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[Page 293]

Fifth Part:

Grayeve Writers and Scholars

 

Grayeve Jews in Erets Yisroel

By Kh. Antshkovski[1]

Translated by Yael Chaver, Ph.D

Edited by Tina Lunson

In eternal memory of my mother Reyzl, nee Yanushevski, who died young in Grayeve, 12 Oder[2] II [March 16] 1927; and the unknown [emphasis in the original] graves of my father Abraham, my sisters Rivke Gortshitski and Sheyne, and my brother Levi, of blessed memory.

Near a border, near a highway, the town is small and the “wide world” lies so close. Only two or three kilometers and you are in a foreign country. Enough walking through the Bogushe woods, or swimming in the Nierotsh River. A wide world is opening, enticing and calling… The Jew of Grayeve is worldlier, more enterprising than those of other towns. They traveled the world: smugglers, tar Jews, who used to travel throughout Germany; goose merchants, who would drive the geese from deep in Russia to Kenigsberg [Kaliningrad]; horse traders, and others.

In this small border town, new cultural and social trends resounded loudly. Grayeve was where escapees from Czarist prisons – revolutionaries – crossed the border illegally.

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Forbidden literature from abroad, written on cigarette paper, would pass through here. Thirty-odd kilometers from Grayeve, in Lik [Ełk], David Gordon's Hebrew weekly “Hamagid” [The Preacher] was published. The renowned grammarian and playwright Avrom Mordkhe Piurka lived and taught in Grayeve. He wrote and published the first Hebrew children's magazine, “Gan-Sha'ashuim;” and the first Hebrew magazine for young people, “Livnei Ha-Ne'urim.” He strongly influenced the young people of Grayeve in favor of the Khibat Tsion [commitment to Zion] movement. Next to packed, darkened houses of study [bote-medroshim] – darkened, to avoid being noticed by an evil eye! – stood preachers describing the longed-for land that is waiting to be redeemed. Grayeve sent a delegate to the First Zionist Congress:[3] Khayim-Yitzkhok Ravidovitsh, who went to Erets Yisroel after the First World War. There, he devoted himself, body and soul, to rebuilding the land. He became a member and builder of moshav Merhaviya. (One of his sons was a founder of the new settlement of Be'er Tuvia.)

By the early years of the twentieth century, Grayeve had a strong Zionist organization, mainly Poalei Tsion [Movement of Marxist Zionist Jewish workers]. The first Grayever who went to Erets Yisroel not to lament the ruins, but to start a new life was Yehuda-Asher Antshkovski's son, Yisroel-Kalmen. Driven by the dream of redemption, he left his wife soon after their wedding and went away. He worked as a field-worker and a carpenter. For a while he taught crafts at the Herzliya High School, and was a founder and writer for the first Hebrew trade magazine, “Hanagar” [the carpenter]. He was one of the founders of Kfar-Saba, where he lives and works to this day. This was the period when Bleiberg's daughters also left, and settled in Rehovot, as well as the son of Karmi, the Melamed [elementary school teacher], who is now a renowned scholar in the fields of zoology, botany and biology; and teacher, author, founder and leader of the “Independent Biology Laboratories.” Teperovitsh, a construction entrepreneur. Menashe Furman, who later became one of the active developers of Kupat Cholim [health care organization established by the general labor union] and organized its pharmacies, was himself a well-known pharmacist. A few more Grayever families left, but the numbers were small.

The First World War upset and ruined the economic conditions of the Jews of Grayeve. The large hinterland of Russia was now gone. The borders were closed. Young people managed to get out by various routes and went to Erets Yisroel.

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Yosef Karnetsky (the son of the mashgiakh [one who supervises the kashrut status of a kosher establishment]), known today as Yosef Karni, went through Lithuania. He held a senior position in the “Va'ad Leumi” [national council], the leadership body of the Jewish community in Palestine.

Leyb [Leo] Goldshteyn [who later Hebraized his name to Ari Ibn-Zahav] went through Germany. As its first secretary, he helped organize the first Hebrew University in the world. He became renowned as an author in various areas. One of his numerous literary works was an artistic, loving reflection of pre-war life in Grayeve. The Grayeve colony in Erets Yisroel slowly grew larger.

