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[Page 89]

Between the Two World Wars

Hebrew Education in Novogrudok

by Moshe Steinberg-Sarig

Translated from Hebrew by Aviva Kamil

Hebrew education in Poland and in neighbouring countries, in between the two WW, was the focal point of every organised Jewish community. It was also the centre of interest for all the institutions and establishments of the world (Jewish) nationalistic movement, which included different streams and political parties. The leaders and advocates of the future state, especially the deep thinkers who were immune to illusions of miracles and short cuts in history, put their trust in the Hebrew School. They saw in the national education[al] institutions the most efficient instrument for bringing to fruition the tremendous and responsible mission: education and formation of the face of the new generation and its ability to fulfil the special national tasks in our historic era.

Therefore, I will allow myself to broaden a little the backdrop, and in the prologue to my exposition I will provide a short general view, which will reflect the historic background and the objective conditions for the development of the nationalistic education and its influence on the life of our people in the Diaspora.

The Secret Existence of our People in the Diaspora

With sacred feeling and deep admiration we observe now, from the pinnacle of happiness, because of the national and political independence in our country, the sorry life of our brethren in the Diaspora, all its peculiarities and differences, its horrors and awful fears.

We are wondering and are amazed at that strange phenomenon, unique in the history of humanity, and we ask what was the marvel and secret of our people's survival in such strange and unnatural conditions that prevailed for two thousands years.

Only in our time, the time of the third temple, the time of bringing together all of the Diasporas, its absorption and blending, can we properly appreciate the enormous physical and mental powers that our brethren displayed in all of those generations in foreign lands, their strong will for survival, their immense belief in the victory of justice and the approaching redemption.

Yes, there is a God of this nation; there is pure spiritual culture, supreme moral values, purpose in life and a vision for the future.

The burning bush - “The bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed” - is not only a wonder and a legend but also a nice and telling symbol of our history.

Bnei-Israel survived the Diaspora thanks to their various institutions: public, religious, cultural, nationalistic, which they established wherever they went in their eternal wanderings. Those institutions were substitutes, in part, for self-rule, a hiding place and a castle of their cultural independence, a frame and a fence of their national uniqueness.

They were fertile spiritual nurseries for the creation of a special folklore, way of life, customs and habits common to the whole community. In those institutions was woven slowly the spiritual tradition of a people, a tradition that was passed on from generation to generation. Those institutions assumed, on and off, different forms. They were needed to provide, at times, a certain contribution, as the times changed, but they were and still are safe bastions for the spirit and the culture of the nation, true vessels to preserve the wine....

National Education and its Task

There is no doubt that among the establishments which the Jews built in the Diaspora the most important were the educational institutions in their different forms: “Cheders” and the “Chadarim Metukanim”, Yeshivas and Batei-Midrash, Kindergartens and Hebrew schools. The young generation was educated in them, and was taught to live in the spirit of the time.

In its healthy sense the people felt, without a special explanation or propaganda, without law enforcement, that the education of the young was the secret of its survival among the “Goyim”, that the educational institutions were the places where the nation's soul was created.

The educational institutions were never detached from the life of the people. The educational and didactic plan reflected the people's political, economic and cultural situation, and was in accord with the social aspirations of the nation. In order to fulfil its main purpose in life, to ensure the continuation of the existence of the people and its culture, the national education had to adapt to the special conditions in every country and establish accordingly its institutions.

In the period of our isolation, forced or otherwise, behind the walls of the physical or spiritual Ghetto, at that time the task of the education was mainly to keep “the coal burning”, the burning coal which remained after the destruction of our political and national independence; the Cheders, Yeshivas and Beit-Midrash fulfilled, no doubt, a very important task in the life of the Jewish people. From that source our slain brethren drew courage and spiritual strength, to die sanctifying God, they drew solace, unlimited endurance, hope, security and belief in the coming redemption.

The command of educating was then: wait a minute for the storm to pass...

Our great national poet praised those “houses of learning” (batei hatorah) and their place in the life of the nation.

With great love he sings about the super heroes and the unpretentious “Matmidim” (Torah students), who gave their soul to the Torah and kept the smouldering burning coal (of the Jewish spirit) alive.

But a song was not sung yet about the new Hebrew school, which was established between the two W.W, and about its redeeming task in the days of world destruction, days of illusions about idols who failed and the betrayal of nations.

The splendid story of the new educators, who created a revolution in the education of the people and its life, is yet to be told. They brought out from its hidden place the smouldering “burning coal”, fanned it with a gigantic force and turned it into a flame burning with the fire of longing for a complete and real redemption, for a new “pillar of fire” which lights for the redeemed their long road to their motherland, for a creative and urging power for action and deeds, for training and self realisation.

The uniqueness of the New Hebrew education was its rebellious spirit against the stagnant reality of the Diaspora and its negative characteristics, war against apathy and “happy go lucky” attitude in its daily life, vision of a future, of a new and healthy life in the historic motherland of the people. The command of the new education was: not to live by the charity of other nations, and “im ein ani li mi li?” (Who is going to help me if not myself?).

