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The Older Sister of the Gymnasium

by Leah Reines

Translated by Rabbi Shalom Bronstein

I really do not have the authority to write in this context, but I do have a special privilege. Hebrew instruction with the Hebrew language at its purist was born in our house. Even before the dream of a Hebrew gymnasium, in the eyes of all [my] aunts and uncles I was looked upon as “the holy tongue girl [lashon kodesh moid].” They considered my late father as being eccentric. They held to the statement, “If a man teaches his daughter Torah, it is as though he has taught her folly” [Mishnah Sotah 3:4]. Along with the general knowledge that I received in the Russian government high school, I studied Bible, literature and grammar with the teacher Ravitz, and the tutors Feigelman and Voidotzinsky. There was a special group of students who studied with this teacher and he himself was unique. As I remember it, he enjoyed the classes as much as we did. Of my fellow classmates in this “heder” one is in Israel. He is Mordecai (Maka) Friedman (Elyashiv), the principal of the high school in Holon. From my teacher [Ravitz] I learned the understanding of translation. He would tell us chapter by chapter an entertaining tension-filled story in Yiddish. We would translate it, competing with each other on the phraseology to achieve polished Hebrew. As my late father would say, he was fortunate that the late Deborah Baron, the renowned author came to Kovno with her brother and sister to prepare for her matriculation exams for the Marijampole high school. In addition, she taught. My father was delighted that I was among her students, and I was also happy to be able to pour water on her hands [to be among her devoted students]. I remember our first meeting. She was dark-complexioned, stood erect, with large dark eyes, black hair and an inviting smile on her face –just like a woman out of the Bible. However, the glasses she wore looked strange to me and put me off since in my imagination Biblical women did not wear glasses.

After the Germans entered Kovno and Vilna in 1915, the Jews who were expelled by the Russians slowly began to return and resettle. The question of education was then raised and the Germans were approached and asked for permission to open a Hebrew high school [gymnasium]. The initial group for whom this was their primary concern, even before making a living was made up of distinguished Jews – David Berman, Leib Intriligator, Hellerman, Navirsky, my late father, Zvi Shilansky and others – may their memory be for a blessing.

The Germans agreed immediately as they were very happy to spread 'German Kultur.' A school board [schulerat] granted the permit. At Aronovsky's on Vilna St. (afterward on the corner of Gardina) in an apartment on the third floor where before World War I there was a private school, they found benches, tables and blackboards. There the Hebrew gymnasium was established, the “Real Gymnasia” [Realschule].

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There was a problem concerning the teaching staff. My late father drafted everyone he knew who was scholarly, a good teacher, anyone who was knowledgeable of Hebrew literature because in those days these types were not plentiful. If my memory is correct among the teachers were Shukstalinsky (his children are in Israel, one continues the holy work of his father – teaching), Dr. Nachman Shapira, may God avenge his blood, the son of the late Rabbi Shapira, who was later a lecturer in the University in Kovno, Isaiah Gadon, {Photo Page 25 – Handwritten caption – “To Mr. Shilansky, a souvenir” signed by A. Halper, Principal of the Gymnasium; dated 7 Nisan 5687} - my father's friend who was an excellent teacher. He lived in Vilkaviskis [Vilkovishk] and was brought to Kovno. (His children live in Givat Brenner, and Shmuel his younger son is also a teacher). The Schulrat appointed Dr. Joseph Carlebach as the head of the gymnasium [the technical high school – Realschule]. I also remember Dr. [Leo-Samuel] Deutschlaender, whose wife later joined the faculty and taught French and other subjects. The German teachers all wore army uniforms.

There were many disagreements with the Schulrat because they [the local Jews] misled it. The Yahudim [German Jews] from that group, who although they were respected Jews, such as the artist Professor Hermann Struck, jurist Dr. Sammy

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Gronemann, Rabbi Dr. Levy and Rabbi Dr. Rosenhack were all regulars in our house. They helped us, but [only] according to their system. That is they did not identify with the goal of our parents because they were loyal citizens to the Germany of that day. The soldiers were loyal to the Kaiser and they did not understand the mentality of the Jews of Eastern Europe – the “Ostjuden.” They were to them brothers of the same race and religion but in their eyes they [the Ostjuden] were on a lower level.

The Schulrat established a high school [gymnasium] where German was the dominant language. However, in the framework of studies it was also possible to learn Hebrew a number of hours a week and religious studies were also part of the schedule. The parents, teachers and students decided in one voice and resolved that although they would study German and [German] literature (the teacher being Dr. Carlebach who taught Goethe, Schiller and Heine to the great delight of the students) other than that all [the other] subjects would be taught in Hebrew. Whenever the Schulrat came to observe, it always came at the time, to their great surprise, when practically all the classes were studying 'Religion.'

