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[Page 150]

Hashomer Hatzair Chapter

by Shimon [Gorfein] Noy

Our town was graced with strong[1], vibrant youth – possibly in no small measure due to the influence of nearby Kovno. The youth were able to fill the ranks of all of the youth organizations that existed in the Jewish community. Some of the youth who did not find their place in other organizations joined together in part and founded the chapter of Hashomer Hatzair.

This took place on January 1, 1928. There were a few members of the movement among the students of the Hebrew seminary for teachers in Kovno, who had arrived on their winter expedition from Kovno. The guests were received by the graduating class of the Tarbut school. The members of the movement took the initiative, gathered the students and explained to them – that is to us – about Hashomer Hatzair.

No small number responded to these words of explanation, and organized themselves with the feeling that they would find an answer to their youthful desires within this movement.


Zeev Opnik, Sheinka Friedland, Shlomo Gerber, K., Pinchas Shapira, K., Shlomo Perlstein; K., Izik Reibstein, Elka Untershatz, Sheinka Klibansky, K., David Veps, Leah Klibansky, K., Leah Yudelevich, Chanka Jalinovich, Leah Grodsky, Shimon Gorfein, X, Netanel Shapira, K.
(with people from Keidani who came for a visit – K. stands for someone from Keidani)


After some time, two groups crystallized: Achduta – the group for older youths and Achva – the scouting group. Females comprised a significant portion of the chapter. The chapter expanded and broadened, and attracted youth and children also to class A.[2]. They rented a hall, which roved from house to house, and made efforts to establish organized activities, or as we called our meetings – Kibbutz. We would say “Kibbutz kvutza, kibbutz kan”[3]. We conducted some of the activities with our own power, and we were helped by counselors from outside: Avigdor Opnitzky from the Keidani chapter, and the student Tzvi Ulpasky, a member of the Young Socialists, who conducted activities for us on the themes of Socialism, the worker's movement, the doctrine of Borochov, and other such topics.

Of course, the activities were conducted in Hebrew, for we were all students of the Tarbut school. The chapter and the meeting place were quickly filled with content, and filled our lives with great meaning. Sabbath parties were organized on Sabbath eves. Newspapers articles written by alumni of the chapter were read. We made contact with other chapters in Keidani, Wilkomir [Ukmerge] and Kovno. Our horizons broadened. Our spiritual and social world became richer. We gained friends and knowledge. Our lives were filled with experiences. We felt as if we had grown wings, and had been liberated from our fears and the mentality of exile. We frequently hiked, went on excursions, and conducted summer activities in the bosom of nature. We often went out to summer camps. We conducted many activities in that very grove [the Gerialka Woods] where our dear ones were later taken out to be murdered.

When we took matters seriously and prepared to go to hachsharah in preparation for aliya to the Land, it was not easy for our parents to take leave of us and permit us to leave them. There were those who refused to permit their sons and daughters to make aliya. It was hard to convince them that, upon analyzing the Jewish situation in the lands of the Diaspora according to the doctrine of Borochov as we had studied in our programs, we had no future in the Diaspora, and our existence there was fraught with danger. There were those parents who claimed that they were not short of any good thing there. It is most unfortunate that only a few of the youth succeeded in escaping from the vale of murder while there was still time.

There were only a few who continued the life of the movement in the kibbutzim. However the years of the lives of many of those who were members of the movement and the chapter were not only pleasant years, but also – as all would agree – in addition to the pleasant memories that remain in their hearts, there are also certain values, the fruit of the education of the movement. Without doubt these values will accompany them throughout their lives, wherever they are.

[Page 151]

The First Hebrew Kindergarten

by Golda Sirek (Saker)

Batya Zandman and Pesia Dembo were two friends who studied together and completed the Hebrew gymnasium in Kovno. After that, they traveled to study in the seminary for kindergarten teachers in Riga. When they completed their studies, they returned home to Jonava and opened a kindergarten that was exemplary, and the first of its kind in the town. They spoke to the children only in Hebrew. Of course, they sang Hebrew songs. Many parents requested that the kindergarten teachers speak to their children in Yiddish. However, Batya and Pesia stood their ground and only spoke in the Hebrew language.

I remember those children whom we ran into on the streets of the town, strolling and singing the songs of Bialik. This scene was always moving – hearing their sweet voices breaking out in Hebrew song, and seeing their pure and clear images.

Batya Zandman dedicated a great deal of her time to the town of Jonava. At night she sat in the library and exchanged books. She collected money for Keren Kayemet. Her father of blessed memory purchased land in Israel, but they did not succeed in benefiting from this.