In the new Polish state established after the war, the Zionist organization in Grayeve developed, encouraged by the Balfour declaration.[4] The youth organizations “Hechalutzand “Hashomer Hatzair” came into being, as parts of the Jewish national youth movement in Poland and elsewhere. Later, the youth organization “Frayhayt” [freedom] was organized by the right wing of the Poalei Tsion party. All this influenced the life-direction of Grayeve's young people. “Hechalutz” sent its members to agricultural training camps (at Abiedzynski's, in the village of Popowo) to prepare themselves for life in Erets Yisroel. Aliyah [immigration to Erets Yisroel] from Grayeve increased.

With the so-called Fourth Aliyah wave (1925-1927) [usually dated 1924-1928], when information started arriving about the reviving Erets Yisroel and the developing city of Tel-Aviv, entire families starting going there from Grayeve. For instance, Radom, Abramsky, Bukovsky, Yehuda-Asher Antshkovski and his son-in-law, Yitzchok-Moyshe Brustin, who became famous in Petach-Tikva as the “Grayever Rabbi,” and many others. They were all distinguished by their enthusiasm, entrepreneurial spirit, and devotion, contributing to rebuilding the Jewish homeland.

Radom built an ice factory. Raphael Abramsky was a large-scale contractor; he built houses, summer camps, airfields etc.

It is worth mentioning the following early pioneers from Grayeve: Aryeh (Leybshtok) Elkon, who was a co-founder of Ein Harod [Kibbutz in Jezreel Valley]. He fell as a heroic freedom fighter on the fields of Huesca [Spain], during the Spanish Civil War in 1937.

Families sent their children to the Erets Yisroel, to prepare the ground for the rest of the family. In the late 1920s, the economic conditions of Polish Jews, especially in a small town such as Grayeve, became worse.

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Polish craftsmen and shopkeepers were sent to Grayeve to push out the Jews. They were quietly helped by the authorities, who gave them loans and bonuses, and set high taxes on the Jews, and the like. The small Jewish stores at the Grayeve market were soon vacant. Young people sought a way out of their hopeless, small-town lives.

The Zionist organizations of all stripes intensified and widened their activities. Pioneering activity increased. Young people from Grayeve went to the training camps to prepare themselves for the great task of rebuilding Erets Yisroel. But the gates of the longed-for land were locked. Beginning in 1932-1933 and especially in 1934-1936, mass immigration of Grayeve youth began. Hope for a new life was great. The will to realize the dream of generations was strong. The old homeland called, and the young people of Grayeve, just like the young people of all Polish cities and towns, strove to get to Erets Yisroel. They went by any possible and impossible ways, with and without immigration certificates [issued by the British Mandate authorities], legally and illegally, as students or tourists, and the like. Young people and entire families from Grayeve scattered throughout Erets Yisroel.

You can meet them at the plows in the fields of the Valley of Jezreel and in Galilee, on the construction scaffolds in Tel-Aviv or Haifa. They are in villages and cities, among the founders of new settlements and kibbutzim in the Negev or Galilee and in the first rows, front lines of the fighting forces of the Haganah.

There is quite a large Grayeve “colony” in Haifa. They meet with other Grayevers during the holidays. They are joined by Grayevers from other towns and kibbutzim at the home of Elimelech Pomerantz, the famous Zionist activist and teacher, a founder of the “Tarbut” [secular Hebrew Zionist] school. They have a holiday feast and reminisce about the town of Grayeve and its life.

