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[Page 111]

Education and Art

 

The Hebrew Schools in Korets

by Meir Panas

Translated by Sara Mages

 

A. The school founded by the student Greenfeld

The teacher Greenfeld

 

I came to you, Korets, a ten year old boy, to study the Torah at the Hebrew School which was founded by the student Greenfeld. It was in 1911. The student Greenfeld was a character from the world of legends. As a Yeshiva student he came from Vinnytsya, and started to learn the tailoring profession from one of the city's tailors. He won the heart of his boss's daughter, and she married him.

After his marriage, he separated from his young wife for a number of years, wandered afar to a place of Torah, returned to Korets with his education, and in 1911 opened the first Hebrew School in our city.

It was a modest school, which was composed of a preparatory and three classes. Besides Greenfeld there were three other teachers with superior teaching ability.

This school was designated for the sons of the city's notables and the sons of the wealthy proprietors, who were imbued with the vision of Hebrew and national revival. The children of the poor studied in 'Talmud Torah” and expert teachers also taught there.

During the Gentiles' holidays, when the school was closed, the teacher gathered his students, taught Hebrew songs about the love of nature and work, and also songs with social content. I'll not be far from the truth if I say, that the first seeds of the Hebrew pioneer labor movement in Korets were sown in this school. It was a modest nursery, from which the national youth movements of our city grew and branched out. In addition, Greenfeld read us chapters from “Tel-Aviv” by Herzl, and also from his letters.

The school's economic situation was always tight. The principle lived in poverty and often suffered from hunger. Because of this, conflicts broke out between him and the teachers, because he couldn't pay their salaries. Indeed, the school ceased to exist three to four years later. But Greenfeld, whose love for the Hebrew language knew no bounds, maintained one class

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in horrible conditions, so the children of Korets won't forget the Hebrew language. I stood by his side and helped him to teach the Bible and the summary of the Hebrew literature to his few students.

This school had a great part in the founding of the labor movement in Korets, because most of his students were, in a much later period, among the founders of “Tzeirei Zion” party in our city. All the students, who remained alive, remember the principle Greenfeld, who sanctified his best years on the altar of the Hebrew language, with love and respect.

 

B. “Tarbut” School

At the end of World War I, when Korets was still under the rule of the Bolsheviks, the party “Tzeirei Zion” founded “Tarbut” School.

Our city was fortunate that one of the graduates of “Gymnasia Herzliya” [Hebrew High School in Tel-Aviv], who served as an officer in the Turkish army and wandered to Russia, came to Korets. It was the teacher Yakov Levi, who later became famous as Dr. Yakov Levi, one of the most important teachers in Israel, and one of the editors of “Hed HaChinuch” [Educational Echoes, an educational journal].

Yakov Levi was like a “chill of snow on harvest day.” He brought with him a fresh breeze from the fields of the valley and the Galilee. He planted at school the living Hebrew, which was spoken in Israel, and brought with him the Hebrew terminology for natural subjects and general studies.

In order to assess accurately the work of Yakov Levi, we must remember, that at that time there were almost no Hebrew text books for these subjects in Russia.

The principle's room was kind of a club for the youth who intended to immigrate to Israel. We gathered there to practice the spoken living Hebrew. It was like a corridor leading to the Land of Israel. Yakov Levi, who was a talented scholar, illustrated before our eyes the way of life in the new Land of Israel. He took us to the core of the modern Hebrew literature.

The school was located at the home of my father, Emanuel Zitrin, (who died in Israel). The house was surrounded by a large handsome garden, and the students spent their time in the beautiful countryside.

We can't forget the important contribution that Yakov Levi's helpers contributed to the school's success. I must mention, with great respect, the Hebrew teachers Zetser and Rimerman, who gave their lives and their spirits to their students. Thanks to them, many immigrated to Israel, and were saved from the field of slaughter.

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Dr. Yakov-Meir Levi

 

Yakov Levi, who was imbued with the ideals of Kinneret and Degania, was excited from the Bolshevik Revolution, because he truly believed that this revolution was the realization of the ideals of Degania, in global and human scale.

Therefore, when the Communist Party established its power in Korets, Yakov Levi was appointed as the deputy of the revolutionary regime in the city. The Bolsheviks valued Levi as a talented scholar, and handed the power to his hands.

Despite his rise to power, Yakov Levi continued to serve as the principle of “Tarbut” School. The Bolsheviks didn't close the school because of the great honor that they gave to its principal. It was a lonely Hebrew island, in a Bolshevik environment, which alienated the Jewish spirit and its culture.

Thanks to Yakov Levi, the Zionist clubs acted openly, and even the activities of the “Halutz” were done, more of less, normally.

However, this period didn't know stability and the regimes changed frequently. Few were the days of the Bolshevik rule in our city, and they were replaced by the Whites. Their first action was to execute the revolutionary regime. Yakov Levi was in great danger.

We hid him in Finkelstein's home, behind a pile of wood, and every day brought food and water to his hiding place. In 1918-19, he left Korets, at great risk, and the school children were left like sheep without a shepherd. This situation continued until the Poles' entrance to the city. Then, the Hebrew cultural institutions were resurrected, and with them, “Tarbut” School. However, at that time I was already in Israel, and surely, others will tell about it.


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Tarbut” School in Korets

by Sara Rosenfeld (Bronstein)

Translated by Sara Mages

 

A. The school founded by the student Greenfeld

Korets! Your image surfaces from the depths of oblivion. I live your life again - life that was sgood, vibrant and full of activities. I saw you for the first time when I was nineteen years old. Since then, a lot of water flowed from the Jordan River to Lake Kinneret and your memory is still engraved in my memory and my heart. I envision you with all your glory, dream and reality mingle with each other and it's difficult to distinguish between truth and vision. But, I'll feel myself in you, I'll live my life in you again, time is forgotten, and age is forgotten. I'm walking in your streets again and see every street and every house, as if the many years of suffering and hardship didn't separate us.