It looked very suspicious and they [ the Schulrat] paid unannounced visits with increasing frequency. It is possible that they were tipped off by one of the Yahudim [German Jews]. The Schulrat then came with complaints and threats – there was too much instruction in 'Religion'.

In the end a strike took place. It was a unique strike that at that time was not understood. It was not because of salary (who received it on time and in full?). The student and teacher strike was over the Hebrew language, that the [school administration] wanted to reduce. The teachers and students fought until their victory was complete.

There were other difficulties. There was not enough money to cover the cost of expenditures and for the upkeep of this educational institution. Sometimes there was not even enough money to buy wood to supply the classroom furnaces in the cold winter. The parents volunteered to bring wood for heating from their own homes. I even remember instances when my late father would get up at four in the morning, walk to the gymnasium and with his own hands would feed the classroom furnaces. By doing that he assured that it would be warm in the rooms when classes began and that there would be no interruption in studies when the custodian occasionally did not do this work. There was not enough money to pay him his salary.

Slowly, the Jews of the superior class began to understand the 'Ostjuden' and supported us. Especially Dr. Sammy Groneman, who was appointed the administrator of the Culture Committee of the occupied territories, Dr. Joseph Carlebach who even invited the late Rabbi Shmuel Haim to study the daily page of Talmud [daf yomi]. Generally, they began to respect and to appreciate more the 'unsophisticated' Jews of the East who did not have their outward polish and aristocratic manners. They [the Ostjuden] were all like these uncomplicated people, worried, always trying to earn a living, but they had in themselves something that they did not previously recognize in them. Therefore they [the German Jews] began to help them in this challenge [the Hebrew high school].

This gymnasium [high school] was the Realschule, whose principal afterwards was the late Dr. Yehoshua Friedman. He was followed by Dr. Feldstein. On a visit to the United States he met a well-known philanthropic Jew of Lithuanian origin by the name of Chase, who donated $50,000 for the new building that bore his name on Kaistutchio St. This was the basis of the network of

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Jewish high schools throughout Lithuania. After some years a second Hebrew high school opened in Kovno which was known by the name of its principal the late Dr. Schwabe. He was followed by Dr. Berman, may he live a long life. He is the principal of the new high school in Tel Aviv. There was also the high school in Virbaln [Virbalis] whose head was Dr. Jacob Robinson and as well as other [high schools]. This was followed by the network of the Tarbut elementary schools in every city and town.

I think it important to make clear to every “Litvak,” wherever they may be, when and where the foundation of Hebrew education was established in their country of origin – it was in 1915 in the city of Kovno.

{Article followed by an unidentified group photo of 20 people}

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The History of the Hebrew Gymnasion in Kovno
Opening the Gymnasion

Translated by Rabbi Shalom Bronstein

It was during the German conquest and the blurring of the border between Germany and Russia. Tens of thousands of Lithuania's Jewish residents who had been exiled from their homes in 1915 began to return from their double exile in 1918-1920 to the deserted towns of Lithuania and started to rebuild their destroyed homes. Hundreds of boys and girls who had been raised in Russia without exposure to Torah streamed to the Jewish schools that had been established during the [German] occupation.
The condition in the elementary schools in the outlying towns was very poor: the majority of the finest of


The First Graduating Class

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the pedagogues left Lithuania with the outbreak of the [first]world war and were scattered to the four corners of Russia. The Jewish youth in Lithuania was swallowed up by the forty-nine gates of conflict. There was no one to worry about the fate of the schools and there was no one who was distressed by this problem. The German government, however, rendered its opinion about the [expected] 'standard' of schools in the country. In Suvalk and Vilna, special courses were organized to train elementary school teachers under the sponsorship of the [German] military government. But there was an amazing development: the Jewish teachers who had a [Zionist] nationalistic identification would not participate in these courses under any circumstances. They immediately understood the purpose of the conquerors (there was a secret order from the supreme military commander – Hindenburg – to prepare teachers and their pupils for German to be established as the language of instruction in every school…). The elementary school teachers did not want to be tools of the German government and avoided in every possible way participating in the courses for teachers. This was to no avail, as among the Jewish young women there were many who received their education in such institutions and afterwards aided in “Germanizing” the elementary schools. Actually at this time, a high school created in Kovno was established by “Anshei Shlomeinu” in Frankfurt where the language of instruction was German.

