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[Page 398]

Men of Mark

In Memory of Personalities

 

Shmuel Leib Gordon (Shalag)

Translated by Sara Mages

Shmuel Leib Gordon (Shalag[1]), that great many students were educated on his interpretation of the Tanak [Hebrew Bible], was born in Lida on 27 Kislev 5626 (1865), to his father Moshe Tzvi and his mother Ester. Like many of his generation he was educated in the cheder, and the yeshiva, and engaged in trade in his youth. At the beginning of the 1890s, he began to publish poems in Luah Ahi'asaf[2], in various newspapers, and also in the booklets, Sifre Agorah[3], that were published in Warsaw by his brother-in-law, the writer Ben Avigdor (Avraham Leib Shalkowitch). His poems were collected in a special anthology, Kinor Yeshurun [The Violin of Yeshurun], and after his death they were reassembled in the book At Dawn.

In 1885, Shalag immigrated to Eretz Israel and taught at the girls' school in Jaffa on behalf of “Hovevei Zion.” In 1901, he returned to Warsaw and devoted himself to literature and education. He edited the first Hebrew weekly for children, Olam Katan [A Small World], and published numerous textbooks and educational books, among them Chumash for Beginners, ha-Lashon [The Language], Torat ha-Sifrut [The Theory of Literature], and more.

Shalag was one of the first initiators of Modern Hebrew education in the Diaspora - the creative force of the Hebrew movement in Poland, which, at the beginning of its steps founded Cḥederim Metukanim[4]. He taught Hebrew in the Sephardic pronunciation, which was a novelty at the time among Eastern European Jewry. He was one of the founders and activists of the association Agudat Ḥovevei Sfat Ever[5] in Warsaw, which spread to other cities, and one of the founders of the Hebrew Teachers' Union in Poland, whose role was to take care of the teacher's professional training.

In 1907, he began his main work, which is the crowning glory of all his work, and it is: the interpretation of the Tanakh. To a large extent he was able to gather the results of his research on the Tanak: its background, structure, language, and present it in the Hebrew language in a clear, rich and beautiful way equal to every person. In this interpretation he instilled national pride and love for Eretz Israel and revealed our historical past. Tens of thousands of students in the Diaspora and in Israel have been educated on this commentary, which has so far been published in twenty-two editions.

In 1924, he immigrated to Israel for the second time and continued his interpretation work. He managed to complete the interpretation of the entire Tanakh, except for the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and the Chronicles that were later completed by his family. Apart from the interpretation work, he also engaged in the work of translation. He translated Shakespeare's King Lear, the writings of Yisrael Zangwill, and the plays “Yehudit” and “Shulamit[6]by Frederick Hebbel.

He passed away in Tel Aviv on 1 Kislev 5694 (19.11.1933) and was brought for burial in Trumpeldor Cemetery in Tel Aviv.

“Tarbut” school in Lida was named after him.


 

Pinchas Schiffman (Ben-Sira) z”l

by Yitzchak Ganuzovitch (Ganuz)

Translated by Sara Mages

Pinchas Schiffman was one of the main leaders of Yeshivat Reines. If we compare Rabbi Reines to the foundation of this temple of study, then Pinchas Schiffman, along with the “Illui of Meitchet[7],” were Boaz and Jachin[8], the two pillars on which the building rests.

He was born in the year 5634 (1873) in the city of Yel'sk, Minsk Province, to his father Elchanan and his mother Stesia (from Saratov). In his youth he studied the Torah in yeshivot in Minsk and Vilna (Vilnius), where he also earned general and secular education. From the beginning of his steps in practical life, he devoted himself to teaching and invested all the energies of his rich soul in this vocation that he had chosen for himself.

Pinchas Schiffman was one of the pioneers of the new Hebrew education of that generation. His original line was - the pairing of sacred studies and secular studies, something that was a novelty at that time. He began his educational activities as a teacher in cheder Metukan in Brailov, Podolia and later moved to Bajawa in Kyiv Oblast. In the year 5667, he was among the founders of the Federation of Teachers and Religious Teachers in Russia and one of its activists. Several years after the opening of the Great Yeshiva in Lida, he was invited by Rabbi Reines to manage the Hebrew studies except the Gemara, Rashi commentary and Tosafot. He taught the Tanakh, the Hebrew language and its literature, and Jewish history. Here he found his destiny and his educational activity reached its full and visible development. Great was the admiration of his older students for their teacher, who guided them in the circles of Hebrew nationalism and the Zionist idea. He was also highly regarded among the city's residents since his influence and presence enriched its cultural life. A few years after his arrival in Lida, he was offered to move to the yeshiva of Rabbi Tchernovitz in Odessa, but under the influence of Rabbi Reines and his students he remained in Lida.