[Page 152]

The Tarbut Hebrew Public School

by Chana Zimrani (Granevich) of Tel Aviv

The teachers Yoselovich and Dov Zisla,
the founders of the popular Tarbut Hebrew School


Already during the era of Czarist rule, there were many parents in Jonava who possessed a Hebrew-Zionist culture, and who desired to establish a modern Hebrew school for their children. However Czarist Russia did not permit the teaching of general subjects in the Hebrew languages. The Germans, who conquered Lithuania in 1915, looked favorably upon the desires of the Jews to establish modern educational institutions in their language, for they regarded this as a good means against Russification. However, the depressed economic situation and poverty of the community of Jonava during that era did not make the establishment of a school feasible.

With the declaration of independence of Lithuania in 1918, a popular Hebrew school was established in Jonava in the wooden building of the Talmud Torah on Breizer Street. At first this was a school for girls, but after a short time it turned into a coeducational school for girls and boys. However, the sign “Hebrew School for Girls” continued to flutter over the building for a few years after it became a mixed school.

As is known, Lithuania issued a decree of autonomy for its Jews in August 1919. It recognized the Jewish national committee and established a special Jewish ministry that existed until 1924. This was very conducive to the development of Jewish schools in Lithuania in general, and of the popular Tarbut Hebrew school in Jonava in particular.

The number of students grew, as the refugees returned from Russia to Jonava. This created the need to open more classes, especially preparatory classes. The school building was only four rooms, and even the teachers' room was a small section of the first room on the left, in which a wooden partition was erected. Therefore, one or two classes had to study during the afternoon hours. When the children of the refugees joined in, a gap became evident between the knowledge of the veteran students and that of the newcomers, especially in the knowledge of the Hebrew language. Therefore, it is self evident that during those years of the early 1920s, classes were composed from different age groups.

{The article continues on page 153, after a series of eight unnumbered pages.}

[First unnumbered page after 152. – NYPL 247.]

The Tarbut school that separated from the Talmud Torah, 1919-1920.
The teachers Kolbiansky, Joselovich, Liba Chana Stern, and Alter (David) Kagan.


A visit from the Hebrew teachers' seminary in Kovno, January 1, 1928.

Among those standing: Shaul Keidansky, Alter Sadler, Rabinovich the principal of the seminary; to the left: Rosenberg. At the edge, Menachem Mendel Gorfein from the teaching staff. In the background is the cemetery.

[Second unnumbered page after 152. – NYPL 248.]

A gym class and roll call with the teacher Alter Sandler


Some of the students of the Tarbut school:

Sara Silberman, Mina Sack, Estia Granevich, Malka Untershatz; Chana Goldshmidt, Peisha Levin, Libka Rosenthal, Etka Segalovsky, Nadia Granevich; Freidka Zisla, Peisha Heiman, Shifra Lomiansky

[Third unnumbered page after 152. – NYPL 249.]

Students of the sixth grade and their teachers: Jonava, June 27, 1928


A photograph of the entire school
The teachers are Keidansky, Aptkina, Rosenberg, Sandler

[Fourth unnumbered page after 152. – NYPL 250.]

The Tarbut Evening Classes in Jonava, Passover 5688 (1928)

[Fifth unnumbered page after 152. – NYPL 251.]

The Tarbut school:

Chana Margolis, Tzvia Galinsky, Chana Shachor, Chana Miriam Untershatz, Chana Sesitzky, Leah Burstein, Pesia Yaffa, Dvora Goldshmidt, Sarah Shachor; Eliahu Baron, Aryeh Perchik, Zeev Abramovich, Chaya Davidovich, Lipsha Buz, Dina Perlstein, Malka Untershatz, Tzvia Berzin, Miriam Lantzman
The service personnel: Zuska Atkatz
The teachers: Rosenberg, Keidansky, Tabachovich, Isser Gurvich, Sandler – Tzvi Yaffa, Aryeh Sulsky; Dov Segalovsky, Pesach Shachor, Reuven Keidansky, Yasha Vilkomirsky, Yosef Friedland, Nissan Goldshmidt, Moshe Fried, M. Wolk

[Sixth unnumbered page after 152. – NYPL 252.]

[Seventh unnumbered page after 152. – NYPL 253.]

Rabbi Silman with the teaching staff of Yavneh:
David Kagan, Sheina Grodsky, Alter Kagan, Rabbi Silman, Moshe Feldberg


Alter Kagan and his students


The performance of Kever David (David's Tomb) by the students of the Yavneh School in Jonava, January 14, 1934

[Eighth unnumbered page after 152. – NYPL 253.]

