When the French daily newspaper Le Parisien came out with its annual list of best high schools in the country, many people probably did a double take at the No. 1 ranked school – Beth Hanna, a Chabad-Lubavitch girls’ school in Paris.
Not surprised were members of the Jewish community who are familiar with the school, noting that it is a welcoming place that builds strong dedication to Jewish life and values, and has graduated many girls over the years.
Among those who were pleased but not surprised is Rabbi Chaim Shneur Nisenbaum, who works at the preschool-through-grade 12 Complexe Scolaire Beth Haya Mouchka, which includes Beth Hanna. Three of the rabbi’s daughters have graduated from the high school and his wife, Yakuta, teaches Judaic subjects there.
Remarking that the school has been highly rated for several years, Nisenbaum says “it’s very important that the Jewish school should rank high-not only on the media list, but also on the Ministry of Education list because the schools are chosen not for their Jewishness, but for their preparation for the national French exams.”
“In France,” he continues, “the national exams and diplomas are central to the people and the culture, as they play a major role in ensuring the future of the students. It is particularly true of the Baccalauréat that students take upon finishing high school. The good results are a sign that the Jewish schools won the pedagogic battle on the general [education] field.”
The Chabad school system in Paris was founded by the late Rabbi Shmuel “Moulé” Azimov, who left a profound imprint upon the Jewish community of Paris and beyond. He grew it so extensively that today more than 1,500 girls are enrolled in the different divisions of Beth Haya Mouchka, with some 700 students in the high school alone. It is the largest Jewish school in France and one of the largest in Europe.
According to Le Parisien, what made the Beth Hanna a particular standout this year and led to the school receiving “added value” points-and thus, the stellar ranking-were a high proportion of matriculation exam-takers, grade-point averages, exceptional attendance rates and other significant factors.
Nisenbaum credits the high school’s director, André Touboul, with the school’s academic success.
“The school has remained faithful to the methods which have proved effective over the years,” explains the rabbi. “Furthermore, the fact that it is a fully Jewish school, with a Torah program during half of the day every day, gives the school a special atmosphere of work and respect, which eases the learning, and creates a close relationship between the students themselves and with their teachers.”
Beth Hanna is one of two Jewish schools that recently made nationally ranked educational listings in France; the other was the Lycée Alliance in the Paris suburb of Seine Saint-Denis, which was not on the newspaper list but on one compiled by France TV, the country’s public broadcast station. Another listing of schools was published by Le Figaro daily newspaper, with Beth Hanna coming in at No. 46 and the Alliance at No. 88.
More than 4,000 schools are rated on these annual lists.
This comes despite the fact that Jewish schoolchildren there have some added stress to their day. They now attend classes under armed guard due to a week of violence that occurred in Paris earlier this year-namely, the Jan. 9 terror attack at the Hyper Cacher kosher grocery, where four Jewish men were killed.
That is no mere coincidence, says Nisenbaum.
“The schools and their directors have an intense motivation. They know they have the future of the French Jewish community in their hands,” states the rabbi. “If the world outside looks less beautiful now, we have to magnify the inside that much more.”