By Shmuel Lifshitz
Upon the outbreak of World War I, the Russian government hung a conscription notice on the church in the market place. On a Sabbath afternoon in the month of Av (?), those conscripted from Antopol and its environs had to travel by train to Kobrin. With groans, tears in their eyes, and much anguish, the women, children, and elderly accompanied the young men to the train. I was then nine years old, and the memory of that scene is one I shall never forget. By chance, the day before there had been a solar eclipse. Everyone was shaken. The eclipse was a bad omen. (Later, the war broke out, and letters arrived from the front and from the wounded in hospitals.)
The young men went on the Sabbath to the loading area. Trains left without let up for the front with ammunition and soldiers and came back with the wounded. I must also point out that anti-Semitism increased. People spread rumors that all the Jews were for the Germans and sent their money to Germany.
At the fortress in Brisk, people prepared for a big battle. Many fled, which let to Antopol becoming overfilled with Jewish homeless. They were settled in study halls and, where possible, in private homes. The town devoted itself to helping the homeless. In our home (that is, Moshe Isaac's house), which was on the synagogue courtyard, there was a kitchen where food was prepared for the homeless.
On the last night before the Germans came, we didn't leave our home. At the time, a battle which lasted about 13 days was being fought at the Horodets River. We could hear the shooting in Antopol. The Russians had burnt the town eight days earlier. They burnt the stores around the four sides of the marketplace and Mazurski's mill, which was powered by a diesel motor. Eight days later, the last night before the Germans entered, the watchman told us to prepare to leave our homes because soon the entire town would be burnt. There would be no battle in town because everyone was leaving since tomorrow at noon the Germans would enter.
We prepared ourselves, hid the little money we had, and packed our things in the ice cellar. Our family consisted of grandfather, parents, and three children. We left our home at midnight. We went through David Kaplan's garden to the fields where we met more Jews and also other members of our family, one of the largest in town.
While lying in the fields, we could see the town burning on all sides. We heard the shouts of the escaping soldiers, so we also fled farther and farther away. We met up with Jews from the town and also homeless refugees. Of course, we were also homeless. The synagogue courtyard, the synagogue together with the study halls, our home, and the bath were all burnt. The German army had entered in the morning.
Gradually, the population returned to the ruined town. As Antopol became completely filled with Jews, the Jewish refugees and the local Jews took over vacant gentile houses and also settled in the nearby villages of Frishikhvost, Zshalive, Zenivie, and Tarakan. At the same time, our Jews began to supply themselves with food.
As it was before the holidays, the grain crops were already in the barns. The Antopol Jews began in a primitive fashion to beat with sticks the full ears of corn and to prepare bread. People from the big cities, it is a pity, had to come to our small town for us to instruct them how to get some grain and afterwards clean and grind it.
Thanks be to God, the winter came late, and we dug up the potatoes which were still in the fields. Later, there was frost and after it went away, we dug up potatoes which had already frozen. We used them to bake puddings. Understandably, the grain around the town was quickly used up. This happened before the German government, which took everything it could get, had a chance to seize our grain and before it could establish control.
The Germans immediately began to take over. They created districts. The district of Antopol was from Horodets Bridge to the village of Brashevitsh. The Drohitshin district began from Brashevitsh. The villages in the Antopol district were Frishikhvost, Zshalive, Zenivie, Tarakan, Shukatsi, and Rusheve. The Germans set up a civil administration.
A mayor was selected for Antopol. He had to know the German language. The first mayor was a limping, homeless Jew from Brisk, who caused a lot of trouble until we got rid of him. We replaced him with a person from Antopol. Then a council of four people was picked to organize the gathering of grain from the villages for distribution to the people and also for complying with requisition orders from the Germans. The Germans had stopped all travel. There were no trains for a certain amount of time. To go from one district to another, a pass from the general staff was necessary, but it could not be obtained.
All the better horses had been requisitioned. From time to time, horses were taken to a veterinarian to be examined, then branded and recorded. The Germans completely controlled the distribution of the horses. I should comment here that a horse was worth a fortune. The person who had a horse would be able to get food, and those who did not would go hungry. It was forbidden to take food from the village to the city. There was a nightly curfew at 9 p.m. The entire male population from ages of 14 up served as forced labor. Their work was to repair roads, to bring different products to the train (which began to operate for military purposes), and to load supply wagons. The Jewish officials had to supply people, horses, and wagons for all this work which was compelled by the German military.
In 1918, the revolution in Russia broke out. Trotsky made a peace agreement with the Germans in Brisk-Litovsk. Then all the peasants who had left the entire region began returning to their homes. They found their houses burnt, in ruins. Many had no doors or windows. The fields were overgrown with wild grass. One can only imagine how bad the situation was. At that time, the Germans withdrew. Numerous gangs sprang up, robbing, stealing, and murdering. At the same time, many prisoners of war returned, among them lots of Jews. The Jews in Antopol organized a self-defense effort and began to govern. Elhanan Lifshitz, who had returned from Russia, headed the self-defense unit. Nehemiah, the quilter, kept the weapons at home. He lived on the marketplace in an apartment in Esther Shemuel Rusel's house. Travelers spread news from one city to another, thus it took some time to hear that the Belokhovtses were in Kobrin. They waited until the Polish Army entered. They then joined the Polish Army to fight against the Red Army, which had been able to overcome all the other armies in Russia. People used to meet in Nehemia's apartment to discuss the news and to make the best decisions they could.
One Wednesday evening, we sat with Nehemiah the quilter. Suddenly, his wife came into the room, frightened. She said that several cavalry had just come to the house of Avigdor, the village chief. She had heard them speaking Polish. We immediately panicked. Nehemiah and my father and a few other older people went out on the balcony to intercept the cavalry while others quickly removed the weapons from the room by the back door. There was great fear, because we had had an announcement a few days before that the people of Antopol should take their guns to Kobrin and surrender them to the Polish government. From the other side, the Red Army had sent money and instructions to buy weapons we were to hold for them until they arrived.
Several scouts arrived in town for two or three days. On the third day, the Red Army came to Drohitshin and to Antopol. The Red Army that came to Antopol was disorganized. It was a large group of soldiers of different ages, many were young and many were elderly. They came on foot and lacked weapons. Some did not even have a rifle.
However, every one of them had hand grenades slung around them. Since they came at dusk, there was a great deal of confusion. Finding quarters for such a big mob was a critical problem. In our home, soldiers were quartered in each room, and we had to share our supper with them. Finally, the soldiers were all housed and went to sleep. We didn't even put up a watch. The Poles and Belakhovtses came in at dawn with machine guns, cavalry, and artillery. The Red Army did not have time to flee. The soldiers ran with their pants in their hands and fell like flies from the rifle bullets and the machine gun fire.
Separately, both armies came into town. The Polish Army came through Kobrin Street; the Belakhovetses, through Rushever Street. Both armies came to the market in an orderly fashion. Afterwards, they went to search the houses, supposedly for Bolsheviks. In reality, they did this to rob and murder.
They shot three Jews: a youth, Moshe, Fal Tsherniuk's son; Nehemiah's son from a nearby village; and Efrayim the wagoner, the father of four small children. They wanted to murder more people but were easily bought off. The first three Jews they shot they hadn't asked for money. Immediately, upon opening the door they seized the victims and shot them. No one left the houses. At nightfall, the soldiers left. Then people came out in masses from the houses for the funerals of the victims.
