By Rabbi Jonah Baruch Kac, of blessed memory
Translated from the Hebrew by Thia Persoff
After Poland was conquered by the Germans in 1915, I established a modern school called Torah v'Dat in my hometown, Gostynin. One day Mr. Jakob Zerchin, who was the principal of the modern cheder in Kutno, offered me the job of principal in the Kutno School, since he had been accepted for a permanent position at the two high schools in Gostynin.
I accepted the offer and, about two months before the Passover holiday of that year, I moved to Kutno. Unfortunately, at that time a contagious disease had started in the town, and the German authorities had ordered the closing of all the schools. Therefore, for two months I was forced to teach the pupils in private homes. After the epidemic was over, the schools were reopened. Full of energy, I started to work and saw that my efforts were blessed; more pupils had joined. I organized trips during the vacations, pupils marched with their flags through the streets of the town, singing Hebrew songs, and the town's people, who were unaccustomed to such sights, were impressed by their fine appearance, and greeted them enthusiastically. Sometime later, I organized three evening classes for girls. All went well!
First Hebrew theatre in Kutno
After two years, the girls were sufficiently fluent in the Hebrew language, though it was not only the girls that were more or less fluent; everyone wanted to learn it old and young, boy and girl, and the Hebrew language resounded from many lips. At that time, I started to organize a drama troupe. Together with Mr. Jakob Wajslic who was a director and actor in the current Vilna theatrical company we decided to stage the Hebrew play The Older Sister by our town's famous writer Szalom Asz. Immediately, I turned to the German authorities with a request for a permit to perform the Hebrew play and to organize a flower day. Both requests were granted and I enthusiastically started to work. But, apparently, our initiative displeased someone who had connections with the town council, and he acted secretly to cancel the permit, which was already in our possession. When I learned of the steps taken by the council, I asked for explanation, but instead of apologizing, they attacked me angrily: Is this a way to behave?, Is this a way to do things? You want to insult the honour of a Zionist institute? Why have you not approached us? Does a Zionist organization not exist at all? I replied to them in the mother tongue, like the words of the mother in King Solomon's Judgment: take the child alive, rather than cut him up! After argument and discussion, they accepted my suggestion and renewed the permits. Mr. Wajslic continued to oversee the preparations for the play, which took two months. The premiere was opened in the town's theatre building, and was a great success. All the actors, or to be exact, the actresses, did an excellent job. (one of them, Sara Bril, is in Israel now). My heart was overflowing with joy at the success of the play; the hall was completely full; there was an atmosphere of celebration, and it was highly satisfactory. I was very excited when I opened the play, so much so, that the words stuck in my mouth and tears of joy choked my throat. The loud cheers of the audience at the end of the show proved its great success. Afterwards, the play continued to run, though not in the town's theatre but in the school, mainly during vacations at Chanukah and Purim, and at the end of the school year.
The establishment of Am-HaSefer school
About the same time, the local Polish authorities in Kutno had decreed that all Jewish students were required to attend school on the Sabbath and not be absent from classes on that day. All our efforts to cancel this decree were fruitless. During that time, our town's famous writer Szalom Asz had arrived for a visit. We thought that his personality and influence as a writer might work towards cancelling the decree. A delegation of four of the town's distinguished men - including Mr. Abraham Rayzman (of blessed memory) who was the head of the community, Mr. Jehuda Riftin (of blessed memory), Mr. A. Sz. Elberg may he live long, and the writer of these lines approached the author, requesting that he use his influence on the school's principal. We left him disappointed; he received us standoffish and indifferent, and announced that he was not accustomed to get involved in things of that nature.
Mr. A. Sz. Elberg, may he live a long life, did not rest nor give up, and had an idea of establishing by our own efforts a Hebrew high school and name it Am-HaSefer. When the school was established, many of the students left the Polish school and moved to the Hebrew school.
In this connection I must mention the following fact: one day Rabbi Trunk's attendant called me to his house. When I arrived at the Rabbi's house, I saw Jehuda Riftin (of blessed memory), Sender Falc (of blessed memory), and Mr. Y. L. Grinbaum (may he live a long life). The objective of the meeting, as his honour the Rabbi told me, was to change my modernized cheder into a Hebrew school. In addition, I was to serve as a permanent teacher in the new High School, with a reasonable salary. After clearing up some details, I handed them my apartment, complete with its furniture and equipment. It did not take long to get the teaching staff together and ready to start teaching in the Hebrew High School, headed by the principal Mr. Wajzbicki. I served for twelve years as a teacher of Hebrew and religious studies at the Hebrew High School in Kutno. During those years, the principals were Mr. Lasman and after him was Mr. Szpira.
In 1927, I immigrated to the USA. There I had a job in the synagogue and Talmud-Torah Beit-Yaakov. As the principal of the Talmud Torah, I served them as a spiritual leader. Each Sabbath I gave them a sermon saturated with Zionist spirit, even though it was an orthodox synagogue. In this post, I served 25 years. When the land of Israel was established, I immigrated there to fulfil my life's dream, the dream of the Jews during the thousands of their years in Diaspora.
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