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[Pages 36-44]

Sislevitch and its Teachers

by Elijah Ein

Translated by Joseph Rozenberg and William K. Rosenbloom

Aaron Isaac Ein and his wife - svi036.jpg [16 KB]
The Teacher, Aaron Isaac Ein and his Wife

Yedidya The Author, with a happy face and a very nice little trimmed beard, sneaked behind a young man who was sitting in front of the Post Office and grabbed a corner of the newspaper which the man was reading.

“Why are you grabbing the piece of paper,” did my step-brother Aaron Isaac Ein, the Russian Teacher call out with anger. “Tell me you want the paper! I will give it to you.”

“I don't want the paper,” explained Yedidya. “I only want the advertisement for the bottle of wine that is advertised there.”

Every Shabbos afternoon, a lot of people, especially the young and intelligent, used to walk over to the Post Office at the end of Amstibover Street in Sislevitch, and when walking about used to carry a newspaper or magazine which arrived that day.

In the first decade of this century (1900), all the parents of children demanded that their children also get a secular education (in addition to a religious education); especially for the girls, because they never attended chader (religious school).

Yedidya was not a teacher and not an educator. He was in a special class of his own, between educator and teacher, with the title “Author”.

He was greatly loved by his girl students and also by the Talmud Torah boys when he gave a class, one hour's time.

He used to entertain the children with jokes and anecdotes, which they used to enjoy very much.

The teaching was very easy and was mostly done by copying the answer with their own handwriting. After copying the answer for a few weeks, or maybe months, Yedidya used to give them another answer.

To a girl who was learning at his home where he had a class, he often used to tell her, “you, yourself, pick the answer.” She used to walk over to the box of answers and pick one out; any answer she wanted; a short one, a middle sized one, or a long answer.

Aaron Isaac. He was a tall (man) with a nice built front and starched white cuffs, a bib, a starched collar with cuff links and a black top hat. His pride was in his brown mustache and pointy beard.

It was known that the Czar for a while expected that the Russian Language and its culture should all spread among the Jewish People.

Later on, they (the Russians) decided that it is better that the Jews should be less educated. Aaron Isaac, together with a few Jewish boys went through the later 80's (1880's) to the last century with a diploma as “First Class Jewish Teacher,” a Jewish Private Teacher.

Until today (when this letter was written) if you meet somebody in America or Israel, a landsman from Sislevitch or a lady from Sislevitch, who learned Russian when she was young, if it's a him or a her, without exception, it was learned from Aaron Isaac.

In 1892, I was at his wedding to Zeesle Eisenstadt's in Volp. The father-in-law was a tall and well built man, a strong man. Once, a drunkard attacked him at the hardware stand (in the market). He took a horseshoe and bent it with his hand, and told the drunkard “you see now what I can make out of you.” He told the farmer to shut up.

Another time, it happened at the time of the pogrom.

Two attackers became too bold. Eisenstadt took his one hand, took one attacker by the collar, and in his other hand the 2nd one. He carried them both out and dropped them to the ground.

One class Aaron Isaac held at the home of the town's Rabbi, Reb Shnearzalman.

Once when he taught the older children he noticed that in the corner was sitting a little boy about 5 years old, and he was listening to us. So Aaron Isaac asked him “ What is more 2/3 or 3/3?” The little boy answered the right answer and proved that he knew as much as the older children had learned.

The little boy was Arka, the city rabbi's boy, the now famous scholar Reb Aaron Kotlar who is the head of Kletzker Yeshiva in New York.

The Rabbi's oldest child was Malka. They used to say that she knows how to write a good Hebrew. Just like Nachum Sokolov, and that she is a very nice and refined girl. She is now a medical doctor in Paris.

Aaron Isaac is now a very busy man with his classes, so much that he didn't have time to eat peacefully. On top of it, he was a very strict man. That is why there is no wonder that he had ulcers in his stomach. After 16 years of being a teacher he was forced to change his occupation---and became a cutter of horse hides in a leather factory.

And on top of it, he was a book-keeper. He was the head book-keeper and administrator in Sislevitch, at the Sislevitcher Dep't. of the Jewish Cooperative Bank. And we Jews used to call it “Dos Benkele” where hundreds of Jews used to get loans at very small interest.

