Translated by Jerrold Landau
New winds began to blow through the town before the First World War. The cheder partially gave way to the modern cheder, and the latter -- to formal schools.
Gorodskowaya-Ucziliszyca (The Civic School)
The first of them was the civic school, Gorodskowaya-Ucziliszyca that was originally designated for the gentile children, although many Jewish children attended. A student did not gain a great deal of knowledge from this school, for its course of study consisted merely of two classes of high school. It had great value, however, for the Ruzhany youth found in it a source for general knowledge. Thanks to it, a group of intellectual youth arose according to the concepts of the times.
Second to it was the Kinderheim elementary school, which opened during the German occupation during the time of the First World War. Its teachers were Moszkowski, Rizkin, and others. The language of teaching was double: Yiddish and German. The value of this school was great, for aside from knowledge the children also received lunch, which they were very much in need of at that time. This was a great form of support for the hungry, like bread and Torah in one place.
During the early days of the era of transfer of government from the German occupation to Polish rule, a school name Progymnaszja was founded in Ruzhany. Its first teachers were the Beizer brothers and the Berman brothers. This school existed for only one year. It was then closed by the Polish government due to its using of the Russian Language for its language of teaching.
The era of the penetration of the Polish Language to the residents began in those days. The authorities opened the Powszechna Polish school. Jewish children did register for this school, but their numbers were small despite the good conditions of this school, including a good building, free tuition, etc.
The Yiddish School
The Yiddish circles established the Yiddish Weltliche School during those days. The language of education was Yiddish. Hebrew was only taught as a language. It is important to note that this Yiddish school was not anti-Zionist despite the fact that the majority of the board members were Bundists. This was due to the fact that one of the enthusiastic supporters of this school was a member of Poale Zion, who had great influence. Thanks to him, this school did not embark on an anti-Zionist track. This educational institution was founded in the year 1920. It was headed by a dedicated leadership committee, which obtained
the large sum of money needed to maintain it. It was led by Yaakov Kaplan during its first years of existence. He was considered to be one of the good teachers. His students remember very well his literature classes, when he would read a section from the writings of Sholom Aleichem or another writer and would literally bring him to life with his words. Since he was an actor by nature, he would imbue the classroom with the atmosphere appropriate for the section that he was reading.
The School of the Rabinowich Family
The Rabinowich family obtained special rights for establishing a progressive Hebrew School. They established a four-grade Hebrew school for beginners, and conducted it according to the modern teaching approach, including illustration and song. The teacher Bila, who was the wife and assistant of her husband, the educator Eliezer, excelled not only in her dedication to her role as an educator but also in her pleasant voice. The sounds of Torah and song burst forth together from the windows of this school.
The Tarbut Hebrew School
The Hebrew Tarbut School, founded in 1922, earned an honorable place in the town. This school was a source of Zionist influence in Ruzhany. The students were mainly children of the wealthy and well to-do, and therefore it had a stronger foundation than the other local schools. One of these young people who attended this school will tell about it.
The crowning achievement of educational creativity in the town was the Tarbut Hebrew School that was founded in Ruzhany during the 1922-1923 school year. Many of the students from the Yiddish public school, from the Talmud Torah and the cheders transferred to this Hebrew school immediately after its founding. Parents and children faithful to the Zionist idea, preparing for the time of aliya and complete actualization, gathered around this school. Those residents of the town with Zionist sensitivities found Hebrew and Zionist education to be a source of comfort in the present and hope for the future. The parents of the children, upon whom fate had determined that they would live in the Diaspora under an inimical and oppressive government and withstand a difficult struggle for existence, hoped that their children would succeed in going abroad to freedom and building their lives in the Land of Israel. Of course, these parents hoped that if luck would favor them, they would join their children in the future and become rooted in the Land with their assistance. These parents maintained their faith in this educational institution throughout all the years and struggled for its existence during the years of economic depression. The school continued to exist until the outbreak of the Second World War.
The School Trustees
The following people were among the founders and primary supporters of the school: Michel Egolnik, Yaakov Pitkovsky, Anshel Krolinski, Shlomo Jezernitzky, Berl Chwojnik, Shmerkovitz, Shmuel Mogilensky, Dr. Yatom and others. The first principal of this institution was David Nir, who was sent by the Tarbut headquarters in Warsaw.
The following teachers are also among the faithful and dedicated supporters of the school: Rabinowich, Bloch, Komarovsky, and Sheina Mirl Skolnik -- a gifted teacher who was incidentally a native of our town. Due to their dedication to the school, these teachers refused to leave it. Even though their salary might be late in coming, they maintained their guard in the continued existence of this national institution that was dear to them.
