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[Page 155]

Annals of the Hebrew National School in Goniadz
(Extract from Moshe Levin's article “Annals of the Hebrew National School in Goniadz”)

by Moshe Levin

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The Hebrew movement in Goniadz emerged at the beginning of the [20th] century with the emergence of the Zionist movement. As a young movement, we its main workers, were young people, about 15 yeshiva bokhirim [young men attending religious secondary school] studying in the house of study who began to look at “booklets.” The leading member of our group was Yitzhak Yaffe, who later went to study at the Grodno Hebrew teacher's course and became the director of Yeshiva studies in a school in Rehovot, Eretz-Yisroel.

We went from learning Hebrew and Hebrew grammar to speaking Hebrew. Then, the idea was born to create a modern school of Hebrew, a kheder metaken [reformed school]. One of the founders of the school was Efroim Halpern. I was designated to be the teacher. My wife, who also was one of my students, encouraged me greatly in the work. Thanks to her determination, our home became a center of Hebrew; we even spoke Hebrew with our children, a rarity at that time.

The war of 1914 interrupted our work for a while. About a year later, Goniadz was under German rule. As soon as life returned to normal, the question of the school surfaced again and with more enthusiasm than earlier because the Russian school had closed

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Moshe Lewin and his wife, Khemda [Khinka]


and many of the children did not have a place to learn.

I was again appointed to open the Hebrew school. With the help of two of my best students, Yoel Meir Kohen and Shimeon Halpern and later also Yonatan Najman and Shmuel Skliut, I began the work of building a modern Hebrew school where the subjects, Jewish and secular, would be taught in Hebrew.

The work proceeded with enthusiasm and the number of children, boys and girls, grew from term to term. The main difficulty was that there were no nature and geography textbooks. Consequently, we had to put together written summaries for these subjects that the Warsaw publishing house, Tsentral, later published and spread across Poland.

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The responsibility also grew with the growth of the school. One of the main workers then was Yehezkiel-Perec Czerniak. He was very interested in the school and did a great deal to support it during the most difficult times.

A German school superintendent, who related to our school with great sympathy, came to help us with the question of pedagogy. Thanks to him, I was called to the county school managing committee in Szczyczyn and I was given an official certificate as director of the Goniadz School.

The transfer from German rule

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to the Poles was not a joyful one. The attitude of the new Polish superintendant was insulting and disparaging. Because of the change, we decided immediately to organize a graduation for the school (of which there is a picture in this book on pages 135-36). A short time after this, I was invited to come to Bialystok by the Bialystok Tseire Tzion [Youth of Zion] and to found a school there based on the pattern of our school in Goniadz. I accepted the proposal and this ended my connection to the school in our shtetl [town].


The funeral of the teacher, Shimeon Halpern, of blessed memory


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The Wonderful Institution

by Yerukham Levine, z“l

Translated by Amy Samin

The name Goniadz is held in my memory since the day of the fire that broke out in that town (during the intermediate days of Passover, 1906): firefighters from Bialystok, the city in which I lived, were summoned there and there was great anxiety for the fate of that town. My parents owned a manufacturing shop and had commercial connections with the owners of manufacturing shops in Goniadz during the days before the First World War: Tybe Galchinski and Chaya–Rahel Luria (both of whom were the first to open shops in the Osowiec Fortress), Hershel Luria, Zerah Numoy, Alter Zimnoch, Yehuda Hertzig (milliner) and his sons, his daughter Shafrintza Goffstein, Pessah Friedman (Staznoaer). Her son, Mutiyeh–Leib, I knew to be an enthusiastic Zionist, and it was very hard to understand when, one night, he up and left Goniadz for…Argentina.

During the time of the German occupation, during the Second World War, I lived for a few years in Suchowola, close to Goniadz. My host would travel to Goniadz under a prohibition, for it was appended to Poland (General Government Pon Bazler), and the political rule there was more convenient. The trips to Goniadz were made in a sleigh belonging to a farmer from the border settlements. The purpose: Market Day. When I came to Goniadz in the winter of 1916 I found a pleasant surprise: an entire Hebrew School, including general studies; something which did not exist anywhere else in the Bialystok region at that time. The principal was Moshe Levin. The teachers were: Yoel–Meir Cohen, Shmuel Skaliut (studied pedagogical courses in Grodno), Shimon Halperin and Yonatan Naiman. I was friendly with two of those young teachers. Shimon had a grandfather in Suchowola, and we would meet there in the summertime, and Yonatan was in Bialystok the first year of the war. I learned from the teachers that the main difficulty they were pondering was the shortage of textbooks and the isolation from Hebrew cultural centers, since travel to Bialystok without a special license was forbidden and Warsaw was far away. Also in Warsaw

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there was still no school where the language of instruction in general subjects was Hebrew. I discovered that the principal had authored geography textbooks, but he had difficulty determining the professional terms. I took upon myself the negotiations between Bialystok and Goniadz, because I would frequently travel between Suchowola and Bialystok. I received notebooks from two former students who were graduates of the Herzliya Gymnasia in Tel Aviv and who had lived in Bialystok (Yaacov Ravich and Yeshbam Lipshitz) with their geography lists and transferred them to Moshe Levin, and therefore I made it easier for the one who was writing the textbook to put together a list of professional terms. In addition, I had a hand in founding an association for independent advanced study, HaShachar [the Dawn] among the students of the upper grades. I have a memento of that period: photographs of two students (Kalman Bacharach and Yezedka Gritz). The teachers Yonatan and Shimon helped the young association. Meanwhile, I publicized in the Zairei Zion [Youth of Zion] groups in Bialystok the existence of the Wonderful Institution – an entire school in Hebrew. Three teachers, from the elite of Zairei Zion (Shimon Rabidovich, Elimelech Magid, and Yaacov Ravich), were invited to be the examiners for the first class of students at the school. With the revolution in Germany, the gates to the Hebrew School were opened also in Bialystok, and it was decided to put Moshe Levin into that position.


