January 18, 2024
Lessons for Life
As Lakewood’s school-acceptance crisis reached a crescendo, Ohr Devorah was founded to give every child the opportunity they deserve.
The impact—and success—took even its biggest supporters by surprise.
Any community, especially one as fast-growing and dynamic as ours, is bound to face crises and controversies as it evolves.
But for Lakewood families, few matters could match the salience of the pressing crisis that saw girls—hundreds of wonderful girls—wallowing at home because every single mainstream school refused to accept them.
Their crime? Suffice it to say, it never involved them. All they wanted to do was learn and grow like their peers. And all their parents wanted for them was the very same.
Every school year, the topic would once again rise to the forefront, whipping the community into a frenzy, and forcing askanim to scramble to place girls in schools, with varying degrees of success.
It was clear that things could not continue on like this—neither practically nor morally.
A few years back, askanim and a va’ad set out to open a Bais Yaakov-style school that would match the timeless values of our mesorah with a more open-minded approach to acceptance policies.
The new school, named Ohr Devorah, would provide every girl with a place to be herself, even if her family may be labeled by others as “out of the box.” If she and her family are growth-oriented, have a rav, and are shomer Torah umitzvos, she will be welcome and find herself at home in this school. Parents and daughters would be able to come to an interview without feeling judged, and leave with the knowledge that they’ve finally found their place.
Naturally, for the school to succeed, it would require excellent teachers, unbelievably warm moros, and a Bais Yaakov-style curriculum that focuses on learning and succeeding, growing in service of Hashem and love for Yiddishkeit, while eschewing the focus on more external or societal pressures.
Out-of-town vibe comes to town
As the askanim expected, the parent body showed themselves to be emotionally, hashkafically, and financially stable families seeking to raise beautiful homes. All they needed was an out-of-town Bais Yaakov style school, willing and able to accommodate their children.
The new school hired Mrs. Meira Zisowitz to lead this new undertaking as principal. Mrs. Zisowitz comes from a family of teachers and has lived her life immersed in the field of education. Having grown up in Los Angeles, she has a natural affinity for the kind of environment that out-of-town schools provide to frum Jewish girls with great success.
“Kids are students for most of their young lives,” she likes to point out. “They spend more of their formative years in school and if they don’t feel good about who they are as students, they can’t feel good about who they are as people. In my opinion, this is why we see teens and young adults across the spectrum of Yiddishkeit with depression, mental health struggles, and learning disabilities.”
She continues, “When kids feel like they don’t fit in because of their hair, where they went on vacation, what they did on Sunday, or because of the color of their father’s shirt, they feel bad about themselves, and the results can be catastrophic. That is something we are determined to eliminate here in the school.”
But this commitment to acceptance should never be mistaken for lax academic standards. The curriculum is based on the standards of other Lakewood schools and continues to receive high marks for student excellence across the board.
Not despite, but directly because of the commitment to making every child feel at home, the students shine and thrive. The principal and the carefully vetted, highly skilled teachers develop a bond with each talmidah that is refreshingly rare and remarkably effective. As the girls grow and advance, they feel better about themselves, better about school, and better about their roles as the next generation of Jewish women, and eventually, mothers.
A record of success
Speak to any Ohr Devorah parent and you will be struck by their love, appreciation, and admiration of the school. Today, some of the classes are still small, yet the current class sizes are also part of the school’s beauty. No student ever falls through the cracks.
When you walk into Ohr Devorah, the first thing that hits you is how the kids are happy, the teachers are happy, and the staff is happy. It is a joyous place to be, a warm environment full of simchas hachaim and love for Yiddishkeit. The girls respect their teachers—they are all extraordinary role models—and the kids love learning Torah.
In a community where high school acceptance is such an important measure of success, Ohr Devorah passes the test with flying colors. Every student from Ohr Devorah who has tried to get into a local high school has been admitted and has had a successful experience. These girls have attended Aderes Bais Yaakov, Bnos Bais Yaakov, Bnos Basya, Bais Kayla, Chedvas, and more.
In recent years, the school has been led by the tireless public servant, R’ Ozer Babad of Toms River. In addition to his determination to see Ohr Devorah become a premier school with high standards, he also has expanded on this vision to see the school become a proud community institution.
Rabbi Babad has helped turn the school into a home for those who don’t necessarily have a community, including people from heimish backgrounds who don’t know where they fit in and are looking for a place where they will be welcome as part of the family and find their place within the community.
Powering the future
Ohr Devorah has plans for more—much more. The small class sizes will be’ezras Hashem soon not be so small as more and more families come to appreciate the beauty and impact of this paradigm-shifting mission.
Naturally, the school’s modest size brings with it a host of financial challenges, but leadership remains undeterred, refusing to compromise on student success.
To help reach its obligations, the administration with the help of the parent body, are embarking on a fundraising drive that will begin this Wednesday January 17 and culminate next week, on January 24-25. It is expected that the public will step up to support this vital community institution and support a brighter future for every Jewish child.
To contribute to the campaign, please visit www.dryveup.come/notebynote or call 732.454.3600
At the Intersection of Age-Old Chinuch and the Modern World
As an institution, Ohr Devorah has positioned itself among those on the frontlines of ensuring that the chinuch and mesorah of yesteryear is not chas v’shalom washed over by the currents of the big world out there today.
The principal, Mrs. Zisowitz, an innovative presence on the chinuch scene, constantly works to address those pain-points that have sadly led to so many children leaving the fold across the frum world.
In a conversation, she highlighted that too often today’s children are spoiled by all that is available to them. And the more they receive, the more they need and the unhappier they become. That is why the school places an outsized focus on chessed activities and projects, which have proven over time to make girls live with more appreciation, purpose, and authentic joy.
On the technology front, she highlights how they teach the talmidos the skills they need to succeed in a world full of technology while encouraging responsible usage. The administration was recently able to purchase enough Chromebooks for the largest class, and the goal is to have the students graduate with a working knowledge of Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, typing skills, and basic graphic skills on forums like Canva. The students in the older grades type up their reports on school computers, which gives them a comfort with technology, as well as formatting and writing skills.
The principal is also fond of saying that “Rules without relationship equals rebellion.” In the era we live in today, children must feel a connection to their educators, along with a love and connection to Hashem, in order to grow up as proud, erlich Jewish women, ready to raise the next generation of Klal Yisrael.