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Education, Literature and Theater

 

From the Poorly Educated to the Hebrew Gymnasia
[History of Hebrew Education in Kovel]

by Eliezer Leoni

Translated by Ala Gamulka

At the end of the 19th century there was an important change in the educational field in town. Inside the walls of the ancient town fresh winds were blowing. These came from Greater Russia.

We were witnesses to a double process: at one end religion was strengthened and became a haven while at the other end secularization appeared – bringing in new spiritual trends. There was now an interest in Eretz Israel.

The Trisk Hassidism was then at its height and it aspired to spread in all parts of Volyn and even further. The Grand Maggid sent his son Rabbi Yaakov–LIbeniu to conquer Kovel and to attract souls to Trisk Hassidism. On the banks of the Turia River stood an enclosure, a fortress full of erroneous ideas, that intended to envelop the town in the teachings of the grandson of the one from Chernobyl. In his court there were Kabbalists, delusional writers of amulets, ascetics, separatists, postponers of the end and believers in redemption.

These visionaries found a ripe ground. The town was shrouded in poverty, Life was not good economically for the Jews. As usual, when there is nothing in this world, man begins to dream of the next world.

However, in spite of the fact that this was a time of longing for the mysterious and the unknown, there was an opposing current. This was a humanistic current. It was an era on the eve of Zionism and the Bund in town. It was a time of the awakening of the population to life and creativity. There was now a rift among the people of Kovel. New forces appeared, rising from a slumber of a few hundred years. There were people walking around town with “heretic” books in their arms. They announced the revival in our town. Economics and agriculture became the new topics. Religious education lost its hegemony. A group of young educated people appeared and they demanded a change of values and a new approach to education. They demanded a secular education and the introduction of sciences and Zionist ideology.

This was a struggle between two opposing ideologies and it caused a schism– social and philosophical.

The result of this ideological struggle was the founding of the secular school “The Poorly Educated”.

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These educated young people were “helped” by external sources. In 1893 there was a terrible plague in town and there were many victims. As a result, orphans remained without parents and education.

This group of educated young people was influenced by the Movement of the People (Grodnaya Volya). They decided to educated the people out of goodness and not for commendation.

These young people had been educated in the Russian liberal literature and were greatly influenced by two leaders– Petreyev and Tchernishevskiy. The latter had penned a tractate on art in which he stated that life is wonderful. He saw education as a preparation of man for real life. There was nothing superior to it.

This belief was the motto of “The Poorly Educated”– educate the poor children of Kovel to a practical and creative life and a trade.

It was not only ideas that created the school. There was also an economic reason. The dire economic depression within the Jewish community of Kovel at the end of the 19th century led to this ideology.

Many generations had previously earned their living by owning pubs and restaurants. In 1896 a new law was announced prohibiting licenses for these establishments in small towns. Only large cities were given permits.

Thousands of Jews in Kovel were placed in terrible economic straits as a result. This led to the thinking that Jews had to be prepared for other occupations in order to earn a living

In an issue of Hamelits (1896) Lipsky called on the Jews of Kovel to abandon spiritual ideas and to work in agriculture and as craftsmen. He offered to publicize this idea and to send teachers to train the youth in productive occupations.

The large number of miserable orphans were part of the first classes in the “The Poorly Educated” school. Its name means exactly that– to educate the poor.

This school was the preparatory ground for the network of Hebrew schools that were later created in town. They became famous in the entire area. This school was the nursery, the first seeds for the wonderful Hebrew educational institutions to come.

The curriculum in “The Poorly Educated” included Hebrew language and grammar, Russian language and grammar, Torah with Rashi interpretation, Prophets with simple explanations, arithmetic, geography,

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Calligraphy and Ethics. The teachers were: M. Shainin–mathematics; Gershonovitz, Zvi Efrat and Binyamin Gurfinkel–Jewish studies; Binyamin Yudkovitz, principal, taught Russian; Boymel and M. Efrat–calligraphy.

Among the rest of the staff we should mention Fidut, son–in–law of the “kilkiever Rabbi” who lived in the House of Learning on the sands; Lipsky who was well–known for his writings in “Hamelits”; as well as Zvi Hazan and Heinich Geller.

The school was under the authority of The Poorly Educated which was headed by M. Brik, Zalman Kharon and Pessach Roizen. Rabbi Brik's wife –who died young at the age of 34– was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the school and worked tirelessly for the benefit of the poor students.

The school was opened in August 1893. It started in dire circumstances, in a narrow room with rickety benches and desks. There were eight poor boys, but they represented the saying: “Watch out for poor children because Torah will emanate from them”. These boys did well in their studies and they were well–known in the community for their achievements. One of these boys was celebrated by all of us. He was Asher Frankfurt who is the principal of the Hebrew Gymnasia. Frankfurt was one of these poor boys. Another student was Isser Miller, founder of the Bund in our town.

The school grew and a year later had forty students. The school was moved from the narrow and dark room to the House of Learning of Sender Kuznits (Sender the Musician). It was situated behind the house of the Krasavitza (Beauty) near the army barracks.

In 1894, the young women belonging to Daughters of Zion established a society called Malbish Arumim (Clothes for the Poor). The purpose of this society was to provide clothing and shoes to the students of the school. Daughters of Zion put on, from time to time, parties for the purpose of raising funds for the school.

It is important to note that these children were truly poor and were even provided with food by the school. The school also received support from other sources. There was an amateur theater in town. This troupe presented play reading evenings in three languages– Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew. All income was dedicated to supporting the school.

One time a famous singer of those days came to town. He was G. Yosilov from KIdenov. The Kol Zion Society asked him to give a benefit concert for the students of From the Poorly Educated. Yosilov graciously accepted and he thrilled listeners with the song “On the Ruins of Zion” by Dolitsky. The income was so large that it permitted the school to expand.

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During the first five years of its existence, 1893–1898, there were 187 students. 73 completed their studies and 42 left before the end of their studies. Most of the students were apprenticed to different craftsmen– printers, photographers and commerce. Fifty of the graduates were able to earn a living from these occupations.