During the occupation, Zipora Wolf lived in Goniadz in the house of her father the rabbi, and she was unemployed. I offered her the position of assistant to the nursery school teacher in the Hebrew nursery school Yaldut [Childhood] in Bialystok, and she accepted the position. It served as her first seminar (under the expert guidance of the teacher, Rivka Rubin, the wife of Dr. Yisrael Rubin–Rivkai of blessed memory). In time she became one of the best nursery school teachers in Bialystok.

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The Chalutz School

by Moshe Goelman, Tel Aviv

Translated by Amy Samin

The school in Goniadz was the first of the comprehensive Hebrew schools which later constituted the Tarbut chain of schools. I found that in a Yiddish encyclopedia which was published by YIVO [Yiddish Scientific Institute] in Vilna. Indeed, it was a pioneering school in every sense of the word. Today, it is difficult to speak of Zionism or a pioneer spirit, especially to the younger generation in Israel. But the spirit of Zionism was felt in Goniadz during the years I worked there between 1921 - 1925, both amongst the politicos and especially amongst the teachers. We held weekly pedagogical meetings in the teachers' lounge, during which reports were given on the situation in the classrooms, and we would argue and discuss the problems of methods and course of study of instruction and education relevant to the younger generation living in the Diaspora. At that time, many lived in the illusion of

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“autonomy”; in other words, that there existed the possibility of living a full spiritual and cultural Jewish life in Poland, despite the fact that the Land of Israel was the foundation of all of our educational work. It was not long after the Balfour Declaration and in the middle of the Third Aliyah [third wave of Jewish immigration to what was then Palestine], the founding of the Chalutz [Pioneer] Federation in the Diaspora, and the blossoming of various youth movements everywhere. Even in Goniadz the Chalutz organization existed, and several times I was invited to speak before those youths on Sabbath afternoons in private homes (the organization was illegal and was prohibited from holding public gatherings). As far as I can recall, my speeches were meant to expand upon the issue that I would teach the pupils in the school, but with a special emphasis on the Land of Israel, the pioneering spirit, and preparation for life in the Land of Israel. The Diaspora needed to be


Third Graduating Class of the Hebrew Public School of Goniadz


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a sort of corridor leading towards the drawing room - that is, to immigration to the Land of Israel. We were not practical at all, and we did not take into consideration the likelihood that most of the youth would in fact remain in Poland and be forced to fight there for their very existence, and that it would have been more fitting for us to prepare them for that battle.

The pioneering spirit also existed from another standpoint - the preparation of suitable textbooks; the teachers were compelled to translate books from other languages. I recall that in order to teach the history of the late Middle Ages to the fifth grade, I could not find suitable books and I would translate from Polish and hand out pages to the students. And in other courses - especially mathematics, we dedicated many of our evening hours to that difficult and exhausting work.

As for the relationship between the teachers and the politicos and the parents, I must emphasize that in all my years of teaching in countries and places around the world, I have never experienced such complete understanding as I found in Goniadz. The treatment of the teachers was exceptional. Everyone treated the teachers with respect and admiration. More than once we were a bit prideful and looked down on the parents. We received full punishment for that sin when we arrived in Canada. There, teachers had to battle long and hard to raise the level of respect for teachers. And it still didn't reach the level of recognition and esteem awarded the teachers in Goniadz and in Poland in general. Until today the Hebrew school in Canada is called Talmud Torah, and teachers are called melamed. There is no doubt that one of the forces that kept teachers in small and remotes towns like Goniadz and others was the respect with which they were treated by the public.

I cannot forget the impressions of my first days in Goniadz. When I went to a house to rent a room, I found there a young woman sitting at a sewing machine. I asked her in Yiddish if there was a room for rent, and she answered me in Hebrew. I continued speaking in Yiddish to the older woman there, and her daughter answered me, explaining the conditions in perfect Hebrew. And then, when I entered a store to buy cigarettes, I spoke to the young woman standing there in Yiddish, and she answered me in Hebrew. It wasn't a kind of showing off for the teacher, but as I later became convinced, was born out of enthusiasm for the language that the teachers before me had instilled in their pupils. At the time, I felt as if I had already immigrated to the Land of Israel.

And if things were like that in homes and on the street, they were even more so in the school. More than once the Polish teacher left the classroom weeping. We had to lecture the students at length about how important it was to learn the Polish language - the language of the country in which we lived.

The students were different, of course, in their talents and knowledge, but they were equal in their love for and devotion to the school. The distress of a student sent home to bring tuition was quite terrible. We teachers suffered a great deal over that. More than one of us appealed to the politico Selig Nivodovsky, may his blood be avenged, to exempt us from the unpleasant debt that forced us to send home the students who did not pay the tuition. We demanded that one of the board members handle the awful task. In my opinion, we really robbed those pupils. I do not recall a single case where a student was pleased to get vacation from school. Absences from school were only brought about as a result of illness or other difficulties, and not by a love of idleness.

And in conclusion - a few words about the community of Goniadz. I must confess that I do not recall the city of my birth, Stawiski, the way I remember Goniadz. In my home town there were also genial and loving sorts, interesting and strange. But the Jewish spirit of Goniadz was different, more progressive. I cannot deny that a large portion of my feeling is due to my life companion, a native of Goniadz, and the members of her family, to whom I grew inextricably close over the years. Although when I remember Goniadz and think of her, I see the town first of all from the viewpoint of the school, its students, teachers and politicos.


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