The Hebrew High School in Virbalis (written by David Shadchanovitz).
Most of Kibart's Jewish youths received their high school education in the Hebrew High School in Virbalis, the others studied in the Government High School in Kibart.
In 1918, after the war and with the establishment of the Lithuanian Republic, a group of Jewish men from Virbalis (Leizer Kagansky, Motl Ilenberg, Aryeh Benyakonsky, Yanek and Aba Filipovsky, Asher Ulamperl and others) initiated the establishment of a Jewish High School in Virbalis, where the teaching language of all subjects would be Hebrew with Sephardic pronunciation, as in Eretz-Israel. There were people who did not like the idea of a Hebrew high school and tried to sabotage it, but the pioneers of Hebrew education overcame all obstacles.
In Iyar 5679 (1919) pupils were enrolled in the High School and the beginning of the school year on the second of Cheshvan 5680 (October 26, 1919) was announced. This was actually the second Jewish high school in Lithuania and in the Diaspora, in which the teaching language was Hebrew, the first being in Mariampol. 200 pupils were accepted at the school, which started with only three classes and two preparatory classes. There was also a fourth class, not full and unofficial.
The opening of the school was accompanied by many difficulties, social, pedagogical and financial, as it should be remembered that the communities of Kibart and Virbalis had only just began to recover from the disasters they had faced during the war. Most people had a hard life and found it difficult to make a living, and the staff of teachers, the pioneers of Hebrew education, had problems in sorting out the pupils. During the war one part of the Jewish population had scattered all over Russia due to the ruling Tzar's policy of exiling people, and the other part was under German rule. Most of the applicants for acceptance at the school had no knowledge of Hebrew and the level of their general education was somewhere between a Russian school, a "Cheder" and a German school. It was difficult to grade pupils, when youngsters of the same age had such different educational backgrounds.
The biggest problem was the complete lack of textbooks, even in Hebrew subjects. The pedagogical team had doubts about the character of the Hebrew High School, as to whether it should it be according to the "programme" of the Russian or of the German schools. After many discussions the teachers rejected all the elements of foreign high schools and a curriculum for the Hebrew High School was drawn up. In addition to the pedagogical problems, the Parents Committee had to solve problems of purchasing even minimal amounts of teaching aids, and above all, a suitable building.
All this required a considerable amount of money, and this item was not plentiful in Virbalis in those days. Despite the difficulties, the Jews of the town contributed each according to his ability and a destroyed building was purchased and rebuilt. Several maps were bought, also a microscope, but most of the aids for teaching subjects such as nature, geography and physics were prepared from wood, clay and paper by the pupils themselves. The first director of the school was a native of the small town of Vishtinetz (Vitytis), Dr. Ya'akov Rabinson (a known lawyer, adviser to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry before World War II, later the legal adviser of the Israeli delegation to the UN), who had graduated in Germany and returned to Lithuania in order to obtain this difficult and pioneering position.
Among the first teachers were Avraham Eliyahu Sandler, Mitkovsky, Masha Frenkel, Dudnik, Shilansky, Aharon Frank, Moshe Frank, Fridman, Reizel Rozenblum (the daughter of A.E.Sandler), Geisinovitz (later Aba Achimeir, the known Revisionist leader in Eretz-Israel), Sambursky, later on professor of mathematics in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Ash-Bartana, in due course a teacher of mathematics in the "Rechavia" high school in Jerusalem. Reuven Kaplan was the secretary of the school during all the years of its existence.
One of the tasks of the Hebrew High School education was to educate the youth in the spirit of Zionism and to prepare them for "Aliya" to Eretz-Israel. Accordingly the subject of Eretz-Israel, settlement, the landscapes of the land and its geography were given high priority by the teachers and were popular with the pupils. Before they knew where Mont Blanc was, they knew about Mount Tabor and the Carmel, and before they heard about the Rhine and the Danube, they knew about the Jordan and the Kishon. The study of the Bible familiarized them with the history of Eretz-Israel and the love of the land.
Slowly the school emerged from its initial period and became a routine educational and cultural factor. After several years the school was a full high school with eight classes and two preparatory classes, and the first class graduated in 1925.
During the next few years the numbers of pupils grew. They came from the adjacent towns of Vishtinetz (Vitytis), Neishtot (Naumiestis-Kudirka), Shaki (Sakiai) and others. By the end of the twenties and the beginning of the thirties, Kibart's pupils constituted the majority in the school, numbers being not the only important factor, but also the income from their tuition fees, which was the main part of the school's total revenue. (See Table 11).
Even the Purim and Hanukkah parties, arranged in order to increase the school's financial resources, took place in the hall of the "Palas" cinema in Kibart, because of the more comfortable situation of Kibart Jews.
Due to the growth of the school and the need for improved conditions, the situation of the old buildings having worsened, it was decided to replace them in a suitable modern building. The purchase or the erection of a new building entailed great expenses and of course most of the money was to be found in Kibart. The Kibart members of the Parents Committee wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to buy a suitable building in Kibart and transfer the school to their own town.