In Zakazele, they murdered all three Jewish families.
Mainly, in Antopol, the Poles cut off the beards of the Jewish inhabitants. After the soldiers left, things slowly normalized. The roads opened up. News began to come from America; a little later, also help.
Support came from the Joint Distribution Committee and from Americans who had families in Antopol. The Joint sent material help which was distributed to children, and a kitchen was opened to provide them with lunch. The kitchen was in the brick synagogue, the only one rebuilt at that time. Later, help from America increased. American relatives began to provide assistance.
In 1921, the Red Army led by Trotsky became stronger and attacked the Polish Army. Again misery returned to Antopol. Jews with their cattle, horses, and wagons were seized. It was still worse when the Russian Army came back through Antopol. It was great luck, even a miracle, that it happened during the summer. All the men in the town from 14 through 70 hid for a long time in the forests; young women and girls joined them. Polish soldiers remaining in Antopol looted the town as only the old and children remained to defend it.
The first two scouts of the Red Army came riding on horses with light machine guns on their shoulders by way of Zshaliver Street with the greeting: Hello, Comrades! Aren't there Poles here?
Immediately, several Polish soldiers who had hid came toward them, hands up. A little later, the Red Army came in from Pinsk, Zanivier, and Zshaliver Streets into the market. The Russian Army set up a civilian administration named Revkom, which was composed of Jewish and Christian representatives of the population who had to carry out the Army's orders. It must be said that the entire army, despite the fact it had fought and suffered hunger, did not steal. They would ask for something to eat and if they could dig up some potatoes in the field. Conditions became worse for us when the Polish Army received help from Western governments and began to push back the Soviet Army. However, the war did not continue for long. When our world opened up again, we started over with aid from families in the United States. The American dollar had great value, because everything could be bought with it.
We Jews sat on our suitcases ready to immigrate. Unfortunately, it was not easy, because immigration was severely restricted. Those who were able to get out did so with great difficulty. Finally, they were safe.
By P. Berman
The synagogue courtyard was in the center of town. Clustered there were the religious and communal buildings of Antopol. It was probably the place where Jews settled first and then spread out to other parts of town.
When I was a young boy, the synagogue courtyard was the only paved place in town and, therefore, suffered little from the deep mud of winter and spring. Surrounding the four sides of the courtyard were the buildings of the cold (unheated) synagogue, two study halls, and the rabbi's house. Beneath the old study hall were the bathhouse and the almshouse. The old cemetery adjoined the courtyard.
The cold synagogue was the highest building in the city, other than the Provoslav church which stood in the marketplace. The architecture of the synagogue was the well-known type of Polish and Lithuanian synagogue architecture described in literature. I have seen pictures of such synagogues, which seem like copies of our own in Antopol. I don't know how old our synagogue was. It had been repaired many times and probably rebuilt a long time before I was a boy.
As a child, I remember the synagogue as a solid building, clean and without external ornamentation. In my child's eyes, it was the greatest and prettiest building in the world. Inside the synagogue, it was always dark because the large Gothic windows were high up, not far from the ceiling which was probably two stories higher than the ground floor. The walls were painted dark gray, and on one wall the matso hung in a special tin can which when lowered marked the distance one could travel on the Sabbath.
The white and gold ceiling was a round vault entirely covered with paintings including depictions of all kinds of animals -- deer and lions and also even, as I remember, a creature with one horn, probably the mythological unicorn. Below them were painted the 12 constellations. Under each was a Hebrew inscription such as scales, fish, scorpion, and the like. Under the animals were also descriptions such as Run like a deer under a picture of a deer.
The raised platform was in the middle of the synagogue near to the door. And on the east side, as usual, was the holy ark with engravings and paintings, which took up a lot of space. The height of the ark went up to the ceiling. It was painted gold, and at the very top were painted two hands giving the priestly blessing.
The women's synagogue was on the second floor, above the chapel, and was quite a large room. The eastern wall had a gallery with openings through which the women could look into the men's synagogue and follow their prayers.
Throughout the year on Sabbath and holidays, people prayed in the cold synagogue. There were very few people praying in the winter, mostly elderly craftsmen. People did not study there; they only prayed and said Psalms.
People say that at one time the sexton of the cold synagogue was a Jew with the name of Abraham'l. He was a small old Jew. However, he had the strength to come every Friday afternoon to the marketplace and call with a hoarse voice, Come to synagogue! Thus is derived the family name Shulruf (call to come to synagogue), and thus are his children and children's children called today.
When I was a boy, the sexton was Elye, a handsome Jew with a big red beard. He was also a teacher in the elementary school, which was in the chapel of the cold synagogue.
What we called the new study synagogue was, in truth, not the more recently built of the two study halls in the marketplace. The old synagogue was a lot newer. It was, however, built on the original site of the old study hall, which had burnt down years ago, and the name old remained. The new synagogue consisted of great rooms divided with a long brick furnace between the men's and the women's synagogues.
A lot of the established important people of Antopol prayed there. R. Hersh, one of the three rabbi's who remained in town after the funeral of R. Pinchas Michael of blessed memory, was the religious leader of the new study synagogue. And when the disagreement between the Tsahnlies and the Gages died down, the established people, mostly, were on his side. Efrayim Lifshitz, the fabulously rich man in town, and his family prayed here, except his son David who prayed in the old synagogue with his father-in-law.
Samuel Sbarshtsik, the reader of the Torah on the High Holidays, belonged to the study hall. Here also prayed the hunchback, one of the important storekeepers in the marketplace and the owner of the only two-story brick building in town, the building in which the pharmacy was located. People often also saw R. Hetskel, known as the man living on Rushever Street. He was a handsome Jew and a great scholar who was mostly occupied with learning and was little interested in worldly matters. R. Hetskel used to study En Yaakov with people.
Yaakov Hayyim, the ritual slaughterer, was a clever Jew who was interested in many communal matters. He was one of the chief leaders in the societies that took care of charity and other general matters of the city.
As in other study halls, people studied a lot. There were young people who spent the entire day in study. One of them was Yaakov Shelomoh Henokhs. He had a stagecoach which brought merchandise every week to Antopol storekeepers.
Leizer, the sexton of the new study synagogue, was a tall powerful Jew with a long black beard and quick movements. I remember how on Friday afternoons he would go from bench to bench lighting the lamps which hung on chains. He earned the greatest part of his livelihood from bookbinding. Landowners of the surrounding estates always brought him books, in all kinds of languages, to bind.
The Old Study Hall
When the study hall was quite old and ready to fall down, it was rebuilt with new walls. However, the name was never changed so people just called it the Old Study Hall. As a reminder of the past, they built into it here and there pieces of wood from the old building, as R. Pinchas Michael, of blessed memory, told them to do. Wooden boards were laid as paving to the rabbi's house so he wouldn't get his boots muddy when there was mud in Antopol or dusty when there was no mud.
The remodeled study hall was a large, modern building with many places for worshippers, self-taught students, and the numerous youths who used to sit and study with Rabbi Mikhael. A long tile oven took up almost all of the west wall. Under the reading platform, a long table and benches were placed around the walls. Several steps led down from the vestibule to a chapel where a class of elementary school pupils studied. The women's section was on the second floor with a separate entrance.
