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[Page 33]

Education and Zionism

 

[Page 47]

Teachers and communal workers

by Shlomo Gurfinkel

Translated by Sara Mages

(In memory of my teachers and friends z”l)

My Teacher: Mr. Zev Wolf Samola, principle of “Cheder Metukan” [reformed Cheder], wasn't a native of our town. He arrived to us from Berezne where his family lived. He was tall and thin, his hair was yellow and his little beard was made in the shape of the vowel “Kamatz” [uppercase T]. He was elegantly dressed and his appearance was respectful. He opened his “Cheder Metukan” [reformed Cheder] from a corrective and innovative approach to the field of education. His house was surrounded by an ornamental garden and in front of the house hung a sign in Russian “Cheder Metukan.” There was total cleanliness in the room and several rows of benches stood in it. A blackboard hung on the wall, and soft white cloth curtains hung over the windows. The subjects of study included: Bible, Gemara, Hebrew, grammar, arithmetic and Russian. We ended the day with a communal prayer and took turn to lead it. On Friday we got up early in the morning so we would have enough time to go over the weekly Torah portion, chapters of Rashi and Eben-Ezra.

We had several textbooks: “Safa Chaya” [“Living Language”] that its two volumes were full of artistic paintings and pictures of biblical stories, “Gan Schaaschuim” [“Play Ground”]a thick book full of stories and songs, the grammar book “Moreh Halashon,” “Torat Hasafrot” by Toviuv and reading and arithmetic books in Russian according to the official program. We read, with great interest, the weekly magazine “Life and Nature” which attracted us in its innovations and content. Our teacher received the daily newspaper “Hazman” [“The Time”]in which I read, with great pleasure, “The letters of Menachem Mendel to Sheina Sheindel” by Sholem Aleichem. Mr Samola had a large bookcase full of newly published Hebrew books: “Bibliothecka Ivrit” [serious of selected Hebrew works by leading Hebrew poets and authors], “Tushia” books and others. I enjoyed his special kindness and he always let me read a lot of his books. Among these books were “Memories from the house of David,” “The Heroes of the Nation,” and others.

Among the students of the high class were: Michael Shulman, Mottel Etstein son of Avraham, Moshe son of Gisia, Chana Vita Ostrovsky and the sisters Leah and Vita Giterman.

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Among the students of the young class were: Aharon Giterman, Yosef Fainer, Yakov Rever, Avraham Feigel, the brothers Yehoshua and Yakov Kleinman, the brothers Mottel and Laibel sons of Yosef Estein, Avraham Rever son of Gatel, Chaim Shinman, Avraham Velman, the brothers Goldman (brothers of Yosef Goldman), Chana Binder, Zlata daughter of Leibush the ritual slaughterer, Chana-Schoska daughter of R' Aharon the ritual slaughterer and Shlomo Gorfinkel.

Teachers of various professions came to Mr. Samola's aid: Shlomo Rotbord and Zeivel Fainer. Both were the splendor and glory of our town.

Mr. Shlomo Rotbord z”l was one of the main speakers among the advance youth. He had great knowledge in Judaism and general education. At his initiative, a Zionist group organized a Hanukkah party and a performance. I remember that a high class student told me details about the amateur show and its staging, and described how they rolled boxes full of peas to mimic the sound of train wheels in their movement… Then, I didn't understand more… I also remember that once a note, signed with the name “Hovevei Zion,” was passed to me in the class.

There was a small public library at the home of Shlomo Rotbord. When I received a kopika-agora coin from my mother I hurried to the library. Shlomo received me willingly and with generosity and took me into a spacious tidy room that in one of its corners stood a narrow cupboard. In my eyes it was the holy of holies. Shlomo took out an illustrated book with stories and legends and when I handed him the agora in my hand, he handed me the Kern Kayemet box. I slid the coin into it and I ran home with the book.

In time, Shlomo Rotbord left our town and went to Vinnytsia to work as a senior clerk in a sugar factory and rarely visited Ludvipol.