In 1918 when it was became clear that in the future the German army would be leaving occupied Lithuania, Lithuanian intellectuals declared Vilna as their capital and that it was their intention to be independent. A great deal of confusion reigned in the country's schools. The question of language of instruction was raised: Russian, German, Lithuanian or Hebrew? The Jewish residents of Kovno who remembered the “Good Russian Days” had no hesitation concerning this difficult question. In 1919, they revived the Russian Commercial School that had existed before the [first] world war. However, after the liberation of Lithuania and declaring itself independent, something that received a great deal of assistance from Lithuania's Jews themselves, new horizons for what had been until then only a distant dream opened for all Lithuania's Jews in general and for Jewish nationalist schools in particular. The Lithuanians who had just cut the bonds of Russian servitude and moved from suppression to redemption were completely favorable in their attitude to our nationalist idea concerning establishing Hebrew language schools. They would budget financial assistance to elementary and secondary schools. The Lithuanian government, which relocated from Vilna to Kovno, attempted to fortify and reinforce its nationalist victories and focused attention on their fortresses and strongholds – could that be anything other than its schools. Dozens of schools opened for the people and among them were elementary schools for Jews. They received financial support from the government and were treated equally as the other schools thanks to the tireless efforts of the autonomous Hebrew institutions along with the government schools. In this way a wide network of elementary schools spread in the towns and cities of Lithuania. The Hebrew language was dominant in the vast majority of them and had the upper hand over Yiddish. After a short time several Hebrew high schools, at first in outlying cities, were established as a continuation of the elementary schools whose task was to educate a new Hebrew-nationalist generation.

In Kovno, a major Jewish center and the temporary capital of Lithuania, there was not yet a Hebrew high school. This in spite of the fact that 90% of the Jewish children were enrolled in the [Russian] Commercial High School and the majority of its faculty and administrators were Jewish. There the assimilationist spirit reigned and the education was alien to the Torah of Israel and its culture.

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Photograph of the Second Graduating Class, 1922

Photograph of the Fourth Graduating Class, 1924

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It seemed that the Jewish residents of Kovno took upon themselves the 'obligation' to ignite the dying embers of Russian culture in Lithuania and restore the language crown to the Russian language that was exiled from here with the army of the Tsar in 1915. However, the leadership of the Jewish community looked askance at the very existence of a Russian school for their youth and began a very energetic campaign for Hebrew in the local press and at mass meetings. The Jewish community finally came to recognize that [the Russian language school] was not the way and this was not the school to which they aspired. Step by step the Russian [language] school declined from both an educational and intellectual standpoint. The authorities finally recognized its weak and below average condition and kept a careful eye on what went on behind the walls of the Commercial High School…It became clear to the parents of the students and the nationalist community leaders that the time had come for the school to assume a new identity with new components. They began their offensive war over this school. It was not easy for them to overcome this “fortified wall.” Difficult struggles faced our public officials towards a victory of ideas of a Hebrew language high school. More than one of our assimilationists attempted to thwart and defeat its basic nature. They did not want to openly admit that the time had come for the Russian language to give way for our national language in the Jewish schools. They closed their eyes to prevent them from seeing that all the small nations that separated from big Russia at the end of the war established schools for themselves in their national languages and they looked at this as one of the greatest victories in their histories.

Along with all of this the Russian language school declined further and further and the government decided to put an end it is sorry existence and shut it down. There was a parents' meeting with a tremendous clash of arguments between the nationalist parents and those who hated the idea of the revival of Hebrew. In the end the idea of a Hebrew high school was totally victorious and on the 27th day of the month of August 1920 the Kovno Hebrew Gymnasion was established on the remains of the Commercial High School. It was recognized and received official authorization from the Ministry of Educational Affairs.


A Year of Work

For some time before this a special organization committee was established that decided to fire the entire previous teaching staff as many of them were not agreeable to teaching in a nationalistic school. Those who wished to transfer to the Hebrew Gymnasion were found to be inappropriate for participating in nationalist education. The workers of the Russian school received severance pay and withdrew from the new school as a group. After they left the new parents' committee (headed by Dr. B. Berger) was in contact with the director of the “Division of Schools of the Ministry for Jewish Affairs,” Dr. Moshe Schwabe and he began to engage a Hebrew educational staff for the new Gymnasion. With great difficulty they were able to assemble Hebrew teachers: from the refugees who remained here from the days of the German conquest and from outside the borders of Lithuania. A pedagogic council, all of whose members were unanimously imbued with the desire to establish a

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Photograph of the Tenth Jubilee Graduating Class, 1930

Photograph of the Twelfth Graduating Class, 1931

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modern nationalist Hebrew school. To head the institution they asked Dr. Koppel Velutski (a member of the parents' committee and later its president) who for many years before the war headed “the government school for the Jews” in Kovno and Dr. Moshe Schwabe who, as was already stated, directed the Division of Schools of the Ministry for Jewish Affairs of Lithuania.

