In Gutta: Memoirs of a Vanished World (pages 47-49), Gutta is sent to teach little girls in Stopnitz, Poland, after a 18 months of study in Cracow's Beis Yaakov high school.
Initially, Gutta pleaded & argued with Rav Orlean of Beis Yaakov not to send her to Stopnitz, which Gutta described as "a shtetl in a cast-away corner that could be found in no atlas and where no train stopped, a shtetl forgotten by the world, cut off behind the mud of its roads and fields."
Stopnitz's surrounding neighborhood was referred to as "King Poverty's giter (pitiful possessions).
When, after a journey squeezed between suitcases, Gutta got off the bus in Stopnitz, she scrutinized at the narrow alleys, the half-fallen homes, and the torn facades around the market place.
The Beis Yaakov schoolhouse itself was, in Gutta's words, "a run-down, neglected cabin."
Again, not because of disrespect or apathy, but poverty. The townspeople simply lacked the resources to give more to their beloved girls school.
Yet Gutta's time in Stopnitz completed what Beis Yaakov sought to instill in her:
I became one of those people who constantly lived with God.
In Stopnitz, I completely lost myself — or perhaps I found myself.
Gutta described their home as "a heavenly school of simplicity, sincerity, love for others, and for God...The house was filled with music, Tehillim, and niggunim."
In this house, I discovered that even the most impoverished person possesses something that he can share with others: love and joy.
And this is what later enabled Gutta to give so beautifully of herself and to reflect the light of her neshamah into the tormented little girls & orphans she ended up teaching in the hell of the Warsaw Ghetto.
But it was the shochet's wife who intrigued me the most.
The Ideal Jewish Mother
The Pshitiks gave Gutta their best room, their best food—anything they could.
All because she was a Beis Yaakov teacher.
(When Sarah Pshitik offered Gutta something to eat, Sarah often insisted, "To teach children, you need strength.")
Their youngest child was a toddler named Moshe, whom they affectionately called "Moishenyu."
When Moishenyu started to take his first steps, he fell down and cried (as is totally expected).
Each time this happened, his mother picked him up and kissed him, her own face glowing with joy and happiness.
"Wonderful, Moishenyu, wonderful!" she said. "God bless your first steps, Moishenyu. May God guide all of your steps to mitzvos and good deeds!"
Then she'd turn to Gutta and say, "So, teacher, do we not have a great God, Who shows such great kindness to me, Sarah Pshitik, a simple Jewish woman? Teacher, you are educated. Tell me something about this great kindness. How can I, a simple woman, praise God and thank Him enough?"
And then she would turn to Hashem: "Holy, great Creator, filled with kindness: Guard the steps of my little boy so that he will not fall, and that he will remain a good and blessed Jew."
Something So Authentic can Still Feel So Foreign
It wasn't just love & reassurance Sarah was giving Moishenyu; it was a whole mussar shmooze geared for toddlers, along with the opportunity to cleave to Hashem.
EVERY single time the child toddles over?
How does that work? (Especially if you have more going on at home than the toddling of this one child.)
I think this is something that is hard (at least for some of us) to do without having seen it in action.
Still, I regret not having at least tried it when my kids were toddlers. (Yes, I read this then, but it seemed so foreign to me at that time—appealing & inspiring, but foreign—that I just couldn't think how to do it.)
I suppose it's one of these things that you should just jump into and becomes more natural with time.
Also, and very importantly, while your inside affects your external behavior, the opposite is also true.
Even if it feels unnatural or silly at first, copying Sarah Pshitik can help you internalize these values.
Anyway, I very much wish that this kind of truly authentic chinuch could be taught in chinuch classes.
Later, upon reading Rav Shalom Arush's Garden of Education, I was able to implement one behavior of his religious Moroccan mother, and that is to shower the children with blessings as they go out the door.
It was simple & straight-forward enough to attempt.