Rabbi Silman (uncaptioned)


The Great Gaon the Prince of Torah
Expert in
The Babylonian Talmud, The Jerusalem Talmud, The Sifra
The Sifrei, Rishonim, Acharonim[4]
Pursuing Righteousness and uprightness
A merciful father to any person who is suffering or is in tribulation
{Line cannot made made out – but includes the phrase Bikur Cholim}
Our Rabbi
Rabbi Chaim Yitzchak
The son of Moshe Silman of blessed memory
13 Sivan 5690 (1930)
May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life
Rabbi Silman's grave (uncaptioned)

[Page 153]

Immediately after they returned, the refugees were not established from an economic perspective, and many were unable to pay the tuition. Even though the school received support from the communal council, its physical situation was difficult during the beginning of the 1920s. At times, there was not enough money to purchase firewood. One winter day, the chairman of the parents committee, Mendel Gorfein (the father of Shimon Noy) appeared in the classes and turned to the students with a request to volunteer and bring wood from their homes to light the fire in the school. The next morning, girls and boys with schoolbags on their shoulders and pine and birch twigs in their hands appeared on the streets of Jonava, walking in the direction of the school.

On a volunteer basis and with great dedication, the members of the parents' committee took care of all administrative matters: the collection of tuition, the payment of the teachers' salary, the purchase of provisions, maintenance, etc. Moshe Granevich, one of the founders of the school, served as the treasurer for many years. Later Sinai Shapiro filled the role of treasurer.

During the 1920s, the physical situation of the school improved, for many students transferred over at one time from the Yavneh school, and furthermore, there were changes for the better due to the improvement of the economic situation in the town.

All subjects were taught in Hebrew in the school. The Lithuanian language was only studied as a subject. Within a brief period of time, the Yiddish Language was also taught as a subject from the reader “Der Shul-Chaver” (The School Companion) of Bastomsky. During its first years, there was a dearth of teachers of certain subjects. There was also a shortage of textbooks. For these reasons, there was a lag in the teaching of nature for about ten years. On the other hand, the teaching of the Hebrew language was on a high level. The teachers had an excellent command of the Hebrew language. There was also no shortage of readers: Sfat Ami, Tal-Yaldut, Yaldut, Bikurim, and Lashon Vasefer in five parts. The teaching of Bible was also on a high level. Special care was exhibited in the teaching of grammar in all subjects that were taught in the school. During the first years, when the general educational network of the young Lithuanian Republic was still at its inception, there was no obligatory curriculum.

At that time, the Lithuanian language was still taught at a minimal level. It is no wonder that throughout the first year, the students did not learn how to read in Lithuanian. When the Lithuanian anthem had to be learned for February 16, 1919, the first year of Lithuanian independence, the teachers wrote the words of the anthem on the board in Hebrew letters. The students copied it and learned it by heart, barely understanding even one word.

As the years passed, the demands from the ministry of education increased, and the level of general knowledge increased appropriately. At around the end of the 1920s, official matriculation examinations were arranged in the presence of a representative of the ministry of education. Demands on teachers were also imposed by the ministry of education. Teachers who could not prove their mastery of the Lithuanian language were not permitted to teach in the school.

The Lithuanian government maintained the public schools on its own account. However, it would only retain a teacher for a class that numbered at least 32 students. Most of the classes in the public Hebrew school in Jonava did not have that number of students, so the parents had to hire teachers on their own account. However, this did not deter the teachers, for the vast majority of the Jewish population of Jonava was imbued with the Hebrew-Zionist spirit. The parents also made efforts to found additional classes. Primary schools in Lithuania consisted of four grades. (A reformation took place only in the middle of the 1930s, expanding the primary schools to six grades.) After completing the fourth grade, students were accepted into the gymnasium or the progymnasium. There was only a Lithuanian progymnasium in Jonava, but the Jews tended not to send their children to the Lithuanian progymnasium, and only a few Jews studied there. Since it was difficult to send a 10-11 year old child to study in the city, the Hebrew public school opened additional unofficial classes that were called “preparatory a”, or “preparatory b”, or “the fifth grade”. During the 1927-1928 school year a sixth grade was opened, composed of approximately 20 graduates of the fifth grade. Boys and girls who finished the fifth grade one year or even two years earlier joined the class. Thus did the class reach 30 students.

The existence of the sixth grade was made possible primarily by finding an appropriate teacher. He was Tabachovich, who was brought in from the gymnasium of Wilkomir. The principal Keidansky and Mrs. Sara Burstein, who taught English according to the Berlitz book, taught along with him. After a year, most of these students continued on to the seventh grade. This year was also completed with success. Even though at first there was a month-long break in studies due to the switching of teachers, the curriculum of study in those following years, which was taught in the afternoons, became increasingly similar to the curriculum of studies in the gymnasiums. Many students succeeded in being accepted into the upper grades of the gymnasiums of Kovno or Wilkomir after additional preparation with a private teacher during the summer vacation.