With a great deal of energy and with the realization of the historical significance provided by the moment that enabled Jews to create a restored generation of students of authentic Hebrew culture, the new teachers – the driving force among them being Moshe Schwabe – assumed their difficult undertaking laden with responsibility and stood up to the challenge to set up the departments of the Gymnasion. This was not accomplished easily. Many students of the [previous] Russian high school were completely opposed to the total upheaval that took place in their studies. Goaded by interested outside parties and with the help of their parents, in the main opponents of the Hebrew language school, they rebelled, interrupted meetings, objected and more…all to no avail. The nationalist recognition won out and they did not want to lose the great opportunity to open the school. The students who objected and did not want to submit to the nationalist spirit were anyway pushed between the walls of the Gymnasion and went where the wind took them. In the beginning of the school year there were some three hundred boys and girls from the first level through the eighth. The pedagogic council and the parent committee decided that instruction in the three lower levels in all the subjects without exception would be in Hebrew. From the fifth level up Russian remained the language of instruction but it was decided that a significant amount of time was to be devoted to the study of the Hebrew language.

Concerning the fourth level, the argument over the language of instruction heated up again. Opponents of the [language] revolution gathered all their strength “to save” as far as it was possible one more department. The pedagogic council dealt with this question seriously and responsibly. The faculty knew very well that they were committing a pedagogic sin by introducing a foreign language to the students of the fourth level who had studied the course material in Russian and were in a time of transition and development. They also knew that the [language] revolution was liable to delay for a while the spiritual advancement of the students of this level. However, the desire for a Hebrew language national school superseded this pedagogic fact. The teachers decided to establish at least a balance between Hebrew and Russian with four Hebrew grades and four Russian grades. The pedagogic council knew from the start that a powerful enemy lay in ambush over the national language and its dominance within the walls of the school since in the four upper levels the Russian language clearly prevailed. Even though each year a Russian language grade graduated and its place was taken by a Hebrew grade, we began to understand the influence of the Russian language in our school. Many of those who did not know Russian before learned to speak it fluently in our Gymnasion … it is now possible to say that for the first four years (the last Russia language class graduated in 1924) Hebrew was almost “under siege” from the influence of Russian and we were forced to defend the Hebrew language with all of our strength.

In the first year we focused our attention first and foremost on each and every one of our students

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learning Hebrew. To this end, the school set up special classes in the afternoon for all of the students to learn Hebrew. Little by little in the lower grades spoken Hebrew began to dominate but not in the scope that would enable us to overcome the difficult restraints involved in teaching a foreign language. Even the teachers of general studies had not yet acquired the knowledge of Hebrew required for it to be a living language for instruction. Textbooks and teaching equipment for most of the subjects did not yet exist and the teachers had to create everything from the beginning. In the Hebrew department the translation from Russian and German started but did not always meet with success. However, to the teachers' credit one must say that they did their work with total commitment and dedication. At first they used lists and gradually accumulated a good deal of suitable material that later became the basis for textbooks. The Gymnasion teachers produced texts for mathematics, geometry, algebra, collections of questions, Hebrew syntaxes and Latin grammar that were used in most of Lithuania's Hebrew language schools and abroad. As the financial situation permitted, slowly but surely pedagogic materials increased in number along with teaching devices that displayed the step by step progress of our students. From day to day the school began to assume a clearer image. The confidence of the wide-ranging Hebrew public in the work of the Gymnasion continued to increase. Within the school's walls the civic sense grew and in a short time the national Hebrew spirit gained. Mutual trust and affection grew between the teachers as well as between the students and the teachers. Thanks to the successful work of the pedagogic principal, Dr. Moshe Schwabe, the teaching staff was able to influence the students to the extent that they could approach the curriculum with the more or less desired attitude. H. Koppel Velutski, who focused on the administrative work, endeavored to improve the school's resources as much as possible by acquiring needed equipment and by establishing official contacts between the Gymnasion and the governmental education officials. From the start, they [the government] provided sufficient funds that enabled the school to reinforce its strong financial basis enabling it to advance both in its outward and inner development. The Gymnasion received certification from the government as a public high school – Aukstesnioji – under the direction of “The Organization for the Spreading Hebrew Knowledge among the Jews of Kovno,” funded by the government.