My father, of blessed memory, spent almost his entire time in the Old Study Hall. I, myself, as a young boy used the study hall like a part of our house. After elementary school and on Sabbath and festivals when we weren't in school, I was always in the study hall. When I was older, I studied there by myself under the supervision of my father.
Remaining in my memory are some interesting individuals who were among the many people who always prayed in the Old Study Hall.
Yekutiel, Beyla Hannah's husband, prayed in an eastern corner beside the Holy Ark. His wife was a woman of valor and carried on the business for the entire family. He himself spent all of his time in the study hall. He was of small stature, had a big black beard with side curls, and a quiet voice that was a little hoarse. He was always studying and was little interested in secular matters. His two sons, as I
remember, were the only young men in the study hall with long black beards.
Avigdor Sirota, the town's mayor, was one of the important, well-established people of Antopol with connections in all-political and philanthropical matters. He had a prominent place in the Old Study Hall.
Yankel the doctor was one of the finest individuals often found in the Old Study Hall. He was one of the great experts in the general practice of medicine of the time, and people used him more often than the Polish doctor. He was also interested in and took part in all the important institutions in Antopol. A highly honorable man, he did a lot of good for all.
The Old Study Hall had two sextons: Gedalyah, the chief sexton, and Yenkel Menkes, the under sexton.
Gedalyah was in charge of bookkeeping, entering income and expenditures. He kept accounts and collected debts from individuals and, in general, took care of the business of the study hall. He also called people to the reading of the Torah, led the prayers, and read from the Torah when necessary. In addition, he arranged for blessings-of each person called to the Torah, of newborn daughters on the occasion of their naming, of sick men or women. He was a jack-of-all-trades, knowing many crafts. For example, he could build a house or a brick oven and did all kinds of carpentry work. Gedalyah was killed in the war between the Bolsheviks and the Poles.
Menkes, the assistant sexton, did all the manual labor such as sweeping, cleaning, and heating the building and was one of the two gravediggers of the burial society. He called the congregation to penitential prayers and to the reading of the Psalms. Naturally, he was a very poor man, and his wife did day work in private homes.
In the study hall, people studied by themselves and in groups such as the Talmud Society, the Mishnah Society, and the En Yaakov Society. Sometimes young people studied the whole day there. In the evening, all the tables had lamps, and the traditional Gemara scholars' chant was heard all around. Often, the study hall was lit all night, and young people held a watch and studied until early morning.
There was one small problem about the study hall. It's windows overlooked the old cemetery, creating a sense of dread among some individuals.
The Rabbi's House
Near the Old Study Hall, the rabbinical residence was a large house probably built in R. Pinchas Michael's time. There were five big rooms with a kitchen and a built-in Sukkah which was used most of the year as a pantry. The big baking oven and a long stove which took up a great deal of space in the middle of the house heated the entire structure in the winter. A large dining room also served as a waiting room for people who came to see the rabbi. It was where every Thursday yeast was sold. Lining the walls from floor to ceiling were shelves filled with old books. Several years after Rabbi Mikhael's death, his oldest son, Abraham Mosheh, came and took the books to Brest-Litovsk, where they were all destroyed a short time later in a great fire.
One thing I particularly remember was that on the ceiling above the rabbi's seat at the dining table was a spot that had been deliberately left unpainted. The wood was blackened with age. The spot was left in this condition, a custom in the homes of pious people, in memory of the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
The rabbi spent most of his time in the second large room where he conducted sessions of the rabbinical court. There he made decisions concerning the kosher code and other matters of the townspeople. I remember a small bookcase built into the wall about which my father told an interesting story from the time of Rabbi Mikhael.
The old rabbi had once on a Purim after prayers invited the entire congregation to his house. He promised to give them wine from the wall. No one doubted that Rabbi Mikhael had the power to draw wine from the wall. They were all a little disappointed, therefore, when the rabbi, smiling, took out a bottle of wine from the built-in bookcase and took a drink with the congregation.
The City Bath
A short distance behind the study hall was the city bath. Men went to the bathhouse every Friday; on other days of the week, it was heated for women.
The pool for ritual bathing was used every day, not only for women, but for pious men who also immersed themselves.
On top of the steam boiler was a whistle which could be heard all over town. It was blown in the morning to call people to the bath. And on Friday afternoon, it also blew to tell the women to light the Sabbath candles. Often on Friday afternoons, the rabbi would go to the bath and drive out those who might be late going to synagogue.
The bath keeper lived in a house beside the bathhouse. Half of his house was used as an almshouse where traveling poor people stayed. A mentally handicapped person, David Ber, usually worked in the bathhouse. He was one of a number of such persons, men and women, who lived in Antopol, as in other towns in the region, and for whom nothing could be done. Fortunately, these individuals appeared only to be depressed, at least in Antopol, and I don't remember their causing any trouble.
David Ber came to our house often. He kept his phylacteries with us and came to pray almost every day. He never wore a prayer shawl. Perhaps he was never married. I remember him as a short middle-aged man with a black beard. He spoke little. However, he complained frequently about himself, saying, The man is a living ruin. His comment was well known about town and often used when people made fun of someone who complained about his health.
By A. Varsha
The synagogue courtyard was the nerve center and the barometer of the town's inner life. Sometimes events began here which affected Antopol for a long time. Meetings of different associations were held here, and decisions were made and important general amendments passed that often had an influence on the life of the entire community.
The courtyard echoed with the sounds of happy events as well as sad ones. Here were set up the wedding canopies for most of the marriages. Each time a funeral was held, a deep sadness fell over the courtyard. If the deceased was an important person, the funeral procession usually stopped in the courtyard and a funeral oration was made.
On Sabbath and festival days, the courtyard was filled the entire day with people dressed up in their best Sabbath clothing praying and studying, and a festive mood filled all corners.
A large crowd often came to the synagogue courtyard in the middle of the week when a well-known preacher gave a sermon in one of the study halls. Some of the preachers could draw a big crowd, particularly on a winter night when the windows were closed and the air inside was oppressive. The lamps flickered and could not light to their usual height. The crowd was thirsty for a good word, mainly from a fiery Zionist speaker, and was content to suffer the cold and stand pressed together for a time like herrings in a barrel, listening.
The general happiness and tumult of Simhat Torah and Purim and the holy sadness of Yom Kippur and Tishab b'Av remain in my memory in connection with the Antopol courtyard of over 50 years ago.
During the rainy season, a pool of water formed in the synagogue courtyard and spread as far as R. Hersh's house. The pool was quite useful. First, people used the water to put out fires, frequent guests of Antopol. Second, people used to go to the pool for the ceremony of casting out sins into the water on the New Year's.
Since the destruction of our dear town, the synagogue courtyard remains an orphan and cries together with us.
The entire structure of the cold (unheated) synagogue was supported by just one beam. The beam was carved and divided the synagogue under the dome from north to south.
Once I crawled along the beam carefully keeping my balance while feeling as if I hung to life suspended by a hair to examine the nails that had been hammered in long ago during construction. The antiquity of the synagogue, I believe, is confirmed by the fact that no factory-made nails had been used.
