Mother Knows Best : * Valley Torah’s dean of girls has no advanced degrees. She earned knowledge of kids the hard way.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES: <i> Andrea Heiman writes regularly for The Times. </i>

Eileen Weiss was never trained as an administrator. Or a dean.

But the new dean of girls at Valley Torah High School in North Hollywood has plenty of related experience--as the mother of 15 and grandmother of 30.

“I may not have the formal academic training, but I know how to deal with children,” says Weiss, 53, whose children are 12 to 35 years old.

Weiss’ reputation as a mother and member of the community caught the attention of administrators of Valley Torah, the only Orthodox Jewish high school in the San Fernando Valley.


“I knew Mrs. Weiss had a knack for dealing with people,” says Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, dean of Valley Torah, which has separate boys and girls schools of about 90 students each. “You can spend 10 minutes with her and feel like you’ve known each other for 20 years. I knew she would be a good role model and bridge the gap between administrator and dean.”

Stulberger’s prediction seems to have come true. Many of the girls refer to Weiss as their second mom and decorate her office walls with cards and drawings. They come to her for everything--family problems, school problems and just to say “hi.”

“I set up a rapport--they know me, I know them,” says Weiss, who also teaches a course in basic Torah Judaism. “I like to be involved in what’s going on at home--if there are problems with a parent, we discuss it. I don’t take sides, but I have the ability to talk on any issue. I set up a trust. I don’t counsel, I listen, and try to relate and see myself in what they are saying.”

Sarit Ben-Yaacov, 16, visits Weiss’ office daily.

“I feel like I can really talk to her,” says Ben-Yaacov, who lives in North Hollywood. “Sometimes people hold things against you, but I can trust her, she understands. She sees the nice person inside of me.”

Weiss, an Orthodox Jew who was raised in Woodbourne, N.Y., (in the Catskills) earned a two-year teaching degree from Bais Yaacov Teachers Seminary, a religious institution in Brooklyn, N.Y. She and her husband, Meshulum, ran a bakery in Miami Beach, Fla., for 32 years before they came to North Hollywood five years ago when Meshulum was offered a principal’s job at a Los Angeles religious school.

Weiss attributes her skill with children both to her experience as a mother as well as to an innate gift.


“Just as some people have an innate ability to play the piano, I have an innate ability to listen to children and pick out what they are trying to say,” says Weiss, who has been married for 36 years.


Weiss has also learned not to take the misbehavior of her children or students personally.

“I never treat children as bad,” she says. “Maybe what they did was bad, but there are no bad children. We all have problems, but nothing they do will disappoint me. I know the only people they are hurting are themselves.”

Another mothering technique Weiss incorporates into her dealings with students is a “safe room,” where girls are allowed to express their feeling freely and know that they will not be punished for it.

Because one of her own daughters is dyslexic, Weiss also has tools to help girls who suffer from learning disabilities.

“Sometimes I don’t feel great about myself,” says Yocheved Berghoff, 14, who has a learning disorder. “Whenever I’m upset at myself or angry, she has me make a list of all my good points. I look at that list and it makes me feel more confident, and like I can accomplish anything even though I have disabilities.”

Weiss’ own children--four girls and 11 boys--have a potpourri of interests and are scattered across the world--from Israel to Australia to New Jersey to Miami.


Three are rabbis, one is a psychologist, one is a special education teacher, one runs a pizza shop in Miami Beach. And Weiss’ 33-year-old daughter, who has nine children, won $5.5 million in the lottery in 1990 just as she and her family were being evicted from their home.

“As long as they are Torah observant, keep the laws of the Bible and the Sabbath, love God, and are good to human beings, I am happy,” Weiss says.

Weiss’ youngest daughter, Shaina, attends Valley Torah, and says she likes having mom so handy.

“I love it,” says Shaina Weiss, 15. “At first I didn’t want her to come here, because she’s my mom. But now I always have someone to talk to and someone to come to. And when all the girls come and call her mommy, I think it’s cute. I know they can’t have her all the time, like I can.”

Above all, Weiss looks at her job as a mother and counselor as one God meant for her to have, and one that helps her continue to grow.