Now, after a long period of hard work lasting nearly five years with no previous pattern to follow and without any past model to rely on, we could now evaluate all our difficulties and failures during the first year of studies. Without the slightest exaggeration it is possible to say that had those who were involved from the beginning with all the needs of the Hebrew Gymnasion foreseen the difficulties and impediments in the process of realizing the dream of a Hebrew language school in the Diaspora – they perhaps would have chosen a different path and not expended all their “revolutionary“ enthusiasm in overcoming all the possible barriers. The national aspiration to rescue Jewish youth from the grips of a foreign culture coupled with the strong belief in the possibility of the revival of spoken Hebrew in the diaspora, spurred the young teaching staff to move forward on difficult paths without looking back and without flinching. It was not rare for the teachers of the school to face painful disappointments and failures during their day's work. For even though spoken Hebrew became the language of the young students in the first preparatory class (the 2nd & 3rd

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grades did not exist in the first year), in the first and especially in the third semester it was as difficult for the students to acquire the language as was splitting the Red Sea. The teachers looked on helplessly at their educational endeavors. On the one hand, it was forbidden to be inattentive to their work from the standpoint of its educational program. Before us was a sound Gymnasion and there was no reason to deal leniently with those students who lagged behind with knowledge of the language of instruction. On the other hand, before us was the saying “Whoever saves a Jewish soul it is as though he has saved an entire universe.” Even so many of the students who were not dependent on knowledge of Hebrew left the school after its first year. Their places in their grade level were taken by outside students who for the most part came equipped with the required knowledge of Hebrew from outlying towns. So the second and fourth levels “renewed their feathers” over the years. Today only a few students from those early years remain [alive].

In the year that it opened, the school stood as a deserted isolated island surrounded by waves of raging water that were poised to engulf and sink it. It was in the midst of an alien environment with an unusual combination of foreign languages that the Hebrew Gymnasion was born and grew. A great deal of effort and energy had to be invested to secure and reinforce the school to guarantee its strong and vigorous existence. This school stood firm after a year of arduous work and utilizing all its power held up against the torrents to attain the hoped for fulfillment.

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The Pedagogic Council (1925)[1]

A Schneider, (Secretary of the Pedagogic Council)

Translated by Rabbi Shalom Bronstein

With the opening of the school all the teachers recognized that conscientious work could only progress to the extent that the teachers were united in their aim and with a shared outlook on Hebrew education in the diaspora. All the members of the pedagogic council in principle shared the same world outlook concerning the complicated problems facing a Hebrew language high school. Therefore, they approached their work with complete faith in the future of and the success of their project. The vast majority of the members of the council were young (between 25-35 years old) who had managed, given their young age, to have acquired experience in Hebrew and general schools. After the faculty was engaged and the basic direction of the Gymnasion was determined, the pedagogic council crystallized and was made up of those who were not bound by pre-conceived notions and were prepared for a fruitful atmosphere in the Hebrew high school.

The faculty began having frequent meetings, one after the other, and their first task was to extinguish among the student body the flame inherited from the previous [Russian language] high school. They began to divide the school into grades and classes. The majority of the students were tested with the results being turned over to the pedagogic council. In the first six months of the school faculty meetings took place approximately three times a week. The teachers worked with great enthusiasm and unlimited selfless dedication. They mainly discussed the standing of each grade or the status of each student. Each one presented his lists to his colleagues during working hours.

The main concern of the teachers in the first year was the enforcement of discipline in all the grades both during school hours and afterwards. The teachers and educators had not yet succeeded to penetrate the minds of the multitude of boys and girls who flowed to us from every direction. Most of the Lithuanian Jewish youth had been in exile in distant Russia [during World War I]. They returned to the land of their birth after they

had undergone all kinds of privation and difficulty during the war years and the [Russian] revolution that followed. All of these troubles along with their lingering scars left their mark and changed the character of these young people and not for the better. In addition to this, there were a substantial number of students from the former Russian high school. They had no understanding of the purpose and goals of the Hebrew Gymnasion and sought, whether knowingly or unknowingly to control both the internal and external social order of the Hebrew Gymnasion. However, the teaching staff, whose focus was totally on the goal of establishing a Hebrew language school, knew how to gain control over the “battle front.” They were able to calm down those who objected to our nationalist conquest and within a few days

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discipline was established in all the classes – both Hebrew and Russian. Henceforth it was an established standard.

