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[Page 319]

Libraries in Town

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Our libraries underwent a few evolutions.

The first library to loan books to readers was in Moshe Ze'ev Stein's shop. In 1902/3 his shop was Ya'acov Blumenthal's house (Haya Schmul's grandfather).

The second evolution was when the library moved to Nahum Gonyundeski*'s shop – the shop was divided into two: one section for the library and the other for building materials.

 

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The library in action

 

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The Youth Center Library Committee

 

The third evolution - certain public figures organized themselves and together to help the library – especially “The Bund” and the Yiddishists – Fischel Katzenellenbogen (the brother of Rabbi Shimshon Katzenellenbogen), Relka Direktor (Herschel die Schreibers a Techter) and others.

With the outbreak of World War One the library was closed. While under German rule, some of the public found a new determination and two new libraries were opened: one under the influence of “The Bund” and the Yiddishists – its home being in the house of Alikim Rabinowitz and the second under Zionist influence was managed by Lipczer, Tsvi Kowalski Borkowski and others. Its home was in Kollek's house.

During those years – the years of German domination of Sokółka, the effervescent activity of the public was in evidence. The Zionist influence grew very strong in the streets until it ec-lipsed all other world-views. And after a long-drawn-out struggle the two libraries became one under common management. The “Jewish street” organized evening classes under Borkowski, Greenhaus and students of the Hebrew school. As a result readers of the Hebrew press increased.

Hebrew books began to be sought after and after a stormy meeting a library management was elected most of who were Zionists.

Avraham Chinski and Baruch Hayut


[Page 321]

Leinat Ha-Tsedek

Translated by Selwyn Rose

An important and heartwarming institution in Sokółka was the “Hevrat Leinat Tsedek” - a society for extending real help to the sick and destitute who were totally unable to provide for themselves in times of need; they were not members of a sick-fund, it was not in their power to get a doctor so they would turn to the “Leinat Tsedek” for help. “Leinat Tsedek” was a society operated by volunteers. The assistance found its expression by sending a doctor to the home of the sick, providing medicines and sending patients to the Białystok or even Warsaw hospitals, when necessary. The society received everyone well and without discrimination. They also operated on occasion in complete secrecy with no one knowing whom they helped or how – and certainly not the recipient. Among the members of the committee was Mordecai Trasches who contributed thirty years of his life to the society. The younger generation also valued the aims of the society and contributed aid; they sent their members to the homes of the sick who were on their own and kept them company overnight, to watch over the patient so that the family members could rest quietly at night. Their work was particularly hard during the winter months and especially during plagues or epidemics. In the winter the girls would sometimes be on call two or three times a month to go and sit with the sick all night, take care of his needs, give medicines etc., and generally show them dedicated nursing.

In order to obtain the necessary means to function, they would stage shows of one sort or another, including flag-days, and the revenues would be used by “Leinat Tsedek”.

One of the sources of income was a monthly “tax” levied on the community and Jewish girls would take upon them selves the task of going round the town and collecting the money.

In the winter they would prepare ice in the cellars in order to have it available for those among the sick who were in need of it. Haim Leib Korach kept a collection of medical aid instruments and appliances for use when needed – such as thermometers, ice-containers, and so on.

Hinda Galkin (Trasches)


Zionist Youth Movements

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The Zionist youth movements were very active in Sokółka, and many boys and girls from the schools belonged to them. The mobilization was conducted via announcements: to come on a certain day and hour in the afternoon, to the school hall. As soon as we arrived we were immediately formed into rows without being asked any questions, without any conversation and without even explaining what was going on – they began to train us, there and then, in “parade” drill exercises. It was an action to “capture souls” for the youth movements – and we didn't even know which…we were entered into the movement “automatically”, but we began to feel content in being there and in being part of the activities, so we stayed. A friend and I were a bit stunned by the attempt to place us in an organized framework by what amounted to subterfuge; we rebelled within ourselves against the belittling of the individual's personality. The demeaning found expression in such words as: “Stand to attention”, “stand at ease”, and so on. We absented ourselves and didn't come again. As children, we didn't have the nerve to walk out of the drill there and then or to take an openly defiant and negative stand – but the next time we weren't there. Exciting stories began to circulate about the “army-like” uniforms of Betar. There were, of course, some who were drawn to the movement because of that. I remember the military parades, the uniforms and the marching tempo of Betar along the streets of the town. At that time I didn't have any particular views but I didn't reject the parades and was enchanted by them.

