« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 175 ]

Fifth Chapter:

On the Eve of the First World War


1. Bobruisk on the Eve of the First World War

After the sources of the First Russian Revolution were stilled, there came to Bobruisk seven calm years, years of growth and development, which were interrupted only by the outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914, and once more by the approach of the front to the city in 1915.

"The economic position of our city, as in other cities of the Pale of Settlement," writes a Bobruisker in Hatsfireh at the end of 1912, “doesn't give grounds to complain, this is without a doubt. Aside from the forest business, which here stands at quite a high level, develops also in a desireable way small business and crafts.

Ukraine cried out: give us wooden poles for building, wooden material for furniture, railroad ties for railways, wooden [podpores] for the coal mines of Donbas, and for the iron mines of Krivoy intersection - from saloonkeepers and milners a draft for the primeval forests of Polesi, which is south of Belarus and before the primeval areas, which upon both banks of the Berezina." wrote Abba Akhimeier in his memoirs about that time."

The number of citizens of Bobruisk, gentiles and Jews, grew incessantly, according to the religious communities' stated figures of the following table:

Year Citizens Of them
% Jews
1897 34,336 20,759 60.1
1905 38,431 23,465 61.1
1914 42,309 25,876 61.1

[Page 176]

The number of houses in the city grew from 1895 until 1910, from 2,520 (126 stone houses) to 3,549 (403 stone houses). The improvement in the economic position in the city found its expression in certain changes in innovations, which were made to beautify the city. In the summer of 1909, they began to pave with cobblestones several central streets. In connection with them were laid upon the population special taxes, for example, a tax on the merchandise brought by train. Upon the main streets they installed streetlights (lanterns), among them - gas lanterns (50 in 1910) and kerosine lanterns (192 in the same year). There was installed a telephone network, and prominent people, as also businesses, instituted telephones. Here and there were built stone houses of two or three stories. Even the big novelty - the cinema - turned up in Bobruisk, and we read about two electro-theaters (as they were then called) "Vies Mir" which belonged to Feynberg, and ""Gigant," whose owner was Bielenki.

Concerning the growth and development of the city, the religious communities tell of the attempts to publish there local newspapers. These newspapers, whose goal was to give the reader general and local information, were published in Russian, only the publishers, editors, and the majority of the workers were Jewish.

After the summer of 1904, the bookseller Yakov Ginzburg got permission to publish a newspaper A. N. Bobruisk Listok but the first of August 1911 there began to be published the daily newspaper Bobruisker Opklangen (Bobruisk Echo) which was shut down after 9 months.

In February 1913, B. Bakhrakh began to publish the newspaper Bobruiskier Lebn (Bobruisk Life), anly this newspaper didn't expatiate many days longer, as until the outbreak of the First World War. Longer held out the newspaper Bobruisk Couier, which began publication in the first month of the war and went on until the end of the war. In the years of the German occupation (1918) there was published the newspaper Bobruisk Day.

Parallel with the broadening of the lumber trade also developed the lumber industry in its various branches: sawmills, [diktn] factories, furniture industry. It is worthwhile to note the large sawmill of Mirnburg and Rabinovitsh, which employed around 200 workers. In these years there also developed in Bobruisk the food and farming industry, especially dairies, wineries, and candy processors.

It was officially stated that from 1900 to 1913, the number of industrial enterprises in Bobruisk advanced from 8 to 26; the number of workers in the factories - from 345 to 1,584 and their production went from 833,800 to 2,254,000 rubles. Bobruisk took third place in the Gubernia (after Minsk and Pinsk), as an industrial center. Nevertheless, poverty in the city did not decrease, and this is understood - it was enough to spread a rumor that there were income opportunities in Bobruisk - and poor families from various places in the vicinity used to do a [loz] here, to find there the little piece of bread. The hatred of Jews on the part of administrative government authorities, which especially strengthened during the reign of the governor Girs in the Minsk Gubernia, expressed itself in the severe control over the dwelling rights of Jews in the hamlets. Many families who were for many years settled in hamlets in the vicinity of Bobruisk, were expelled from their homes. So many of them didn't have any other choice than to emigrate overseas. In Bobruisk there opened an area Emigration Bureau of the Yk. A., which was burdened with the emigrants, giving them the latest information about the travel services, worried about their documents and about taking care of clerical formalities, as also getting ship tickets at a cheap price. Emigrants from Bobruisk and vicinity went through the bureau. In 1910 their number grew to 900; in 1911 - to 1,197 and in 1912 - to 1,462, of them 497 persons from Bobruisk, mostly artisans and small businessmen.

The First World War held back the process of renovation and beautification of the city, which at first began. The old Bobruisk, Bobruisk of wood and mud, was not yet disappeared in them a short period and not established with itself the large part of the city. The great market, the poor quarter Sloboda, the 40 bes medreshim [houses of study], the fortress and the “polygon," this all together, with the two railroad stations and the peyzazsh of the Berezina, decided about the appearance of the city also in these years - and of course it was felt that the city go forward, to renovations, development, and radical changes in its appearance.