The first teacher and principal of the Hebrew public school in Jonava was Yoselovich, who came from the outside and worked in the school for 2-3 years. The second principal was Shaul Keidansky, who also came from outside with his family (a wife, two sons and a daughter), and became a permanent resident of Jonava. Mr. Keidansky was also the last principal of the school. There were other teachers who came from outside and became residents of the city: the teacher David Rosenberg who married Zlata Janusevich, and the teacher Beila Apatkina who married Eliezer, the son of Meir Goldshmidt. There were also a few natives of Jonava itself who worked as teachers in the Hebrew public school: Alter Kagan (the artist) and his wife Liba Chana, nee Stern; and Alter (Yitzchak) Sandler who began to teach in this school in 1924 after he completed the Real Hebrew Gymnasium in Kovno. He worked there until he made aliya in 1925. Yitzchak Sandler died in Tel Aviv in 1954 at the age of 52. Other teachers who worked in the Hebrew public school of Jonava were Zeidel, Isser Horowitz, Mrs. Sheinyuk who is remembered by the students primarily for her playful songs such as “Do you want to know?”, “The bird and the cat”, etc.; the writer Eliezer Heiman, Mines from Wilkomir, and Achber from Pasvalys who today lives in Kovno.


To this day I recall two typical Jewish anecdotes that I heard from the mouth of the teacher Isser Horowitz.

Once a childless Jew came to the rabbi to request his blessing.

The rabbi told him: return home, and next year at this time you will have a son, at a propitious time.

At the end of the year, the Jew returned again and complained to the rabbi:

“Rabbi, oh woe, what did you perpetrate on me? You promised me a son – and behold, two daughters were born to me!”

The rabbi answered him calmly:

“Indeed it is so my son, I did not err. In my head was the acrostic for “Two females”[5]

A Jew came to consult with the rabbi. He had a daughter who came of age, and she found herself a groom who was without fault. But what was the problem? His family – their pedigree is not top notch… and the talebearers tell that his brother is a stain upon the family. What should we do? Should we agree to the match or not?

The rabbi pointed him to the third volume of the Tur[6], where he would find his answer. The Jew got the hint. He took out the book of Exodus, and found the description of the breastplate of the High Priest, with the names of the rows of stones: “Leshem, Shvo Veachlama” (a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst).

He wrinkled his brow and struggled to understand the answer. He could not fathom the intention of the rabbi at all.

He returned to the rabbi, and asked: “What is the interpretation?”

The rabbi said to him: You did not read it correctly. You need to change the vowels as follows “Leshem Shebo, veach lama?” (To his own name, and why the brother?)


All of the teachers who taught in the school were imbued with a Hebrew-Zionist spirit, and had great influence on their students. How astonishing it was to the students when they heard their teachers speak Hebrew to their own children in their homes. The ring of the names of the children had a special enchantment – Yoel (Zeidel), Emanuel (Keidansky) --with the accent at the end of the word[7], as well as such a Zionist name as Tziona (Keidansky). The unique Hebrew environment that pervaded in the school and that was expressed by the traditional Lag B'omer excursions to Har Hascharchoret (Dizzy Mountain), the celebrations and festivities and later also through the activities at the meeting place greatly influenced the enriching of the souls of the students and their connection to Hebrew culture.

Already during the first days of the existence of the school, Zionist songs such as “Hatikva,” “Sham Baaretz Chemdat Avot” (There in the Land that was dear to the patriarchs), “Seu Tziona Nes Vadegel” (Raise a banner and a flag toward Zion), and the songs of Bialik, Tshernikovsky, Maneh, etc. burst forth from it. During recess, one could see in the yard girls dancing and playing with the accompaniment of Hebrew words “Open up quickly, open, open the gate”, or “you are a cat, you are black, you are evil and bad”. These game-rhymes were brought to the school by several girls who learned them from the private teacher Bara-Moshe Kolbiansky before the existence of the school. He maintained a sort of kindergarten for a very small group of girls in his dwelling (in the house of Aba Lomiansky) already during the era of German occupation.