Mr. Zaibel Feiner z”l was a wonderful young man with a gentle soul. I think he was a student. He tended to the labor movement and was sympathetic to the apprentices and the seamstresses' attempted to organize themselves in order to improve their working conditions. The days were the days of the first revolution, in the years 1905-1906, and its echo also reached our remote town. There was great agitation among these workers. There were discussions and arguments about new working conditions and strikes. Revolutionary songs and work songs were heard next to the sewing machines. Some were written on the place by the seamstress Esther daughter of Chana Rivka. A number of clandestine circles for education and public relations were established and at the head of one of them stood Zaibel Feiner…

Zaibel worked as a Russian teacher at Mr. Samola's school and there he met me. In time, after I stopped studying there, Zaibel started to visit me at our home, gave me free Russian lessons, brought me from his best books and opened new horizons before me.

May their memory be blessed!

“Mah tovu ohalecha Ya'akov,mishk'notecha Yisrael”
“How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel”


[Page 49]

In R' Zeidel's Cheder

by Shlomo Gurfinkel

Translated by Sara Mages

(In memory of my parents of blessed memory)

A summer day in the afternoon. A drop of rain had not come down in a few hours. There is concern that the crop will be inferior this year. We look up at the clear sky with the question, when will the expected sign come and bring with it the news of rain… The farmers are terrified to the sight of their yellow fields and the withered wheat… A procession of priests and believers, waving crucifixes and glittering religious flags with the images of their saints that were especially taken from the church for this procession, was also held in the village and in the fields. Crowded, bareheaded and concentrated in their prayers, they march and pass as their cohesive voices rise and fall, and again, rise in their efforts to penetrate the locked gates of rain…

        …it's stifling inside the house. The doors and windows are wide open. Father sits at the head of the table and he's sweating and panting. A light skullcap on his head and on his chest is a white “Talit Katan,” long and fringed. Little boys sit around the table engage, in great passion, in the weekly Torah portion. They read, interpret, and repeat the verses together in melody and movement… Drops of sweat appear on their faces and apparently do not bother them. Their childish voices are clear and fresh... The study and the memorization do not stop...

Suddenly there was relief... A light breeze arose, stroked the face, absorbed the sweat, and allowed a deep breath... For a moment the study stopped. The mouth opened wide, the chest lifted and widened to absorb the full capacity of the lungs, and the eyes opened as if to see the source of change in the air. And indeed, a wind was blowing outside, lifting leaves and pillars of sand, knocking on the windows and the doors, the sky darkened, the sun turned yellow and pale and heavy clouds rose and spread across the sky.

Father turned, put the children in the room and went to close the windows. Meanwhile the light darkened and faded… Somewhere there was the sound of a rolling thunder… Father rubbed his hands on the windowpanes and huddled the children in the corner. Out of the darkness of the clouds a lightning suddenly shone and a mighty sound was heard. The children were frightened and pale and father opened, in a loud and clear voice, the blessing “Ose Maase Bereshit” (praised be the author of creation] and everyone together, with owe and reverence, answered and followed him. And immediately, to the sound of loud thunder, they stood up and blessed “Blessed be He whose strength and might fill the world.”

Meanwhile, the world darkened. There was a great and blinding thunderstorm in the air. They merged, shone and shook the foundations of the house. Suddenly, the windows of heaven opened. It was raining heavily. Big drops of water began to whip and knock on the roof and on the windows. Great jets of water descended on the ground and large pools, the size of lakes, appeared and flowed in all directions. The frightened children were relieved after the storm broke down. Father, who was also a little nervous, recovered, raised his voice and began to read, with full intent, the “Shema” together with the children. The storm had subsided, the rain had passed, the rest of the clouds dispersed, the sky had cleared, and in the fringes of the west it was possible to see the ball of the setting sun… Parents and relatives came to take the children to their homes. Father was getting ready to go to Mincha prayer.

A day of Torah study and the fulfillment of the mitzvah “And you shall teach them diligently to your children,” ended but not completed.