Each Grayever in Israel contributed, according to his means and abilities, to the rebuilding of the land. Great businessmen (Elkan, Reichelson, Levine and others), agricultural workers, teachers, founders and builders of kibbutzim, literary people, scientists, doctors (Pinsky, Baravitsh and others), engineers (Furman, Eisenstadt and others) and so on. Grayevers are found in the top tier of cultural and social life. Suffice it to mention Dr. Emmanuel Olshvanger, author, folklore researcher, a delegate to the pan-Asiatic congress, translator of Dante (for which he was awarded the Tshernichovski literary prize);

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Dr. Zvi Voyslavski, a well-known cultural historian, author, translator of Freud and Marx's “Das Kapital” – an outstanding cultural achievement, for which he received the Tshernichovski prize; Eliahu-Moshe Genakhovski, secretary-general of the world “Mizrachi” [religious Zionists] organization; the above-mentioned Ibn-Zahav; Yitchak (Gortshitski) Avishai, teacher and writer of textbooks, lecturer, translator of books on music; the young novelist Khayim (Antshkovski) Reshef and others.

Aboard the train that left Warsaw at 3 p.m. on October 31, 1939 – a few hours before the outbreak of the Second World War – on its way to Constanţa [Romanian port] were several young people from Grayeve who were on their way to Erets Yisroel. And later when the captain and sailors of the illegal [Aliyah Bet] ship “Tiger Hill” abandoned the ship in Beirut for fear of being arrested by the British authorities it was a young man from Grayeve who took the wheel and brought the ship safely to the beach at Tel-Aviv. The later train that departed for Constanţa at 12 midnight carried a larger group of people from Grayeve. Unfortunately, that train never arrived at its destination. The war had broken out and the train was forced to return to Warsaw.

The war and the Nazi beasts completely destroyed Jewish Grayeve, as they did to all of Europe's Jewish communities. The Polish army [“Anders Army”] that came from the U.S.S.R. to the Middle East, brought several Jews from Grayeve to Erets Yisroel.

At the end of the war, after the concentration camps were liberated, several young people from Grayeve arrived in Erets Yisroel by way of the Cyprus detention camps. They were a few burned embers who had undergone a long, bloody, thorny road and had been saved from the Nazi gas chambers by miracles. Carrying memories of the terrible years of suffering, with the image of the murdered Jewish Grayeve before their eyes, they started a new life. The Grayeve Jews in the country greeted them with open arms and open hearts, in the true Grayeve manner.

Let's hope that, while peacefully building Erets Yisroel, Grayevers from all over the world (and Grajevers are widely scattered…) will establish a proper monument, a cultural institution that will be a fitting memorial to Jewish Grayeve. This was a town that contributed a large number of cultural and social actors, relative to its actual size. The town is engraved in our hearts, and, regrettably, exists no more.

 

Footnotes
  1. Khayim Reshef Antshkovski: a graduate of the Hebrew “Tarbut” High School in Byalistok [Białystok], and later – of the Agronomy Faculty in a Czechoslovak university. He is a member of Kibbutz Kfar Menachem in Israel, and active in the “Hashomer Hatzair” [young guard] movement. He has published a number of short stories in the “Hashomer Hatzair” and [Al Hamishmar] “Mishmar” [on guard] journals, and is now preparing a collection of Hebrew short stories. – Ed Return
  2. Oder II: [Adar II, or Adar Bet]: thirteenth month of the Jewish calendar in a leap year. Return
  3. First Zionist Congress: organized by Theodor Herzl and held in Basel, Switzerland on 29 Aug 1897. Its main goal was to establish a home for the Jewish people in Erets Yisroel Return
  4. Balfour Declaration:  It is the foundational declaration establishing the right of the Jews to a homeland in Palestine and a huge landmark in Zionist history.  It was issued in conjunction with the granting of a mandate from the League of Nations to Britain as caretaker of Palestine for the next thirty years, with the stated goal of founding a Jewish State. Return


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The Three Grayevans in Jerusalem:
Dr. Emmanuel Olshvanger, Dr. Tsvi Voyslavski, Ari Ibn-Zahav

By Gershon Svet

Translated by Yael Chaver, Ph.D

Edited by Tina Lunson

The Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion; the former Interior Minister Yitzchak Grinboim; Tabenkin, the Mapam leader; and the playwright S. Tsemach all came from the same town: Plonsk, in Poland. But there is no American-style landsmanshaft[1] for Plonsk. If Ben-Gurion sometimes meets Tsemach, it's not because they are from the same town, but because it's Tsemach. I mention this neither as a compliment or a rebuke, but only as a fact.