Gradually the unique character of our school grew in influence and enrollment increased. From an educational standpoint a relationship of mutual respect and esteem developed for all that the teachers and educators were doing and hoped to do in the Gymnasion. The wide Hebraic public demonstrated an attitude of trust and recognition for all that was already going on and that was projected for the new school. The ground was readied for work and the pedagogic council endeavored to go forward in accordance to their skills and the special conditions [they faced]. However, the founders of the school, who had the original dream of a Hebrew language school, did not have the opportunity to lead the Hebrew Gymnasion of Kovno in the established paths of the previous schools. They did not tread blindly in the pedagogic paths of the pre-war Russian and German schools. For that reason the question of education and its direction took top priority in the meetings of the pedagogic council and its members constantly struggled and labored over it. This all took place while the in-house image of the Gymnasion continued to become more clearly defined.

Photograph of the “Teaching Staff of the Hebrew Gymnasion of Kovno on the Eve of Rosh Hashanah 5685 – on the day that our colleague Dr. Moshe Schwabe went on Aliyah to our country.”

[The following names appear beneath the photograph:]

Front row seated from right to left: Zigarnik, Kapit, Kessler, Velutski, Schwabe, Vershavskit, Rosenfeld, Lacham.
Second row standing: Schneider, Schwartz, Vatrin, Berman, Mitzkun, Brutzkos, Greenblatt, Levitan.
Third row standing: Ben-Shachar, Yablokovsky, Rosinsky, Bloch, Lidsky.

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On these basic principles quarrels 'for the sake of heaven' occasionally broke out that led to strong and sharp differences of opinion. Thus they discussed and disagreed with each other on the students' organization and in organizations both within and outside the school. The pedagogic experimentation that many progressive schools in various countries tried out greatly influenced the pedagogic committee of the Hebrew Gymnasion. A not unsubstantial number of the members that thought highly of innovative education found expression in the orientation of the students, evaluation of members, department meetings. There were student representatives at faculty meetings with equal participation of the student [representatives] in discussions of solutions to all problems that arose in the school. This approach won out in the first years of operation. In our school all the items mentioned above functioned on an experimental basis. It is not our intention to raise here the value of that which has passed from this world, we can only testify that this question was the bone of contention among the members of the pedagogic council. After a while the organization was cancelled and its only expression was now found in the clubs for the younger and the older [students] (see the article “Student Clubs”).

Not infrequently the question of 'grades' and their result was raised in the pedagogic council which expressed its opinion as being opposed to grades in general. [Grades] agitated the students' spirit and their nerves were stressed when report cards were distributed. After lengthy arguments with many points and questions discussed in every detail, the administration of the Gymnasion submitted a detailed rationalization to the educational authorities to waive the system of giving [students] grades. This proposal did not find a sympathetic ear with the authorities and the system of giving grades remains in force to this day. The school year was divided into thirds – one ending at Hanukkah, one ending with Purim and the [third with the] end of the academic year. The students received report cards with their knowledge evaluated as follows: does not know – 2; fair – 3; almost adequate – 3 [there is a typo here with the same number repeated twice and gradation reversed]; very good – 4; excellent – 5. Except for the grade of 3 there were no pluses or minuses.

At the end of the second academic year the language question concerning speaking Hebrew was no longer an issue. The unfortunate fact was that the students, especially of the upper grades, refrained from using the Hebrew language in conversations between friends and only a very small percentage of them used Hebrew outside the confines of school. This fact was beyond the understanding of many of us who established the Gymnasion. We asked ourselves, “How could this be?” Why the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the youth, etc, etc.? Finally we came to realize that “a nation is not created instantly” and a language that had been forgotten for two thousand years could not be restored as the spoken tongue in two or three years. This was especially so if the revival of the language was taking place on foreign soil. If on one side of the scale we put the expended energy and the extraordinary efforts of a few years, certainly on the other side were all the outside impediments such as the environment, habit, the home and others. The bitter truth was that the very group of teachers who insisted that the students be forced and pressured to speak Hebrew were compelled to retreat. However, today we have to acknowledge that the use of living spoken Hebrew struck roots among the youth and more and more sounds of the language of our fathers were heard in the halls of the school, in the street and in the home.

