by Chayim Tsvi Mazur (Baltimore)
Here in the United States, I sit and think that whatever so-called culture I possess came to me from the Tarbut School in Vishnevets.
The fact that I'm writing in Hebrew, my knowledge of my nation's history from ancient times, my actively patriotic thoughts, and my connection to my brothers, wherever they are, are all thanks to the education I received at that school.
That's why I write fondly about my memories of the school's development and establishment.
There was a Russian school in Vishnevets whose entire staff consisted of one man named Ternikov. He was the principal and the sole teacher. I remember Ternikov with kindness. He was a kindhearted, fattish man with a neat mustache and a smile that never left his face.
This institution taught the Russian language, Russian history, and a little mathematics. The emphasis in the school was on beautiful handwriting, meaning that the letters had to be rounded, symmetric, and beautiful. This was the objective; what you wanted to do with those letters was up to you.
He had only a few students. Only those who wanted to learn to write letters and petitions in Russian studied there. In fact, the number of Jewish students was restricted, and the few who could study there had to pay a high price as well as a bribe.
The school closed after the Russian Revolution and all the small revolutions that shook our area. Other schools were established, and there was even a Ukrainian school, where we were taught about glorious Ukrainian history, including Mazepa, Skoropadsky, and Chmielnitski.
With the stabilization of the Polish regime, the zealous Ukrainian nationals changed their skin, became Polish patriots, and studied at the Polish school.
Meanwhile, the two Chezkelyovna sisters showed up in Vishnevets and, in the empty Roynik building, established a school where they taught both Russian and Yiddish. I can't remember how and why this Russian institution was established, but its existence brings back memories of the lack of direction that prevailed in education in the town. By the way, Tsvi Roynik was hired as a teacher in that school. He taught Hebrew and a few Hebrew songs and organized Chanukah and Purim plays in Hebrew.
At that time, Froyke the Teacher began his excellent educational program. In his lessons, he dared to include Judges, that is to say, the Prophets and Writings, which were then banned by traditional Jewish education. He also dared to teach Jewish history in his cheder. The Hasidim in the town opposed him, and the Derbarimdiker family, which was descended from Rabbi Levi Yitschak of Berdichiv, amazed us with their war against Froyke. But Froyke paid no attention to them. His students clung to him, and every child begged his parents to send him to Froyke's cheder.
Froyke continued with his revolutionary teaching methods. He taught us Graetz rom the German text, which he himself translated into Yiddish, adding his own interpretation.
At Froyke's, we tasted the flavor of Jewish culture. We felt that it really existed and was an important part of our education as sons of the same nation and human beings. We adored and loved him. When Froyke left Vishnevets, our world the world of children who, with his help, had tried to peek inside our nation's perplexing world was empty.
It felt as if the world had turned dark for us, but meanwhile I learned that the situation wasn't hopeless. A group of dignified, respectable men from Vishnevets got together to turn on the light of Jewish culture and plan a cultural future for the younger generation.
Of the group, I remember Dudi Lerer, Avraham Leyb Katz, Idel Shapiro of the older generation, and Kopel Dobrovitker, Duvid Der Osterers (Rotenberg), Korin, Nachum Beren, Kornfeld, Chachki, and others of the younger generation.
In a short time, a yeshiva and a number of cheders opened, and the Tarbut School was established.
The most outstanding school was Tarbut, where the power of Jewish renewal was uncovered and a different kind of human ability was developed. This was the ability to witness history and politics and make the right choice in the marketplace of choices flooding the Jewish street, where every Jew not knowing what was really good for the Jews adopted his own opinion and viewpoint. The Tarbut School developed the ability to make individual decisions, and most students suddenly found themselves completely different. They rebelled against the authorities and discovered that they were standing on firm ground as members of the same healthy cultural nation, with a unified language and a clear personal and national destiny. How did that happen?
At the same time, a man named Volk and his wife arrived. These two were unique, differing from all of us in their dress, their speech, their manners, and everything else. They spoke to each other only in Hebrew, not Yiddish, and they were very serious. Their seriousness was different; it was based on security and belief, not the usual sadness and despair.
Duvid Lerer, a respected and well-educated man who read a lot and knew English, immediately supported Volk and increased his prestige. Avraham Leyb Katz, who later immigrated to Israel with his entire family, and Idel Shapiro also supported him. They rented an apartment for the school in the Vitels building in the center of the market, and the school was founded.
