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The Volkovysk Rabbis & Dayans

The Volkovysk community occupied a place of honor among the most important communities in the Grodno vicinity. It appears that its balebatim were accomplished scholars and wise people. Also, the Rabbis of Volkovysk of the past 150 years, were counted among the most famous of the Gaonim among Jews, and they left their stamp on the city.

I have, however, not been able to elicit specific details and stories about all of the famous Volkovysker Rabbis. The little that has come my way, I set down here, as much as possible in chronological order.

 

The First Rabbis in Volkovysk

 


Rabbi Shmuel ז”ל (Rabbi Avigdor's son)

 

At the time of the Vilna Gaon[1], the Rabbi of Volkovysk was Rabbi Avigdor, ז”ל. His son, Rabbi Shmuel became the son-in-law of the Vilna magnate Reb Yud'eh Yesod. Rabbi Shmuel was later appointed as the Rabbi of Vilna, on the condition that he go away for a number of years to study for the rabbinate – as it would happen – with his father in Volkovysk.

After Rabbi Avigdor passed away, the Rabbinical seat in Volkovysk was occupied by Rabbi Benjamin Diskin, ז”ל, a son-in-law of a Volkovysk magnate. Rabbi Benjamin Diskin contributed greatly to the spiritual development of the city. His sons, Rabbi Joshua Leib Diskin, ז”ל, and Rabbi Abraham Shmuel Diskin, ז”ל were renown as Torah scholars. His first son, Rabbi Joshua Leib (born in 1818), was the Rabbi of Brisk and later the Chief Rabbi of the Ashkenazic community of Jerusalem, and there he founded the famous “Diskin Orphanage,” that bears his name to this day. At the time when Rabbi Benjamin Diskin was the Rabbi in Volkovysk, the colorful epoch of the world-renown Gaon, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor, ז”ל [of Kovno] was initiated – he being renown as the author of Beer Yitzhak, Ein Yitzhak, Nakhal Yitzhak, and other books – who in his time, was the central figure of the rabbinical world, both as an interpreter of the Law and as the leader of Russian Jewry. In New York, the renown Yeshiva of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan (of “Yeshiva College”),was established and named for him.[2] We will [therefore] spend a little extra time here on [the biography of] Rabbi Isaac Elchanan ז”ל, because Volkovysk played a prominent part in his life's story.

 

Rabbi Isaac Elchanan ז”ל, in Volkovysk

Rabbi Isaac Elchanan was born in the year 1817 (5577) in the shtetl of Rosh, not far from Volkovysk. His father, Rabbi Isser, was the Rabbi of that town. When Rabbi Yitzhak Elchanan was not yet 12 years old, his mother died. His father, Rabbi Isser, decided that the most practical thing to do was to get him married, in order that he find himself in a warm domestic atmosphere. The young Isaac Elchanan was already showing signs of exceptional intellectual prowess, and he was offered the best of the possible marriage matches in the area.

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One of the matches being discussed for him, was with the daughter of a magnate from the nearby city of Volkovysk. Before sitting down to write the terms of the union, the prospective groom was invited to the home of the bride's parents for a Sabbath. The most prominent of the balebatim and scholars of the city came there to take their measure of the young prospective groom.

At a finely covered table, laden with the best of what a wealthy host could offer, the most important of the citizenry of Volkovysk were assembled, and the accomplished young scholar held forth with the best of what he knew. However, something then occurred that dismayed everyone. The young Isaac Elchanan pulled over the small dish with the rich, elaborate fruit preserves on it, being deeply engrossed in discourse, he forgot where he was, and began to eat [from the dish] with his hands. The host's face reddened with embarrassment. This comic occurrence also made a bad impression on the prospective bride, and she stubbornly argued that she didn't want as a groom, someone who ate fruit preserves with his hands. The proposed match was dropped. But the young woman remained a spinster for her entire life, and she never married.

When Rabbi Isaac Elchanan returned to Rosh, the entire town knew the story, which had been rapidly communicated. But his father, the Rabbi of Rosh, rationalized the event and argued that a priori the bride-elect was not suitable to be Isaac Elchanan's wife. And Isaac Elchanan returned to his studies.

A few months later, the Rabbi of Keidan traveled through Rosh, and as was his habit, dropped into the Rabbi's house and spent a while in discourse and learning. The Keidaner Rav was awestruck by the intellectual prowess of the young Isaac Elchanan and he proposed a match for him with a girl, also from Volkovysk, Sarah Raizeh, the daughter of the magnate Reb Leizer Jesierski. The match, with good fortune, was consummated. Rabbi Isaac Elchanan received a dowry of 300 rubles, and was supported for six years by his father-in-law, who at that time resided in the big house on the Millner Gasse, while he continued his studies, and Rabbi Isaac Elchanan sat and continued his learning with great concentration in the Hiltzener Bet HaMedrash.

Rabbi Benjamin Diskin, as previously mentioned, was at that time the Rabbi of Volkovysk. Rabbi Isaac Elchanan became his pupil, and studied in a group that consisted of the Rabbi's son, Rabbi Joshua Diskin, Rabbi Boruch Mordechai Lifschitz (the son-in-law of [another] Volkovysk magnate), and Chaim Zelig Slonimsky, would become the famous editor of Hatzefira.[3] Rabbi Boruch Mordechai Lifschitz would later become the Rabbi of Volkovysk, and founded the Volkovysker Yeshiva there. He is well-known throughout the Jewish world because of his book, Brit Yaakov. In the sixth year of his residence at the home of his father-in-law, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan took stock, and concluded that it was no plan to continue to rely on his father-in-law's sufferance, and decided he would become a Rabbi. He had received his ordination from Rabbi Benjamin Diskin, and at the age of twenty, became the Rabbi of the shtetl of Izavelin. And years later, this scion of Volkovysk training would become the Rabbi of Kovno. A tale is told, that once Rabbi Isaac Elchanan was making a trip to his home town of Rosh to pay respects at the graves of his parents. On his way, he passed through Volkovysk, where the entire city came out to pay their respects to him. Among the multitude was also the broken old woman – his would be bride of many years past, who had never married.

 

The Rabbis Rabbi Yitzhak Aizik Khaver ז”ל, & Rabbi Yekhiel Ben-Aharon Heller ז”ל

Following Rabbi Boruch Mordechai Lifschitz, came the following two Rabbis: Rabbi Yitzhak Aizik Khaver and Rabbi Yekhiel Ben-Aharon Heller. Rabbi Khaver later became the Rabbi of Tyczyn and he is the author

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of שאלות ותשובות בנין האולם[4] A Guide to the Shas[5], and Beit Yitzhak which was printed in Siedliska, in the year 5595 (1835). Rabbi Heller was one of the well-known brother Rabbis of that era with the surname Heller, and traced their roots to the family of Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipman Heller, called “Baal Tosafot Yom-Tov.”[6] Rabbi Yekhiel Heller was born in Kadinov (Minsk Guberniya) in the year 1814 and died in Plungian (Kovno Guberniya) in 1861. During his life, he was Rabbi in Glusk (Minsker Guberniya), Volkovysk, Suwalk and Plungian. He authored a German overview of the “Eight Chapters” of the Rambam[7], and is also the author of Amuday Or.[8]

 

Rabbi Abraham Shmuel [Diskin], ז”ל

After them, Rabbi Abraham Shmuel ז”ל, became Rabbi of Volkovysk, the son of Rabbi Benjamin Diskin. With Rabbi Abraham Shmuel, a new epoch began for scholarship in Volkovysk and the methods of its religious upbringing in general. The Volkovysker Yeshiva was significantly enlarged. Qualified young men from the surrounding towns in the area were drawn to Volkovysk, in order to be educated at the Yeshiva, which was under the supervision of the great Gaon, Rabbi Abraham Shmuel, the brother of Rabbi Joshua Diskin. Rabbi Abraham Shmuel was distinguished for his flawless reading of the Torah, and almost every Shabbos, the balebatim would come to hear his reading of the weekly portion in the Alter Mauer Bet HaMedrash.

Incidentally, Mindl Tzirel, a daughter of Rabbi Abraham Shmuel, became the wife of Reb Itcheh Lev, who owned a row of houses on the Millner Gasse.

 

Rabbi Jonathan Eliasberg, ז”ל

 


Rabbi Jonathan Eliasberg, ז”ל

 

After Rabbi Abraham Shmuel, the well-known Gaon, Rabbi Jonathan Eliasberg ז”ל, became Rabbi of Volkovysk.

Rabbi Jonathan lived in the house of Chaim Warshawer (the Tailor), on Millner Gasse. He had three daughters: Ethel, Rokh'cheh [sic: Rachel],and Ron'keh.

As related by Rabbi Yitzhak Kossowsky, the former Rabbi of Volkovysk, today in Johannesburg, the Rabbinical seat in Volkovysk remained vacant for seven years after the passing of Rabbi Eliasberg's death (he died young), until Rabbi Abba Yaakov Borukhov ז”ל came.

Rabbi Jonathan ז”ל, was a great Rabbi and was even acknowledged to be one of the leading exponents of Torah

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scholarship in that generation. He was a wise man, a scribe and an intellectual, and great thinkers would correspond with him and hold him in high regard. Among the books of Rabbi Jonathan, Rabbi Kossowsky found a letter, written by Rashi Fin ז”ל from Vilna, who was one of the most highly regarded intellectuals and scholars of that generation, and one of the Hovevei Zion[9]. In that letter, the question of an important meeting is addressed, that was called prior to the first Zionist Congress in Katowice about sixty years ago [sic: 1880's].

Rabbi Jonathan was the author of Kesset Yehonatan and Sefer HaMidot[10]. He had a great influence on the Jewish community of Volkovysk, and he was the one who introduced the concept of the Love of Zion (Hibat Zion) to the Volkovysk Jews. After him, his successor Rabbi Borukhov ז”ל, took his place, and thanks to both of these Rabbis, Volkovysk stood out among the remaining cities around it, in its commitment to this nationalistic ideal. The result of this was, that a significant number of the Jews of Volkovysk made aliyah to the Holy Land and settled there many years prior to the upheavals in Europe – and incidentally were thereby saved from almost certain death.