During the second year of the school, the teacher Joselovich prepared a performance by the students: the operetta “The Lamb and the Wolf”. One of the prime roles was given to Avraham Yitzchak Opnik (the brother of Zeev Ofek), who had a good voice. The role of the lamb was given to Tzipora Levin (the daughter of Chaim Levin) because of her curly hair. This performance was canceled at the last minute due to the fire that broke out in the hall due to the lack of knowledge of how to use the carbide lamp (“luks”) which was borrowed for the play from the store of Masha Granevich. (This was the time before electric lights in Jonava.) It was fortunate that the fire broke out before a large crowd had gathered, and everyone succeeded in escaping by jumping over the long, wooden benches. Klibansky's carpentry shop was completely burnt.

During later years, the school arranged the students' celebrations in the hall of the “Union” theater (earlier, the “Reinoa”). During one of the performances, the play “The Kidnapped” was performed. The role of the kidnapped child was performed by Noach Stern, who later became known as a poet. In that play, Reiza Leah Khasid also appeared in the song “A poor wanderer is knocking here”, dressed up as an elderly Jew with a large staff in her hand. At the end of this play, they were supposed to make a “living pyramid”, but the disappointment of those who had to build this pyramid was very great – especially the disappointment of the younger ones who waited with their blue and white flags to jump to the top of this pyramid – when they were informed that this number was being dropped due to a lack of time. Most of the time was stolen by the very long intermissions between each act that were used to set up the scenery on the stage. It is appropriate to mention the names of other students who contributed of their talents to the student celebrations: the two Koshlevich sisters with their charcoal eyes, Ahuva Stern, and Zeev Opnik (Ofek). There were certainly other students who participated in the student performances, but their names never reached me. On Chanukah and Tu B'Shevat, for the most part, school celebrations were arranged only for the students and teachers. Chanukah celebrations of course began with the lighting of candles. Zeev Opnik would recite the blessing over the candles, and then the choir conducted by Liba Chana Stern (Kagan) would sing Chanukah songs. Later in the program, one of the students would recite a poem from the curriculum of studies. During the Tu B'Shevat celebrations as well, there were choir songs, recitations, and something special for that holiday – the distribution of bags of fruit of the Land of Israel – boxer (carobs), almonds, figs and raisins. The income was dedicated to Keren Kayemet.

During the 1930s, the teacher Mines did a great deal for the success of the student performances. He would arrange student plays with the characteristics of operettas. He composed them himself, improvised the music, or wrote words for known melodies. When there were ballet performances, Bunia Wolfovich would prepare the students for these performances. The Jonaver musician Shlomo-Ber Meirovich organized the choir and conducted it.

A unique event in the annals of the Tarbut school in Jonava was the parade and celebration on the occasion of the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the year 1925. As with all celebrations, people crowded into the school hall or the movie theater. This celebration was a form of demonstration to all the residents of the town, Jewish and gentile – a demonstration of our attraction to the renewed Hebrew culture of our Land. The students marched through the streets of the town in pairs (a few weeks before this, they received special marching lessons from Shlomo Friedman, who was one of the finest of the Maccabee athletes), with the Zionist flag raised high and fluttering before them. The students joined the celebrating crowds on Har Hascharchoret (Dizzy Mountain). The national joy and pride filled all hearts on that festive spring day.

It should be noted that specifically during the first ten or twelve years of the Hebrew public school, there was little room for alternative subjects such as art, craftsmanship and gym. Similarly, there were barely any clubs outside of the curriculum of studies. It is therefore no wonder that when Hashomer Hatzair was founded in Jonava during the 1927-1928 school year, most of the students of the Tarbut Hebrew public school joined that movement, which had in its power the ability to complete that which was lacking in a complete educational experience. An awakening and progress took place in the supplementary education of the school itself during the 1930s, thanks to the blessed activities of the teacher Mines. We have already discussed above the success of his performances. He founded the meeting place for students, whose activities took place on Sabbaths. These activities were imbued with an enthusiastic Zionist spirit.

Throughout the more than twenty years of its existence, our Tarbut school in Jonava bestowed education upon and instilled national spirit in hundreds of students. Many of its graduates made aliya, and their excellent Hebrew education helped them in their physical and spiritual absorption. It also helped them imbue Hebrew culture in their own children, and to influence their entire surroundings with that spirit.


