An abandoned lot in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is turned from a neighborhood eyesore into one of the most advanced and spacious Jewish facilities of primary education

BROOKLYN — Signaling spiritual renewal for Jewish women, and urban renewal for the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, nearly 3,000 girls ages 6-16 celebrated at a Torah-writing ceremony yesterday in memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Moussia Schneerson, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

Industrialist Ronald O. Perelman, chairman and chief executive officer of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, participated in the celebration and, using the traditional feather and ink, inscribed his own letter on the Torah's parchment scroll.

Perelman is the chief benefactor of the Associated Beth Rivkah Girls School's almost-completed new campus. The 125,000-square foot building, which spans the width of a city block, is the largest Jewish girls school building ever to be built in America.

Upon completion the campus will house the Beth Rivkah's 3,000-girl student body. Mr. Perelman provided matching funds for the construction of the new $16 million campus. The campus will include 73 classrooms, numerous offices, two libraries, two playgrounds, a spacious gym with up-to-the-minute athletic facilities, and much more.

The new facility is named Campus Chomesh, in honor of the Rebbetzin. (Chomesh forms a Hebrew acrostic of her initials and signifies a five-fold blessing.) This past Monday was the 11th anniversary of her passing.

At the event girls displayed their proficiency in Torah learning by reciting various passages by heart while engaging Mr. Perelman as well. One girl presented him with a leather-bound set of the Bible and commentaries, saying, "I heard that you begin your daily schedule by studying from the holy Torah. These books will help you in your study..."

A pair of girls read a poem thanking Perelman for his help in creating "one of the most beautiful places to learn in the entire world."

"[The campus] was the Rebbe's vision and wish as a memorial to the Rebbetzin," Perelman responded, alluding to the interaction he had with the Rebbe about the new campus as well as the special trip the Rebbe took to the groundbreaking ceremony in 1988.

The school benefactor asked the girls to join him in applauding the school's chief executive, Rabbi Abraham Shemtov. "Thanks to his perseverance and tenacity, we have what we have today," Mr. Perelman said.

When fully completed, the school building will also be one of the nation's most technologically sophisticated and fully-networked schools.

"The students who go forth from Beth Rivkah come out with a vision in life and a feeling of responsibility toward others," said Rabbi Shemtov.

"The network of more than 2,000 Lubavitcher institutions worldwide is staffed in great measure by alumnae of Beth Rivkah," Rabbi Shemtov continued, noting the school's critical role in stemming the tide of assimilation and fostering Jewish continuity.

Thousands of Jewish women around the world remain committed to their Jewish heritage because of Beth Rivkah, the rabbi said, adding that the school never turned away a student for lack of ability to pay.

Despite the open admission policy, academic standards at Beth Rivkah are demanding, and each girl carries a full complement of courses in Judaic studies as well as secular courses leading to New York State Regents examinations. More than 90 percent of graduates continue their education at the post-secondary level.

The school has also become a symbol of renewal in this once-blighted urban neighborhood, and demonstrates Lubavitch's resolve to better the Brooklyn community of Crown Heights. Once home to the Lefferts General Hospital but later abandoned, the plot was a neighborhood eyesore for some 10 years until acquired by Beth Rivkah. Crime in the area was drastically reduced once construction began, about 10 years ago.

Founded by the Rebbe more than half a century ago, Beth Rivkah has educated tens of thousands of Jewish girls in programs ranging from preschool through high school. It also operates a seminary and collegiate division, which trains teachers for Jewish schools.

From its original school here, the Beth Rivkah chain has expanded internationally to include facilities in Europe, Australia and North Africa.

All told, Beth Rivkah's worldwide enrollment of some 13,000 students, its unique mark as a training ground for communal leadership and its academic rigor make it one of the world's significant institutions of Jewish education.

Hence Mr. Perelman's parting words to the young women:
"Just learn a lot..."