The year is 1933. The car wanders on the road, quickly passes through Ukrainian villages, naked fields after the harvest, a flat, calm and quiet road. I traveled a lot on the roads of Poland, so why things are different this time? Why do I see and don't see the beautiful road in front of me? Why am I glancing quickly at everything? - I'm traveling

 

The teachers of “Tarbut” School
Standing right to left: 1 Arye Broder 2.Yozik Michelson 3. Zev Tschodner 4. Asher Blovstein 5. Eliezer Roitblit
Sitting right to left: 1.Michael Pirkes 2.David Solomienik 3. Dr. Hanoch Barles 4. Meir Gilman

 

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for the first time to my new workplace, to the city of Korets which lies on the border. I've heard a lot about you, Korets, but I don't know how you'll receive me, the inexperienced teacher, since you're known throughout the country as attributed, knowledgeable and demanding.

Korets is winking from afar. Here, the steeples are visible - I arrived to you.

A wide river divides the city into two parts. The road is high and the river is low. A wide bridge connects the two banks of the river. By the river, in the valley, is the building of the school. A narrow bridge connects the road to the building. It's a two-story building and on it is the sign - The Hebrew School “Tarbut.” The top floor is occupied by the school and the landlady, who was called “Tutraka,” lives downstairs.

I cross the narrow bridge, enter the hallway and from there to the “hall,” meaning, to a specious room which was used as a playroom for the children on rainy days. From the hall doors open to the classrooms, one door for two classrooms. The children of one class need to pass, when they enter or leave, through the room of the second class. We have five classes in this building and two in a private home across the street.

We didn't have a playground. Next the building, on a slope, was a vacant lot, but it was difficult to reach it. It was necessary to go into the road and from there go down a narrow path. The children didn't like, and the teachers didn't allow them to walk on the road. For that reason they crowded in the “hall” which was too small to accommodate them. However, in the winter the children came equipped with sleds and slid downhill.

 

“Tarbut” School class of 1929

 

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It was good and pleasant to slide. Many times I arrived early to slide with the students. Laughter and shouts of joy filled the air. Clear the way! We're sliding! Then, we climbed back, got on the bridge and from there to the building.

Small and meager was the building, but for some reason the crowdedness wasn't felt in our home. I don't remember shouts, reprimands or arguments. The door to the staff room was wide open and the students didn't push or burst into it. The students treated the teachers with respect and expressed their affection.

The school contained seven classrooms. A lot of light didn't penetrate through the windows but the light radiated from the faces of the students. I don't remember if a teacher ever raised his voice, shouted or punished. Everyone, teachers and students, invested a lot of energy and good will, and the work paid off. The Hebrew language was spoken by all the students. The students of the first grade entered school without knowing the language, without attending kindergarten, and wonder of wonders, they spoke fluent Hebrew after spending a few months at school. Our slogan was: “Speak Hebrew”! The students made efforts to speak Hebrew in the streets and at home, not only among themselves, but also with their parents who didn't understand them.

I remember an interesting case: one of the students fell and broke her leg and when she rolled in pain she screamed in Hebrew. She only spoke in Hebrew with the doctor who was summoned to see her.

Did the teachers have fixed working hours? We, of course, worked a fixed number of hours per week, but we didn't settle for that. We always returned to school after the noon break - one for a course, second for a conversation and a third for a rehearsal before the premiere.

The preparations for a party! How much energy, good will and understanding was invested by everyone. The teachers served as directors, choreographers and in time of need, also as choir conductors. A play, which created an atmosphere of elation, was presented in every national holiday. Our aspiration for our homeland was included in each performance. Each topic connected us to our homeland because we educated the students in this manner.

The school parties constituted a holiday for the whole city. All the residents, including those who spoke and studied in Polish, gathered at the municipality's big hall. The students climb on the stage, without any fear, and sang, in pure and polished Hebrew, about the heroism of the Maccabim, the achievements of Kern Kayemet Leisrael and the way of life in which they lived.

We didn't only settle with these activities, we knew that our educational activity is an introduction to something bigger and more serious. We wanted to bring the students closer to nature and accustom them to live together. On Lag BaOmer we left for the forest where we met the students of the Hebrew schools in Mezhirichi and Hoshcha. We set up a camp in the forest, started with scouts' games and ended with various sports games.

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The students and teachers of “Tarbut” School in Korets, 1933

 

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The Hebrew language echoes in the Polish forest. We sing Hebrew songs, the hearts get closer and close ties, between teachers and students, are formed. These ties lasted for many years, even after you left your workplace and also after the student left for far-off places.

Who created the cultural-social atmosphere within the walls of the school? Was it created by the students or by the faculty that was so cohesive and friendly? Here, before me, stands the unforgettable image of the principal. Beloved Solomienik, what were you for us - a friend, an excellent educator, or everything together? From the fog of the past I envision your kind eyes which expressed wisdom when they peered through the lenses of your glasses. We haven't heard a reprimand from your mouth. I spent three years in your company. I came to work sore and bitter, and you came to me like a compassionate father, smoothed my hair - and lo and behold: the sadness and anger passed as if they had never existed. We walked together a lot, we talked a lot, and my knowledge deepened after each walk. I grew stronger after each conversation because they were like hymns for me.

My life in Korets was not always happy. I also knew days of sadness, days without any interest in them, and you, my principal, knew how to console me. I found comfort in your calm house, in your company and the company of your wonderful wife.

You felt the pain of the institution and lived its life. Teachers came and teachers left, years have passed and gone. You sent your daughters to Israel and you stood on your guard to the last moments.

And the rest of the teachers? - The director, who represented the government, was Shari Shmuel Bronstein, a quiet and modest man, a good and dedicated friend; the teacher Roitblit who was quiet and humble; I especially remember the lovely teacher, Taza Bitenska, who walked like a broody hen among the students of the first grade as if she wanted to put them all under her wings and protect them from harm. You, who were all heart and good soul - what injustice did you do that you were sentenced to die so tragically. Villains hung you in public in front of a large crowd because you fought savages.

The school was awarded with an active committee that was composed of eminent personalities. The meetings were held at the home of Mr. Melamed. This house was the home for a committee of wise people. The home of the son-in-law of the local rabbi, may the memory of the righteous be of a blessing. I remember the first meeting in this house. They were all strangers to me, but the homeowners showered their guests with relaxing warmth. Each participant was probably far from pedagogical values, but greatly cared for the school's development and its needs. Melamed, who was a merchant, devoted his evenings for the search of funds.