During the late 1920s the only means of transport between Kibart and Virbalis was by coach and a single bus which belonged to a corpulent German named Tit, who spoke juicy Yiddish like a Jew. The pupils from Kibart would go to Virbalis on the crowded bus, with the older children sitting down and the smaller ones from the preparatory and the first grade sitting on their knees. Despite the crowding the mood was happy and the children enjoyed the trip. During cold winter days Tit's bus was stored away most of the time, as a result of which transportation was by by horse-drawn sleds.
The strong desire of Kibart parents to move the high school to Kibart was therefore understandable. In fact it was decided to buy a two story building in Seinensky's yard, where later Alperovitz established a shirt factory, but because of the intense objection of people from Virbalis this decision was not carried out. Their arguments were both historic and economic: a) the high school had been established originally by the people of Virbalis, b) many of Virbalis' Jews had an additional income from accommodating and supplying meals to outside pupils. So it was decided to purchase Sudarsky's building in the main street opposite the public garden and to adapt it to its new purpose. Class rooms were renovated and for the first time rooms for nature studies and physics were available. Central heating , a novelty in those days, was also installed in the building.
In the middle 1920s Director Dr. Rabinson left the school and Michael Bramson was nominated in his place. He was a tall and slender man, a strict disciplinarian, and thought to be among the foremost teachers of the Lithuanian language. He lived in Kibart with his short and round wife who only spoke Russian. During these years most teachers changed, among them the Bible teacher Mr. Salant who was popular with the pupils. He emigrated to Eretz-Israel and taught for many years in Kibbutz Ein-Harod. Nature study was taught by Mr. Tzimbalist who also came to Eretz-Israel. The Lithuanian language teacher was Mr. Katz, and English was taught by B.Shulgaser who was also an amateur actor and very popular in society. His wife Mrs. Shohat-Shulgaser taught German, was a strict disciplinarian and appeared in class elegantly dressed and made up, which was unusual in those times. Mr. Kizel, a quiet and modest man very popular with his pupils, taught Hebrew and literature in the higher classes. Mr. Lifshitz was the drawing teacher, but because pupils held this subject in low esteem, he suffered quite a lot from them. The teacher of mathematics was Tabachovitz. and other teachers included Averbuch and Jerushalmi.
In 1934 the high school was closed by the government, and a pro-gymnasium was established instead, with Tabachovitz as director. A year later he was asked to take over the position of director of the Hebrew High School in Mariampol.
M.Bramson, the former director of the Virbalis High School moved to Kovno and established the Jewish-Lithuanian High School there.
The High School in Virbalis was closed because of lack of pupils in the higher classes and the great deficit in its budget. The pro-gymnasium was a private school and was administered by a specially established company "Haskala" whose chairman was Michael Shadchanovitz, who often covered its deficits with his own money. This school carried on until Lithuania became a Soviet Republic in the summer of 1940, when the Hebrew Education Net, the pride of Lithuanian Jewry, was abolished.
Social and cultural activity
In 1922 a branch of the "Tarbuth" organization, whose slogan was "The people, the Land and the Language of Israel" (Am Israel, Eretz-Israel and Sfath Israel), was established in Kibart'. The local branch applied to the Community Committee for an allocation of 3,000-4,000 Mark per month for performances of cultural activities " so that the Jewish Torah and its wisdom should not be forgotten." The application was signed by six members of the branch, but only three of them could be deciphered: Sh.Goldberg, L.Rosin (the authors Father), Ch.N.Telem. (see Table 12).
The intellectual youths in the town, who had arrived there during the war from the Vilna region, established a Society for the Arts. On their initiative musical concerts with singers, lectures on different subjects and amateur shows took place. In the 1930s a Jewish director named Rubin who had relatives in Kibart' escaped from Germany and arrived in Kibart.. He staged the show from the Jewish writer J.Gordin "God, Man and the Devil" in which all the actors were local amateurs, and it was tremendously successful.
The Jewish library received many books in Hebrew and Yiddish. Benjamin Vidomliansky was the librarian most of the time and held this position voluntarily.
There were also experiments in establishing a Jewish club and to open a reading room next to the library, but they failed. People blamed this on the Cafe-Restaurant "Der Russischer Hof" in Eydtkuhnen which played an important role in the history of Kibart's Jews. This Cafe was only several hundred meters from the border, had beautiful halls, a dance band always played, and from time to time performances took place there. Many Jews, mainly the so called "Golden Youth," would spend their time there. The anti Semites called this place the "Juden Hof." There was a tale about one of the waiters who once asked when the holiday was coming on which day the Jews are allowed to eat pork. He surely meant of Yom Kippur, when several of Kibart's Jews who did not pray in the synagogue, would go to eat in "Der Russischer Hof."
In the 1920s Kibart' Jews went to the cinema in Eydtkuhnen, but later two cinemas were opened in Kibart, the "Metropol" and "Palas", and there was no need to go Eydtkuhnen anymore. Once a big circus arrived in Stalupoenen, about twenty kilometers from the border, and many people went to the performances.