On 17.08.1898, there was a gala evening organized by the From the Poorly Educated society. To mark five years of the school's existence, Dr. Perlman, one of the outstanding intellectuals in town, opened the festivities. He spoke warmly of the value of the school and the great usefulness it brought to the poor people in town. He also praised the new atmosphere in Jewish education in town. He praised the founders 8212 – D. Gershonovitz, D. Efrat, I. Liberman and Ma'ze. The principal of the school, Yudkovitz spoke about the history of the school from day one. He described the spirit of rapprochement and the dedication which spurred on the teaching staff and the educators. They were doing this holy work as volunteers and because they were devoted to the children of town.

When principal Yudkovitz died there was a serious crisis in the school. The organizing committee met to discuss the next step. A. Kastelansky proposed to transfer the running of the school to the Zionists under Kol Zion Society. His proposal was accepted and after a Zionist administration took over the school blossomed even more.

In those days there was no co–education. There were young girls from poor homes who were unschooled. This was a serious problem. A few young women who were well–educated and who came from respected families in town, decided to establish a special school for these girls. The originators of this idea were the sisters Shinkar, members of a veteran family in town. One of them–Anna– later married the famous Pinhas Dashevsky.

The school was founded in 1900. It was actually the first trade school in town. The curriculum included the study of the Hebrew language, calligraphy, arithmetic and Russian language. The teachers were volunteers. There was great emphasis on the acquisition of a trade.

During the initial year the girls advanced in sewing and embroidery. At the end of year there was an exhibition showcasing the work of the students. In the exhibition were pillows embroidered in various colors, kerchiefs woven with great artistry, beautiful blouses, children's coats made of wool and linen, small tablecloths embroidered with flowers as well as toys.

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The girls earned money by sewing shirts for “Clothing for the Poor Society. In the first year of the school they earned 5 rubles.

The girls progressed well in the study of Hebrew and at the final gala at the end of the first year they charmed the audience with their Hebrew songs, well–pronounced.

The school had two classes– upper and lower. In the upper group there were 28 students and in the lower– 22.

 

Herzliah School, Its teachers and students

There were two principles which governed the establishment of Herzliah School. One was the amazing mix of teachers and educators, well–respected, who came to town from different places to teach Jewish values and science to the children of town. The other was the great hunger for learning, the thirst for knowledge that characterized the youth of Kovel.

 

Mr. Masievich, z”l,
the first principal of Herzliah School

 

In the Talmud there is a story about Rav Hanina and Rav Haya who were quarreling. What should be done that Torah study would not be forgotten in Israel? Rav Haya said: “I will go sow flax, I will fashion snares and I will catch turtles. I will feed the meat to the orphans and use the hide to make scrolls. I will write the five Books of the Torah on them. I will then go to a city where there are no teachers for the

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young and I will read the Chumash to the children. I will then teach these children the six books of the Mishnah. This is how I will ensure that Torah will not be forgotten in Israel”.

The teachers of Herzliah School were imbued with the same dedication that Rav Haya had envisioned. They, too, came to our town to give their knowledge and to make certain that Torah was not forgotten by the children of the town.

On the other hand of the coin, these teachers found students who were prepared to learn from their masters. Even, according to the elderly Hillel, on Shabbat.

The publication “Tslilim” (Sounds) was issued by the students in the year 1924. In it, we read an essay titled “What Does School Mean to Us?”. It reflects the amazing yearning of the children of Kovel for the acquisition of knowledge and perfection. We read, among the rest:” School is like a live fountain of water where everyone who drinks from it is revived. It is the source where we acquire Torah and wisdom. It gives us everything we need in our lifetime and it opens our eyes to see straight. Without this school we would be like a flock without a shepherd, fumbling un the dark. School fulfills the needs of the students. Without school we would be ignorant. School opens the gate and leads us from darkness to light. It directs us on the proper path and moves us confidently to the larger world”.

Important educational work was performed in this school. However, the staff did not depend on oral Torah only. In 1924 it was decided to publish a journal dedicated to the issues of education and hygiene.

The plan was not accomplished for various reasons. However, the outline that was done in writing shows us the serious intentions of the teachers.

The editor of the journal, principal Moshe Fishman, writes in the introduction: “In these pages that are written for your consideration, we posed the following goal: to help, you, the parents to decipher the educational problems of your children.

Who among you is not worried about the future of your children? Who among you does not desire for his child to be educated and refined, healthy and well–mannered? Jewish fathers and mothers always sacrifice a great deal to make his child happy. Your intentions are good and necessary, but you do not always know the correct path for achieving your goal.

In every culture and nation there are those who are educated and who are thinkers and who achieve great successes in the educational field. There are always publications for simple folks, but this is not our case. We are poor in pedagogical literature.

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Tslilim

Written by students of Herzliah School

Ah Sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity… Isaiah, I;4
On right – ISAIAH
Bottom left – illustrated by Yitzhak Atlas
Student fifth grade

 

Our times bring serious problems in education and we are listening for solutions. We want our children to stay abreast of societal development.

We, the teachers of your children, will attempt, from time to time, to solve some questions that pertain to the education and the health of your children.”

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The school administration even gave an opinion on the inclusion of theatre arts and the occupations connected to them, such as, singing and dance.

A drama society was organized in the school under Sh. Klonitsky. Excellent plays were produced. I recall Purim 1924 when” The Pocket Knife” by Shalom Aleichem was presented in the Express theatre. It was very successful and the audience was highly impressed. A year or two later the play “The Tax Collector” by Peretz was performed, starring the student Yerachmiel Rovner.

There was also a choir in the school and it was conducted by Sh. Feinstein. It was of high artistic quality.

The school was truly public. Its students were poor– children of laborers and middle– class parents. They became the core of the pioneering youth movements, especially “The Young Pioneer” (Hechalutz Hatzair). Almost all its counsellors came from Herzliah School. The enthusiasm we had for studying Bible and Revival poetry was also directed towards Plekhanov, “History of Materialism” by Lange and “The Call to Socialism” by Landver.