I clearly remember the artwork I observed as I made my way along the beam. First there was the frieze on the margin of the vault. The 12 constellations were painted on the frieze in burnt umber in dark and light hues. This painting was a masterpiece. Despite the passage of 300 years, the paint had lost none of its original color. In my imagination, I could see the master painter at work with his brush.
Over the holy ark, he had painted musical instruments illustrating Psalm 150. You remember the guitar and harp, the ram's horn and flute, the cymbals, and drum. The painted instruments were so real I felt I could take them each up in my hand. The old master was an artist of divine grace. He also painted animals on the dome, and I believe that his intention here was that even a beast is redeemed when it enters God's house.
Now behold the holy ark. In our region, in bigger cities, I have never seen such a large ark. Our ark was about three stories tall! Its carved doors spread themselves like wings over the eastern wall. Their white and gold light radiated over the entire congregation. The gold paint was doubtlessly about 300 years old yet it had not peeled nor split anywhere. No one could forget the carved doors on both sides of the curtain of the ark and how the cherubs would fly out when the ark was opened. The painting and the carving were probably completed soon after the erection of the building because the scaffolds became a part of the building.
A mystery remains. Who were the master craftsmen? They left no sign of themselves; some believed they were not from Antopol.
A few years before the synagogue burned down, taking with it both study halls, it was improved by Hayyim Zelig the carpenter who built a new platform for reading the Torah. Shelomoh the painter dedicated himself to decorating the platform, and masses of people from near and far came to view its glory.
No wonder our grandfathers, fathers, and I took such great pride in it. To think that such a poor small town possessed so special a spiritual treasure.
Synagogues and Study Halls
The brick study hall, which stood between the market and Pinsk Street, was not an old building. It was called the brick study hall to distinguish between it and the other study halls made of wood.
The sexton was a small thin Jew named Mosheh Hershel. He was the cemetery caretaker of the town. Every Friday on Pinsk Street and in the marketplace, Mosheh Hershel used to call out, Come to synagogue, and he would announce the important meetings that were to take place. When he was in his cups on Simhat Torah, Mosheh Hershel used to
pretend he was reading from a plate the entire rain prayer. Afterward, he would sing, I am a wall, which suggests a good quality. Then he would add another bright like the sun even though wandering in exile.
Sarahke was a treasure. She devoted her life and fortune to decorating and making the study hall more beautiful.
Friday nights, Mosheh Zelig the storekeeper sat beside the stove and studied with the congregation the chapters of the Torah to be read on Saturday together with Alshekh's commentary. Sabbath afternoon he used to teach En Yaakov to the congregation.
In addition to the different books in the brick study hall, there was an old concordance. If a dispute arose about a Biblical quotation, people went to the study hall to consult the concordance.
The Nobleman's Synagogue
Various explanations are given for the name Nobleman's Synagogue. Some say that the nobleman Brever donated the building as a study hall. For that reason, it received the name. Others say the building was bought from the nobleman Shepelya, and the name is taken from that. In any case, no noblemen prayed in the study hall. The Jews from Kobrin Street and the surrounding streets prayed there, ones who were lazy or too infirm to go to the synagogue courtyard.
One of the prayer leaders at the nobleman's synagogue was R. Avraham Yitshak, with the shoes. Why was he called with the shoes? The explanation is that he was a pious Jew. He didn't want to be modern and wear boots like the modern secular people. Therefore, he wore shoes with straps that he laced up his legs, like people did in earlier times.
Avraham Yitshak was an established Jew. He was among the first to own an acre of land on Pinsk Street. He was the husband of the well-known righteous woman Rachele who worked day and night to help poor people. They were the parents of R. Yaakov Leyb and Meir David Shterman, who each owned an acre of land. They inherited their father's voice and led prayers for the congregation. Let us hope that their prayers were accepted in the Heavenly Temple of Prayers.
Meir Podot's Study Hall
The study on Kobrin Street was called Meir Podot's Study Hall. Different legends circulate about Meir Podotin. People said that Meir Podot had the voice of a lion. When he prayed in his study hall on Kobrin Street, he could be heard in other corners of the city on Pinsk Street.
How did Meir Podot become famous as a leader of the congregation in prayer? No other than R. Pinchas Michael made him famous. The story is as follows: Once during the additional service on Yom Kippur, the cantor became sick. R. Pinchas Michael asked, Who can lead the prayers? They told him, There is here a young man who can lead the prayers.
The young man was Meir Podot. R. Pinchas Michael asked him, Can you lead the prayers?
Meir Podot answered, I have never led the prayers.
R. Pinchas Michael answered, Go and lead the prayers.
From then on, Meir Podot was known as a great leader of prayer.
People said that Meir Podot belonged to the Hasidim of the town of Kobrin. The Rebbe of Kobrin invited him to be the leader of the prayers in Kobrin. And the Rebbe spoke to him thus: If you can take it upon yourself to act in the role of the sacrifice offered in forgiveness of Israel's sins, you
may go lead the prayers. R. Meir Podot agreed to accept that condition to lead the prayers.
That legend explains how R. Meir Podot became well known. He was a great lover of the people of Israel and risked his life for them in leading the prayers.
The Hasidic Chapel
In Antopol, no special chapels existed for Hasidim as in other towns. Apparently, not a lot of Hasidim lived in Antopol. Therefore, there was only one Hasidic chapel where all the Hasidim in town prayed. The Hasidim of Stolin, Kobrin, Lubovitsh, Slonim, and Trisk prayed there, also. Although they belonged to different traditions, they lived in peace among themselves. Berish, the butcher's father, donated the building. The Hasidic chapel was famous for its collection of books on Jewish mysticism.
Individuals we should not forget include Leyzer Mikhal, a Hasid of Stolin, a learned Jew, not a noisy man, a quiet, agreeable Jew. Henokh, the elementary school teacher, was a Hasidic follower of the R. of Trisk. He was learned in Jewish mysticism. Then there was Berish, a Hasidic follower of the R. of Kobrin, a clever Jew who was one of the town fathers. And who doesn't remember Nathan Getsel? He was a true Hasidic follower of the R. of Slonim. He had a high fervor, but his fervor never caused him to harm anyone.
When a celebration for a Hasidic Rebbe took place or a Hasidic Rebbe came to Antopol, all the Hasidim sat at one table, drank a toast, took leftovers from the Rebbe's plate, and went to dance together. And they all went together to their deaths. May God revenge their blood!
The Glory of Youth
Together with the five study halls, the cold synagogue, and the Hasidic Chapel, there was also until 1915 a prayer quorum of the Glory of Youth Society, which consisted of nearly 20 young men who worked in various crafts. The members of the Society were quite friendly among themselves. The Society paid the salary of a rabbi, Mosheh Hersh the bookbinder, a tall Jew, a devoted scholar with a small, sparse, not full, beard. On Friday nights, he studied the Pentateuch with Society members; on Saturdays, Hayye Adam and Mishnah.
The prayer quorum met in Breyne Rive's apartment which was near the market between the brick buildings of Akiva Fishel Lifshitz and Hayyim Grinberg. People prayed there only on the Sabbath and at festivals. Following afternoon prayers on Sabbaths, they would eat the third Sabbath meal celebrating like the Hasidim, although they were far from being Hasidim. Each Sabbath, a member provided the food for the third meal, which consisted of challah, herring, beer, and the like. After the ceremony to separate the Sabbath from the weekday, they sang songs such as He who separates and God said to Jacob. They also sang Don't fear my servant Jacob.
