David Eliach was born in Jerusalem on September 13, 1922, to a Chassidic family that had lived in Jerusalem for six generations. He was sent to a cheder until the age of eleven, when his father, in an unusual move, transferred him to a public school (beit seier amami) where he continued to study in a secular environment through high school. As a young man he was a member of the Haganah and also one of the seven founders of the Yeshivot Bnei Akiva. The Bnei Akiva schools incorporated an entirely new concept in Jewish religious education: a “yeshiva high school” where the synthesis of high-level Torah and secular studies could be achieved. After completing his college education, Rabbi Eliach studied at Teachers’ College in Jerusalem and was ordained at the Rabbinical College of the Hevron Yeshiva. In the 1940’s he began teaching at Meshek Yeladim Moza, an institution for child survivors of the Holocaust, and after two years he became its director. In 1949 he became principal of Kfar Batya, where he established a comprehensive high school for a village of 400 child survivors.
In 1953 Rabbi Eliach came to the United States to take a teaching position at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, and shortly thereafter was named Assistant Principal of Judaic Studies. In 1967 he became Principal of the Yeshiva of Flatbush High School and is currently Dean of its elementary and high schools. Rabbi Eliach is Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Azrieli Graduate Institute of Jewish Education and Administration at Yeshiva University. Recognized as a pioneer in the modern Orthodox yeshiva movement, he has received numerous awards and prizes for his leadership in Jewish education. In 1987 Yeshiva University conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Pedagogy upon Rabbi Eliach, the first educator to receive that honor.
Rabbi David Eliach's Statement of Motivation and Purpose:
“It was 1943. Eight hundred and fifty children arrived from Teheran. They were the first large group of children of the Holocaust to arrive in what was then Palestine. They came without parents, and without family. I volunteered to help them adapt to their new country. It was this experience that made me decide to become an educator. It was in working with these children that I discovered the power of education. At this school we had to be very innovative, to devise new techniques if we were to successfully teach these children. They came to us scarred emotionally, psychologically, and even physically. It was up to us to heal them and to prepare them for their future. In the 1940’s new ideas in education had not yet reached Palestine. It was up to us – young, enthusiastic, and idealistic educators – to try new ways. We did: and we were successful….
One of the biggest obstacles to teachers’ success is how busy they are. Teachers are always pressed for time. In my ideal educational model, a teacher would work with a smaller group of students and thus be able to devote more time and attention to each. After completing their class assignments, teachers would study within a Bet Midrash or Kollel set up within the school. Courses would be offered on a daily basis. The teacher would be both teacher and student….
In assessing my work over the years, I can point with pride to our students who became leaders in Jewish communities all over the United States. They serve as presidents of their synagogues, of Jewish day schools, of charitable organizations, and a host of other institutions. They are in the forefront of their fields, having gained the confidence and the solid foundation on which they could build their future. It is possible that our students gained an awareness of the role of the community through some of the programs that we initiated, and which have become de rigeur for Jewish communities. Our yearly program to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day attracts hundreds of people. And, as it has often been said, for those who are not in Israel on Israel Independence Day, the next best place to be is the Yeshiva of Flatbush High School. On both of these days our students remember and celebrate as they span the gamut of sorrow and joy and learn the lessons of both. They share their lessons with the community. As they grow up they continue to do so, and they make us proud….
I would like to see the goals of education in the Jewish community changed. For too long we have pursued the materialistic goals of society. At present, education is geared to allow the child to go from an elementary school into a good high school. At the high school level, the goal becomes entry into a good college. At the college level, the goal becomes entry into a good graduate school. The goal…remains throughout…to make a lot of money. Thus, money is the final arbiter of the value of our education. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we, educators, could raise the realm of education above the materialistic and open our students’ eyes to the wonders of the pursuit of wisdom, and allow our students and ourselves to indulge in being truly idealistic?”
From His Letters of Support:
“Rabbi David Eliach is the supreme educator, and is recognized as such by his colleagues. In 1987 Yeshiva University bestowed its first honorary doctorate in education on the man it cited as the ‘exemplar of Jewish educators.’ Rabbi Eliach serves as a mentor to principals around the country, and indeed around the world. His advice is sought in every area of education. He has helped to structure schools to meet the specific needs of various communities, from small towns in the U.S., to London, to Australia, and to Latin America. Educators around the world will gladly inform parents that their school is modeled after the Yeshiva of Flatbush….
His influence reaches far beyond the school he has served for 38 years, 25 as its Dean. He trains teachers in a course in methodology at Yeshiva University. Experienced educators enroll in this course in order to learn the unique methodology that Rabbi Eliach developed. Within his role as Dean of the Yeshiva of Flatbush High School, a school whose name is synonymous with excellence and the highest standards in Jewish education, he has created many programs which have now become standard in yeshivot throughout the country.”
Sora F. Bulka
“I would say that the face of Jewish education in the United States, in its wide-ranging activities, both curricular and extra-curricular, and in its professional standards would not be as profound were it not for the distinguished nominee. His continual, hands-on involvement in his direction of the school, a school of 2,000 students, surely merits recognition. His pervasive influence over forty years as a leader of our school and, ultimately, over national yeshiva education, has made a long-range, profound impact upon the lives of thousands of young people and their families….
Perhaps most significant to Jewish education nationwide has been his direction of faculty at the Yeshiva to develop curricula and methodology for inspirational transmission of Jewish values and learning. He endlessly challenges and inspires his faculty to re-think their goals and their techniques of teaching, and the results have been landmark achievements, some published for wider dissemination among the day schools here and abroad….”
Dr. Rosalie Reich