Today, when I look back at this turbulent and interesting part of my life, I ask myself: where was our inner meaning? On what where we nurtured? I reply: Denial and belief were intertwined in us. The jump to the ideology of the world of socialism was too sudden and too quick. We did not entirely abandon true belief, but we did not reach denial. We said “Hang on to this and do not leave that”. We created a kind of match between the Kotzker and Neskhizher courts and Marx and Plekhanov. We belonged to both sides. We were somewhere between a house of learning and denial.

We read socialist literature and we argued day and night: What is the role of the past in our education? Is it change, destruction or integration? Secrecy and discovery were unequal. Some of us were fervent materialists and Marxist dialectic served as a holy example not to be doubted. Others were iconoclasts who went further and fed calves to foreign deeds. However, inside, we were true believers with deep religious sentiment. On Yom Kippur and especially during Kol Nidre we feared the day of judgement as did our parents. Even the extremists among us followed all the laws. We felt that the laws of materialism were a bit heavy.

At first, we were caught in the world of changing values. The library of the small synagogue with its antiquated scrolls and yellow pages, with Midrash Raba and Ein Yaakov, seemed to us archaic.

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Herzliah School in the first years of its existence

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It was obsolete. We were stuck between the movement and the House of Learning. The Hora swept us, but the prayer of Unetaneh Tokef touched our hearts. This was because the prayer leader evoked memories of generations of suffering Jews.

In time there was a balance between these two extremes. We understood that Ein Yaakov does not contradict Marx. It is possible to be a rabid socialist and still be immersed in Talmudic issues. We did not reach this conclusion easily. There were many struggles and endless discussions. This is what happened to many of the students at Herzliah school. There was a great upheaval in their lives on their road to socialism.

From the students to the teachers. We really liked Mr. Chaim Hochberg, z”l. He was truly knowledgeable in all parts of the Torah. He was a talented man, full of deep knowledge, but, first and foremost, he was a good friend to the students.

Hochberg did not frighten us. He obtained our respect with his pleasant ways and his gentle character.

Whenever he was absent from our classes we were quite sad because we loved him. We were attached to him with admiration and love.

Hochberg used to invite some of his students to his house for discussions about literature and language. I remember that these conversations included the influence of the Bible on Shakespeare.

We were young and we did not always absorb everything. However, when we were older these conversations encouraged us to study Shakespeare. We then realized how deep and wonderful had been our cherished teacher's discussions.

In addition to these attributes, Hochberg was also a great mimic. He could imitate many personalities at Hanukah and Purim parties. Especially amusing was his mimicry of a certain butcher that he knew in his childhood.

I was once fortunate to hear him speak about the origins of the name Kovel. I do not recall the circumstances, but Hochberg came up with the theory that it was a Hebrew name. He said that Kovel is mentioned in the Bible (Ezekiel, 26;9)– “And he shall set his engines of war against thy walls…” The meaning of the phrase is an instrument that can break down walls. The legend that the name of our town came from Koval– blacksmith proved his point. In olden times the blacksmiths of our nation used to fashion arms. (Samuel I, 13;19) “Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel; for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears”. Of course, this was a Jewish genius having fun with the Torah.

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Hochberg was the best of the Russo–Polish Jewry. In him one saw popular warmth together with an advanced education. He was the pride of the school.

He was born in Sokolov, Podolia, in 1895 and he received a strict religious education. Even at a young age he went from yeshiva to yeshiva and he was famous for his genius. However, he felt that his place in the House of Learning was too narrow. He then began to read secular books, on his own. Without the guidance of any teachers he obtained an encompassing European schooling and he was known as an outstanding teacher. He arrived in Kovel at the end of 1924., brought by Zev Tchernitsky.

 

Haim Hochberg, z”l

 

They were relatives. Tchernitsky's mother and Hochberg”s mother were sisters. Tchernitsky taught in a Hebrew school in Smititsh. Its principal was M. Fishman. When the latter was invited to Kovel to become the principal of Herzliah School, he brought first Tchernitsky and then, Hochberg.

We were quite depressed when we learned of his illness. We believed he was only sick and that he would recuperate. No one thought of the possibility that one day our beloved teacher was on his deathbed. I visited him one day and Hochberg was sorry that he was attached to his bed, totally inert. During our conversation he told me a Hassidic tale with a moral. It was said that one of the great Hassidim stood on a bridge on Christmas Day. He saw that a cross was being cut in the frozen waters. One of his followers passed by and was worried: What does our Rabbi have to do with this filth?

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The Tzaddik replied: My child, my child, go and see. The moving water is a symbol of purity, but when it freezes it becomes a source of impurity. This is also how man lives. Movement, enthusiasm and dancing purify and clean man's soul. Hochberg finished with a touch of sadness: I feel as if the forces of impurity are sticking to me because the wells of life and happiness are now frozen.

Hochberg saw that I was very sad and he felt that I, and not he, deserved pity. In order to distract me from my sad thoughts he told me a story from his student days. He heard that, living near the town where he was studying, there was a Jew. He was over 100 years old., but he was still alive. Hochberg went to visit this wonder of nature, this Methuselah and he was invited in. Hochberg saw an old man sitting at the table, maybe 80 or 90 years old, reading a volume of Gmara. He asked his host: who is this old man? The Metuselah replied– this is my son! Hochberg told this story with great humor and we both laughed. We were overcome by a fit of laughter. I left him comforted and hopeful.

I remember a rainy Friday night. I came home from a visit in the “Hechalutz” branches in Lyudmil and Matseyev. On the way I stopped at a newsstand and I noticed a large headline in Koveler Shtime (Kovel Voice), announcing the death of Haim Hochberg. I felt something dying inside of me. It was as if I were paralysed – everything was frozen. The letters were flying like embers. Hochberg is gone? He was so young, so fresh, so full of life, only 35 years old. Death overtook him for eternity? An important part of our lives has been taken away. He was a leader in Jewish education in town.