 

Rabbi Abba Yaakov Borukhov, ז”ל

 


Rabbi Abba Yaakov Borukhov ז”ל

 


Rabbi Abba Yaakov Borukhov and the Elders of the City with the Volkovysk Relief Delegates from New York (After the First World War)

From Right to Left, first row from the bottom: Naphtali Hertz Nakhumovsky (Herschel the Teacher), Zalman Chafetz, Abraham Nissan Kronenberg, Berel Domovsky (Delegate), Rabbi Abba Yaakov Borukhov (the Rabbi), Avigdor Perlmutter (Delegate), Yitzhak Novogrudsky (Itcheh Shmuel Jonah's), Manya Galai, Aizik Neiman, Hosea Nakdimon
Second Row: Zundel Kaplan, Yaakov Berestovitsky (the Dayan), Aaron Solodovnik (Frayd'keh's), Joseph Shapiro (Vatashchiner
[11]), Herschel the Scribe, Joseph Kolgavin, Zelig Bartnovsky, Gedaliah (from Haminich[12])[13]
Third Row: Ahareh the Shammes, Yitzhak Nakhumovsky, Meir Shiff, Mikhl Zohn-Mazya, Jekuthiel Bereshkovsky, Leib Tchopper (from Zamoscheh)

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As previously mentioned, after Rabbi Jonathan Eliasberg, the Gaon Rabbi Abba Yaakov ben Yekhiel Michael HaKohen Borukhov became Rabbi. He received his ordination from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor. Afterwards, [first] becoming the Rabbi of several communities – Maishigula, Kupishok[14], Vakshneh, and Polotsk – he was appointed Rabbi of Volkovysk in 1903 (5663). The Volkovysker Yeshiva, which had been founded in 1887 (5647) through the efforts of the Gaon Rabbi Boruch Mordechai Lifschitz, was, thanks to Rabbi Borukhov's influence, enlarged both physically and in substance. The number of students grew to about three hundred, who were divided into five classes.

In the year 1923 (5684), Rabbi Borukhov – whose two sons, one a well-known Hebrew writer, and the other a prominent physician, an officer of the Hygiene Unit of “Hadassah”[Hospital] who both lived in Jerusalem – decided to emigrate to the Holy Land (Rabbi Borukhov's third son was the Rabbi in Malden, near Boston). The Volkovysk community honored its aged Rabbi with a beautiful gift and, with great respect, saw him on his way.

In 1928 (5688), when Rabbi Borukhov reached the age of eighty years, the well-known Hebrew author Reb Benjamin did a portrait of him in the Israeli journal, HaHayd, an interesting article, from which we provide some excerpts here:

As you encounter this endearing persona on the Jerusalem streets, along where he modestly makes his way, not wanting to arouse any recognition, you get the impression of an outstanding Torah Scholar of days gone by, in which Torah and their way of life were totally interwoven. The writer of these lines had the pleasure of meeting him, when he traveled for several days together with Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook[15] ז”ל, through Jewish settlements and towns on Jewish owned property in the Holy Land. The entire trip consisted of Torah, the fear of God and love of the Land.

Let us here, briefly summarize the story of his blessed life.

He was born in the month of Tevet 5608 (1840), in the city of Darshunishok in the Kovno Guberniya. His father died while he was still young. He lived in the city of Vorna. His teachers recognized his great intellectual skills, and said to him: “We cannot teach you any

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more, go to the Bet HaMedrash and teach yourself.” In the Bet HaMedrash, were found the books of the Original Scholars, The Rashba, the Ritva, and others. The youth, who was not yet Bar Mitzvah, became accustomed to studying the Gemara together with these texts of the Original Scholars. These Original Scholars [sic: Rishonim] became for him his companions and teachers. This aspect of his learning became almost an alter-ego to his personality.

He arrives in Butrimantz and undertakes study in the Bet HaMedrash, where at the same time, the Gaon Meir Simcha of Dvinsk ז”ל studies there. The most significant experience came during the three years when he studied with the Gaon Rabbi Joshua Leib Diskin ז”ל, together with Rabbi Diskin's late son, the Gaon Rabbi Yerukham Diskin. In the year 5633 (1865) he studied for an additional half-year at the Bet HaMedrash of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan in Kovno and received his ordination from him.

He has been a Rabbi for about fifty years. His natural personableness and great Torah scholarship blend together to lighten his work and make him beloved by everyone. His natural tendency was to show his affection for people without regard for their station, with a simple, decent love.

He also involved himself in community affairs, that dealt with providing help for the sick and assistance to poor people. He earned a good reputation among Christians, and they would come to him to adjudicate disputes between them and Jews over money matters. Occasionally the government judiciary leader would pass him cases of particular complexity.

He was generally loved by all classes of the community. In one city, where he had been appointed as Rabbi, a terrible controversy developed between the Mitnagdim and the Hassidim,[16] which took on a very serious form. But thanks to his influence, it was dissipated with no harm, and both factions would come to him with love and friendship. A love for the Holy Land suffused his soul, and, as you can understand, he was one of the first of the volunteers for the Jewish Yishuv in the Holy Land, and for Zionist funds, and he would inspire enthusiasm in other people for this issue. Despite this, he was held in great affection by the Bundists, who would often come to hear his sermons, and when he made aliyah to the Holy Land, they too, sent him a letter of good wishes in Hebrew.

With all this, he never ceased his own studies. He published his book, Questions & Answers The Halyard of Jacob in two editions. In that very book, there is also an exchange of correspondence between him and Rabbi Isaac Elchanan, ז”ל. As Rabbi Isaac Elchanan was already of advanced age, and “the labor of writing was undertaken only with great difficulty,” and he couldn't organize his writing well, nevertheless, he could not resist the pleasure of “an excursion into his compelling words.” Understand that this “excursion” was into new Torah insights.

When in 5683 (1915) it had been fifty years that Rabbi Borukhov had served as a Rabbi in the pulpit, he decided to retire from the Rabbinate and to make aliyah to Jerusalem, to the great sorrow of the entire Volkovysk community.

The idea of living in the Holy Land mad a very strong impression on him and filled his soul with happiness and joy. Also, in the Holy Land it was his hope to enlarge the scope of Torah study among Jews, and in this way to inject an element of peace and friendship among the

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various factions of the community. It was in this spirit that he addressed an assemble of Rabbis from the entire country, which was held in Jerusalem, at the behest of the Mishmeret Shabbat organization. His words made a strong impression on all the listeners.

When Rabbi Borukhov died in 1936 in Jerusalem, his death elicited great sorrow in Volkovysk. In the May 8, 1936 edition of Volkovysker Leben, a long article appeared by Ch. G. Harkavy, which gave expression to the grief of the Jews of Volkovysk. We will introduce this article here (with specific abbreviations):

Like a severe blow on top of a wound, we received the news of the passing of the Gaon, Rabbi Abba Yaakov Borukhov, זצ"ל

It has been decreed that we must lose one of the finest and greatest spirits of our generation. One of the gentlest representatives of the essence of the true spirit of Israel. A mighty oak in Torah scholarship, a leading figure in the rabbinical world, a leader and truly great personage among Jewry.

This great loss to our entire people cannot, however, be compared to the loss felt by those who were privileged to know this great man of our generation personally, and to have enjoyed receiving from him the radiance of his bright spirit, emanating from his great friendship that emanated from his brilliance.

This was a leader with a warm fatherly attitude. Therefore, the pain of Jewish Volkovysk is understandably that much greater.

If one wanted to briefly characterize the personality of the Gaon Rabbi Abba Yaakov Borukhov ז”ל, one would articulate it by saying that apart from being one of the greats in his generation, he was the regal embodiment of a paternal leader of a city and a nurturing maternal instinct within Israel.

The Gaon Rabbi Abba Yaakov Borukhov ז”ל, or – as he was called after his great work – the Hevel Yaakov, articulated in that book a synthesis of two systems: the way of casuistry (sic: pilpul), and the so-called method of understanding (sic: havanah). The Hevel Yaakov – a meaningful exposition created fifty-five years ago! This can also be seen from the responses to the author that were printed – it generated a great response and a truly warm reaction in the world of Torah scholarship.

The [work], Hevel Yaakov, is in the category of the best of the works on Halakha, in which thoroughness, incisiveness, depth and casuistry all come together in a great, mighty and esthetic harmony.

And the same spirit of harmony that we find in such large measure in Hevel Yaakov, shone forth in a practical manner from his great wellspring.

This was a great spiritual aristocrat and master of the Torah, such as is rarely seen. And yet his great nobility absolutely did not prevent him from being able to extend warm and friendly relationships to everyone, anyone who had the opportunity to come in contact with him. His reception [of others] was so full of heart, that sitting at his table, any distance between him and his guest virtually disappeared. One felt in his presence like a child before his father. And it is necessary to add, that this attitude came across quite naturally, without a trace of artificiality, which would have come over as contrived and tasteless. Here one felt the purest simplicity of a great scholar, for who it was completely clear that the importance of a human being did not originate with intellect, but rather that every decent human being, without

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exception, has enough worth to be valued and loved.

He simply loved people. For everyone at all times he had a kind word, an anecdote, a word of comfort for a difficult situation, a part of his good, dear heart which beats on more.

This was his essence, his inner strength, which endeared him so much to his congregation, and far beyond the ambit of that congregation, which elicited so much awe of his capacity and respect for his persona.

His mastery of Torah and mastery of the Law, his spiritual richness, the skillfulness and weightiness of his artful sermonizing, and first above all, his fear of God which preceded even his wisdom, his lifelong interest in the development of the Land of Israel in the spirit of the Torah, and especially his own inner sense of direction, his resoluteness of hope at a time of despair, which never evidenced a visible capacity to break his strong and great spirit – all this embodied in one person, imagine before you a phenomenon of spiritual and moral richness, a master of the greatness capable by a human being, a glory and a praiseworthy member of the family of the Rabbinate, and for the entire world.

 

Rabbi Yitzhak Kossowsky

 


Rabbi Yitzhak Kossowsky

 


Rabbi Yitzhak Kossowsky with the membership of “Tiferet Bakhurim”

 


Rabbi Yitzhak Kossowsky with Dr. Yaakov Sedletsky, greeting the Voievode[17]

 

Immediately after Rabbi Borukhov ז”ל, left for Jerusalem, the pulpit in Volkovysk was given to The Gaon, Rabbi Yitzhak ben Rabbi Saul Kossowsky, who held the position of Rabbi in Volkovysk from the beginning of 1925 (5685) to the end of 1933 (5693), when he emigrated to Johannesburg (South Africa), to become the Chief Rabbi of the communities of Johannesburg and the Transvaal.

Rabbi Kossowsky was not only a Rabbi in Volkovysk, but also a leader of Orthodox Jewry, at all rabbinical conclaves, he played a prominent role as a theoretician, and a founder of Jewish Orthodoxy.

Rabbi Yitzhak Kossowsky was born in Warsaw, 5 Tishri 5633 (1873). He was the son of Rabbi Saul Kossowsky ז”ל, and a grandson of Rabbi Chaim Leib Shakhor from Mir, of the family of the renown Gaon Rabbi David Mirrer (The family name was changed from Shakhor to Kossowsky because of earlier decrees in Russia[18]). Rabbi Kossowsky's mother was Tzirel Rudkin, from the city of Byten, the daughter of the Grand Rabbi, Ze'ev Rudkin, ז”ל.

