Inspiring Jewish Women
"We Saved Our Daughter's Life, Though Her Emotional Health Was in Jeopardy”
Ten years after her daughter's life was saved by a dramatic kidney transplant that made headlines across the United States, Yehudit Bogatz realized she had to look for a suitable educational setting for her daughter; this led Yehudit to establish a first of its kind art school for Orthodox high school girls
Five years ago, Yehudit Bogatz’s daughter graduated from eighth grade and Yehudit will never forget that challenging time. “My daughter Chani is a charming and talented girl, but she has a complicated medical history behind her,” she tells. “Chani needed a kidney transplant from the day she was born. She underwent the first transplant when she was a little over a year, but half of the kidney was rejected within two weeks because she was so young. She underwent dialyses but it yielded almost no results. Her hair started to fall out and it was clear that she was in extreme danger. Throughout this entire period, we lived abroad with her, hoping we would find a kidney that would give her life.”
Yehudit points out that in those years there was hardly any awareness of kidney donations in Israel and in the world at large, as Rabbi Yeshayahu Haber’s organization, ‘Matnat Chaim,’ didn’t exist yet. “We searched for a kidney all over the United States for Chani, my daughter, and the only place that agreed to try to find a kidney for her was Minnesota, so of course we flew there together with Chani and our other children, and lived in close proximity to the hospital for a couple of years. It was a challenging and stressful time, but it ended with an American, not-Jewish lady volunteering to donate her kidney to Chani. The story made all the headlines and became very well known throughout the United States.”
Surprisingly, the kidney fit exactly, despite the fact the doctors claimed there was only a one in a million chance that it would be a perfect fit. “G-d caused things to happen in such a way that Chani would get the kidney and that the surgery would be successful,” Yehudit exclaimed emotionally.
“We returned to Israel with a healthy child,” she adds. “However, the difficulties with the dialysis treatment left Chani hearing impaired. Still they managed to integrate Chani into regular preschools and afterwards into the local Beit Yakov School. She had better years, and worst years as she struggled to learn despite her handicaps, however all along I saw that she was very talented in art and had a good sense for technology. She was able to do spectacular work on the computer and in these fields, she was extremely successful.”
Bringing America to Israel
“When Chani was about to finish eighth grade, we found ourselves at a crossroads”, her mother says. “I knew that thanks to G-d Chani had been given life, however it was important to me that she would also have emotional health and be given a chance to find herself. I consulted a professional woman and asked her, ‘What would you do if this was your child?’ She answered me, ‘I would send her to an art high school in America.’ It sounded too much for us. We had already lived five years of our lives abroad and did not want to go back. However, two words in that piece of advice gave me an idea: ‘An art high school’. I thought to myself, ‘If you can’t fly abroad, why not bring what they have to Israel?’”
Yehudit also recognized the need for this kind of high school from her experience teaching. “I worked as a teacher for many years,” she explains, “And I always came across very talented girls who did not have an opportunity to express their skills in the frameworks that they were in. For example, when I taught English, I tried to incorporate art, drama, and music into the curriculum. It was awesome to see the results. The girls mastered English so well that when we held a play for parents, parents couldn’t tell if the performers learned English from English speaking homes or from school. Even in those days, the dream to open an Art High School, was already starting to take root.
When Chani graduated in eighth grade, I approached the headmaster of a Mattersdorf school - Ms. Zipora Heisler and asked her why there was no Ultra-Orthodox Arts High School. She replied: 'Because you have to find someone crazy to do something like that.' I answered her, ‘I am prepared to be that crazy person.’ Ms. Heisler smiled and promised me, ‘Then I will help.’ At that moment, I started to check and see if there was anyone who had tried to open anything similar in Israel and I met a very professional woman who had established something similar for the secular population in the Rishon Lezion area. I met her together with Mrs. Heisler and a few other women who we got on board, and she was incredibly welcoming and told us a lot of secrets of the trade and promised to help with whatever we needed. Already at this stage it was clear that we were moving forward.”