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The Hebrew speaking club named “Bnei Yehudah” next to “Tarbut” school.
It was founded by the school principal Mr. David Solomienik

 

And here's Dr. Finkelstein, the “strange” dentist. He liked to walk at night, to knock on the shutters of friends and wake them up so they can hear the singing of the nightingale…
and the nightingale expressed its feelings at the late hours of the night. He also knocked on the shutter of my room and I would never forget the sweet singing of the Koretsai nightingale. Dr. Finkelstein used to say that the nightingale is one of the angels who sing before God, and the Creator, in his great mercy, sent it to delight and entertain his children who reside on the banks of the Kortchek River.

And the last one - Mr. Yochet, who was a traveling salesman and reached far and remote places to find the parents of the teachers and give them live greetings from their children.

*

I left you, Korets, and didn't see you for many years. I saw you again at the outbreak of the war. I passed many kilometers when I fled east on foot. Broken and tired I walked through the main street without stopping, but, here and there, I heard voices behind me: Here's the teacher, here's Sara! Also your streets, Korets, have been emptied because of the great fear that also attacked you.

Years have passed, I worked in many towns but I don't know why I still have a corner in my heart for you, Korets, with all the good that you've granted to me.


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The “Heder” and the “Yeshiva” in our city

by Noach Barber

Translated by Sara Mages

The childhood days of a human being are excellent and unique. It's an unrestrained world of impressions and fantasies. All the boundaries and areas quickly disappear before the constructive force of the creative child. This is the period when the child's mind doesn't cease to act. It creates and destroys, builds worlds and destroys them. The driving force of his creation is his impression from everything around him.

There are objects and exhibits that are temporary and their impression isn't strong enough to activate the child's soul. In contrast, there are things and scenes that leave deep experiences in the child's soul. The strong impressions are buried and hidden at the bottom of his soul and in time of need, at the first contact, they float and weave the desired image from days gone by.

The community of Korets, the city that the cruel hand of fate landed on it, is standing before my eyes with its buildings, streets and synagogues. My cradle stood in it and my childhood days passed in it. Here is the first page of my life – the period of the “Heder.” The city was blessed with many melamdim [teachers] who taught their students. The teaching method was to instill the knowledge by the arm. Each melamed terrified his students with his strap. A long table stood in the middle of the room, the students sat around it and the melamed ruled from the head of the table.

I especially liked the evening classes at the “Heder.” The boys studied in the dark and looked forward to the desired hour, the time when everyone walked home with a lantern in his hand.

And here's an image from the “Trisker Kloiz” synagogue. Saturday afternoon, there's a lot of commotion there, hundreds of people are standing crowded around a long table to enjoy the radiance splendor of the “Rebbe” who sits at the head of the table. Each one is trying to nourish his eyes with this remarkable personality and listen to his teachings. We, the children, found another interest in the “Rebbe,” and it is: each time he reached the utmost ecstasy he closed and opened his eyes alternately.

The period of my study at “Yeshivat Korets” is very close to my heart. There was a street called Synagogue Street (Shul Guss) in our city, and indeed, its name suited it: a large number of synagogues concentrated around the prominent in the group – the Great Synagogue, the splendor of the city. Each sector of the society had its own synagogue

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and each Jew was able to find the members of his social class and the version of the prayer that was the closest to his heart.

”Yeshivat Korets” was located at the end of this street, Synagogue Street. It moved to our city from Novohrad–Volynskyi when the border between Russia and Poland was posted near Korets. Everyone, who has been in “Yeshivat Zvhil” at that time, crossed the border and arrived to Korets, and so it was also written on the seal: “Yeshivat Kehilat Or–Torah from Zvhil, now in Korets.”

When the yeshiva arrived to our city it was temporarily housed at the building of “Talmud Torah.” Over time, the school, which was founded by the community rabbi, R' Hershenhorn, was annexed to the yeshiva as preparatory departments and the yeshiva students served as teachers and educators. The yeshiva only used teachers from the outside for the study of several secular subjects such as the Polish language. In this manner the yeshiva and “Talmud Torah” united into a perfect division under the name: “Beit Ulpana Rabati” and “Talmud Torah” in Korets. previously in Zvhil, founded by the head of the yeshiva, Yoel Shurin, may he live for many good days.

The yeshiva students, who came from various locations, were called by their first name and with the addition of their place of origin, such as: Nisel Stoliner, Shlomo Horosheker etc. The method of study of the young men wasn't uniform and each of them had a different approach: one through wind and storm and the second, in the opposite direction, through careful consideration and his voice was barely audible. And there, in the corner, two wise scholars with sharp mined argue with each other about a Halacha [Jewish law] but, all of them the supreme atmosphere of the yeshiva. The harmony of lyrical outpouring and sacred silence shaped the character of the yeshiva.

I remember one of the rainy autumn days. I'm sitting at the yeshiva before an open Gemara trying to dig deeper into the Halacha and decipher the vague words of the Tanna [teacher]. For a moment, things seem strange and incomprehensible, and behold, various sounds and beautiful music reach my ears. Outside, a strong thunderstorm and heavy rain falls, and here, inside, the voices of the students fill the air. Outside forces and inside forces clash with each other, once these become stronger, and once these. The rumble of the sounds sweeps me to the group of musicians and, lo and behold: the vague words of the Tanna became clear to me. Indeed, secret powers are hidden in this wonderful melody, the escort of study.

I'll devote my words to the most outstanding yeshiva student – “Hamatmid” – Nisel Stoliner. I knew him well because he was the first teacher at the yeshiva who opened before me the hidden treasure of the sayings of our Sages. This nickname – “Hamatmid” [the diligent]

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was given to him because of his great diligence in the study of the Torah. He never stopped learning. He also read a sacred book when he waited in line to wash his hands before a meal. He succeeded and progressed like an overflowing spring. The conversations of the young men didn't interest him. All his thoughts were in the Torah. He was kind of a living Talmudic encyclopedia and nothing disappeared from his reading. He solved every difficult question that was brought before him calmly and without reading the Halachic negotiation that preceded the question. He quickly jumped from the issue that he was dealing with to a new issue. However, his humility was as great as his greatness in the Torah. He occupied himself with his studies and wasn't arrogant. He never got angry, he stood all day, quietly and at rest, next to his lectern and studied incessantly…until, one day, he was given the honor to serve as the rabbi of the community of Korets in place of HaRav Lidski zt”l. Our city has won this magnificent vessel, a man of noble qualities, the fruit of “Yeshivat Korets.”