In those years a large synagogue made of red bricks with two floors was built opposite the market square, the second floor serving as the "Ezrat Nashim" (Women's Hall). In the middle of the main hall there was the "Bima," a podium built of wood with beautiful carvings, whilst on the east wall there was, as usual, the "Aron ha Kodesh" (The Holy Ark) also built of wood with many engravings. The upper part of the building's walls had high windows made of colored glass, and there were several more rooms serving different needs. Adjacent to the synagogue was another building in which the bathhouse, the "Mikve" and the library were housed.
Most of the Jews of Kibart were not very orthodox, but rather traditional. Except for the Rabbi and the "Shohet" nobody wore a "Kapota" (a long coat) or sported a beard and side locks (Peoth). There were no "Hasidim" and as usual with "Mithnagdim" religious life in town was sedate and tranquil, without the enthusiasm of the "Hasidim". On Saturdays and Holidays the synagogue was almost full with worshipers who had paid for their allotted places for the coming year in advance, before "Rosh HaShana." On "Rosh HaShana" and "Yom Kippur" many people, who would not be seen there throughout the year, did come to the synagogue .
There was another smaller synagogue at the other end of town named "Ohel Yitzhak," named after Yitzhak Shraga Chashman, its initiator and a member of its committee until his death. Meir Leibowitz (the authors uncle) was their "Ba'al Kore" (the reader of the "Torah" with the proper tune), who fulfilled this duty until his death in 1940.
Until the 1920s the Rabbi of Virbalis was also the Rabbi of Kibart. In the spring of 1925 the Community Committee decided to appoint a committee whose task it was to select a Rabbi for Kibart. This committee elected a sub-committee to negotiate with the Rabbi of Virbalis to give up his job in Kibart' and also to publish an announcement in the newspapers about a vacancy for a Rabbi in Kibart. The twelve persons in the committee were: Sh.Goldberg, Sh.Davisky, J.Frishman, M.Neihertzig, Ch.Telem, Sh.Frenkel, Zholtak, Sh.Rachmil, A.Katz, Y.Chashman, Sh.Maroz. (see Table 13).
There were tens of applications from Rabbis all over Lithuania, some of whom the committee interviewed, finally selecting Rabbi Baruch Nachum Ginzburg, one of the founders of the religious education network "Yavneh" and a member of its center.
In the thirties he moved to Janenve (Jonava). Rabbi M.Rabinovitz, a member of the religious Zionist party "Mizrachi," was elected in his place. He died in 1940 during Soviet rule in Lithuania. Neither of these Rabbis interfered too much in the community's affairs. Sheinzon was the cantor in the big synagogue, and the only Shohet in town.
Zionist and Public activities.
The Zionist Organization was already active in Kibart' during the first Zionist Congresses. After the Balfour Declaration its activities increased and the merchants of Kibart' contributed generously to the National Funds. For example, in a 1922 newspaper article it was reported, that an agent of "Keren haYesod" (the fund of the World Zionist Organization) named Dr. Vilensky had raised $6,000 in one evening from the merchants of Kibart. It was known in Lithuania, that if it was necessary to raise funds for Jewish needs, it would start in Kovno the capital, and then continue in Kibart.
The representative of " Keren haYesod" in Kibart' was Yehuda Leib Rosin (the author's father), the owner of a stationary shop. The representative of the fund in Lithuania was Eliezer Rosentzveig, who once a year would come to Kibart' where a meeting would be organized in his honor, where he would deliver a speech and collect donations for the fund. The actual collection of the money was carried out by Y.L.Rosin, who would transfer the money to the center in Kovno.
"The Keren Kayemeth" (Jewish National Fund) representative in Kibart' was Eliyahu Katz, the owner of a grocery shop. Most of the funds were raised by members of the Zionist youth organizations. On Rosh HaShana eve, Katz would put up notices in both synagogues consisting of white sheets of paper, on which appeared the donors' names with the total sum every donor had given, the amounts of each appeal, and the general total amount of all contributors for the previous year, the letters and the numbers being written by hand in marvelous handwriting. The total sum each donor had contributed was written in red ink and this was, of course, a fact which led to competition among the wealthy of the town, as to who would appear first in the list.
When in the beginning of the 1920s the "Bank haPoalim" was established in Eretz-Israel, many Kibart' Jews bought founders' shares in the bank.
A branch of the "WIZO" organization was active in Kibart, its chairwoman being Chaya Rosin, Y.L. Rosin's spouse and the Mother of the author of this book, but amongst those active in this branch Mrs. D.Shtern should also be mentioned. The branch arranged such activities as lectures, parties etc., and notices about these activities were displayed in the pharmacy window of Tilzer-Gershater. The biggest and most impressive event of the branch was the "Bazaar" which took place in the middle of the thirties after a festive opening in the hall of the "Palas" cinema. Among other items sold during this "Bazaar" was silver jewelry brought specially from the "Bezalel" art school in Jerusalem.
First line from right: Z.Kovensky, A.Levit, ---, L.Vezhbelovsky, Feldshtein, Akabas, ---
Second line: A.Zarko, Rezvin, sisters Meyer, sisters Bronshtein, Y.Filipovsky, L.Arnshtam
Third line: Berezin, B.Shatenshtein, Y.Kovensky, D.Helershtein, Muzikant
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