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{Page 118}

The Field of Education

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Page 119}

{Hebrew text – page 119 top}

The Field of Education

After the First World War, when the refugees from Dembitz returned home, most of the Jewish children, with few exceptions, such as the children of the clergy and other such people, attended the government public schools. In the morning, they would attend school, and in the afternoon they would attend Cheder, the Talmud Torah, or the Hebrew School, which was not really a school but rather a place with classrooms for the study of Hebrew.

In the Polish schools, there was no particular anti-Semitic feeling that was felt from the teachers, but the “battles” between the students, Christians on one side and Jews on the other side, continued as previously. The schoolteachers imparted to the Jewish girls the ability to take part in Polish culture, and promised them that they would help them even after they graduated school, and enable them to become teachers in the Polish schools. Even though the Zionist youth movements did a great deal to counter this danger, there were nevertheless those who were enticed, and reached the brink of assimilation.

In those years, a fundamental change took place in the education of the Jewish youth. Due to compulsory education in the Polish schools, the traditional Jewish education was pushed off to the afternoon hours. On the other hand, as Polish education was imparted to the children, the parents and students alike felt an inclination toward Jewish education. This caused an increase in the number of students who attended the Beis Midrashes and Yeshivos, as well as the numbers of students who studied Hebrew. In addition, whereas previously German writing was taught with Hebrew characters, now the education took place in spoken Yiddish. There were very many teachers of children in the city, but it cannot be said that this satisfied the wishes of the parents, even those who wished to give their children a serious religious education. Therefore, in the early 1920s, a group of orthodox activists banded together to found the Talmud Torah, which was subject to communal supervision. These activists were: Reb Hirsch Taub, Yisrael Siedlisker, Reuven Horowitz the son of Reb Naftalchi, Moshe Salomon, and Reb Yosef Levis (Brenner). The students were aged four and above. Each Sabbath, the students were sent for an exam in Gemara with one of the accepted “examiners of the town – Reb Leizer Oling, Reb Hirsch Nissan, Reb Yosef Levis, who later became the teacher of Przeworsk.

Reuven, the son of Reb Naftalchi, was very dedicated to the Talmud Torah. He would go there first thing in the morning, during the time of classes. During the time when he was successful in business, he established a prize for every student who knew a page of Gemara by heart – a bundle of chocolate.

During the middle of the 1930s, there were already parents who sent their children to study Hebrew (with the Sephardic pronunciation) [95] in the Hebrew School, in addition to the Gemara studies in the Beis Midrash.

The number of Jewish students in the gymnasia remained at almost the same level as it was previously. There were about 10 students in all of the classes. The main impediment was the studies on the Sabbath. Even though there was already permission granted for Jewish students to not write on the Sabbath, attending gymnasia during the times of synagogue services on the Sabbath was regarded as too great a breach in traditional family life. For this reason, a few people began to teach their children gymnasia studies outside the gymnasia, and arrange for annual exams. The two Jewish teachers who taught in the gymnasia had no connection at all with the Jewish community.

The majority of the youth broadened their secular knowledge after public school through reading as well as the cultural activities of the youth movements.

{Page 119}

The Hebrew School

by Avraham Weinberg, Haifa

{Hebrew text – pp 119-121}

The first Hebrew School of Dembitz was founded in 1910 through the efforts of Yehuda Bornstein and the great dedication of Bendet Fett the chairman of the local Zionist committee, as well as others. The first teacher was Mrs. Mendel Hochman. However it was only in 1912, with the arrival of the teacher Mr. Moharber, that the school began to consolidate under his direction. Then the First World War broke out. The Jews of Dembitz were exiled from their homes, and the school ceased operation until 1917. When the exiles refugees returned from their exile, the Zionists of Dembitz, headed by Mr. Bendet Fett and Chaim Freidman, made efforts to re-establish and strengthen the school. They preceded even such an important city as Tarnow, whose Hebrew school was only renewed after the end of the war.

The members of the committee that year were: Bendet Fett, Moshe Kerner, Chaim Freidman, Ben-Zion Widerspan, Mrs. Perel, Pesach Diament (today an important activist in the cooperative workers' movement in the Land), Rivka Eisen-Diament of blessed memory, Yochanan Sommer, and Reuven Sommer.

In the middle of the First World War, in the year 1917, when the Russian front eased up and the peace negotiations began, I was imprisoned as a Russian subject in one of the camps in Silesia. An invitation to Dembitz arrived signed by Bendet Fett and Chaim Freidman, requesting me to come and accept the position as a Hebrew teacher in that city. Due to that invitation, I was freed from prison, and I immediately sent a telegram to those that invited me informing them of my arrival. The two of them met me at the train station, and from our first contact, a full beneficial understanding was established between us. The news of the arrival of the Hebrew teacher spread as fast as lightning. The committee prepared everything that was needed with alacrity and great success, and within a few days, the school was opened in a rented hall in the home of Mr. Nathan Grünspan. Classes and courses in Hebrew were opened during three times – morning, afternoon, and evening. The number of students increased weekly.