And here's Rabbi Motil. He was, in terms of – “All my bones shall say.” He poured tears like water and soared high with his terrifying lamentation. But, at a joyful occasion he danced and sang to the depth of his soul. He gave lessons on innovations in the Talmud and was the son–in–law of the “Illui,” Rabbi Baruch–Mordechai. He was a fine preacher and had the gift of the gab. He fascinated his listeners who sat with their mouth open and their ears attuned to absorb every word that came out of his mouth. The wise yeshiva students surrounded him with their questions, and he kindly solved them with a convincing answer and superior jokes. He lit up the eyes of his students with his imposing and meaningful knowledge.

A radiant figure, which greatly influenced the yeshiva, was discovered in the personality of the head of the yeshiva, the “Illui.” He was short and pulled a leg when he walked. When he appeared at the yeshiva, the Holy Divine Presence descended and shielded the hall. The yeshiva students clung to the book before them with awe and divine inspiration and were swallowed by the sayings of Our Sages, may their memory be blessed. The “Illui” strolled between the rows of students, paused for a moment next to a certain young man, read his book and resumed his walk.

A special character was imprinted on Thursday, the day of “Illui's” visit to test the students. On this day he used to appear at the yeshiva to examine each one of its students. The young man stood in awe before him, lectured his lesson, and departed with a caress and words of affection. I remember, that when I was called to him on that day, I lectured before him the content of a Gemara page. The “Illui” pressed me between his legs,

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caressed my face with great affection, and said: “Say that child, say.” However, there was no shortage of words of sever reprimand when he was told about the inappropriate behavior of a certain young man. Then, the sinner stood before him trembling, bowed his head and received his punishment. The image of the “Illui” transcended especially on the Sabbath and on holidays. All the yeshiva students sat next a long table, the “Illui” sat at the head of the table and his son–in–law, R' Baruch Mordechai zt”l, sat next to him. Then, his face radiated like the face of a holy angel. Benevolence lights caressed the faces of the guests. The same spiritual food, the “addition” on the Sabbath and holidays, with the noble quality of the supreme spirit of the “Illui,” served as a foundation and support for the students on weekdays. The yeshiva grew and prospered and was the glory of the community of Korets.


The “Heavenly Yeshiva”
[The Yeshiva on the top floor] in Korets

by Eliezer Shostak (member of the “Keneset”)

Translated by Sara Mages

There was a significant symbol in the fact that the yeshiva and the Hebrew library “Tarbut” lived together in Korets. The library was located on the lower floor of the building and the yeshiva – on the top floor, and one kingdom didn't interfere with the other.

From this accidental fact we can see the special nature of “Yeshivat Korets.” What was inappropriate, strange and strictly forbidden in a large and important city in the Jewish Diaspora – was kosher, appropriate and even natural in Korets. Of course, a yeshiva student in Korets wasn't able to ignore the culture and the literature in the “underworld” before he climbed to study the Torah at the “Heavenly Yeshiva…”

This method of understanding, tolerance and moderation set the character and nature of the yeshiva because its founder, Rabbi Yoel Shurin zt”l, the “Poltava Illui” [prodigy] who moved the yeshiva from Zvhil to Korets, and his distinguished and noble successor, his son–in–law Rabbi Baruch Mordechai who was the head of the yeshiva in my time – symbolized in their life and the method of their teaching the special foundation of “Yeshivat Korets,” and it is: Torah and good manners together.

“Yeshivat Korets” didn't use the method of extreme moral, the isolated and ascetic, of the yeshivot of the “opponents” in Lita, and not the method of the “Holy Flame,”

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which burns birds that fly over the head of the student, of the yeshivot of the “Hassidim” in Poland. It also didn't use Rabbi Eliezer's version – “Al Tikri Halichos, Ela Halachos[1].” The yeshiva had its own methods and versions: it taught “Halichos” and “Halachos” together. Good appearance and attractive behavior in the society – on one hand: great diligence and intensive study of the laws of eternity – on the other hand.

You were able to argue with Yosale' Shurin, the son of the “Illui,” within the walls of the yeshiva and publicly about a decided ruling from “Yad HaChazakah[2] of the Rambam, and also about a philosophical assumption from his book “Moreh Nevuchim[3].” With Rabbi Baruch–Mordechai, the head of the yeshiva, you were able to discuss at the common meal on the Sabbath the current article of Matityahu Acher (the literary pseudonym of Professor Nathan Birnbaum who became an orthodox Jew at the end of his life) in “Tageblatt”– the daily orthodox newspaper of “Agudat Yisrael” in Warsaw, and also the weekly article of Dr. Yehusua Thon in the Zionist “Haynt” [“Today”]. You weren't in trouble. God forbid, after such a debate or after you've read these articles if, of course, you didn't fail the weekly oral exam, which was held every Thursday, on one of the issues in “Seder Nezikin[4] or on one of the “Tosafot” [commentaries] in “Masechet Gitin[5] (orally, of course, because this was the teaching method in Korets. It was necessary to know by heart not only the Gemara, but also the negotiations of the “Tosafot”). At the yeshiva building, alongside Moshe Ratshever, the broad–shouldered Hassid who was dressed in a black kapota and a wide–brimmed rabbinic hat, you were able to find Biril Bernstein who was a member of the left wing of “Poalei Zion.” Both discuss thoroughly before the head of the yeshiva, or before Rabbi Ben–Zion Schiff, the Torah scholar, the beloved humble person – an important Talmudic subject or a current secular political issue.

For that reason the status of the yeshiva, as an educational institute, was different in the city. The status of the yeshiva students in the Jewish society in Korets was also special. All eyes turned to the tall building which stood at the end of “Synagogue Street” (Skolna) like a lighthouse. The residents of this building, the yeshiva students, didn't shut themselves within their own world and were involved in all the circles in the city. I doubt, if elsewhere in the world – except maybe in the yeshivot of Sura, Nehardea and Pumbedita – was a strong emotional relationship between the yeshiva students and the local population – as it existed in Korets.

