BROOKLYN (VINnews/Sandy Eller) – Rabbi Hertz Frankel, the principal of Brooklyn’s Satmar community in Williamsburg for more than 60 years, passed away today at the age of 90.
Rabbi Frankel was appointed by the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, to run the Satmar girls’ schools in 1959. At the time, Rabbi Hertz Frankel was 26, clean shaven, unmarried, and very much not a member of the Satmar community.
“There I was, an Agudist in Satmar land, wearing a light colored suit and a new straw hat,” reminisced Rabbi Frankel in his 2015 memoir titled The Satmar Rebbe and His English Principal, which offers a first-hand glimpses of Rabbi Teitelbaum as well as the evolution of Jewish education in the United States in the post-war years and beyond.
Born in the Polish town of Lizensk, Rabbi Frankel and his family escaped the atrocities of World War II by fleeing through Uzbekistan, eventually settling in America in the post-war years.
Rabbi Frankel graduated from Brooklyn College and earned his rabbinical ordination at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath.
Rabbi Frankel’s fluency in English made him a valuable asset to the Satmar Rebbe, who was extremely committed to childhood education and understood that his experiences running a boys’ yeshiva back in Europe left him ill prepared to lead the community’s Bais Rochel girls’ school.
Over the years, even as the Rebbe remained involved in Bais Rochel, overseeing components including school uniforms, the curriculum, the annual yearbook and even the graduation ceremony, Rabbi Frankel remained passionate about his job and his responsibility to educate the thousands of students who passed through the school’s doors.
In one instance, Rabbi Frankel found that there was a need to have supplemental reading material to broaden his students’ educational horizons, since the textbooks were often censored to omit any materials deemed to be inappropriate. Rabbi Frankel suggested that subscriptions be taken out to a secular current events magazine called The Weekly Reader, an idea that was not warmly welcomed by the Satmar Rebbe.
“How do you expect me to do my job?” asked Rabbi Frankel, in a rare heated exchange with the Rebbe.
While Rabbi Teitelbaum’s aides told Rabbi Frankel to calm down, the Rebbe disagreed saying, “Let him get excited. He has to get excited. He has to represent his department. If he doesn’t get excited and work hard for his department then he’s not doing his job.”
In a 2016 letter to The Jewish Week (https://bit.ly/3j9gyFi) for Bais Rochel teacher Esther Nussbaum lavished praise upon Rabbi Frank saying, “the girls and I were lucky to have him as principal.”
In addition to serving at the helm of the Satmar girls’ school for decades, Rabbi Frankel also served as an intermediary between Rabbi Teitelbaum and government officials and others outside the Satmar community, earning him the informal title of the Rebbe’s “secretary of state.”
In his memoir, Rabbi Frankel detailed Rabbi Teitelbaum’s broad reach which went far beyond the hallowed halls of Satmar and included conversations with President Jimmy Carter and secret high level meetings with leading rabbinical leaders to prevent mandatory autopsies in Israel.
Rabbi Frankel lived in Lakewood in his final years. His funeral will be held on Sunday morning at 9:30 AM at Bais Mordechai, with burial taking place in Israel.