Israel doesn't have any landsmanshaftn or organizations for people from Byalistok, Vilne [Vilnius] or Shklov [Szkłów]. Neither is there a landsmanshaft for Grayeve. But it so happened that three Grayevans settled in Jerusalem and all three are more or less renowned. When they meet in Jerusalem, it is not as Grayevans, but as Jerusalemites who are all in the same class: writers and public figures.

I want to tell you about these three Grayevans: Dr. Emmanuel Olshvanger, Dr. Tsvi Voyslavski, and Ari Ibn-Zahav.

I will start with the most senior of these Grayevans: Dr. Emmanuel Olshvanger, who is now over sixty.

Dr. Olshvanger is one of those people difficult to categorize: he is a writer, speaker, scholar, public figure, and more.

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He is simultaneously all of these, yet the descriptions do not provide a full characterization of the human phenomenon that is Emmanuel Olshvanger.

Dr. Olshvanger is known to the Yiddish literary world as the author of the folktale collections “Rozhinkes mit Mandlen” [Raisins and almonds] and Royte Pomerantsn [Red Oranges],” which were published and printed in Latin orthography and transcription and made a great impression in non-Jewish literary circles.

These two collections of Yiddish stories, anecdotes and jokes are an important folklore achievement. After the famous collection [of Yiddish folk songs, 1901] by Ginzburg and Marek, this is the most significant and serious work to date in this field (Our friend Stutchkoff's book [Thesaurus of the Yiddish Language, 1950], to be published by YIVO, is awaited with great interest. So far it has not yet been published.)

Emmanuel Olshvanger possessed all the good qualities that a folklorist needs. First, he was a polyglot, with unusual knowledge of languages. He spoke about ten languages, I believe: Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, English, French and Polish. He had a reading knowledge of Italian, Latin and Greek and was renowned in the world of Esperanto as one of the best masters of that language. At one of the Esperanto congresses, he was awarded first prize for his talk in Esperanto.

Dr. Olshvanger was a representative of Keren HaYesod [United Israel Appeal, founded in 1920] for about twenty years, if not more. He visited a number of countries and made contact with the “Bnei Moshe” community in India and with Jews in South Africa and Australia, to say nothing of Jews in all the countries of Europe. He lived in London for many years. Olshvanger attended nearly all the Zionist congresses of the last twenty-five years. With his remarkable sense of humor, Olshvanger was full of jokes, stories and anecdotes of congresses, committee meetings, Zionist delegates from other countries, etc.

This was typical of Olshvanger. He was naturally a skeptic, a man who knew that there were very few absolute truths in the world, and therefore victories should not be celebrated and defeats should not be a cause for dismay. He became a Zionist when young, but never fetishized Zionism.

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Obviously, Dr. Olshvanger was never a negator of the Diaspora. Mendele and Peretz were no less dear to him than Bialik and Tshernichovsky.

In recent years, Dr. Olshvanger travels for Keren HaYesod less often, and is more concerned with literary production. A few years ago he translated Dante's “Divine Comedy,” from Italian into Hebrew; he has also translated Shakespeare; and rumor has it that he is writing his memoirs. Olshvanger has lived a colorful life. He has visited many countries, has met many people. He is a master of storytelling. Whenever he sits at a café table in Jerusalem, he soon becomes surrounded by listeners.

If his memoirs are published, they will certainly make a broad-ranging, interesting book. And, naturally, Grayeve will also be memorialized there.

 

Dr. Tsvi Voyslavski

Tsvi Voyslavski is also almost sixty. He was part of the circle of the Odessa Yeshiva, headed by Rav Tza'ir [Rabbi Chaim Tchernowitz]. Among the alumni of this yeshiva were Dr. Yehezkel Kaufmann, Prof. Yehoshua Gutmann, Shlomo Gintsberg (now Ginossar, Israel's ambassador in Italy), and others. Voyslavski has lived in Erets Israel for almost sixteen years. He lives in Jerusalem and makes a living exclusively through literature. He is one of the most serious Hebrew journalists in Israel. His books Words of the Generation and Individuals in Public Space are philosophical-sociological meditations on the essence of democracy, on the conflict between the interests of the individual and of society.