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The teaching method at the yeshiva was the comprehensive and profound “Lithuanian” method, but it didn't lack the tendentious–purposeful foundation.“Yeshivat Korets” taught what wasn't taught in any other yeshiva in the world: “Yoreh De'ah” together with “Choshen Mishpat.” These lessons were given in an orderly fashion by the head of the yeshiva. This matter of “organized training” for the use in the rabbinate was not customary at the yeshivot in Lita. “It is necessary learn for the sake of learning but not for the sake of the Rabbinate” – was the customary slogan of the yeshivot throughout the world. Training for the sake of obtaining “ordination” was a permission that was given only to the individual who wanted it. It wasn't so in Korets. The leaders of “Yeshivat Korets” felt the special responsibility that had been imposed on them in their education. They didn't rely on self–training, but instituted it as a method and a course of study, not only to produce scholars, but also spiritual and religious leaders for all the Jewish people. The student, who completed his studies at “Yeshivat Korets,” wasn't confused in his way of life and didn't expect the grace of his parents or rich in–laws. However, as a graduate of a religious university he was equipped with all the official documents that were necessary to fulfill; the role of a religious and spiritual leader in his community. Of course, the yeshiva student was also allowed to receive his “ordination” from famous rabbis outside the yeshiva, but he received his first diploma as a certified rabbi with the words: “Yore yore – Yadin yadin[6]” from the yeshiva. Korets didn't hesitate to put on its Rabbinate chair, which, as is well known, was respected and lofty for many generations, one of the yeshiva's students, the superlative Torah scholar, the well known Rabbi Nissl.

Furthermore, almost all the educators and head teachers were graduates of “Yeshivat Korets.” All of them were great Torah scholars, and all of them were qualified teachers. In the last years before the conflagration of the last World War, when the management of the yeshiva decided to “expand” to the capital city, to nearby Rovna, and establish a yeshiva there, Korets didn't have to search for the leader and the teachers of the yeshiva in a foreign land. It allocated all the qualified staff from its ranks, in terms of: “Your teachers and builders shall go forth from you …”

The students of “Yeshivat Korets” didn't taste the flavor of “Achilat Yamim[7],” they ate at the yeshiva communal restaurant. However, also here was a major innovation compared to what was customary in other yeshivot. Here, in Korets,” the leaders of the yeshiva and the teachers ate together with the students. On the Sabbath meals the leader of the yeshiva sat at the head of the table.

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This practice was instituted by the “Poltava Illui,” and this practice remained forever. These meals turned into a great experience for all the students, especially, on the Sabbath and on holidays. In this celebrations Torah and greatness gathered at one table. Not once, you also found next to the table many of the city's dignitaries who left their homes and came to this kings' table.

The tribulations of “Yeshivat Korets” were the tribulations of all the residents of the city. The butchers supplied the meat, the bakers the bread, and the water carriers – the water. The butchers, the bakers and the water carriers never received their payment on time. They received their wages in payments of nine months, if not more, and even that in small crumbs and not in substantial payments. Only once, the butchers, the bakers and the water carriers threatened to go on strike and cease the supply of their products. They threatened – but they didn't carry out their threat. I remember how the head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Baruch–Mordechai who was pleasant and always full of sense of humor, “convinced” the Kafatan family, the famous water carriers of Korets, not to join the strike: “Oh well, said Rabbi Baruch–Mordechai, I can understand that when the butchers and the bakers go on strike and don't supply the commodities to the yeshiva – the meat and the flour remain in their warehouses. But you, the water carriers, what are you going to gain from this strike? What can you earn when the water that the yeshiva students don't drink remains in the river…? and the reasoning convinced, the water was supplied and with it, also the bread and the meat.”

However, the residents of Korets weren't only loyal partners to the troubles and tribulations of the yeshiva. Its celebrations were the celebrations of all. A special atmosphere was felt at the yeshiva before each general celebration. The yeshiva students knew well that all eyes turned to them at that time, because, not only the fathers and the sons in Korets, but also the mothers and their beautiful daughters filled the halls of the yeshiva during a general celebration. They came to see and enjoy, see and be seen, to rejoice and also to delight.

When joy erupted at the yeshiva's dormitories, the partitions between the “religious students” and the city's “secular students” almost fell. Everyone joined together. Everything fit together. It wouldn't be an exaggeration if I paraphrase the famous Talmudic saying and say: “He who has not seen the rejoicing of Chanukah or Purim, or Simchat–Torah in ‘Yeshivat Korets’ – has never seen rejoicing in his life.”


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Al Tikri Halichos, Ela Halachos” – “Do not read Halichos (ways), but rather Halachos (Jewish religious laws),” i.e., those who learn and teach Halachos uphold the world and make it a better place. Return
  2. Sefer Yad HaChazakah –” “Book of the Strong Hand” – a code of Jewish religious laws written by the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon). Return
  3. Moreh Nevuchim” – “The Guide for the Perplexed.” Return
  4. Seder Nezikin” – “The Order of Damages” – the fourth Order of the Mishna. Return
  5. Masechet Gitin” discusses the laws of the get, the biblically mandated bill of divorce. Return
  6. Yore yore” “He shall teach.” “Yadin yadin”; “He shall judge.” Return
  7. Achilat Yamim” – eating days – each day, the students ate at the table of another homeowner. Return


[Page 133]

The B. Borochov Yiddish School

by Aizik Chimenes

Translated by Sara Mages

In 1918, with the establishment of the supreme council of workers and soldiers, the committee of “Poalei Zion” decided to establish a Yiddish School name after Ber Borochov. We had no means but, it turned out, that across from the monastery stood Bronstein's decapitated house. It had no windows and doors, and the broken part was bigger than the part that stood.

We had builders, members of the party, Binyamin Wasserman and Chaim, father of Hershel Hapkes, who helped us to renovate and rebuild the ruin. We sealed the windows with boards, found doors, and started to register the children of the working poor.

Bavel Shurin, who made a living by giving private lessons, was the first teacher. Even though she lived a life of poverty - she volunteered to teach the children of the poor free of charge. We received important help from the “Amateur club,” who presented a special show for the benefit of the school. It brought in several hundred Rubles.

About the same year Naphtali Katz returned from Russia. He worked vigorously to gather the necessary means for the existence of school. We rented an apartment at the home of Aharon-Ber Poliva, the bookbinder, in “Yatke Gas”. We occupied the entire second floor, which consisted of five rooms, and opened four classes.

We managed to gather an excellent faculty: Mordechai Finkelstein, Izzy Kaminer, the two brothers - Tovbin and Bavel Shurin. Nyomea Shtilerman also joined the faculty.