The Rabbi Mosheh Hersh collected his salary by going around to Society members' apartments. They received him with the honor due a rabbi and paid as much as each had pledged. Once, about 1910, the prayer quorum met a number of times in the apartment of Meir the nose, who was also a member of the Society.
Then there took place a truly joyous event for which the Society had long awaited. A new Torah scroll was written. With great rejoicing Society members carried the new scroll under a bridal canopy to Breyne Rive's apartment. Some who accompanied the scroll held aloft poles with naphtha lamps decorated with colored paper and cutout inscriptions. Some played musical instruments as they walked along; others sang and danced. Not only members of the Glory of Youth participated in the festivities, but all the Jews of Antopol shared in the joy of fulfilling a commandment. People drank
toasts, danced, and ate all along the way until they got to Breyne Rive's apartment. The celebration continued late into the night. We can't say that the Antopol Jews were unable to enjoy themselves when they had the occasion.
After World War I, Shelomke Menahem put a lot of energy into reestablishing the Glory of Youth Society. Members met every Sabbath in the new study hall in the synagogue courtyard, and Shelomke Menahem taught them and led them in debates.
In addition to the synagogue, the five study halls, and the Hasidic Chapel, there were in Antopol three prayer quorums in private homes.
By Rabbi Shalom Podolevski
In the early twentieth century, few towns in Europe were so tightly bound and mutually dependent as were the villages of Antopol and Horodets. Antopol would not have been Antopol without Horodets, and Horodets would not have been Horodets without Antopol.
Antopol shared with Horodets its spiritual, professional, and cultural resources. The last rabbis of Horodets were born in Antopol: R. Hayyim Grinberg and R. Aryeh Grinman. When a person from Horodets needed a doctor or a midwife, he or she had to come to Antopol. Also, the pharmacy and the bank were in Antopol.
However, the most important thing that Antopol made available to Horodets was the elementary school. Horodets had at that time one elementary school teacher. Even if he had been the greatest of pedagogues, he could not have taught all the children in town. Therefore, when children became too old for the Horodets elementary school teacher, they went to Antopol where they boarded during the week. On the Jewish Sabbath, they walked the highway home to Horodets, returning to Antopol on Sunday. Sometimes, a Jewish or gentile wagon driver would give the children a ride.
I still remember a warm summer day after Passover around 1922 when my father, of blessed memory, walked with me to Antopol so that I could register for elementary school. At the time, the school building was under construction, and elementary classes were spread out over Antopol's five study halls. My father had to go through a complex procedure to register me.
First we had to see the bursars. The first bursar was Hershel the Black. He was a Jew with a handsome black beard with streaks of gray. He was of stately appearance and looked more like a preacher of ethics from Kelm than a resident of Antopol. He spoke with assurance, like a person secure in his authority. He talked for a long time with my father about Antopol's good elementary school, where nearly all the town's youth studied.
When we finished with the first bursar, he gave us a receipt for the second bursar, R. Yaakov Hayyim, the ritual slaughterer. R. Hayyim's house was exactly the opposite of Hershel the Black's. Hershel's house was in the middle of a quiet orchard filled with aromatic flowers and sweet smelling grasses. However, R. Hayyim's house was on a narrow, noisy street, and the slaughterhouse was on the balcony. Gathered around the house was a goodly number of people carrying chickens. The cackling of roosters and hens mingled with the voices of women and peasants in the marketplace.
My father went with me into the house and presented Hershel the Black's receipt. Hayyim looked like a merchant, not a ritual slaughterer. He was a clever Jew, a good person with a lot of experience. When we arrived, he was in the middle of eating and did not have much time to speak with father. After a few words of conversation, he finished eating, quickly said grace, and wrote a receipt stating that I should be admitted to elementary school.
Then we had to walk to the women's study hall where we found Yudel, a small Jew with a severe appearance who sat at a great table. Around him sat about 20 youths from 10 to 12 years of age. Yudel, the teacher, showed me where to sit. I hardly made it through class before my father came to take me to where I would board, the home of Moshehle Matos, an elderly Jew who was a shoemaker and a fine and good person.
After Sukkot, R. Hayyim, the ritual slaughterer, gave me a note to go to a higher level elementary school teacher, R. Shelomoh. He appeared to me like an angel from heaven. I always had an excellent relationship with my teachers. But the closeness I had with R. Shelomoh'n would be hard to duplicate.
R. Shelomoh was in his 50s, a great scholar and a person of deep understanding, a big heart, and much love for children. I don't know how R. Shelomoh came to teach at the Antopol elementary school. He was from Sislovitsh, Poland. He had studied in rabbinical seminaries and knew how to be a true pedagogue. He took a personal interest in my education and instilled in me his devotion to study, his commitment to education, and compassion for my schoolmates. However, people used to murmur that R. Shelomoh's ideas were too modern. We, his pupils, cared only that he was good for us. For me, R. Shelomoh became identified with my home, my father, and my education. He had already directed, as was done in modern schools, a Hanukkah play presented by the two upper classes. Our class, the second highest, was the Maccabees; the most advanced class, the Greeks. We studied Talmud, the Tractate of Kiddushin being my favorite. In truth, R. Shelomoh put every word in our mouths.
I remember how he would take me to another study hall to tutor me alone, so that I would learn faster. I was a good pupil, as were the other youths. I will never forget R. Shelomoh and Antopol. Thanks to that town, I had such a wonderful teacher.
After having studied with R. Shelomoh a year, I was placed with my relatives and friends, Kalman Kuprianski and Barukh Greblovski originally of Horodets, in an upper class.
The teacher was the brilliant rabbi, R. Yozpa who came from Kobrin and was well known in the rabbinical seminaries of Novorodek. He was in his early 30s, quite handsome, tall with a black beard and a rabbinical appearance. His walk was quick, and he carried himself like that of a person of Mir or Radin, rather than of Novorodek. He lived on Pinsk Street, and when he walked through the marketplace, his stately appearance called forth much respect, not less than that given the rabbi of the town, R. Mosheh Volfson.
R. Yozpa would ask the students, Read from a page of Talmud. He himself gave lessons in the manner of a professor of Talmud. He was not as capable a teacher as R. Shelomoh. However, he encouraged students to study independently and to become rabbinical scholars. He spent a lot of time talking with us as we studied the Bible, piety, and virtue.
His manner of teaching was to develop the student intellectually and emotionally. We sat with R. Yozpa in the order of the letter xyz. The best student sat first, the second best second, and so forth. The youths from Horodets Kalman, Barukh, and I sat together facing R. Yozpa. Kalman and Barukh were my two best friends, and I sat between them. When the teacher wanted one of us, he used to say, Horodets! On each side of us sat 12 Antopol youths, making a total of 27 pupils.
