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[Page 469]

The Jewish School in Bielsk

by Libe Utzyski

Translated by Libe Utzyski (Ferber) Elson


The Yiddishe Shule in Bielsk

From my earliest recollection, I remember the Yiddishe shule not only as an institution of learning, but as a second home for the young people there. Beautiful memories, exciting happenings in a surrounding of good reliable grownups, who were our educators and guidance counselors. This was our Yiddishe shule that remained in our memories.

It is hard for me to write about this institution without being emotional, but I must be objective, because I know that I am writing an article as a memorial that will be for the future generations.

The Yiddishe shule was a fortress for the working classes who wanted to give their children a progressive view on life and teach them Judaism in the modern way. To teach them respect for work and working-men.

 

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The children understood the hard luck of the Jewish people and tried to improve their image by not being a parasite and be proud of their roots, by not being ashamed of learning Hebrew texts and all the Jewish classics. The best and learned men devoted their time and their money to this high respectable institution of learning.

The Yiddishe shule accommodated about 250 children. They came from all walks of life, shoe-makers, tailors, black-smiths and others. Tuition was minimal and it was hard to collect from the parents the few zlotes monthly because they simply didn't have it.

The standard of the shule was a very high one – to be accepted in the government high school you needed only an exam in the Polish language and if you passed it you were admitted.

The warm atmosphere in school helped the children to overcome the home misery. The teachers implanted in them a belief in themselves to become better people. The teachers were idealists whose goal was to bring up a proud generation of human beings.

The teacher's salary was a meager one. The school budget consisted from donations from the richer people in the town, donations from American landsleit in the States, the few tuition zlotys and all kind of enterprises, parties, shows and other collections from the town-people.

The building was government owned. After a few years the Polish took it away to annex it to their public school. All the Jewish elders intervened, took them to court but to no avail.

With great effort by the Jewish community and beggings from outside help a new building was erected. All the people of this impoverished little Shtetl opened their hearts and pockets and achieved their goal – the Yiddishe shule was opened again.

 

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The one and most influential one to make this dream come true was Chene Tykocki. He was a builder by trade. The Yiddishe shule was his favorite – his baby. He had a heart of gold. In nature like a dynamo he couldn't rest, he worked endlessly until the building was finished.

All the meetings of the organizations, the teachers, were held in the home of the Tykocki's. If the teacher salaries on the end of the month were unpaid, Tykocki gave them his own checks – he collected it penny by penny after a period of time.

This was the way the Yiddishe shule was built and supported – by begging and a lot of money from the States.

The director (the principal) of the shule was Feichman. He was originally from Radom near Warsaw. He married Anne Leventhal who was a teacher in the Yiddishe shule. Moyshe Jungerman, about whom I wrote a special article. Shepsl Aizenberg was an art teacher, hand crafts and the sport director. The children loved him greatly for his warmth and humanity. The whole staff of teachers was a very dedicated group of educators who could be a dream of any institution of learning.

I hope that my few lines will be a memorial page after the teachers and children of our little shtetl Bielsk-Podlaski.


[Page 484]

Like Children to Their Mother

by Libe Utzyski

Translated by Libe Utzyski (Ferber) Elson

 

Like Children to Their Mother – Memories of the Jewish Elementary School

It is winter – it's very cold in school. A cold wind is blowing in the corridors. In the school rooms children are freezing with their teachers. Their noses red from cold.

Who can take responsibility for the children's welfare? But there is no money I the school budget for wood to keep the school warm. Mr. Tykocki was the one who provided for the payments for the teachers (more or less) but money to keep the school warm – there wasn't any. So, every winter we, the active members, made a drive for money to keep the school warm.

It was the time when I came back from learning in Brest Litovsk (in high school) and right away I organized the drive with other friends. We divided the town in sections and everyone went from door to door to collect money. It was rewarding to come in to school in the wintery days and find the children comfortable on their benches and taking in their knowledge and being grateful to use for the warmth we provided to them – this was the best lesson for us.

 

The Amateur Group in Bielsk

I think there isn't one Bielsker that doesn't remember the amateur group by the Yiddishe shule! The shule was always short on money. We were tired from beggin from the little Rodchilds and big Kabtzomin, so we decided to sell our talents! We'll give the people cultural pleasure with humor and they'll pay us money that will go for the support of the Yiddishe shule.

