards, may we remember her values and teachings. Let us celebrate our children’s and students’ journey, self-development, and good character. May those like myself who were touched and inspired by Tova continue her legacy and may her memory be a blessing.

About the Author
Rena has her Masters in Jewish Studies from Yeshiva University Bernard Revel Graduate School. Originally from New York, she has been a resident of Modiin since 2008. Upon entering the school system in Israel, she quickly pivoted from teaching Judaic Studies to becoming a certified English teacher. In addition to teaching children of all ages, she is the director of the English program at her school and mentors new English teachers. She is passionate about education, Judaism, and her family, and she welcomes the challenges of synthesizing her life as an American and an Israeli.
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