The rain fell and the town was enveloped in sadness. A dear great person had been called up to heaven. I had heard from Hochberg the following:” Anyone beloved by God dies young”. His death confirmed this saying.

In our school there were two more teachers whom we followed– thirsty for their wisdom and their teaching. They were Zalman Ariel–Leibovitz and Yaakov Kobrinsky, may they have long and good lives.

Leibovitz was connected to an unforgettable episode in our school life. Leibovitz taught in the Hebrew high school in the mornings. In the afternoons he taught Jewish subjects and science in Herzliah school. I remember his first lesson. He told the story of Archimedes who ran in the streets yelling “Eureka! I found it!”. The story was told with great skill and we were all quite impressed. We sat with our mouths open. We saw, from the first moment, that this was an outstanding educator.

We loved Yaakov Kobrinsky for a different reason. He had a healthy humor and he never stopped smiling at his own jokes.

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The First graduating class of Herzliah School in Kovel 1927

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Kobrinsky taught Hebrew, geography and science. He knew how to give life to these subjects by infusing his teaching with jokes and anecdotes. When one of the girls asked him: “What is the purpose of tears?”, he replied: “In order to cry”. After he amused us he explained well that tears are necessary for the cleansing of the eye.

He followed the methods of Rabbi Meir. “When Rabbi Meir taught a chapter, he would do one third halacha, one third legends and one third proverbs”. Mr. Kobrinsky always put legends and proverbs before halacha. He had the soul of Breslev. He followed the philosophy of Breslev that a happy man always succeeds and that sadness brings failure. I am certain that this philosophy allowed him to overcome the terrible, inhumane suffering that he endured. He was able to overcome and remain healthy in body and soul.

I loved his conversations outside the classroom during breaks between classes. This mainly also occurred at Hanukah and Purim parties. I well remember some of them that reflect his epicurean character. During geography class he spoke about earthquakes and reasons for their happening, but he had not yet given a scientific explanation. He told us the story by Yehuda Steinberg “From the Bathhouse”: Haim Sofer and Hirsh–Yekil Melamed came out of the bathhouse on a Friday evening and they were discussing world events. Have you not heard– Hirsh–Yekil stopped walking and asked– about the previously unheard–of earthquake? He continues: “The newspapers say that all this is because of a volcano!” Haim Sofer controlled himself, but finally he roared: “Is it not enough that you are not a learned person, but you are coarse and simple. Do you not know what is an earthquake? It is written ‘one who looks at the earth will shake”. You tell me stories about a creature called a volcano.” Mr. Kobrinsky took Haim Sofer's side and defended the Biblical point of view that an earthquake is founded on theology and not science. They felt that even evil events come from a higher being. Using folklore Mr. Kobrinsky opened our eyes to the world of research.

Mr. Kobrinsky was uncomfortable with the idea of “wearing a head covering”. It was an insult to say that someone is “wearing a hat” (i.e. he is observant). When one of the students mentioned that it is a proper expression, as stated in the Torah: “And Abraham rose up early in the morning and saddled his ass” (Genesis, 22:3)– saddled= put on a head covering. Mr. Kobrinsky replied that this was the issue– there was a head to be covered…

Among the praiseworthy teaching staff of Herzliah School, the personality of the principal, Mr. Moshe Fishman, really stands out. He is here in the Israel with us. Mr. Fishman was one of the leaders in Jewish education in our town. The first principal was, actually, Mr. Manievitch, but during Mr. Fishman's time the school reached very high standards. Thanks to his energy and amazing talents the school became a nursery. In it, our amazing youth, the precious saplings, grew and became the pillars of Zionist education and we saw the rejuvenation of the Hebrew language and the organization of youth movements in our town. The Hebrew Gymnasia was the result of this growth. It is difficult to imagine the establishment of the Hebrew Gymnasia without the basis given at Herzliah. The hard work of Mr. Fishman and his staff produced this great human product– the cherished students.

Mr. Fishman was very strict. His students feared him, but sometimes he relaxed and was able to joke. When he once asked a student to come and the latter moved slowly, he said: “You have appeared from your place”!

He once asked one of the students to find a quotation from the Bible, but he had difficulty in finding it. Mr. Fishman then told us the following anecdote: A woman came to the rabbi and asked a question about kashrut. The rabbi went to his book shelf, took out a book, studied it and then said:” It is kosher!” The woman was in doubt and said: What is special about this? Anyone can take a book, study it and declare a ruling. The rabbi replied:” You are correct. However, you need to know where it is written”.

One day, one of the girls asked a philosophical –metaphysical question. Mr. Fishman, an experienced educator, knew that the mind of a girl in Grade Six is not sophisticated enough to understand such deep matters. He told the following story: He, Mr. Fishman, once served as an inspector for “Tarbut”. He went to one of the schools and heard a lesson in zoology. A girl asked: If we have to protect animals, who allowed us to kill them for food? Even Maimonides, as her father told her, allowed this. The teacher was embarrassed and Mr. Fishman came to his rescue by saying: I feel a strong wind coming from the window near the ceiling. Perhaps you can ask this student to close it and then you will answer her question. The poor girl tried hard to close the window and she sat down ashamed. Then Mr. Fishman asked a tall student to close the window. The student got up, raised his arm and easily closed the window with one motion. Is it not magic? ended Mr. Fishman.

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The girl calmed down and did not look for the answer from the teacher. She understood that she is not mature enough to understand these matters.

This story shows the genius of Mr. Fishman as an educator and his deep understand of educational issues.

The most important part of Mr. Fishman's philosophy was to educate students to behave tactfully and in good taste. We would call this diplomacy. Two people can say the same thing, but one is rude and the other pleasant. We forgive the second one, but not the first one. As usual, Mr. Fishman had a story about the father who was angry with his son who had ordered him as follows:” Father, send me money!” A friend said the son should have asked: “Father, send me money”. It is exactly the same words, but politeness is essential.