Though those schools did not reward their students with matriculation or any other certificates and did not teach them how to earn a living, the children of Israel still learn with love and steadfastness Torah (knowledge) for the sake of Torah and self realisation.

From those educational institutions came out the creators of the national and cultural renaissance, the Hebrew poets and authors, teachers and spiritual guides of the nation.

The pioneers, who laid the foundations for the redemption of the land and conquering the work in Eretz-Israel, came out of those institutions. They, also, gave their blood and soul in the War of Independence and the establishment of the Hebrew state.

The Jewish centres survived in Europe for a 1000 years. In that long period the Jews established, working like ants, their public and cultural institutions. They created a wealth of spiritually and culturally valuable material, which influenced and contributed to the general enlightenment of the European nations.

The fates and fortunes of the Jews in that big continent over the generations were many and varied. Sometimes it looked as if they sent strong and deep roots into the land that they drenched with sweat and blood for hundreds of years.

But the eternal curse of the long Diaspora did not skip even those established centres. The last bloody holocaust cruelly exterminated almost all the Jews of Europe, and erased to the ground all its wonderful achievements, material and spiritual, the fruit of work and creativity over twenty generations.

That is how the blossoming isle of European Jewry sunk into the depth of the ocean and not even a slight foam remained on the surface of its cruel waters.

The Hebrew Education in Novogrudok

I accepted willingly the task that the Pinkas editors allotted to me, to write about the Hebrew education in Novogrudok.

I had the great privilege to work in Novogrudok, fifteen years as the principal of the “Tarbut” school in the name of Ch.N.Bialik, and during the time of the Soviet rule, in the years 1939-41, as the principal of the new Jewish Gimnazjum [see comments in the chapter "The school during the Soviet regime in 1939-41"].

There were in Novogrudok several “streams” of institutions of [Jewish] education: Chadarim, Yeshivot, a religious Hebrew school, which was established by the “Mizrachi” movement and the “Tarbut" school.

Though Novogrudok was close to Vilna, the center of activity of Tsadik. Yod. Shin. 'Alef, there was no Yiddish school in Novogrudok. The reason was that the Jewish community of Novogrudok was mainly Zionist and permeated with a nationalistic-Hebrew spirit. There were in Novogrudok a few Yiddish activists; most of them were not natives of the town, like the lawyer Gumener, Dr. Marmurstein, the teacher Salomon and more, but over time they “assimilated” into the Nationalistic-Zionist movement of the town and educated their children in a Hebrew school.

I intend to concentrate in my article, specifically, on the story of the Ch. N. Bialik “Tarbut” Hebrew school for two reasons: firstly, it was the big and central educational institution of the town, it put its mark and influenced the whole education system of the Jewish youth in Novogrudok, secondly, I do not want to encroach on the area of other educators who should be the ones who would write about the schools that they worked in.

The Hebrew school in Novogrudok was established, as it is shown in a few documents, in 1919, at the end of W.W.1.

That transitory period, when rulers and regimes changed in the western provinces of the former Russian Empire, was a suitable and easy time to advance and develop the independent Jewish education system.

The Germans left the Russian occupied land and returned to their country.

The Polish regime, which did not distinguish itself, not at the beginning or in the end, for a special liking of their Jewish citizens, started to rule the liberated areas.

The Jewish intelligentsia, active in communal and cultural life, was educated in Russian schools before the war, and it was natural for them to be attuned to the Russian language and its rich literature. Apart from that, in those days the Jews had serious doubts as to the longevity of the new Polish government.

In order to avoid unwanted suspicions from the political antagonists and not to place ourselves between the rival cultures, the Jews decided to establish for their children independent Jewish schools where the teaching language was Hebrew or Yiddish.

At the beginning, the education in those schools was general-nationalistic and politically neutral. At that time various political parties and ideologies started to evolve among the Jewish population. For a short period the school was like an educational syncretism, coexistence in peace of the two languages, Yiddish and Hebrew, in an agreed upon curriculum. But that peace did not last long. It was hard to promote neutral education in an ideologically stormy era around the globe and especially in the Jewish world: the social revolution in Russia with all its promises and illusions, made waves around the world and, of course, did not skip the Jewish streets. On the other hand, it was the spring and glory of our national movement and the beginning of the building of our national home following the Balfour Declaration. Jewish education could not stay apathetic to the immense social and political changes, which excited the Jews everywhere.

Every school had to find its identity and take a clear stand regarding the burning questions of the era. The teachers and the administrators of the school as well as the pupils' parents did not hesitate for a moment, when the time of “self-identification” arrived, they decided in one voice to join the school organisation “Tarbut”.

The Hebrew school “Tarbut" in the name of Ch. N. Bialik was a day school comprising seven grades, and its pupils were released of the duty of education in a government school. The language of teaching from the first grade was Hebrew, but history and geography of Poland were taught in Polish. Recognising the value of the Yiddish language for the people and the importance of its literature, I introduced the teaching of that language from grade 5. Near the school was also a Hebrew kindergarten for children 4-6 years [old] of age.