We sang Hebrew songs – within the school framework as well – (it was usual to start each lesson – or at least the first hour's session in the morning with a song while standing. The tune and the words, I still remember: “In our school they teach us….” The melody was much known at the time and sung lustily and constantly at all events and every club and included the words: “Oh, Oh, bad, bad, bad! Oh bad in Poland! Oi, good, good, good in the Land of Israel” and re-peated. The wonderful experiences in school life and the youth movements were for us the fes-tivals like Hanukkah with plays and declamations, a Tu B'Shevat hike in the middle of winter to the forests outside town which included a make-believe description of the almond-blossom sea-son in Palestine – the land of sunshine and happiness…a hike on Lag B'Omer to the forest with a picnic was an event in its own right; it was a wonderful experience with singing all day long, games, appearances, exchange bartering and events with the participation of the teachers in an atmosphere of “Sitting together like brothers,” without the atmosphere of the serious tension of school hours they would talk to us about the significance of the day's festival and also on topics not necessarily of that day; their stories were heartfelt and wrapped us with much pleasure. On Lag B'Omer the whole youth of the town was on an excursion outside of town. At the head of the parade marched the band of the town fire-brigade; I was enchanted and full of happiness. I marched with manliness and pride to the tempo of the music…

The concept “concert” is out of place and distorted completely when used by us here; its meaning here is that we would generate some kind of operation or mad scheme like – throwing a lad on the ground and before he could recover himself and stand up we would throw another one and another one all on top of one another until there was a big pile of them. That game I loved a lot. We called that kind of wildness “Concert” - perhaps because of its similarity to the (German or Yiddish) word “Kundst” – a “mad” trick. And that included any kind of unrestricted fooling around. It inevitably came to the notice of the teachers until one teacher decided (and I think it was Kaminitzki), to clarify for us the true significance of the word “concert”. We didn't understand what he was trying to explain to us; he worked hard on the philological subject matter and instructional aspects of it; we had the impression throughout his patient explanation that he was trying to convince us that a concert was something else, and not what we thought it was. The idea was very unconvincing for us and not at all supported. We heard his words only though the compulsion of discipline, in boredom…we were not prepared to be taken advantage of because to our knowledge we connected the game and the concept with the behavior of “good children”.

Apart from “concerts” we would also have break periods, before lessons and after and in these games we would indulge in a large measure of mild misbehavior. Once we “invented” a new hobby – a log of wood from a telegraph pole rolled to near our school. We snatched the caps off the heads of boys standing around and rolled the heavy pole over them.

Shalom Zamir


[Page 323]

The First Hebrew School in Sokółka

Nahum Kundst

Translated by Selwyn Rose

With the awakening of Zionism in the Diaspora and the spread of opinions on freedom among the Jewish public, notables in town were selected to establish education of the children in order that they could widen and broaden their knowledge like the youth of near-by Grodno.

Until 1903 the education of the Sokółka child was based – virtually exclusively – on the “Heder”. The “Haderim” were narrow, cramped and stifling. The teaching methods were old and the teachers relied on corporal punishment with a stick or a belt. The girls had almost no experience of school at all.

Until the respected gentlemen Judovski, Meyer Bubryk and Reiskin* from among the town's notables took themselves to Grodno and visited the inspector of High Schools with a request for help in establishing a Hebrew high school on the style of the Grodno school.

On the committee that was appointed to establish the school were Ya'acov Goldstein, Zadbornski, Altear Epstein and Moshe Walul Stein. They rented an apartment from Panczvychowa, in a quiet clean street. The house was spacious and big and around it a garden and courtyard where the children could play during breaks and exercise in a clean fresh atmosphere.

The school was named as a “Heder M'tukan” “Religion and knowledge”. Girls and boys learned together, a new element that had no precedent in Sokółka. The curriculum included: Torah, Hebrew, and math, and additional foreign language studies.