Shlomo Ber Meirovitch

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Literally rich, but not used in the monetary sense. Return
  2. The group would have been divided into various classes, with class A. being the youngest group. Return
  3. “A group (kvutza) is a kibbutz, a chapter (kan) is a kibbutz.” Return
  4. Sifra and Sifrei are Torah commentaries from the Mishnaic period. Rishonim and Acharonim are the early and latter rabbinic sages. Return
  5. Beit Nekeivot means “Two females” (using the alphabetical formulation of numbers in Hebrew). Its acrostic is “B N”, the letters for “ben” – a son. Return
  6. The Tur is a precursor to the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch). It is short for “Arba Turim” (Four Rows) – referring literally to the four sections of the Code of Jewish law – and homiletically basing its names on the “four rows” of precious stones in the breastplate of the High Priest. Return
  7. In opposition to Yiddish, which generally puts the stress on the penultimate syllable. Return

[Page 157]

The Or Noga Yeshiva

by Shmuel Ben-Menachem


Reb Mendel Deitz


One day, Rabbi Silman came to the Slobodka Yeshiva to bring my father, Reb Mendel, as the Rosh Yeshiva of Jonava. The Yeshiva wandered from one synagogue to another. Youths from nearby towns also studied there. It was a small Yeshiva that served as a preparation for the larger Yeshiva. Most of the students later became householders[1] who were knowledgeable in Gemara. Reb Menachem Mendel continued to serve as the Rosh Yeshiva until the Russians came. The shochet Reb Michael Lichtenstein also studied there.

The Yeshiva disbanded when the Russians entered.


Level 1 of the Hashomer Hadati at the Yavneh School in Jonava

Institutions and Social Enterprises

by Y[itchak]. B[urstein]

The People's Bank

This institution, which contributed to the economic life in the town, was located on the second floor of the Kaper home (previously, the home of Masha Granvich). The small-scale savers would bring their savings there. Moshe Ivenksy was the first person to whom the borrowers would turn. The trust in him was very great. The bookkeeper, Yankel Opnitzky, was tall and skinny, an avowed member of the culture league, and the personification of honesty. The director, Efraim Abramson, was calm, and able to satisfy everyone. During discussions with him in his office, he would rest his spectacles on his forehead. He was a General Zionist. Avigdor Opnitzky also worked there as a bookkeeper. He was a Shomer Hatzair member from Kedainiai. He also served as the leader of the chapter. He was a modest, upright person. He married the dentist Feiga Motnik. Gittel Ritz (Lopiansky) was the secretary. The directors were elected in a democratic fashion at a meeting. The last members included David Burstein as chairman, Shmerel Stern, Yudel Rashkes, Nathan Valchokovsky, and Dr. Ran.

[Page 158]

The Hebrew Library

It was finally transferred to two rooms in the building of Baruch Izraelson (and his two daughters Chana and Esther) on Vilna Street opposite the Wiener building. This was an enterprise of Young Zion. Eighty percent of the thousand books were in Hebrew, and the remainder in Yiddish, either in the original or in translation. Its dedicated workers, who dedicated their evenings to this, were: Velva Kerzner and Chana Davidovich (later Rikliansky) who perished, Golda Sirek who lives in Tel Aviv, as well as the writer of these lines.


The Yiddish Library

It was directed by the Culture League. It was smaller than the Hebrew library, but had dedicated readers and activists who concerned themselves with left-leaning literature. Its activists included the teacher Blusher, Vicho, Kolbansky, Marka Lin, and others.


The Bikur Cholim Hospital

Its building was located on the street of the Synagogue. It was run by the community. It was later supported by the town hall. It was expanded with the assistance of the family of Leiba Winik from the United States. It had five beds. Its de facto director was Glaz, a tall man with a large beard. He was modern and tolerant even though he belonged to Agudas Yisroel. Dr. Grisha Ran was the physician.


The Bathhouse

It was situated behind the fire station. After taking a bath and a shampoo with the aid of special brushes, people would leave with reddened faces, having left behind the filth and sweat, and go home to don their Sabbath attire. At the end of the 1920s, it was decided, through the initiative of Chaim Levin, to build a modern bathhouse. A branch was added to the old bathhouses, with dressing rooms, a table, a mirror, a bathing room covered with white porcelain, and a special steam room. There was a cafeteria at the entrance, called the Console. It was run by Yudel, and sold lemonade, soda, and snacks. Its director was Nathan Valchokovsky.



When Mordechai Wolfovich concluded his university studies as a physician in the 1930s, after a brief period of apprenticeship in Switzerland, he opened an office on the second floor of the Lomiansky building. His number of patients grew from year to year. He was considered to be a more modern physician than Dr. Ran. He followed the professional literature, and never stopped improving himself. His name was known in the villages of the district, and he was held in esteem in the town. He married Julia Garb from Vilkomir [Ukmerge], and they lived opposite Eizik Segalovsky. He was deported to Siberia with his family. Today he lives in Barnaul in the Altay region of Siberia. His wife Julia, who had remained by chance in Lithuania, perished.