A group of Teachers - svi039.jpg [28 KB]
A Group of Teachers

Once it happened in the Amstibover Street Bet Midrash, by the trenches, a dispute broke out because of aliyoy ( honors given for one to go to the Torah and give a blessing). Aaron Isaac went up to the podium and after the Cohayn and Levi, the first and second aliyot he told them to call the President of the Bet Midrash who sat on one side of the bench; after him they called up the 2nd person who sat on the 2nd place of the bench, and then the 3rd one. It didn't take long and they didn't fight over aliyot any more.

In the First World War, Sislevitch was occupied by different armies. When something bad happened, they used to run to Aaron Isaac. Once, they let him know that the Russian soldiers are looting Hershal Bozhik's store. Right away, he looked up the officer of the Army and stopped the looting.

The Germans drove out the Russians and made Aaron Isaac a peacemaker. The farmers used to say to the Jews, “You have it good with the Germans. You can talk to them”. The farmers used the Jews to protect themselves from the German soldiers.

A German officer would stop a Russian or Polish farmer and tell him something. When the farmer didn't understand him he became angry. He would beat him without mercy.

As a peacemaker, Aaron Isaac protected everybody as much as he could. A lot of people thought he was dumb to do that for no pay. He could have made a lot of money for translating.

When the Polish People came back to power they made the Mayor of the town a Dr. Bittner. He was embarrassed the way the Polish Army took advantage of their new found freedom.

Chofetz-Chaim, from Raadio, Blessed Be He, once told to a Polish Minister (government official) “I saw once how the Russians led a group of Polish People handcuffed in chains. I cried when I saw it; and why did they deserve that? Because I thought they were fighting for their freedom, but now, when I see what they are using their freedom for and what they are doing with their freedom, I doubt that their freedom will last long.”

The Minister told the translator that he did not need to translate into Polish; “that one heart feels another” (I understand what they say and feel).

When we used to hear loud sounds in town, we knew that the Polish Soldiers are looting and pulling beards (it was a common practice and way of humiliating Jews). So Aaron Isaac would run to Dr. Bittner for help.

For the short time, when the Bolsheviks were in Sislevitch, they cleaned out the town. The production and commerce stopped altogether. Everything was like dead. Everybody was enjoying their leaving town, more than any other occupiers.

Aaron Isaac's closest friend was Abraham the Pharmacist. Avramka Rothbart was some year in Krinik before he immigrated to Canada. In a short time, he made the license for Pharmacy. He was the first Jewish druggist in Toronto ( maybe all of Canada) with whom the immigrants from Europe could talk to.

Very early on, Aaron Isaac started his career as a teacher in Russian together with Hebraist Shlomo Belkin and had a chader (school) in the market for girls who wanted to learn both languages. Belkin was a very restless skinny Jew. He was studying at the Mirer Yashiva but he didn't want to become a Rabbi. He was the local correspondent and contributor at the Petersburg Daily, “Hamaylitz”. Almost all of the teachers were Zionists. The older ones were, of course, even before Herzl.

The first time I tried to read a number of the daily paper “Der Freind” I was embarrassed very much that, I, a little boy who could read already the Torah, had such a hard time reading a few lines in “jargon” (Yiddish).

Shlomo Belkin used to lend his own books to everybody with a desire to read. The first Hebrew book I read, I borrowed from him.

A son of his is now the famous Dr. Samuel Belkin, President of Yeshiva University of New York.

Shlomo Belkin was once in a cheder of a young teacher. He, the big Hebraist, admitted to himself, without shame, that he was jealous of the teacher; how he keeps order and discipline in his class.

The teachers name was Sukenik and he, later became the world famous Professor of Archeology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Sukenik looked shorter than he really was, because of his wide built body. He belonged to the S.S. (Territorialists, Jews who advocated the establishment of an autonomous state other than Palestine) but was not active in it. My brother David, the ex S.S. man gave two possible reasons for this; the first one, as a teacher he couldn't be an outspoken revolutionary, and second, he was really a sympathizer of Poalei Zion (Zionist Socialist Party, which didn't exist in Sislevitch).