We established a restaurant for the students next to the school. At that time it was almost the primary school in the city, and we weren't able to absorb the large number of children who knocked on our doors.

Unfortunately, the school existed for only two years. In 1920, the Poles entered Korets. The new regime refused to recognize this school and it was forced to close its doors.


[Page 134]

The “Tarbut” library in Korets

by Judge Pinchas Avisar (Schwarzman)

Translated by Sara Mages

The library was the spiritual center of the city. The city's notables gathered around it and in it, from the outstanding academics to the intellectuals of Korets.

The library already existed when I was a boy of 15. If my memory is faithful to me, the library was founded in 1905. It was housed on the first floor of a two-storey house. The second floor was occupied by “Talmud Torah.”

The library was registered in the name of HaRav Hirshhorn who was given the honorary title, “Honorary Citizen,” by the Russian government. He was considered to be a loyal citizen who “prays for the well-being of the Kingdom,” and for that reason he received permission to establish a library in the city that among its founders was Shmuel Finkelstain.

There were thousands of volumes in this library, in Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish. When I became active in it, I tried, with the help of the Zetzer brothers, to enlarge the Hebrew section. We obtained subscriptions for “Hashiloach” “HaMelitz,” and “HaTsefirah.” In addition, we regularly received the monthly Russian magazine “Niva.”

The library was the meeting place for the young intelligentsia in Korets. It was the only place that we were allowed to hold a legal activity. Young men and women gathered there and debated about streams in literature, journalism and politics. Stormy debates about Hebrew and Yiddish also took place there.

We used the library for important Zionist activities. We organized meetings of the Zionist Association, Hanukah and Purim parties. We also conducted activities of information and education. In 1912, the organization “Histradrut le-Safah u-le-Tarbut Ivrit [“Association of Hebrew Language and Culture]” was founded in Kiev and was headed by Hillel Zlatopolsky (father of Shoshana Perzitz). His assistant was a Hebrew teacher from Kiev named Moshele Rosenblatt. This emissary lectured in the library about Zionism from a religious perspective.

When “Dorshei Leshon Ever Society” [“Friends of the Hebrew Language”], which was headed by the poet Meir Czudner, was established in Korets, it centered in the library. In 1914, when Ansky came to Korets to collect folklore material, he spent many hours at the library to collect the necessary material. From me he recorded into a phonograph a melody of the cantor, Chaim Yonas, who prayed at the Makarov Hassidim Kloiz. The melody describes the waving of the lulav on Sukkot.

[Page 135]

 

Yosef Setzer

 

The library was an important nursery. Considerable forces grew in it such as: Meir Czudner, Mordechai Zilberman and Yosef Setzer. The Setzer brothers served as librarians for a long time. Later, Asher Blovstein served in this capacity.


“Tarbut” library and the man Asher Blovstein

by Moshe Smolier

Translated by Sara Mages

The value of an enterprise isn't only measured by its scope and size, but, and mostly, by its content and role. If these words are being said about thousands of matters and cases, for a library, especially when we talk about libraries in small towns in the Diaspora, this is the one and only scale.

“Tarbut” library in Korets, and its role in educating the young generation, deserves a special evaluation. I doubt that I can give sufficient description and proper evaluation to this modest cultural enterprise, especially to its impact in the period between the first and the second world wars. Every expression, and it might be the most accurate, is pale against the lighthouse, which loomed over the sky of our city, and its name was “Tarbut” library.

The library wasn't like all libraries, but a spring from which the youth of Korets drank their fill for many years. They were educated on its knees and with its help they enriched their knowledge. It opened before them a window to the big wide world - the world's literature. Its best work and creators illuminated their way from the shelves of the library and

[Page 136]

Asher Blovstein

 

enriched it with knowledge, law and wisdom. The lively debates about authors and literature, that the youth of Korets was blessed with, originated within the four walls of the library. “Shul Gas” [Synagogue Street], the location of the library, served as a meeting place for the youth. Toward evening, when the library was open, you saw dozens of youths walking with books in their hands, beaming from happiness as if the Divine Presence resides in them and the general topic of conversation was the content of the book. I will not deviate from the degree of truth if I say that this library served as a special kind of a university. With its help the youth of Korets progressed, learned the law of life, saw the whole world and climbed the ladder of national and global culture. Mainly because of this reason the youth admired the library, took pride in it, took care of it and nurtured it with gentleness and admiration.

This important enterprise didn't grow overnight. The constant growth was the result of the collective efforts of all the youth in Korets who contributed to it to the best of their ability. However, we cannot clearly see the library, its role and activities, without recognizing the man who headed it. His main role was to collect means from the public for the sake of its growth and for its development and enrichment - and he's the librarian, Asher Blovstein. This man really saw it his life's work. When you entered the library you had the feeling that the man, who was bending over the table and reading the catalog, was completely merged with the shelves of these books and was an integral part of them. Only his special greeting broke this harmony and showed you the nature of this man who was immersed in the thousands of books from which he didn't separate until his delicate and pure soul rose in the cloud of fire that this beautiful library raised in the terrible fire that was set on fire by Hitler's henchmen in Europe.

Asher Blovstein knew what he had adopted to his heart. He realized that with the growth of the library a vast instrument is growing for the education of the young generation towards its destiny in life.

Blovstein was educated in the spirit of the previous generation. His knowledge of rich and broad Jewish sources, and his devotion to Jewish tradition, didn't curb his great desire to leave for the wide open space and plunge into the depths of the great sea of European culture. He was self educated like most of the intellectuals of his generation. He acquired his education on his own and studied day and night to expand his knowledge. When he stood at the head of the library he was equipped with enough knowledge, worldview, and a clear view of his role as an educator of the young generation.

[Page 137]

Blovstein was very tendentious. He wasn't in favor of education for the sake of education, but for a specific purpose. Blovstein knew how to match the book to the age and the level of knowledge of the reader. His classification, to the type and stages of his readers, wasn't mechanical. He saw in the young reader the Jewish man of tomorrow and in the older reader - the guide of the youth and the community. Especially noteworthy was his service to the Hebrew language and literature. For many he was the first to speak the Hebrew language. You were able to talk to him without fear and shame because you knew that any error would be corrected fairly and with the addition of a compliment. Usually, the approach to him was very friendly and almost all the readers admired his phenomenal memory. He remembered almost all the titles of the books found at the library and their number. He read most of them and their content was kept in the cells of his remarkable memory. When a reader needed material for the preparation of a lecture in the party or in the youth movement, when one of the teachers, or a student, needed reference material on a specific subject - Blovstein glances at the four corners of the room, closed his eyes for a moment, climbed, fumbled in the shelves and pulled out a book for that purpose. “Take,” he used to say, “and be satisfied.”