After his Bar-Mitzvah, Rabbi Kossowsky studied Torah with his brother-in-law, the Gaon Rabbi Joseph David

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Rudkin, the Rabbi of Antipolya, and later in Sejmiaticz Rabbi Kossowsky studied with him for six years, and in the year 5658 (1898) he departed to study at the famous Yeshiva at Telz. There he studied for two years with the renown Gaon, The Gra[19] Gordon ז”ל. In the year 5660 (1900) in Vilna, he married the daughter of the renown scholar, HaGaon Rabbi David Shlomo Grodzhensky of Ivie, father of the Great Gaon Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzhensky of Vilna. He remained in the home of his father-in-law, and after his father-in-law passed away in the year 5664 (1904), he succeeded him as Rabbi of Ivie. He remained there until the beginning of the year 5676 (1916) (at the onset of the First World War), when he was forced, for political reasons, to abandon his place, and went into Russia. There he was accepted as the Rabbi of the city of Mariupol (near the Sea of Azov), where he served as the Rabbi with great distinction for about six years, until the beginning of the year 5682 (1921), when he left Bolshevik Russia and returned to Warsaw. In the winter of 5683 (1922) he assumed the post of Rabbi of Yagustov, and remained there for two years. From there, he went to Volkovysk in the year 5685 (1925), where he assumed the post of Rabbi. He remained in Volkovysk until the year 5693 (1933), when after many invitations, he decided to accept the Rabbinical Seat in South Africa.

Rabbi Yitzhak Kossowsky received his ordination from the following distinguished Rabbinical teachers: The Gra Gordon, The Grash Shkop[20] (with whom he studied), The Gaon Rabbi David Friedman of Karlin, the Gaon Rabbi Raphael of Volozhin, and the Gaon Chaim of Brisk.[21]

In 1946, Rabbi Kossowsky brought out a book of sermons under the title, “The Sabbath & Festivals,” which received highly acclaimed reviews, and sold very well in America.

Rabbi Kossowsky's two sons are in Israel. One of them is the lawyer, David Shlomo Shakhor-Kossowsky, who is also a great scholar. The third son, Rabbi Mikhl Kossowsky had previously been the Rabbi of Zelva, and is today a Rabbi in South Africa.[22]

A son-in-law of Rabbi Kossowsky, Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaKohen Kagan, is today found in New York. Rabbi Kagan came to Volkovysk in 1929 as the son-in-law of Rabbi Kossowsky. For a set period of time, he helped administer the Rabbinate in Volkovysk. He was then taken in Antwerpen (Belgium) as the Head of their Bet Din and founder of their Yeshiva, Shaaray Torah. In the summer of 1940, he fled and settled in Lyons (France), where he assumed the leadership of the Lyons orthodox congregation, Kehillath Jeshurun. From there, it became possible for him later to come to America, and today, he is the Headmaster of the Yeshiva Rabbi Israel Salanter in New York.

It is suitable to mention in passing, that the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzhensky ז”ל, the Vilna Rabbi who was renown in every corner of world Jewry – also has roots in Volkovysk, on his mother's side, who was a member of the Einhorn family. Rabbi Chaim Ozer is a brother-in-law to Rabbi Kossowsky, and the

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responses that were published in his well-known book, Akhi-Ezer, Rabbi Kossowsky is mentioned many times, his son, David Shlomo, (who is today a lawyer in Tel-Aviv), and his son-in-law, Rabbi Kagan.

 

Rabbi Yitzhak Rabinovich, ז”ל

 


Rabbi Yitzhak Rabinovich with the members of the congregational committee in the year 1937

Right to Left, First Row, Seated: The ritual slaughterer, an unknown person, Anshel Bliakher, Ze'ev Glatzer, The congregational leader Zalistovsky, Rabbi Yitzhak Rabinovich (the Rabbi), Melekh Khantov, Hona Kavushatsky, Yochanan Galai (the Butcher)
Second Row: Avra'sheh Offenberg, Reuven Rutchik (Director), Wallach (the Shammes of the synagogue), an employee at the abattoir, the Cantor of the synagogue, Kaputchevsky (an employee of the synagogue), Malmed (the new Shokhet), the blond guy, Mordechai Leib Kaplan (Director)

 

After Rabbi Kossowsky, Rabbi Yitzhak Rabinovich (from Moteleh[23] near Pinsk), was taken on as Rabbi – for a couple of years prior to the last [sic: Second] World War. Immediately after the Germans occupied Volkovysk, he went away with his family to his parents in Szczucin. There, he perished with the Szczucin Jewish community.[24]

 

The Volkovysk Dayans

Volkovysk also distinguished itself with its famous Dayanim (Jewish lawgivers and jurists).

 

The Dayan Rabbi Yaakov Abraham Stein, ז”ל

One of the most important Dayanim of olden times – going back to when Rabbi Boruch Mordechai Lifschitz was the Rabbi of the city – was the Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Abraham Stein. In the book, Ein Yaakov, written by Rabbi Boruch Mordechai Lifschitz, a responsa is presented – which the Rabbi had then provided in connection with ruling on a matter of Halakha – that this was with the advice and consent of Rabbi Yaakov Abraham Stein. He was also the Dayan and Justice later, in the time of Rabbi Jonathan Eliasberg, ז”ל. It was told in Volkovysk, that when the Gaon Rabbi Jonathan sat with the leading thinker of the times, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan ז”ל, to discuss details relating to his new post [as Rabbi], Rabbi Isaac Elchanan told him the following: be aware of whom you have at your disposal as a Dayan in this city – the Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Abraham!

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In his younger years, Rabbi Yaakov Abraham did not want to take a pulpit position as a Rabbi, and therefore, he became a merchant, and for many years he operated the mill at Zelva.[25] Later, when he was compelled to assume the position of Dayan in Volkovysk, he was already famous throughout the area as an outstanding Gaon. Even gentiles would come to consult with him, and his word was treated by them as sacred.

* * *

Among the known Dayanim of the last years were: Rabbi Menachem Joseph ben Rabbi Azriel HaKohen Volk, Rabbi Tuvia Ravitzky and Rabbi Yaakov Berestovitsky.

 

The Dayan, Rabbi Menachem Joseph Volp (Reb Mendele), ז”ל

Rabbi Menachem Joseph Volp was greatly beloved in the city, and everyone knew him by the name Reb Mendele. He was the author of New Mitzvah and Shekel HaKodesh. His book, New Mitzvah was published in 1907, and at the end of the book, there is a list of all the prominent citizens of Volkovysk, who contributed to getting the book published.

Reb Mendele, lived in Hinde-Baylah's building, on Shifra Slutsky's street, where Manya the Baker lived (later, Feivel the ritual slaughterer bought this building). Reb Mendele had three daughters: Yehudit, Esther, and Tzivia.

 

The Dayan, Rabbi Tuvia Ravitzky (Reb Teveleh), ז”ל

 


The Dayan, Rabbi Tuvia Ravitzky (Reb Teveleh) ז”ל

 

Rabbi Tuvia Ravitzky was known in the city as Reb Teveleh. His wife was one of the sisters of the Jesierski family, who were merchants of forest products.[26] She had a dry goods store among the market row stores. Before he became a Dayan, Reb Teveleh was the Head of the Yeshiva of Volkovysk. He lived on the Schulhof, opposite Naphtali the teacher. He had a son, Herschel, and several daughters.

 

The Dayan, Rabbi Yaakov Berestovitsky, ז”ל – The Last Dayan

 


Rabbi Yaakov Berestovitsky ז”ל, the Dayan

 

Rabbi Yaakov Berestovitsky was born in Lisokovo in 1867, to poor parents. While still a child, his father passed away, and his mother sent him [away] to be educated. In the Yeshiva where he studied, he excelled brilliantly as an outstanding intellect, and obtained rabbinical ordination at a young age. After he married, he opened a dry goods store that was together with his dwelling. On the table, where cloth was measured out, one

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could always see to the side copies of Yoreh Deyah and Hoshen Mishpat,[27] into which Rabbi Yaakov would always be peering.

Rabbi Yaakov was in the habit of traveling several times during the year to Warsaw, Lodz, and Bialystok to buy new cloth. He was recognized in the commercial world as a man with a good head on his shoulders, and as a great scholar, and he began being called upon to undertake complex adjudications. We will relate two of these here.

On a certain summer day, a carriage drawn by two horses tore into the tranquil and quiet town of Lisokovo, and pulled up in front of Rabbi Yaakov's house. Two Jews with long beards came into to see him, called the head of the household into a separate room, and informed him that in their town of Ruzhany, a short while ago, the wife of Mot'cheh Pines had passed away. The Khevra-Kadisha[28] had heart for the husband, the rich miser, Reb Mordechai Pines who was a well-known manufacturer in that city. So, the Khevra-Kadisha took advantage of the circumstances, and took funds amounting to four thousand rubles for the public community chest as a burial fee. After the shiva mourning period, Reb Mordechai Pines took stock of this, and decided that he would approach the town authorities, and lodge a complaint that he had been robbed, and that so large a sum as a burial fee had been forcefully extracted from him. The members of the Khevra-Kadisha were immediately arrested and a deathly blackness settled on the city. It was for this reason that these two Jews had come to Rabbi Yaakov, to implore him to exert himself, and immediately travel to Slonim, where a Din-Torah[29] was to take place before the Oshmianer[30] Rabbi between the members of the Khevra-Kadisha and Reb Mordechai Pines. It was only with the expenditure of a great deal of energy that Rabbi Yaakov was able to influence Reb Mordechai, to drop the charges.

A second story concerns the time Rabbi Yaakov suddenly received a telegram from a certain commissioner, Herr Neiman in Bialystok, to come there in connection with an important matter. At the train station, they informed him that it concerned a dispute that had broken out between horse traders in Grajewo (which since the time of the First World War, was adjacent to the German border), and that the Jews wanted him to come to the Grajever Rabbi's house for a mediation. The matter was a delicate one, since each side had threatened to go to the authorities and disclose the existence of smuggling of horses from Russia to Germany, an infraction that carried a long prison sentence. It fell to Rabbi Yaakov, thanks to his integrity, coolness and great wisdom, to influence both parties of horse dealers that they should make peace with one another.

In Lisokovo proper, one could often run into Rabbi Yaakov in that town's court, sitting to the side on a bench, and listening to the give and take of the cases, in which the famous Volkovysk lawyers, Chaim Ozer Einhorn and Israel Efrat took part.