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The name Jerusalem penetrated my consciousness through many channels: from prayers, from the Chumash and from my mother's stories. It is possible that much of the vision and longings for Jerusalem was also absorbed in me by the influence of my mother's many songs. Most often her pleasant voice was heard when she rocked a baby cradle or when she has done the housework. The sound of her delicate voice penetrated the soul and created a mood of calm and identification, from a slight humming in the beginning of the song to a lively integration into her pleasant singing. The topics of her singing were taken from the life of the people, holiday and secular songs, and most of all she sang songs of Zion and Jerusalem. Where did my mother, a devout woman and daughter of religious parents, absorbed these folk songs seventy years ago? Years later, I heard many of them as they were integrated into Goldfaden's plays. Others, such as “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” were translated and processed by the poet Avigdor Hameiri. Even today the melody of “Raisins and Almonds” causes me great excitement. It evokes in me memories of a distant childhood that in their center rises and hovers in front me the image of my mother.


R' Akiva Harshan's Cheder Metukan

by Nachum Feldman

Translated by Sara Mages

R' Akiva Harshan, who came to live in our town in the period between the wars, deserves the title of a teacher not a melamed [tutor] even though he taught in the framework of “Cheder Metukan” [reformed Cheder].

Akiva, the teacher, didn't seek glory, he was humble and kind. But, as much as he escaped from honor, honor pursued him. Soon, he was known in town as an educated man who was proficient in Hebrew, in all sources of Jewish science and their commentaries, and also in general sciences even though he was a devout man.

Our sages said: “The shy did not learn and the strict one does not teach.” This is indeed a rule, but the teacher Akiva (and it is fitting that he will be called Rabbi Akiva) has gone beyond this rule. He was known as meticulous and strict, and yet, he was a good teacher.

When our Rabbi Akiva was asked if he would call his institution “Cheder,” “Talmud Torah,” or just “school,” he used to answer: “you can call it whatever you want, the jar is not the main thing but what is inside it.” And indeed, he has done everything possible to fill the jar with content and those, who survived from among his many students, will surely testify that he succeeded in his mission.

Rabbi Akiva's school opened in the late 1920s. We studied at Rabbi Akiva's school in the hours after our studies at the Polish school in the village.

Rabbi Akiva was the first to divide the students into classes. There were at least two classes according to age, degree of knowledge and other qualities.

Even though the studies took place in one room, meaning, in the “Shoemakers' Synagogue,”

[Page 51]

he knew how to hold two classes at the same time when, for example, one prepared a written work and the other read a Gemara page or studied Hebrew grammar

He demanded exemplary discipline from his students and also demanded that they know what they had learned. He encouraged his students and asked if there was anything that was not clear to them. And if they didn't ask, and also didn't know, the next day he beat them mercilessly and they felt his blows for many days...

Rabbi Akiva couldn't tolerate the parents' interference in his education, and although he was a very poor man, he was not afraid that they would take their children out of his Cheder and did not change his method of teaching. He did not use his teaching for financial gain and was satisfied with little together with his wife and only daughter. The principles of education that he adopted were sacred to him and he was not willing to give them up.

I remember that once Rabbi Akiva was angry at me, and all this why? because my mother z”l came to him with two requests: one that he wouldn't hit me because I was weak, and the second that he would move me to the advanced class. The response to these requests wasn't late in coming. At first he insulted me and then he scolded me as recounted below:

The next day he took me out in front of the students, pointed at me with a finger, grabbed me by the chin and lifted me until I was afraid that my head would fall behind my back, and said: “you see this hero? he wants to go up into the sky without a ladder, you should know that it is only possible to climb step by step and if you try to skip a few steps - you would fall and be killed.”