[Page 177]

2. The Bobruisk Intelligentsia and its Streamings

The layer of the intelligentsia (the educated), who got their education in the Russian language, continually increased its influence upon city affairs, outweighed the influence of the rabbis and rich men who ruled in the city in the 19th century. The intelligentsia became the moving force inthe societal life of Bobruisk. The old world was already thereby satisfied with that which with obstinence attempted to hold back its position.

Those good days, when the intelligentsia was one monolithic group which gathered around the dentist Benedict Getzov, were gone. Now the intelligentsia divided into many groups and parties, which were grouped in three main streams: the first stream was the “Russian" intelligentsia - a stream which did everything in order to bring themselves closer to the Russian culture and people - and saw its main task in promoting general education and knowledge of the Russian language among the masses. This intelligentsia held as quite important to improve the situation of the artisans and small businessmen through establishing institutions of mutual help and caring for trade education. It maintained connections with the old khevros of the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia - the Khevre “M'fitse Hashekhole," which opened its divisions in Bobruisk in the summer of 1909; the Society of Ort and Yk. A. Among the active leaders of this intelligentsia in Bobruisk one should mention Benedict Getzov and his wife, Dr. Paperna, the representative of the cadets in Bobruisk, Ginzburg and M.Y. Brodskin, who came to Bobruisk in 1899 and was the director of the United Bank. He was the sworn intercessor for the authorities in the city and in the Gubernia for the Bobruisk Jews and was elected as the Jewish arbiter in the elections of the last two ["gosudarstvener] Dumas" - the Third and the Fourth.

[Page 178]

The second stream among the intelligentsia was the Zionist. The Zionists struck deep roots among the Jewish masses in Bobruisk and were connected with the religious circles in the city. Aside from their purely party work - organization and propaganda - they occupied themselves with Hebrew education and supported the Kheder Mesokn in the city. They stood in alliance with the World Zionist movement, the Hebrew movement in the country (Khovkhe Sfat Evr), and with the Land of Israel. The head spokemen in this stream were the longstanding officers: A. Estrin, Yoysef Dobkin, Shmuel Alexandrov and A. L. Maza'eh (see later the separate division of the Zionist movement in Bobruisk).

The thrid stream was the Yiddishist Bundists. This stream made its power in the remnants that remained of the revolutionary movement and the Bund. After the failure of the revolution in 1905, not having any opportunity to lead open revolutionary political activity, all officers concentrated upon cultural works, above all cultivating the Yiddish language and literature. They had an influence in the “People's Library," where they led a battle with Zionists. They also gave out a social literary weekly Bobruisk Weekly. It was published in the years 1912-1913 and carried a general character, but in its tracts it had anti-Zionist and anti-Hebrew tone. This circle also used to bring up to Bobruisk Jewish theatrical troupes. The main officers in the circle were Mendl Elkin, the Bundist leader Nokhke Yokhoved, and the representative of youth A. D. Kirzshnits.

Signs of renewed revolutionary activity were seen in Bobruisk in the year 1912 - it was a result of the general spurt in the revolutionary movement after the deaths of the workers in the gold mine on the Lena River in Siberia, which the Tsarist soldiers had carried out in the spring of 1912. The local Bund, one of the few Bundist organization which conducted underground activity even in the dark years of reaction in Russia (see pg. 175), organized a one-day protest strike in several factories against the deaths on the Lena. Immediately, they carried out audits of those suspected of organizing the strike, and five people, who were found with Bundist material (among others the imprint “The Bobruisk Organization of the Bund"), were put before a court in Vilna. Among them was the secretary of the Bund in Bobruisk, M. Helfand.

In the autumn of tre"d, before the High Holy Days, a wave of strikes flooded Bobruisk. Tailors, seamstresses, leatherworkers, and cabinetmakers striked. The proprietors, afraid of losing track of the yuntif season, gave in to the demands of the workers to: a. recognise their professional unions; b. a 9-hour workday; c. a purely political demand - recognize the 1st of May as a holiday.

As for the story of the Bobruisk intelligentsia, one cannot omit the “special era" in Bobruisk, as in other cities of Russia in the years 1907-1911. Those youths, who before the Revolution of 1905 attended Yeshiva, now sought a way to general education and to a “practical purpose," which meant a gimnazye-matureh [Junior College]. Boys and girls of Bobruisk and from the surrounding villages and hamlets cracked days and nights in studies, Russian study-books, learning Russian and Latin, mathematics and physics and all other subjects needed to get the desired matureh, year after year taking exams, according to the program of one class or two all at once. Teachers [mikal haminim] supported themselves by preparing the special ones for the exams. There was even established a “special union," which was concerned with providing teachers for the non-prominent.

[Page 179]

The “special era" ended, as is known, after the Russian education minister ordered the application of the “percent norm" [quota] also in relation to the “special ones.” The era left behind many embittered young people (of only a small part of them reached the goal - the matureh); three quarters of the intellectuals who gave lessons in Bobruisk and vicinity became officially, secretaties, office administrators in various bureaus.


