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[Pages 125-129]

Speak Only Hebrew!

Translated by Judy Grossman

Rachel Rabinowitz: The teacher Yudel had beautiful handwriting. Many hours in the classroom were devoted to perfecting our handwriting. He would write a line on the blackboard, actually drawing the letters like a beautiful picture, and we had to copy that line several times. We tried to write beautifully in order to get a high grade. And truly, thanks to the teacher Yudel, most of us have nice handwriting.

Henia Sneh: We all admired the teacher Yudel. He was an excellent and genial educator who understood us and did much to reconcile school and youth movements activities.

The principal Hillel was a different kind of person. He was more forceful, with strict requirements and punishments. However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that thanks to him there was proper discipline at the school.

Shayke Glick: Yudel also punished us. I remember that he would grab a boy by the chin, but when he did it, he probably had a good reason, so we forgave him…

Dovid-Leib Aires: I don't think that in my life I ever encountered a person as good as the teacher Yudel Slep!

Shmuel Levitt: I was mischievous, and more than once I was expelled from the class, but I learned the material. How? The teachers pushed the pupils to learn and helped them. They would come to the pupil's home, see how he/she was doing and help. I am certain that the teacher Yudel considered his work a mission. I have no doubt that that is the reason he didn't immigrate to Eretz Yisrael. He turned all of us into pioneers. He is the one who sowed the love for Eretz Yisrael in us.

Micha Baron: The teachers were Zionists, aware of what was happening in Palestine, and they preached love for our people and Eretz Yisrael to us. They also insisted that we speak only Hebrew, both at school and in the street, and they would choose “overseers” from among the students, who would fine anyone who spoke Yiddish. The fines were all donated to the Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael (Jewish National Fund). It is no wonder that Dusiat excelled in its donations to this fund…

Zvi Hammer was the teacher who taught singing and gave violin lessons. Who among us does not remember the song he taught: “El Hatzippor” (To the Bird)? We also studied arithmetic, geography, drawing, nature, Lithuanian, Jewish history, Bible and literature. The melamed Avraham-Moshe conducted the religion lessons.

Shayke Glick: Both the teachers at school and the youth movement counselors instilled our national identity and the sense of belonging to our people in us.

Rachel Vitkin: In comparison to other shtetls, in which they mostly spoke Yiddish at school, in our school they made certain that we speak only Hebrew, and also the level of studies was high, which attracted children from other shtetls to come and study in our school. A pupil who graduated from the Tarbut School in Dusiat could be compared to a graduate of a pro-gymnasia.

Shimon Toker (from Antaliept): An important advantage of the school in Dusiat was that the teachers were locals; they were involved in the life of the shtetl; they knew everyone and they cared!

Tzila Gudelsky: There were several larger shtetls near Dusiat, but Dusiat was truly special. It had quite a large number of intelligent people in it, who contributed to the cultural atmosphere of the shtetl. There were “prestigious” families and simple people, but the knowledge of Hebrew elevated everyone, and Hashomer Hatzair in its part contributed to the equality of status.

Rasya Tal: When we finished our studies in Dusiat we went to study at the pro-gymnasia in Utian (Utena), and when it closed we continued our studies in Vilkomir (Ukmerge). I studied in Utian for four years (where we also learned Lithuanian and German). It took an entire night to get there by horse and wagon, so we only came home every three months. Rivka Levitt, Yisrael Visakolsky and Honke Glick studied there at the same time as I did.

Shayke Glick: A few of the people from the shtetl went on to study at the university and the polytechnic in Kovno (Kaunas), among them Yitzchak (Itzke) Shteinman, Yankele Charit and Yisrael Visakolsky.

I remember from my childhood that the Tzeirei Zion (Young Zionists) used to gather in the Hebrew school in Dusiat – young men and women – and we, the children, used to sneak in, peek, and listen to what they were saying. They all spoke in Hebrew! Dor l'dor yabia omer – let further generations pass on the knowledge.

People generally obtained their education on their own. My oldest brother Velve studied Russian and German independently. I loved to read, and would do so by the light of the lantern until the “wee hours of the morn”. More than once my mother woke up and shouted: “Shayke, it will soon be dawn!...”

We studied history according to [the Jewish historian, Simon Dubnow]. I loved the poetry of Bialik and Tchernichovsky, and read Mapu's “Ahavat Zion” (The Love of Zion). I wasn't the only one. The young people thirsted for Hebrew literature.