In 5662, he published his first article in Ha-Shiloaṗ[9], and since then over 400 articles written by him appeared on various literary and menorah platforms. He printed his long article Achsania Shel Torah[10], in Zeldovich printing house, while working at Yeshivat Lida. He also edited the chrestomathy Bikkorim which, for many years, served as an important and comprehensive reference book for those who study the Hebrew language and its literature.

During the First World War, when the front was getting closer to Lida, he moved to Yekaterinoslav, a place where he served until 5680 as secretary of the Zionist district. After returning from Russia he joined the teaching staff at the Hebrew Seminary in Vilna, and in the years 5683-5684 served as superintendent for the “Tarbut” institutions in Warsaw.

In 5686, he immigrated to Eretz Israel and settled in Tel Aviv. Here he served as a teacher at the religious high schools “Tachkemoni” and “Talpiot,” and later, until his passing, in “Mizrachi” teachers' seminary in Tel Aviv. In Tel Aviv he published his anthology, Terumot, in three volumes.

Several months before he death he changed his name to “Ben-Sira.” He passed away on 22 Iyar 5705 (5 May 1945). He left three sons (Yakov, former engineer for the Tel Aviv municipality, and today owns a private office for consulting, planning and engineering; Aharon, engineer at “Solel Boneh,” and Elhanan, chief assistant at the Standards Institute of Israel) and three daughters (Dr. Sara Ben-Sira history teacher at Levinsky Teachers Seminary in Tel Aviv; Rachel Ben-Sira wife of Eliyahu Ben-Sira a building engineer; and Rivka Aricha, wife of the writer Yosef Aricha).


Translator's footnotes

  1. Shmuel Leib Gordon is known as Shalag after the initials of his name. Return
  2. Luah Ahi'asaf (lit. Aḥi'asaf Calendar) a Hebrew literary annual founded by the Aḥi'asaf publishing company. It was published in Warsaw in 1893–1904 and 1923. Return
  3. One Penny Books. Return
  4. Cheder Metukan, pl. Cḥederim Metukanim, (lit."Improved Cheder) - a Jewish school which combined traditional subjects like Torah and Talmud with secular education taught in Hebrew. Return
  5. Agudat Ḥovevei Sfat Ever (lit.“Society of the lovers of the language of Hebrew”) was a national organization founded in the early 1900s to promote the study of Hebrew and its literature in the Russian Empire. Return
  6. The play Shulamit or Hokhmat Shelomoh (Solomon's Wisdom) was written by Paul Heyse. Return
  7. Rabbi Shlomo Polachek, the “Illui (genius) of Meitshet” (1877-1928) was the head of the Lida Yeshiva. Return
  8. Boaz and Jachin were two copper, brass or bronze pillars which stood on the porch of Solomon's Temple, the first Temple in Jerusalem. Return
  9. The Hebrew monthly, Ha-Shiloaḥ, published between 1896 and 1926, was the leading Hebrew language literary journal at the beginning of the twentieth century. Return
  10. Achsania Shel Torah - a meeting place for study. Return

 

[Page 399]

David Kopelovich

by A. Lando

Translated by Sara Mages

David Kopelovich belonged to the eccentric type. He was well versed in old and new Hebrew literature and the history of the nation.

He taught Jewish history at Yeshivat Lida randomly, not regularly, and it is doubtful whether he had a pedagogical sense. But, when he stood before the students to lecture Jewish history, he was like a flowing spring. He did not prepare for his lesson because he was well versed in the sources of Jewish history for its generations and all the Hebrew literature for its periods. And this was not the only subject of study in his field of knowledge. He was also proficient in languages: besides Hebrew he had a thorough knowledge of the Russian language, and in addition to that, also in German and French, languages he had taught in private lessons at his home. He was also an expert in mathematics and published a book on this subject in Russian called, Ugadyvatel' (“The Guesser”), which was printed by Zeldovich printing house in Lida. I think that the content of the book is - a special method for quick calculation (regretfully, I could not find this book in our country, not even at the National Library of Israel). He was also involved in philosophy and according to his words (as I've heard from one of his students), he wrote a long essay in Russian on the subject “God and Soul” (Bog i Dusha).

He also sent from his writings to Hebrew journals, but his success in this field was limited. His story, with a Zionist content called “Return and be healed,” was published a few years before the First World War in the form of a separate booklet.