The School Curriculum

The curriculum in the school was similar to the one in the Hebrew schools in Eretz-Israel. The education of the pupils and the maturing students, which was conducted by the school, was Zionistic - Chalutz (pioneer), permeated with Jewish spiritual awareness, and based on work ethics, self governing within the children's community, training towards alia to Eretz-Israel and self - awareness in the new surrounding.

Classes were conducted from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. At 5 p.m. some pupils and few of the teachers returned to the school for educational activities in a number of “circles” (study groups) and for changing books at the school library.

Subjects Taught at the School

1.Hebrew language and literature.
3.Mishna and legends.
4.Jewish and general history.
5.Nature studies.
7.Arithmetic and Geometry.
10.Polish history.
11.Polish geography.
16. Agriculture.

The education in all “Tarbut” schools, including our school in Novogrudok, was distinguished not by the curriculum or hours of study, though they were important too, but by its invaluable good educational atmosphere that prevailed in every school.

An atmosphere of nationalistic ideals and spiritual values, and the spirit of vision and purpose filled the hearts of the teachers and their students. The teachers were devoted, heart and soul, to their sacred work. But their cheerful influence did not stop at school; it penetrated the parents' homes and various public establishments.

The teacher was an educator to the students, a guide to the youth and a leader to the adults.

The school doors were open all day long, and, of course, in the evenings, because after the mid-day break there were different sorts of additional studies under the guidance of the teachers.

There were many and varied kinds of study circles.

The School Choir and its Performances at “Oneg-Shabat

The school had a large students' choir and an orchestra. The conductor of the choir was the music teacher Mr. Eliezer Rabinovich of blessed memory. Thanks to his abundant energy and special talents in his profession, the choir became an important cultural asset in town. The choir performed at all the assemblies and festivals that were conducted at school, and also took part in other cultural activities, which were instigated by the public institutions in town.

The custom of celebrating “Oneg-Shabat" and "Yom-Tov” at school started thanks to the initiative of Mr. Rabinovitch. It was very popular amongst all levels of society in town. History, literature, education and current affairs were the subjects of lectures at those assemblies. The choir appeared after the lectures with folkloric and national songs in Hebrew and Yiddish. The melodies and songs that were heard on “Oneg-Shabbat” at “Tarbut” have become known in town and were often sung on other occasions.

All sang and hummed the songs of “Oneg-Shabbat”, the students during the school breaks, the workers at work and the housewives by the stove in their kitchens. And many mothers put their babies to sleep humming the tunes.

Work in the School['s] Garden

All school students from grades one to seven worked in the garden, under the guidance of the teacher of nature studies, Chana Levin-Feigin of blessed memory.

The purpose of children's work in the garden was:

  1. To bring the children close to nature.
  2. To develop their sense of aesthetics by growing flowers, and the love of working on the land.
  3. To make the studies of nature tangible.
The children liked to work in the garden, they considered it a training for their future work in the fields of their country, Eretz-Israel.

The students' committee kept an accurate account of expenditure and income of the garden and at the end of the year they published a detailed balance sheet in the school newspaper “Beit-Sifrenu” (our school). All the above details were copied from that newspaper.

The School's Workshops

One of the principle efforts of our education, like in all “Tarbut” schools, was to instil in the students the high value of work. A carpentry workshop for boys was opened for that purpose on the 30.5.37 under the guidance of a qualified teacher, as was a dressmaking workshop for girls.

The school's carpentry workshop was situated temporarily in the hall of the building of “Shokdei-Melacha” (craftsmen). Work at the workshop, 4 hours a week, was a duty for all the boys starting at grade 5. The teachers worked there with the students, too.

Work for the “Blue Box”

Work for the “Blue Box” took an important place in our school, and was an integral part of the school curriculum.

Studies about Eretz-Israel, its geography and collecting for the “Blue Box” were much loved by the pupils, because it brought them in touch with current affairs in Eretz-Israel, which were close to their heart.

In every classroom there was a corner for the “Blue Box” and in the center of it was the map of Eretz-Israel. The “Blue Box” appeared in all the classes' gatherings and the big assemblies at school. I would not exaggerate if I say that our students knew the tracks of the Valley (of Israel) and Galilee of Eretz-Israel better than they knew the roads in Polesie and Galicia in Poland.

In the school library there was a collection of the “Blue Box" literature. The teachers and students liked especially the magazines “La'noar” (For the Youth). The Hebrew school in Poland was, in a certain way, an Israeli island in the Diaspora, in its way a cultural appendix of the Jewish State.

I remember one visit of the Polish Supervisor to our school. He had a long, leisurely walk around the classrooms and hall, looked at the decorations, the "Blue Box” corners, saw the nice pictures of the Hebrew poets and authors, showed interest in the contents of the written articles and banners on the walls. Before leaving he expressed his admiration for all he saw at school, but he commented that he felt as if he was in a beautiful and neat school in Palestine.

And one could not sneer at the money that the school raised for the “Blue Box”.

