Vele Rabinowitz Zabludowsky
For Vele Zabludowsky, who served as a “lererke” (teacher) for more than fifty years, the rift in the Nuevo Colegio Israelita (Naye Yidisher Shule I. L. Peretz, 1950) proved a milestone in her activity as a leader in Jewish education in Mexico. Her decision to participate in the group which separated from the Colegio Israelita de Mexico (Yiddish School, 1924) was taken in order to support Abraham Golomb (ca.1886–1982) and his wife Rivke Golomb (1905–1987) against the sudden ideological as well as personal attacks they suffered. The couple were also backed by some Bundist teachers, Zionists and personal friends. “Lererke” Zabludowsky was motivated less by ideology than by a sense that the reactions of the community and of some teachers of the Colegio Israelita and its PTA were “unjust.”
Vele Zabludowsky has been characterized as a teacher of Yiddish and Hebrew who worked with love but above all as one who taught her pupils what we call Yidishkayt as a profoundly Jewish part of life. Like the teacher Joseph Opotoushu (1886–1954), she asked herself “Vos is Yidishkayt?” (What is Yidishkayt?) and answered, “Yidishkayt is altz und nokh epes” (Yidishkayt is everything and a little more). Yidishkayt for her is part of her life as a whole.
Her fight on behalf of the Yiddish language and its culture has been constant, at the schools where she has worked as well as in all the places where she considers Yiddish can continue to be taught and given a new life. She has worked on Yiddish conversation classes and was for many years the president of the Pro-Yiddish Committee as well as promoting Yiddish culture in the Ashkenazi Kehillah. As she points out, “To continue with Yiddish is not a nostalgic act or due to sentimentalism, but because it holds the rescue of a whole culture.”
Vele Rabinowitz was born in Bialystok, Poland, in 1923, the youngest of ten children of Harry Rabinowitz (1880–1962) and Mina Gimpelewich (1885–1967). The family was liberal and religious: at home her mother had a kosher kitchen and the Jewish holidays were observed without any taint of fanaticism; her father was a carpenter and a shul yid (a Jew who went to the synagogue) whose fine voice led to his being a “baaltfile” (precentor). Bialystok was a city with much political activity in Jewish life, political parties and the modern schools of Tzisho (Di Zentrale Yidishe Organizatzie). Rabinowitz’s home was a living reflection of the discussions and antagonisms which prevailed in those days, since her brothers were members of different parties: Communists, Zionists, Bundists and apolitical.
In 1929 her father left Poland for the United States of America and six years later his wife and five daughters joined him. When Rabinowitz arrived in New York she was eleven years old and was the lucky one chosen by her family to study.
At first she spoke only Yiddish, her first language, with which she communicated in the Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York where she lived. From grammar school until high school she attended public school in the morning and a Jewish school in the afternoon, thus having the best of both worlds. While studying at Thomas Jefferson High School from 1941 to 1943 she also attended night school at the Workmen’s Circle Seminar. The Seminar had a socialist and secular tendency, close to the Bundists. Bible and regular subjects were taught in Yiddish, while Hebrew, with an Ashkenazi pronunciation, held second place.
In 1944–1945 Rabinowitz went to Mexico to visit one of her sisters and thus met Samuel Zabludowsky (b. 1908), whom she married in New York on December 1945. The couple had no children. When Samuel died in 1971 at the age of sixty-one, he left a young widow. “In my pupils I found the children I would have liked to have, from them I obtained love and satisfaction.”
In 1947, Rabinowitz was invited to work in the kindergarten of the Colegio Israelita de Mexico as a substitute for teacher Miriam Tchornitsky. Two years later, after working in an environment of ideological, personal and community attacks against the lerers Abraham Golomb, Yosef Rotemberg and Leib Bayon, the other school’s teachers and principals used the newspapers Di Shtime and Der Veg to attack their ideas. Zabludowsky “chose to become more involved in working as a teacher than in the school’s politics,” but finally she decided to make common cause with the group that would leave to create a new school: Naye Yidisher Shule, which from the beginning was conceived as small, apolitical and profoundly yiddishist.
In 1959, when the school moved to more spacious quarters close to the CDI (Jewish Sports Center), the number of students grew and Vele Zabludowsky was promoted to serve as the principal of the kindergarten.
In 1972 she worked in both the kindergarten and the high school, where she taught Yiddish literature. She has been an eternal student and a lecturer as well as a teacher. In 1974 she was promoted to become the vice principal of the school (1974–1977).
In 1978 she was named the General Principal of the Nuevo Colegio Israelita, a post she held for fourteen years. When she finished this assignment she took a course in family therapy (1992–1995) and helped those who turned to the Kehillah for aid. She went back to teaching the lererkes from the Yiddish School at the Seminar le-Morim of the Ashkenazi Kehillah for four years and later taught the lererkes from the Naye Yidisher Shule on their own premises. In 1996 she went back to the Nuevo Colegio Israelita High School to teach Yiddish. At present she is a member of the executive at the Kehillah. She works in the Assistance and Aid Committee and prepares lessons for the high school at the Naye Yidisher Shule.
Rabinowitz has published many essays on education and on Yiddish in magazines and newspapers. She has participated in congresses, round tables and lectures at various institutions. In December 1999 the Mexico-Israel Cultural Institute awarded her a prize in acknowledgment of her work in the Jewish Community in Mexico.
Avni, Haim, ed. Testimonios de la Historia Oral. Judíos en México. UHJ y Amigos UHJ Mexico: 1990; Finkelman de Sommer, Maty. Instruye a tus hijos. In Generaciones judías en México. Kehila Ashkenazi (1922–1992). Alice G. Backal (Coord.). Mexico: 1993; Zabludowsky, Vele. Interview with Naty G. de Okon, August 1988. In Testimonios de la Historia Oral. Judíos en México Avni, Haim, editor. Mexico:1990; Zabludowsky, Vele. Interview with Frida Staropolsky. February 2 and August 27, 2002; Cimet de Singer, Adina. The Ashkenazi Jewish Community in Mexico: Ideologies in the Structuring of a Community. New York: 1997.