The office (reception room) of Dr. Bumash, who had moved to Jonava from Vilkomir, was also on the Street of the Road. He was a tall, thick man. His wife, from the Weitzstein family of Vilkomir, was beautiful and intelligent, but she also became fat with the passage of time. They did not get along well with people.


The Town Council

For many years, the head of the town council was Dr. Reilis, an intelligent, democratic man. His assistant was the treasurer Yehuda Movshovich, the father of Chaya Dina Epstein and Zelda Solsky. He was tall, and had a proud gait.

[Page 159]

There was a great deal of activity during the elections to the town council. There were economic interests, tax issues, and the like. The town council concerned itself with improving the appearance of the town. A large garden was planted at the side of the Street of the Road. A new street was opened from the cooperative to the Vylia, which contained a row of tender trees. This street also led to Breizer Street. Sidewalks were built. The streets were repaved. The availability of electric lighting expanded. The electricity was obtained directly from Kovno at all hours of the day. The hospital, bathhouse and slaughterhouse were supported by the town council, thereby easing the budget of the communal council.


The Oren Match Factory

There was a modern match factory on the road not far from the train station. It had already been built prior to the First World War, and was expanded in 1922. It was equipped with automated machinery and an electric station. It was a company with shares, that was founded by Leibe Optnitzky, David Burstein, Yosa Burstein (Zisla), Elia Entes, Yankel Weitzstein, and Chaim Levin. More than 100 workers from the district worked there. The technical staff, foremen and directors were Jews from Jonava. The director was Chaim Levin, the treasurer – Yankel Weitzstein, the bookkeeper – Chaya Briman, the technical directors – Shimon Rubin, Katz, Berl Entes, Kramerman, and others. The three latter ones lived within the precincts of the factory. The guard was Breznat.

The first parties of the gymnasium graduates – those of the Carlebach Hebrew gymnasium and the Timinski Russian gymnasium in Kovno – would take place here, in the large packaging hall. The “golden youth” participated in these parties, including: Dora Zians, Zelig Epstein, Alter Sandler, Abba Opnitzky, Berl Antes, Mitzel Pogirsky, Leizer Goldshmid, Rachel and Sheina Levin, Sara Burstein, Miriam Lomiansky, Bluma Pogirsky, Chana and Masha Segalovsky, Batya Opnitzky, Ela Wolk and Menashe Weiner.

Chaim Levin expressed his opinion that this was the finest garden, with boulevards and benches.

In 1930, the Lithuanian government forced the owners of the company of shareholders to sell the enterprise to the Kruger Swedish concern. However, Chaim Levin remained as the director, through the concern, until just before the Russians came.


The Medis Sawmill

With the expansion of furniture manufacturing during the 1930s, the owners of the carpentry shops decided to free themselves from the supervision of the sawmill owners, and to found a cooperative called “Medis” (“tree” in Lithuanian). Hershel Friedman, formerly an official at Kemach, directed the enterprise. The members of the cooperative included: Yankel Leib Landman, Kopel Reznik and his sons, Abba Reznik, Mones Klibansky and his sons, Moshel Kolbiansky and Chaim Slomin, Moshe and Zusia Klotz, Shmuel Chernman, Nachum Levin, Moshe Shapira and his son, Shmerel Shapira, Plakser and his son, Kozanovsky, Yankel Tauber, Adler the “bass”, Yankelevich, Landman, and Goldman.

[Page 160]

A Note on the Communal Council

by Baruch Kursik
(Worked as the assistant to the secretary in 1921-1922)

It was during the 1920s, the years of Jewish autonomy in Lithuania. The communal councils began widespread work. In Jonava as well, the communal council conducted a great deal of work. Everybody worked on a volunteer basis except for the secretary and his assistant.

The communal council consisted of 16 members who were chosen as representatives of the parties and organizations. Agudas Yisroel was represented by Rabbi Silman and Yaakov Shimshon Glaz. The representatives of Mizrachi were Shmerl Stern and Rubin. The General Zionists were represented by D. Burstein, Rashkes and Valchokovsky. Young Zion was represented by Menachem Mines and Ivensky. The Yiddishists were represented by Yankel Opnitzky. The representatives of the craftsmen (handworkers) were Benkocher and Yechiel Davidovich.

After Glaz, the chairman was Mines. Yisrael Goldstein was the secretary.

Income was primarily from shechita (ritual slaughter) permits.

The communal council looked after the slaughterhouse, the bathhouse, and visiting the sick (Bikur Cholim) and was very active in the realm of assisting those in need for Maos Chittin for Passover, providing care, tending to wayfarers, providing firewood for the winter. Leib Opnitzky excelled particularly in this area.