{photo page 120 top – Hebrew School with the Committee}
For educational reasons, I decided to speak Hebrew not only at home, but also in my private life. My “strange” behavior did not cause me any difficulties in my interpersonal relationships. Whenever I started speaking to someone in Hebrew, I would be answered politely, whether in Yiddish or in broken Hebrew. Only the members of Poale Zion did not look favorably on my behavior, and my relationship with them became difficult. At one of their meetings, they accused me behind my back of contradicting the language of the people and dishonoring the Jewish workers who only read and speak Yiddish. Shimon, the elder brother of Yehuda Grünspan, rose to my defense. He was one of the top students at the school. He defended me, saying that the Hebrew teacher has no intention to disparage Yiddish or to negate it. The proof for this was that I does not converse in Polish either. Thus was I exonerated in their eyes, and the relations between us returned to normal.

The number of students in the Hebrew School grew, and the hall was too small to hold them all. During their meeting, the members of the committee decided to establish a fund to purchase a house. The next day, it became known that a fine large house went up for sale on Garzilow Street. Chaim Freidman, as a member of the committee, hurried to make contact with the seller. The seller agreed with the conditions that were presented to him. However, from where would be found the 2,000 gold coins that were required as the down payment prior to signing the contract, when the committee's fund did not even have one cent? Salvation came from a member of the committee, Mr. Fishel Wechsler, who donated 2,000 gold coins from his own money. The contract was signed that day, and the committee bought the house. The school left its small rented premises and moved to a place that was large enough for its needs. The school grew again. Additional classes were opened, and additional teaching staff was required. The committee looked toward the young Dembitz native Moshe Rosen, and he was hired as the second teacher for the school.

Moshe Rosen was from poor stock. His parents made their livelihood with difficulty by selling vegetables. The lived in a small hut on Garzilow Street, which stood up by a miracle, and served as a store as well. The son, who excelled at first in sacred studies only, became enthralled with the Haskalah, and after a few years, due to his great diligence, succeeded in gaining knowledge in many subject areas: history, mathematics, grammar, literature, Biblical criticism, and philosophy. His sight became impaired due to the great deal of time he spent pouring over books to the light of a dim lantern. Even though the doctors ordered him to refrain from reading at night, they could not quench his great thirst for knowledge.

He was a top-notch speaker. His lectures in the Debora and Noar Hatzioni halls were clear and straightforward, and they covered the topics completely. Later in life, he became blind due to his great diligence in his studies.

The school developed well, and it became known in the region. One year, the principal of the local Polish gymnasia participated in the annual final exams as a guest. He was a Christian. Chaim Freidman, who was one of his students, served as the translator between him and the students. The honorable guest expressed his satisfaction with the knowledge and expertise that the students demonstrated in literature, Jewish history, and Bible.

The school, including all of its halls and rooms, served as the center for all cultural and communal activities of the local Zionist organizations. The well-stocked library was in one of its rooms. At night, lectures, gatherings, and meetings took place. It served primarily as the organizational center for the youth. The students of the school set up a drama club and presented plays about Biblical topics. A few of the many students of the school became teachers, and now serve as teachers in Israel. These include Yehuda Grünspan in Jerusalem, Chana Gruen, Tova Kanner, and others. For a certain period, one of the alumnae of the school served as a teacher there. This was Tova Kanner. She filled my place for a certain period when I served as a teacher at the school in Tarnow. After I left the school in Dembitz, several well-known people served as teachers there, including the poet Pinchas Lander, and Eliezer Ungar, as well as others.

I carry in my heart pleasant memories of those days. I remember fondly the students whom I merited to teach Hebrew, including those who are alive with us in Israel today, as well as those who perished in the flood of blood perpetrated by Hitler, may his bones be ground up. These memories will never depart from my heart forever.

{photo page 121 top – Yochanan Sommer, an activist for the Hebrew School, and a member of the Community  Committee}

{photo page 121 bottom – Weinberg the Teacher giving a lesson}

{photo page 122 top – The Hebrew School of Dembitz}

{photo page 122 bottom – Scher the Teacher with his pupils}

{Page 123}

My Hebrew Schools

by Manya Grünspan

{Hebrew text – page 123}

{photo page 123 bottom – The Hebrew School of Dembitz}
It was before the First World War. I was still very young. Ruchama, my older sister, brought me to the Hebrew School, which at that time was located in a rented room in the house where later the family of Nathan Taub lived. We would go up to the schoolroom on a wooden staircase that was on the side facing the road near the entrance to our factory. I don't recall he name of the teacher. They tell me that it was Mr. Hochman. However, I do remember this: he taught us Hebrew in Hebrew. I remember one explanatory illustration as if it was before my eyes. He was attempting, apparently, to explain to us the meaning of 'masa' (burden) or 'laseit masa' (to bear a burden). What did he do? He lifted up a chair, placed it upon my shoulders, walked me around the desk, and explained during the course of the walking what I was doing.

