I entered the ninth grade at TA in January 1926 at the age of 12. My family was living in Harlem at the time and I had just finished eighth grade at the Yeshiva D’Harlem. I had to travel on the subway to 301 E Broadway on the lower east side, where TA was located. I travelled with my two older brothers Maurice and Seymour, who were also students there.
My first TA experience was with Rav Mendel Zaks, who gave me my entrance bechina. I settled into the new surroundings and regimen without too much difficulty because it was a similar atmosphere to Yeshiva D’Harlem in many ways. But I felt like I had moved from the minor league to the major league.
My entering shiur was with Rav Steinberg where I learned for a year and a half. I then moved to Rav Poleyeff’s shiur for two years, and for the last six months was in Rav Olishevsky’s shiur. Of course all the learning was in yiddush.
The classes were small enough so that I got to know each student well and enjoy good comradery, especially with the boys whose families like mine eventually moved to the West Side.
I had very good experiences at TA, both in limude kodesh and in general studies.
My time with Rav Poleyeff, in particular, taught me how to prepare the shiur in advance, which held me in good stead over the years for being able to pick up a sefer and do some learning on my own.
Dr. Bernard Revel was the Rosh Yeshiva at the time and he had a program of one on one bechinas with each student once or twice a year. I had some trepidation before the first session but then began to feel comfortable in his presence and looked forward to the next opportunity to spend some time with him.
I also had the zchus to see every day the “Meitscheter Illui”, Rav Shlomo Polachek, who taught the advanced semicha shiur in the same building.
With regard to general studies, Dr. Shelly Saphire was the principal. Dr. Stern taught our advanced math class and Dr. Shapiro taught history, but I personally liked chemistry and physics the most. I was also on the debating team, where I learned to speak so others could easily understand what I was trying to say, and to formulate cogent arguments to my position.
As I recall, during my years at TA its graduates received the highest percentage of state scholarships of any school in New York State.
Mine was the first class to graduate from the brand new Amsterdam Avenue building and I still have the small gold graduation pendent that I purchased at the time. The rooms were much more spacious and there was a real cafeteria, library and gym. My friends and I even found a way to sneak into the spiral staircase and climb up to the tower without getting caught.
As graduation approached in January 1930, I had some apprehension that coming from a yeshiva I might not be as well prepared as students from the top public schools. I had never spent a day in a public school, but it turns out the Torah Umadda derech at TA enabled me to do quite well at City College-CCNY where I majored in physics and chemistry and then went on to Philadelphia Textile School.
As an example, at City, I took a course in philosophy with Dr. Morris Raphael Cohen, one of the preeminent philosophers and legal scholars of the time. Much of the course was about inference, and I was able to use my gemara learning to impress him with my grasp of the concept.
Thanks to both the Torah Umadda philosophy and my family upbringing, I also came away from TA with an appreciation of the importance of kiruv and over the years I was thankfully able to have a positive influence on a number of individuals in that regard, sometimes in unusual ways. For example, not long ago I taught bar/bat mitzvah preparation to boys and girls with learning disabilities and taught two autistic boys to read several pesukim from the Torah on the occasion of their bar mitzvah.
I am especially proud of the fact that I was a middle link in the span of five family generations affiliated with YU high schools and colleges.
My grandfather Yitzchak Moshe Bernstein was one of the founders of Yeshivas Etz Chaim and was a signer on the charter of RIETS.
My father Julius Bernstein attended Etz Chaim and was one of the founders of the Yeshiva D’Harlem and its first president. In addition, he was a supporter of RIETS and was present at the dedication ceremony for the new building in 1929. My mother, Esther Bernstein, was one of the original members of Yeshiva University Woman’s Organization.
My two brothers and I went to TA. My dear wife Sylvia’s (a”h) brother Marvin Goldman (a”h) graduated YU and our brother-in-law Rabbi Israel Miller (a”h) was well known at YU.
My wife and I sent all three of our children to YU schools. Our son Jonathan graduated from MTA and Yeshiva College, our son David graduated from Yeshiva College and Belfer Graduate School of Science and our daughter Elisabeth graduated from Stern College. Jonathan’s wife Susan graduated from Cardozo School of Law.
Three of our granddaughters, Ali Rosenbaum Grange, Cindy Bernstein and Debbie Bernstein Block graduated from “Central” High School, with Cindy also graduating from Stern College (where she also taught as an adjunct professor) and Debbie from Cardozo School of Law. Ali’s husband Alex Grange graduated from YU and Cardozo School of Law and Debbie’s husband Rabbi Akiva Block graduated from YU and the Wexner Kollel Elyon and received semicha from RIETS.
I receive tremendous nachas from each and every one of them and I thank TA and Yeshiva University for making it possible.