A fine principal

A fine principal

October 2, 2009 07:40
4 minute read.

Rehov Miss Landau in Givat Masua commemorates Annie Edith Landau, the legendary headmistress of the Evelina de Rothschild School for Girls from 1900 to 1945, who herself bridged socially divided Jerusalem. She had the rare combination (in those times) of broad education, appreciation of culture and scrupulous religious observance. The Evelina de Rothschild School, located today in the Valley of the Cross, recently marked 150 years since its founding with a large event for students, parents, alumni and former teachers. A colorful production highlighted Miss Landau's contribution to the school and city. Annie Edith Landau was born to an Orthodox family in London in 1873. Her father, Marcus Israel, worked as a clerk for the Jewish community. Her mother, Chaja Kohn, was his second wife. Annie was the eldest of the 13 children born to Chaja. Her parents believed that girls should receive a fine education. Since there was no sufficiently good school for religious girls in London, she was sent to the Orthodox Samson Raphael Hirsch School in Frankfurt am Main. Returning to London, she studied at Greystoke College, a teacher training college. After completing her studies in 1892, she started teaching at the Jews' Free School until 1898. In 1899, she was recommended by Claude Montefiore, a governor of the school who was also the chairman of the Anglo-Jewish Association (AJA), to go to Jerusalem to teach English and serve as assistant principal in one of its schools - Evelina de Rothschild. A year later, Miss Landau, as she was always known, became its principal. Often the school was called the Miss Landau School, alluding to her dominant personality. The school was founded in the Old City in 1854 by Dr. Albert Cohen. Initially a small group of girls learned mainly sewing and knitting. In 1867, the school was named after Evelina, the daughter of Baron Lionel de Rothschild who became the school's patron. Evelina had died a year earlier. The AJA took over the management of the school in 1892. At the time of Miss Landau's arrival, there was rivalry between the Alliance Israélite Universelle and the local German and British organizations as to which would influence the emerging culture of the local Jewish community. Her arrival in Jerusalem at the end of the 19th century, as an emissary of British Jewry, aroused high hopes among the local community which looked forward to improving the city's education. During her long residence in the city, she established new standards both in educational methods and in cultural and ethical content, while at the same time setting an example of polite and civilized behavior. At the Evelina de Rothschild School, Landau sought to provide religious girls, many of them poor, with both a Jewish and a general education from kindergarten through high school. Immediately upon taking up her position, she introduced English and Hebrew as languages of instruction - replacing French. By 1901 the school was entirely bilingual. At first she encountered opposition from rabbinical authorities, as well as from some of the parents. Miss Landau succeeded in finally breaking down the barrier between her and the Old Yishuv by her personal example of being strictly observant. Opposition lessened from year to year. The number of pupils at the school rose steadily, reaching 575 in 1913. The curriculum included Torah and science, languages, sewing and classical literature, singing, dancing and art. Students successfully passed the British school examinations. Students in the commercial track became expert in English shorthand, typing, accounting and bookkeeping. They were to become the backbone of the administration in British Mandatory government offices. The school also operated a sewing center which provided an income for those employed there. Miss Landau's British roots were reflected in her insistence on proper diction and acquiring skills such as presiding over tea parties - she held weekly ones at her home. During her long tenure at the school, impoverished students were helped in various ways. In 1908, when meningitis broke out, the school remained open. Each student received her own glass and a clean handkerchief daily (very rare in those days). The school provided orphans with shoes and meals, and made sure that those residing in the Old City would be escorted home. In 1915, as a British citizen, she was exiled by the Turks to Alexandria. In February 1918 a special permit from Gen. Edmund Allenby enabled her to return to Jerusalem, many of whose residents were starving after World War I. More than half of her students received a free daily meal, in addition to clothes and dental treatment. Following the Nazis' rise to power in 1933, the school welcomed German Jewish refugee girls, providing them with food, clothes and basic necessities. As a member of Jerusalem's educated elite, Miss Landau's home was a focal point of social life in the city, and she hosted numerous receptions with guests like Zionist leader Menahem Ussishkin, author S.Y. Agnon, doctors and lawyers. The school moved often in the decades since its founding. In 1890, it moved to Rehov Harav Kook, and in 1895 it relocated to Beit Mahanayim, today the location of the Education Ministry. In the 1920s, the school was housed in the nearby Ethiopian compound. During the 1930s and 1940s it returned to Beit Mahanayim until it became dangerously close to the border, when it moved to Rehov Ussishkin in Rehavia. Ironically Ussishkin had lived in the 1920s in Beit Mahanayim. Known for many years as Evelina, the school today has 400 students who come from all over the city. Annie Landau worked until she died in January 1945. She is buried on the Mount of Olives.

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