After a certain time, before I started going to the Polish school, I attended the Hebrew School that was in the home of Reuven Sommer. I was in the same class as my sister Bronia, Altek Bornstein, Ita Twi, Chaya Twi, Minda Freidman, Mania Chaim, and others. The large map of the Land of Israel that was hanging on the wall made a deep impression upon me. Our teacher Moharber, who was very handsome, influenced me greatly. It is certainly because of him that I one of the best students in the class. After some time, the school moved to our home. I would sit in on various courses, listening and understanding. I remember one course in which my sister Recha, Fela Bornstein, Rivka Eisen of blessed memory, and others participated. With the outbreak of the First World War, the school disbanded.

After the First World War, we returned home from our exile. The Zionist movements in the city once again began to concern themselves with Hebrew education, and they found a Hebrew teacher who raised our spirits. This was Mr. Avraham Weinberg. I will never forget how he labored to spread Hebrew language and culture in our midst. Perhaps it is only now that I can adequately explain the great and dedicated work that he put into our school. Weinberg was a fine teacher. His classes were full of content. He knew how to attract the hearts of the students to love of the language and the book.

I especially remember his Sabbaths, which I loved greatly. Every Sabbath afternoon he would gather us together, talk to us, and we would sing, play and dance (today they call this an “Oneg Shabbat”). In such a manner did he impart to us the literary and day-to-day language simultaneously. I still remember the songs that we sang with him. When we got a bit older, he would arrange choirs, plays, and celebrations, the proceeds of which went to support the Hebrew School. There were people who understood his ways and valued him. In his merit, it is possible to say, the mission of the school expanded. There was a need for additional classrooms. A house was bought, a respectable library was established, and additional teachers were hired. The youth movements also gathered in this school.

In addition, I should mention that Mr. Weinberg used to conduct lessons in his home in the old city, as if it was an additional school.

{photo page 124 top – Meir Stieglitz, one of the chief activists of the Hebrew school, and one of the most dedicated workers for Zionism in the city}

{Hebrew text – page 124 right column}

{photo page 124 top left – A group of youths with the teacher Shechter}

{Page 124}

Meir Stieglitz of blessed memory

The Hebrew School in our town was established thanks to the boundless dedication of several activists, who were generous with their time and effort in order to establish that cultural institution.

The most prominent of them was Meir Stieglitz of blessed memory. He was an upright, warm-hearted man, who saw no other aim in his life aside from this school.

He had no children, and when he went to the school, he claimed that he was going to his children.

He loved us, he loved to sit and listen to the Hebrew words – whenever he was free from his activities he spent time in the school. He concerned himself with the budget, he worried about the teachers, and every setback affected his soul.

His activities were not limited to the school alone. He also participated in the local Zionist committee, as well as the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet), and Keren Hayesod. If there were any need for a volunteer for a small or large matter, it would always be Meir Stieglitz.

Along with Bras, Yochanan Sommer, Ben-Zion Widerspan, and many others, he established a glorious institution.

He dreamed about making Aliya to the land, however this never materialized.

He often spoke about his plans with tears in his eyes – for he had a pure and warm heart. Steiglitz takes a prominent position among the activists in the city who concerned themselves with the renewal of the language.

We who merited to hear and speak Hebrew in the school that he founded remember him with love.

{Page 124}

Beis Yaakov

by P. Salomon-Grosman

{Hebrew text – page 124 left column}

In 1932-1933, a Beis Yaakov [96] girls' school, affiliated with the network founded by Sara Schenirer, was founded.

This was the first school of its type in Dembitz. Its purpose was to teach girls the depths of Judaism. It is strange how backward was the national, and even the religious education of the girls. This was the fault even of the parents. There was no other aim in Judaism other than to be raised in a religious, traditional home.

This was the case until a small group of people banded together and made efforts to give to the Jewish girls what was missing from the Polish public schools and from the homes. Among those who set up the foundations for this school in Dembitz were Bina and Moshe Salomon, Moshe Weiss and his wife, Perel Faust, Buxbaum, Reuven Schlessinger, Hersch Taub, and Miriam Balsam. These people worked with unusual dedication to develop the Beis Yaakov School, even though they were burdened with the heavy yoke of earning a livelihood. Even so, they would meet in the evenings and dedicate their precious time and activity towards this idea.

At Beis Yaakov, education, history, Jewish customs, etc. were taught. In addition to the regular course of studies, which was full enough, we began, in the manner of the Zionist youth movements, to arrange festivities at the times of each holiday. This had great value, since this breathed a spirit of life into the circle of orthodox girls, who had no other opportunity for organizational and social activity.

As was the case with most of the other Jewish institutions of the Diaspora, Beis Yaakov suffered from significant budgetary challenges. In order to make up the deficit, many lovely festivities were arranged for the community, and people would also go out to collect money. This was the situation until I made Aliya to the Land.

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Translator's Footnotes
  1. Hebrew can be pronounced in both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic style. The Sephardic style, which was prevalent in North Africa, is the style of modern spoken Hebrew in Israel. The Ashkenazic style would have been more in vogue in the traditional Cheders and Yeshivos. By teaching the Sephardic dialect, the Hebrew School was attempting to educate the children in modern spoken Hebrew. Return
  2. Beis Yaakov is the name of the Orthodox girl's school network, which still exists today. Return

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