The student's committee report of the school's donations for the “Blue Box”, which was printed in the school newspaper “Beit-Sifrenu” in (Taf Reish Tzadik 'Zain) 1937.

Stamps in the children's booklets124.32 zloty
The “Blue Box”119.50 zloty
Afforestation and plantations20.89 zloty
The Children's Book13.00 zloty
The project “Hagalilah”72.95 zloty
Miscellaneous127.49 zloty
Total478.15 zloty

In the year 1935-6 the teachers and students entered the school's name into the “Gold Book” of the “Blue Box” (Keren Kayemet Le'Israel).

The School Libraries and Student's Reading.

Special attention was given to developing the school library, to organise efficiently the student's reading and the constant checking of reading proficiency. For that purpose there were monthly [student assemblies in the classes, when the students gave accounts of their reading during the month. At that time, the teacher was checking the reading records, where the children noted their impressions of the books they read. In Pinkas Novogrudok we are publishing an article about “Reading Books and the Library in Our School” by the schoolteacher Binyamin Leikin of blessed memory, who was murdered by the Nazis, Hei, Yod, Daleth (God avenge his blood).

We copied the article from our school newspaper “Beit-Sifrenu" of 1937.

Number of loans of library books in 1938-9, on the eve of the destruction:

LanguageTeachersFormer students23456-7Total
Polish175  154147101198775

The School-Paper and Wall-Journals at School (Iton-Kir)

An important tool in the hands of the educators were the “Wall-Journals”: the class “Wall-Journal” and the school “Wall-Journal”. In addition, by the end of the year “Beit Sifrenu”, the school newspaper, was published.

That writing for the newspaper helped the teachers and educators of the school to promote and develop the skills of independent work and self-expression among the students. The editors of the school newspaper were the student representatives of the higher classes under the guidance of the teacher B. Leikin of blessed memory. In that newspaper the school administration and teachers published a detailed account of the situation in the classes and the school and, also, the school plans for the coming year. The students and their parents participated as well in the production of the newspaper.

The teacher Elchanan Levin of blessed memory published in the paper of 1937 an important and detailed article about the production of the newspaper at school. We are publishing it in this book (Pinkas Novogrudok) with some abridgment. The teacher Elchanan Levin, of blessed memory, was murdered by the Nazis.

The Students' Club (Moadon)

Connected to the school was the students club under the direction of the student's committee and the guidance of the teacher Sonya Wolf-Nimenchik of blessed memory, who was murdered by the Nazis.

The aim of the club was:

  1. To develop the social sense of the students.
  2. To create brotherhood and friendship among the students.
  3. To create a special atmosphere and easy conditions to hasten the process of “Ibur” (to become Hebrew) in the life of the students.
The Club contained three rooms: Reading room, Playroom and Dancing room. In the Reading room were all the Hebrew journals and newspapers for the students, which appeared in the Diaspora and Eretz-Israel. There were also monthlies and newspapers in Polish. Books from the library were leant to all who asked for them. In the second room was a number of student games among them “A'avorah na ba'aretz” (passing through the land; Eretz-Israel). At the end of the reading and playing rooms was the dancing hall. The following is a paragraph which gives the impression of one of the teachers about that room: “Arms on shoulders, light feet, sparkle in the eyes, flying movement. Innocent and free laughter fills the air, the kids are delighted. Music, song and dance and happiness no end....”

Outline of the School Work

In order to introduce order and discipline into the work and the study at school, the pedagogic community created a frame of work: the Pedagogic Committee.

Once a fortnight the Pedagogic Committee met to discuss school matters.

During the year there were special meetings, if needed, to discuss extra matters if they had arisen. The presidents of the parents' committees took part in all the meetings, they were: Asher Parsman, Chaim Maslovaty and Itzchak Orlinski of blessed memory.

The educational work was shared between all the members of the committee, such that every part of the students' activity had a teacher to guide it. There was a students' self-rule at school.

The following are the names of the principals, the teachers and the kindergarten teachers who worked in the school at various times from the day of its foundation to the day of its closing.


The members of blessed memory who fell, sanctifying God and nation and whom the cursed Nazis murdered.

Shmuel LidskiBinyamin Leikin
Eliezer RabinovichSonya Wolf-Nimenchik
Shlomo WolfovichShmuel Salomon
Shlomo KrantS. Prisitzki
Mrs. GumenerM. Lis
Elchanan LevinA. Bitanski
Chana LevinS. Cohen

And long life for:

David CohenTamar Sensentus-Efron
David BogatinLuba Mordechovich
KorenI. Piltski
Moshe Steinberg-SarigMenucha Yelin
S. GutswortSima Portnoy
S. Rabinovich from VilnaLangleben
I. ShalitaChava Lipski
Ch. KoshlenS. Manusevich
S. Milchiker 

The Sponsors and Promoters of Hebrew Education in Novogrudok

In those days before the establishment of the Jewish state, when there was no department of education and the local authorities in the Diaspora worked against the interests and aspirations of the Jewish communities, Jewish educators and parents carried the heavy burden of education; they supported and promoted the organisation of national education. These unknown heroes deserve the highest of honours!