One time in Sislevitch, possibly in 1907, news arrived that a pogrom is going on in Bialystok. Sukenik's parents and family lived in Bialystok, and he became hysterical. They knew in Sislevitch what was going on. All of the town's people got together around the house of Gershon Slutzky, the leather manufacturer and Zionist, where Sukenik was also present.

I think another Sislevitcher man needs to be mentioned here, even though he is not a local teacher. Rav Shimon Langbard is a writer and also head of the Volozheener Yeshiva in Jerusalem. His family were neighbors of ours for many years.

His father would comb down his beard with an open palm to the pointed end of his beard and say “if I want, I'm Arye” and then he would go over his beard with a half open palm to the two points of his beard and say , “now if I want, I am 'Rav Arye' .”

One of the first Hebrew teachers was Shlomo Rozpinsky.

He made a good living.

He was married to a Sislevitcher girl.

The progress in town drew lots of teachers from out of town. Very few teachers were from Sislevitch. When there was a slowdown in the leather industry, Rozpionsky moved to Krinik.

The outstanding teachers were the ones brought to town by the Zionists Aaron Isaac, Gershon Slutzky, Pyshe The Forest Commissioner, and others who brought teachers for their own children.

His name was Kulik. Right away in the beginning he introduced teaching Hebrew in the Hebrew Language. After 2-3 semesters with him, his students conversed a good Hebrew on the streets of town. One student, a girl, was composing Hebrew songs. One song she wrote was “El Hatsipor.” The famous author Abraham Reisen met her a few times in New York. Her name is Dobie Eden. She resides now in Tel Aviv.

The “old fashioned way” teachers were scared. They started to call the new way school, “dangerous chaders”. Thereafter, all the Hebrew Schools had the same good success. It was the wonderchild of Chaim Brisker, the manufacturer, and owner of underwear and other knitted goods.

Chaim Bagon traveled to Brest especially to tell Rav Chaim Brisker about the new method of teaching; that you can teach a child in months what took earlier years to teach the same thing. But all that didn't impress Rav Chaim, since he believed that the new way of learning is the way of heretics.

Sucharevsky. He was really loved by his students, as is his last name's meaning in Russian; in reality he was dry bones and skin.

Yoshe Tzivie's, a grain dealer, an enlightened man in Hebrew and Russian, used to spend a few hours a week teaching at the Talmud-Torah. He came straight from his basement in dusty clothes to school and gives as good a lecture as any educator can.

Half teacher, half tutor, he was a middle-aged man from the town of Porozove. He dressed sportily. He wore also rings on his fingers. He also let his thumbnail grow as the style of the time, which very few people followed. The rumor was that he was in the process of writing a book.

Lurie was a good teacher in the Russian Language. He was handsome, delicate and educated. He tried his best to get in at a University, but for Jewish sophomores it was very hard to accomplish. He was doomed for life to stay at a teacher's level.

At the end, he married, became a father and practiced teaching in Sislevitch.

Schneider, a young Russian, the son of a widow and very handsome. He made a decent living by giving Russian classes to Jewish children. He did purposely work with Jewish students as time demanded. He was also a revolutionary. He told me that the S.S.nik's are Chauvinists, and that he would be indoctrinated by the Bundists 1. But the Russian Socialists thought of the Bundists also as Chauvinists; because the Bundists program was just for national cultural autonomy.

By the way, the program of the Bund was voted down at their own conference. And when it was all over, the Bund Members still didn't realize what (had) happened.

I observed once how Velie Catzenelenboigen, the Zionist and red- headed lady Hebrew Teacher had a very hard time conversing in the Hebrew. All the time, she used the slogan “kemuvan” (which means self-evident), just like the bad Russian Teachers used often the expression “vobshtchay” which means “in general”. At the same time, students from the new school system could easily converse a fluent Hebrew.

To finish this off, I must mention the Zionist and public servant Velie's husband Yoshka, the tall Catzenelenboigen who was instrumental in getting rid of all hindrance to bringing in a secular education for the Talmud Torah.

Signed Elijah Ein (Canada)


1) Jewish Labor Bund was defined as the Socialist Labor Party influential in Poland and other East European Countries until WWII. They did not believe in the necessity of a Jewish State, but believed Jews should be accepted in any land and allowed to live as Jews through Socialist ideals in the land they chose. Return

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