The Hebrew Schools in Korets
by Meir Panas
Translated by Sara Mages
A. The school founded by the student Greenfeld
|The teacher Greenfeld|
I came to you, Korets, a ten year old boy, to study the Torah at the Hebrew School which was founded by the student Greenfeld. It was in 1911. The student Greenfeld was a character from the world of legends. As a Yeshiva student he came from Vinnytsya, and started to learn the tailoring profession from one of the city's tailors. He won the heart of his boss's daughter, and she married him.
After his marriage, he separated from his young wife for a number of years, wandered afar to a place of Torah, returned to Korets with his education, and in 1911 opened the first Hebrew School in our city.
It was a modest school, which was composed of a preparatory and three classes. Besides Greenfeld there were three other teachers with superior teaching ability.
This school was designated for the sons of the city's notables and the sons of the wealthy proprietors, who were imbued with the vision of Hebrew and national revival. The children of the poor studied in 'Talmud Torah and expert teachers also taught there.
During the Gentiles' holidays, when the school was closed, the teacher gathered his students, taught Hebrew songs about the love of nature and work, and also songs with social content. I'll not be far from the truth if I say, that the first seeds of the Hebrew pioneer labor movement in Korets were sown in this school. It was a modest nursery, from which the national youth movements of our city grew and branched out. In addition, Greenfeld read us chapters from Tel-Aviv by Herzl, and also from his letters.
The school's economic situation was always tight. The principle lived in poverty and often suffered from hunger. Because of this, conflicts broke out between him and the teachers, because he couldn't pay their salaries. Indeed, the school ceased to exist three to four years later. But Greenfeld, whose love for the Hebrew language knew no bounds, maintained one class
in horrible conditions, so the children of Korets won't forget the Hebrew language. I stood by his side and helped him to teach the Bible and the summary of the Hebrew literature to his few students.
This school had a great part in the founding of the labor movement in Korets, because most of his students were, in a much later period, among the founders of Tzeirei Zion party in our city. All the students, who remained alive, remember the principle Greenfeld, who sanctified his best years on the altar of the Hebrew language, with love and respect.
At the end of World War I, when Korets was still under the rule of the Bolsheviks, the party Tzeirei Zion founded Tarbut School.
Our city was fortunate that one of the graduates of Gymnasia Herzliya [Hebrew High School in Tel-Aviv], who served as an officer in the Turkish army and wandered to Russia, came to Korets. It was the teacher Yakov Levi, who later became famous as Dr. Yakov Levi, one of the most important teachers in Israel, and one of the editors of Hed HaChinuch [Educational Echoes, an educational journal].
Yakov Levi was like a chill of snow on harvest day. He brought with him a fresh breeze from the fields of the valley and the Galilee. He planted at school the living Hebrew, which was spoken in Israel, and brought with him the Hebrew terminology for natural subjects and general studies.
In order to assess accurately the work of Yakov Levi, we must remember, that at that time there were almost no Hebrew text books for these subjects in Russia.
The principle's room was kind of a club for the youth who intended to immigrate to Israel. We gathered there to practice the spoken living Hebrew. It was like a corridor leading to the Land of Israel. Yakov Levi, who was a talented scholar, illustrated before our eyes the way of life in the new Land of Israel. He took us to the core of the modern Hebrew literature.
The school was located at the home of my father, Emanuel Zitrin, (who died in Israel). The house was surrounded by a large handsome garden, and the students spent their time in the beautiful countryside.
We can't forget the important contribution that Yakov Levi's helpers contributed to the school's success. I must mention, with great respect, the Hebrew teachers Zetser and Rimerman, who gave their lives and their spirits to their students. Thanks to them, many immigrated to Israel, and were saved from the field of slaughter.
|Dr. Yakov-Meir Levi|
Yakov Levi, who was imbued with the ideals of Kinneret and Degania, was excited from the Bolshevik Revolution, because he truly believed that this revolution was the realization of the ideals of Degania, in global and human scale.
Therefore, when the Communist Party established its power in Korets, Yakov Levi was appointed as the deputy of the revolutionary regime in the city. The Bolsheviks valued Levi as a talented scholar, and handed the power to his hands.
Despite his rise to power, Yakov Levi continued to serve as the principle of Tarbut School. The Bolsheviks didn't close the school because of the great honor that they gave to its principal. It was a lonely Hebrew island, in a Bolshevik environment, which alienated the Jewish spirit and its culture.