Once I was sitting in the Neskhizher House of Learning. It was where I attended prayers on week days, Shabbat and holidays. I took down an old book from a shelf. It happened to be Midrash Tankhuma. In it I found that Mr. Fishman's stories were not new but came out of the writings of our sages. R. Levi stated that both Abraham and Job said the same thing, but Job was afflicted while Abraham was rewarded”. Job 22;9 states “This is one thing, therefore I said it. He destroys the perfect and the wicked”. Abraham was clever said (Genesis 18:23) – “Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” They both actually uttered the same thing–that God eliminates the righteous with the wicked, but Abraham was a “gentleman” and was polite. This was one of the most important lessons Mr. Fishman tried to instill in us, the students of Herzliah.

Mr. Fishman worked to develop literary talents among his students. He established, for that purpose, the “Inclusive Notebook” in which the best pieces of writing were published. This “Notebook” served as the basis for the collection “Tslilim” (Sounds) which was published in 1924. The editor was Mr. Fishman. When we read this collection these days, we are astonished at the beautiful Hebrew style used by the students. This offering by the students of Herzliah demonstrates how Hebrew education was excellent and how hard the students worked on their own development.

Mr. Fishman did not believe in overdoing the amount of reading. He used to say:” Read a little and learn a lot. Learning is the basis for a person's enlightenment.” He awakened in us the desire to learn, to reflect and to study. As the basis for our philosophical advancement, our principal brought us to the works of Achad Ha'am. For us Achad Ha'am was the ultimate source for Jewish wisdom. His works were a hidden well, a closed garden, but whoever could solve the secrets of his deep intelligence was a superior person. Mr. Fishman opened for us the gates to Achad Ha'am. He straightened the rocky road

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And we were able to continue along a proper road. We were quite comfortable with all the deep articles such as “Resurrection of the Spirit”, “Moshe” and “Body and Soul”.

The entire school reacted when we heard that Achad Ha'am had died in 1927. There was a memorial assembly in the Great Synagogue and Mr. Fishman took us, Grade Six, to attend it.

At this memorial assembly, Mr. Fishman spoke about Achad Ha'am. He began with the usual words: “There is a Moses in every generation”. He continued by saying that Achad Ha'am's spirit is immortal and it will influence Jewry in all future generations and at all times.

During the existence of the school there were numerous teachers. We list them according to the beginning of their tenure in our school.

Mrs. Dvora Bley– taught lower grades in 1922/1923
Mrs. Malka Alper– taught Hebrew, history and Tanach in 1923/1924 (now teaches in Tel Aviv)
Mrs. Yentl Cayman – taught lower grades in 1923/24–1924/25
Mr. Zev Tchernitsky – taught science in 1923/24–1924–25 (now an officer in IDF)
Mr. Moshe Fishman– principal 1923/24–1926/27 (He is in Israel)
Mr. Zalman Ariel–Leibovitz– taught science, Hebrew and Tanach in 1924/25
Mr. Haim Hochberg, z”l– taught Hebrew in 1924/25–1928/29
Mr. Sternberg– taught Polish in 1924–1926
Mrs. Bella Peletz– taught the preparatory class in 1924/25–1926/27
Mrs. Bina Friedman, z”l– taught Polish in 1925/26–1038–39
Mr. Yaakov Kobrinsky–taught Hebrew, Tanach, arithmetic, geography in 1925/26–1932/33 (He is in Israel)
Mr. Shimon Feinstein, z”l– taught Hebrew, Tanach, arithmetic, singing in 1923/24–1938/39
Mrs. Hinda Segal– taught in 1925/26–1934/35 (She is in Israel)
Mr. Moliar– taught Hebrew and Tanach in 1929/30
Mrs. Tsippa Margulis– taught in 1930/31
Mr. Baruch Avivi (Voliver) – taught Hebrew and Tanach in 1930/31 (He is in Israel)
Mr. Aaron Rosenstein– taught Hebrew, Tanach and arithmetic in1931/32–1938/39

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Mr. Zeidentseig– taught art and handicrafts in1926/27–1928/29
Mrs. Genia Leyer– taught Polish in 1928/29
Mrs. Bracha Hayot, z”l– taught in the preparatory class in 1927/28–1931/32
Mr. Goutwort– principal in 1933/34–1938/39

This list does not include substitute teachers and kindergarten teachers.

 

Tarbut Hebrew Gymnasia

The gymnasia was founded in 1921. It was during the time of the consolidation of Volyn and the beginning of the newly established Kingdom of Poland.

Yiddishkeit was sensitive in its national element and was livelier than in other parts of Poland. It was capable of determining its own spiritual route.

This healthy national spirit made it possible to anticipate what would be happening to Jewry in the near future. This Jewry was searching for internal anchors to save it in dire times. The Tarbut organization was based on these sentiments.

The Organization for Education and Culture–Tarbut – began in Kiev in 1917. This was the year of the Balfour declaration and the chance for Russian Jews to take part in the rebuilding of the Land of Israel.

The Jews of Volyn joined this movement to build its own cultural and independent life. There was an urgent need to do it because there was now a threat of assimilation.

This is how the Hebrew high school was founded in Rovno and soon afterwards in Kovel. It was an important cultural center in Volyn.

In 1921, two years after the opening of the Kovel branch, Mr. Asher Frankfurt proposed the establishment of a Hebrew high gymnasia. The proposal was accepted and the school year opened with three grades and two preparatory classes. Every year another grade was added until in 1926/27 a senior class was established. The first graduating class of the high school was produced.

For 17 years, that is from 1921 to 1938 there were 11 graduating classes and the total number of graduates was 159.