Volk added Nachum Beren, Kopel Dobrovitker, and Leyb Korin as teachers. With certainty, he knew whom to choose as educators of the younger generation. The atmosphere and academic standards at the Tarbut School were high. Volk was powerful. He understood that by adding Yosef Erlikh as a history and Bible teacher, he had established a treasure within Vishnevets.
A short time later, most of the town's children were studying at the Tarbut School. They all ran willingly to their classes, and they had all already begun speaking Hebrew. They were interested in Jewish literature and deliberated vital topics, such as the community, the nation, and their place in society.
It's worth mentioning that it was the kind and sweet Yosef Erlikh who formed our modern Jewish identity, which, I must say, we needed then. He presented the Bible to us as a historical subject and described the prophet as a common man with a vision who felt his nation's pain, rebelled against tradition, and sought the best for the simple man. Using the Bible as a backdrop, he embroidered a large web of geographical subjects and much more. I'll always remember Yosef Erlikh with kindness and admiration. How did a man with such a broad vision get to our town?
And the Poles were hopping with anger. Their government school was empty, and without Jewish students, the academic standards dropped. Tarbut burdened them and was a thorn in their plan to enforce Polish culture. They began to increase their demands, declared the building unfit, and demanded a license when one wasn't required.
The struggle was difficult. Idel Shapiro emerged as a proud and unyielding fighter. He fought like a lion for our national right, but nothing helped. We had to leave the Vitels building, and the school closed, so to speak.
The Poles were happy with their victory, but the Tarbut School continued to operate in secret.
How was it done? How could they do this underground? It was very simple. We returned to the place of assembly and study. We went to the street where the synagogues were and housed the classes in various synagogues. Children supposedly went to pray there, and no one had the power to stop us.
|Board of Directors of Tarbut in Vishnevets, with I. Shapiro in the Center|
Tarbut in Vishnevets was not only a school. It was a place where a new order and new identities were formed.
Therefore, I remember it for its great teachers. It's dear for me here in my new foreign land, and the language it provided me is my language even today.
Addendum by the Editorial Board:
Mr. S. Rozenhek, chief supervisor of Tarbut and later central office director, didn't agree to our request to write about his contributions to our school so as not to discriminate between cities, but he asked us to mention the following in his name:
by Tsipora (Shlayen) Kornfeld
The town's Hebrew kindergarten opened at Shlome Ayzenberg's home. Several wooden steps led to the ground floor, where the kindergarten resided in one room. Next to it was a small yard with a sandbox for the children to play in.
For me, it was rare thing. In our town, we didn't know that an institution like that could exist.
Parents hurried to send their children to study in the cheder at a very young age so that a Jewish education could be implanted in them before they strayed to foreign fields. I saw the kindergarten in Vishnevets as part of the ideological changes taking place in our community, and working there integrated nicely with my pioneer training.
The local Zionists and town intellectuals created the kindergarten. They weren't wealthy, but as Zionists, they wanted to raise their children in the environment of the songs, words, and sounds of their future language, Hebrew. Some also wanted to make it easier for their children to adjust to Hebrew school.
The kindergarten teacher was Dora Mofshit, of blessed memory. She came from the town of Rovne, which as then Volin's Hebrew cultural center, where she received her professional training. She was a good-looking young woman, noble and calm. Later it was discovered that she was then already suffering from a terminal illness, and she died young. Nevertheless, she was dedicated to the children, she met their needs with her heart and soul, and her illness didn't affect her work.
Ozer Mofshit, her life's companion, helped her with her work and dedicated himself to the institution's development. I was hired as a teacher's assistant. I then belonged to a local training kibbutz detachment. I knew Hebrew, and it looked to me as if they were planning to help our detachment with its meager existence.
The kindergarten wasn't supported by any public organization. All expenses were the responsibility of the parents, who couldn't always fully support the organization but maintained it with love and dedication. Little by little, the school became the Pioneer-Zionist community's responsibility, and the kindergarten became an important component of the Hebrew environment in our town. It was surrounded by love and admiration, which helped it to endure.
For our part, we donated items to our beloved institution. With our own hands, we built tools, teaching aids, and various games and toys.
