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[Page 221]

Two Who Were an Excellent Example for Us All

Gedaliyahu Weismann

Translated by Selwyn Rose

At that time, in the chaos that spread throughout the Jewish lives, something happened in the wider Polish world.

This was at the end of the First World War, at the time of the Balfour Declaration. The youth of Sokółka stood at a crossroads, without an aim in life, empty vessels that nobody needed. A life of idleness without any content… What to do? Learn a trade? That would be a disgrace to the entire family. From time to time Tsvi would read to us from “The Young Worker” that had come from Palestine, about the settlements, about “Ha-Shomer” and on the future that we were committed to build. Tsvi translated for us from Hebrew into Yiddish because very few of us knew Hebrew. We learned the poems of Haim Nahman Bialik on Palestine and the Cradle-songs of Tchernichovsky we sang together, longing for our homeland that was already very close to our hearts. From then the streets of Sokółka began to empty of that youth – their focus was in the house of Lipczer. After that we rented a hall for our activities. We founded the “Young Zionists” and the “Pioneer” and every one of us trained ourselves in preparation for immigration to Pales-tine. We didn't expect then there would be a State of Israel. There is.


What is the “Tarbut” School?

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The “Schulhof” square was used as a playground and meeting-place for the children of the town. Round the square were the “old” Beit Ha-Midrash, the “new” Beit Ha-Midrash, the Central synagogue – the “Schul”- the Talmudei-Torah and our school the modern-Hebrew “Tarbut”.

Hence the name “Schulhof: the school/synagogue square. The eastern wall of the synago-gue that backs onto the square was a wall where each layer of bricks was half-set on the one be-low, giving the effect of staircase stretching up to the roof. When a ball got kicked accidently up onto the high roof of the synagogue there were always courageous boys who dared to climb up the steps to the roof; it was mainly the poor children who were best at this. They had an unusual daring. They tended to be a bit wild and less disciplined than we, the children of the middle-class, the “educated” ones who receive our education in the “Tarbut” school and were nicknamed “Tarbutniks” by the orthodox traditional Jews and the children who studied in the Talmud Torah (or didn't learn at all). To the shame of our poor people, they were wild, ragged and dirty and their style of speech was insolent and vulgar. Not far from our school (a small house stuck on to the teachers' room and corridor with four small classrooms), was the school of the Religious-traditionalists – the “Talmud Torah”. I had never been inside that institution, from which came the sounds a chorus of voices raised in prayer or learning and the screams of the wild, ill-behaved children. It is possible that because our school was mixed it affected our behavior; it appears that the presence of girls in our group acted as a restraining factor on us. The boys – even the “forward” ones never allowed themselves liberties or open vulgarity in the presence of the girls.

 

sok223a.jpg
The elementary school, 7th grade 1927

I recall two incidents of absorption by our school: one was of a young boy of 13 who was considered among the poor of the “Talmud Torah” and his parents had him entered in our school. At first he was a complete stranger; he was more daring, strong and harder than we. During one of the recesses, he sat himself opposite one of the girls of our class and in a quiet, normal tone of voice and looking straight at her started to speak crudely to her. But he got used to the conditions of our group, adjusted himself and he became “one of us” with our normal manners.

 

sok223b.jpg
The elementary school, 7th grade 1928

 

The second instance was a big crude boy. A poor boy who lived in a basement apartment. He was wild and abandoned, like his brothers and friends. One day he had an argument with a boy over a game of chestnuts and the exchange of words quickly developed into a violent explo-sion of rage on his part and…he stabbed the boy in the abdomen! The town seethed like a pot – and the event filled us with stupefaction and excited curiosity. The tension was extremely dramatic. The fear of death and blood on one side and the desire to see those involved and to hear all the details on the other – produced an atmosphere of rumor that was carried from mouth to mouth; words like “blood” “injured” “dead” “hospital” “police” “knife” and so on, were heard from every side. For a long time the lad and all his family were nicknamed “Stabbers”. The event slowly passed and was forgotten; tempers cooled slowly. Suddenly, one day, the “criminal” appeared before us and sat on the bench in our school as a pupil. His appearance among us as a pupil was not only a surprise but very strange – but we reacted silently. We didn't clap or cheer…and behold - not a long time passed and the “Stabber” lost his nickname, adjusted himself and became one of us.

 

sok225a.jpg
sok225b.jpg
2nd year graduation of the “Tarbut School”, 1927
The teacher Mordecai Wilanksi

 

Talmud Torah

In the period before the First World War, the Talmud Torah was the educational institution where most of the children of the town and the immediate surroundings, from all layers of the population, studied, poor and comfortable alike; the middle-class families paid, the poor were educated for free. I remember just before Pessach a generous woman from the family of Ephraim and Heska Shapira, owners of a manufacturing business would come and take the measurements and prepare suits for all the poor children to wear for Pessach. The administrative management was then in the hands of a man whose job was defined as “treasurer”. From time to time this job would pass from one person to another. The position was voluntary.

At this time the treasurer was Herschel Aschkowitz.

The teachers I remember were: Class 'a' Daniel the teacher, when he died he was replaced by the 'Łomża' – the children nicknamed him “The Tavern-wagon”.

In Class 'b' we had Haim Yehuda Eksztein from the Kolonia, “Shai” Adelsk (the father of David Eksztein who is in Palestine).

In Class 'c' was the teacher known as “Der Dratziner” (his father was Mania Zelkowski the pharmacist).

In Class 'd' was Rabbi Yankel “Der Shtabiner”.

In all three classes they learned “chumash” and “Gemara” – only in class 'd' with “Der Stahbiner”. They learned, in addition to “chumash” and “Gemara” also “Tanach”.

For all external students, the treasurer arranged meals.

I recall that in 1905/6 we were all assembled by the “Revolutionary Youth” and after a number of fiery speeches were motivated to rebel and demand from the treasurers changes in the courses – the addition of writing and mathematics.

We the “revolutionary pupils”, organized ourselves and demanded from the treasurer the proposed changes – and in spite of the fact the we had – effectively – sequestered the treasurers in the Talmud Torah and didn't allow them outside the walls, the “revolution” failed.

Nevertheless, in spite of the failure, the seed that had been sown eventually took root and a few years later most of the “revolutionaries” found places for themselves with Hillel Levine, and after him the “Heder Metukan” of Konsht and in Nathaniel Kaplan's school.

 

sok227.jpg
The board of teachers and committee of the school with the children, Lag B'Omer

 

Except for the Talmud Torah which resembled somewhat the format of a public school, there were several private “Haderim”. I remember: Yosef Haim “The Kozhinitzer”, “Der Zhanoier” – and above all Avraham Itzik and Kalman Yeruham-Meitkass the Preacher.

Avraham Khinski

 

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