Mrs. Yehudis Fasman, former Principal of Toras Emes Girls’ SchoolBy
Mrs. Fasman began working at Toras Emes girls’ school in 1978. She served as the elementary school principal until 2014, when she became a consultant at the school.
Interviewed by Yehudis Litvak
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Switzerland during the war years, and grew up in Paris, France. My father, Rabbi Elie Munk, had been a Rav in Paris before the war. After the war, my parents returned to Paris, but only half of my father’s congregation was left. Yiddishkeit was almost non-existent. My father worked hard to rebuild Yiddishkeit in Paris. He was very involved in opening Jewish schools and in kashrus. Our home was extremely warm and constantly open to refugees and orphans who came to Paris after the war. One of the people who came to our house as a young man was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt”l, who was studying at the Sorbonne University. My father kept up a relationship with him for many years.
What was it like to grow up in post-war Paris?
There was a strong feeling of being unwanted as a Jew in Paris. I didn’t experience any overt antisemitism, but my brothers did. I was embarrassed to hold my father’s hand in the street because every passerby would realize that we were Jewish.
There were no Jewish schools in our vicinity in Paris at the time, so my siblings and I went to public school. The way the school week is structured in France is that Thursday and Sunday are days off, and there is school on Shabbos. As an official rabbi, my father wrote a letter to the principal, and she allowed me to be absent on Shabbos on the condition that I would surely complete my homework and be ready for tests. In school I was consistently worried, even obsessed with the question of what I would say if somebody asked me why I didn’t come to school on Saturdays. No one ever asked. I had no friends at school. There were no other Jewish students in my class. I didn’t talk to anyone.
Elementary school in France went through sixth grade. After that, we went to high school. By the time I finished elementary school Paris already had Jewish schools. I went to Yavne, a Jewish high school. That’s when my life really started. It was great!
What inspired you to become a teacher?
After high school, my sisters and I went to Gateshead Seminary, also known as the Jewish teachers’ training college. Most of the girls who went there became teachers. After the war, there was the spirit of rebuilding, of continuing Sara Schenirer’s Bais Yaakov tradition. We were inspired to be part of that.
What was your first teaching job?
After seminary, I went back to Paris and started teaching in the elementary school there. I also did private tutoring, taught on Sundays at the cheder. I taught children who were still in the public school system.
How did you come to America?
Yiddishkeit had changed in France after the war. Many Ashkenazic Jews didn’t come back. Meanwhile, many Sefardic Jews had come from Morocco and Algiers, and they rebuilt Yiddishkeit in Paris. Thus, there were no appropriate shidduchim for us Ashkenazic girls. Many of my friends went to England or Eretz Yisrael. My older siblings ended up in the United States, through different circumstances. My father decided to send all of us, in turn, to the U.S.
When did you come to Los Angeles?
I met my husband after three years in New York. He hoped to continue learning for another six years and then look for a rabbinical position. When the time came, he got in touch with Torah Umesorah, and they connected him with Rabbi Moshe Rubenstein. They came to Los Angeles in 1974 to start the Los Angeles Kollel. I followed with our children once the Kollel was established, in 1975.
What was Toras Emes like when you first arrived?
The school had about 120 children total. It was located on Fairfax, past Pico. Boys and girls were together till third or fourth grade. But the Kollel families insisted on separating them earlier. At first, Toras Emes couldn’t afford it, so one of the Kollel women had the girls learning in her home. Then the Kollel offered to help out financially and subsidize some of the Rebbeim, so they could separate girls and boys.
Later, the school moved to 540 N La Brea, where the boys’ building is now. Everyone was in the same building. At first, they put the boys upstairs, the girls downstairs, then they switched them around. When the school ran out of room they put trailers in the yard for the fifth and sixth grade girls. The girls were at Toras Emes only through sixth grade. Then they would go to Bais Yaakov, which included both junior high and high school.
Eventually, the seventh and eighth grade girls remained at Toras Emes. At that point, the school rented a storefront on the 300 block of La Brea. Later, Toras Emes acquired 555 N La Brea, and shortly after that, the Marquis family sponsored the junior high building adjacent to that.
How do you feel the students have changed throughout the years?
Torah learning and mitzvah observance have grown tremendously in LA. Kavod HaTorah and warmth towards Torah developed throughout the years, and we see that clearly in the children’s attitudes. On the other side of the coin, we are seeing, in both children and parents, the new mentality of having everything you want immediately. Parents just want their children to be “happy.” They don’t want homework or pressure in any form. Schools are becoming more like camps, with all kinds of activities, trips, and parties.
What were your goals when you first became principal and what was your most significant contribution to the school?
My main goal was to bring warmth and joy in avodas Hashem. Baruch Hashem, we hope that we were somehow matzliach. Kids love to come to school. We have an amazing staff, and they work well together. There is the feeling of ahavas HaTorah in the school. The kids are happy. That’s the power of Torah – even in 2015, one block south of Melrose, where there is so much unhappiness and dysfunction, our girls can be frum and happy. Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu! And we daven fervently that they continue to grow with that spirit to become the mothers of the next generation.
What advice would you give to parents in this generation?
Be there for your children at all times. That’s the most important thing. When you’re with your children, forget internet, phones, and all other distractions. Just be there with warmth and caring.
Thank you for your time. May Hashem grant you continued success in all that you do!
[…] Here is my latest article in the Jewish Home LA — interview with Mrs. Fasman, former principal of my girls’ school and an amazing and inspiring person. […]