During the Days of National Autonomy
With the help of Prof. Dov Levin, who is currently editing "The Register of [Jewish] Communities in Lithuania" at "Yad Vashem," we obtained records important for documentating the functioning of the Yurburg community. These documentary materials have been brought to Israel from Jewish historical archives in the United States.
Now, copies are available to us of the minutes of meetings the Yurburg Community Council held during its early days of activity. After reviewing these minutes we deemed it appropriate to publish summaries from them dealing with the elections to the Yurburg Community Council and with the functioning of the council.
Following are the deliberations of the Council members, their considerations and resolutions. The deliberations were conducted in Yiddish. We are quoting the essential items in Yiddish and the explanations in Hebrew.
8 lists of candidates were submitted to the Community Council, namely:
1. Non-party list: Jacob Beiliss; Chayim Chatzkelevitch; Joseph Rabinowitz; Aba Silber.
2. Orthodox: Rabbi Abraham Dimant; Mordechai Kammel; Abba Kaplan; Israel Pulovin; Reuben Hirsh; David Dimant.
3. Butchers: Dov-Ber Mer; Shimon-Nachman Kaplan; Ephraim Telzak; Leib Shtock. 4. Bikur Cholim Society [Society to Aid the Sick]: Nathan Revel; Jacob Tumis; David Werblowski; Zalman Neviazhski; Shlomo Shneider; Moshe Kretchmer.
5. "Mizrachi:" Yitzhak-David Alperovitz; Leib GUt; Benjamin Feinberg; Ber-Leib Shtock; Eliezer-Baruch Frank.
6. "Tzetirei Zion" [Young Zion]: Chanan Lintupski; Ida Friedland; Shmaryahu Bernstein; Shachnovitz.
7. "Chevra Bachurim" [Men's Group]: Yitzhak Beiman; Tuvia Berkover.
8. Workers: Leib Portnoy; Motl Gut; Daniel Kuchter; Abraham Rechtza; Joseph Levitan; Tzadok Joffe; Bunim Portnoy; Moshe Shmulovitz; Leizer Chosid (Jack Cossid's father) ; Yudl Frakt; Yerachmiel Shmulovitz.
From the minutes No. 1 of the Community Council we have learned that the first meeting was held at the Talmud-Torah [Religious School] building on July 16, 1924, at 9 p.m. 8 elected council members attended the meeting. 3 were absent Rabbi Dimant, Greenberg and Lintupski. Only one "item" was on the council's agenda - The structure of the Community Council, in other words, the council's organization-
1. Election of the Officers of the Council - Chairman, deputy chairman and general secretary.
2. Election of the chairman - the proposal is to elect Shimonov, who is not a member of the Community Council, but was elected by Jews to the Yurburg Municipal Council; Shimonov is known as a man active on behalf of the town's population.
Resolution: Alter-Mordechai Shimonov is elected unanimously to serve as chairman of the council. Election of the deputy chairman - the proposal is Alperovitz or Moth Gut. M. Gut (Workers) is elected deputy chairman by majority vote.
Election of the general secretary. The candidates are Pinchas Shachnovitz and Joseph Levitan. When a misunderstanding arose among council members - probably after a tie vote - no resolution was adopted. The council will again take up the election of the general secretary at the next meeting. The meeting was then adjourned. The minutes are signed by Shimonov, chairman of the council.
... Minutes No. 3
On the agenda - the elementary school. Chairman: Shimonov.
1.The members of the council discussed the claims of the elementary school's teachers that their salaries had not been paid in full last year
. Resolution: After discussion, it was resolved that in principle the council does not have to assume the debts of third parties, but from a moral point of view the council believes it has a duty to solve the problem, so that the teachers would not be treated unfairly. The council's arbitration committee will study the problem and will endeavor to satisfy the teachers, since the debt is not large.
2. Report on the instructional and educational activity of the school. Mr. Shlomovitz, member of the school board, was asked to give a review on the school's problems. This was done.