Bottom row, sitting from right to left: Yaakov Berkowich, Chaim Epshteyn, Shimon Turn, Zeidel Lerman, Zeev Rushkin, secretary of the school, Zeev Brezticki, David-Noach Sokolovsky, Rivka Bashin, Moshe Wishnivsky, Akiva Pitkovsky.
Next row up, sitting: Nechama Bashin, Asher Kolishevsky, Lekibel Rizkin, Leibel Skolnik, Avraham Itzkowich, Chinka Grabolsky, Nachum Alperstein, the principal David Noyer, Roza Egolnik, Malka Segal, the teacher Sheina-Mirel Skolnik, Sonia Levenbok, Yosef Egolnik, Meir Sokolovsky, Dvora Shekel-Ravich, Merke Ozernicki.
Next row up, sitting: the teacher Schwartz, Mendel Slutzky, Shmuel Rubinowich, Gedalia Epshteyn, Tzvi Zakheim, Peshka Abramovich, Moshe Kamenmostki (Geshuri), Yitzchak Limon, Efraim Rubins, Roza Kaplinsky, Sonia Itzkowich, Keila Letzky, Frida Pines, a girl from a nearby town, David Pitkovsky
The students whose parents were unable to pay the tuition fees for their students were very dedicated. They would make up part or all of their tuition by giving private lessons or carrying out various jobs, even though they had to do their homework during that time.
Disturbances by the Government
It was not only the search for financial sources for support of this private national institution that made the task difficult, but also the attitude of the Polish authorities who looked unfavorably in general at any Hebrew educational institution and attempted to disrupt it -- and it was not hard to find ways to do this. On one occasion the government did not certify the principal who was recommended by the institution with the pretext that his certificate of authorization had not been shown to them. On another occasion they found that the building designated for the school was unstable and dangerous to the students. However, all of these iniquities were covered by the love of the activists for the institution. They brought the certificate of authorization of one of the teachers of the institution to the Polish authorities, who then certified her properly as a principal, despite the fact that a man who had been chosen for this purpose by the Tarbut headquarters actually served in this role. They also found a way to avoid the decree of an unstable building.
The Tarbut School in Ruzhany was a high school. However, for various reasons, the Polish authorities certified it only as an elementary school. A tumult arose in the institution every time the government inspectors appeared. They quickly carried the Latin textbooks up to the attic, for these books would serve as proof that the school was teaching as a high school despite the lack of recognition by the regime for such. Obviously, all of the teaching was conducted on an elementary school level as long as the inspector was visiting the institution. As soon as the inspector left, the regular order resumed and the institution resumed its functioning as a high school.
Achievements of Hebrew Education
The efforts for modern Hebrew education were not in vain. The school imparted the knowledge of Hebrew language and literature to its hundreds of students. When residents of the town made aliya, it was like coming home, for they already knew the language and way of life.
The Hebrew school instilled the love of the Land of Israel into the hearts of the younger generation, which became a source of comfort for them during the most difficult moments of their lives and laid the foundation for their strong love of their homeland. With awe and love, they donated to the funds for the redemption of their native Land. At times, the children donated to the Jewish National Fund the few coins that were given to them to purchase a second breakfast. I remember how my sister Ethel's face shone with the news that she was the first in her class to fill the stamp book of the Jewish National Fund.
Performances of the School
The Hebrew school imparted a nationalistic hue to the life in the town with its Hebrew performances on days of national pride such as the 11th of Adar and on the national holidays such as Chanuka. The performances of the Tarbut School were an important event in the town. Many months were dedicated the preparations for
each play. Much effort was dedicated to rehearsals and preparations of costumes. The teachers gave of their time for this effort after teaching their regular classes in school. The rehearsals took place in the home of the teacher, with only the final ones taking place in the school. The performance itself took place in the large hall of the movie theater, which was filled to the brim. Since the hall could not accommodate everyone who came, the performances were repeated. The performances were a topic of conversation for weeks and months following. There was a variety of performances. Some were on Biblical themes such as David and Goliath and others were general such as The Dolls in which my wife also participated. There were others as well. The impression was so great that after the play, she was escorted by hand to her waiting parents. She was not the only one who enjoyed great success. The income from these performances was not small. It partially covered the school's deficit, and raised the opinion of this educational institution in the eyes of everybody.
First row, standing right to left: the teachers Tzipora Fagin, Stopnicki (Nitzkin's sister), Yitzchak Nybursky, Sokolovsky.