The people of Vishnevets were happy with the institution and proud of their children, who spent their innocent days immersed in a world of games and childhood, expressing themselves in Hebrew.
When we walked in the streets with our kindergarten youngsters singing Hebrew songs with their little mouths, the town's residents stood by their doors and proudly watched their beloved children, whose future would probably be in the land of their patriarchs.
We had the feeling that, with our work, we contributed directly and indirectly to increasing the value of Zionism in the town.
I don't know what happened to the kindergarten after I left Vishnevets and after Dora, its dedicated, noble teacher, died. But during its short existence, it was a respected institution on its own and a glorious testimony to Vishnevets Zionists.
May these lines be a memorial to the souls of Vishnevets Zionists and a memorial candle to dear Dora.
|First Kindergarten in Vishnevets|
by Y. Ron
The General Zionists were the most prominent Zionist party in Vishnevets. Its members were the wealthiest and most highly respected people in our town. Since it was a general party, it didn't take a stand on the matter of denying the Diaspora and didn't require its members to fulfill their Zionist duty. Its members could interact moderately with other Zionist parties and show them sympathy and mutual respect. More than once, they helped other parties reach their goals even if they stood on opposite platforms. Everyone favored and respected them. They were responsible for collecting donations for the Jewish National Fund, the Foundation Fund, and other charitable organizations. With the cooperation of other parties, they kept busy collecting money, and they had a decisive influence in this area. They were responsible for the Tarbut School's establishment and upkeep.
The most prominent party member was the chairman, Yehuda Shapiro, of blessed memory. There was no organization for which he didn't act as chairman at some point, and for that reason he was called seven times chairman. He helped everyone who asked, and his home was a meeting place for the best and most active members of various Zionist parties.
More than once, he donated or loaned his own money to failing institutions during their crises. Although the General Zionist party didn't force its members to immigrate, Yehuda Shapiro came to his own decision and immigrated with his wife, who was always by his side helping him. He immigrated with his family and helped other families from Vishnevets to immigrate.
Yehuda died in Hadera, weary of his many activities and hardships in the Land.
Yehuda Shapiro created a generation that continued to follow the General Zionist tradition and fulfill its Zionist duty. The most prominent member was Chayim Zev Brik, whose delicate soul and unlimited dedication to Zionism served as a personal example and gave the party and its members a good name.
He came to our town from Pochayev and very shortly became one of us. He was privileged to immigrate to the Land with his family and fulfilled his dream when his sons settled in the Land and built a reputable name for themselves. Chayim Zev Brik died in Hadera, the village-town he helped build and was proud of.
Simche Zak, of blessed memory, was also considered one of the most active members of the General Zionists in our town. He added his own personal touch to the Zionist party's work in Vishnevets. Like the other two, he latched onto Zionism as his generation's duty and saw his work as personal fulfillment.
Simche Zak was one of our first immigrants. He purposely settled in the holy city of Jerusalem when it was still a mixed city and never moved away from there, waiting for its reunification until the day he died.
Yakov Fishman, of blessed memory, who was famous for his exceptionally powerful memory, was a founder of the General Zionists.
Each conversation with him left a great impression on anyone who took part. Thanks to his hobby, Yakov Fishman got a job at the Israel Electric Corp. In his miniature letters, he wrote the history of the construction of the Rotenberg power station on postcards. The Israel Electric Corp.'s management was interested in the man, and when they realized that he had an exceptional memory and was a certified accountant, they gave him a job with special benefits. He lived and died in Tel Aviv.
Yosef Erlikh also made an impression on the party. He didn't immigrate, and he perished with all the other martyrs of Vishnevets. We remember his many educational activities with kindness. Thanks to him, the Hebrew language was implanted among young people and served as a main driver of their immigration.
The list of active Zionists in our town is long. Each one had his own qualities and personal interpretation of his political work. We will remember them for eternity in our memorial book; may these lines be a memorial to them and their blessed work.
General Zionist Pioneer was considered to be the young guard of Al HaMishmar, founded by Grinboym and Kleynboym (now Sana), who lent a helping hand to the Zionists in their various public activities. For a while, the writer of these lines served as Pioneer chairman and was honored to be elected to various district party offices after our chapter excelled in social and public works.
General Zionist Activists
At the top right is the author of this article; seated on the right is E. Tsinberg.