This was the story of the insult and after that came the story of the scolding: I was asked to show the rabbi the notebook in which I wrote grammar exercises, in Hiph'il and Hitpa'el [Hebrew verbal stems]. After he read my notebook he read it again, brought it closer and closer to his eyes (he was very short-sighted) and found that I had written wrong. In response to that, he began slapping my face, pulling my ear, and at the same time he shouted “a complete goy, you want to advance even though you know nothing.” Then, he pushed me hard to the corner between the stove and the wall. I stood there for several hours and was afraid to leave. When the worshipers arrived and began to pray Mincha I left quietly, took a prayer book and began to pray with intent, as if I wanted to atone for my sin. Then my teacher came and asked me, “Well, what will you say to your mother at home today?” I will not say anything I answered, and kept my promise in full. I have fulfilled this promise fully. I no longer spoke of what was going on in the Shoemakers' Synagogue.

Despite all this, I always saw in the teacher Akiva a man with great spirit and a great teacher who knew and managed to educate his students. Later, when I studied at “Tarbut” school, I felt a great superiority in Jewish studies over my friends who did not study with Rabbi Akiva.

I do not know what happened to Rabbi Akiva in the years preceding the Second World War. May these few lines serve as a memorial for a great teacher from a faithful student who says this verse about him “Woe for those who are lost and no longer with us.”

May his memory be blessed!


[Page 52]

Beit HaMidrash, R'Pinchas Shlomo the slaughterer
and R'Yehoshua the slaughterer

by Shlomo Gurfinkel

Translated by Sara Mages

Beit HaMidrash, which was used for prayer and Torah study, stood next to the magnificent Great Synagogue. The long tables by the two big ovens were full of books. In the evenings I often saw Torah scholars sitting around the table reading large thick books. They were headed by the elderly: the old rabbi R' Mordechai Markel z”l, the teacher R' Shmuel son of Zev Gurfinkel, R' Yehoshua the slaughterer, and others. Here and there individual Jews sat next to their lectern and studied their books. Sometimes, foreign guests also visited Beit HaMidrash, preachers, emissaries of a yeshiva, book sellers and those who just came to stay for the night.

 

In memory of the community and its Batei Midrash
El Malei Rachamim” on Mount Zion at the memorial in 5723

 

[Page 53]

Beit HaMidrash was full of people especially on the Sabbath and holidays. It was bright, orderly, and festive. On the holiday of Shavuot it was decorated with trees and greenery and above the bimah, close to the ceiling, was kind of green netting, made of reeds and branches, in the sense of – “The Revelation at Mount Sinai.”

The soft voice, full of longing and yearning, of R' Yehoshua Shelifer the cantor spread throughout the house and penetrated the heart of the worshipers. They followed him in prayer with confidence that they would not shame him and responded to him, to an old and ordinary cantor, in a chorus.

R' Yehoshua the ritual slaughterer did not trill his voice and did not repeat the rhymes as some cantors did… He was also not a whiner and did not shed tears. He was a prayer leader, the messenger of the worshipers, who directed and guided them in a joint effort when they poured out their hearts before Av Harachamim.

R' Yehoshua also had his own “version,” each holiday and its prayer, each holiday and its special formula which distinguished it, in its meaning and essence, from other holidays.

The man was respected and acceptable by all and his opinion was heard. He never imposed decrees that the public could not abide. His way was not in scolding and reprimanding. He was patient and welcoming to all. Several generations of worshipers, who will always remember him with respect and admiration, were educated in his sacred way.


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The first kindergarten in Ludwipol

by Nachum Feldman

Translated by Sara Mages

If you want to know when the first “Cheder” was founded in the town – you wouldn't be able to get an answer for that, and in any case, not an accurate answer, because the age of the “Cheder” was the same as that of the town itself. On the other hand, many were able to answer when the first kindergarten was founded and who founded it. Well, the first kindergarten in town was founded in 1927 and was the creation of Chaya Zemlecher (today Zamir).

The townspeople called her Chaya because, at that time, it was not customary to call in the family name. She came from the nearby town of Mezhirichi and was the sister of my mother z”l.

Chaya was orphaned in her youth and at the end of the First World War traveled to Rovna to earn knowledge. She studied in a teachers' seminar and in private courses. She was especially captivated by the idea of engaging in educating children in modern educational method within the framework of a kindergarten.