[Page 145]

The following table shows the development of the school:

Number of students in 1921–1938

Year No. of
classes
No. of
students
1921/22 5 200
1922/23 6 273
1923/24 6 264
1924/25 6 250
1925/26 7 260
1926/27 8 266
1927/28 8 276
1928/29 8 269
1929/30 8 230
1930/31 9 223
1931/32 9 221
1932/33 8 194
1933/34 7 180
1934/35 6 166
1935/36 7 202
1936/37 6 207
1937/38 7 242

 

Teachers of the gymnasia

The High school was fortunate to have an excellent teaching staff. These teachers had a high pedagogic standing and an outstanding education. Each one of them is worthy of a lengthy discussion because they are the remnants of the splendid and praised group of teachers in the Tarbut schools in Poland. The gymnasia teachers were scholars and had deep knowledge of their subjects. What can be done? Time did its bit and the spiritual image of these teachers is no longer available. It is difficult for me to describe them in full. I can only do it with anecdotes.

I well remember, especially, the figure of the teacher of Polish, the late Dr. Chiel. He was true to his name: Fear and trembling. When he entered the classroom, we were full of fear, without really needing to do so.

De. Chiel had the habit of standing at the blackboard until we would calm down. His reddish– brown hair

[Page 146]

Stood out. Woe to anyone who did not notice this hair and did not rush to stand up.

Dr. Chiel was a good–looking man, like R. Yochanan. He had the charm of a complete personality. He was similar to the pioneers. His character was that of prominent personalities. As we sat at our desks we did not comprehend, yet, the substantive meaning of this outstanding soul. Dr. Chiel instituted a Spartan approach in the classroom and he demanded complete obedience from his students. However, when he opened his mouth and began to explain “Pan Tadeusz”, we forgave his harshness. His lessons were times for deep thought. There was no one else in the high school who could explain material like him. He demanded much from us, but he also gave us a great deal. We had to memorize Pan Tadeusz. Woe to the student who missed or added a letter to the written text. We studied Pan Tadeusz in the winter of 1928 and it turned out to be a very important time in our lives. We gained a lot.

Dr. Chiel was quite independent. He had phenomenal knowledge. It was said that he knew the Iliad and the Odyssey by heart in the original Greek. He had an outstanding memory, but he was not influenced by others. He marched to his own drum. He used to tell us: “Man must have a spiritual spine of his own”. He was a proud Jew who did not feel the weight of the Diaspora. He had been redeemed and he taught us to stand up straight and not to belittle ourselves in front of the non–Jews.

The principal, Asher Frankfurt, has been described a great deal and more can be added. I recall one image that I bring up because of its piquancy. Mr. Frankfurt's Hebrew was outstanding, but he was also knowledgeable in Polish. He could have had a contest with Mankiewicz… I remember that there was once a party in his honor and the representative of the government shouted: “Hurray for Mr. Principal”. It is possible that for the sake of routine, Mr. Frankfurt replied: “It is not necessary! It is not necessary!”

Mr. Rotman–Netaneli's name is connected to an evening of Bartholomew that he prepared for us, poor Fifth grade students. It was the fault of the poet, the late Shaul Tchernichovsky. Definitely he was the one. In a Hebrew literature class, Mr. Rotman read “Legends of Spring” by Tchernichovsky. The beginning went well. Then we came to a phrase that scared us: “The weeds will dry; the cracks of the stem will fall”. The beginning of the phrase made sense, but the ending? What do the words mean? What is the connection between them (in Hebrew)? I remembered a popular joke about the difference between “Proverbs” and “Job”? In Proverbs there is no connection between the verses and in “Job” there is no tie between the words. This is a magical Midrash! No connection between the words!

[Page 147]

Gymnasia teachers in the first years of its establishment

Seated, from right to left: Yosef Holder…Meir Reiss, Yaakov Netaneli–Rotman, principal Asher Frankfurt, Zalman Leibovitz–Ariel, Azriel Figelman, Yosef Avrech
Standing from right to left: Shimon Feinstein, Rachel Pip, Dr. Abba Shpruch–Poyzner

 

Mr. Rotman became enraged: “Nu, do you not know, my scholars? And you “Bava Vatra”, (Mr. Rotman gave me this nickname because I used to sit on the last bench), what does the word “swaddle” mean? To help me out, one of the students got up and stated in a loud voice: Sir, there must be a typo here! There is no such word in the Hebrew language – “swaddle”. That is all we needed… We are now grown up and we know, Thank God, that there really is such a word in Hebrew. We even know its meaning. However, for Heaven's sake!…

We behaved in a special way for our Hebrew teacher, L. Chazan. He was the only teacher who had written and published a book. We saw a genius in this author– a creative soul.

[Page 148]

Mr. Chazan had published, in Kovel, his novel “Redemption”. He gave the manuscript to Shmuel Ingberg and the latter copied it in a clear, clean and beautiful handwriting. We envied him for having been chosen to copy the manuscript and thus also being the first reader of the book. Ingberg became very important in our eyes and we began to see him as the image of an author. We knew the phrase:” Get close to one anointed and benefit from it”.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to Mr. Chazan as he awakened in me the desire to create the written word. A few years earlier, a student in the Fifth Grade, Yoske Dolgin, now Yosef Aricha, began to publish his articles in “The Star” of Luvoshitsky. Yoske became known as the best goalkeeper among all the soccer teams in town. When he stood in the goal crease, no one was able to score a goal. We were so surprised when his first book, “Food and Vision” arrived. There was only one copy and it belonged to Mrs. Freilichman. She guarded it as if it were a jewel. She only allowed us to look at it. We were jealous of Yoske because one of us had merited to become one of the muses.

How was he inspired? Perhaps there was a sign from God that whispered to hm: Go into literature. The same whisper probably also told him:” Why do you need soccer? Turn to stories and legends”. By the way, our parents viewed soccer as something prohibited. There was a field behind the high school building where we played soccer during recess or before classes began. There was always some Jew who came to the field and when we told him we were playing soccer he would groan and moan and say: Oy, it hurts your mother!” It is possible that Yoske said to himself: “I can't beat this Jew” …

I was not fortunate to be a student of Dr. Reuven Ben–Shem (Feldsheve). He appeared in our town like a comet. He appeared and disappeared. He arrived fresh and happy, like a young Dionysus who left his band of Gods having fun on Mt. Olympus. He came to Volyn and taught the youth of Kovel to laugh, to stand up erect and to be interested in life and creativity. He came to establish a new way of life. He brought us new existence.