[Page 179]

3. The Cooperative Movement

The only realm which in relation to it there was not any feuding among the various streams fo the intelligentsia, was the Cooperative Movement, which placed before itself the goal of improving the situation of the poverty strata - artisans and small businessmen - through supporting, instructing, and activiating among them mutual help.

One of the central Cooperative undertakings was the “considerable and [ley-kase]" (cashbox) [credit union] for the artisans and small businessmen, established in November 1900. The kase issued shares; each one, who purchased an share for 10 rubles, had the right to get a loan for up to 30 rubles without guarantee, and up to 80 rubles with a guarantee. “This institution," wrote the Hetsfire, “helped many shopkeepers and small businessmen. Also artisans, who until now had no opportunity to buy the materials needed for their craft.” It is worthwhile to note that among those who helped to create the kase was one of the old generation, the gevir Boyaz Rabinovitsh, who contributed 3,000 rubles for the kase fund. The kase developed well and became larger from year to year. At the beginng of 1902, it already counted 800 members, and in October 1907 this number reached 2,681, among them approximately 40% artisans, 30% small businessmen, and the rest - as is known, teachers, etc. In January 1909, the kase already had 3,000 members and the administration decided to offer insurance to those members who wanted it. In 1913, the number of members already went to 4,000 - together with the families, a quite visible part of the Bobruisk Jewish population, and it had a name in the Jewish world as one of the richest and largest Jewish cooperative credit institutions; and when the kase celebrated at the end of 1910 its 10-year existence, there participated in the celebration contributors from 35 credit unions, as also contributors of the Yk. A. which the entire time the institution gave help to.

Another cooperative institution, which was also popular outside of Bobruisk as a example of an aid institution for Jewish artisans, was “The Social Warehouse of Furniture Products," which was opened in 1909. To this warehouse the cabinetmakers used to hand over their production to sell, “in order not to increase the mediation of the furniture merchants.” The administration of the warehouse paid them 75% of the worth of their merchandise upon getting the furniture and the rest directly after the sale, subtracting 5% in administration expenses. The warehouse provided, therefore, that the cabinetmakers would be able to produce continally, without worrying about the sale. Besides that the warehouse delivered the artisans good and unblemished wood material direct from the factory, for low prices.

[Page 180]

The first money to finance the undertaking was taken from the remaining money which the “Society to Build Cheap Apartments for the Jews" contributed for the fire of 1902, the warehouse adminstration was successful in opening a market for the production of the cabinetmakers in Poltava, Yekaterinoslav, and Tshernigov Gubernias. In 1921, 12 cabinetmakers participated with 69 workers and journeymen. The warehouse in that time sold furniture for 17,418 rubles.

In 1908, a “Consumer Cooperative for Shopkeepers and Small Businessmen" was founded in Bobruisk. We know very little about it. It is entirely possible that it existed for only a few years.


[Page 180]

4. The Zionist Movement and the Hebrew Language

The crisis era in the decline of the Zionist movement, which came as a result of the Uganda crisis and the first revolution, went on until 1908, in that year there were sold in Bobruisk 230 shekelim. From that year on the movement began to come into its own. Envoys from the centers in Minsk and Vilna used to come to Bobruisk, assembling together the Zion faithful and rousing them to Zionist activity.

Thus since Zionism was in those years forbidden throughout the state, the movement moved underground. Meetings of active leaders used to be arranged mostly in private houses, especially in the house of Yoysef Dobkin. But the center of Zionist activity was the soup kitchen, which was created through M. Kh. Lozinski. In 1907, in buildings of the soup kitchen, they opened a small shul, to which the worshippers used to contribute by their aliyeh-l'toyreh and other occasions, and this money was given over to Keren Hakimat L'yisroel. This shul which was known under the name of “The Zionist Minyan," served as a local disguise for meetings, encounters, and conferences.

In the Zionist newspapers, there was mentioned the lecturers and speakers of the Zionist movement which visited Bobruisk, among them D. Pasmanik, Y. L. Berger of Pinsk, A. Goldshteyn, Y. L. Motskin. The first day of Khanuke, 1909, there was a meeting in the great shul minus the merriment of the Katovits assembly.

In the summer of 1908, Bobrisk had the rare honor to have to itself a long visit by one of its sons, the Zionist leader Nisan Katselnelson, Deputy of the First State Duma, who was sentenced to three months in prison for signing , together with the rest of the Duma deputies, the “Viborg Appeal.” He expressed his wish to spend the prison punishment in his birth-city, where, he understood, benefitted from an easy prison regime, and his mother, the gevirnte Breyne Katsenelson, sent him his food in prison. When he was freed, the 30th of August 1908, the Zionists arranged for him a heartfelt reception.

The greater part of the Zionists recruited themselves from the middle-income groups, forest merchants, and merchants at large, as is known, business employees, Hebrew teachers, and a large number of High School students. Among the Zionist propogandists was known the teacher Y. L. Dobrov. He influenced the young to join the movement.