With their devoted and faithful work they established the splendid institution of national education, despite the resistance and hostility of the government and despite [the] material hardship, which was the situation of most of the parents.

The educational institutions, the training of teachers, the supply of books and other learning tools, were built and maintained with their creative initiative and generous help. They covered the constant deficits of the school by establishing new and diverse sources of income; the students' fees never covered more then half of the school expenditure. They organised balls, parties and flower-days, established a branch of “Tarbut" and collected money from the members, for education; from time to time they passed “a special action” among the friends of the school. As far as I can remember not even one year passed without that “special action” for the benefit of the school.

The following are the names of all the faithful sponsors who during many years dedicated their time and energy for the betterment of Hebrew education and the “Tarbut” school” during its twenty years of existence, (1919-1939):

The members of blessed memory who sanctify God and nation and who were murdered by the cursed Nazis:

Asher ParsmanThe chairman of the branch “Tarbut”.
Chaim MaslovatyThe chairman of the parents' committee.
Yehuda Kaplinski
Itzchak Orlinski
Nachum Gordon
Yaacov Lubchanski
Malbin, community Rabbi

Shlomo Efron
Eliyahu Shlosberg
Binyamin Efron
Chana Nachumovski
Yitzchak Ibinitzki
Moshe Dunitz
Israel GoldshmitShalom Efroimski
Shalom BencianovskiYosef Chiz
Yerucham IsraelitFridman
Tzipora ShlosbergDuba Lutski
Mrs. ParsmanD. Harakavi
Bezalel MakoliveskiKaplanski
Alter KaminetzkiA. Litovski
N. SukarskiY. Rabinovich
Golda Rabinovich of blessed memory.

Long life to:

Avraham Ostashinski
S. Openheim

12 years of the “Tarbut" school in Novogrudok

Calendar yearSchool yearBoysGirlsTotal
Total 99140239
* School closed for construction of the new building.

The social composition of the students' parents in 1938-9.

Working Intelligentsia1.5%

The New School Building

For many years the school suffered from very poor accommodation, in rented houses and in an unwanted and undesirable neighbourhood next to the Byelorussian Gymnasium. This situation had an adverse effect on the learning and educational work and hindered the potential development of the school. The idea and the need to expand this establishment and establish a central high school could not be accomplished because of the lack of a suitable building.

Building of a new school was an important issue for the Jewish people of Novogrudok.

It is interesting to note that even people, whose children were past the school age, and those who had no interest in the Hebrew education in “Tarbut”, all supported the idea of erecting the building. It was discussed for many years at many meetings of the Parent's committee and the Branch Committee. At long last[ a happy solution was arrived at.

At one of the meetings of the two committees a small Building Committee was elected, its head was the known Zionist personality Avraham Ostashinski, who was then the Deputy Mayor, and they started acting immediately. Mr. Alter Kaminetzki was invited to be the manager and supervisor of the building.

The first step was to find a suitable piece of land. There were many arguments and opinions about it. Some wanted to buy land anywhere as long as it would not cost a lot of money, there were many offers of this kind of land.

Eventually the school principal's suggestion was accepted and a nice piece of land was bought from the family Zipert. It was in Slonim St., at the heart of the beautiful district where the Polish high society [the Polish public servants] lived, opposite the Voyavodstvo.

I still remember my impressions of the last meeting before buying that parcel of land.

We did not have a cent in our cash-box, and we had to pay quite a big sum in cash, people started to “donate” jokes instead of money, one more clever then the other, they did not manage to raise even the small sum needed to take out a security bills (mortgage) which were needed to obtain a loan from the bank. Eventually the security bills were bought and signed by the committee members, we received a loan from two Jewish banks: the Commerce Bank and the Tradesmen Bank and paid the family Zipert for the land.

In the purchase contract was a special note to say that the school committee has the first option to buy the second half of the land within three years and in the meantime the land would be leased to the school.

The happy news about buying of the land and the commencement of the building spread quickly and caused great enthusiasm among the public and especially the parents and students.

The committee started immediately to collect a school fund. The first results surprised even the most pessimistic. The town residents donated readily, some more and some less, but there were almost no cases of refusal. The committee members worked wonders with the fund raising. Of special note was the chairman of the committee Mr. Avraham Ostashinski.

The building work progressed according to plan, without delay and holdups. The work supervisor, Mr. Alter Kaminetzki made certain of that. He managed to get in time all the materials needed, even though there was not one cent in the committee's cash-box.

The building “operation” justified the saying that not the budget but the man influences the result.

After a year the building was completed, and on Sunday Caf' Daleth of Sivan, Taf Resh Tsadik 'Gimel (1933) the new school “Tarbut" in Novogrudok was dedicated. This event was celebrated by the whole Jewish community. The celebrations lasted three days.

There was a public assembly in the morning at the town's theatre, and it was packed with students, parents and invited guests from a number of organisations

The chairman of the building committee, Mr. Avraham Ostashinski, due to whose tireless effort the school was built, opened the assembly.