To our regret, our activities began too late. Although we were able to organize a small group of middle-class young people, we couldn't increase the pace of immigration in the short term. Only four of us were lucky enough to immigrate to the Land, in many different ways: Yitschak Rozental, Lusik Tsimberg, Elkane Senders, and me. Those who remained were destroyed and murdered with the rest of Vishnevets while they were still young, full of life, and active on behalf of the nation and the Land.
May their holy memory remain with us for eternity.
by Hentsye Zak (Zeyger)
Our town was extremely picturesque, with a fantastic view. The two parts of the town the new and the old were connected by a bridge over the river. Above it was a big park with a sprawling palace, which the town's residents strolled around, mostly on the Sabbath.
During World War I, Vishnevets was close to the Austrian-Russian front and was full of soldiers and weapons. We lived in fear. Some soldiers escaped a number of times and returned. We knew what we needed to do to protect and save ourselves, and we knew how to be careful, so the number of victims wasn't high. After the war, many people immigrated to the United States.
Close to 4,000 Jews lived in our town. A few were rich, and the rest were needy and had a difficult time earning a living by trading with gentiles. Every Monday, a market took place. The gentiles hurried to town with horse carts full of farm products. The money they earned selling their products was spent in the Jewish stalls and stores for all kind of commodities, mostly for excessive drinking. On market days, it was dangerous to go outside, since they were rolling drunk in the streets.
We were connected to the town, and all our young interests were dedicated to it.
|Freedom Movement in Vishnevets during the 1920s|
Everything changed after World War I. The young people grew older, developed, and began to study. Many of us studied in the town's high school and in the nearby city of Kremenets. Delegates and lecturers began to appear in our town and encourage us to fulfill our Zionist duty, and excitement grew, mostly among young people. Most joined different movements than did the veterans, who were either General Zionists or Zionist contributors. The new movements called on their members to do more than just raise money that is, to get up and immigrate.
Our movement, Zionist-Socialist Liberty, had a large concentration of talented members. We studied Hebrew and met now and then to engage in ideological discussions and exchange ideas. We took on various national assignments. Our lives changed direction, and we concentrated our thoughts on creating a new society in the Land.
At that time, the Tarbut elementary school opened in town. Its academic standards were high, and Hebrew was taught as a living language.
In 1922, a number of people left town and immigrated to the Land. In addition, a number of established families closed their business, sold their property, and immigrated. This was a daring and impressive move on their part, and, no doubt, it made a big impression and added excitement to the Zionist concept. My brother, Mordekhay Zeyger, who was very active in the Zionist movement in Odessa, and his wife immigrated. He was one of the first 10 lawyers to receive a work permit from the Mandate government. A short time later, he brought me, my parents, my two brothers, and my sister, along with our families. Thanks to him, we were saved.
by Moshe Shteynberg
The substance of life in our town was similar to that in many other Jewish towns in Polish Volin. Its economy was based on minor trade and light industry.
The town's special character was the result of its distance from large Jewish and cultural/educational centers. A sense of separation and distance prevailed.
The closing of the immigration gates to countries on the other side of the ocean and the Polish masters' narrowing of income sources impoverished the Jewish population. The struggle for survival was difficult, and the Polish authorities' animosity took the form of legal anti-Semitism during the 1930s, the second decade of independent rule.
The Jews in town were mainly traditional and nationalistic. A longing for Zion beat in their hearts in spite of their objection to Zionism, and they kept their affection for the Land of Israel a deep secret. The road from there to feasible Zionism was long. The Pioneer movement, established in the 1920s, united the best young people in its ranks. The concept of immigration was like a breath of fresh air. Young people pulled out of town, and some immigrated to the Land. For various reasons, activities stopped, conservatism grew, and the public continued to be narrow-minded.
Zionism in Poland began to gather momentum in the 1930s.
Youth, Nature, and Relaxation
The text inside the photo reads District Meeting of Young Pioneer in Vishnevets, 5/4-5/6, 1934.
Jewish centers revived the concept of the nation's rebirth. Young people prepared to immigrate, and large-scale immigration to the Land of Israel began. Vishnevets was also swept up by this energy, although a little late. Youth organizations were established in the town: Young Pioneer, Pioneer, Youth Guard, Betar, Religious Zionist Youth, and others. We met young people from other cities in summer camps, meetings, and conventions that awakened new ideas in us ideas that shook the foundation of our remote province.