Second row: --, Itzel Einstein, Ethel Sokolovsky, Rubinstein, the teacher Diker, Moshel Berman, Elka, Mordechai Ginzburg, the principal Rozin.
Third row: Pesha Blobitsky, Itzel Krolinsky, Sonia Michinovsky-Sokolovsky, Duba Skloiravitz, Moshel Babich, Esther Chwojnik.
Fourth row: Kalin Nowik from Liskova, Sheindel Epshteyn, Epshteyn
Graduates of this School
Most of the students of the school belonged to the Zionist youth movements. They spent some of their evenings after school in discussions and debates about their future life in the Land. The echoes of Hebrew song and dance rose up into the air of the town. The teachers of the institution supported the partnership between the school and the youth organizations. Some also dedicated their time and efforts to these organizations.
In summary: The school performances, the demonstrations of the youth organizations, the gatherings to promote the idea of a return to Zion instilled a Hebrew-Zionist content to the life of the town and a
spiritual, nationalistic splendor to the holidays and festivals. The Hebrew language and national songs echoed not only between the walls of the educational institution and the halls of the youth movements, but also in the streets of the city. The national vision and aspiration for actualization pulsated in the hearts.
Many of the graduates of the Tarbut School later filled important roles in life and carried them out in the best way possible. A few of these graduates, myself included, entered the field of Hebrew education. From this school, we went on to seminaries in Warsaw, Vilna and Grodno. After completing our studies, we dedicated ourselves to the education of the next generation in the Diaspora and later on in the Land (for those of us who succeeded in making aliya). As teachers and educators, we impart to our students the same positive values that we learned in the atmosphere of our town, the town of holy people, and in the atmosphere of our nationalistic Hebrew School where we learned the spirit of Torah, service and good deeds through the dedication of our own teachers. Above all, the aspiration for national actualization pulsated in Ruzhany during our day, and is our guiding light in our life path.
The immigrants arrived in the land, and those remaining in Ruzhany continued to live in the darkness of exile. The desire of the masses for aliya could not be actualized due to the locked gates. With no recourse, they continued to weave their Hebrew and national life to the extent possible in their town. However, the times changed progressively for the worse. Of all the cultural institutions in town, the Talmud Torah suffered particularly, since most of its students were from poor families. The teachers' council of this six-grade educational institution writes the following in its letter of the 14th of Adar, 5695 (1935).
To our dear, honorable townsfolk such as Mr. Abba Leviatan, warm greetings.
The times have changed. Other times have arrived. Until now, America sustained us, but today we turn to you, the Ruzhany natives in the Land of Israel. Of course you know about the terrible economic situation of the natives of our town, almost all of whom lack a source of livelihood. How worse is the situation of the Talmud Torah educational institution, where approximately 160 Jewish children study, the children of the poorest familles of our townsfolk. Our honorable trustee Mr. Alter Brzenicki, who made aliya, can describe our difficult situation to you with his own mouth. We have heard that you are conducting a collection on our behalf. Try to make it successful, for if not, our institution will be closed. The merit of the students studying Torah should stand in favor of all of those who are occupied in the provision of this assistance. May they enjoy long life, health, and livelihood. May it be G-d's will that we all come together speedily on soil of our Holy Land. Amen.
With blessings of Zion,
The teachers' committee of the Talmud Torah of Ruzhany:
Eliezer Chaim Karelitz, Zelig Rizkin, Chaim Zerach Rotstein, Aharon Yaakov Pitkovsky.
In the name of the trustees: Meir Guber
The collection took place and a sum of money was sent, a portion of which was to provide support for the Talmud Torah, and another portion as an addition to the Maot Chittin fund.
Letters of thanks for the money that was sent from time to time from the Land to Ruzhany were received in 5695 and 5696. The final letter states:
The sum that was received from America, from the Land of Israel, and from here (that is, from the residents of Ruzhany themselves) was distributed (as Maot Chittin) among 197 needy familles, consisting of 692 individuals.
We are signing with feelings of honor and blessing; that our ears should hear and both our and your eyes should witness bountiful happiness and wealth, peace and contentment, and the building and broadening of our Holy Land. Let no more breaches and cries be heard from our holy areas. This is a prayer from your friends, and includes all of Israel.
David Miller studied in the Talmud Torah and Yeshiva of Ruzhany during his youth. Like all other Yeshiva students, he took his meals from the householders on a rotation basis. He always remembered this rotation. From the time he became wealthy in America (oil was discovered on his land), he would donate large sums of money to feed the Yeshiva students. In his will, he left a certain percentage of his yearly income for the Talmud Torah of Ruzhany. May his memory be blessed.
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