Voyslavski is a very productive translator. He has done a Hebrew translation of the memoirs of Dr. Shemaryahu Levine (printed in Forverts [The Jewish Daily Forward newspaper] years ago), Das Kapital by Karl Marx, Theodore Mommsen's History of Rome, and Sigmund Freud's Psychopathology of Everyday Life. He writes critiques on literary and scientific matters. Voyslavski is often a member of prize juries.

He has a fine reputation in the country and is an acknowledged authority in his field. People trust him. The fact that he serves on prize juries almost every year is the best indication of that.

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Ari Ibn-Zahav

Ari Ibn-Zahav has recently spent a few years in the United States, where he had great success with his play “Shylock, the Jew of Venice” in Maurice Schwartz's theater. Ibn-Zahav is a very productive writer. His books include novels, poems, folklore, journalistic reports, plays, research work, etc.

Ibn-Zahav was linked with the Hebrew University for over twenty years. He was close to Dr. Y. L. Magnes, and collaborated with him to find the Hebrew University Press.

He returned to Jerusalem not long ago.

He is the youngest of the three Grayevans, but he is fifty-two. Ibn-Zahav is not done with his literary work. These are his best creative years.

 

Footnote
  1. Landsmanshaft: Societies created by Jewish immigrants from the same town or region to provide social, financial support and burial plot. Return

 


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Avrom Mordkhe Piurko

The Writer, Researcher and Teacher
Biographical Notes by one of his Pupils

By G. Gorin

Translated by Tina Lunson

Mr. Avrom Mordkhe Piurko of blessed memory was one of the most distinguished Jews in Grayeve. I will impart here a short biography of him, for which I am grateful to his son Itsik Piurko in Jerusalem.

M. Piurko was born in 1853, in Lomzhe [Łomża]. Up to the age of 13 he studied in khadorim [Jewish religious school], afterwards he studied very industriously by himself and acquired a deep knowledge of Tanakh [abbreviation for Torah, Neviim, Ksuvim; Law, Prophets, Writings, respectively], Talmud and other sources of the old Hebrew literature. While he was still a young man he was already known in Lomzhe as a master. After his marriage he settled in Grayeve, where he conducted many-branched pedagogical and literary work until the last years of his life. Piurko planted a great love for Hebrew and Jewish traditions in the hearts of the youth. Even while he was still alive he was able to see the fruits of his great work. Many of his pupils are Hebrew writers and well-known scholars in the Jewish world.

Avrom Mordkhe Piurko was also very active as a writer. He had a printing press on Rov's lane, and he did not use it to make a living, but dedicated it to the service of Hebrew literature. He wrote and published many books for children – school books and other works. In 1899 he began to publish a weekly journal for children (“Gan sheshuim” [1]). This was the first children's journal and was published regularly every week for two years. Many of the contributors to the journal, who were then young boys, later became famous Hebrew writers and poets.

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In 1907 he began to publish a monthly Hebrew journal for youth, “Livney hanorim,” but because of insufficient funds the journal was not published for more than six months.

In the late 1920s Avrom Mordkhe Piurko published a periodical journal for Talmud research in which many prominent rabbis and Talmud researchers participated. He complained to me many times about what he called the “spirit of competition” among the rabbis and the difficulties that he had in getting material for his periodical, but his extraordinary idealism and tact called up respect for him even among his scientific opponents in the area of Talmud research.

Avrom Mordkhe Piurko took part in various Hebrew newspapers of his generation with treatises on Hebrew and research on the Tanakh and Talmud. But his most important work and one which unfortunately was never published was his commentary on the Tanakh. After I had graduated from the Hebrew gimnazye [secondary schools] in Bialystok and was acquainted with the works of many Jewish and non-Jewish Bible scholars, I had the opportunity on one of my visits to Grayeve, to read his commentary on the Tanakh in manuscript form. I was many times in wonderment at how my respected teacher Piurko had written such brilliant remarks on the Tanakh without a library and without reference books. His commentary contained not only excellent linguistic treatments, but also historical explanations that in many passages were sharp-minded and brilliant.