With all his knowledge he did not have much success as a teacher, because, when he was immersed in his inner world he sometimes forgot the student sitting in front of him. I remember his image from my childhood when I went with my father z“l to pray in the rabbi's minyan[1] on Kamionka Street, a place where Kopelovich also lived. He was also among the worshipers in the Minyan but I never saw him praying. He could always be found in Rabbi Reines' room, next to the prayer room, by the bookshelves that ran along all the walls. The tallit hangs carelessly on his shoulders, and in one of his hands he holds a book he has just taken off the shelf, his head is slightly tilted and one eye is closed and the other hovering between the lines. In his other hand, which hangs in the air, is a pinch of tobacco that a moment ago he pinched from one of the worshippers' tobacco box. Soon he will put down this book, sniff the tobacco, and pick up another book until it is time to fold the tallit and say alenu[2].

Mr. Dov Aloni from Tel Aviv, a longtime student of Yeshivat Lida, told me about a “strike” that Kopelovich once declared and stopped giving his lessons at the yeshiva. Rabbi Reines sent Aloni, who was very close to the rabbi in those years, to inquire about the reason for this matter, and to convince him to return to his lessons. Kopelovich sat him next to him and explained his claims about the deprivation of his salary. The salary is so and so, and milk per day costs so and so, bread, so and so, and so on a long list of groceries and their prices. And in total ... multiply 30 times per month. And how can you exist on this salary? - Aloni brought Kupelevich's claims before the rabbi, and he agreed with him and raised his salary.

Some call it - eccentric, and some say - the man of spirit. In any case, I have no doubt that he was one of the Jewish talents who, under other conditions could have given to the society much more than he had given.


Translator's footnotes

  1. A quorum of ten men over the age of 13 required for traditional Jewish public worship. Return
  2. Alenu, (Hebrew: “lIt is our duty”), the opening word of an extremely old Jewish prayer, which has been recited at the end of the three periods of daily. Return

 

Moshe Gelman z”l

by A. Lando

Translated by Sara Mages

 

 

Moshe Gelman z“l was among the first teachers in Lida at the beginning of this century. He was born in the town of Zlaba near Volkowski and arrived in Lida in 1903. He was a teacher at Zipkin's gymnasium and also gave private lessons to children in several subjects. At that time there was a Zionist branch in Lida and he was very active in it. In his house was a rich library in Hebrew and Yiddish that his acquaintances and the townspeople used. He published articles in the press, and in his estate were found manuscripts about Captain Dreyfus, the Khmelnitsky period and the Balfour Declaration which were not published.


 

R' Yitzhak Yeroukhmanov

by A. Lando

Translated by Sara Mages

I have not been able, despite all my searches, to discover who among the former residents of Lida has a picture of this dear Jew. But, I doubt if he even saw the need to be photographed at any time, because he was not an ostentatious man and everything he has done was for the sake of the deed, not to make an impression or to buy publicity. Not even to prepare a place for him in the World to Come, but out of concern for this world of his fellow-man. But, even if I don't have a picture of him taken by a photographer, standing before my eyes is his erect and sturdy figure, his broad shoulders, his vigorous face adorned with a mane of white hair, his steady gait, his feet, in ankle boots, treading in the white snow that covers the streets of Lida. I remember a rainy day and a cart loaded with goods stuck in one of the potholes in the street. Several passers-by try to extract the cart, pulling up the sunken side, the owner of the cart whips his wretched animal, which is doing the best it can, but - in vain. Suddenly, R' Yitzchak arrives by chance to this place. Immediately he approaches to fulfill the commandment “to help along.” Only after he added his hand - the cart moved from its place. Something from the cedar always came to my imagination, or from the lion, in all of his impressive and aggressive appearance, also in his intense and clear, multi-toned voice. But the eyes were soft and good, I think - blue, and sometimes an expression of childish mischief was thrown in them.

He probably came to Lida together with his rich brother-in-law, Yakov Papiermeister, the founder of the first distillery in Lida, but

[Page 400]

he did not depend on him for his livelihood. He built a machine for the production of wooden panels for covering roofs and walls of wooden houses. He sold this merchandise not only in Lida, but also outside it. But, that was not the content of his life. Because how much he needed for his livelihood, and for the livelihood of his devoted wife, Gele, his faithful partner in the course of his life, after his son, the dentist (Dr. Yeroukhmanov), already supported himself. But how many poor people were in Lida who could not earn a living and needed the help of mankind! And R' Yitzchak knew them all. He also lent a hand to this cart, the relief cart for the poor. I don't remember the name of the aid society that he managed, and if it even had a name. I only knew the name of its chairman, social worker and treasurer -R' Yitzhak Yeroukhmanov… I also remember the money box - a large leather pouch, hanging by a long leather strap over his neck, in front of his chest, as he forcefully marched through the city streets on the occasion of his business.

