Often when people refer to someone as a “legend,” it is assumed that the person is larger-than-life, unapproachable or perhaps even arrogant.
Rabbi Hirsch Diskind was none of these.
Rabbi Diskind, the dean emeritus at Bais Yaakov School for Girls and a cornerstone figure in Jewish Baltimore, was personable, warm, compassionate and straightforward. And it was these qualities, along with countless others, that made his mission to positively
impact generations of students a resounding triumph. Rabbi Diskind passed away last Saturday. He was 91.
His mission of a commitment to academics, coupled with a connection to Jewish life, was in large part accepted and absorbed because of the keen way in which it was disseminated. It’s a message that, to this day, still reverberates in the hallways at Bais Yaakov and will for years to come.
“The most striking quality of Rabbi Diskind was his sweetness, his softness, his ability to relate in a respectful, caring way with everyone,” said Dr. Yoel Jakobovits, Bais Yaakov’s education board chairman. “He had the ability, on the one hand, to stand for the school’s mission and to stand for the school’s tradition in a sincere and authentic way, and at the same time he was able to present that through his remarkably sweet disposition.”
Said Rabbi Moshe Heinemann during his eulogy of Rabbi Diskind, “His smile is etched in my memory. His radiant disposition is something which was to behold.”
Son Rabbi Paysach Diskind said his father loved being an observant Jew — not just in terms of ritual practice, but also in his attitude.
“He had an attitude of caring,” said the young Rabbi Diskind. “He was truly a ben Torah.”
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Rabbi Diskind set foot in Bais Yaakov for the first time in 1952, when the school had just 135 students. Today, the school boasts more than 1,300 students, making it one of the largest Jewish day schools for girls in the world.
However, as proud as Rabbi Diskind was of the school itself and everything it offers, he took an equal amount of pride in the products — “his girls” — that progressed through it. Girls, who number in the thousands and who now are mothers and grandmothers, who have soaked up his teachings and the teachings of other Bais Yaakov faculty and applied what they’ve learned to their everyday lives. It’s difficult to even quantify the extent to which Rabbi Diskind’s inspiration reached others.
“I can’t imagine the number of families and students — and indirectly the number of husbands and children — who have been influenced by him. It’s tremendous,” Dr. Jakobovits said. “He did so not by being professorial or a theoretician, but by just showing with a smile what it meant to have a Shabbos table and to have your family around it and be educated by its messages from week to week.”
As easygoing and pleasant as Rabbi Diskind was, he still maintained a firm presence when need be, and did so without having to raise his voice. And his ability to recognize and
appreciate all-comers — regardless of religious observance, economic background or education level — was crucial in helping to make him the ideal person to lead a school.
Rabbi Moshe Hopfer commended Rabbi Diskind’s capacity to deal with a wide range of parents and likened his task to an art form.
“It is an art to be able to run a school. … The only way to run a school is with respect,” Rabbi Hopfer said during his eulogy. “[Rabbi Diskind] was firm when he needed to be and understanding when he needed to be.”
Rabbi Diskind made aliyah in 1987, and although he was no longer physically in the school, his wisdom never left it. Often, Dr. Jakobovits said, when teachers, department heads and principals met, they would call Rabbi Diskind for advice on what to do during different situations that arose in the school. The rabbi would get on the phone and spend as much time was necessary to delineate missions and directives that the school’s “founding fathers” would wish to transmit.
“He gave us — those who now have some responsibly for that — a sense of continuity. We will miss that very sorely,” Dr. Jakobovits said.
Giving so much of himself was a constant theme throughout Rabbi Diskind’s life. He was selfless to the core and he sincerely made others feel like they mattered, like they were important. He was always thinking of others.
“His personality made other people feel that they counted, and therefore he was as interested in them as they were in him,” Dr. Jakobovits said.
Rabbi Paysach Diskind said that even at the end of his life, when his father was in pain, he dealt with it as privately as possible.
Recalled Rabbi Diskind: “He said, ‘never pray for pain. But if you have it … don’t reject it. It’s worth getting the pain in this world, than carrying it over to the next.’” Rabbi Diskind is the beloved husband of Rivka Diskind (nee Kamenetsky); loving father of Minna Bodenheimer, Zipporah Freedman, Ettale Stern, Paysach Diskind and Ester Anemer; adored grandfather and great-grandfather of many. Contributions in his memory may be sent to Bais Yaakov School for Girls, 6300 Smith Ave., Baltimore, MD 21209.
Rabbi Diskind is the beloved husband of Rivka Diskind (nee Kamenetsky); loving father of Minna Bodenheimer, Zipporah Freedman, Ettale Stern, Paysach Diskind and Ester Anemer; adored grandfather and great-grandfather of many. Contributions in his memory may be sent to Bais Yaakov School for Girls, 6300 Smith Ave., Baltimore, MD 21209.
David Snyder is a JT staff reporter — firstname.lastname@example.org