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Men of Mark

[Page 401]

My Teacher and Rabbi Joseph Epstein (Hatrikler)

By Abba Basist

Translated by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg and Ronald I. Greenberg

I learned from him for years. From him I acquired the Hebrew language. He instilled in us the love of our language and of our land. He was an expert in the Hebrew language. In the “open classes” we would ask all different questions—How do you say this in Hebrew? He would answer without hesitation.

He imparted to us (two meanings) Torah, Prophets, and Writings. We also learned Jewish history, Gemara, and also general studies.

He was a very serious man. Only once in a while would he joke with us. I remember that when we were learning that in the book of Shemot, Moses came to Pharaoh and said to him, “Tomorrow locusts will come within your borders.” He changed the vowel in Arbeh (locusts) to a segol below the resh so that it read the Rebbe, and he said (in the tones of a Rabbi), “Yes, children, the Rabbi is one of the ten plagues. And who would know that better than you.”

He was a progressive man. One morning, when I came to school, he was enraged, pacing back and forth across the room and mumbling, “Magic, magic they are doing in my house.” It seems that his small daughter became suddenly ill. She was frightened of something, and as was the custom in those days, they brought in a woman who made a lead cast. This was used to cure crazy people. He protested against this superstition.

He was a religious man, but he was also progressive in this. I remember a debate between him and AVRAHAM YEHUDAH, the teacher, about whether it is permissible to turn on the electricity on the Sabbath. He held that rotating the button for electricity was like opening a shutter. Opening a shutter on Shabbat was permitted by all the religious people. It happened that in the synagogue of the students of Torah before the conclusion of the Sabbath, it became dark. Rabbi Joseph turned the button and made light. Rabbi AVRAHAM YEHUDAH the teacher got up and left the synagogue.

He was beloved by me, although I wasn't always a source of pride to him. With mischief makers like us, he didn't have an easy life. But one thing I already knew then—his intentions were only for our good and to give us a good education. And this he did diligently.


The Teacher Lichtman of blessed memory

By Blume Tzat-Pavet

Translated by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg

There are certain people who are engraved forever in someone's memory. One of these is my teacher Lichtman, of blessed memory, who brought light to us, Jewish children. He came to us from Galicia. I can see him in my mind's eye: a small man, slim, with glasses on his eyes, and a good smile on his sympathetic face.

The teacher Lichtman, immediately won from us, Jewish children, our admiration, as well as from our parents. He became known in our city and won the admiration of all, including the Non-Jews. He was also a teacher in the government Gymasium.

As a child I had a special admiration for him because of a certain event in my school period. During a lecture on mathematics when the numbers were boring for the students, I wanted to bring a little humor into the situation so that the students would awake from their sleepiness. I took the paper bag from the bagels my mother had given me for breakfast and blew into it with all my strength and gave it a bang. Imagine the uproar and the screams that broke out in the class. All the children started crying, “They're shooting, they're shooting.”

The lecture was never finished. The mathematics teacher, very righteous and pale from anger, asked that the guilty one stand up, or all the students would be punished. I stood up and was taken into the Chancellor's office to the manager, Lichtman. The mathematics teacher told him in brief what had happened, and I anxiously awaited my punishment. I was expelled from the mathematics lectures for a week's time, with the acknowledgment of my parents. But what made the strongest impression in my mind were the words of my teacher, Lichtman. He said to me after listening to the mathematics teacher, “That you will be good, and that the others who surround you will be good, this is what we strive for, to educate you. And in order to achieve this, you have to obey the rule, 'Don't do to someone else what is not pleasing to you.'”

He said the words so quietly, with such goodness, that I cried. His words affected me more than the strongest punishment.

Years passed, and my whole family and I left Poland for Brazil, but the light impression of my teacher and educator Lichtman remained forever in my memory.

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