The most capable and best of us was Yaakov Gordon who later moved to Argentina. Others were Yosef Levin, Ben Tsiyon Garber, Ezra Sanke, the future rabbi R. Yaakov Pester, Yisroel Fernik, Yisroel Volovelski, and Aharon Volinets. About 10 of R. Yozpa's students, the best and most talented of the Antopol elementary school, went on to study in rabbinical seminaries in Kobrin, Kamentis, and Mir. They became scholars, pious men, and the pride of the Antopol elementary school. It is a great tragedy that Hitler's merciless hordes murdered them. There
remain few Jewish religious scholars from that happy time, scholars who perpetuate the ideals of R. Shelomoh and R. Yozpa.
Praised and sanctified be God's great name!
By Yosef Veitsel
At one time, no organized educational institution existed in Antopol. Perhaps there was an elementary school for poor children. However, it must not have been very important because I don't remember it. In general, the condition of education was for every man to do what was right in his own opinion. If a Jew, sadly, had no income, he became an elementary school teacher. Some elementary school teachers, I've heard, could not learn the children's lesson themselves. Of what value is a teacher who can't study himself! However, if someone did become an elementary school teacher and continued for some time, he became or was looked upon more or less as an authority in the occupation. (If he really was a good for nothing, he didn't last long as a teacher.)
When Hayyim, of blessed memory, my father's first born, was growing up, elementary school education improved in our town because of my father's influence. He selected the elementary school teachers himself and actively took part in what went on in the classroom. Sometimes he came to the classroom and listened to the children recite their lessons. When parents had a youth Hayyim's age, they always wanted to put the child in Hayyim's class. In the course of time, the class became filled with the selected children of established people. No children of strangers were accepted into the class.
Each elementary school class was like an individual institution within the school, with each class having its own specifications. The lowest class in elementary school was taught by Yankel Perkis, the Pentateuch class by Yitshak the Lame, another Pentateuch class by the rabbinical scholar Rashi, and the first Talmud class by Gedalyah the Sexton.
When Hayyim finished his course with Gedalyah the Sexton, no higher class was available in town. Father asked R. Aharon to start a class for Hayyim and selected other students for it. Thus Aharon began to lead the highest class in Antopol. When I was about four and it was nearing time for me to go to elementary school, my father taught me the Hebrew alphabet and language. Then I studied with Yankel Perkis one year, with Yitshak one year, with Gedalyah two years, and with Aharon one year. Then Aharon told father that he had nothing more to teach me and advised him to send me to a rabbinical seminary.
Thus developed the educational system in Antopol at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. It was my father, Bertshe the storekeeper, who brought order into education in Antopol.
By M.L. Koshtshuk
At first sight, anyone could recognize R. Henokh as something of a holy man. This was because of his walk, the way he carried himself, and his dress. He was a small Jew with a pale loving face and a pensive air of eternity. He had two long curled sidelocks, a long wide black beard, and a black silk belt tied around his waist. From his belt hung two pretty black tassels. A black skull cap was under his hat. He wore a small wool prayer shawl with long fringes bouncing over his knees. He used in numerous ways a fine red handkerchief which hung from one pocket. He used it especially to drive away flies. Even the flies were created by God's hands, and he observed the Biblical injunction, And His mercy is on all His creations.
R. Henokh had in the second pocket a snuff box,
a small flat box which he had inherited from his grandparents who had gotten it from the righteous Rebbe himself, who had sniffed snuff from it. The red handkerchief was also useful for other things: to cover his mouth when he went into the street so that demons could not enter and so that he could not gossip. Also, to cover his eyes in case he met a married woman on the street.
His walk was in moderate steps, slow while he was absorbed in thought about God, worship, and Jewish mysticism. However, you should have seen him when he hurried to prayer. It was hard to keep up with him! He almost ran when it came to fulfilling the religious commandment to give thanks for the Creator of the world. And, with a friendly smile, he would wish everyone a good morning and a good Sabbath.
R. Henokh's occupation was that of elementary school teacher. He did not do this to earn a living or as a spade to dig with to his advantage. The main reason that he was an elementary school teacher was to spread Judaism and Hasidism and to fulfill the commandment, You shall teach your children. He did not seek out rich children to earn a huge fee for teaching them.
God had matched him with a woman, a real woman of valor, as was fit for such a righteous man, Hasid and mystic. His wife could charm away the evil eye, an evil spirit, and also toothaches. She could make acute pain go away. She could squeeze mumps. Understandably, she did not take compensation for doing these things. People went to her to be charmed, because all knew she was married to a holy man, R. Henokh, who had revealed to her the secret of charming according to Jewish mysticism. Therefore, ghosts and demons were afraid of her incantations. If someone insisted on paying her, she pointed to a charity box marked Meir, the miracle worker, and she told the person to put the compensation in the box. She also applied cups to draw blood. She was an expert in the matter of the health of small children. She was able to recognize if a child did not feel well and would quickly call the doctor and would tell her husband to pray to God for the child. And God would bring the child back to health.
R. Henokh was also a good teacher, and his students were quite attached to him. He never hit them like the other teachers did. His method was not to strike a child but to enlighten him with talk of ethics and to make him fear hell, so that he would cry. As a teacher, R. Henokh was special. Even from a distance his students were recognizable. He so strongly influenced them that they too wore long earlocks and sometimes even Hasidic belts. It was because of their belts that his students got into fights with the non-Hasidic youths who would pull at the tassels, causing the belts to become untied and fall off. Then there would be blows.
During World War I, when the Russian Army left town, the soldiers set the houses on fire so the entering Germans would have nothing they could use. Usually, people knew when their homes were about to be burnt. Hastily, they removed various possessions: bedclothes, furniture, cooking pots.
They took them to the fields and to the Christian cemetery from where they could see their houses. R. Henokh's family saw that their house was already burning but R. Henokh was missing. They shouted to find out who had seen him last. A neighbor said that she had seen him go into the house with his prayer shawl and phylacteries under his arm. People ran to the house and saw him inside. Houses all around were burning, and his house was also on fire. He had his phylacteries on his head, which was covered by his prayer shawl, and he was praying the Prayer of the Eighteen Blessings. When the Germans entered Antopol, R. Henokh was dead. He deserved a burial, but we could not do him the honor.
It is painful to think about those who have left us, but they are not forgotten. May R. Henokh's soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.
Meir Yosel, the elementary school teacher, was a Jew, who God forbid, never pursued earthly rewards. His whole life was spent as a scholar of the Talmud. When he left school for the day, he went to the new study hall to study Talmud by himself. This was his schedule, winter or summer, Sabbath or festival. He only went home to eat and sleep. Despite the fact that he was one of the greatest teachers of Talmud in town, he lived like a poor man. He resided in a rented apartment of two rooms in someone's house. His wife, Zlote, kept a little store and had in addition a factory to make the old style bonnets that Jewish women used to wear. Zlote's bonnets, made with flowers and bunches of grapes, were famous.
In the study hall, Meir Yosel sat right at the edge of the west wall. This is where he kept all his books, which saved him time and trouble. Was it possible that no one looked at him or took note of him? It was possible because, so to speak, you had in him a Jew who always sat bent over his volume of Talmud, quiet, not praying aloud as other Jews did. For example, Ore the elementary school teacher and Binyamin the ritual slaughterer filled the entire synagogue courtyard with the tune with which they used to study. However, who did one search out from behind the stove to have the honor of standing with a Torah scroll on the platform to say the special hymns for the Feast of Tabernacles? Meir Yosel, the elementary school teacher.