The elders of the shtetl also knew Hebrew. My mother, who had no formal education, told us that when she was a child she was curious, and would sneak in and listen to the lessons the rabbi gave the boys: Bible, Mishna and Gemara [the latter two make up the Talmud]. The women had a prayer book called “Ma'ane Lashon” (The Book of Supplications) with a Yiddish translation. (In Ashkenazi pronunciation – “Mayne Loshn”.) I can picture them still, waiting for the stars to come out on Saturday night, so as to begin the blessing for the new week.

Rivka Levitt: Chaya-Hene Levitt was a woman with understanding and knowledge. I remember her quoting Tolstoy and Gogol.

Shmuel Levitt: She and my mother, Chasya-Leah, would sit together and sing Russian songs, and they especially liked to sing arias from famous operas…

Tzila Gudelsky: My aunt Rochel-Leah (Poritz), who was a strong and domineering woman, pushed all her children to acquire an education, and her sons Dov and Yosef went as far as Petrograd to study.

Batya Aviel: Getzel Levitt (the brother of Yosef and Sonia Levitt) left Dusiat and moved to a big city so that his children could go to university. His son Zvi graduated from university in Kovno.

I studied Russian and Hebrew privately, and I don't know Lithuanian. I was the only one in my family who knew Russian. Life in the shtetl was generally hard, but all the parents made an effort to send their children to school, and schooling cost a fortune!

My father was a salesman for Singer sewing machines. The company offered him a position in Germany, but he turned it down, and afterwards regretted it. He used to say that if he had accepted the offer and gone to Germany, his children would have learned music and would have gone to university… When we wanted to tease our father, we would say repeatedly: “if…if…”

“The Jewish education network, in all its streams, continued to exist and develop even after the elimination and cancellation of Jewish autonomy, and despite attempts to halt it and to force the use Lithuanian as the language of instruction.”

([44] Garfunkel, Leib. The Struggle of Lithuanian Jewry for Rights
of Independence
, p. 68, in Yahadut Lita, Vol. 2, Tel Aviv 1972.)
 
The Hebrew school changed locations several times.

In the above picture, the Hebrew school is in the house of Bilinskas, the Lithuanian.
Chyena Shteiman lived in the other part of the house. Chyena and the teacher Yudel Slep are standing in the doorway.

  The Hebrew school building still exists. [Courtesy of Sara Weiss-Slep, Dusiat 29 July, 1993]

“The sole mention of the existence and destruction of the Jewish community is in the three words: Jewish Elementary School

 

Pupils of the “Tarbut” Elementary Hebrew School, Dusiat, 5 June 1927

From right to left, top: Bailke Krut, Lanka Visakolsky, Reuven Milun, Breinka Shapira, Batya Glezer
Second row: Teacher Yehuda-Yudel Slep, Etska Slep (daughter of Yudel and Rachel-Gitel), Rivka Pores, Mirka Baron, Itale Charit, Gitale Musilewitz, Slovka Yoffe, Hillel Schwartz (principal)
Third row: Moshe-Ber Blacher, Libke Kasimov, Yocheved Zalkind, Moishale Visakolsky, Batya Yoffe, Meir-Meike Slep, Bailke Pores, Rivka Shub
Fourth row: Bunka Chaitowitz, Nechamka Yudelowitz, Chanka Glezer, (-), Rivka Aires, on the left: Reinke Levin, Sheinke Chaitowitz
Fifth row: Shayke Glick (son of Rochel-Leah), Gershke Slep
Sixth row, seated: Mashka Slep, Honke Glick (son of Rochel-Leah), Zussman, (-), Beinish Yudelowitz, Chatzkele Shteiman, Yaacov Milun, Motale Gafanowitz, Zamke Glezer, Mirka Karanowitz, Goldke Melamed
Seated in front: Lolke Slovo, Sarah-Sure-Bailke, David Bun, Hene-Bailke Blacher, Noah Visakolsky, Chanka Pores, Avraham Melamed, Estherke Yossman, nephew of Zeligson, Tzilka Shub, Bailka Fein, Itzke, Motale Slep

None of the teachers survived the war.
Of the forty-seven identified pupils, twenty perished in the Holocaust.
Only seven pupils survived the war. Five made aliya after the war.
Before WWII seven pupils made aliya; six pupils immigrated to South Africa and Argentina.

 

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