Subsequently, a Youth Guard chapter was established in our town. A number of Young Pioneer and Pioneer members, with Yakov K. in the lead, left and established this branch. This group of young people, who were emotionally restless and agitated, rebelled against tradition as if an invisible hand were pushing them, forcing them to mutiny and rebel. They deliberated many different issues, such as life in the Diaspora, human relations, social problems, and the war against discrimination, that overwhelmed our world. We were thirsty for knowledge, action, and new horizons.
Youth Guard and its doctrine quenched our thirst. We filled our lungs with its idealism and teachings. The Tarbut School was a great pearl of our town, and every movement was blessed to include within its ranks the young people who studied there, who were among the best in our town. The Youth Guard chapter succeeded in capturing the hearts of most of the young people at the school.
The first Tarbut graduating class joined our branch. A group of girls who shared the dilemma of how and where integrated quickly into our activities and took over some responsibilities. Our chapter became our second home. It bubbled as we did and fully understood of the needs of a young soul. We were taught how to fill the gap between our needs and the fulfillment of our pioneering. We were ready to break out of our tradition and our family's thresholds and row toward a new life.
We didn't gain much sympathy from the locals and our parents, even though they respected our obsession and actions. Local Zionists didn't agree with our deep socialism, and parents saw us as the cause of their children's rebellious behavior.
The parents claimed that we stole their children, and at times they prevented them from coming to our meetings. But that also passed, and attitudes changed. The branch's graduates, who had left for training, came home to get ready for their immigration. The second group left for training, and relationships with their parents improved when they realized their children were serious. They also hoped that maybe one day their rebellious children would help them.
This is the history of the branch as it was being established, and this is the story of its young people. Only some members of any movement had the chance to immigrate to the Land. A portion of the members who were ready to immigrate were stopped on the way because of the Mandate government's restrictions and weren't able to immigrate.
The beloved young people of Vishnevets who had been preparing to immigrate were forced to stay home, and they fell victim to the sudden Holocaust. My heart aches, and their memory will always follow me.
by Yakov Chatski (Givat Hashlosha)
The bloody riots of 5689 (1929) in the Land of Israel shocked the Zionists and also awakened patriotic feelings among non-Zionist Jews. We found out about the riots from the newspapers, and a deep fear took over the town's residents. During that time, we gathered in groups and talked loudly and with concern about events in the Land. The news from the Land was frightening, and each day brought more victims. We believed from the bottom of our hearts that the Yishuv in the Land knew how to protect the people, but doubt ate at a corner of our hearts: could they?
The population's firm stand attacked our souls and inspired young people from various trends and factions. As one, they were ready on a moment's notice to go and lend a helping hand to the Yishuv. Longing for Zion increased. The Pioneer movement, along with the rest of the Zionist organizations in town, organized a meeting (I think the meeting took place in the Great Synagogue). Numerous Jews from all walks of life and of all ages rushed to the meeting, and the space was soon too small to accommodate them. We listened to the speakers' words with fear and with trembling hearts. I remember the words of Moti Goldberg, of blessed memory, which shook his listeners' hearts and brought them to tears. After the speeches, a spontaneous collection of money, jewelry and other valuable items took place. The young people were ready to give their lives, immigrate, and help the nation in Zion. But the gates to the Land were bolted.
Meanwhile, a small group of 16- to 18-year-olds joined us. With the help of Pioneer member Aharon Goldman, of blessed memory, a Young Pioneer branch was established in the town.
At the same time, the kibbutz movement in the Land saw the need to educate its members from a young age about the duties facing them, but how could we attract the town's young people to the movement when we didn't have instructors? The same year, the Young Pioneer central office organized a month-long district meeting in Klevan, near Rovne, and one agenda item was to create a pool of instructors. It was decided to send two young people from our branch, but the meeting cost 45 zehovim, required the loss of workdays, and didn't meet with parents' approval. I managed to convince my parents and Nisan Servetnik's parents, and, paying our own expenses, the two of us left for the camp. Many young people from the district gathered there. The best delegates arrived from the Land of Israel. Among them were Tabenkin and Lyoyita, who spread the spirit of the Land and taught us from morning to evening. We absorbed that spirit and returned home burning with youthful excitement, and we dedicated ourselves to working for the movement.