Mr. Tremble, who came especially from Vilna to take part in the celebration, passed on the good wishes to the assembly in the name of the “Tarbut” organisation.

After the many short congratulatory speeches by the representatives of various organisations the school choir sang under the direction of Mr. Eliezer Rabinovich. In the evening there was a big party in the school halls.

A new era began in the life of the new school, energetic and rich in potential, in the fateful year of 1934, on the threshold of the catastrophic and cruel holocaust, which brought annihilation and destruction to our brethren in Europe and also to our town.

The School During the Soviets Regime in 1939-41

With the coming of the Soviets to Novogrudok the teaching language at the school was changed [by the authorities] to Yiddish.

By the instructions of the Soviet administration for education, all the Jewish schools in town were united into one ten year school [desetiletka] and it was located in the building of the past Polish gymnasium in the name of A. Mickewicz. [It is probable that the Yiddish school was located in the new building completed by the Poles in the summer of 1939 at the end of Zamkowa St (Shloss Gass). It was probably meant to be the new Polish primary school. Under the Soviets the Jewish desetiletka shared the building with the new Russian desetiletka. There were two shifts in the building - morning and afternoon. Each school conducted classes in one of the shifts.] All teachers who worked in the different [Jewish] schools were transferred to the combined school; there were 30 teachers and over a thousand students [quite impressive for a town with a Jewish population of 6000]. Apart from the teachers from Novogrudok, Jewish teachers from Russia were brought in too, among them the Jewish poet Lis from Minsk.

I wanted to resign from the management of this big school. I argued with the Administration of Education that a different person is needed to supervise the teachers and to educate [the] Jewish youth under the new circumstances.

My request was rejected and I was told that the workers of the town considered me to be the right and deserving person for the job [who ever asked "the workers" anything?]. I managed the school until the Nazis attacked Soviet Russia, which was the beginning of the holocaust and the total destruction of European Jewry.

Like a thunderbolt from a clear summer sky came the news of the betrayal by the evil and criminal Nazi government of its former ally, Soviet Russia. Its loathsome soldiers with their armoury crossed the temporary border between the two states and made their way to the east.

Dread and panic took hold of all the Jews, who during the division of Poland in 1939 had the good luck to find themselves under the Soviets rule. But, before they had the chance to recover from the horrific news of the coming catastrophe, German planes appeared in the sky above Novogrudok bombarding the town and surrounds...fire, destruction, horrors and death.

Bitter and awful fate was the fate of Novogrudok, which drank to the last drop from the poisonous cup like all her sister towns of Poland and Europe.

Where are you, our Jewish Novogrudok, the beautiful and attractive town, a great “mother” town in the Byelorussian Diaspora, a town full of Jews; working people, innocent and honest, God fearing, hungry learn the Torah and knowledge and aspiring for redemption!

Where are you the Kindergarten children, dear and loved children of Israel, and you working and studying youths, the pride of our people!

Still kept in my memory are the sad and pleasant tunes of your yeshiva students, I can still hear the echoes of the joyous songs of the kindergarten and school children; I still hear the stormy discussions of your many associations, parties and organisations. How the cruel reaper, the destructive Satan put them to dust and ashes.

Earth, do not cover their blood, the blood of the sanctified and the pure!

The bitter and terrible cry of parents, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters all bereft, will forever rise to heaven-WHY?!

Tel-Aviv, Av Taf Shin 'Caf (1960)

[Page 97]


by Sima Yonas- Portnoy

Translated from Hebrew by Aviva Kamil

The Kindergarten was established many years before I started to work there. A few teachers worked there before me. Ms. Brikner, who established the kindergarten, was the first teacher in the kindergarten. In 1933, when I started my work at the kindergarten, which was at Pilsudski (Valiker) Street, in the house of Shlosberg, about 25 children attended .

There were three rooms: two small ones and a big one. They were furnished with white furniture made for the use of small children who played most of the day, sang and did some craft.

The Kindergarten was part of the "Tarbut" school, but its financial situation was more precarious, and always caused anxiety as to whether it would continue to exist. Mr. Steinberg, who was the school principal (of Tarbut), tried to improve the situation.

I remember the children on festivals; their happy laughter resonated through the rooms, no one thought about the imminent horrifying disaster.

I saw them on the Saturday morning, in the winter of 1941 at the yard of the district court, where the Germans brought them together with their parents. They stood all day long shivering in the cold and were hungry. Afterwards I saw a few of them jammed in an open truck, which took them on their last journey.

[Page 98]

Music in Novogrudok

by Menashe Rabina (Rabinovich)

Translated from Hebrew by Aviva Kamil

Novogrudok had a number of musical bodies which included: Kleizemers, a cantor with a choir, solo cantors, amateur cantors, professional “Ba'alei-Kriah”, Chasidim with their specific tunes, the band of wind instruments of the fire brigade, school choirs, and Yeshiva students with their incessant Gmarah tunes. It would seem that the town was permeated with music.