In 1912, there was organized in the city a circle of Tseiri Tsion. In the circle were active and spicy the two enthusiastic Zionists Dr. A. Pruzshinin and Dovid Shimonovitsh, who then had returned from the Land of Israel. Among the active leaders in the circle there were: Abba Akhimeyer, Lipman Levinson and Fishl Frumkin. We hear also about one active member A. Galant, who died young. The Tseiri Tsion benefitted from the help of the Kazioner Rabbi, M. Rabinzon, who gave up a room in his house for meetings of the youths. There also was created the library, especially for Zionist and Land of Israel literary works. “He and his wife," H. Frumkin wrote about him, “although they were older than us, considered themselves as active comrades of the Tseiri Tsion movement."

[Page 181]

It remains to say that Bobruisk used to regularly send one delgate or two to the Zionist Congress. To the 8th Congress (1907) were delegates from Bobruisk Estrin and Berger; to the 9th, Y. Katselnelson.

With the Zionist movement was allied the Hebrew movement. In Bobruisk, there existed a legal division of Khovive Sfat Evri and from time to time the officers of the central Khovive Shefat Evri used to visit the city. In 1909 the secretary of the central in St. Petersburg, Yehuda Solodukha held a lecture in Bobruisk, but main work was done through local forces, among them was Shmuel Alexandrov, who was my made famous by his speeches and talks. In the month of Taves 1910, “those who honor our literature" celebrated the half jubilee of their literary activity and wrote it in the sefer hazehav. Also, the Hebrew teachers in Bobruisk took up the promotion of the Hebrew culture. We hear about a lecture of the teacher Tsipkin concerning Rib'l and Smolenskin, which a hundred people came to hear, and in the middle came a police official who demanded that the lecturer hold his lecture not in Hebrew, but in Russian. He broke up the meeting.

In a correspondence of the summer of 1909 especially emphasized “the pleasant task, that among the standing visitors of the assembly and lessons here was a substantial number of youths of the very most extreme parties, who returned to us with all their hearts and were given over with heart and soul to the Hebrew language."

We hear about compilation books A. N. Bikurim [first fruits] and Tkofs Hasheneh which the Khovive Shefat Evri gave out in Bobruisk. In the years 1910-1913, there returned to Bobruisk the old writer A. Y Paperna and took part in the cultural life of the city.

A great yuntif for the Zionists and Hebraicists was the visit of the Hebrew troupe which was organized through the poet Yitskhok Katsenelson, a son of an old settled Bobruisk family, who lived in Lodzsh, was taken up with a special cordiality. They performed, on the 9th of Tamuz 1912, Uriel Acosta of Gutshkov. “The hall," they wrote to the Hetsfireh, “was packed and the crowd, with great pleasure, heard the living Holy Tongue of the artists...they rushed from the hall calling out ["hird"] and “long live the Hebrew language.” The Yiddishist circles in the city did not smell success, in the Bobrisk Weekly they were not stingy with biting words in care of the Hebraicists, advising that the entire novelty in the performance was only this, “they speak the Holy Tongue, the aristocratic language." - an expression which rang as a reproach in the case of Bundists in those good years.

But the greatest blessing the Zionists saw in their educational work among the children and youths which was done through the Kheder Mesokin, Sosheya, and through private teachers (Dobkin, Tsipkin, Segal, etc.). Also the sending away of a minyan of children to the Hertslieh High School in Tel Aviv, it is undertood, children of prominent parents - was a clear sign of the Zionist influence in the city.

The aliyeh of individuals to the Land of Israel went on incessantly. In 1912 - we hear- a spiritual awakening was felt by youth and labor to emigrate to the Land of Israel.


[Page 182]

5. The New Tanakh Institute

Already in the beginning of the twentieth century, was marked the decline of the old kheder [Hebrew School], although until the outbreak of the Communist Revolution, the greater part of the poor children still studied in learning institutions of the old character - in khederim and talmid-toyres.

The “Societal Talmid Toyre," where nearly 300 children ages six to twelve studied, was the fortress of the pious circles which held to the old traditions, they arose with zeal and did not permit the intelligentsia to meddle in these affairs. The greatest part of the study hours were given over to the Jewish subjects, and only two hours a day were Russian and the rest of the general subjects studied. The pedagogic level was an inferior one, and the the students used to quickly forget the little Torah which they studied there.

The “Jewish Government School," which still existed from Nicholas I's time, took in 10-year-old kheder youngsters and they studied a little Russian and a little arithmetic, general and Russian history and geography.

The most important and best among the new learning institutions was the kheder M'tokin Tosheyeh, which a group of teachers founded in 1900. These were the best teachers in Bobruisk, and quite not easy were they to come to lead a war with the Hebrew school teachers, who incited the rabbis, the rich men, also the “blind Magid” against the new learning institution. The kheder M'tokin was furnished with modern furniture, conducted new pedegogic methods, among them the doctrine of “Hebrew of Hebrew" and also general subjects. In the school years 1911-1912, 278 students in seven classes (two of them parallel) studied at the kheder M'tokin. In Tosheye, there also studied girls (around 20% of the students in the lower classes). The greatest number of students (65%) were children of the rich, merchants, and prominent shopkeepers, the rest - children of officials, artisans, teachers, etc.