At times pedagogic arguments and battles took place regarding these questions:

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“The nature of a Hebrew [Language] High School,” “our school,” “the role of the teachers and their influence on the students.” Besides these the pedagogic committee spent a good deal of time on developing educational programs (in the first years of the school). Lastly the teachers spent most of their time on pedagogic evaluation of their grade. The members of the pedagogic council were for the most part also teachers (advisors) in the various grades. Over time the teachers gained detailed information on each and every student, his behavior, his grasp of material, his way of listening, his progress in studies and his personal attributes. At the pedagogic meeting the counselors shared their thoughts with those of their colleagues on the progress of studies in their particular grade and of each individual student. The teachers would then fill in details of their particular grade and in the subjects they taught so that the faculty gave a complete picture of everything that went on in a particular grade. The administration also received a copy of all of the discussions. The pedagogic council expressed its opinion of the general condition of the school and suggested needed changes and expressed its opinion on the manner of teaching. It must be pointed out that these evaluations were the focal point of the council and they are most instructive, perhaps even more so than what can be found in pedagogic literature. On the same topic in a period of five years the pedagogic council built a large library on various subjects concerning pedagogic science and its literature. Some of these volumes were very expansive and they served to assist and prepare the teachers in the work for which they were responsible. On occasion, the students of the upper classes were also aided by the pedagogic library.


In the last years it was established that once a week every Sunday the teachers would have a meeting. The administration circulated the agenda early in the day and the teaching staff would review it paragraph by paragraph. The meeting was chaired by the directors that is, K[oppel]. Velutski and Dr. Moshe Schwabe. Dr. Schwabe left the Gymnasion after more than four years of work. He went on Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael and he was succeeded by Dr. Aharon Berman.

The pedagogic council drew all of its members to their meetings. Each could raise questions on anything that had to do with the school's inner workings as well as outside items that had to do with our school. He could bring them before the meeting with requests and suggestions.

Every teacher also had the right to visit other classes during lessons and observe his colleague. He could then share his impressions with the pedagogic council. From this standpoint it is possible to say that the teaching staff, was a living and active organ of the school. It was both representative and democratic in such a way that no one could question its actions.

Besides all the questions and problems delineated above that the teaching staff solved, the council was tasked with dealing with every administrative aspect of the Gymnasion. According to laws concerning schools these were completely outside the responsibility of the council members. It thus became a pleasant precedent that no one would involve himself with anything concerning

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the school without it being discussed first by the teaching staff. It need not be said that this also applied to engaging new teachers. During the five years of the Gymnasion's existence there were also instances of firing of teachers and office staff who were found to be unsatisfactory for their jobs. Some [staff] resigned of their own volition. The pedagogic council would then consider each and every new applicant and if all the members agreed then a new teacher was engaged. Even the new teachers that were engaged during these five years were absorbed into the unique routine of the Gymnasion becoming just like their colleagues.

In the academic year 5684-5685 [1924-1925] we had twenty-one faculty members for all of the subjects. Of them, eight were from the original teaching staff. With the addition of four that joined in our second year, they became the foundation stone on which the Gymnasion was built. They were the ones who continued the tradition of the school and preserved the special unique character of the school.

Five years of joint effort of the members, who dedicated the best part of their early years to this great [Jewish] nationalist undertaking, forged warm bonds of camaraderie and friendship. The pedagogic council was forged into a solid group at one with the educational work of the teachers and in their lives outside [of the educational enterprise].


The List of Teachers of the First Year of the School

A. Buchov (Russian), Dr. A[haron]. Berman (science), M. Dovkivitz (Lithuanian), A[vram]. Vatrin (Hebrew and Bible), Y. Weinstock (physical education), Mrs. S. Varshavskit (Hebrew, German, games, Y[Israel]. Yablokovsky (Hebrew and Bible), Mrs. L. Jacobson (German),Sh. Levy (physics and chemistry), M. Medinsky, (Hebrew and Bible), Y. Masenblum (drawing), A. Morshan (French), Sh[muel]. Kapit (mathematics), Tz[vi]. Rudi (geography), Dr. M[oshe]. Schwabe (German and history), A[lter]. Schneider (Hebrew and Bible).