And if we add ringing of bells and the sounds of organs that were emerging from the churches every Sunday and every Christian festival, then we can understand that every resident of Novogrudok was absorbing, willy - nilly, many sounds.

We, the people of Novogrudok, were not aware of some of the music. To us it was just a normal part of our existence. But it created an atmosphere of emotions as nothing else could. But today, when our town exists only in our memory as part of a distant, yet dear to us, past, it is clear to all who understand the influence of music, just how rich our town was in musical experiences.

Every book about the history of music of any country talks extensively about the period when music was performed by amateur performers, who were often called “local blowers”, who were enriching festivals with the sounds of their instruments. A harp player was instructing members of a church choir in carol singing. We, the Jews in the small towns, did not have brass bands, because of a persistent lack of money. We also did not have a special liking for wind instruments, because their sound was loud and spread widely. This did not suit the quite and inward looking life of the Jewish communities in a small towns. But as far as a song, a melody, a sincere tune, a sing along or listening to the voice of a messenger - the Jewish town excelled in all of those. And the musical life of Novogrudok was proof of this.

The Kleizemers of Novogrudok were not respected; their trade was not revered among the Jews because the musicians kept too close to the bottle, and more often then not, had the habit of emptying it. They cannot be blamed, that was their trade. But the treatment of the Kleizemers on a wedding day was different. The Kleizemers, with the help of the celebrant's family, were well presented and I could add that they even created an artistic mood. A wedding without Kleizemers would have turned into a quick meal. Our band of Kleizemers consisted mostly of: two violinists, a clarinettist and a drummer. The guests, and in particular the children, were greatly impressed. This was musical education by means of popular music. I remember two violinists of a Kleizemer band. One was short with a gentle face full of bitterness. It could be that he dreamt of a musical career in a concert hall or at least in a known band, and there he was, an unappreciated Kleizemer in a small town. He was a violin teacher and because of him I stopped playing the violin and started to learn the piano. There is a story in that, which needs retelling:

As I mentioned above, the musician, who's name was Archik the Kleizemer, was a bitter man and he poured his wrath on us, his pupils. Once, out of anger at one of his pupils, whose playing was abysmal, he lifted the bow and instead of applying it to the strings he smashed it violently on my fingers, because I was standing close to him. In a fit of chagrin I dropped my violin (purposely?) on the floor. That was the end of the violin.

But I did not get out of music lessons by doing so; I changed the instrument but not the profession.

The second Kleizemer looked, at the time, young to me. His name was Shimon the Kleizemer. He had an accentuated limp, yet was joyful and with a little drink in him he delighted everyone. If I want to visualise a Kleizemer, his figure comes to mind.

The Kleizemers of Novogrudok fulfilled their musical mission not only at weddings but also, as I remember it, by accompanying the Sefer Torah to the synagogue. Though I cannot remember the melodies, it was clear that the playing influenced all those who took part in the celebration including those in my age group.

I remember one musical event that created a “revolution” in our town. It was a public party. If I remember rightly it was a Chanukah celebration. The public was invited to the ”Kalte shul” [Cold (unheated) Synagogue], a choir conducted by my father ZL and a few instrument players took part in the event. Long discussions (sometimes furious ones) followed that revolutionary step - singing and playing in the synagogue!

At this point I would like to digress and say a few words of the activities in the field of musical education in Novogrudok of my father ZL, Leizer (Eliezer) Rabinovich. My father always performed with his choir. He belonged to those cantors whose strength was in the depth of their prayer and their comprehension of the words, but not in the quality of their voices, and above all he recognised the importance of a choir performing in the synagogue. The choir of the cantor Leizer Rabinovich was an established body. They sang in four different voices. Many of them could read music, as they had been taught by the cantor.. Father had a music library of partitas. Most of them he copied in his nice handwriting and bound them into very thick books. He composed a few works and later wrote songs for the school. He was a disciplinarian with his budding choristers and was proud that parents from the Ukraine (his birth place) sent their sons to receive a music education from him. They knew that they would get a good education and guidance as well. Father knew Hebrew and subscribed to “Yarchon Hachazanim” (Cantors' Monthly, I have two volumes from his library) and other Hebrew newspapers. On Sabbath evenings he used to read to us from the Hebrew newspaper for children (if I am not mistaken it was “The World of Children”).

Towards the “Yamim Noraim” he worked hard to prepare the choir and he considered his work to be a very important mission. It could be said that his mission was as much to serve the community and art, as for the sake of religion. During prayer he used a Kammerton and not a small tube that the Rabbis resented.

The cantor used to appear with his choir at public celebrations, Chanukah parties and, because he was an active Zionist, at Zionist social events.

Some of his pupils became known cantors. They were mentioned in the book “Kultur traeger von der judischen liturgie” by Eliyahu Zalodkovski.

There were more cantors in Novogrudok, but with no choirs. One, by the name of Moshe Bruk, was a professional singer and, like my father, was also a “geler” (red head). There were also amateur cantors; the foremost among them was the lawyer Shwartz. His daughters inherited his inclination to music and drama. Their home was a meeting place for “apikores” (should it be plural “apikorsim”?) who were craving for the theatre, the folk songs and even Russian literature. Yes, the music of Novogrudok was multifaceted.