As a good educator he also knew how to reprimand those who were late to return their books. Many of the youth knew what awaited them when they came to the library. If someone didn't exchange a book for a very long time, he wasn't acquitted from a penetrating remark and clear intention. This good Jew knew that this precious treasure, which was sacred to the service of the public, was deposited in his hands so he watched it closely.

Blovstein loved the reader and the book. Not once, his attitude toward the reader determined the attitude of the reader to the book - he ache the pain of the book. Therefore, he appreciated the person who valued his enterprise and completely identified himself with him. Blovstein followed the reader and his dilemmas. He gently stroked the wounds of time of the young reader and helped him to solve his mental entanglement. His greatness was that he managed to create the triangle thread: him, the reader and the library. In this triangle he formed the basis. Blovstein knew where the secret of success is hidden: to serve the generation. He was a artist in this field. He used every ounce of goodwill and every spark of the ability and influence, to prepare' with the help of this library, a generation of Jewish pioneers that was loyal to this nation and its destiny. With that, he immortalized himself and his project for generations.


[Page 138]

The B. Borochov Library

by Arie Zabodnik

Translated by Sara Mages

The political party, “Poalei Zion Zionist-Socialist,” in Korets, adhered to the principle, “knowledge is power,” of one of the fathers of socialism and tried to spread education among the Jewish workers and the working youth. One of the ways to do so was the foundation of the library named after B. Borochov in 1928.

The library was founded in the party's hall and its founders were: Asher Shicher, Shlomo Shicher, Chaim Zuker, Yom-Tov Schneider, Avraham Gilgon and Arye (Leibel) Zabodnik.

Nauma Stilerman and Michel Litvak helped us a lot in organizing the library and their professional knowledge contributed to the success of the institution.

Under their guidance we started to purchase the classics - Sholem Aleichem, Mendele [Mocher Sforim] and I. L. Peretz. We also purchased every new book that was published in Yiddish. Over time, the library has grown and expanded to 500 volumes - all in the Yiddish language. The number of regular readers was around 160. The members of “HeHalutz” and “HeHalutz Hatzair,” who held their meetings at the party's hall, also used this library.

The first librarian was Arye Zabodnik and the members, Konofit and Frida Schamban, served in this position after him - of course, not for financial gain, because all the work was done voluntary.

The library also served as an educational institution for the masses of workers and the advanced youth. Various meetings, in which literary and political issues have been discussed, took place on Friday night. Questions and answers parties, in which important issues about our world and the world around us have been discussed, especially attracted a wide audience.

Every year we organized an academy in memory of B. Borochov. Apart from its educational value it also served as an important source for the library's expenses. Yisrael Greenfeld, who wasn't a Zionist and leaned to communism, gave a comprehensive and interesting lecture in one of the academies in memory of B. Borochov. The academy was held at the “Sokol” auditorium and left a great impression on the assembled. A tremor ran through the crowd when Greenfeld quoted Borochov's famous saying that the Jewish worker in the Diaspora is comparable to Prometheus. A terrible eagle is eating his heart and will only open his chains in the Land of Israel. It was a brilliant speech of a man who wasn't a Zionist. The lecture of Simcha Milstein from Mezhirichi about Borochov also left a great impression.

[Page 139]

To expand the activities, for benefit of the library, we organized the choir of “Poalei Zion” and “Freiheit.” Its organizer was Moshe Gildman z”l. The choir appeared before the public and earned a huge success. Each public lecture, which was organized by the party, was accompanied by the choir's program.

The library managed to organize around it a number of educated people who helped it materially and spiritually. The wife of the teacher Solomianik, a very educated woman, visited the library and lectured on literary and political subjects. Her lectures took place on Friday evening or on the Sabbath. She wasn't a member of “Poalei Zion” but, as an advanced woman with liberal viewpoints, she showed understanding and sympathy for the socialist movement.

A number of educated people, who tended to the völkisch movement, established a Yiddish School in Korets. Among them was the dentist Izia Kaminer, the lawyer Asher Tovbin and Mordechai Finkelstein. Their affinity to the Yiddish language was very strong and saw the library as one of the strongholds of this language. Therefore, they always attended the meetings arranged by library and also supported it with their own money.

Bavel Schorin, who taught at the Yiddish School, was an actress in the “armature club,” and in the summer served as a teacher in the “colonies” of “TAZ,” also gave us important help.


[Page 140]

The Art Life in Korets

by Yosef Wachbroit

Translated by Sara Mages

The Jews of Korets excelled in their love for singing and playing music, and it's possible to say that every other Jew was a “musician.” On the Sabbath they flocked to the Great Synagogue to hear a cantor, who was being tested to determine if he'll be accepted for the “High Holidays,” or not.

R' Yehusua the watchmaker, the chazanut expert, is standing in the middle of the synagogue surrounded by more “experts,” and they are impatiently waiting to see if their trouble was worthwhile.

And woe to that cantor that Reb Yehusua the watchmaker made a dismissive gesture and said: “Oh well, I've heard better cantors than him.” The next day, this cantor packed his belongings and set off because he finished his “career” in Korets.

I remember that a cantor named Alyoshka, whose behavior didn't fit his profession, prayed in Korets. Gossipers told tales about him that the hair literally stood on end. However, since he had a pleasant voice and a good appearance - all his sins were forgiven. Every Sabbath the city's Jews flocked to hear his prayer. And indeed, Alyoshka knew how to move the worshipers and stimulate a hidden tone in their heart, and it was sad to see how hardened men extremely enjoyed themselves and cried with emotion.

Two cantors prayed in Korets for a long time. Their names were Levitzki and Haffkin. The city's Jews were admired them because they sang well.

And who doesn't remember the “High Holidays” in Korets, when every Jew went to a synagogue where a “musician” cantor was praying. Despite his hoarse voice, R' Nachum the slaughterer attracted a large crowd who flocked to hear his prayers.