Very soon, we captured many hearts and attracted young people of all ages and lifestyles to our branch. Our membership reached 180-220 young men and women. As a result of our growth, we had to leave the temporary home Pioneer had given us.
We rented a home and decorated it well, and the young people spent most of their evenings there singing, playing, and dancing until midnight.
To the chapter's council, we elected Shalom Kornfeld; Leybel Vilsker (from Shumsk); Tova Chatski; Azriel Blinder; Duvid Ba'almelakhe, of blessed memory; and (may they live long) Verdi Yitschak (Reyzels), Koler Tsvi, P. Markhbeyn, and the writer of these lines. The council's duty was to organize and plan the branch's activities. Pioneer members, such as Aharon Goldman, of blessed memory; Nachum Beren; Shvats (a teacher in Tarbut School), of blessed memory; and (may they live long) Meir Averbukh and Yakov Yeshurun (Ketaykisher) helped us with cultural activities. Reading material came from the Pioneer and Young Pioneer centers. We received newspapers such as Davar, He-Atid, and Das Vort. The Davar newspaper arrived from the Land and was grabbed, passed from hand to hand, and read in groups. There was a great thirst to know what was happening in the Land, so a political review and Hebrew classes at different levels took place every week.
Trouble also came from other sources: the homeowners (the rich) weren't pleased that their sons were mixing with the lower class. Fathers and sons had many arguments on that subject. For organizational reasons, the branch was divided into three age groups. Each group was divided into subgroups according to the number of instructors available and by education level. Each group had its own name, such as Ein Harod, Trumpeldor, and so on.
Young Pioneer graduates in the Land remember how the different groups of our branch met every Sabbath dressed in uniform.
|Pioneer and Young Pioneer Federation in Vishnevets|
We marched down the town streets holding our group's flag and singing Israeli marching songs in powerful voices. On the way to the Kremenets Mountain, we spread out, and each group turned to its own corner for games and dancing. I remember well the look on the faces of the town's Jews when we passed them in the street. Many shook their heads as if to say, They have time for this nonsense? but a small number understood that something new was happening there. Who can forget how we went out to the palace garden on Saturday evening, and you could hear our singing from far away?
Once, when we wanted to go on an extended long-distance trip (such as to Dubno), but not all of us had the money to pay for it, we decided to go out to work as a group. By doing so, we accomplished three goals: we strengthened our bodies for hard labor, helped each other, and earned the money we needed for the trip. Day after day, a group of our young men went out to get construction jobs. The Jews looked around in astonishment: young men, sons of well-to-do fathers, doing unskilled labor? How?
Young Pioneer had a special duty. It collected money for various foundations, such as the Jewish National Fund, the Palestine Workers' Fund, the Pioneer Fund, and others. In groups of two, we went out into the street, walking from home to home, door to door, and with excitement and great awe, we brought back the money needed to redeem the Land of Israel and protect the settlements. Who can forget the Chanukah bazaar we arranged year after year, the hot potato latkes, the games, and most important of all the money we collected and dedicated to the Jewish National Fund! Young Pioneer presented itself in an amazingly decorated corner. Its presentation included diagrams about the Federation's resources and branches, newspapers from the Land of Israel, and pictures of kibbutzim.
Year after year, Young Pioneer members and graduates left for training detachments throughout Poland, most of the time disobeying their parents' wishes. One clear day, an article appeared in the Vishnevets newspaper (I think the paper's name was Der Tag) under the headline And the boy is missing. The article told the story of Avraham Geler, of blessed memory, who ran away to a training detachment without his parents' permission and how they forcefully brought him back home.
In 1933-1935, thousands of young men from all over Poland, many of whom were far away from Zionism, joined Pioneer. They established Pioneer detachments in cities and towns. The conquest detachment also entered Vishnevets then, and we helped its members with arrangements and helped them find jobs to support themselves. Morning after morning, the members left armed with saws and axes and worked as lumberjacks, as water drawers, at various household chores, or at any other available jobs.
Today, Young Pioneer members from Vishnevets are scattered all over the Land in kibbutzim, villages, and cities. But most young people couldn't reach the Land of Israel because they were murdered by the Nazi beast.
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