3. The language of instruction at the school. A sharp and lengthy debate ensued on this important subject. In the end, the following resolution was adopted, which we have copied verbatim from the minutes because of its importance. "The language of instruction shall be Yiddish. In addition, Hebrew shall be taught extensively, as well as religious studies. The teachers shall be impartial in the school."
The meaning of the resolution is that most subjects will be taught in the Yiddish language, but Hebrew and religious studies will also be taught extensively. The teachers in the school must be impartial.
It was resolved to elect a school committee which will deal with its problems. However, since time is short, it was decided that in the meantime the council's executive committee will deal with matters affecting the school and will confirm the hiring of teachers who will commit themselves to teach in the spirit of the Community Council's resolution.
With this the meeting was adjourned. The minutes are signed by Shimonov.
Actually, no resolution was passed on the language of instruction, either because there were no impartial teachers or because of the desire of the majority of parents to provide the school's students with a Hebrew and Zionist education as a preparatory stage for admission to the Herzl Hebrew High School in Yurburg. The elementary school indeed did join the network of "Tarbut" schools in Lithuania, which teach the subjects in Hebrew in a nationalist and Zionist spirit.
An additional document we received contained a notice sent to the council members of August 17, 1924, calling the councilmen to a meeting which was held in the Talmud Torah building at 8 p.m.
1. Election of the general secretary
2. The elections to the Municipal Council
3. Election of the education committee
4. Election of the budget committee
5. Registry (of births, marriages, divorces, deaths,etc.)
6. Current matters
All members of the Community Council are requested to be punctual.
Following is a list of members of community council, from which we get an idea of the names of its elected members
With courteous greetings - M. Shimonov, Chairman
1. Rabbi Dimant
2. Mordechai Kammel
3. Dov-Ber Mer
4. Yitzhak-David Alperovitz
5. Chanoch Lintupski
6. Leib Portnoy
7. Mordechai (Motl) Gut
8. Daniel Kochman
9. Abraham Rechtz
10. Tzadock Joffe
11. Zusman Levitan
12. Pinchas Shachnovitz
13. J. Greenberg
We are missing the minutes of the third meeting of the community council, just as the minutes of the following meetings are also regrettably missing. Still, we believe that even what little material has reached us allowed us to get an idea of the events involving the community in Yurburg and its problems during the period of Jewish-national autonomy in the state of Lithuania.
Jewish autonomy in Lithuania and the activities of National Council were terminated at the end of the 1920s, when the Tauteninkai Party, an extreme nationalist party, came to power, suspended the rights of the national minorities and obstructed their economic, cultural and social progress.
[Pages 309 -310]
A report on the activities of the Yurburg Community Council, from "Yiddishe Shtimme" [Jewish Voice], Kovno, No. 1559 of November 11, 1924.
Our Community Council, finally established after a lot of pain, consists of 5 workers, 3 Zionist- businessmen, 2 orthodox, 2 Democrats, 1 Tzetirei-Zion, 1 Mizrachi, 1 butcher.
Since it was established, the Yurburg Community [Council] has held 5 meetings, all of which ended up in quarrels. Here, because of a seat on the executive committee, there, because of something else. But with the last 2 meetings the end has come to the "short term" Yurburg Community Council.
The entire actual work of the council consists in that it has taken control of the Yurburg elementary school (Talmud Torah), in order to support it, alongside the government subsidy, because 70% of the children attend free of charge. Yet no budget has been set up. There is not even an office and the civil registry books and the official stamp are kept by the chairman. And it is because of the budget that the council has broken up.
The budget amounted to Lit 1900 a month. And the high school has also asked the community for a monthly subsidy. But since the high school is a private institution (?), the subsidy was deleted. Outside persons were invited to one of the meetings at which the tax and the allocation of funds were to be discussed. A large number of councilmen, who felt insulted that the allocation to the high school had been deleted and with aid of the outsiders, caused a commotion, saying that the total budget is too much of a burden on the town and every item in it should be deleted. They claimed that the elementary school should not get such a large amount, because in reality it is not an elementary school, but a "Talmud Torah" and a Talmud Torah could raise money from synagogue attendance. Moreover, there is no need to have a school doctor. And the same applies to money for the library and "Maccabi" [sports club]. Wouldn't the children of the well-to-do be ashamed to take money from the community?..
