The writer of these lines has written previously about Rabbi Nachman Mandel, his first grade rebbi at RJJ on Henry Street sixty-five years ago. My twin brother Allen and I were nine years old when we entered his class, fourth graders for secular studies who were now together with children three or four years younger than we were. That circumstance and our coming to RJJ in November, two months into the school year, did not constitute a formula for easy adjustment. In fact, the adjustment was difficult and extended.
But while it wasn’t easy, we benefitted enormously from the love of Rabbi Mandel, a gentle and caring teacher who had a major impact on our lives and, although he remained at RJJ for a relatively short period, many students benefitted from the experience of being in his class. Rabbi Mandel taught first grade elsewhere and, at some point, relocated to Los Angeles where he continued to teach. All told, he was a first grade teacher for seventy years. When he passed away immediately after Pesach, thousands mourned the loss of a remarkable Torah Jew.
About fifty years after we were in his classroom, Allen and I were in Los Angeles for Shabbos, davening in the shul where he davened. He grabbed a hold of us and took us out of the sanctuary so that he could give each of us a kiss. I said to him, “Rebbi, I have a problem.” He asked “What is it,” to which I responded “the grades that you gave me.” He said simply “Mir ken dos m’saken zein” – it can be fixed.
That was his philosophy of chinuch, his philosophy of life, his approach to children. Children must not be discarded. They can be fixed. We should all learn from the example of this elevated man, this wonderful Jew.