Thanks to Yakov Levi, the Zionist clubs acted openly, and even the activities of the Halutz were done, more of less, normally.
However, this period didn't know stability and the regimes changed frequently. Few were the days of the Bolshevik rule in our city, and they were replaced by the Whites. Their first action was to execute the revolutionary regime. Yakov Levi was in great danger.
We hid him in Finkelstein's home, behind a pile of wood, and every day brought food and water to his hiding place. In 1918-19, he left Korets, at great risk, and the school children were left like sheep without a shepherd. This situation continued until the Poles' entrance to the city. Then, the Hebrew cultural institutions were resurrected, and with them, Tarbut School. However, at that time I was already in Israel, and surely, others will tell about it.
by Sara Rosenfeld (Bronstein)
Translated by Sara Mages
A. The school founded by the student Greenfeld
Korets! Your image surfaces from the depths of oblivion. I live your life again - life that was sgood, vibrant and full of activities. I saw you for the first time when I was nineteen years old. Since then, a lot of water flowed from the Jordan River to Lake Kinneret and your memory is still engraved in my memory and my heart. I envision you with all your glory, dream and reality mingle with each other and it's difficult to distinguish between truth and vision. But, I'll feel myself in you, I'll live my life in you again, time is forgotten, and age is forgotten. I'm walking in your streets again and see every street and every house, as if the many years of suffering and hardship didn't separate us.
The year is 1933. The car wanders on the road, quickly passes through Ukrainian villages, naked fields after the harvest, a flat, calm and quiet road. I traveled a lot on the roads of Poland, so why things are different this time? Why do I see and don't see the beautiful road in front of me? Why am I glancing quickly at everything? - I'm traveling
Sitting right to left: 1.Michael Pirkes 2.David Solomienik 3. Dr. Hanoch Barles 4. Meir Gilman
for the first time to my new workplace, to the city of Korets which lies on the border. I've heard a lot about you, Korets, but I don't know how you'll receive me, the inexperienced teacher, since you're known throughout the country as attributed, knowledgeable and demanding.
Korets is winking from afar. Here, the steeples are visible - I arrived to you.
A wide river divides the city into two parts. The road is high and the river is low. A wide bridge connects the two banks of the river. By the river, in the valley, is the building of the school. A narrow bridge connects the road to the building. It's a two-story building and on it is the sign - The Hebrew School "Tarbut." The top floor is occupied by the school and the landlady, who was called "Tutraka," lives downstairs.
I cross the narrow bridge, enter the hallway and from there to the "hall," meaning, to a specious room which was used as a playroom for the children on rainy days. From the hall doors open to the classrooms, one door for two classrooms. The children of one class need to pass, when they enter or leave, through the room of the second class. We have five classes in this building and two in a private home across the street.
We didn't have a playground. Next the building, on a slope, was a vacant lot, but it was difficult to reach it. It was necessary to go into the road and from there go down a narrow path. The children didn't like, and the teachers didn't allow them to walk on the road. For that reason they crowded in the "hall" which was too small to accommodate them. However, in the winter the children came equipped with sleds and slid downhill.
|Tarbut School class of 1929|
It was good and pleasant to slide. Many times I arrived early to slide with the students. Laughter and shouts of joy filled the air. Clear the way! We're sliding! Then, we climbed back, got on the bridge and from there to the building.
Small and meager was the building, but for some reason the crowdedness wasn't felt in our home. I don't remember shouts, reprimands or arguments. The door to the staff room was wide open and the students didn't push or burst into it. The students treated the teachers with respect and expressed their affection.
The school contained seven classrooms. A lot of light didn't penetrate through the windows but the light radiated from the faces of the students. I don't remember if a teacher ever raised his voice, shouted or punished. Everyone, teachers and students, invested a lot of energy and good will, and the work paid off. The Hebrew language was spoken by all the students. The students of the first grade entered school without knowing the language, without attending kindergarten, and wonder of wonders, they spoke fluent Hebrew after spending a few months at school. Our slogan was: "Speak Hebrew"! The students made efforts to speak Hebrew in the streets and at home, not only among themselves, but also with their parents who didn't understand them.
I remember an interesting case: one of the students fell and broke her leg and when she rolled in pain she screamed in Hebrew. She only spoke in Hebrew with the doctor who was summoned to see her.