So, we played theater! We had our own actors, singers, comics, primadonas and it was rolling!! The townspeople loved us! They bought tickets and had a good time. Our leader was Mr. Duksin. He was a man that understood theater and taught us the right way to be on the stage – it was his hobby. He did it without pay.

When Mr. Duksin left with his family for the U.S. (Unfortunately he came back. He couldn't adjust himself to the American way of life and was killed by the Nazis together with his family.) we used to bring a “resysor” from Bialystok to direct us. But this was too expensive and it took away money from our shule. Se we decided to form our group and directed each other. We called ourselves “Full of Joy.” It brought in lots of joy to the people of Bielsk and money for the shule.

We ourselves made the program, decorated the stage, swept and cleaned the floors and sold the tickets.

 

Sport

The Yiddishe shule was a quiet revolution in Jewish life. It was an institution that cared not only for the cultural education of the child but also for its physical fitness. The child should grow healthy – in contrast of the cheder education that cared for the soul only. We wanted a good education and a healthy body.

Twice a week we exercised in the shule during the winter months – summertime always outdoors.

We hired a place in the outskirts of town and there we had our exercises and breathed in good fresh air from the surrounding fields.

Mr. Eisenberg was the instructor of the sport club. We were under the supervision of the town's doctor. He examined us from time to time and told us whether we were fit for the vigorous exercises.

The sport club had a soccer group and two volley ball groups. One for boy and one for girls. Our groups used to go for matches to the nearby towns, even Bialystok. We used to make all kinds of excursions to distant places. Summertime we made overnight walks to the nearby forests (with the permission of the Saresters). We used to make bonfires, sit around in a circle and sing all kinds of Jewish songs. We returned home at day break.

This club was active in the evenings. Members played chess, checkers and small billiards. We didn't allow card playing in clue. We had reading circles and many books were discussed.

With time we decided to make additional income for the shule. We made Saturday night dances for people out of the club and different entertainment – people came and paid admission.

Once a year our group used to visit many historical places in Poland. It wasn't a comfortable ride on a bus. We used to put benches or little chairs from the kindergarten in a plain truck and ride like this a whole night to reach our destination. We slept on the floor of the Jewish shules in Warsaw or other places. Every member had a knapsack with a small blanked and a few things to eat among them one pound of hard sugar. You must be wondering why sugar? One glass of tea without sugar was 15 groshen (pennies). One glass of tea with sugar was 25 groshen. We couldn't be so extravagant! We needed the money to visit Yiddish theater, the first time we saw an opera (it was Barber of Seville), we visited museums and the Royal Palaces and the beautiful gardens like Lariensky and Krashinsky's.

After such an active week with so much walking and very little food everyone lost a few pounds but full of inspiration and joy of accomplishments we returned home the same way we came.

I remember that on one of our excursions to Kusmir (Kazimierz) via Warsaw we took a boat on the Vistula to reach to reach our destination to Kazimierz. A big storm broke out and our boat was stuck on a sand dune. The captian and the crew couldn't release the boat the whole night and next day. We were very hungry and there wasn't any food on the boat so the captain advised us to take a little row boat and go to the other shore and buy some food. I was in the committee to go with the boat and buy whatever was available. We got four big loads of bread and six farmer cheeses. You can hardly imagine the joy and happiness of the hungry group – they ate it up in a few minutes.

We reached the Palace of the King Kazimierz, the Big One. It was beautiful. But the thing that interested us was the old Jewish synagogue. The synagogue was built by the King (in the 13th century) in honor of his beloved Esther, his Jewish mistress. She, Esther, embroidered the paroychet (curtains) for the Ark and we saw it under a glass it was kept. We noted also a wooden love-sit hanging on the wall. The sexton explained to us that this was a gift from Esther. On this little bench all the Jewish children were circumcised and the Tzadik was seated on it. When the love-sit was showing signs of deterioration they hung it up on the wall.

I was thinking to myself: Esther from the Megillah was saving Jews from Homen not to be destroyed and Esther was instrumental that Jewish children should be circumcised according to the Jewish law. She herself didn't add much to the Jewish people, but at least indentified herself with them.

All these thoughts brought me back to my Yiddishe shule which formed our thinking and helped us analyze things and happenings. The shule broadened our horizons even after our learning there. Like children to a mother we clung to her and she was like a mother to us.

 

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