Money for the community council office? A 'melamed' [religious studies teacher] could be hired who would do the work for a song. Social assistance? There is a "Bikur Cholim Society" (where you can get a pinch of tobacco as a remedy...) and with these and similar clever inventions they attempted to tear the entire budget apart, except for pocket money. The workers faction therefore found it was necessary to leave the community council.
The following is a copy of "Hamelitz", dated 30.6.1889 which describes the Talmud-Torah in Yurburg (Kovna district), methods of learning, achievements and economic problems
Yurburg (Kovna D.) - The Talmud Torah school which has been operating in our town for a number of years, is steadily improving, and even more so since the honorable Rabbi Harav Hagadol Rabbi Yehezkel Lichshmitz decided to devote himself to improve the school; the boys are scoring success in their studies; many of them have become well versed in Bible studies and grammar in Russian too and in mathematics, and whenever the Rabbi tests his pupils, he is satisfied. Recently the Rabbi decided to renew a special department for studying Talmud, and his efforts bore fruit and ten boys will be taught Talmud by a Talmud teacher. Last Passover they passed the test and were able to answer all the Rabbi's questions correctly. When the Rabbi and the directors realized there was not enough income to finance the Talmud-Torah, they appealed to the people from our town who live in America, in New York, St.Louis and Rochester to support this noble cause; and the people from our town who are in New York immediately sent their contribution, one hundred Rubels. And though for the time being there are not many former Yurburg citizens who live there, the others who did not make a contribution yet, will undoubtedly also make a donation in the future and participate in this noble cause. We hereby express our deepest gratitude to all those benefactors who sent their contribution and their name will be engraved forever in the pages of "Hamelitz". The following is the list of the generous benefactors, which we received from Rabbi Avraham Yosef Ramanisky who resides in New York:
Rabbi Yehuda Ben Yitzhak Mendel Vilensky 7.50 dollar; Mr. Elyahu Feinberg 5 dollar; Mr. Zalman son of Yoel Feinberg 5 dollar; Rabbi Yitzhak Mendel Vilensky 5 dollar, the Rasinsky brothers 5 dollar; Rabbi Shmuel Zelkind Feinberg 3 dollar; Rabbi Yerahmiel Vilensky 2.50 dollar; the Azriel Yazapar girls 1.50 dollar; the Gvaransky partners 2 dollar; Mr. Gaishenfeld 2 dollar; Mr. Elyahu Vilensky 1 dollar; Rabbi Rafael Markir 1 dollar; Rabbi Avraham Levinson 1 dollar; Rabbi Avraham son of Shlomo Mordehai Levin 1 dollar; Rabbi Yitzhak Leib Mazor 1 dollar; Rabbi Haim Ben Hirsch Bokovsky 1 dollar; Ben Elhanan Schilisker 50 cents; in total 45 dollars; and the generous brothers Messrs. Shmuel and Eliezer and Aharon the sons of Yacov Kastel sent 15 Rubles.
May they be blessed. And may the name of the directors and supervisors also be fondly remembered from the time the house was founded till today, Mr. Laan Walak, Mr. Matityahu Hirsch Kostin and Mr. Laan Banar, who implement their tasks faithfully and carry out the sacred work with devotion.
We would appreciate it if the American publishers would reprint this article in their publication and bestow honor and esteem on those who deserve it.
In 1918 Lithuania became independent and the Jews gained nationalistic-cultural autonomy. The Jews were allowed to set up their own schools, in Hebrew or Yiddish, at their discretion. The study program was general and studying the Lithuanian language, its literature and history were compulsory. Bible classes (Old Testament) were included in the study program. The teachers' salary was paid by the Government. The elementary school in Yurburg was a nationalist-Zionist school in spirit, and therefore it was ideologically close to the "Tarbut" schools in Lithuania.