I don't want to imply that the musical endeavours in Novogrudok were different from those of any other Jewish town. I did not visit those towns and I don't know about them. But it is clear to me today that for a town of 8000 residents in Russia of those days, a town that was very far from any big city (one had to ride a horse-drawn cart from Novogrudok to Novoyelna to catch the train) the popularity of music was great, and it is important to note that everyone was exposed to it.

The number of Chasidim in Novogrudok was substantial and their influence on Jewish life was extensive. Many used to go out to welcome a Rabbi, when one came to town. The tradition was to put up the Rabbi in a private home. The Sabbath party in that home was full of music, which was heard far and wide and involved every Chasid and Mitnaged (opponent to Chasidut).

While talking about the influence of music without the real need to take part in the actual event, I want to mention another instance, which was outstanding in the life of our town. That occurrence was characteristic of Novogrudok, the town where Reb Yozl established his Yeshiva. Every event in that Yeshiva was accompanied by music. I recall the loud tunes that came often from “Waremer Beit-Hamidrash” (Warm Synagogue) at the twilight hours, with the reading, shouting of chapters of “Musar” by the “Musarnikim”. In the houses and the streets erupted those strange, crying, screaming tunes, which frightened children and bewitched them with their strangeness and depth.

Yes, Reb Yozl was a great pedagogue. He knew how to appeal to the hearts of his students. He invented new and very original ways to create the right atmosphere in order to penetrate to the soul of his students and to leave in them memories of deep moments that they would never forget. It was during the ten days of repentance, when every one in fear of the coming days. Reb Yozl rented a house that stood alone in a garden (to me it looked a huge garden). On the left was the “Beit-Olam” gasl (the cemetery lane). To me it looked a very steep lane. Reb Yozl asked his pupils to come to that lonely house, far from town, near the cemetery. A prayer service was conducted there. I will never forget the moment of suspense, when the pupils finished their prayer and there was silence. They waited for Reb Yozl to start a new prayer and for them to join in. He stood at his stand, silent. Outside the trees rustled, autumn, wind, the darkness of twilight and Reb Yozl was still silent. The pupils were frightened, their hearts full of dread. Suddenly he issued a terrible scream and began to pray. All the pupils followed their Rabbi with screaming and reading the prayer loudly. It was a very impressive crescendo, which one remembers many, many years later.

And now from the sacred to the mundane. The fire brigade band of Novogrudok. I would not assume that they could play better then other bands of the same kind, but they did blow their instruments with vigour.

And on another theme - there were many church bells in Novogrudok, they rang with confidence and strength. Passing by the church on a Sunday morning your ear absorbed the sounds of singing and music. And even if you whispered secretly to yourself “timah” (uncleanliness) or expressed resentment towards the splendid building and the happenings within its walls -you did hear and appreciate that they sang nicely, and the music was also nice.

I was in close contact with one of the musicians from the church. When I stopped my violin lessons I was sent to a piano teacher, one who was playing in the church in “Pochtgasel” (post lane). He was a habitual drunk and always smelt of liqueur. His hands were big, soft and careless. The drunkenness left deep lines on his, once handsome, features. He knew nothing about pedagogy and his attitude towards the student was naive, primitive and often rude. But he loved music and that love attracted a small number of pupils.

When the Germans occupied the town in WW1, a tremendous change occurred in the musical life in Novogrudok. Good wind instrument bands appeared in town and they often played in the market square. Once even a symphony orchestra came to town with strings, wind and percussion instruments playing in harmony. It was a great event. That orchestra played in the officers' Casino, which was on the second floor of the hotel “Loshok” in Valiker street, opposite the house of the family Shocher. We met at the Shochers to listen to all kinds of military bands. It was there that I first heard a Philharmonic Orchestra.
With the conquering army came soldiers who could play the piano well. One of them gave me lessons for a while. He taught me the Piano Sonata of Hayden. I know that the soldier-pianist had more pupils in the town. There were other soldiers who were good pianists.

We had gifted children in our town. I remember the sounds of the quartet that emanated from the home of Solomon Lubchanski (in Israel: Shlomo Chavivi). The son, the youngest of the family, played the cello; the daughters played the violin and the piano; and their father, who was their teacher and guide, played the second violin.
There was music in Novogrudok. And when one takes into account the period that I am talking about, when the gramophone was in its infancy and a rare commodity; the radio did not exist; travel was burdensome and expensive, the number of conservatoria in Russia was limited and they were concentrated in the large cities, taking all of these points into account we will appreciate the significance of the musical awareness of the residents of the town. They sang and sang a lot: In the synagogue; on Saturdays around the dinner table; at parties, as Sabbath was fat an end and at community celebrations. They sang Jewish songs, Russian romances and Chasidic melodies. They played the piano, the violin and the wind instruments. Considering the period that I am talking about (I left town in 1918) and the number of residents, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the musical standard was significant and of great importance in our lives.

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