The kheder M'tokin brought with it higher level of learning also in the Hebrew schools. The number of Hebrew school teachers of the old type in 1912 decreased to 45, only 10 of them were Gemara teachers. “The average level of the kheder in Bobruisk was much higher than in other cities," relayed F. Shapiro, who investigated the situation of the kheders in the Minsk Gubernia in 1912, as the envoy of the Khevrot M'fitseh Hashkole, “There was hardly one kheder where they were not studying the Hebrew language as a special subject.” They instituted the newest Hebrew textbooks: Shefos Yilodim, Ben Ami, Farkim Rishonim, Zereyim, Haloshn, Hatsad Harishon, Hatsad Hasheyni. The concurrence among the teachers brought a purely positive character. They did everything to fulfill the pedegogy. Almost in all khederim there was instituted new school desks and blackboards, also pictures. They used [onsho'iung]utensils. Only in the poor quarters do there yet remain several Hebrew teachers of the old type, who taught according to the old school of thought. It is worth stressing that the income of the Hebrew teachers in Bobruisk was higher than that of their comrades in other cities, and on the average reached 760 rubles a year. In 10 khederim, boys and girls studied together. The average number of students in a kheder was 30. Four khederim were designated for girls. They carried a character of inferior girls' schools, and they studied, besides praying, khumash and writing Yiddish, also Russian and arithmetic. According to a sample from the Bobruisker Kheder M'tukn, similar learning institutons were founded in the nearby villages - Rogatshov, Paritsh, Hlusk, Osipovitshi, and Shtshedrin.

The students of the Kheder M'tukn mention to this day with affection their kheder. One of them, Kadish Luz, writes in his memoirs: “I had the luck to study in a Kheder M'tukn; my Zionism and aliyeh to the Land of Israel (the only one of all my bothers and sisters) is inherent in Kheder M'tukn. I was not worthy of this which was Zionist influence in my home and among my High School comrades I was the only Zionist, but nevertheless the influence of the Kheder M'tukn remained engraved in my soul. After a short time (of my studies in the kheder), the wonder of speaking Hebrew happened. Hebrew became my natural language and degraded Russian to a language of thought, nevertheless Russian and Yiddish ruled at home, and with my housemates I spoke only Russian. The language of reading was Hebrew. Almost the whole day I spoke only Hebrew and the in future at home I must exert myself in order to go over to Russian. The children in kheder were organized into unions: Frkhi Tsion, Avhvi Tsion, etc. Above all, Zionist activity was promoting the brand names of Keren Kimat L'yisroel. A small portion of the study hours were given over for arithmetic and the first concepts in geography, - the main subjects were the language, Tanakh [Bible], and Hebrew grammar, and this we studied thoroughly. There was also a small library in the school, and the teachers strove to get us accustomed to reading."

The Bobruisk intelligentsia invested a lot of strength in maintaining the trade school, which was founded in 1899. The Yk. A. supported the school and in 1904 assigned 8,500 rubles for the building of a stone building for the school. It also stably participated in the budget and the purchase of machinerey and equipment in general. Boys ages 13-17 studied machine-shop and locksmithing at the school. A special building of two stories was built for the school, a part of which was leased in order to cover the budget of the school, which in the 1910-1911 school year amounted to 11,762 rubles. The Yk. A. gave a third of this sum and “place," a third was deceived into executing merchandise orders and of the purchase of school-manufactured goods, 2,200 rubles were taken from the korobke money. Only 5%, approximately, of the contributions of the society members hit the mark of supporting the school.

In 1903 the school graduated its first class and up to the end of 1911 the number of graduates reached 105 persons; all told 44 students attended the school in the school year 1910-1911.

The trade school was able to take in some 60 students, but their number continally decreased from 1908 on and did not advance over the number of 40-50 students, of them nearly a third from outside of Bobruisk. The reasons were various: a. by the more prominent strata strengthened the aspiration to the HIgh School; b. the poor strata were not able to hold a child in school for four years. Besides them the graduates did not find any suitable work in the city and half of them had to leave Bobruisk.

The Private Schools for Girls, which were founded already in the nineteenth century, after in 1906 there came into existence a govrnment High School for girls, became progimnazyes, approved by the government. In the progimnazye of Lazareva studied the daughters of the prominent strata; according to the memories of the students, the school administrators were severe and pedantic, and the both the students and teachers dreaded them. Girls from the poor strata studied at the second progimnazye of Mrs. Ikirsberg.