On Yom Kippur Eve, Rabbi Yaakov would visit the seriously ill, whom he would come to comfort, and to ease their hearts, [assuring them] that it was not necessary for them to observe all the rigors of the fast. On the High

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Holy Days, he would lead the services for either Musaf or Ne'ilah with great spiritual fervor and an outpouring of the soul. Rabbi Yaakov was beloved by the Jews of Lisokovo and the Christians of the surrounding area. Merchandise was bought from him with complete trust – that is, he would tell his customer what the merchandise cost him, and how much [profit] he wanted to make, and his word was considered to be sacred.

Very often Rabbi Yaakov would be invited by Rabbi Borukhov to join him in examining the Yeshiva students in Volkovysk. For a very long time, Rabbi Yaakov did not want to make Torah scholarship a means of livelihood, but after the First World War, he moved with his family to Volkovysk to assume the post of Dayan of the city. There, he worked in the greatest solidarity with the Gaon Rabbi Borukhov. After Rabbi Borukhov left for the Holy Land, Rabbi Yaakov remained for a while alone, until the time that the Gaon Rabbi Yitzhak Kossowsky was offered the post of Rabbi of the city, and also with him, he worked the entire time with a great sense of partnership.

Rabbi Yaakov received his ordination from many Rabbis, among which were also Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, ז”ל the Rabbi of Brisk. He was in letter correspondence with many of the leading Torah scholars of his day, such as Rabbi Yekhezkiel Lifschitz of Kalish, author of the book, HaMedrash VeHaMa'aseh, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzhensky of Vilna, Rabbi Joseph Rosen (the illustrious scholar of Rogachov), Rabbi Shimon Shkop (Reb Shimon Briansker) and others. As a great lover of Rabbinic literature, he amassed a rich library, but which later was incinerated in the bombardment of Volkovysk by the Nazis.

Rabbi Yaakov fell ill a couple of years before the outbreak of the last [sic: Second] World War in 1939, and died literally days before the outbreak of Second World War. In his article about Rabbi Yaakov Berestovitsky, that appeared in Hurban Volkovysk[31] published in Tel-Aviv, Rabbi Yitzhak Kossowsky said the following:

“Rabbi Yaakov Berestovitsky the Dayan was a great Torah scholar, a man who spent all of his days in the study of the Torah with great focus, he was totally infused with Torah in regards to his daily way of living, and in addition to this, he had an unusually phenomenal memory. He was already recognized as an expert in jurisprudence even before the Gaon Rabbi Abba Yaakov HaKohen Borukhov appointed him as the Dayan of the city. After I was appointed Rabbi in Volkovysk, Rabbi Yaakov was my best and most loyal friend and he was my right hand during all the years I served as Rabbi in Volkovysk. When I left the city in the year 5693 (1933), he remained to deal with the details of city life until the time of his passing.”

Concerning the Dayan, Rabbi Yaakov Berestovitsky, we received the following description from Mr. Yitzhak Bereshkovsky (from Tel-Aviv):

In the year 1920, two months before the Bolsheviks captured Volkovysk, two delegates arrived from America, Avigdor Perlmutter and Hona Nakhumovsky, who brought funds with them for relatives in Volkovysk and its vicinity, in the amount of eighty thousand dollars. In that time, the Bolsheviks got closer to the outskirts of the city. Nakhumovsky returned immediately to America, and Perlmutter remained behind with the money, being unable to properly divide the funds among those Jews whom he had met. The Rabbi then called a meeting, to which the balebatim came, as well as a large number of the leaders of various youth groups. Perlmutter, anxious to leave Volkovysk as quickly as possible, wanted to place the funds in trust with a number of the more important balebatim. Rabbi Yaakov opposed this, and argued in favor of giving the money to the Rabbi and

[Page 36]

kept under his responsibility. The Rabbi, however, did not agree to take the funds. The matter was then brought to a vote. The majority favored placing the money in trust with selected balebatim. Shortly before the vote was to be taken, when Rabbi Yaakov saw that his position was going to be defeated, he made a motion for a ten minute recess. Certain of the balebatim were opposed to this, but the youth prevailed and the recess was declared. He then gathered the leadership of the youth groups together with the American delegate, Perlmutter, and laid out the situation, [namely] that the Russians will quickly capture the city and all the houses of each and every person will be searched, and the money and possessions of all the balebatim will be confiscated. However, if the funds are placed with the Rabbi, it is possible that the money might yet somehow be saved. The Rabbi then consented to take the money and hide it in his house.

In July 1920 Rabbi Yaakov's prediction came true. The Russians entered the city, sent the staff of the Cheka[32] through the houses, among which were found a number of Jews, to help facilitate their search process. The Volkovysk Jew, Berel Dzhik, happened to be among the Cheka personnel. Rabbi Yaakov summoned Berel to him and told him the story about the money, which was hidden in the Rabbi's house. In doing this, he stressed the importance of protecting these funds for the use of the Jewish community in Volkovysk, in order to have the means to buy off the enemy in times when it would become necessary to do so. He also reminded Berel about the significant assistance and support rendered by the city to his wife and his children, during the time that he was sent away by the Czarist regime. It was therefore incumbent upon him to help rescue the Jews in his own home city, when the danger of a certain pogrom loomed over their heads. In the end, Rabbi Yaakov won Berel over, and when the search was conducted at the Rabbi's house, Berel Dzhik stood on the very spot where the money had been hidden, and issued the commands to the soldiers, who were under orders to carry out a complete search of the premises, except for the spot on which he stood. When the search was over, he signed the necessary document, that nothing had been found at the Rabbi's dwelling, and the soldiers went away. It was in this manner that Rabbi Yaakov saved the money [from being confiscated].

And as he foresaw, in October 1920 the Polish Army re-took Volkovysk and its vicinity. In the battle for the city, a well-known Polish Army Captain was slain, and because of this, as soon as the Poles secured the city, they declared that as revenge, they planned to slaughter the entire Jewish population of the city.

The decree was literally shouted down, because with the help of the rescued monies from America, the Jews were able to buy off the high officials of the Polish Army. Special institutions were also established because of these funds, whose concern was distribution of foodstuffs among the more needy members of the community. A children's kitchen was opened, in which between 400 and 500 lunches were served daily, and many more support services were set up for the benefit of the Jewish populace. All of this was achieved thanks to the wisdom and energy of Rabbi Yaakov, who dedicated his life to the city – equally for specific individuals and for the general community.

Rabbi Yaakov's two sons reside in the Land of Israel today: Azriel Broshi and Moshe Berestovitsky.


Translator's footnotes:

  1. The personality which symbolized the supremacy of Torah learning within Lithuanian Jewry, and determined its character for several generations, was that of the Gaon of Vilna, Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, who lived during the second half of the 18th century. Return
  2. Today the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) of Yeshiva University. Return
  3. One of the foremost Hebrew periodicals of the late 19th century. Return
  4. Questions & Answers Relating to the Creation of the World. Return
  5. Shas - is the Hebrew acronym for the Six major Orders of the Talmud Return
  6. Indicating his mastery of the Tosafot commentary to the Talmud. Return
  7. Acronym for the great medieval Jewish scholar/physician, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon. Return
  8. Literally, Pillars of Light. Return
  9. "The first Hovevei Zion (“Lovers of Zion”') organizations had been established in 1881-1882 with the aim of furthering Jewish settlement, particularly agricultural settlement in the Land of Israel. The groups varied not only in size but in their activity. Some were interested in philanthropic work while others were intent on aliyah. From its inception, the Hovevei Zion groups in Russia sought to erect a country-wide legally recognized framework. After arduous negotiations, in which the authorities demanded that the society be set up as a charitable body, its establishment was approved, early in 1890, as “The Society for the Support of Jewish Farmers and Artisans in Syria and Eretz-Israel,” which came to be known as “The Odessa Committee.”
    In 1892, the organization had approximately 14,000 sympathizers in Russia. Among its leaders were Rabbi Samuel Mohilever (1824-1898), Moshe Leib Lilienblum (1843-1910) and Leon Pinsker (1821-1891). Following the publication of Herzl's Der Judenstaat in 1896 and the establishment of the World Zionist Organization, most of the branches of Hovevei Zion aligned themselves with the new movement." Return
  10. Literally, Jonathan's Inkwell, and The Book of Measures Return
  11. Also rendered Vatachiner. Return
  12. The aspirate ‘H’ at the beginning of this name is occasionally omitted, and it is rendered as Aminich. The consensus opinion is that this is an elided form of the name, Krzemienica, which is one of the nearby towns. The elision may be derived from the alternate Yiddish name of the town, Kushemienitsa Kosciolna Return
  13. This would appear to be Gedaliah Salaman. Return
  14. Also Kupiskis, Kupishki Return
  15. Then the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community in Palestine. Return
  16. Two different schools of thinking on the practice of Judaism who often came to loggerheads with one another, to the point of violence. Return
  17. An Eastern European government functionary. Return
  18. Family name changes were often used to confound Russian census taking, in the days when the ukase of Czar Nicholas I was in force, mandating the forced conscription of every third Jewish son into the Russian Army for a term of 25 years. Return
  19. Hebrew abbreviation for HaGaon Rabbi Eliezer Gordon, one of the prominent scholars of the Telzer Yeshiva at that time. Return
  20. An abbreviation in Hebrew for The Gaon Rabbi Shimon Shkop, yet another of the leading teachers at the Telz Yeshiva where Rabbi Kossowsky studied. Return
  21. This is, without a doubt, Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik (Brisker) . Return
  22. In the Zelva Memorial Book, Yitzhak Shalev gives an account of how this Rabbi Kossowsky's life was saved during the early days of the Second World War (See ZMB p. 92). Return
  23. Called Motal' on maps of modern Belarus. Return
  24. The Yizkor Book of Szczucin identified the Rabbi of that city as Rabbi Yekhiel Mikhal Rabinowitz. This may very well have been the father of Rabbi Yitzhak Rabinovich of Volkovysk. The Szczucin Yizkor Book indicates that Rabbi Yekhiel Mikhal was slain in the first wave of murders that the Germans perpetrated against the intelligentsia. The mystery here, is why the Volkovysk Rabbi would flee to the west – into the jaws of death – when the more obvious course of action would have been to flee eastward. It is possible that, under German control, he really had no choice. Return
  25. The Zelva Memorial Book has no record of this. Perhaps, from a Zelva perspective, this ownership had no local significance. By the time ZMB authors write, they identify the Borodetzky and Sedletsky families of Zelva as the principal flour millers. Return
  26. Very likely lumber, but also possibly turpentine, etc. Return
  27. The second and third volumes of the four major works of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, the Rambam. Return
  28. Jewish burial society. Return
  29. A judgement rendered according to Torah Law. Return
  30. Of the town of Oshmiany in Lithuania. Return
  31. The second part of this Trilogy. Return
  32. The first in a long series of secret police organizations under the communists. Return


[Page 37]

A Jewish Education in Volkovysk

The Jewish education in Volkovysk at the dawn of the present [sic: twentieth] century was – as it was in the entire Jewish Pale of Settlement – primarily religious and traditional. Those who educated the younger generation then, were mostly the elementary teachers, the teachers of higher grades – for Tanakh[1] and Tanakh – and the Talmud Torah and the Yeshiva. There were also a number of teachers – who would give lessons in Hebrew and general subjects – and a number of them ran private schools, in which studies were conducted in a more modern “current world” fashion. But by far, the majority of the educators were comprised of old-fashioned homey type melamdim, among whom could be found great scholars and interesting personalities.