Yehudit opened a ninth grade with only four students, one of whom was her daughter, but by the end of the year they already had twelve students, along with others who wanted to join, but couldn’t due to lack of space. The following year there was no more need for publicity, since the classes filled up themselves. This is the fifth year of ‘Pri Chochma’ High School and it has full classes of ninth through twelfth grades.
How do you get enough funding to run such a high school?
“It’s a really difficult task,” she admits. “I mostly rely on donations from abroad, but it’s a day to day challenge.”
Seeing the Success
If you enter the seminar in the morning, it is highly doubtful that you will notice its uniqueness, as it runs like any other Beit Yaakov seminar. Students are required to come in uniform and abide by the rules. In the morning Jewish subjects are taught along with English, math, science, history and more. Only after do they learn the Art Subjects which include graphics, interior design, video editing, photography, ceramics, oil painting, creating petit fours, sewing, event planning, and more classes, each on a high level. They recently added another course called “Galit Italia.”
“The students experience success, and suddenly they come to ask for another hour of math per week, since they also want to invest in their undergraduate studies,” explains Yehudit. “We laugh about it together because at the beginning of ninth grade they quiver in fear of math, they are really traumatized from their previous classes, however after they taste success and are given the chance to express their talents in art, then math doesn’t seem so scary either.
These days we are hoping that in addition to the portfolios they create for jobs such as graphic design, interior design and video editing, and the diploma they get from the Ministry of Education for four years of study, that our girls will also be tested in the bagruyot for art, math, and English. I really hope this is successful, however for me the success of the girls isn’t measured by that, rather that they emerge happy and confident in themselves. I won’t have to tell them, “You’re great and successful,’ they’ll know it themselves. This to me is success.”
Incidentally Yehudit points out that when they were starting to create the high school she approached Rav Gans, the Rav of Matesdorf, with the idea. “He was very amazed and told me a sentence that really shook me, “So may of the Shalom Bayit, harmony in the home, problems that are brought to me stem from the bitterness of the wife’s high school experience. He explained that in order to establish a good house, a girl needs to graduate from her studies happy and with self confidence and the knowledge of her own talents. When she recognizes her own worth and knows her talents, it’s easy for her to give to her family, without needing validation every step of the way.
I think”, emphasizes Yehudit, “That it is extremely important to bring awareness and appreciation of art to the public, they should understand that this is a good tool for good livelihood, not any less than any of the other professions.” Part of Yehudit’s mission is to teach parents to appreciate the incredible talents of their daughters, just like in America and other places where they value art.
The school encourages girls to get involved in work from 11th grade. There are girls who run art classes and some who are invited to events to give workshops. “Around a month ago,” Yehudit remembers, “One of the teachers who teaches event planning took two students to help at a flower arrangement event in front of sixty teachers from Chinuch Atzmai. The girls who went returned shocked, suddenly they were the ones who had to explain to the teachers how to weave the flowers and help the ones who were having a hard time. One girl told me, ‘I went home and I couldn’t stop laughing. I kept thinking about how I was the one teaching the teachers, some of whom I knew from elementary school. Suddenly, me, the girl who didn’t know math, was helping the great math teacher.’”
“We run exhibits three times a year and try to produce CDs once every few months,” adds Yehudit. We have a staff of over fifteen teachers, each of whom are very professional in their field.”
She pauses for a moment and finds it difficult to continue. It turns out that one of the top teachers of the team was Racheli Gutman, who was killed in the severe bus accident that took place last year in Adar. “Morah Racheli taught art and dinnim, Jewish law, and the students loved her. She was on her way to teach when the accident happened,” Yehudit whispers. The students waited and waited and finally heard the tragic news. They created an unbelievable exhibit that incorporated different things they learned from her and included a song that they wrote that left everyone in tears. Our girls are such sensitive girls, and they are so awesome: they have awesome personalities, they are great at their studies, and really – they’re great in everything!”