A Chabad-run Jewish high school for girls was named the best school in all of Berlin by the city’s department of education after its students received top scores on end-of-year state testing despite coronavirus pandemic shutdowns.

Staff at the Jewish Traditional School were notified of the designation after students received outstanding scores in both their written and oral “Abitur” educational exams conducted by Berlin’s educational officials. Scoring well on the Abitur testing is crucial for students who want to go on to study at the university level.

Betty Malkov, one of the students who was tested for the Abitur, said the school deserves all the recognition and more.

“My school was very supportive, the teachers helped us every single way they could,” she said, adding that “the school has given us the right tools to build our lives properly. I am very grateful for this and am happy to leave this wonderful school while it is in the spotlight.”

She added that she hopes it will encourage more Jewish families to send their children “to this fantastic educational institution.”

Sandra Scheeres, Berlin’s senator for education, said “this year’s high school graduates can be particularly proud of their achievements. They have completed their Abitur [government testing] excellently in an unprecedented time with long lockdown periods. They have shown a high degree of independence and have taken responsibility for their learning. This has paid off.”

According to school officials, this was actually the second time that the Jewish Traditional School has been honored for academic excellence. In 2018, the school was top ranked of local high schools, and in 2017 and 2020, it was listed among the best five high schools in Berlin.

This year’s honor comes amid a school year that saw students having to juggle learning remotely at home with in-person classes as the coronavirus waxed and waned.

“The designation is really special because a lot of people, especially in Germany, think that if you have a Jewish education, then secular education suffers,” said Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, who founded the school with his wife, Leah. “But the fact is that we have shown you can have excellence in secular education and Jewish studies.”

He added that the honor is “a huge kiddush Hashem,” a sanctification of G‑d’s name, especially given that 80 years ago, the Nazis tried to eradicate Jewish life in Germany.

The Jewish Traditional School. (Photo: David Osipov)
The Jewish Traditional School. (Photo: David Osipov)

A Recipe for Academic Success

According to Heike Michalak, the school’s general studies principal, “the recipe for success is simple.”

That is, she said, “students who are enthusiastic about learning, dedicated educators, and a Jewish atmosphere and learning environment that focuses attention on what matters most.”

That sentiment was echoed by Teichtal, who noted that what really sets the school apart is the focus on each student as an individual and tailoring the work to suit each child, fulfilling the Jewish concept of educating students al pi darco, “each in his own path.”

“Our teachers really focus on what’s best for the child and not what’s best for them,” he said. “In return, the students give it their best to achieve academic excellence.”

Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal was particularly proud that his daughter was among this year's top scoring students. (Photo: David Osipov)
Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal was particularly proud that his daughter was among this year's top scoring students. (Photo: David Osipov)

Teichtal was especially pleased that state school officials said not only were the girls knowledgeable in their subjects but exemplary in their behavior. He noted that the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—would say that “a school is not just a place to share knowledge, but to create personal, moral and ethical standards.”

The Jewish Traditional high school started five years ago and is an outgrowth of the elementary school that began in 2005. In the summer of 2022, the school will be moving to an all-new, 8,000-square-meter Jewish educational campus that is currently under construction.

Teichtal remarked that the new campus is sure to be needed since word of the school’s status as No. 1 in Berlin was announced; the rabbi has been fielding calls from families interested in enrolling their children.

“One of the main concerns about a Chabad-run school for families who are not yet practicing Judaism is that they will learn about Shabbat and kashrut, but not math, history, language,” he said. “This shows that myth is wrong.”