If you were to look at Meir Yosel, you would think that outside of the study of Talmud he knew nothing of the happenings of the world. And you would be right. How could such a person know about worldly affairs? To know them, he would have had to give up time from his studies of Talmud.
When it came time to blow the ram's horn on New Year's, when the Rabbi R. Hersh, of blessed memory, went up to stand on the platform, the quiet Meir Yosel stood beneath the platform to guide him on the blowing of the horn. It is amazing how that duet of extreme tenor came forth in such wonderful harmony. R. Hersh would make the walls tremble when he blew the horn. However, it was Meir Yosel's sharp whining blast of the horn that penetrated the loving hearts of the pious congregation.
Nevertheless, Meir Yosel had a sense of what was going on in the world. It is possible that he used to listen to the speech of the Foreign Minister of the new study hall. That person was Shelomke Menahem, a martyr killed by the Nazis, may God revenge his blood. He used to carry on about the politics of the world.When he came to pray, whether early in the morning or in the afternoon, a crowd of people who listened enthralled by his explanations of worldly events always stood around him. The main sources for his lectures were the correspondent Itshele's Political Letters in the Friday edition for the Jewish Sabbath of the daily Yiddish newspaper, Moment, and Nahum Sokolov's We Talk of Matters of State in the Hebrew newspaper, ha-Tsefirah. Meir Yosel never went up to Shelomoh's seat in the study hall because he had not only heard the reading out of the newspapers that Shelomoh gave but also saw all the particulars and nuances of all the war fronts and the Emperor's Courts that Shelomoh gave in sign language to Mosheh, who could not speak (Kive the wooden).
If you were a stranger and came into the new study hall and took a look at Meir Yosel, you would think that Yosel was only sleeping over his book. But, suddenly, he would turn the page and take his beard into his mouth. His eyes would look confused, something not being clear to him. Neither his beard nor the rereading of the text could help him out of the hard spot. Finally, he would seek help from Binyamim, the ritual slaughterer, who after the rabbi was the greatest scholar of Talmud in the new study hall. And with Binyamin's help, everything became clear. The wrinkles on Meir Yosel's forehead became smooth. A satisfied smile lit his face, as if he wanted to say, It is thanks to God that I was able to overcome the difficulty and understand the passage.
He would take out a snuff box and with a sharp sniff fill both nostrils, just like the most wealthy man. Then he would go back to the study of Talmud.
By Mosheh Leizer Koshtshuk
Who among us does not remember Rafael, the elementary school teacher and Hasid of Kiobrin? R. Pinchas Michael, of blessed memory, used to ask him and his small elementary school pupils to say psalms for the sick. Rafael would say certain chapters of psalms and shake himself. The children would shake themselves, just as he did. He would call out the name of the sick person, and all the children would shout, Amen. The children each received 13 kopecks for this service. Naturally, Rafael didn't lack for pupils. His house was next to the Hasidic chapel, and he would step outside to call the students to study or to ask them to be quiet, not to shout. He was tall, handsome, with a blond beard, and he dressed in a long wool prayer shawl with fringes hanging down to his knees, as is fit for a Hasidic Jew. He held a whip in one hand with five lashes, according to the number of the books in the Pentateuch. The other hand he held in his bosom. He had to carry the whip with him always because once a pupil stole it. He had a hard time finding it, and what use is a teacher without a whip? He inherited the whip from his father, who was also an elementary school teacher.
At times, he would remove his hand from his bosom and take his small beard into his mouth and sing. He was a good singer. People used to hear Rafael sing at various happy occasions: at a wedding, at a circumcision, or with musicians when a Torah scroll would be brought into a synagogue. On such occasions, he sang, Who will find a woman of valor and Good are lights that He created.
When he was an elementary school teacher, he would take his pupils and go to the house of a woman in childbirth. Together they would say, The Angel who redeems from all harm should bless the woman in childbirth and the child. Then all the children would shout with their squeaky voices, Amen, as loudly as they could, and he would go on to read the Hear, O, Israel. The mother of the woman in childbirth would then give the children a reward of a handful of peas, beans, and kernels and sometime 13 kopecks. Then they would run out with a shout, Good night to the new born and to the woman in childbirth.
Rafael would also give the woman in childbirth a copy, handwritten or printed, of the Songs of Ascent. He would place it at the child's head or hang it on a window or door as a watch, that demons should not harm him.
On Sabbath mornings in the summer, Rafael would take his pupils to pray in the big, cold synagogue. The tall Jew would walk, as was his fashion, with long strides, causing the hem of his belted Sabbath caftan to flap around him. The children ran after him like small chicks after the mother hen. Even when he was in deep thought, he might snap the fingers of his right hand and sing a tune. He would always make himself happy, because to be happy is a great commandment, as it says in the Bible, Serve God with happiness. Sadness is the greatest sin. It belongs to the Devil, God forbid. It destroys your health. Then you cannot serve God. Such did this holy Rebbe of blessed memory teach. Also that it is as important to say psalms before prayers as it is to learn a chapter of the Mishnah. It is not without good reason that Rafael the elementary school teacher was called Rafael the angel.
By Beylah Kletski-Libenfroynd
I can't remember exactly how old I was when I
went to school. I remember one thing surely. It is that when I went to school for the first time I could already read and write Hebrew. I also could translate into Yiddish the first chapters of the book of Genesis in the Pentateuch. Probably, I had learned by listening to the private classes that my older sisters and brothers took.
I heard the word school a long time before I went to it. We heard our parents repeat, A school will be opened for the children. The children will begin to attend school. I waited impatiently for that day although I did not understand what it meant. Finally, that happy day came. We washed up and dressed in our finest clothes. Our parents took us to school for the first time.
The new school was a big incomplete building of red brick, built in 1913 and meant to serve as the town's hospital. The Jewish study halls were burnt in World War I, and the new hospital building served for a long time as a study hall. After the war, when the Zionist movement in Poland had begun to grow roots in the Jewish cultural life of the big and small cities in Poland, the local Zionist leaders in Antopol got the idea to turn the former hospital and study hall into a modern Tarbut school. It was as if the building was created for that purpose.
It was separated from the gray, poor Jewish town on four sides by a wide meadow surrounded by fields. At first sight, the school became part of us.
In the beginning months of the first school year, the lectures frequently took place outside the school building and often consisted of games and songs on the green meadow.
In the winter months of the first school year, the lectures were given inside in the unfinished rooms which had no doors nor windows nor floor. We sat on simple unpainted benches.
Our first teacher, Zaretski, a young tall red-haired Jewish pupil of one of the newly established Tarbut teacher schools in Poland was a great authority for us. He was always happy and in a good mood. He taught us the first pioneering song, We immigrate to Palestine with song, The shepherds have gathered around the fire, God rebuild Galilee. And many other songs. At the end of the first school year, Zaretski left us to continue his studies. His place was taken by the woman teacher Fayanes, a daughter of a Bialostok rabbi, who had finished a Hebrew gymnasium in one of the Polish cities. She stayed a year in the Tarbut school with us. She taught us to read and write, also Pentateuch and to declaim the poems of Bialik and Tshernihovski. However, she left after one year to continue her studies. Later, she lived in Rehovot in Israel and had a high post in the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Our third teacher, the founder of the Antopol school, was Yisrael Lifshits, a native of Antopol. Yisrael Lifsits (Lif) later lived in Montreal, Canada, and became a well-known pedagogue and author. While he was our teacher, the school was finally finished. The rooms were furnished with tables, school benches, and chalkboards, and the walls were decorated with pictures.