The Social Girls School was the only learning institution in the city where girls of the Jewish poor could study for a symbolic payment (50 kopeks a month). The school founded at the end of the 19th century the Assimilationist Girls Union, whose members were indifferent and even opposed to Jewish subjects, only upon the clear demand of the Khevres M'fitse Hashkole, which partly covered the budget of the school, was there instituted a minimum program of Jewish subjects. According to an agreement with the khevre, the school budget (around 3,000 rubles for the 1910-1911 school year) was covered partly (almost a third) by member payments and profits from evening events, which the members arranged. A sixth was influenced from tuition charges, the rest - from the korobke monies and the subsidy of the Khevres M'fitse Hashkole in St. Petersberg.

[Page 184]

In 1910, the local participation of the Khevres M'fitse Hashkole conducted a study of the students and teachers in the Bobruisk Jewish schools. In as much as the private Hebrew school teachers refused to cooperate, they had to be satisfied with a study of the new schools and also the city talmid-toyre. The study took in six learning institutions: the city talmid-toyre, the Jewish government school, the trade school for boys, the Social Girls' School, and the two progimnazyes for girls of Lazareva and Ikirsberg, and here are the results of the study:

Name of Institution Student ages # of teachers # of students
City Talmid-Toyre 6-12 8 289
Trade School 13-17 6 44
Jewish Government School 10-14 4 158
Social Schools for Girls 9-13 8 226
Progimnazye (Lazareva) 7-13 12 165
Progimnazye (Ikirsberg) 7-13 12 150
Totals 50 1,032

From another source, we know that in that year, 231 children studied in the Kheder M'tokn “Toshieh" (of them around 20% girls). In all of these communal and semi-communal schools in that year, then, 1,263 children (of them some 700 boys and 560 girls) studied, only 50 children, approximately, studied in general people's school (city and girls' school in the Bobruisk fortress).

The study finishes estimating the number of Jewish children in senior year (of the people's school) at 3,500, it turns out, then, that nearly 2,200 children were outside of these learning institutions. One must assume that around 1,100 of them, almost absolutely boys, studied in khederim, the rest - almost absolutely girls from poor families - in general did not study in any school.

Generally taken, this picture is not far from delightful. The largest part of the poor children did not study in any school (girls) or in khederim and talmid-toyres of the old fashion, a substantial part studied in a school in which the language was Russian, and only the Kheder M'tokn “Toysheye" and several khederim m'tokonim of singular Hebrew school teachers give a small number of prominent children a suitable Hebrew education in the spirit of the new time.

Especially sorrowful was the situation of the middle schools. In the government High Schools, there was instituted a “percent-norm," which limited the number of Jewish students to 10% (later to 15%). Thus the High School took in that year not more than 4-6 new Jewish students, mostly children of the rich families in Bobruisk.

In 1908, two private High Schools came into existence in the city, one of Tsvirko - a Christian of the aristocracy - which got a state right, and the second of Dr. M. L. Katsenelson, which had to close in the second year of its existence because it was not recognized by the government. In the High School of Tsvirko, Jewish children also studied, although an antisemitic spirit ruled there. Among the students were not a few who used with the right which the law gave them, not to write on shabes. When Tsvirko attempted to persuade them to write on shabes, all the Jewish students proclaimed a strike. After several days, he had to give in to their demands.

Many Jewish children whose parents weren't able to send them to High School prepared to take external exams (we have previously discussed them). In 1909, there were in the city from 300-400 Jewish “externals.” They studied in poverty and would encounter a hostile attitude on the part of the Russian examiners, when they placed themselves for examination.

[Page 185]

In 1905, a a government High School for Girls A. N. opened in Bobruisk from Troniursh Alexey. There wasn't any “percent-norm" for Jewish students in the High School, and their number increased to 50-70 percent of the general number of students.

In a later era, a private High School for girls opened in the city. The administrator was Maria Ilinskaya, from a Russian aristocratic family. Christian and Jewish students studied in the school. The attitude toward the Jewish students was an unsympathetic one.

Private teachers gave lessons in Hebrew in Holy subjects in private houses for the High School students. Their numer in 1912 went to 15, but their influence upon the students amounted to nothing and the majority of High Schoolers were far from Jewish matters.


[Page 185]

6. Cultural Institutions and Societies

At the end of the 19th century, upon the initiative of the Russian magistrate Petrov and Dr. Paperna, there opened in Bobruisk a city library by the name of Pushkin. Higher than eighty percent of the readers (nearly 1,000) were Jews. Among the main founders were Kh. M. Lozinski, and under his influence they also puchased Hebrew books for the library. But after his death, the Christian and assimilationist intellectual members in the library administration had a deciding influence. In the library there was a reading hall, and under pressure from the Zionists the library had to bring in several Hebrew newspapers. At the end of 1909, 50 Jewish readers insisted that the library provide a subscription to the influential antisemetic newspaper Novoye Vremya. Their demand was thrown out, but the library then obligated itself to subscribe to the Hebrew newspapers and later added the Zionist World. It was obvious that an abnormal attitude to the the Jewish literature and press was felt in the library. The more nationalist of the Jewish intellectuals began to gather books for a Jewish library. At a certain time the books circulated among the private houses of Jewish intellectuals (among the first librarians was the young Berl Katsenelson). But in 1901 the library got permission from the government and was approved as a daughter society of the “Khevre to Help Poor Jews,” and then on it developed itself, and in time became one of the most distinguished cultural institutions in the city. In 1910, the library was already reckoned among the “the four greatest social Jewish libraries" (in Russia).