In a short while the school became the most profitable in Sokółka and to be a high-light of Jewish education in town compared to the stuffy, cramped “Heder”.

In the streets of Sokółka the voices of children could be heard speaking Hebrew. In the evenings Hebrew songs could be heard. Not a long time passed before the school began to be cramped because of the number of pupils in the school and together with the pupils knocking on the door. It became essential to transfer the school to bigger premises, to the newer, bigger house of Ya'acov Sussenowski in Ulitzki Street.

Apart from their studies the children also acquired a great national pride and a great love for the Land of Israel. Many of the pupils of the school are today in Palestine and numbered among her faithful builders.

Avraham Chinski


[Page 324]

Memories of the “Heder M'tukan

Translated by Selwyn Rose

In the year 1903 a Hebrew teacher came to Sokółka. His name was Tsyrkel and he opened a “Heder M'tukan”. It was a completely new idea in Sokółka and from a lack of students, did not survive.

In 1904-5 a Hebrew school (“Heder M'tukan” – the teacher was Kundst) was opened under the initiative of a group of Zionists: Rabbi Moshe Wavel Stein, Shmariyahu Lichtenstein, Tsvi Judovski, Milly Gafner, Yehuda Vigudski and others. A Hebrew school was also a new idea in our town but a small circle of parents sent their children there. That was the kernel that developed and became a large Hebrew school. The teacher Kundst was dedicated to the pupils and knew how to earn their affection. He established discipline (something they were not used to). The curriculum included: the Scriptures, Jewish history, grammar, math and Hebrew composition. All the lessons were conducted in Hebrew. Other languages were not spoken. There were also performances in the school (on Purim and Hanukkah) and on Fridays a lesson on the Hymns. The chief managers, Mr. Moshe Wavell Stein (who was also the treasurer) and Shmariyahu Lichtenstein would always come to visit the school and any complaint was directed to them. Every half-year there were examinations and during the examinations they would invite the managers and the parents. Every pupil was tested and received a grade of either “good” or “average”.

One event that occurred during the examinations: one of the managers asked a pupil how to say “Schnee” in Hebrew. Because the children spoke only Hebrew (Yiddish was forbidden in the school), the pupil answered “ 'Schnee' is 'sheni'” (two). The examiner was referring to “Schnee” as Yiddish for 'snow' and he indicated the snow outside the window with his finger. The improvement in the children – both in studies and in behavior, was significantly apparent in the first half-year.

Later, many pupils began to register for the school and they brought in another teacher for an additional class. Gurchowski was his name. From then the Hebrew school began to develop. Much toil went into the founding and entrenchment of the Hebrew school by the teacher Kundst and the managers, and it was the school that showed the young generation “the road to Zionism”.

These are the names of the first pupils of the Hebrew school in Sokółka: Eliezer Stein (Even), Hanni Halperin, Jehuda Zadboranski, Sara Buvrik, Avraham Chinski, Haya Reiskind, Isaac Aschkwitz, KundzChinski, Berl Eisen, (Dov Barzilai), Zeidel Weisman, Landoy, Reuven Glass, Reizel Widowski, Dina Lichtenstein.

All the pupils were seven or eight years old.


[Page 326]

Sokółka as a Center of Learning

Translated by Selwyn Rose

In 1897 there were 1848 Jews in Sokóùka - 37½% of the population.

The development of the Zionist associations and their activities peaked during the years 1897-1904.

In 1898 the center in Kischinev was in communication by an exchange of letters with 19 societies in the Grodno district – among them Sokółka.

In summer 1913 before the 11th Congress (because of the authorities it was held in secrecy under the name of “wedding”) in Drozganik in Grodno county – at the Drozganik Congress 23 delegations took part from 11 towns, among them Sokółka.

 

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Courses in Hebrew with the teacher Greenhaus

 

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Hebrew course in Sokółka with the teacher Borkowski

 

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Hebrew course in Sokółka (teacher's name unknown)

 

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The teaching staff with the inspector

 

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The Middle School with their teacher Rachel Zadboranski

 

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