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Avrom Mordkhe Piurko left behind five books in manuscript:

  1. Mafte'ach Le'sifrey Ha'Kodesh [An Index to the Holy Books] - a lengthy syntaxes;
  2. Derekh hakodesh [The Holy Way] - an interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, Torah, Prophets and Writings;
  3. Erech - Milim Ha'chadash [The New Word-Value] - research on the scholars of the Mishne and the Gemore;
  4. Botser Olelot [Unripe Harvester], remarks on the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds;
  5. Amirot Tehorot [Pure Sayings] - remarks and a talk on the weekly portions of the Torah.
I will never forget the patriarchal figure of Avrom Mordkhe Piurko, his sharp, clever eyes, his sedateness, nobility and fine character in general. His house was a house of culture. His children and wife had the atmosphere of their house made friendly and pleasant. It was a house where one could discuss Jewishness, Hebrew culture and general issues.

On my frequent visits to Grayeve, I would always visit my old teacher Piurko and it was a great honor for me to be considered among his friends and honorees.

 

Footnote
  1. The journal was printed in Lik [Ełk], Prussia, at the press and with the same lead type of the first Hebrew newspaper, Hamagid. Return

 


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Dear Friend Mr. Blum,

I have recently written to you a few times. I wrote to our honorable friend Mr. Katzparowski in a letter of[1] which I hope has reached him, and today I come to you [both] again due to the news in the city.

  1. Our rabbi has received the duty of rabbi in the city of Antwerp the capital of Belgium [sic] and he is leaving us perhaps before the Shavuot holiday, and therefore:

  2. A general election to the congregation committee is being held and there is a great effort in this regard by the Youths,[2] The Zionists,[3] The B'nei B'rith,[4] Poalei Yeshurun,[5] and even the Hasidim. They will win the election without a doubt because they are bold and energetic and they are campaigning, something that those in debt and the Mizrahi cannot do.

I have another request for you: I have heard that an active company has been established in America to publish Hebrew books and manuscripts, and I have precious manuscripts worthy of being published:

  1. Index of the Holy Books A great syntaxes, unprecedented in our literature.
  2. The Holy Way An exegesis of the Holy Books – Torah, Prophets, Hagiography, both simple and linguistic.
  3. The New Beit Midrash An investigation of the history of our sages, their methods and qualities (this book is now at the Mizrahi Union in Warsaw) which planned to publish a new periodical “Tachkemoni” of Jewish wisdom, and unfortunately has been delayed…

 

Part of a letter from Avraham Mordechai Piurka[6] to Hyman Blum

 

Footnotes
  1. Abbreviation, “ב - ב” [Bet-Bet] written by author. We have no obvious interpretation in the context of this sentence. Return
  2. Youths: The author is probably referring to the youth branch of a party of strictly Orthodox Jews called Tze'irei Agudat Yisrael. Return
  3. The Zionists: The author is likely referring to Tzionim Clali'im, a secular Zionist party mostly representing middle class business owners. This group had an economically conservative element and eventually became part of the current Likud party in Israel. Return
  4. The B'nei B'rith: [children of the covenant]. This organization, founded in 1843, has primarily focused on community service and welfare activities. Return
  5. Poalei Yeshurun: We found no historic reference to this group. Return
  6. Piurko, Avraham Mordechai (Łomża, 1853–Grajewo, Pol., 1933) intellectual, journalist, philanthropist and author, he wrote several books and founded the weekly Gan Sha'ashu'im (1899), the first Hebrew-language children's newspaper outside Palestine. He founded a modern language school, thereby making Grajewo a distinguished center of Hebrew learning. Additional contributions included published periodicals in Odessa, St. Petersburg and Warsaw. Return

 


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Memories of Avrom-Mordkhe Piurko

By Dr. Immanuel Olsvanger (Jerusalem)

Translated by Yael Chaver, PhD

Writing these memories down is limited by the fact that I do not have the necessary materials to make a proper assessment of Avrom-Mordkhe Piurko and his prolific activities.

