Teacher with students.
(photo credit:Marc Israel Sellem)
Who would ever think that the establishment of a girls’ school in Jerusalem
would present a threat? Why would one woman’s dream be so hard to realize? The
story of Flora Rendger (Friedenberg), who lived from 1824 to 1910, exemplifies
the difficulties faced by an idealistic teacher coming (twice) from Italy to
Jerusalem in the hopes of setting up a school for Jewish girls.
precipitated this dream? Flora’s father, Meir, was a German Jew living in
Trieste, Italy, a teacher and rabbi who taught German and French to budding
scholars like Samuel David Luzzatto and published in literary Hebrew journals.
He himself established a private girls’ school in Trieste in 1848, if only to
educate his two daughters as he saw fit.
Flora and her father saw eye to
eye; when she decided to translate the Haggada into Italian, he edited it for
her. Meir apparently aspired to settle in the Yishuv, having been influenced by
its representatives who visited Italy to spread the word. However, he passed
away in 1853, leaving his dream for his daughter to inherit.
Flora kept a
diary in Italian, which informs us that she moved to the Land of Israel twice in
her lifetime. “The idea of traveling to Jerusalem was stuck in my mind, because
a promise to God was in my opinion, holy just like a promise to a person,
despite the fact that people were trying to convince me that this idea emerged
from a mad fanaticism. How great and hard was the struggle I had to engage in
with myself and with my family, with weakness of body and the empty pocket,” she
Upon arriving in the city in 1856, she was told that there a law
had been passed in the 18th century Yishuv forbidding unmarried individuals from
living in Jerusalem. Flora succumbed to the pressure and wed a Hungarian Jew the
following year. Interestingly enough, when she met Moses Montefiore in 1857, she
discussed her difficulties with him. He promised to get the London Committee to
come to her aid so that she could teach in a girls’ school.
meantime she was giving private lessons, some free of charge. The promised aid
did not materialize and in 1858, she and her husband left by way of Alexandria,
where they lived for a year before returning to Trieste.
to dream of setting up a girls’ school in the Holy Land while she gave private
lessons in her home town. Another major patron of the Jewish international
community touched upon her life, this time Baron Rothschild, who planned to
establish the Evelina School in memory of his daughter. After being invited to
set up this school, Flora, her husband, her three sons and daughter made the
pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1864. This time, the Ashkenazi rabbis in the city
protested, calling for a ban on the girls’ school (which Sephardi girls also
attended). These rabbis called Flora a malignant cancer. She hoped to overcome
this opposition, but a combination of economic problems, social pressure and
health issues convinced her to take her family back to Trieste in
She met Montefiore again in Italy. The philanthropist referred to
her as a wise, important and learned lady, but these superlatives did not help
her realize her dream. Flora, as talented and motivated as she was, was not
fated to be the founder of a girls’ school in the Holy Land. Her diary, entitled
Strenna Israelitica, survived and was published in 1869; it is a wonderful
source of information on life in the Holy Land in the second half of the 19th
century. Her travel diary has been translated into Hebrew by Daniel Carpi and
Moshe Rinot, who published it, together with comments in 1982 under the title
Travel Diary of a Jewish Teacher
from Trieste to Jerusalem,
1857-1865.The author is a professor of Jewish history at the Schechter
Institute and academic editor of Nashim. She is currently a fellow in the School
of Historical Studies at the Princeton Institute of Advanced Study.
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