In Korets, there was a differentiation between a cantor and a “prayer leader.” On a cantor they said that he was proficient in musical notes and a prayer leader didn't.

And our Jews flocked to hear, Rabbi Baruch Huberman, with the pleasant voice, and the young cantor, Vigman, who prayed at the “Trisker Kloiz.” The Jews of Korets were very proud of their cantors and, by word of mouth, they whispered that the famous bass, Sibiryakov, originated from Korets and a certain famous violinist, who played first violin in the Czar's orchestra - is also from Korets.

Was there a Jew in Korets who didn't know how to sing, or, at least, to express an opinion in matters of singing? And when you passed by the blacksmiths' workshops and you heard their soft and sad singing about the suffering of the poor, about an orphan girl who was abused by her stepmother, and about

[Page 141]

unrequited love, when you listen to these songs with social content, you knew that the Jews of Korets had a reason to boast about their knowledge and love for singing and playing an instrument.

And who doesn't remember the klezmorim in Korets. Here is, “Reb Yoelik the kleizmer,” the first violinist in the group. When he was a little “drunk” he used to say - “the howling will begin soon.” Then, he laid his head on the violin, closed his eyes, began to sing goodnight, and then you heard how this woman, or another, burst out crying and tears flowed from the brides' eyes. And who doesn't remember “Peysi the kleizmer.” He didn't know how to play a violin or a bass, and yet, he was a “kleizmer” with all his might. He played the cello (in Korets they called this instrument “bass”) and accompanied the violin in a primitive way, but we saw in him an artist playing this instrument.

And so, they led dozens and hundreds of couples to the chuppah, and we cannot describe Korets without these klezmorim.

And there was another violinist, Zindel they called him. He played very seldom in weddings because he was a violinist not a “kleizmer.” And there was also one, Yankele' Bilansky, who was an excellent violinist.

And the Jews of Korets knew to tell about a famous violinist named Pedhatzur that, those with a weak heart, were afraid of dying with excitement when they heard his music. And they also told about the famous singer, Chaliapin, who came to give concerts in Zhitomyr. The Jews asked him to come to the bakers' synagogue to hear their cantor. Chaliapin agreed to their request, came to the synagogue, heard the cantor and admired him. However, he ordered his escorts to prevent the cantor from hearing his concert because he was afraid he would die with excitement. And Yehoshua Der Zigermacher concludes this tale in these words: and here, in the middle of an aria in Faust, the cantor fainted and “they hardly revived him.” And so, the Jews of Korets knew how to weave legends about singers and musicians.

And there's no wonder that the young generation followed them and Korets was blessed with a number of choirs. In addition to the schools' choirs, there was a choir next to the chapter of “Hashomer Hatzair” and the youth movement “Freiheit.” A number of interesting characters stood out in this field. Here's the elderly teacher, Pirkes z”l, a typical singing teacher who loved music and was ready to run over those who were off-key. And here's the teacher, Stern, the yellowish. A kind and friendly man he was, but, with it, he was firm in everything that was related to his profession. He knew how to unite young people around him. And here's Misha Gildnman, a friend and a companion, a vibrant man and a talented musician

[Page 142]

The orchestra in Korets in 1933
Standing right to left: 1) Yitzhak Chanin 2) Hlilel Rubin 3) Yitzhak Schneider 4) Shunya Shapira
Seated right to left: 1) Nachum Wasserman 2) Yosef Wachroit 3) Shmuel Kliefeld

 

who brought the joy of life everywhere he came. He invested his mental strength in our town, Korets, and loved its people, especially the young generation. His home and his heart were open to all in need. His energy, his time and talents were sacred to all.

There was an orchestra in Korets that was the pride of the city. Several interesting figures also stood out in this area. Here's Misha Gloshiver, the sickly and skinny with small fingers. When he played his violin he induced sadness and heartbreak on his listeners because his life was sad and death hovered between his strings. Yesha Spielberg, the noble and delicate, with his aristocratic melodies. Even though poverty and repression was his fate, his poverty didn't cloud his phenomenal talent. He played the guitar and the piano superbly. We regretted that such talent is going to waste. He was head and shoulders above us all, but in spite of it he was a gregarious person, wasn't arrogant and befriended everyone regardless of age and status.

Shmuel Kliefeld, the lively and witty, the conductor of the orchestra. He had a special gift to endear himself to all who knew him. He knew how to impose order and discipline in the orchestra. We greatly respected him because he knew how encourage us.

Yitzhak Chanin, the quiet and seemingly depressed, because a sacred fire blazed in his heart for music and

[Page 143]

for his violin. And when you saw him playing, you thought in your heart, how happy this young man is that he was given a gift from God.

Shunya Shapira, the beautiful and strong that we all loved. We liked him for his lovely mischief, kindness and innocent laughter. He loved music with all the warmth of his heart. He was the youngest in the group and we called him “Der Muzinik” (the youngest son). He was happy that he was able to be a member of the group, a matter that brought him satisfaction and pleasure.

And Erlich, that according to the concepts of Korets was an accomplished violinist, was considered to be an expert in musical notes. He was the intelligent of the orchestra and its main speaker. And there was also one, Rubin, but I only knew him for a short time. I liked him for his peace of mind and strong desire to live in the world of music.

And I also remember the amateur troupe that one of its founders was a yeshiva student named Yitzhak. The people of Korets liked the theatre, and for that reason a number of theatre troops visited the city. A Russian troop, Charska-Ivana, appeared for many months and also a Ukrainian troop, of high artistic level, who presented, among others, the “Dybbuk” by Shlonsky. And who cannot remember the Yiddish theater companies, that of Fishlevitz-Mendelovitz and that of Fishman, and their shows - “Hinke Finke,” Tsvey Kuni Lemel, “Got, mentsh un tayvl” [God, man and devil], “Mirele Efros,” “Shulamit,” etc. The Jews of Korets deprived food from the mouth to watch a theatrical performance. The amateur troupe was the pride of the city.

The images of these artists are rising and hovering before my eyes. I will never see them again, and I loved them so much. We will not hear their voice again, and no longer listen to their music and laughter. Forever, they were silenced forever. But again, in the very recent past, they were living people with youthful energy. And now they passed from the world, harvested at the height of his hunger for life. Nothing remains of that world…

 

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