And at that point, I finally realized how much more important these spiritual efforts are over the practical methods.
Yet even though I don't "shower" my children like Rav Arush's mother did with hers, I do bless them in Hashem's Name to have a good day, be protected, learn well or earn well, and so on. Maybe just 1 or 2 blessings, but that's still MUCH better than none.
Truly authentic Jewish chinuch might be more challenging to teach than the "do this, do that" methods of today because Sarah Pshitik's method comes from the heart & her husband (who also possessed the same heart) fully participated in this authentically Jewish chinuch in the home; it requires an internalization of Torah values, both on the part of the chinuch teacher and the parents.
Every person is born into this world to rectify themselves, to complete tikkunim.
As one major Rebbe said, this is a World of Tikkun.
Authentic Jewish Chinuch from the Heart
Therefore, the foundation of chinuch is about deepening your own emunah & bitachon — and passing this on to your child.
This idea lies behind the famous story of the man who went to the Chafetz Chaim to ask how he should raise his newborn son, and the Chafetz Chaim declared, "You're a few years too late!"
(It wasn't really too late, but the moral of the story is that you can't give what you don't have, so you need to be working on yourself if you wish to give your children a good chinuch.)
Likewise, the Steipler Gaon said that 50% of chinuch is role-modeling.
The truth is, there are chinuch people who could give this over to parents, but many parents today are not receptive.
Many parents today want to-the-point, practical methods ("say this, do that")—not because they're superficial, but because they're overwhelmed.
Still, I think it would be good to try inculcating this.
And it doesn't need come from an "official" chinuch expert; maybe there is someone in your sphere who does this.
For example, when I was in the Beit Hachlamah, I roomed with a woman from Bnei Brak who'd just given birth to her 9th or 10th child.
Whenever he burped after she patted him on the back, she sang out: "La-bree-oooooooooot!" (To your health!) And then she sang out pasukim & blessings upon him.
I surreptitiously watched her in fascination.
It seemed like a lot of emotional output per burp, but it also seemed much more fun & meaningful than burping baby the regular affectionate (or wearying) perfunctory way.
She was a compactly built & energetic woman in her thirties with big glasses.
She chatted with me as if we were long-time neighbors, and out of the blue, she cheerfully declared that everyone has bad days sometimes and it doesn't necessarily mean that anything is really wrong.
"You can even cry over the laundry," she proclaimed. "I have! Yes, I even sometimes cry over the laundry. And you know what? That's okay! I tell my oldest daughter that it's normal to feel overwhelmed at times and it's normal to cry even over something as routine as the laundry."
She went on to tell me that she felt it was important to tell her daughter that feeling overwhelmed and crying were perfectly normal aspects of motherhood, and she stressed that she wanted her daughter to know this so that she wouldn't feel bad about herself when it happened.
(This also makes it easier to go on with life & get out of a funk.)
I found this very eye-opening and reassuring because until that point, I'd somehow been ingrained with the message that if I ever cried over such things, it was because I was spoiled, ungrateful, possibly silly, and generally suffered from a bad hashkafah.
But this Bnei Brak woman was certainly not from a "pampered" American middle-class background, and she clearly possessed a cheerful & spiritual nature.
She seemed a warm & loving mother.
In other words, she seemed the farthest thing from a "bad hashkafah," and she was still saying all this.
I thought it sounded nice. I thought it sounded psychologically healthy.
And I also admired how she related to her daughter as a future Eim b'Yisrael (Jewish mother) and cared enough to prepare her to be a psychologically healthy mother herself.
Just Leap In!
In that case, you can just try to wing it on your own.
You can work through the initial discomfort to try your own spin on Sarah Pshitik or the mother from Bnei Brak or anyone else you read or heard about.
Kol hahatchalot kashot — All the beginnings are hard.
It's such authentically good behavior that just bumbling through it can be self-transforming. So it's really good to at least try it.
I very much wish I had.