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Birth of Nacha Rivkin, founder of the first U.S. girls' yeshiva

May 5, 1900

Born in Poland on May 5, 1900, Nacha Rivkin immigrated to the United States in 1929, settling with her husband and two children in Brooklyn, New York. Since there was no Jewish girls' school, the Rivkins sent their eight-year-old daughter to public school and taught her Hebrew and Jewish subjects at home. But it was not long before Rivkin sought a better solution. Within a year, Rivkin had worked with Rabbi M.G. Volk and two other teachers to open the Shulamith School for Girls in Borough Park, Brooklyn. It was the first girls' yeshiva in the United States. Rivkin taught kindergarten and first grade and supervised curriculum development.

At the Shulamith School, Rivkin introduced innovative methods for teaching Hebrew to young children. Rejecting rote memorization, and drawing instead on the work of educational theorists Maria Montessori and Jean Piaget, she taught language skills through song, games, stories, and pictures. In 1954, she published Reishis Chochma, a book drawn from the curriculum she had developed at Shulamith. A second volume followed in 1967. The books are now in their nineteenth printing, and are used in 550 Jewish day schools in the Torah Umesorah system. In addition, a collection of songs that Rivkin wrote to celebrate holidays and teach the Hebrew alphabet were published as Shiru Li in 1960. Rivkin was also a talented painter, producing over 200 paintings of still lifes, nature scenes, and Jewish themes, mostly in oils.

After her retirement from the Shulamith School, Rivkin taught pedagogy at the Sarah Schenirer Teachers Seminary in Brooklyn. Through this work, and through her influential books, she had an enormous impact on Jewish early childhood education in America. In 1980, she was honored by Yeshiva Torah Vodaath for her accomplishments. After her death in 1988, a women's yeshiva in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, was named the Machon Nacha Rivkin Seminary for Advanced Torah Studies, in her honor.

Learn more about Nacha Rivkin in Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 1157-1158.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Birth of Nacha Rivkin, founder of the first U.S. girls' yeshiva." (Viewed on April 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/may/05/1900/nacha-rivkin>.