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[Pages 135-136]

I Was A Teacher In Antaliept

By Esther Ben-Ari (Shapira)

Translated by Judy Grossman

I graduated from a teachers' course around 1930, and was sent by the Merkaz Yavne [Yavne Center] in Kovno [Kaunas] to teach in the shtetl of Antaliept [Antaliepte], a tiny undeveloped shtetl. In comparison to it, Dusiat was a big city…

At first I lived in a room in the home of a peasant family, and in the winter I needed their help in bringing me wood for fuel. Afterwards I moved to live in the home of the Levin family, and no longer had to worry about wood for heating.

There was no public bathhouse in the shtetl, and every few families had a private “bathhouse”, and when it was a family's turn to worry about the wood for heating, they invited relatives and friends to bathe…

In order to receive the support of the Ministry, the classroom had to have at least forty pupils, and so children of different ages were brought together. This of course meant that the teacher's work under such conditions was especially difficult, and I remember that it took a long time until I saw the fruits of my labor.

They did not usually speak Hebrew in Antaliept, and in my time the parents spoke Lithuanian. Most of the Jews in this shtetl were simple people, and I think that the most educated home was that of the Levin family. I initiated the election of a Parents' Committee, and when I submitted documents they had authorized, there were signatures on the bottom of the page, but also fingerprints...

What did the parents expect from the school? I recall the words of one of the mothers in reference to this: “We are poor people, and I ask that you only teach my daughter arithmetic, so that she can help us in the shop”…

In honor of Lithuanian Independence Day I would arrange to get a hair clipper. What for? I used to cut the pupils' hair myself, because the parents didn't have the money to pay for a barber…

I used to go to the Ministry to ask for support, and I organized a library for the school. Most of the books were donated. When I went home on my vacation, to Plotel [Plateliai], I used to sell lottery tickets for the library to the passengers on the train, and with this money I would buy books in Kovno. The library slowly grew, and the students used it for their studies.

It was hard for me when I began working. But with the passing of time, when the pupils had completed four grades, the older girls had developed and turned into “little women” who embroidered and also knew how to read, so that I felt good. I saw a return for my efforts, and I also gained the respect of the Parents' Committee and the Inspector [superintendent].

The Lithuanian Inspector used to come from Zarasai to oversee my work. I remember that the first thing he did was to order the pupils to remove their kippe [skullcaps]. He was a cynic and an anti-Semite, but I knew that he was pleased with me, because I was told that on a visit to a different shtetl he praised me.

The pupils absorbed the Hebrew language. They still spoke poor Hebrew, but they chatted and wrote in Hebrew, and I derived great satisfaction when they continued to write me to Eretz Yisrael. I still have a letter from one of them, the “rascal” among them, who in his letter asked: “How is my teacher doing in business?” This student was especially problematic at the start, and I remember catching him stealing from the “blue box” [Jewish National Fund collection box]. He changed when I appointed him treasurer.

I also taught adults in Antaliept, and at the time I was only eighteen and a half years old. I received a great deal of help from the experienced teachers from Dusiat, Hillel Schwartz and Yehuda Slep. The proximity of the two shtetlach also brought us together.

Yehuda used to come to Antaliept by bicycle and help me, and we became very good friends. I remember that Hillel and his wife Ella, Yehuda's sister, made an effort to foster this friendship, and used to invite me to their home. We used to sail on the lake until late at night, and together attended a teachers' conference. When we went to a banquet at the Kaplans in Zarasai, Yehuda saw to my comfort and constantly asked if I was having a good time. The students were not unaware of this friendship, and once I found the following written on the blackboard: “The teacher Esther and the teacher Yehuda are a couple”…

I left Antaliept in 1935 and moved to Zarasai, but shortly thereafter I received a certificate[1] and made aliya to Eretz Yisrael.

I very much wanted to teach in Jerusalem, where my brother lived, but the Ministry of Education sent me to Hadera. I arrived in Hadera on a rainy day, and I remember that it was extremely muddy there, and there were only two teachers in the school. The vibrations of the train, the bad weather and the mud, all contributed to my forlorn mood and I thought to myself: “What, am I once again going to teach in a small town?” I immediately decided to leave.

I took the train back to Jerusalem, and I felt terrible! That same night I located the superintendent at his home, and asked him to send a telegram immediately to Hadera to cancel the room I had rented. I remember that he told me: “You want Jerusalem in your first year? Wait until you've been here a year or two.”

My brother had business in Jerusalem and I helped him with the bookkeeping. That is when I received the letter from the student asking “how I was doing in business”…

I look at the photograph of a class from Antaliept, and I recognize some of them by name. Many probably perished …

I would be happy to meet with the survivors.

 

Teachers Esther Shapira from Antaliept, Yehuda
Slep
(left) from Dusiat and David Levin from Antaliept

 

Class in Antaliept with Teacher Esther Shapira[2]
Standing on the right: Luba Shur, fourth from the left: Shimon Gali

 

Winter, 1936/1937
Hebrew School in Antaliept with Teacher Gershoni
[3]
Seated, third to the right: pupil Avigdor Brava

 

Footnotes

  1. British permit for immigration to Palestine. Return

  2. Y.D. Kamzon. Lithuanian Jewry: Its History in Pictures, Rav Kook Institution. Jerusalem 1959, p. 92. Return

  3. Ibid Return

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