[Page 186]

In 1911, the “Jewish People's Library" owned 7,119 books (of them 4,090 in Russian, 1,455 in Hebrew and 1,574 in Yiddish). The number of subscribers of the library reached 1,632, of them 704 children (to age 12), 498 older children (to age 16), 157 youths (to age 20), and 273 adults. In the library worked three librarians, among them Nokhke Yokhoved and A. D. Kirzshnitz - outspoken Bundists and Yiddishists.

The Jewish People's Library in Bobruisk good reputation also outside of Bobruisk. In 1910, the Khevre M'fitse Hashkole assigned an amount of 800 rubles to print a catalog of the books. 300 examples of the catalog were distributed to various Jewish libraries in all of Russia.

Half of the library's budget (2,655 rubles in 1911) was covered by the readers, the rest was influenced of member payments, profits from evening events, contributions and [eynkunft] of the korobke fund.

The strong influence of the Zionists in the city led to, moreover, that in the spring of 1913, several of its contributors (Dr. Rabinzon, Dr. A. Pruzshinin, etc.) were co-opted to the administration of the library. We have already mentioned above that the Yiddishist circles at the end of 1912 prepared a weekly newspaper A. N. Bobruisker Vokhnblat (Bobruisk Weekly), which had a generally Jewish character, but its spirit was a Yiddishist one. Writers from outside of Bobruisk collaborated on the newspaper. Long the newspaper exchanged salaries, because of the quite small number of subscribers. There was also published int he city (1913) a literary compilation book A. N. L'koved Yuntif [To Honor the Holiday] ("Bobruisk compilation book.")

[Page 187]

From time to time, Yiddish theater troups would visit Bobruisk. The Yiddish Theater was, because of political themes, persecuted by the Tsarist authorities, but the connections of the theater owner in Bobruisk, Itshe Epshteyn, stood by him and he was successful in softening the evil decree. In the winter of 1905, the Genfer troupe visited, in May of 1910 the Art Theater of Perets Hirshbayn visited, also local amateurs gave performances and the proceeds were designated for various charitable purposes. We learn that in the spring of 1910, amateurs put on the play of Sholem Ash, Yikhus (Status).

The moving power in this activity was Mendl Elkin, one of those who became involved in Jewish Theater shows in Russia. He was prominent businessman, and he used to receive cultural leaders, writers, actors, lecturers who would visit Bobruisk in his home. Also, Boris Kletskin, who later became one of the biggest publishers in Vilna, was a Bobruisker. He had in the area a summer residence where he would receive guests in the summertime - people of the Yiddishist circles. Two prominent Yiddish writers were Bobruisk “in-laws" - Shmuel Niger and Zelik Kalmanovitsh; both of them took for wives the daughters of a prominent Bobruisk citizen, Lurieh. In summertime, prominent guests used to gather themselves at Kletskin's datshe and by Elkin at his house, where they would encounter Bobruisk youths, upon whom they had a spiritual influence.

The visit of Y. L. Perets and Y. Dinezon to Bobruisk in the autumn of 1913 did not carry any partisan character. The entire local intelligentsia took part in the reception for them, including the Zionist and the Assimilationists.

In the summer of 1909, a division of the Khevres M'fitseh Hashkole was founded in Bobruisk, in which collaborated the circles of the old intelligentsia - the “Russian," and of the new - the Yiddishist. The activity of the khevre encountered difficulties on the part of the local authorities, which hindered and for nothing made many locals its captives (couses for adults, lectures, etc.).


[Page 187]

7. The Kehila and its Institutions

The law which was passed in the times of Alexander III took away from the Jews, who were an overswinging majority in the city and broke higher than 80% of the city taxpayers, the right to an appropriate representation in the city council. The protest, which the Jewish representative to the city council had brought in the revolution days of 1905, had not brought any results. The deciding majority of the members of the city council were Russians and nearly all amtisemites, people of the “Black Hundred," who systematically opposed every attempt to assign monies for Jewish requirements; They also worried, then, that all kinds of jobs of the city council would be given over only to Christian entrepreneurs and that Christian workers would work for them.

[Page 188]

The authorities tried to [fartushn] the Jewish character of the city and during the elections to the State Duma, in the summer of 1912 when voter lists were being prepared, it turned out that among the the 5,520 eligible voters in the city, the number of Jews was entirely 3,300 (60%). The Internal Ministry annulled the list, supporting itself upon that it was not controlled properly whether those entered on the list had payed their taxes - the significance to getting the right to vote. Obviously they always selected in Bobruisk Jewish councillors, but their influence was as nothing opposed to the larger Christian majority either in the County or in the Gubernia.