Translator's Footnote

  1. The term here refers to well-educated laymen as opposed to rabbis. Return

[Page 160]

The Firefighters

by Baruch Levin

Jonava had primarily wooden homes. There were brick houses only on the main street, in the market, and on the street next to the Christian church.

“Moyer” (brick walls) – were a symbol of strength and stability. If one wanted to say that something was strong, one would say “shtark vi moyer”, that is to say, as strong as a brick building.

As is known, Jonava was entirely burnt down twice before the First World War. The elder natives of Jonava recall the first and second fires. They also recall all sorts of events and dates based on the dates of the fires. For example, so and so was born after the second fire, etc. After the world war, the Maccabee organization established a firefighting organization in Jonava – “Faszarne Kommande” as it was called in the town. The Jewish residents of the city regarded the firefighters as their own institution. Almost all of the volunteer firefighters were Jewish, and the few gentiles found themselves under Jewish management.

The equipment was particularly paltry. There were large barrels (batchkes) that were brought in immediately after the outbreak of a fire, as a form of first aid. There were also water-drawing machines which were operated by hand. However, the firefighters did not have horses to transport the batchkes and the water-drawing machines, and during the fires, they tried to confiscate horses from the wagon drivers. Until the time a wagon driver could be convinced to give over his horse, and until they brought the batchkes and water drawing machines to a well or to the river – the fire had completely consumed the building. The firefighters arrived and sprinkled water on the neighboring houses. Later, the firefighters obtained a larger water-drawing machine, but it also required horses. Only in the 1930s did they obtain a large machine that was operated by an engine. This was the height of modernity of the firefighters.

The firefighters would conduct “reftitzius,” that is to say, drills. These were a part of the experience of the town. The guard of the firefighters would wear a blue uniform, place a trumpet in his belt, pass through the streets of the town, stop in certain corners, and trumpet with pride, announcing that a drill was about to take place.


A Fire in the Town


Jonaver Blacksmiths in 1911

[Page 161]

The volunteer firefighters would wear their own uniforms, some with brass helmets from the middle ages, and others in blue helmets. They wore wide belts, to which were hitched an axe and a pick-axe, which was called a “kirke” in Yiddish. They would run to present themselves in the yard of the fire hall. There they would be enumerated. After long negotiations with the wagon drivers, they would obtain horses and go out to the center of town with the machines and barrels. They would connect the machines to a well or the river, extend the fire hoses, and begin to spray water in the market or on some random houses. The children would run between them with great curiosity and try to help. After they proved that the fire hose worked properly, and after they poured out the appropriate amount of water – for in our town things were not measured by a watch – they would begin to gather up their equipment. They would return to the yard of the fire hall filled with personal satisfaction that the maneuver had succeeded.

Then the real experience would come. There were no alarms in the town, so when a fire broke out, they would run and shout “fazer”, that is “fire”. There were those who excelled in shouting “fazer” with a unique clear voice. When Mendel the shoemaker shouted “fazer” I would awaken in the middle of the night, recognizing his voice.

When they shouted “fazer”, everyone would run outside and begin asking where it is burning. The firefighters would be running to and fro.

Indeed, there were jokes in the town about the shouting of “fazer”. The adage “Peshka, shrei fazer” (Pesia, shout fire) was known. Peshka's neighbor came to her quickly during a fire and requested, “Peshka, shout fire”, for shouting would, Heaven forbid, hurt herself…

During such fires in the town, many wooden buildings burnt down and poor people lost everything that they had. The residents were very afraid of fires. If a fire broke out at the end of a street, the people on the entire street and nearby streets would pack up their belongings. In the middle of the night, one could see people running with sacks of pillows and blankets. In particular, they would pack the bedding, so that “there would be something upon which to rest the head”.

There were buildings which were well insured, and after the fire the owner of the buildings would build a better home, for the most part made of bricks. There were also occasions where by chance, the fire did not spread to them, and they would say about them in the town that they made “borei meorei haeish”[1].

I remember Naftali the tailor, known as a big joker, wandering around on the night that a fire broke out at the home of Sara Eidl, groaning “oy oy.” They asked him, “Reb Naftali, why are you groaning? Your house is not burning.” He answered, “Oy, what a large brick house will stand there.”

These firefighters, with all of their provincialism and lack of means, formed an independent Jewish kernel within the harsh, anti-Semitic Diaspora that pervaded at that time in the midst of enlightened Lithuania.

Translator's Footnote

  1. This is the benediction of “Who created the light of the fire”, which is recited over a lit flame as part of the havdallah ceremony at the end of the Sabbath. The obvious reference here is that these people ignited the fire themselves in order to collect insurance. Return


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