Long and furious is the winter in Lida, especially when there is no firewood in the stove. The children do not have any warm clothes to warm their bodies, and there are no potatoes in the cellar for the family. Many turn to him, and he comes to the rescue, with financial aid, a word of encouragement, and in time of need - with a spurring reprimand, as a psychologist pedagogue. He gives quite a bit of his own, but also knows how to demand from others. And he demands firmly, a firmness that comes from the confidence in the sanctity of the deed he is doing and its necessity. I think that I can still hear his clear ringing voice, when he announced in the synagogue, before the reading of the Megillah on Purim (or after it), in his words: mishloach manot[1] and gifts to the poor!” and he serves his “bowl” and he strongly demands!, and not one of the hard-liners in the community, who opposed his method, was burnt by his embers, by his conclusive answer.

But R' Yitzchak's main concern was the children, poor children who wander in the city streets without education and manners, and usually without a garment for their skin. He gathered these children around him, took care to teach them a trade, dressed them, fed them, and personally saw to it that the craftsman, to whom the child was handed, fulfills his commitment with faith. He also took care of educating the child according to the concepts of that time. On the Shabbat he was among this children's camp, and between Mincha and Ma'ariv[2] he taught them the weekly Torah portion. He was not a great scholar, but he was a master pedagogue by nature and knew the child's soul. I remember that in 1912 or 1913, a movie about the life of the Jews in Eretz Israel (Zhizn' yevreyev v Palestine, in Russian), was screened at the Edison cinema. The townspeople filled the theater every evening, and during the day it was shown to the children. Among the spectators were also “Yeroukhmanov's children” (a matter that was not understood according to the concepts of those days). R' Yitzchak was among them, with joyful and enthusiastic face, from two things - from the movie itself and that his children are watching it.

R' Yitzchak's project was called: “Diligent Workers.” How he financed it, I didn't understand then and I wasn't interested. But I knew - that this association was founded by one person and he is - R' Yitzchak.

My brother z“l told me about the time when he studied at the cheder[3] of R' Ozer Velenski, who was known for his strictness. Once, R' Yitzchak Yeroukhmanov arrived to the cheder and, as usual, when he saw children, he was in a cheerful and good mood. He saw that the children had been hunched over their books for several hours, and tiredness and lack of pleasure were reflected in their eyes. This gloomy sight did not please him and the mischievous boy awoke in him. He hinted to the children: friends follow me out! No more was needed. The cheder emptied immediately. The rabbi protested, but his protests were of no avail. A chase game (“Culloden”) was immediately held in the yard and R' Yitzchak himself conducted the game, until he announced: enough, children: now, back to the cheder. Excited and refreshed the children returned to their study table.

Many were the children that R' Yitzchak saved from degeneration and delinquency. Of his students we can mention the activist, Konopka, a shoemaker by profession, who occupied a prominent place in the city's public life. Many of those that he nurtured later immigrated to the United States and from there sent him money for his projects.

I only got to know him closely during the years of the German occupation, in the First World War, when he was often in our house. He was born in Latvia and spoke fluent German. Because of this, and mainly thanks to his respectable patriarchal personality, he was accepted by the German officials in the city, the Bergermeister [mayor], and later Stadt Hauptmann [city captain] Albers and his henchman. He used his influence not to gain financial benefit for himself, but for the good of all. At the beginning of 1916, there was a severe shortage of salt. R' Yitzchak managed to somehow get a decent shipment of salt (in lumps, I think). He was not satisfied until he compiled (with the help of his late brother Ze'ev) accurate lists of the Jewish residents of Lida, and the salt was distributed in portions according to the number of people in the family.

In those difficult days he worked a lot to alleviate the distress. And how much concern was in his voice when he told us, at the end of the occupation years, about his serious conversation with the Stadt Hauptmann, Albers, about the catastrophic nutritional situation in the city after the authorities reduced the amount of food for the residents, and about his question: “how would the people live on under these conditions!?” he answered him: “fun luft aun libe…” [“from air and love”].

At that time, his health had already begun to deteriorate due to a malignant disease that was discovered in him, and a short time later he passed away.

As I reflect on this wonderful figure, I say to myself: if indeed there are Lamed Vav Tzadikim[4] in the world in every generation, R' Yitzhak Yeroukhmanov was one of them.


Translator's footnotes

  1. Mishloach manot (lit, “sending of portions”) are gifts of food or drink that are sent to family, friends and others on Purim day. Return
  2. Mincha - the afternoon prayer service. Ma'ariv - the evening prayer service. Return
  3. Cheder (lit. “Room”) an elementary school for Jewish children, teaching basic Judaism and Hebrew. Return
  4. Lamed Vav Tzadikim (Heb. “36 Righteous men”) the minimal number of anonymous righteous men living in the world in every generation. They are privileged to see the Divine Presence, and the world exists on their merit. Return

 

[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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