Fifty years ago, Piurko's books were read in khadorim [Jewish religious schools] all over Eastern Europe. His book Nit'ei Na'amanim could be found in many Jewish homes.

Piurko's weekly Gan Sha'ashu'im [Playground, the first Hebrew children's magazine], which was printed in the Prussian town of Lik [Ełk], some distance from Grayeve, brought joy into the hearts of Jewish children in all towns and shtetlakh [small villages].

Several Hebrew playwrights and poets, who later became famous, started their literary work on the pages of this weekly.

In his last years, Piurko started to publish a monthly Bet Ha-Midrash He-Hadash, dedicated to Talmudic research, with a Yiddish humor supplement.

Avrom-Mordkhe Piurko

 

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A. M. Piurko – a tall, lean person – was the central figure in our town. Who was not his student? He had a natural sense of pedagogy and knew how to explain Hebrew grammar and various complicated forms, using simple words and clear logic.

I studied with him from my childhood until age twenty. I spent a few months in his kheyder, but mostly studied with him at his home or in my parents' home.

When I left for secondary school in Suvalk [Suwałki] I also continued studying with him every time I came home. Years later, I studied with him every time I came home from the university at Kenigsberg [Kaliningrad].

I've had many teachers in my life, among them world-renowned people, but no one had such a profound effect on me as my teacher Piurko.

In later years, when I would visit him, I liked to sit at his table. He would read out loud from his commentary on the Bible. Often, he would grab my ear – a habit of his – when he wanted to emphasize the importance of a topic.

The manuscript of his commentary on the entire Bible is now in his son's house in Jerusalem. God forbid, will this fruit of his life's work be lost? Some parts of this work would be endorsed by the greatest commentators, Jewish and non-Jewish.

All those who remember Piurko, who took their first steps in the temples of the Bible and Hebrew literature, have a sacred duty to Piurko to publish this colossal work!

 


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Prof. Shimen Rabidovitsh

By Dr. G. Gorin[1]

Translated by Yael Chaver, PhD

Professor Shimen Rabidovitsh[2] was born in Grayeve in 1897. He spent his childhood years in Grayeve, where he received a traditional Talmudic education, primarily from his father Rabbi Khaym-Itsik Rabidovitsh, and writer of the book “Merkhavey-Yitzhaki” (an interpretation of Rashi's commentary).

He studied at Rav Reines' yeshiva in Lida [Belarus] for several years before the First World War. During the war he was very active in Byalistok [Białystok] in the field of Hebrew education and in the “Tze'irei Tzion” [Zion Youth] movement.

In 1919 Rabidovitsh started his studies at the Berlin University, which awarded him a Ph.D. several years later.

As a young man, Rabidovitsh exhibited great capabilities in the literary field. In 1919-1920 he was editor of the Berlin newspaper “Undzer Frayheyt” [Our Freedom] for the “Ha-Po'el Ha-Tzair” [The Young Worker] and “Tze'irei Tzion” organizations. From 1919-1933 Rabidovitsh was active in many areas of Hebrew literature in Berlin: he

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founded “Ayanot” publishing house and was one of the publishers of “Ha-Tekufah and the manager of Stybel Publishing House.

During the Second World War Rabidovitsh published, in England, the monthly Hebrew journal “Yalkut and the “Metsuda yearbook (four volumes were published and the fifth is in preparation). These two periodicals were the only Hebrew publications to appear in Europe during the war years. He was also editor in London, of “Sefer Sokolov” (1944), which contained previously unpublished writings of the great Zionist leader, and writer, Nachum Sokolov, as well as critical appreciations of Sokolov.

In the near future, “Sefer Dubnov will appear, edited by Rabidovitsh. This book includes a thorough appraisal of the great Jewish historian's work, as well as a collection of his letters.

Rabidovitsh is currently also editing “Pinkas Chicago,” which will reflect the cultural life of the Jewish community of Chicago.

Rabidovitsh is responsible for articles, studies and books in Hebrew, Yiddish, English, and German (a book on Ludwig Feuerbach's philosophy, 1931).