Teacher Lifsits also established the first parent-teachers association, and with its help worked out a program of school studies. He also became associated with the General Bureau of Education in Poland, which at that time was in its infancy. Lifsits directed the school according to the instructions from the Bureau of Education and from the parent-teachers association. He also began to teach me regularly four to five hours a day. The language of instruction in all subjects was Hebrew. We learned the following subjects: Hebrew, Bible, general and Jewish history, geography, natural sciences, Polish, music, and arts and crafts.
The teaching personnel began to increase with the arrival of Feldman and Serbin. Feldman was a great enthusiast of the modern Tarbut school and was devoted to Hebrew language instruction and pioneering Zionist thought. He threw himself into the work with great devotion, and so the teaching in school became more interesting daily.
Serkin, a woman teacher of Polish, was a great devotee of Polish literature and taught us first the poems of Maria Kanopnitska, Mitkiewicz, and Slavatski. She also began to read with us the Yiddish stories of Eliza Arzeshkava and even Proust.
It was then that a library was established in Antopol, which in the beginning consisted of books on Enlightenment literature: Mapu and Smolenski and from our poets Bialik, Tshernihovski, and Kahan, as well as the works by Feierberg, Frishman, and others. Later, there were translations from world literature: Anderson, Jules Verne, and Dickens. There were also Polish language books. Although I was then 12 or 13 years old. I had already enthusiastically read Ahavat Tsiyon (Love of Zion) and Ashmat Shomron (Guilt of Samaria) by Mapu and ha-Toeh be-darkhe ha-hayyim (The Wanderer in Life) by Smolenski and the interesting stories of Feierberg and Frishman as well as the fantastic translations of Jules Verne and even Sinkiewicz's novel, Be-esh uve-herev (By Fire and Sword), which I then understood in a childish fashion. I also became an accomplished student of Polish literature.
The Jewish holidays were a special enticement for us children. A celebration was held in school for each holiday. All of us, pupils and teachers, prepared carefully for such a celebration. The school building was decorated with our national blue and white flags, with real flowers and branches in the summer holiday months, and with artificial ones in the winter.
We pupils used to give speeches about the national and religious character of each holiday and also about the meaning of the holiday during the period of our ancestors in the land of Israel, who were farmers, and we tied each holiday to nature.
We also became actors in dramatic productions. On Hanukkah, we changed into small Maccabees, who courageously fought the cruel Greeks. On Purim, we took part in a Purim play, which showed the history of The Scroll of Esther. On Passover, we showed the history of the Exodus from Egypt, fleeing slavery for freedom. On Pentecost, the happy spring holiday, we made outings to the nearby fields, plucked flowers, wove wreaths, and decorated school and home with grasses, greens, flowers, and branches. Acting out these holidays in our imagination returned us to the time when the Jews lived peacefully on their own land, celebrated their holidays, and bravely fought for their freedom.
The first core of the organization ha-Shomer ha-tsair was founded in our school. In our free time, we gathered to hear lectures about the development of the land of Israel. We would sing pioneering songs and dance the horah, and in the hearts of each of us there developed a deep desire to leave the Diaspora and immigrate to Israel where our ancestors had lived, as we learned in the splendid stories of the Bible.
In the beginning, we were an all girls' school. The boys in the town still spent day and night in the confines of the Jewish elementary school, studying from early morning until late at night with a rabbi who had a whip in his hand and lectured about the Talmudic scholars Abaye and Raba.
The first boy attended our school in 1923. He was my brother. My parents had decided to take him our of the Jewish elementary school and put him into a school with a broader perspective.
The second boy was the son of one of our woman teachers. Slowly the old-fashioned Jewish elementary school began to empty itself of students. The boys in town became pupils of the Tarbut school.
In 1924 came the end of my happy life in Antopol and my studies in the Tarbut school. My parents decided to leave town and move to Vilna. With a heavy heart, we said good-bye to my dear, loving teacher and my first classmates in school, to whom I was devoted. In the evening at the going away party, which was arranged for my brothers and me, we received as a gift a volume of selected poems of Saul Tsherniehovski, beautiful in blue binding with gold letters. This book of splendid poems was for many years a symbol of our first happy, carefree
By Shemuel Lifshits
One of the first modern teachers in Antopol was Aharon Lifshits. Aharon was a capable young man who had been to Ruzshinai to study with R. Binyamin'en, in the Razshinayer rabbinical seminary. He also had a pleasant voice and studied with the cantor of Rozshin, Zisel Rosata.
When Aharon returned to Antopol, he brought back with him a good grasp of knowledge in Russian and Hebrew.
In the early twentieth century when the movement to improve elementary schools spread over Russia, Aharon opened in 1900 an improved elementary school' in Antopol. He took as a partner Joseph Liberman from Pinsk. His improved school consisted of two rooms with special benches and tables for the pupils. Aharon taught Talmud in Russian, and Leberman taught Bible in Hebrew. Hebrew was studied from modern booklets, such as Bet-Sefer Ivri (Hebrew Book) from Rozovskin and Moreh ha-signon (Teacher of Style) from Tawiow. With Aharon, people also learned Jewish history, Divre ha-yamim li-vene Yisrael (History of the Children of Israel) by Ben-Yehudah and Lerner's Moreh ha-lashon (Teacher of Language).
Aharon also taught his pupils to sing. He organized a choir and prayed on New Year's in the brick study hall and on the Day of Atonement in the synagogue. He kept up his improved elementary school for several years until younger teachers came and also opened a similar elementary school. Then Aharon immigrated to America where he continued his profession. He also became a ritual slaughterer and a cantor in different synagogues.
Around 1912, two young men of Antopol went into business together. They were the bakers Yisrael Badanes and Shelomoh-ke Menahem. They opened an improved elementary school for beginners according to the system of learning Hebrew in Hebrew and taught in a modern way, boys and girls together. I studied with them for my first three semesters. The school existed until the German occupation.
Because it was a financial success, other teachers began to open improved elementary schools in Antopol. One of them was Nahum the teacher (Berl Leyb, the cutler's son). His class was in his father's house. In his class, people studied with the same method as with the teacher Yisrael Badanes. There was still another teacher, Leybush. His class was in a big room in the house of Binyamin, the Talmud professor.
In addition to the improved elementary schools, private lectures were also given in homes and in the elementary schools. These were to teach the children to write Yiddish and Hebrew and to do mathematics. One of the teachers was Shelomoh-ke Menahem's, a good Hebraist and a Zionist and also an activist taking part in each of the town's public affairs.
And who does not remember Alter Sholem, the ritual slaughterer? He was a teacher in the elementary schools and gave lessons in private houses. He was a teacher in 1915 in the public school, which was in the village Torekan, and went to America after the war.
In addition to male teachers, female teachers and writers also lived in Antopol. One was Tybe Frume. In her house on Kobrin Street, she taught a class for girls and also gave private lessons. After World War I, she went to America to live with her husband, Rozenfeld, in Miami.
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