 

The Elementary Teachers

Among the elementary teachers in Volkovysk, we knew: Moshe Meir (the elementary teacher of the rich children), who was much loved both by the children and their parents, and his Heder was between Shmuel Jonah's Street and the Neuer Gasse, not far from the houses of Katriel the Tailor, and Motya the tinsmith; Jesierski; Hona (whose Heder was on the Schulhof and his wife had a food store there), who was very active in the society for the care of the sick[2]; Chaim, whose Heder was on the side street that led from Ostroger Gasse to Kholodoisker Gasse; Eli Bulvater, whose Heder was on the street near Saul the Saloon Keeper.

As was well known, the elementary teachers had “school aides” who were needed to help out the teachers, keeping an eye on the little children, bringing them to class and then taking them home. On Shabbos and Festivals, all the aides of the elementary teachers would gather up the children from their homes, bring them to the Heder classrooms, and from there, along with the teachers, conduct them to the old Hiltzener Schul (before it burned down). There, the children would take seats in the gallery, and the aides and teachers would stand in the front and listen to the Cantor's recitation of the prayers, and would respond, together with the children, “Boruch Hu Uvarukh Shemo” and “Amen” [where appropriate], and recite the Kedusha prayer with them.

 

The Writers

There was a class of elementary teachers called ‘writers.’ The writers would spend either an hour or a half hour with each student personally. Their students consisted of little children, beginners, and consisted mostly of girls. Studies consisted primarily of “Hebrew” (learning to read and say prayers) and ‘writing,’ by which is meant, being able to write a letter in Yiddish and address an envelope in Russian. Among the writers we knew: Ruveh'keh the Writer, Yaakov Leib (the Postman), Velvel the Writer, and Alteh the Writer.

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The Regular Teachers (Melamdim)

The seasonal break for teachers was “between the times” – Khol HaMoed Passover and Khol HaMoed Sukkot. At that time, teachers would exert themselves to enroll as many students as possible for the new “semester,” and the balebatim would carry on negotiations with many teachers concerning their children and the amount of the tuition.

Under the tutelage of the elementary teacher, a child began with learning the alphabet, acquire the skill to say prayers and recite a variety of the blessings, and was then handed over to another teacher, where he studied the Pentateuch with Rashi commentaries, and after that, Prophets and the Hagiographica. Later, the child would transfer to a teacher of the Tanakh, which was considered the highest level that could be achieved from a Heder education.

In the Heder, the teachers taught with a pointer in hand. Apart from the previously mentioned subjects, the students were also taught penmanship and calligraphy. On Fridays, the Torah portion of the week was reviewed out loud. In the winter, when the children were required to learn after nightfall, they would return home carrying lanterns.

Among the melamdim, we recognize the following:

Moshe Ber Lipa's, who lived on the Wide Boulevard and was known for his strictness – very much in the style of the old time melamdim.

Naphtali, who was born in Izavelin, a son of the teacher Moshe Leib, was well known for his great sense of humor, and lived on the Wide Boulevard near the Schulhof. His wife was the daughter of Chaim Simcha the ritual slaughterer. He had fifteen children.[3] His pretty daughters, who were very popular, loved to sing while their were working. Their singing often blended into the sing-song of their father's chanting of the Tanakh, which he taught. Reb Naphtali passed away immediately after the First World War.

Alter Bernstein, the Amstibover – Der Rebbeleh

Reb Natan – a Tanakh teacher. He was my teacher for a short span of time, and he lived in the house of Feivel the ritual slaughterer, on Slutsky's street. He was a man of the commandments, and very quiet.

Shimon Ada's (“Shimon der Melamed”) – “With the Bone.” He was noted as an “expert” on nullifying the effects of the Evil Eye with a sort of bone that was in his possession. He was my teacher for a while.

Nosh'keh der Melamed

Naphtali Hertz Nakhumovsky – taught Tanakh. He was a real scholar, and the children of the most important families in the city studied in his Heder.

Hona der Melamed – Shammes of the Mauer Schul. He was at one time an elementary teacher, and subsequently opened a Heder for higher grades.

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Moshe Herschel Kaplan

Herschel Yankel

Zalman  Arreshtant” – he was known by this sobriquet because he was well-known as one who could transform wild kids, who were so bad that they were called arreshtanten (jail material), into fine people.

Nachman Berezovsky – He was my teacher, and his Heder was near the hospital. Later on, he had his class at Lapin's, on the rise near the river. After modern Hebrew schooling methods began to emerge, and fewer children were attending Heders, Reb Nachman gave up his Heder, and was hired as a teacher of Tanakh at the Volkovysk Yeshiva. In the 1920's, he emigrated to America, where he directed Talmud studies at the Chicago College for Jewish Studies. Reb Nachman was very dedicated to his pupils, who loved him and respected him very much.

Moster

Eli Lev (Eli Dinah's)

Moshe Velvel der Melamed

Pesach Gurevich, who lived on the Ostroger Gasse. He taught children introductory Tanakh.

Itchkeh Botvinsky (from Karczyzna).

Mr. Harkavy, known as a decent and modest man. He passed away before the First World War, and his family left and went to America. His daughter, Chava Kaminetsky, along with her husband and two daughters, were murdered at Auschwitz.

Leib Bartnovsky (Leib Roneh's)

Zvi Yaakov Rutchik (Zvi Yaakov Feygl's)

Leib Oreh (Leib Aharon Friedenberg), who taught children Pentateuch, Tanakh, and introductory Tanakh. Leib Oreh was my teacher, and he was known throughout the city as a righteous man and a man who greatly feared his God. He died in January 1934, and the city organized a very imposing funeral for him. After his death, the Volkovysker Leben (January 19, 1934 edition) wrote about him :

“An exemplary God-fearing man – who pursued the study of Torah for his entire life, whether alone or with others, striving always to fulfil the commandment to “learn and to teach.” Apart from his great righteousness, Reb Leib Oreh distinguished himself with is charitable giving and hospitality. Living alone in the poorest of circumstances, he would distribute his entire earnings as charity, and at every instance of a charitable initiative, his contribution was the first and the largest. Every guest knew that the door was always open to him at the home of Reb Leib Oreh. Instances are known where he would give away his own bed to a guest, and would quietly spend the night on the bare earth. And all this with the greatest grace and utmost stillness –

It is therefore entirely understandable, that despite the fact that it was market day,

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Wednesday, his funeral attracted an enormous crowd, and along the entire route of the funeral procession, the store keepers closed down their stores. –

The deceased was eulogized by Reb Yerakhmiel Daniel, Reb Abraham Shapiro, Reb Abraham Nakhum Prush, Reb Mordechai Moorstein, Reb Eliezer Shaliota.”

 

Modern Heders

Volkovysk also had a number of Modern Heders (or “Private Schools”), run by a few Hebrew teachers, who mostly also gave private lessons, in the richer abodes. Among these teachers were:

Israel Meir Rubinstein – He was my teacher, and he ran a private school, located on Slutsky's street in Berel Simcha's (Kushnir) dwelling. The school was counted among the best of the modern schools in Volkovysk. He taught Tanakh, Grammar and inculcated a great deal of Hebrew poetry into the children who learned it by heart. The discipline in his school was very good. When he taught a chapter of the Tanakh, his pupils were entranced by his enthusiasm, and the residents on the street would often stand underneath the window and listen in. His students respected him greatly, and remained steadfastly loyal to him. They would come to visit him even years later, even after they were grown up and independent people. – Israel Meir Rubinstein was born in Piesk, near Volkovysk, and his father, Rabbi Yehuda gave him a traditional education. He studied in a number of Yeshivas, and with his own effort, acquired a general education. He especially excelled in his knowledge of the Hebrew language and his thorough knowledge of the Tanakh. In his later years, he directed important educational institutions in Bialystok – and all of his student recall his name with gratitude, because he endeared himself to his students not only through his knowledge, but also his good works. Although he was himself a religious person, he was a tolerant individual and circulated in different circles, and always found an appropriate form of discourse with everyone. In his later years in Bialystok, he was also very active on behalf of the public orphanage, and other institutions. – He would contribute to a variety of Hebrew periodicals, and in 1938 a collection of his articles and short stories was published in Bialystok, under the title, “Writings.” His wife, from the Yunovich family (on the Grodno Gasse), who always supported her talented husband in all of his endeavors, passed away in Bialystok in 1940 at the time of the Russian occupation, and was honored with an imposing funeral comprised of many who mourned her.

Skop der Lehrer

Nakhum Halpern – He came from Piesk. He had a very patriarchal appearance, and was very much beloved by all. A great white beard adorned his round face, out of which shone the wise eyes of a scholar. Reb Nakhum was also a contributor to “Hatzefira” and the young ‘lovers of the Hebrew language’ would come to him to snatch a bit of a conversation in Hebrew. He was known as a Zionist, and was counted as an aristocratic teacher. Reb Nakhum's school was located on the Wide Boulevard, and he taught the finest children in the city. He was a specialist in Tanakh and Grammar. He spoke in a gentle manner, with the support of deep knowledge, and left a deep impression on everyone with who he came in contact.

Shlomo Sukenik – He was a son of Chana the Butcher, who lived near the brook on the way to the cemetery. A number of years before the First World War, the young Shlomo Sukenik returned to Volkovysk from Odessa, where he studied in the Yeshiva there. For a period of time, Sukenik was a private teacher (giving hourly lessons). He introduced the work, Bikurim by Pinchas Shifman, and he demanded of his students that they know by heart the poetry of Bialik and Tchernikhovsky. Later on, he opened a private school from which he

[Page 41]

disseminated Hebrew language and culture to the entire city.

Aizik Lulav – Lulav's school was located on the rise in the Grodno Gasse opposite Fenster's bank counter. Lectures in the school were conducted in Hebrew. Tanakh, Grammar, Jewish History, Arithmetic and other subjects were studied with great relish. The students spoke Hebrew with the teacher and with one another. Lulav, who was very dedicated to his profession, always dressed in fine clothes and his beard was well kempt. He was well-versed in Tanakh and Grammar. All this made a good impression on students and parents.