The internal Jewish affairs were regulated throught the kehila, whose competence was strongly limited. The cheif source of the kehila's income was the korobke, which they used to give away for lease every few years to a different lessee. In 1904, the korobke was given for 23,000 rubles a year, instead of 16,000, as they paid earlier. The butchers therefore raised the price of meat from 15 kopeks a pound to 20 kopeks - a thing which separately hit the poor strata in the city. But also the sum barely sufficed to cover the kehila expenses, and there was nothing remaining for the societal institutions.

At the end of 1911, the butchers attempted to create a “syndicate," which the korobke would take in rents for 20,000 rubles a year for four years 1912-1916. The kehila meddled into the transaction, and then that it alone was ready to take in rent to the korobke. The syndicate was annulled and the korobke was leased for 26,000 rubles, of which 6,000 had to be apportioned especially for the societal institutions.

From the korobke monies they paid the salaries of the Kazioner Rabbi, the “spiritual" rabbis, the assistant rabbis, the ritual slaughterers, and the kley kodesh [Holy Vessels]. Also the talmid-toyreh and other Jewish educational institutions got help to cover their budgets.

The traditional charity doctrines were applied also in the new times. The Khevre Lins Hatsedek V'moshen Kholim announced that in 1903, 750 of its members visited the sick, gave free drugs, distributed food and lent medical utensils to the poor sick. In 1912, the khevre gave medical help to 300 poor families. The death of Dr. Feyertag on the 29th of April, 1912, after 37 years of medical service in the city, was a severe blow for the poor strata, who for long years had benefitted from his help and his heartfelt understanding vis-a-vis the sick.

There was presently ongoing the purchasing of heating wood for the poor Jewish population in the winter of 1903, in order to prevent an upsurge of the prices on the part of the wood merchants. Probably they also prepared Passover alms at Passover, etc...the poor people from time to time would use tradtitional means of inhibiting prayers, in order to draw the attention of the community at large upon their bitter situation.

In the year 1900 there was founded in Bobruisk, as in other kehilos in Russia, a “Society to Help Poor Jews.” This Khevre was [lmesheh] a sort of roof-society, approved by the authorities, under whose protection all charitable societies and cultural institutions in the city, which registered themselves as daughter institutions, could conduct their activities. Thus, for example, the Jewish Peoples' Library in Bobruisk was registered as a People's Library in the framework of the “Society to Help Poor Jews."

[Page 189]

Another thing which troubled the Bobruisk Jews, was the matter of the old cemetery, which was so overfull that they had to take out the bones of one cadaver and bury there a new cadaver. In 1913 an area was given to the Jews for a cemetery distant from the city, to where one had to travel by train. This became a factor in the disappearance from the city of the sight of a Jewish funeral, which went through the streets with the stretcher, carried upon the shoulders, and boys from the talmid-toyreh following behind singing psalms.

One of the signposts that they took pains to change to the advantage of the elite of the kehila, was the battle of the Zionists to remove from his office the Kazioner Rabbi Vilenski. This Vilenski was a “Kazioner Ravin (rabbi) of the worst type, who could only perform - a careerist, a money presser, and a typical Tsarist tshinovnik. His behavior whether in private life or in his official capacity advanced over every limit of propriety and incited the entire city. But he had “backing" of the authorities. In the years 1905-1911 there were twice held elections for the Kazioner Rabbis and both times Vilenski was defeated. The authorities all but refused to approve the candidates to take his place. Thus he “reigned" until the elections in 1911, when the Zionists stood up against him the candidacy of Mordekhay Rabinzon, a branch of a famous rabbinic family, a Hebrew writer and a devoted Zionist. He strained for the greatest number to vote, but the authorities also this time refused to approve him. The first of May 1912, he was at last approved by the authorities. Mordekhay Rabinzon took an active part in the societal life of the city, especially upon the realm of the Zionists and promotion of the Hebrew language.

The Bobruisk Jews took part in the political life of the Russian Jews, upon how many this was only lost on account of the Tsarist regime. In 1909 the kehila sent three delegates to the convention of Jewish Kehilos in Kovno, where questions were dealt with concerning the organization of Jewish kehilos in Russia and their activities. The delegates were: Getsov, Paperna and the teacher Yezerski (it turned out, all representatives of the Left). To the “Jewish Khinos," which was convened in St. Petersberg in the spring of 1910, were selected Y. A. Estrin, Sh. Alexandrov, and Rabbi Shemaria Nokh Shnierson. Afterward only one delegate was approved for Bobruisk, there remained the candidacy only of Rabbi Shnierson.

Bobruisk of the years 1907-1914 engraved itself in memory of most memoir writers who participated in this book. In the special chapter “Memories and Images" is described the daily life of the city in those times, when the old order of life, that of “Torah, worship, and acts of lovingkindness," became strongly upset, and in its place there bagan to sprout quite a new order of life, which appeared to crystallize no more, until the wars and revolutions came and interrupted its development in the very end the beginning of its revival. We go over to the upcoming chapter, which takes in approxiamtely seven gruesome years in which the fate of Bobruisk was sealed, sorrowfully, to evil.

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Bobruisk, Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Lance Ackerfeld

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 20 Jul 2013 by LA