Rebbetzin Rivka Schweitzer, A”h, an Unforgettable Mechaneches

BROOKLYN -

The frum community mourns the petirah of venerated mechaneches Rebbetzin Rivkah Schweitzer, a”h,
who was niftar on Thursday in Eretz Yisroel.

Rebbetzin Schweitzer, who taught and inspired many thousands of Bais Yaakov students in her more than 50 years in chinuch in Bais Yaakov of Boro Park High School, was the daughter of Reb Yosef Kaufman, z”l, one of the pioneers of the Chinuch Atzmai in Eretz Yisrael.

She married, ybl”c, Harav Yaakov Dovid Schweitzer, shlita, a long-time maggid shiur in Yeshivah Torah Vodaas.

“She was the most wonderful, beloved, understanding teacher and person. When you spoke to her, you felt secure, knowing that she cared about you. She was also a person of great depth,” recalls Rebbetzin Devorah Borchardt of Bais Yaakov of Boro Park High School and Seminar L’Moros. “I loved her as my teacher, and looked up to and admired her during the years we worked together. The teachers’ room was a special place when she was there. She had a certain presence; it felt uplifting to be in her daled amos.”

“We were very good friends,” shares longtime colleague Rebbetzin Chaya Zimmerman. “One of the many qualities I appreciated in her was her great honesty. There was no pretension about her; she was for real. If she had to reprimand a student, she did so; five minutes later, there was no tension, no anger. She conveyed her message, while maintaining her respect for the student. She was very centered on the feelings of others, rather than on zich; it wasn’t about her.

“An excellent teacher, she was never satisfied with only imparting yedios. It was important to her to also develop her students’ learning skills.”

Recalls Bais Yaakov’s Rebbetzin Rivka Eichenstein, “Whatever Rebbetzin Schweitzer did, she did with all her might. At one point, the school administration asked her, in addition to teaching classes, to be in charge of encouraging the tznius of the students, checking that such things as hairstyles and skirt lengths fit halachic standards and were suitable for a bas Yisrael. As a responsibility requiring enforcement and strict discipline, it wasn’t a job she relished. However, she accepted it as a shelichus, knowing it was emes and needed to be done.

“Whatever she was involved in — from setting a table and cutting slices of cake for her guests, to guiding the yearbook editors in her capacity as faculty advisor — she did with attention to detail and an eye for beauty and harmony.”

The right words, the picture that portrayed a concept best — she skillfully helped those yearbook staffers hone and broaden their abilities as they created a meaningful masterpiece.

“Her nekudas ha’emes stood out,” Rebbetzin Eichenstein reflects, “as did her heart. She taught sefer Tehillim, the lev kol Yisrael, from her heart, and it reached the hearts of her talmidos.”

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schweitzer
The old Bais Yaakov building. (Google maps)

My classmates and I at Bais Yaakov of Boro Park High School were blessed to have Rebbetzin Rivka Schweitzer as our Tehillim teacher in both our junior and senior years. I am forever grateful.

I loved Rebbetzin Schweitzer. Whoever said the teacher is the lesson surely meant her. She exuded warmth and nobility. She imparted her shiurim with passion and clarity. Her classes were electric, awakening, rich and real.

But she was so much more than a classroom teacher. Rebbetzin Schweitzer took a personal interest in each of her talmidos; she really, really cared. When I witnessed something distressing and didn’t know how to process it, I turned to Rebbetzin Schweitzer for guidance. She came through with seichel and encouragement, helping me to gain perspective and move forward.

Rebbetzin Schweitzer was known to be the consummate balabusta. Some of my classmates were very into helping their mothers with Pesach cleaning one year, and when they had questions like, “Dust or vacuum first?” it was natural to pose them to Rebbetzin Schweitzer during recess. She was highly approachable, a wellspring of practical knowledge no less than she was a source of inspirational wisdom.

Her whole comportment reflected dignity. She was put-together and refined, with an inner class that was uniquely hers. Her beautiful, perceptive eyes radiated calm, thoughtfulness and empathy.

We students felt that she understood us. When we got excited over silly things — chassidish-litvish hock, philosophical angst, midterm schedules, unjust colorwar scores, she gently laughed in understanding. I see this now as a reflection of a peirush she taught us on the passuk,Hashem yodea machashavos adam ki hema havel, Hashem knows the thoughts of man for they are nothing.” Rebbetzin Schweitzer told a mashal of a child who complained to his father that another boy had knocked over the house he had built of wooden matchsticks. Of course, the father knew that a house of matches was nothing to cry over. But he also understood how much it meant to his little son, and commiserated with him.

I was disappointed when someone else was chosen for a particular yearbook job to which I had aspired. I confided my feelings to Rebbetzin Schweitzer, who, with great finesse and leading questions, helped me cheerfully conclude that the girl elected for the job was a better fit than I was.

Her love and concern for us were ongoing, even after we graduated high school. When a student met her on the street, you could see that her joy in encountering a talmidah was great. Rochel recalls, “She savored catching up with us, inquiring about our families and friends. She remembered every girl’s name —and this was a woman who taught thousands of students, over decades — whose class she had been in, who her close friends were. ‘Is Chanie still teaching fifth grade? How does she like it? I remember she found the traveling hard…’’’

Several years ago, Bais Yaakov High School asked me to compose a song for its school play. At the performance, I found myself sitting two rows behind Rebbetzin Schweitzer. After each song, she turned and asked me, “Was that yours, Faygie? Which one did you write?” And when they finally sang my song, she gave me her beautiful, warm, deep smile, and told me how much she enjoyed it.