Herschel Linevsky (Pines' son-in-law) – Also had a private school.

A. Rabinovich (der Porzever[4]) – Was running his private school up to the last years before the Second World War.

In the modern schools where Hebrew was taught, there were school desks. Children were called up by ringing a bell. The children got vacation in the summertime.

It is appropriate to record here that in Volkovysk there was a Heder Metukan, directed by the teachers, Boruch Zusmanovich and Israel Garbakher.

 

The Real Schul


A Group of Students from the Fifth Grade of the Volkovysk Real-Schul in the Year 1908

Left to Right, Bottom Row: Noah Liuvich, Mulya Pshenitsky, Mendel Vinogradsky, Yitzhak Kaminer
Second Row: Israel Gubar[5], Ivan Makhvitz (a Christian), Zus'keh Berman, Eliyahu Golomb

 

In Volkovysk, there was also a private, four class Russian Real Schul, that was founded by David Hubar, Sholom Barash and other balebatim of means. The school was found on the hill in Lazarov's building, which was re-built as a school building. Jewish and Christian children studied in the Real Schul, and the curriculum was the same as in the public school. I was a student at the Real Schul in the years 1908-1909. Among the students who studied there, were also: Eliyahu Golomb, Zus'keh Berman, Noah Liuvich, the Dworetskys, the Gallins, Israel Hubar, Noah Kaplinsky, Kamianer, and the Solomons. For a variety of reasons, the school almost immediately closed, and a Russian government Gymnasium for girls was opened there, which existed up until the time of the German occupation in the First World War.

[Page 42]

Private Teachers


Children from the Talmud Torah in the Year 1923

First Row, On the Right: The Headmaster, Yerakhmiel Daniel
On the Left: Chana Novick, the Teacher

 

In Volkovysk there were also private teachers – for secular and Hebrew studies – who gave lessons in the houses of their students. Among the teachers for secular studies were: Weissenberg, Israel Merkin, Kobrinsky, Leizer Sokolsky, and Eliyahu Eliyovich. Among the private Hebrew teachers were: Herschel Linevsky (who also had a private Hebrew school), Farber, Shereshevsky (from Ruzhany), Kantzopolsky, and Jesierski (from the Neuer Gasse).

 

The Talmud Torah and The Yeshiva

An especially important place among the Volkovysk educational institutions was occupied by the Talmud Torah and Yeshiva ( the name of the combined two institutions at the end was: The Takhkemoni School – Talmud Torah and Yeshiva).

In the Yeshiva, located on the Schulhof, near the Hiltzener Bet HaMedrash, hundreds of young men studied in bygone days. The Head of the Yeshiva was Rabbi Yerakhmiel Daniel – a truly wise man, possessed of a keen mind, and a scholar. He would give a lesson to the students of his own class. However, by and large, he would let them learn by themselves, sitting nearby with a glass of hot tea, ever ready to assist them in the case of a difficult passage, if they required his assistance. He was very much loved in Volkovysk, and took a significant role in the community life of the city.

On the night of Thursday to Friday, many Yeshiva students would spend the night studying at the Bet HaMedrash. Others would study at Lev's Bet HaMedrash, in the Kholodoisker Bet HaMedrash, and at Zamoscheh. Additionally, study was conducted with great speed and concentration, and they would get ready to be examined by Rabbi Abba Yaakov Borukhov, Rabbi Abraham Zalman Kurtz, Rabbi Yaakov Berestovitsky (The Dayan), and others.

Quite a number of young men from the surrounding towns also studied at the Yeshiva. A number of them would take their daily meals with relatives and acquaintances, and those without relatives or friends in the city, were looked after by the general Jewish population of the city. The best of these “daily meals” was to be had with the butchers, who would give these pious young boys generous portions, and they considered it an honor and sacred duty [to do so]. There were also ordinary Jewish folk in the city, who would feed entire groups of Yeshiva students in this way. Among these Jewish people were: Rabbi Joseph Berestovitsky (the Beer Brewer), in whose house, every Wednesday, between 10-15 Yeshiva students received a meal. His wife, Gittl Rash'eh, and her cousin Chava, and the servants in the house undertook this work with great fear of God, and great earnestness. When the boys would sit at the table and eat all the delicacies with appetite, and afterwards recite the mezuman blessing out loud – the members of the household would stand in a corner and their hearts would swell with satisfaction!

It was in this manner that the Volkovysk Jews supported the Yeshiva, sustained its students, and took pride in their religious cultural center.

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After the great fire, when the Yeshiva was rebuilt anew, with the help of the Heller family and Reb Joseph Berestovitsky the Beer Brewer (Yoss'l der Birrer), a Bet HaMedrash was also added to the second floor. Once could find the distinguished members of the community there, saying their prayers with the students and the Head of the Yeshiva.

A Gabbai of the Yeshiva was Reb Aaron Lifschitz, the well-known manufacturer-merchant. He was a great thinker and a very intelligent Jew. He fought for the modernization of the Yeshiva, and supported Jewish culture and the Hebrew language with all his heart and soul.

Among the instructors and teachers in the Talmud Torah and the Yeshiva – at various times – were: Svietsky; Aizik Lulav; Shereshevsky (who directed Tanakh studies), and periodically wrote for [the periodical] HaOlam: Sholom the Scribe (son of Herschel the Scribe); Rabbi Yerakhmiel Daniel, who apart from his duties as Head of the Yeshiva was frequently occupied with Torah courts, because he was always selected to act in a juridical capacity; Rabbi Natan – A Tanakh Teacher; Abraham Pesach Niegal (from Zamoscheh); Eli Dinheim (taught Tanakh); [Naphtali] Hertzl Nakhumovsky (also taught Tanakh); Nachman Berezovsky (taught Tanakh as well as Tanakh with commentaries); Israel Garbakher, Naphtali der Melamed; Chaim Nakhum Oreh's (whose wife dealt with cheese).

Among those who served in the Talmud Torah and Yeshiva as teachers in the later years, were teachers who had previously run their own private schools, but because in later years, as the modern Hebrew teaching methods evolved in Volkovysk – with a variety of schools and Gymnasiums – and the enrollment in the Heder system began to decline, they took positions in the general educational institutions (Talmud Torah and Yeshiva), where the majority of the children of the city were being educated.

According to a “report” that was published in the January 1929 edition of Volkovysker Leben (distributed by the Volkovysk Center in New York), there were then approximately 250 students in the Talmud Torah, of which eighty percent were from poorer households and were pursuing studies free of charge without paying tuition. According to this same “report,” there were at that time seven classes, in which the following was taught: Prayers, Pentateuch with Rashi commentaries, the trop melodies for proper chanting of the Torah portions out loud, Tanakh, Tanakh with the Tosafot commentaries, Hebrew, Grammar, History, Geography, Natural sciences, Polish, Grammar and Arithmetic. The Talmud Torah had nine instructors, a Principal and a Director. The annual budget was thirty thousand zlotys. Expenses were partly covered by tuition (from the twenty percent of the students who could pay tuition) and support from Jews in Volkovysk – all this brought in twelve thousand zlotys; the remainder was covered through the American “Ezrat Torah,” landsleit from Volkovysk and other sources.

On February 7, 1930, the leadership of the Talmud Torah published an open letter in the weekly paper, Volkovysker Leben (no. 148) – “An open letter to the Ladies Society of the Volkovysk organizations in New York and Chicago,” in which it requested assistance from the organizations for the Volkovysk Talmud Torah. In the “open letter,” the following appeared, among other things:

“In the central Talmud Torah, about 160 children pursue studies, who are from the Jewish populace of towns surrounding our city. There are eight teachers who provide instruction in Jewish and general studies, and our expenses run in excess of two thousand zlotys a month. We have no sources of income, because the parents, who are among the poorest of the city, are not in a position to pay for the education of their children, and income is generally very small because of the straitened economic circumstances that prevail in the city, such that we owe the teachers [back pay] for a number of months, and if we will not receive

[Page 44]

significant support from another source, we stand – God forbid – in front of a catastrophe, and the Talmud Torah, which is the one institution to provide poor Jewish children with a suitable Jewish and secular education, is in danger of being closed.”

The “Open Letter” is signed by: Rabbi Yitzhak Kossowsky – the Rabbi of the city, Yaakov Berestovitsky – the Dayan, Eliyahu Bykovsky – the Treasurer of the Talmud Torah and Yeshiva, David Yitzhak Pinkhosovsky, Aizik Neiman, Ze'ev Wolf Bliakher, Joseph Berestovitsky (Beer Brewer), Yaakov Matskevich, Dov ben Reb Yitzhak Poliachek, Yitzhak Novogrudsky, Joseph Gurevich, Mikhl Jesierski, Abraham Yitzhak Chopin, Nakhum Lades, Joseph Yunovich, Eliezer Shaliota, Jehoash Binkovich, Shmuel Sholom Weiner, Yekhezkiel Adin, Joshua Ginsberg, Abraham-Eli Markus, Shmuel Zapoliansky (Shmuel Chaim Bayl'keh's), Moshe Rutchik (Zhelenevicher), Mordechai Moorstein, Leib Aharon Friedenberg (Leib Oreh), Sholom Gordon (Scribe), Alter, ben Reb Shmuel Shalakhovich, Leib Ditkovsky, Ze'ev ben Reb Kalman Kaplan, Joseph-Leib Rabinovich.

And despite this, not looking at the difficult financial situation of the Talmud Torah, the leadership presented its plan in an energetic fashion and exerted itself to implement many improvements in the operation of the Talmud Torah. As an example, we read the following notice in the October 13, 1930 edition of the Volkovysker Leben (No. 178) from Takhkemoni:

“The leadership of the central ‘Takhkemoni’ School (Talmud Torah), in striving to give the children, apart from a religious education, in the full sense of the word, also a worldly education in a broad measure, in order that they grow up to be observant Jews, cultured people, and of benefit to the community, has for the coming year arranged as Headmaster a very energetic individual [in the person of] Mr. Grossbart.

Apart from his excellent qualifications for his duties as a teacher of Polish and world affairs – he has, along with the entire body of teaching personnel, energetically applied himself to instill strong discipline among the children, and in general to make Takhkemoni a superior school.

The results that have already been achieved are noteworthy. The children have adopted a strong discipline, the appearance of the school has materially improved – both internally and externally. An attractive use of school hats has been introduced, which many of the students are already wearing –

A great deal of attention is paid to make sure that the children are always cleanly dressed and washed. The teachers control the cleanliness of the children on a daily basis. A recreation room has been created for the children, where they spend their recess time under the supervision of the teachers.

