Samuel H. Wang Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central) recently dedicated its Israel guidance program in memory of Joy Rochwarger Balsam, a’h, a beloved teacher who touched the lives of hundreds of students in Israel and the United States. The program will now be known as the Joy Rochwarger Balsam Israel Guidance Program, thanks to funds donated by Joy’s family.
“Joy’s relationship with Central, her devotion to the State of Israel, and contributions to Jewish education were remarkable,” said Mrs. CB Neugroschl, head of school at Central. “Her cheerful disposition, tremendous faith, love of Israel, and infectious devotion to learning lishmah [for its own sake] inspired countless students, making it particularly appropriate that the Israel Guidance Program be dedicated in her memory. I know our students’ learning will continue to honor her memory.”
Joy Rochwarger Balsam graduated from Central in 1984 and attended Barnard College. Following her graduation, she moved to Israel and taught at the post-high-school program at Midreshet Moriah in Jerusalem for over a decade. While living in Israel, she completed her master’s degree from Touro College and wrote her thesis, “Sefer Pa’aneah Raza and Biblical Exegesis in Medieval Ashkenaz,” under the supervision of Dr. Ephraim Kanarfogel, E. Billy Ivry University Professor of Jewish History, Literature, and Law and chair of the Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies at Stern College for Women.
Joy Rochwarger Balsam was also a protÃ©gÃ©e of the renowned scholar Nechama Leibowitz and acted as her personal assistant during Leibowitz’s later years. She paid tribute to her mentor in an essay written for the collection Torah of the Mothers (Urim Publications, 2000).
In 2001, she returned to the United States, where she served as a program officer for the Avi Chai Foundation. Her commitment to Jewish education also included 12 years of devoted volunteer work in Poland, where she worked with the Lauder Foundation to help Jews reconnect with their heritage. She was often consulted, both in Israel and the United States, for advice on women’s Torah education.
Joy Rochwarger Balsam passed away at the age of 37 on May 21, 2004, Rosh Chodesh Sivan, just one year after she got married to Jerry Balsam. Her impact on her family, friends, and students was profound, as evidenced by the 16 children who have been named after her.
Now a new generation of students at Central can be the beneficiaries of her kindness and love for Israel. Every junior and senior at Central uses the Israel Guidance Program, which is designed to help each student and her family find the right seminary.
“Central guides each student to consider learning in Israel as a transformative opportunity to further develop her personal commitments to Israel and Torah study,” said Rabbi Zvi Lew, the Israel guidance adviser at the school.
Rabbi Lew works together with Michal Davis-Savitsky, the Israel guidance coordinator, to steer students in the right direction. After consulting with faculty advisers, meeting representatives from the different seminaries, and attending an Israel fair to learn more about the schools, close to 75 percent of the students choose to spend a year in Israel–a unique opportunity to learn, do chesed, tour the country, and forge a deep connection to their homeland.
“The Israel Guidance Program is integral to Central,” said Neugroschl. “It is the belief of the school that a year in Israel will further inspire a student’s commitment to learning Torah and their connection to Eretz Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael.