« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 169]

Melamdim and Cheders

[Page 170]

According to Russian law, every melamed had to have permission to run a cheder. Not every melamed in the city had such a permit.

The melamdim with a license, for the cost of a few rubles, were informed several days in advance if the school inspector from Lublin would be coming for a visit to Bilgoraj.

In haste, and with the help of the students, floors were washed and scraped with knives and files. The picture of the Kaiser and the doska (blackboard) were brought down from the attic and wiped clean of the dust that had lain on them from one visit to the next.

The melamed and the students together studied the “Bozhe tsara chroni[1] in Yiddish letters—the melamed himself did not know any Russian.

When the inspector arrived, the melamed and the children chanted the words which were unintelligible, and the inspector left.

Translator's footnote

  1. God save the tsar. Return

[Page 171]

Leibish Melamed

by A. Karmi

Translated by Moses Milstein

When little boys reached the age of three, their mothers would take them to the dardeke melamed[1] who lived in the market near the butcher shops.

His son, Moishele Belfer (assistant) took the child, placed him with the others, and handed out candies.

R' Leibish was an old Jew of average weight, with a white beard where there were still some black hairs remaining that glistened in the sun, and a pair of glasses tied together with two strings riding on his nose. He sat at the head of the table, a pointer made of bone in his hand, and around him, on both sides of the table, sat the children. He taught with a loud, clear voice, and a beautiful, ringing nigun. This is how a little boy says, aleph, this is how a little boy says beis, punctuated by a jab from the bony pointer when they failed to repeat the aleph-beis.

In the second part of the house, the oven burned like in hell. Its burning flames reflected off the blackened walls where his wife (the rebbetsin) baked special sugar cookies for nursing children. She also used to bake cookies in various shapes, and paint them with different colors.

She would pick a child and get him to cut out the cookie forms—birds, dogs, and other things. Later, she would bake them, and her daughter Leah would take them and sell them to the stores.

[Page 172]

His son, Moishele, used to pick up the children and bring them to cheder, and afterwards, take them home. When a woman in town gave birth to a boy, they would inform Moishele, and he would bring his zecher kvitlach for Shmireh, and he would stick them up in the house. Every evening, he would assemble the whole cheder, and march them off in rows to read the Kriat Shema.

Upon entering, Moishele would shout loudly, “A guten ovnt” to the baby, mazel tov, and all the children did the same after him.

After the Kriat Shema was read, Moishele distributed cookies or candies to the kids, and again shouted, “A gute nacht” to the baby, and all the kids repeated after him. He celebrated the eight days like this, until the brit milah.

At night, Moishele used to go and study davening with girls, or he delivered wedding invitations. Sukkes, he used to go around with an etrog to the women for them to bless. Simchat Torah he used to sell flags to the little children. Purim he would deliver shalach moness from one household to another. And in spite of all this, he remained a big pauper.

Translator's footnote

  1. Teacher of young children. Return

[Page 173]

Yekl Melamed

by A. Kronenberg

Translated by Moses Milstein

R' Yekl Melamed was a tall, very thin, man who used to go around in a long smock down to his ankles. He was a very modest man. He looked like a forty year old, with his dark grey beard, but was in his seventies. He was a dardeke melamed[1] , but of a higher class. He taught halb-traf[2], and gantz-traf[3] (nikud). He lived for many years in Chanina's house with the big courtyard where the children liked to play.

The children liked to be taught by him. He had no whip or pointer. He would teach by simply pleading with them, “Nu, kinderlach! Everyone say already, kometz alef o, kometz beis bo,” and the children actually repeated after him with their ringing little voices.

He had a special method. In a short time, he taught the children to read Hebrew fluently.

Yekl Melamed would also accompany the children to Kriat Shema, but quietly and modestly.

After his wife died, he moved in with his employers, the parents of the children he taught.

Translator's footnotes

  1. Teacher of young children Return
  2. Reading letter by letter. Return
  3. Reading by syllables. Return

[Page 174]

Itseleh Melamed

by A. Karmi

Translated by Moses Milstein

He was a short man, with a nice, stately looking beard. He lived opposite the besmedresh. He conducted his teaching in a somewhat modern manner, teaching in classrooms. He would stride around the classroom, his switch under his arm, and teach chumash and Rashi with a ringing melody. Vayomer, he said, Adonai, God, el, to, Moishe, one of them was called Moishe, and so on.

He made sure that the children repeated after him. Whoever did not repeat accurately received the switch.

The children liked to attend his school, because he did very little teaching. He was the only bookseller in town where you could buy a siddur, a slichah, a Kinah, a Yiddish chumash, and all kinds of fiction.

Every day, he spread out his entire stock in the big besmedresh for all the minyans while the davening went on. Erev Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur was a hectic time for him. He took the older students to help him, and they considered it a big honor.

His wife (the rebbetsin) was a short, very thin woman, who brought milk from the villages to sell to the Jews in the city. Even with all this, he struggled to make a living.

[Page 175]

Itzi-Mayer Melamed

by A. Katari

Translated by Moses Milstein

He was a short man, with a broad, half-grey beard, and a heavily creased forehead. His face was yellow as wax. He would cough a lot, suffering from asthma for years. He drank several glasses of water a day adding a tablespoon of soda, making a brocheh, shehakl. Afterwards, he would stroke his beard as if he had just a good glass of spirits.

R' Itzi-Mayer was a Gemara teacher. He taught the children chumash with Rashi, and a little bit of Siftei Chakhamim[1]. He would also teach a chapter of sfarbeh (24, nun”khof), which was not an easy thing then for Bilgoraj Jews. He was a good interpreter.

He lived in a small house by the Klotz's for many years. The huge oven and the kitchen took up half the room. The other room, reached by going up two stairs, was the bedroom for his family of 9 people.

He conducted the cheder in the kitchen at a long table that ran from one end of the room to the other, and his 30 students sat along the sides. At the head sat the rebbe with his switch under his arm, always angry.

The rebbetsin (Basheleh) was an eyshet chayal. She would sometimes go after the rebbe and his students for not bringing any tuition money, or Rosh Hashanah money, cursing with a variety of curses.

[Page 176]

She would bang on the table. The rebbe could not abide this, and he would blurt out, “Yiddeneh, enough already.”

Smoke and steam together were always coming out of the kitchen where the rebbetsin was occupied with making lunch.

In summer, when they used to leave the cheder for lunch, the boys would run down to the river for a swim, meanwhile sneaking into an orchard and picking apples or pears, someone always returning without his hat, or with torn pants, trying to fool the rebbe with all kinds of excuses. The rebbe, of course, understood, and introduced them to the switch. Every evening one cheder battled with another. More than one housewife complained that the boys scattered her firewood.

On Friday, you had to know the chumash off by heart. Those who brought tuition went first and were let off easy. For these boys, the rebbe, on Saturday evening, after a chapter of Mishnah, would go listen to them read at the parent's house, handing out all kinds of compliments. Kids who hadn't brought tuition, became the victims.

Purim, the boys did whatever they could to beg their parents for shalach moness[2] for the teacher. The lucky ones ran to the cheder, and delivered their shalach moness. The rebbe and rebbetsin were waiting seated at the table. She took note of which of the students failed to bring any, and these boys suffered the rest of the year for it.

Translator's footnotes

  1. Commentaries on Rashi Return
  2. Purim custom of bringing gifts of food to friends and family. Return


[Page 177]

R' Todieh Melamed

by H. Wallach

Translated by Moses Milstein

R' Todieh, the Gemara teacher, lived on the Lubelsky street, up a set of high stairs. He was a tall man with a white beard and long, curled payess. He had a wide, creased, scholarly, forehead. He wore white pants and white socks, He was a pious and observant Jew.

He always walked around in a taliss kotn with long tsitsis reaching almost to the ground. He spoke with a Lithuanian dialect.

When davening, he made all kinds of grimaces, banged his fists on the wall, jumped up in the air almost touching the balcony, and in order to be certain that he had not left out a single word, he spoke each word several times.

He never wanted a big cheder. He used to teach Gemara with tosafot[1], and other meforshim[2]. Whenever he encountered a difficult passage with his students, he would search all the commentaries. He searched until he came up with the right explanation. Then he would wipe his brow with the sleeve of his white robe, and with a happy expression say to his students, “Nu, we got through it.”

During the war between Poland and the Bolsheviks, a couple of Polish soldiers went by his window. Hearing shouting, they entered his house. R' Todieh was standing davening, his fists clenched. The soldiers, thinking he was yelling at them, were going to arrest him.

[Page 178]

But after things were explained to them, they let him go.

R' Todieh used to make wine. He supplied the city with kosher wine for Shabbes and for Kiddush.

Before the holidays, R' Todieh and his children would be up all night making wine.

Anyone who wanted good kosher wine, would buy it from R' Todieh.

Translator's footnotes

  1. Annotations to the Talmud Return
  2. Exegetes Return


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Bilgoraj, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2022 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 2 Nov 2021 by MGH