For the future, we project – the creation of a school library, as well as the purchase of certain physical goods deemed absolutely necessary – “

In 1937, there was an assembly of the city dignitaries, and it was decided to undertake an initiative to enlarge the enrollment of the Talmud Torah through financial support by sale of memberships, yahrzeits, candle-lighting, etc. The mission was delegated to a committee of 15 balebatim which was elected at that time. It was also decided by the committee to establish a ‘Pedagogical Committee’ whose purpose was to place the curriculum of the Talmud Torah on a central standard, following the directives of modern pedagogic theory.

* * *

[Page 45]

At the time of the First World War, during the German occupation, in Volkovysk as in many of the other cities of Poland, a movement started for a modern Jewish national school program in Hebrew – which in the course of time, brought about the founding of a whole array of various modern Hebrew Volksschule and middle schools in Volkovysk.

Volkovysk was known as a Zionist city, and the Zionists and Hebraists played a significant role in the community and cultural life of the Volkovysk Jewish community. Despite this, the Yiddishists and socialist organization in Volkovysk established their own Jewish Volksschule which belonged to the school network of the Central Yiddish School Organization of Poland, around which the so-called “cosmopolitan” and “progressive” elements of the Volkovysk Jewish community grouped themselves.

 

The Yiddish Volksschule


Teaching Personnel of the Volksschule in the Year 1917

Right to Left, Bottom Row: Finkelstein, unknown, Herschel Galiatsky
Second Row: Miss Khananovich, Pearl Lev (The Bialystoker Baker's daughter)
Third Row: Eliyahu Khmelnitsky, Frank, Raphael Lemkin, Moshe Kaplinsky

 

Before the establishment of the school by the Central Yiddish School Organization, a Yiddish Volksschule already existed that had been opened in 1919. We will introduce here a chapter of memoirs sent to us by the renown pedagogue, Shimon Krinsky (who lives in America today, in Wilmington) in which can be found interesting anecdotes of that period:

“I will never forget that historic accomplishment. It was Purim of 1919. A group of teachers and culture activists from Yiddishist circles gathered to respectfully hear a “report” regarding child education in the large auditorium of the Bialystoker “Community Committee.” After the presentation, Dr. Israel Rubin, Director of the Yiddish Volksschule and Secretary of the Culture League of the Bialystoker Circle called me into his office and said: ‘Krinsky, we have obtained an important position: Volkovysk. A school awaits the right pedagogue and man of culture. A building, children [to teach], a committee and funding – everything is organized. We can't lose any time. The school must be opened immediately after Passover. You must travel immediately for a meeting with the committee.’

To tell the truth, I was a bit intimidated by Volkovysk. I knew the city well, from having attended the “kibbutz” of Rabbi Abba Yaakov Borukhov. Volkovysk, along with its Hebraists and idealistic Zionists, had a reputation in Poland. I was fearful of such “zealots” as Yud'l Novogrudsky, Moshe Rubinovich, Batinko, Yankel Neiman, Zvi Weinstein, Raphael Lemkin, Mordechai Leib Kaplan and Levin. The Hebrew school had the reputation of being one of the best between Bialystok and Baranovich. It was only after I met with the committee, in Khmelnitsky's house, that I first apprehended Dr. Rubin's elation: we had [indeed] obtained an important position – Volkovysk. With people like Khmelnitsky, Rosa Einhorn, Leizer Sokolsky, Yitzhak Merkin, Lantzevitzky, and Yelsky a modern Yiddish Volksschule in Volkovysk will thrive.

With public fanfare amidst a festive air, right after Passover, the first Volksschule opened in the spacious house on the Ostroger Gasse with eight rooms. The teaching staff consisted of: Kagan, Kantor, Schneider, Merkin, Landevitzky[6], and Krinsky. I took over the Hebrew studies in all classes, and history for the upper classes. All

[Page 46]

sessions were taught in Yiddish. The Volksschule became the center for Yiddish culture and knowledge. Lectures and courses in Hebrew and Yiddish for adults were offered each evening. The progressive elements of the city organized themselves around the school. One hundred thirty children filled the eight airy classrooms of the school.

It was not only among Poalei Tzion and Yiddishist circles that this new and important institution was elevated, but the entire city, the Yiddish-minded community, and even the Zionists lent their support. The first concert given by the school, on the Saturday night of July 3, 1920 in Botvinsky's cinema theater, bore witness to the fact that the school would be around for a long time. Lantzevitzky, with his dedicated and committed effort and love for the school, contributed an enormous amount to the realization of the concert. The theater was festively decorated with an exhibition of the work of the children on may subjects. –

After the concert, we had a meeting at the school, where we broadened the scope of our activities in which we hoped to derive much nachas from our children, the up and coming builders of the great and productive settlement in Poland. However, this was not to be. Because of the Red advance (of the Bolsheviks) and later, the anti-Semitic incidents in the new “free” Poland, the atmosphere became stifling and dangerous to the progressive elements that had rallied within the ambit of the Volksschule, and the bright freshening chapter of the Volksschule in Volkovysk came to an end. –

* * *

Mr. Sh. Krinsky later left Poland – and today he is in America, where he occupies a prominent position as a well-known Hebrew educator and author of various works. But a Yiddish Volksschule was opened yet again in Volkovysk, and as already mentioned, carried on its work as the Volkovysk Branch of the Yiddish School Organization of Poland.

In the year 1929, evening adult courses were also introduced in Volkovysk by the Yiddish School Organization for the working public.

The Yiddish Volksschule would also carry out various special events on school holidays. Thus, for example, on the second day of Shavuot of the year 1929 the Yiddish Organization in Volkovysk arranged (according to the Volkovysker Leben No. 206) a grandiose holiday festival by the children for the children – put on by the children of the Yiddish Volksschule. In the program [were]: marches, singing, acting, dancing, speeches, etc.

In 1930, there were already four classes in the Volkovysk Yiddish Volksschule, and a kindergarten. Fifty percent of the children paid no tuition whatsoever, and the remainder only paid a small amount, which barely covered 25 percent of the budget, and it was only because of the tremendous commitment of the teachers, and those active on behalf of the school, that it was possible to sustain and develop the school.

In Volkovysk, a Yiddish Library also functioned, in which the best Yiddish and general literature could be found.

* * *

As we have previously indicated, in Volkovysk the techniques of modern Hebrew pedagogy were widespread and deeply rooted. The movement to create a modern Hebrew school, which in Volkovysk began during the time of the German occupation, found its loyal supporters in the persons of Yud'l Novogrudsky, and Moshe

[Page 47]

Rubinovich, who worked ceaselessly to secure Hebrew education for their home town. Thanks to their energy and effort, in Volkovysk were founded: first – A Hebrew Kindergarten (Gan Yeladim), later – A Hebrew Volksschule (Bet Sefer Amami BeVolkovysk), and finally, a Hebrew Gymnasium (Hertzeliya).

Our Volkovysk landsleit will doubtless find it interesting to read the description of Mr. Yud'l Novogrudsky, regarding the establishment of the Hebrew school system , and we therefore reproduce here, with pleasure, an article about the Hebrew school system, which Mr. Novogrudsky – who is today in Israel – sent to us from Tel-Aviv.


Translator's footnotes:

  1. Hebrew acronym for the composite Holy Writ, consisting of the Torah, Prophets (Nevi'im) and Hagiographica (Ketubim). Return
  2. Called Linat Kholim in Hebrew, after the duty of spending the night at the home of the sick, in order to render assistance and help ease the burden the affected family. Return
  3. No wonder he was known for his sense of humor… Return
  4. Indicating his origin from the shtetl of Porozovo Return
  5. In Russian, because there is no letter ‘H,’ the letter ‘G’ is used in its place. This then is the Hubar family that is well-documented later on. The anomalous spelling is retained where it appeared for integrity. Return
  6. Possibly a mis-spelling of Lantzevitzky. Return


The Hebrew School System in Volkovysk

By Yud'l Novogrudsky Tel-Aviv, Israel

 


Active Workers and Teachers of the Modern Hebrew School system
in Volkovysk in the Year 1920

Right to Left
First Row, Bottom: Mordechai Leib Kaplan, unknown, Zvi Weinstein (Carmeli), Shereshevsky
Second Row: Joseph Pines, Yaakov Milikovsky, Azriel Berestovitsky (Broshi), Moshe Rubinovich, Skop, Yaakov Gurevich, Batinko

 

The First Years of the Hebrew Volksschule


Students and Teachers

From Left to Right, standing, are the teachers: Paveh, Mordechai Leib Kaplan, Moshe Rubinovich, Zvi Weinstein (Carmeli), Two unidentified teachers, and Batinko

 


Portrait of the Younger Classes of the Volksschule in the Year 1920

Among the Teachers (from Right to Left): Joseph Pines, Yaakov Milikovsky, Skop and Batinko

 


Portrait of the Higher Class in 1919

Right to Left, the first row – the Teachers: Shereshevsky, Weinstein, Kaplan

 

The theme, with which I am coming to grips, takes me back to a bygone time which has been drowned in a sea of blood, that also swallowed up the life of my dear and unforgettable friend Moshe Rubinovich, the creator and builder of the Hebrew school system.

The echoes of bygone times swim up to the surface of my memory, when two inspired young men (Novogrudsky and Rubinovich – M.E.), still wet behind the ears, dreamt about the revival of the ancient, yet modern, Hebrew language.

In their conversations, the young men wove the plans for how they could attract the youth of Volkovysk to the Zionist renewal movement, how to lay the foundation for the education of the emerging generation in the spirit of the Jewish renaissance. Step by step they proceeded along the path that they held to be the only way of life

[Page 48]

for the Jewish people. With small, circumscribed steps, they laid the foundation for a Hebrew library, which in time, developed into an important institution, which provided spiritual nourishment for the young people. A young circle of “Lovers of the Hebrew Language” grew up around the library, to which the Gymnasium student Raphael Lemkin belonged, today a well-known professor of international law in America. A couple of years later, they founded the first kindergarten in Volkovysk. I recall how, together with Moshe Rubinovich, we went to the homes of the parents, in order to persuade them to send their children to the kindergarten, which was viewed by them as some sort of a strange school, where the children are taught to play and dance. Our efforts were rewarded with consent. The kindergarten attracted the sympathies of the parents, who with considerable interest, sent their children to the first and only Prebel[1] School in Volkovysk. But the Prebel School was but a step in the creation of the Hebrew Volksschule. Then, 39 years ago, [establishment of] Hebrew schools, despite the existence of a Volksschule program, was a rare occurrence, and Moshe Rubinovich can rightfully claim to be called one of the original pioneers of Hebrew education in Poland in general.