Such interest, such caring; how blessed we were to have her in our lives.

She redt many shidduchim, trying to help, getting involved, never making suggestions impulsively or without deliberation. When someone called her for information, her answers were honest, thoughtful, specific and trustworthy.

“When my son was in shidduchim,” says Chaya, “I called Rebbetzin Schweitzer for information. After speaking to her for five minutes, I understood the girl’s qualities and felt confident about whether to proceed.

“What I found fascinating was that, when we were looking into a certain girl, someone told me that the father of that girl had called Rebbetzin Schweitzer — to ask about me! Decades had passed since I had been in her class, but he must have known that Rebbetzin Schweitzer kept up with her students, and he trusted her opinions.

“I, too, was so machshiv what she had to say. I called her not only for information, but for hadrachah, as well, seeking advice on what was most important, which considerations to prioritize. She was an extremely wise woman.”

Her priorities were in sterling order. I sat in Bais Yaakov’s teachers’ room one day while several faculty members discussed the best candidates to represent their class at graduation. Rebbetzin Schweitzer insisted that those chosen to speak represent much more than academic success. Of course, this was the others’ intention, as well. But Rebbetzin Schweitzer had an especially fine-tuned, exquisite sensitivity that picked up nuances of middos and hashkafos, effort and sincerity.

Rivky was Rebbetzin Schweitzer’s student more than 40 years ago. When I asked her to share some memories, she responded: “What a special woman she was! We knew she was brilliant, of course. But what stands out in my mind was the personal interest she took in me as a student. I felt a kesher toward her long after graduation. Meeting on the street, we’d stop and schmooze for 20 minutes. She was so friendly, approachable, and interested.”

Miriam and a few of her friends planned a trip to Eretz Yisrael the year after twelfth grade. Of course, their parents would only allow them to travel with a chaperone. “Rebbetzin Schweitzer was our unanimous choice,” she remembers. “We loved her, we knew what a special person she was, and that she was fun! We would benefit from both the inspiration and the good humor, the special smile, that were all part of Rebbetzin Schweitzer.

“Years ago, I asked her to help me get a relative into a certain school. I had the feeling that I had protektzia with her, that she would use her influence to help me.”

We all had protektzia with her —because, as her talmidos, we all were important to her.

Miriam adds, “She was an all-around smart, warm person. We knew she was someone we could rely on.”

Raizy recalls, “I have such wonderful memories of her warmth, gentleness and sweetness. We loved her as a teacher, and we felt that she loved us, as well.”

Yenny shares, “My five sisters and I attended Bais Yaakov High School. All of us had Rebbetzin Schweitzer — my oldest sister when Rebbetzin Schweitzer was still Miss Kaufman, who had arrived from Eretz Yisrael. She made an impact on us all — and then on our daughters! An excellent mechaneches, she inculcated her talmidos with pride in being a bas Melech. We were moved by her lessons and by who she was.”

Yenny’s sisters added their thoughts:

“She came up with all kinds of strategies to accomplish her lofty goal of sensitizing the bas Yisrael to the tznius that is her crown.

“She told me countless times that she admired the way my girls dressed when not in uniform, because they were tall and one often needs to do alterations for a tall girl’s clothing to be tzniusdig. She used to say that looking good, being well-groomed and well-dressed don’t have to be a contradiction to tznius.”

“She taught me Pirkei Avos, which we had to memorize, and those lessons remain with me today.”

“We are who we are today because of our chinuch at Bais Yaakov. Our beloved Rebbetzin Schweitzer stands prominently at the forefront of our good memories.”

Zissy maintains that a lesson taught by Rebbetzin Schweitzer on tefillah “is the most important lesson for me. I use the present tense, because I have kept all my notes and even a clear copy of my friend’s notes, and I read them all the time, even now, 18 years after finishing high school! It contains essential questions and clear answers. That lesson should be published!”

Suri recalls, “Our grade probably had her as a teacher more than any other grade did. She taught us as freshmen, and when she entered our classroom the first day of eleventh grade, she remembered everyone, even commenting to one student on how tall she’d grown. In twelfth grade, Rebbetzin Schweitzer taught us Tehillim for the second year in a row. We appreciated her classes so much that we asked to have her in seminary, even though she wasn’t scheduled to teach us. The school acquiesced, which pleased us very much.”

A few years ago, Rena, returning home from krias haMegillah at Boro Park’s Bobover beis medrash, met Rebbetzin Schweitzer, who was distressed at having missed the leining at her usual shul. “I had the Bobov schedule with me, and checked to see when the next Megillah leining would take place,” says Rena. “There was one scheduled a few minutes later. Honored to be of service to my teacher, I insisted on walking her to shul, despite her protests that it was Erev Shabbos. The following week, I met her again and she couldn’t stop thanking me for taking time to go with her on such a busy day.”

“I loved her like a mother,” Raizy reminisces. “Her combination of deep warmth and tremendous wisdom made her very special to me. I knew I could turn to her, and trust her to guide me right.”

“She was one teacher I really loved,” reflects Tzivie. “Whenever I met her, she greeted me with such warmth — every single time. She had a wonderful simchas hachaim. She was unforgettable.”

Thank you, Rebbetzin Schweitzer, for being our mechaneches, our confidante, and our role model. Your legacy lives on.

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