Former students and colleagues and fellow educators have been paying tribute to the late Chaya Newman, the educator who headed up the Jewish Educational Center’s Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth for 37 years before leaving in 2008 to become director of the National Conference of Yeshiva Principals for Women for Torah Umesorah.
Newman, who lived in Brooklyn, died on Sept. 20, in Lakewood, where she had gone a few months ago after she became ill. Her funeral was in Brooklyn, and she was buried in Israel.
Newman is survived by her husband, Dr. Victor Newman; her daughter, Shlomis Peikes, an assistant principal at Bruriah; and her sons, Rabbis Eliyahu, Dovid, Yehuda, and Yaakov. She is also survived by three sisters, Nechama Frand, Judy Kohn, and Sara Heiman-Nadav.
When Newman was hired by JEC founder Rav Pinchas M. Teitz, Bruriah had just 50 students. By the time she left that number was up to 400. In a statement issued shortly after her passing, the JEC said Newman “transformed Bruriah into the premier girls’ high school in North America.” It went on, “She was a trailblazer who forged the well-rounded path of educational excellence for which the school is distinguished. Her educational and programmatic innovations have been adopted by schools around the world.”
The dean of the JEC, Rav Elazar M. Teitz, said, “Mrs. Newman was our generation’s preeminent educator of Jewish girls. She was a leader, a teacher, a role model, and even a mother to the thousands of young women who attended Bruriah during her…tenure. We remember her with a debt of gratitude. Her accomplishments have and will continue to impact the Jewish world for generations to come.”
Newman credited her father with nurturing a love of Jewish learning in his four daughters. Born in Israel, Newman moved to America with her family when she was seven. They settled in Baltimore, and she attended Bais Yaakov High School and Seminary in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She was a math major at Brooklyn College, before going on to do a master’s in psychology and family therapy at Long Island University.
After marrying, she and her husband lived in Cleveland for a few years, and in Mexico before returning to settle in Brooklyn. She taught in all three places, before being hired by the JEC.
Working with Torah Umesorah, after leaving Bruriah, Newman organized training courses and seminars for teachers and principals to help them reach students at all levels of ability. As she had done in Elizabeth, she encouraged the use of technology and multi-media approaches, to foster a passionate engagement in Jewish learning.
In an interview with the Lakewood Shopper soon after leaving Bruriah, Newman described her academic philosophy. She said, “Anything I always wished I’d learned, I put into the curriculum. I always knew basic Halacha, for example, but wished I understood how that bottom line halachic decision came to be — its background.” Her students, she said, “learned that.”
JEC history teacher Joel Glazer said, “I have worked with a number of administrators over the 50 years that I have taught, but none matched the dignity, dedication, and insight of Mrs. Newman. For more than three decades I had the extreme fortune of working with this charming woman. She was humble enough to accept criticism, offer an apology, and still command respect.”
Glazer said, “She was so important in my life that I had her write the foreword to my book,” It Happened in My Classroom. “The thing I admired most about Mrs. Newman was the fact that she never fired me, even when we had some serious disagreements. For me, she was the ultimate principal.”
Her students describe her as a leader who made each person feel special and worthwhile. Laura Ben-David, an Israel-based writer (author of Moving Up: An Aliyah Journal) and social media coordinator for Nefesh B’Nefesh, attended Newman’s burial, and reminisced about her in an e-mail to NJ Jewish News.
She said, “I told another former student of Mrs. Newman’s passing and mentioned how Mrs. Newman was especially fond of me. She looked up in surprise. ‘Mrs. Newman was especially fond of ME!’ she said. I think Mrs. Newman was that kind of a principal — though she was serious and ran a tight ship, she had so much warmth and love for her students, she was the type of person who made you feel like YOU were the special one, yet she was able to make so many feel that.”
Miriam Rosenbaum, a Bruriah graduate who was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship last year — the first Orthodox woman to win one — cited Newman as one of her inspirations. In an interview with The Forward in November, she described her former principal as “an eishes chayil [woman of valor], brilliant and strong and independent.”