Category Archives: Biography

Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan, by Rebbetzin Danielle S. Leibowitz with Devora Gliksman

Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan, the Founder of the Bais Yaakov Movement in America, is a massive book in every sense of the word—and it ought to be required reading.

rebbetzin vichna kaplan coverThis biography of the founder of the Bais Yaakov movement in the United States is also much more than the story of one person’s life. Beneath the covers lies a tapestry of fascinating stories reaching back two hundred years.

Rebbetzin Liebowitz, who was one of Rebbetzin Kaplan’s early students, has us meet Vichna Kaplan in context. That is, she paints a portrait of the world in which Vichna Kaplan was born and raised, bringing to life the homes of gedolim of previous generations.

It is also a window into the daily lives of Yidden in Poland in the pre-war years, poor in material goods, perhaps, but immeasurably rich in ruchnius. We are not painted a false idyllic picture, however. The early Bais Yaakov teachers in Europe and in America faced challenges teaching Jewish girls that many modern parents, unfortunately, will relate to only too well.

Along with watching Vichna Kaplan grow up, we meet legends: Rav Elchanan Wasserman, the Chofetz Chaim, Sarah Schenirer, Dr. Judith Gruenfeld, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rabbi Yosef Yakov Herman, Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, among many others who shaped the young woman’s outlook on life.

The story of Rav Baruch Kaplan, Rebbetzin Kaplan’s husband and partner in building Bais Yaakov in America, is as interesting as hers. 

The authors make us feel the difficult move the young Rebbetzin Kaplan made, traveling to America to get married, leaving behind her large network of family and friends, knowing that many of them she would never see again.

And then, of course, there is the incredible story of how, together, Rebbetzin Kaplan and her husband built an entire educational movement from an initial group of four girls, some of whom didn’t even want to be there, meeting around a dining room table.

We get to meet these girls—and many others—throughout the years. There are moments of triumph, such as when we learn that people only started to take notice of the school when they realized that every single one of the graduates of the 1938-40 classes

The stories read like a novel but the material is so meticulously researched that it must have taken years to assemble. The copious footnotes indicate the authors’ uncompromising efforts to fact check and verify even the tiniest of details.

Don’t let the size of this book (579 pages) dissuade you. Beneath the covers lies a fascinating story, so meticulously researched that it must have taken years to write.

Buy now from Amazon.

Published by Feldheim.

We received a review copy from the publisher.

 

 

Living On by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis

By Naomi Elbinger

Living On: Messages, Memories and Miracles from the Har Nof Massacre is the brainchild of Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis, Rosh Kollel of one of the victims, a friend and neighbor of the four victims, and a fellow congregant at Kehilas Bnei Torah, the shul where the attack took place.

cover of Living On by Rabbi Travis

 

6:57 a.m. — 39 men daven at a neighborhood shul in Har Nof, Jerusalem.


7:08 a.m. — Four of them lie murdered
al Kiddush Hashem, following a massacre that rocked the Jewish world.

 

“I knew each of the four kedoshim personally and I davened at that shul every day for years,” said Rabbi Travis. “The idea for this book came during a Shabbos discussion with another Har Nof resident.

We felt that following such a tragic event, and in light of our personal connection to the kedoshim, something major had to be done to preserve the momentum that had been generated.

“By the next erev Shabbos, the book was already written, edited and on its way to print. Anyone who knows anything about the usually interminable process of book publishing acknowledges the Divine Assistance we merited.”

The book has three main sections: Miracles, which details the unfolding of the attack and its aftermath, and includes many incredible stories of salvation from survivors and eye-witnesses; Memories, which explores the special qualities of the four victims, as told by close family and others who knew them; and Messages, which delves into the inner meaning of this tragedy, which we must try to comprehend with the help of our Gedolim.

The concluding section, entitled Living On, explores how we can carry on, meaningfully changed, in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Notable contributors to the book include: HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita; HaRav Moshe Sternbach, shlita, Av Beis Din of Jerusalem, whose son survived the attack; HaRav Yitzchak Mordechai Rubin,  shlita, Rav of Kehilas Bnei Torah; HaRav Zev Leff, shlita, and many other Torah luminaries.

“Most of the news reports of the massacre were gruesome and depressing,” said Rabbi Travis. “But this book takes a completely different view. We explore the pain of the people involved but we also highlight the many miracles experienced on that day; the incredible faith of the widows and survivors; the outpouring of chessed that followed the attack; and the meaningful messages that emerged. This book seeks the true Jewish perspective. We showed the manuscript to the survivors and they agreed that it reflects the deeper message we should all be seeking.”

The challenge of taking such an atrocity and finding messages of hope within it seems formidable. But several survivors of the attack and relatives of the victims were extremely supportive of the project and helped provide the content.

“The first thing I said when I woke up was the Pasuk ‘Ashira laHashem bichayai – I will sing to Hashem with my life’ (Tehilim 104:33)” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldstein, who sustained severe head injuries after being attacked by one of the terrorists with a meat cleaver. He was interviewed extensively for the book. “Now I appreciate that so much more; that every second that Hashem gives me life, it’s not a onetime present, it’s a constant present that Hashem gives and keeps giving. Even though it is looked at as a very bad story, there are so many miracles that Hashem did.”

The book presents itself as a double chessed: it helps reader process this traumatic event in a positive way, while giving tzedakah to the widows and orphans. The publication was fully sponsored by generous donors, so 100% percent of proceeds from sales of the book will go to victims’ families.

Living On: Messages, Memories and Miracles from the Har Nof Massacre is available at Feldheim.com or at Jewish bookstores.

Naomi Elbinger is one of the Jewish world’s leading experts on web marketing and business strategy and can be found at MyParnasa.com – The Jewish Business Blog.

Rabbi Travis is also the author of:

cover praying with joy by rabbi travistravis-shabbos