The school's first principal was Israel Bakin, an upright man and gifted teacher. The other teachers were graduates of Hebrew-pedagogic courses, among them we would like to recall Israel Dimantman, Gurschein, Hillel Zaks, Chahnovsky, Haim Siger and Rabbi Leibzig Gut, who taught bible classes and Jewish concepts. The school was housed in a handsome, large building, donated by Yehuda Rabinowitz, an important businessman from Yurburg. The classrooms were full of light, there was a beautiful hall which was also used for weddings.
Unfortunately the school yard and its building were the place where the Jews of Yurburg were gathered in the war and sent to their death in the forests surrounding the town.
When I received the invitation of the founders of the Society of Yurburg to attend a meeting of former residents and graduates of the Hebrew Gymnasium, in honor of the jubilee of the organization's foundation, my heart missed a beat. Memories and events of those distant days, of childhood and adolescence, the best times of one's life, which leave their mark on an entire lifetime, came to mind.
When I was asked to say a few words at the meeting, recall a few memories pertaining to the period of the Gymnasium and the days of its foundation, I was reluctant at first, when I looked at the people participating in the meeting, by far outnumbering those at previous such meetings, for I am not very good at "making a speech", and in general, should we let our nostalgia flow freely along the stream of beautiful memories, yearning and cherishing them, without any restraint. However, I was led by a certain inner need to share the memories of those days, to give in to my feelings - and see here - I have the courage and the words are coming.
This meeting of ours has an additional and different dimension than those similar experiences of people at meetings such as these, where common memories are being recalled and cherished, when in everyone's life there are those moments of "once upon a time" . . . for in our case there is the heavy burden of the tragic events of the Holocaust which was part of each of us. While we are meeting here, other members of our families, beloved ones - parents, brothers and sisters - who were murdered and destroyed by the terrible Nazis and the Lithuanian beasts -may they rot in hell - cry out in anguish and fury. It is hard to come to terms with the cruel reality, for our town Yurburg is the Jewish Yurburg, full of Jewish life, initiative and resourcefulness, which set up social, cultural and economic projects, in spite of the hostile environment. This Jewish community was entirely wiped out by human Satans and nothing is left of it, except for us - we who continue, in our country, to weave the thread of Jewish tradition and pride.
The poet writes:
All of us can identify with the words of this song. And the accompanying feelings?
We are the second generation, we left our parents' homes and were uprooted from the haven of our childhood and youth - we are happy that we settled and built a new life in Israel and have a new family. Nevertheless, we carry with us the memory of the town of our childhood, and we are sensitive to this and aware of it.
Among the memories of my childhood and my parents' home are the days when the Gymnasium was established in the town. I recall vague moments, from the days when I was a girl listening and absorbing the conversation of adults discussing the need to set up an educational institution for their children who were growing up. My late father, Yacov Shlomo Weinberg, agreed with Mr. Perlman and the late Mr. Rikler and others about the establishment of the Gynmnasium in our town. My father's frequent trips to Kovna, the capital, to the Ministry of Education in order to lobby for the establishment of the Gymnasium which was about to be established, the reports and consultations at our home on his return. I was too young to understand the details of what my late father and his friends were discussing.
I particularly remember my first day at the Gymnasium. We wore festive attire, my brother, the late Yehiel and I. Thus we went to the Gymnasium. Father held us by the hand, leading us along. I can see the imposing image of Mr. Efros (Efrat), the principal, who welcomed us while we followed father into his room. I still remember the entrance exam, when the principal gave us a test and our hearts beat and throbbed.
I will never forget the excitement we felt at that moment. And thus the years passed - childhood, adolescence, adulthood. Years of growing up and taking part in life. These were the days in which our minds were formed, days of the joy of youth, but there were also days of disappointment and sadness, as is usual in our world.