In spite of the fact that he was like Dionysus, he was a true representative of Eretz Israel. This is the Diaspora, but anywhere, I, Ben Shem, tread it is a part of our holy land.

He walked straight and he was full of national Jewish pride. The residents of our town saw in him a new kind of Jew, a part of an evolving epoch in Judaism. He came having earned a doctorate in philosophy. He was well educated in the classics and he was the epitome of a scholar– young in age, but deep in knowledge.

[Page 149]

Fifth Form, Tarbut Gymnasia 1928

First Row from top standing from right to left: Yerachmiel Virnik, Shmuel Gilberg (Gilboa), Eliezer Leoni (Tsuperfein), Mordechai Melamed, Zvi Wohl, Tsuker, David Bromberg, Moshe Goodis, Haim Fried
Second row: Moshe Lerner, Miriam Goldstein (Volk), Rivka Ber, Hinda Bratt (Segal), Shoshana Cooperberg, Sara Plashtets, Sara Karsh, Sara Finkelstein (Bromberg), Sheindel Kleinerman, Yerachmiel Rovner
Third Row, seated: Guralnik, Hava Volvoler, Israel Movshovits, home room teacher Dr. Ida Tsvigel–Fisher, Tuvia Weisbrot, Zissel Rudman
Seated on the floor: Haim Lifshitz, Haim Hizhik, Ossya Eventchuk

 

The greatness of the beautiful personality of our teacher was evidenced before I went to him to ask him to become one of the builders of the Kovel Memorial Book. He replied in a positive manner, but he asked for a two months delay. Two months later the excellent article was ready. Dr. Ben–Shem looked at me with very sorrowful eyes and confessed: “During these two months I struggled with memories of the town– I was really sick. When I remember Kovel and everything that happened to it and its Jews, I am completely broken. My article was written not in ink, but with the blood in my heart”.

Here are the names of the teachers according to the times they served in the high school:

Mr. Zalman Ariel–Leibovitz– taught Jewish studies in 1921–26 with a stop of two years. (He is in Israel, where he serves as principal of Bialik School in Tel Aviv.

[Page 150]

Mr. Shimon Feinstein– graduate of the Peterburg Conservatory– taught singing from 1921 (he is a victim of the Holocaust)
Mr. Eliezer (Lussya) Hodorov– taught physical education from the establishment of the high school until 1925. He is now in Israel. A well–known and talented ship captain, he was famous for his heroic deeds which honor us as well as him.
Mr. I. Feldman (Pladi) – taught art in 1921–22. He is now in Israel and is a well known and veteran artist.
Mr. Yosef Avrech, graduate of the Odessa Yeshiva founded by Prof. Kh. Tchernovits (young rabbi) and a student of Dr. Sh. Tcharna. He was born in Kovel and taught Tanach and history from 1921 on–until he was killed in the Holocaust.
Dr. Abraham Durtchin, z”l. He obtained a doctorate in chemistry from Berlin University– taught mathematics in 1921–22. He visited Israel.
Mrs. Pip, graduate of Lvov University. She had an excellent religious background and taught Polish literature in 1923–28. A victim of the Holocaust.
Attorney Yosef Holder, born in Kalush, taught German language and general history in 1923–27. A victim of the Holocaust.
Mr. Zeidentseig, born in Poland– taught art in 1924–25.
Engineer Meir Reiss, z”l, born in Rovno, brother–in–law of Z. Ariel–Leibovitz, graduate of Advanced Technical School in Lieges (Belgium)– taught, mainly, in the high school of Clara Davidovna. His subjects were Mathematics and Physics which he also taught in the Hebrew gymnasia in 1924. He died in 1939 in Slonim while escaping the Nazis.
Mr. Azriel Figelman, graduate of the Advanced School of Commerce in Kiev– taught Mathematics in 1921–28.
Dr. Abba Shpruch–Poyzner (Pevsner) . He was born in Brody (eastern Galicia) and taught physical education in 1921–23. He graduated from medical school in Italy and practiced for many years as a respected doctor in Florence. He escaped before the Holocaust and was saved by the French underground. He is now practicing medicine in Israel.
Mr. Yaakov Netaneli–Rotman. He was a graduate of Lvov University. Taught Jewish studies and science in 1922–29. He is now in Israel and is the principal of Sokolov–Laor High School in Jaffa.
Mr. I. Israelevsky– taught only one year in the high school–1922. He was a specialist in the lower grades. Immigrated to the United States.

[Page 151]

The first graduating class of the Hebrew High School, 1927

[Page 152]

Mr. L. Chazan – taught Jewish studies in 1925–32. He is in Israel. He is a writer and teaches at a high school in Rehovot.
Dr. Reuven Ben–Shem (Feldsheve) , graduated in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of Vienna. He is an ordained rabbi and taught Russian language and history in 1925. He is in Israel and is the principal of Sokolov–Laor high school in Jaffa.
Dr. Ida Tsvigel–Fisher, graduate of Lvov University– taught Latin, Physics and Chemistry from 1926. A victim of the Holocaust.
Dr. I. Chiel, doctor of Philosophy– taught Polish language and Latin in 1925–29. He became a well–known attorney in Vilna. He was a victim of the Holocaust.
Mrs. B. Kasher–Erlich, graduate of Lvov University– taught German language and history in 1927. A victim of the Holocaust.
Mr. I. Reshel– taught art and arithmetic in 1927. Made Aliyah in 1951 and died a year later. Published children's textbooks.
Mr. Michael Gruber (Giladi) – taught Jewish studies in 1929–31. He is a teacher at Bialik school in Tel Aviv.
Mrs. Hadassah Shprung– taught geography, science and biology. She is in Israel.
Mr. Sh. Rubinstein– taught Hebrew language and Tanach.
Mr. I. Ginsburg– taught Jewish studies.
Mr. I. Kowalski– taught mathematics
Mr. Mordechai Leyer, had a diploma in philology and history from Krakow University– taught history in 1938–39. He was a victim of the Holocaust.
Mr. Moshe Rosenfeld, diploma from Vilna university– taught mathematics and logic in pre–WWII years.
Mrs. M. Hager, diploma from Krakow university– taught science and geography in the last years of the existence of the high school.
Mr. David Erlich, diploma in philology from Krakow university and – taught Polish language in pre–WWII years.
Mr. Aaron Pines, diploma in History from Warsaw University and another diploma from the Institute of Jewish Learning in Warsaw– taught Jewish studies in pre–WWII years.
Mrs. Zinger–Brihel, diploma from Lvov University– taught geography and handicrafts in pre–WWII years.