Did the teachers have fixed working hours? We, of course, worked a fixed number of hours per week, but we didn't settle for that. We always returned to school after the noon break - one for a course, second for a conversation and a third for a rehearsal before the premiere.
The preparations for a party! How much energy, good will and understanding was invested by everyone. The teachers served as directors, choreographers and in time of need, also as choir conductors. A play, which created an atmosphere of elation, was presented in every national holiday. Our aspiration for our homeland was included in each performance. Each topic connected us to our homeland because we educated the students in this manner.
The school parties constituted a holiday for the whole city. All the residents, including those who spoke and studied in Polish, gathered at the municipality's big hall. The students climb on the stage, without any fear, and sang, in pure and polished Hebrew, about the heroism of the Maccabim, the achievements of Kern Kayemet Leisrael and the way of life in which they lived.
We didn't only settle with these activities, we knew that our educational activity is an introduction to something bigger and more serious. We wanted to bring the students closer to nature and accustom them to live together. On Lag BaOmer we left for the forest where we met the students of the Hebrew schools in Mezhirichi and Hoshcha. We set up a camp in the forest, started with scouts' games and ended with various sports games.
|The students and teachers of Tarbut School in Korets, 1933|
The Hebrew language echoes in the Polish forest. We sing Hebrew songs, the hearts get closer and close ties, between teachers and students, are formed. These ties lasted for many years, even after you left your workplace and also after the student left for far-off places.
Who created the cultural-social atmosphere within the walls of the school? Was it created by the students or by the faculty that was so cohesive and friendly? Here, before me, stands the unforgettable image of the principal. Beloved Solomienik, what were you for us - a friend, an excellent educator, or everything together? From the fog of the past I envision your kind eyes which expressed wisdom when they peered through the lenses of your glasses. We haven't heard a reprimand from your mouth. I spent three years in your company. I came to work sore and bitter, and you came to me like a compassionate father, smoothed my hair - and lo and behold: the sadness and anger passed as if they had never existed. We walked together a lot, we talked a lot, and my knowledge deepened after each walk. I grew stronger after each conversation because they were like hymns for me.
My life in Korets was not always happy. I also knew days of sadness, days without any interest in them, and you, my principal, knew how to console me. I found comfort in your calm house, in your company and the company of your wonderful wife.
You felt the pain of the institution and lived its life. Teachers came and teachers left, years have passed and gone. You sent your daughters to Israel and you stood on your guard to the last moments.
And the rest of the teachers? - The director, who represented the government, was Shari Shmuel Bronstein, a quiet and modest man, a good and dedicated friend; the teacher Roitblit who was quiet and humble; I especially remember the lovely teacher, Taza Bitenska, who walked like a broody hen among the students of the first grade as if she wanted to put them all under her wings and protect them from harm. You, who were all heart and good soul - what injustice did you do that you were sentenced to die so tragically. Villains hung you in public in front of a large crowd because you fought savages.
The school was awarded with an active committee that was composed of eminent personalities. The meetings were held at the home of Mr. Melamed. This house was the home for a committee of wise people. The home of the son-in-law of the local rabbi, may the memory of the righteous be of a blessing. I remember the first meeting in this house. They were all strangers to me, but the homeowners showered their guests with relaxing warmth. Each participant was probably far from pedagogical values, but greatly cared for the school's development and its needs. Melamed, who was a merchant, devoted his evenings for the search of funds.
|The Hebrew speaking club named "Bnei Yehudah" next to "Tarbut" school.
It was founded by the school principal Mr. David Solomienik
And here's Dr. Finkelstein, the "strange" dentist. He liked to walk at night, to knock on the shutters of friends and wake them up so they can hear the singing of the nightingale
And the last one - Mr. Yochet, who was a traveling salesman and reached far and remote places to find the parents of the teachers and give them live greetings from their children.
I left you, Korets, and didn't see you for many years. I saw you again at the outbreak of the war. I passed many kilometers when I fled east on foot. Broken and tired I walked through the main street without stopping, but, here and there, I heard voices behind me: Here's the teacher, here's Sara! Also your streets, Korets, have been emptied because of the great fear that also attacked you.
Years have passed, I worked in many towns but I don't know why I still have a corner in my heart for you, Korets, with all the good that you've granted to me.
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