“We must not be daunted by any manner of difficulties” – Moshe would argue with me. “The Hebrew Volksschule must be established, our older supporters, Sholom Barash and David Hubar have taken care of establishing a Russian Real-Schul on the Lazaret Barg. We must be concerned with providing for the new generation to be educated in the atmosphere of the spirit of Zionist renewal, so that from earliest childhood, it will be infused with the spirit of our Prophets and Hasmoneans, and that secular subject also be taught in Hebrew, – then a generation will grow up with a proud sense of Jewish identity, which will sunder its bonds with the diaspora existence, and break through to a new, free Jewish living experience.”

It is to wonder, how two young men had the nerve to undertake the creation of such a learning institution, in which only large organizations can indulge themselves. But belief and inspiration can work wonders, and the Hebrew Volksschule in Volkovysk became a reality.

Hundreds of children were educated in the school. Poorer parents paid no tuition at all. Also, a larger part of parents who were in straitened circumstances, paid a minimal amount of money. It was arranged to retain teachers of the first rank in pedagogy, among them many with advanced education. Among the first teachers of the Volksschule, who contributed to the development of the school, we must recall the names of Zvi Carmeli (Weinstein), who today is in America, and Azriel Broshi (Berestovitsky), who is today a recognized figure in Israel.

Among the directors of the school, it is worth the especially mention: A. Luvoshitsky a famous Hebrew poet, and author of many pedagogic works; Dr. Shafel, the famous pedagogue and teacher of Judaic Studies, Yitzhak Shkarlat; and the very popular pedagogue Gottesfeld. These are all names that speak very much to the hearts of former students of the Volkovysk Volksschule, who today live in Israel, America and other lands. Moshe Rubinovich accomplished his purpose in life with the establishment of the Volksschule. He would leave his business affairs many times in order to attend, day and night, to the issues of the school. Images of those times live on in my memory, when we would receive each and every father of a prospective student with a fluttering heart, overflowing with happiness and good fortune. Shaking from the cold, we would sit in the poorly heated location of Papa's house on the Grodno Gasse, spending long winter nights in discussion with teaching personnel about the curriculum. Thanks to the supernatural effort that was invested in the development of the school, one way or another, the school made progress from year to year.

[Page 49]

The school served as a model for the surrounding towns where similar schools were opened. The school also helped to introduce the ideal of the Jewish way of life into the hearts of its students and their families. And it was in this fashion that the school became a Zionist factor in the first degree. Not only the youth of Volkovysk, but also the mature generation was swept along by the Zionist tide. It must be emphasized that Volkovysk became renown in the central office of the Zionist organization in Warsaw as a bastion of Zionism. Volkovysk stood out by virtue of the disproportionate sums of money it raised for the Keren Kayemet and Keren HaYesod.[2] A large pioneer movement of halutzim also developed among the young people, which also influenced the surrounding towns. And if today, we have a large Volkovysk landsmanschaft in Israel, we have to thank the indirect influence of the Volkovysk Volksschule.

The activists of the Hebrew Volksschule also dreamed of creating a Hebrew Gymnasium, where the graduates of the school will be able to continue their parochial and general education. “We must,” – Moshe Rubinovich said to me – “Create a new type of Jewish intellectual, who will draw his spiritual sustenance from the treasures of Jewish culture, and be worthy of carrying out the great historic mission of our generation.”

Moshe Rubinovich was not only one to have good ideas, but also capable of getting things done. For him, there were no difficulties that could restrain him. His will was strong, and his belief in the renaissance of the old-new Jewish culture was rock solid. An his will, in time, took on tangible form. We rented an appropriate premises in the former tobacco factory owned by Yanovsky on the Wide Boulevard, which was renovated to the specifications of a school, and qualified teaching personnel were retained. And on one fine morning, placards were pasted all over the city which informed the public about the birth of the new Hebrew Gymnasium, “Hertzeliya.” The acceptance of the Gymnasium exceeded all expectations. The Gymnasium was one of 16 Gymnasiums in Poland.

Thanks to the Hebrew Volksschule and the Gymnasium, Volkovysk became a “spiritual center” for the surrounding province. Male and female students were attracted even from bigger cities, such as Slonim and Baranovich, to the Volkovysk Gymnasium. The influence of the Volkovysk educational institutions not only transcended the boundaries of the Volkovysk district, but also the boundaries of time in which they were active…

With great respect and gratitude, the pupils of the Volkovysk Volksschule and Gymnasium who live in Israel and other lands, must preserve the memory of Moshe Rubinovich, the creator and builder of the Hebrew school system in Volkovysk, which provided a purpose in life, and showed a way to live … in respect to his sacred memory!

***


Children and Teachers of the Volksschule in the Year 1923

Among the teachers are found: Bella Alperin, Esther Wallach, Rosenfeld, Sarah Liss
Among the children are found: Penina Levin, Yenta Patsovsky, Nechama Resnick, Bluma Stolovitsky, Moshe Wilk,
Sonya Pisetsky, Nechama Shklavin, Rosa Berg, Rosa Vlosky, Chas'sheh Weinstein, Kravchik, Sonya Novogrudsky, Kalmanovich, Chaya Kaminetsky, Shuv

[Page 50]


A Group of Teachers from the Tarbut Schul in the Year 1932

Right to Left, First Row, Bottom: Miss Zilberman, Fishl Weinstein, Miss [Batya] Landsberg
Second Row, Seated: Eliezer Kapelyushnik, Rothfeld, Luvoshitsky, Moshe Rubinovich (the Founder), Yud'l Novogrudsky (the Co-Founder), Miss Berliner[3]
Third Row, Standing: Zilber, Chana Turbovich, Y(itzhak) Itzkowitz, Hedva

 


A Tarbut School Class from the Year 1923

Right to Left, First Row, Bottom: Assia Getzelevich, Winetsky (The handbag maker's daughter), Jonah Tronsky, Chasia Getzelevich
Second Row, The Teachers: Shoshana Levin, Miss Garbarsky, Shklavin, unknown, unknown
Third Row: Winetsky (The handbag maker's second daughter), Chopin (Yankel's daughter), Chaya Lazarovsky, A Teacher,
Golda Gordon (The scribe's daughter), Malka Fuchsman (The Hassid's daughter), Rivka Tannenbaum (The ironmonger's daughter)

 


Children of the Day School with their Teachers in the Year 1925

Right to Left, The Teachers: Chana Turbovich, Esther Wallach, Batya Landsberg
Among the children are found: Miriam Levin, Taib'l Linevsky, Rachman, Shoshana Novogrudsky, Anya Peisik, Chaya Kaminetsky, Dora Kaplan, Sarah Galai, Ronya Kimmelman,
Natan Levin, Isser Shkolnik, Mordechai Polonsky, Shoshana Goldberg, Chaim Weiner, Manya Einstein, Goldrei, Moshe Moorstein, Pearl Wilk, Dora Taran, Sarah Mushatsky, Lyuba Kavushatsky

 


A Tarbut Class from the Year 1926

Right to Left, First Row, Bottom: Kreineh Levitt, Chaya Daniel, Zilpa Kaplan, Baylah Leivkovich, Zvi Werner
Second Row: Lunsky, unknown[4], Rothfeld, Aharon Luvoshitsky (The Director), unknown[5], Zilber, Weinstein, Y[itzhak] Itzkowitz
Third Row: Zipporah Movshovich, Chaya Vinnik, Zipporah Stolovitsky, Khien'keh[6] Galansky, Dvora Lev, Esther Yudzhik, Baylah Lifschitz
Fourth Row: Yitzhak Goldberg, Avigdor Kalir, Feivel Paveh, Hannan Azersky (Ozer)

 


Students & Teachers of the Sixth Grade of Tarbut in the Year 1935

Right to Left, First Row, Bottom: Unknown, Masha, Tzil'eh[7] Mazover, Lyuba, Jocheh [Jocheved] Linevsky, Nehemiah Bikuvitsky
Second Row: Unknown, Y[itzhak] Itzkowitz, A Teacher, Schwartz (A Teacher), Rosenfeld (Principal), Pudels, [Chana] Nemlikh (A Teacher), Yuvel (A Teacher), Kaddel [Katriel?]
Third Row, Standing: Taiba Rotberg, Masha, Malka, Fanya, Shayn'dl, Yulin, Mikhlah, Rivka Horowitz, Genya[8] Berg

[Page 51]

The dedicated work of Yud'l Novogrudsky and Moshe Rubinovich produced very good results, and the Hebrew school system put down very deep roots into the life of the Volkovysk Jewish community. The Hebrew Volksschule developed very well. In setting the level of tuition for those who attended in the Volksschule, the economic circumstances of each and every family was taken into account, and it was made possible to give every give their children a parochial Hebrew education without a single exception. Studies were on a higher level. Children who completed their course of study were accepted without having to take an entrance examination, at technical schools, teacher's seminaries and commercial schools. Among the prominent teachers at the Hebrew Volksschule was Mr. Koppel Weinstein.

The best Zionist and community resources of the Volkovysk Jewish community concentrated themselves within the Hebrew educational system, and there were occasions, from time to time, when friction and dispute arose between parents and the ranks of the teaching faculty, pertaining to differences of opinion over the curriculum and the direction of the school. It was in this fashion, for example, that a dispute arose in 1930, when the school administration dismissed the older teachers, and replaced them with new teachers. The children were on the side of the older teachers – and meetings were held in the city over this issue. The older teachers brought Mr. Moshe Gordon from Warsaw, the Vice President of the central committee of “Tarbut” in Warsaw, and Mr. A. Gelman, the Chairman of the Teachers Organization of Poland. A meeting was arranged in which a new leadership of twelve people was elected, with the engineer, Ephraim Barash as the head – which had to negotiate with the existing powers that the school [administration] be turned over to the newly elected [officials].

Ignoring however, such small instances of friction, the Hebrew school system progressed from year to year, and in time, the Tarbut school also provided courses to learn a trade.


Translator's footnotes:

  1. Based on the teachings of an educator, named Prebel. See the later anecdote regarding Rabbi Jonathan Eliasberg on page 204. Return
  2. Precursors to the Jewish National Fund. Return
  3. Seemingly erroneous, since the picture shows a man sitting in this position. Return
  4. Seemingly the same individual incorrectly identified as “Miss Berliner” in the photo on Page113. Return
  5. An oversight: clearly Miss Batya Landsberg (see prior pictures) Return
  6. Along with Khieneh, a nickname for Hannah. Return
  7. Along with Tzil'yeh and Tzil'ikeh, nicknames for the Hebrew name, Tzila, referring to a shady (i.e. restful place). Return
  8. Because of the interchangeability of 'G' and 'H' in Russian, this name is equivalent to Henya. However, a review of the text does not reveal any inadvertent use of the two forms for the same person. Return

 

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