In the field of medieval philosophy, Rabidovitsh scientifically analyzed and clarified in his own way the philosophical systems of Hebrew thinkers such as Sa'adia Gaon, Abarbanel, and especially Maimonides. He did not limit himself to theoretical studies alone, but also introduced practical deductions for the reader. His primary goal was to provide a modern approach to the bases of Jewish religion and philosophy. This new approach also emphasized the contribution of Jewish philosophy to general philosophy.

In 1947 Rabidovitsh published a new scientific edition of Maimonides' “Book of Knowledge,” based on manuscripts and first editions. Part Two, sources and interpretations of the “Book of Knowledge,” will appear soon.

Some of Rabidovitsh's most important work in the field of philosophy was the first edition of the works of Nakhman Krochmal (known as Ranak) in 1924. Rabidovitsh wrote a 225-page introduction in which he analyzed all aspects of Ranak.

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(philosophy, philology, etc.). This project, which Rabidovitsh published at age 27, elicited much respect in the Jewish scientific world, thanks to its original analysis and innovativeness. New research on Renak includes more and more of Rabidovitsh's approach to Nakhman Krochmal.

The same depth also characterized Rabidovitsh's works on Moyshe Mendelssohn (Judaica 1930) and modern Jewish thinkers such as A. D. Gordon and Ahad Ha'am [Asher Ginsberg]. His strong opposition to Ahad Ha'am system of “spiritual center” was a logical result of his attitude towards Diaspora and his important principle of cultural partnership between the Land of Israel and the Diaspora.

In 1931, Rabidovitsh, then the chairman of “Bet Am Ivri,” [The Hebrew Culture Center] founded in Berlin the “Brit Ivrit Olamit,” [The Hebrew World Union]. He gave his renowned speech “If not here – where?” at the founding session. The speech detailed the founding principles of a ramified Hebrew movement in the Diaspora. He formulated his vision of a “partnership” between the Land of Israel and the Diaspora: world Jewry has two forms – the Land of Israel and the Diaspora. Both are united in cultural creativity; one section can have no success without the other. Rabidovitsh sharply criticized the official Zionist negative attitude towards the Diaspora. He demanded a revision of the fundamental views held by Zionism, and strongly emphasized his positive stance towards Diaspora life.

At that time, Rabidovitsh was also making preparations for the creation of a central Hebrew cultural fund (“Keren Ha-tarbut”) and for the assembly of a first Hebrew congress. These plans were interrupted by the Hitlerite turmoil in Germany.

Rabidovitsh then moved his activity to England, where he stayed from 1933-1948. In London, he was the chairman of the cultural organization and a lecturer in Jewish philosophy at London University. He was later appointed as head of the Hebrew division at the University of Leeds, England.

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In 1948 Rabidovitsh was invited to be a professor of Jewish philosophy at the advanced school of Jewish studies of the “Jewish Studies Midrasha” in Chicago. He has been active there ever since, as professor and chairman of the post-graduate department.

*******

As is clear from this brief overview, Rabidovitsh's activity is many-faceted and nuanced. Thanks to his work he has gained a reputation as one of the most important contemporary scholars in the field of Hebrew literature.

Rabidovitsh expressed his views clearly and logically in the Hebrew periodicals “Ha'olam,” “Moznaim,” “Tarbiz” and in longer journalistic pieces in “Ha'tekufah,” “Sefer Bialik” and “Metsuda.”

In accordance with his positive attitude towards the Diaspora, Rabidovitsh is currently working in the United States. Let's hope that after his long wanderings he will succeed in building a center of Hebrew culture in the United States, to complete the construction of his philosophical-literary system and apply his great talents for the benefit of Hebrew culture.

 

Footnotes
  1. [Author, Dr. G. Gorin]: I express my gratitude to Rabbi Kabakov of the Hebrew Association, for his help in describing the literary production of Shimen Rabidovitsh. I also thank my friend Dr. Eliezer Marvik, head of the Yiddish section at the Library of Congress, Washington, for the biographical details he supplied. Return
  2. Professor Shimen Rabidovitsh: writer and scholar. In English sources, the name was Simon Rawidowicz; he was the father of the historian Dr. Benjamin Ravid, Professor Emeritus of Brandeis University. Return

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