The term “gan” [both kindergarten and garden in Hebrew] was not yet known to the townspeople. It was only known as a place where vegetables are grown. Chaya was the first to introduce this new concept to our town and over the years it became an integral part of the small town life.

The smell of revolutionism wafted from the initiative to establish a modern kindergarten which will replace the traditional Cheder, and quite a few obstacles stood in the way of achieving her goal. However, with youthful fervor and strong belief, that this was the right way to educate young children, she succeeded on her own and with the help of a few outstanding persons in town. Despite all the difficulties, which stood on her way, the kindergarten has become an existing fact.

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Instead of endless repetition of “Parashat Bereishit,” and the repetition of letters and vowels by the teacher and the students, the sound of children songs began to resonate throughout the town. We presented various plays to commemorate holidays and events, the children began to spend their time in interesting and entertaining games, and during the summer they went out together with the kindergarten teacher for a walk through meadow as they were singing and dancing. In short, the children of our town had a good childhood and everything was conducted purely in Hebrew, in its Sephardic pronunciation instead of the Ashkenazi which was used at that time by the intelligentsia circles in town.

Indeed, not all of the town's children received their education in the kindergarten. The reason for this was the inability to absorb all the children in the kindergarten. There were parents who refused to send their children to the kindergarten for religious reasons and preferred to send them to “Cheder Metukan” which was more advanced than the previous “Cheder.”

Chaya, our first kindergarten teacher, deserves a lot of praise. She prepared the young generation for his schooling at “Tarbut” school, and when we got there the Hebrew language was not foreign to us at all. It came to us thanks to Chaya, the kindergarten teacher whose devotion was boundless. She was the first to lay the cornerstone for the Hebrew language and culture that, over the years, had taken root in our town.

We, the first community of students, send our blessings to Chaya Zamir, our first kindergarten teacher who now lives among us.

 

The first kindergarten in Ludwipol
Founded in 1927 by the kindergarten teacher Chaya Zamir

 


[Page 55]

Childhood memories

by Yakov Elrahnd (Gurfinkel)

Translated by Sara Mages

In my imagination I see the images of children, including myself at the age of three or four. Every day I got up early to go to the Cheder of R' Zeidel Gurfinkel which was located on Kasrilevke Street. The craftsmen lived on this street and their religious center, the “Shoemakers' Synagogue,” was also there. I remember the alleys I passed every day on my way to the Cheder and the people who lived in them. The alleys were full of dust in the summer and mud in the fall and winter. However, there was nothing that stood in the way of a Jewish boy who was walked to study the Torah.

Like all the houses in Luvipol, R' Zeidel's house was surrounded by other houses but it was not as crowded as in other streets and our noise rarely disturbed the neighbors. In the winter we stayed all day inside the room, and when spring arrived we went out to enjoy the sun next to Yosef Alt's house. Only the chosen few knew his full name, most called him “Chelmer” because he was born in Chelm.

We treated the Wasserman family with great affection since one of the entrances to their home faced the Cheder. We often bothered the old mother with a request for drinking water.

The games during the short breaks also resembled study, because, also outside, we sat like in the Cheder and played with buttons, matches and the like.

Only Friday was different from the rest of the days of the week because, on that day, we only studied until noon and the preparations for the Shabbat gave us long freedom outside the house. We stayed free from the Cheder and from the house and were able to play as much as we pleased.

During the hot days, especially during the long days of the month of Tammuz, we spent the breaks in the unfinished part of the house. Without a floor, or plaster on the walls, it was cool and pleasant there. We used to sit and listen to one of the tales of Moshe Yermalai, who knew how to tell about kings and princes, robbers and murderers. This Moshe, who was also called Moshe Tules, told his stories in other places such as on the steps of the “women's section” in the Tailors' Synagogue, and a shiver ran through our small bodies at the sound of his stories on summer evenings…

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Members of “HeHalutz” in Hakhshara (Klesów)

 

Members of “Gordonia” in Hakhshara (in Pinkowsky's sawmill)

 

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