The Hebrew Gymnasium Building named Herzl in the "Tel Aviv Park"
The Herzl Gymnasium Teachers in Yurburg at the End of the 1920s
Who will enlighten educators and teachers? Learning the Hebrew language, the Old Testament and the relation to them.
I owe a lot to teacher Zentkowsky who, with his intimate knowledge of the Old Testament and his great love for Hebrew language and literature, stimulated and swept us along and guided us, even if he sometimes tended to exaggerate in his eloquence and made us, students, sneer - as teenagers are wont to do. And the singing lessons with teacher Mobshowitz, and the students' choir set up with great effort, which appeared at the school parties - even after all those years they bring a smile to the face. The gymnastics classes with teacher Gans, the former officer, who later on became famous at the Vilna Ghetto, and whose personality remains controversial till this very day. The history lessons with teacher Kosotzky - with his quiet nature and balanced approach he knew how to create an atmosphere of attention and interest in the subject.
A long list of teachers and educators without whose devotion (they did not earn much and their salary was not always paid on time and strikes were not yet known . . . .) and their view of education as being a mission, this important project which went on for so many years could not have existed.
Then there was the building and yard of the Gymnasium; I can see the large building and the garden in which it stood, called "Tel Aviv" in the name of the town Tel Aviv, which symbolized the building of Eretz Israel in those days.
I find it hard to understand now how these Jews - our parents - were able to set up and maintain this institution, which demanded a lot of money; the maintenance of a high school without government or local funding, in a town without a large Jewish population - in total 2500 people. There were no large industrial plants there, or rich landowners. We must admit that the personal financial effort of the parents must have been quite important, probably they often saved and economized at the expense of their own needs. This was the traditional Jewish devotion to give their sons an education. Another point must be made, with pride, even though it may sound haughty and chauvinist.
It may be said that Jewish Lithuania, between the two world wars, maintained a wide network of Hebrew educational institutions, which were unparalleled in the rest of the Diaspora. There were 14-15 high schools in the towns of Lithuania and pre-high schools as well. Towns and villages which had a far larger Jewish population than Yurburg were unable to keep high schools. However, the parents in Yurburg made a great effort and allowed their children to study at a Hebrew, national and Zionist school.
I have many memories of this concern and struggle for the material existence of the Gymnasium, the constant worry about the teachers' salary, housing expenses etc. Indeed, during all my study years, our home was the focus of all these concerns. The meetings of the Gymnasium's public council were usually held at our home. Many hours were spent in discussion and deliberation about the material existence and educational direction of the institution. I have many memories of these "heroic sounds" which I absorbed deep into my soul.
This educational project of the Hebrew Gymnasium with its professional aims and ideological atmosphere left its mark on the entire Jewish population in town, and particularly on the younger generation. The challenges and targets of the Hebrew Gymnasium were never restricted to obtaining educational aims only, but mainly focused on teaching the nationalist, cultural and traditional values.
Without the ideological and moral weight the students acquired at the Gymnasium, and the demand for personal fulfillment, the pioneer movements would not have been so important. We were educated according to the Hebrew book, the tradition of Jewish history and the love for Eretz Israel and denial of the Diaspora. Even if it was unconsciously and not on purpose- all this was absorbed and penetrated deep into our minds, as the saying goes "with our mother's milk" The ideology of the Zionist youth movement found the proper growing ground here, together with the pressures brought on by the distress of the Jewish environment. Moreover, these values, of Torah (Bible) and religious duties formed us, accompanied us in our fulfillment, Aliyah and settling down in Israel.
We may perhaps add, that the proof of these values which are deeply rooted in us, is our very presence and creation here in Israel, in the village and the city. In spite of all we went through till we arrived here, we still carry the memory of the past, of Yurburg our town, our cradle, it is nor forgotten, and will never be forgotten, as long as we live.
Student Identity Card of a Gymnasium Student - Tovia Most
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