The List of Teachers of the Academic Year 1924/25

Candidate Y[Julius]. Brutzkos (physics, nature and mathematics), Dr. A[haron] Berman (science), Architect with Diploma M. Y. Blokh (drawing and handicrafts), Y. Ben-Shahar (end), Y. Garber (singing), the author N[atan]. Greenblatt (Hebrew literature), A[vram]. Vatrin (Hebrew and history), K[oppel]. Velutski (mathematics), Mrs. S. Varshavskit-Segal (games, Hebrew and handicrafts), Mrs. Viltsinskit

[Page 41]

Photo of the members of the Parents' Committee 5681 [1921]

First row from left – Dr. M. Wolf, K[oppel]. Velutski, Dr. B. Brad;
Second row from left – G. Michaelson, R. Glickman, Y. Margolin;
Third row – Y. Shachnovsky, Sh. Deleon, G. Broda;
Fourth row - M. Matusevich

[Page 42]

(Latin), Cand. Pharmacy. A[aron]. Zigarnik (geography, demography, chemistry and handicrafts), Y[Israel]. Yablokovsky (Hebrew, science), Cand. Jurisprudence. Y. Levitan (Latin and mathematics), Candidate H. Lacham (Russian), N[oah]. Lidsky (Hebrew and Bible), Mrs. M. Mitzkun (German), L. Mirsky (gymnastics), G.B. Kessler (Latin), Candidate Sh[muel]. Kapit (mathematics and cosmography), Dr. A. Rosenfeld (history, German and psychology, A[lter]. Schneider (Hebrew and Bible). Meir Raseinsky and Nisan Tikochinsky worked in the office.

Translator's note

  1. This article was originally written in 1925 after the school was in existence for five years. This is reflected in the terminology used, such as 'in the last year of the school.' Return

Parents' Committee 1925

Translated by Rabbi Shalom Bronstein

A short time after the Gymnasion opened the “Organization for the Advancement of Hebrew Education among the Jews of Kovno” was founded with the goal of opening Hebrew language nationalistic schools in Kovno and in the provincial towns. According to the bylaws of the organization every Jew had the right to join the organization and work together with it to further nationalist Hebrew education.

Except for a few individuals who concentrated on the matters of a Hebrew language school per se, all the educators of the Hebrew Gymnasion were members of the organization.

The bylaws of the organization required a meeting of all of its members once a year. At the same time matters concerning finances and the infrastructure of the school were discussed. At the membership meeting the administration and the parents of students dealt with a general analysis including announcements and events that took place during the previous school year. The same meeting dealt with the proposed budget for the coming year, suggested various corrections and finally those assembled elected a parents' committee from those present. They were authorized to deal with matters concerning the organization for one year.

The parents' committee has as many members as the grades in the school of that particular year. It was in constant contact with the administration of the Gymnasion. From its members a house committee was elected that had three representatives on the pedagogic committee who participated in all the faculty meetings.

This committee had the pleasant responsibility of carrying through the decisions of the general meeting and fulfilling all the directives concerning anything that dealt with the Gymnasion. Thanks to the dedicated work of the members of the committee during the five years of the Gymnasion's existence, it succeeded in improving and enhancing every outward aspect of the school. The committees achieved the financial independence of the school. They acquired the needed material goods, equipment for teaching and learning, the two well-stocked libraries etc., etc. At a moment's notice, the parents' committee was ready to take care of building repairs, improve the furnishings and it hoped to acquire a suitable building for the Gymnasion.

[Page 43]

The relationship between the parents' committee and the faculty was totally positive and friendly and there was never any serious internal disagreement between them.

The great investment of energy and the great dedication can be traced to the first parents' committee whose members gave freely of their time in order to work for the betterment of the school. Also the members who followed were distinguished by the great attention they paid to the future of the Gymnasion and its status. If the first members achieved the next world by the historic merit of the revolution of converting

Photo of the Parents' Committee 5685 [1925]

First row from left – R. Glickman, Dr. Wolf, Y. Wolpert;
Second row from left – Sh. Holtzman, Y. Shachnovsky, M. Matusevich;
Third row – Ch. Vazramky, Friedman, Koznitzky;
Fourth row – D. Lipman

[Page 44]

a foreign language school into the 'original Hebrew Gymnasion,' these later individuals knew how to secure and establish their nationalist cultural conquest, by watching over it as the 'apple of their eye' keeping the fixed and pure image of our school.

A listing of the members of the first Parents' Committee: Dr. Berger, Broda, Glickman, Deleon, Dr. M. Wolf, K[oppel]. Velutski (chairman), Volpress (deputy chairman), Tabachnik, Koznitski, Lipman, Matusevich, H. Michaelson, H. Margolin, H. Schachnovsky (treasurer).

A listing of the members of the last Parents' Committee: R. Glickson, Holtzman (treasurer), Dr. M. Wolf (chairman), Wolpert (deputy chairman), Mavtzanik, Yursazky, Lipman; Accountants – M. Avovitz, Baron and Zohn.


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