[Page 153]

Mr. P. Schechter– diploma from Lvov University– taught handicrafts in pre–WWII years.
Mr. I. Kleinberg, diploma in philology from Krakow University– taught English and German languages in pre–WWII years,

These teachers, together with the venerated principal, Mr. Asher Frankfurt, z”l, made the school into one of the best educational institutions in Volyn and in Poland.

The gymnasia was also well–known for its two libraries– Hebrew and Polish. In an educational institution which had as its aim to give its students a Hebrew and a general education, the high school paid much attention to the acquisition of teaching tools. In particular, much was focused on the improvement and expansion of the two libraries. In addition to reading books, there was also a considerable number of science books and other texts to serve the students.

In order to expand the Hebrew library and to interest the students in its contents, Mr. Frankfurt, the principal, organized “Book Month”. During that time the students collected hundreds of important and interesting books, especially scholarly editions from Russia.

There were changes in higher circles in Poland as well as the designation of high schools as preparatory institutions for university, the libraries were geared for scientific study. Many of the appropriate books were transferred to a special laboratory, under the supervision of the teachers of these subjects.

The number of volumes in Hebrew reached 2500, while the number of Polish ones was over 2000. In addition, 420 manuals for teachers were purchased.

[Page 154]

Building the Bialik Gymnasia

We all remember that the Gymnasia was located in the house of Verba, z”l, on the river bank. It was one of the old buildings in the new town. The building was in danger of collapsing and the authorities demanded its evacuation. It was one of the reasons that propelled Mr. Frankfurt to begin the process of building a modern, improved edifice for the Gymnasia. This took place in 1934 when a committee was struck: Moshe Perl, Yitzhak Gitlis, Menachem Reisisher, Israel Finkelstein, Yosef Shochet, Leib Fish, Mordechai Leyer, Yaakov Kuptchik, Aaron Frantz, Zvi Pugatch, Israel Prozhansky, Efraim Tenenbaum, Aaron Melamed, Zev Tsurif and the principals: Yaakov Kobrinsky and Kh. Goutwort. In addition, the following joined as overseers: Yaakov Burk, Moshe Pugatch and Dr. M. Tsichnovits– still with us.

That year Mr. Frankfurt visited Eretz Israel to collect funds towards the construction from among his students and admirers.

On 28.10.1935 a thank–you letter was sent by M. Weisbrot in which the following was included:” It is our holy task to thank you in the name of all our friends and in the name of the 1000 students of the school for your active assistance for the benefit of the building.

Dear friends, we began building not with pleasure, but with the knowledge that we had no choice. The authorities forced us to do it and we had no other way… We still require a lot of money to complete the construction. You, our dear comrades in Eretz Israel, have helped us in this task. We are certain that you will continue to do it for the benefit of the building”.

Frankfurt struggled a great deal until he saw the building standing up. The secretary of the Gymnasia, Mr. Yaakov Kuptchik, wrote the following: “Almost every annual general meeting of “Tarbut” would end with the resolution: We are going to construct a building for our educational institutions. Once there was even a special committee selected consisting of our most active members… Time went on. The apartment where the Gymnasia was housed was becoming more dilapidated from month to month and from year to year. The authorities began to press us to remove the school from this ancient building. A committee formed by the government to investigate the location discovered that it was in great danger of collapsing.

[Page 155]

Principal Mr. Asher Frankfurt with his former students during his 1935 visit to Eretz Israel
He was collecting funds for the construction of the Bialik Gymnasia

[Page 156]

This was the time when the idea to finally begin construction of the school began to germinate in Mr. Frankfurt's mind. It was to be a special building following all pedagogical and health rules– strong and spacious.

The three of us–A. Frankfurt, M. Perl and myself sat down together and we prepared information for a selected group. This was in order to form a building committee. Mr. Frankfurt described the plan– which plot of land was required, what must be built and how much it would cost… A question was posed: Mr. Frankfurt, where are we going to find the money for this project? How much can we expect from members of the Kovel community?

Another person, who had not heard the question, came into the room. He was asked how much he would pledge for the construction and he replied: three hundred zlotys. This reply melted the fear in our hearts. It was decided: we are going to build!

“We have to buy the lot”, but there is no money. It was a winter night and we left late at night and suddenly:” You know, I am buying the lot today!” I was surprised, but I did not say anything. The next day, Mr. Frankfurt told me:” I got a loan of three hundred zlotys yesterday and I put down a deposit on the lot”.

Summer came and after much discussion, the building plan was approved by the authorities. A foundation had to be built. We needed cement and sand, but, most of all–money. We really did not have any money because everything collected during the winter was used to pay for the lot. No matter, thankfully, there were still some wealthy members of the community who had not been approached yet. It was necessary to do it, but who will be sent? Mr. Frankfurt grabbed one of the members of the committee and began to go from house to house and people reacted positively.

Money was needed for bricks, plaster, metal, payment to the workers and Mr. Frankfurt went to Eretz Israel. There he had many former students whom he could approach.

Great effort was made to put up walls for the ground floor and then work stopped…Winter came and the windows– without glass panes– protruded like blind people's eyes. When spring came, the foundation was flooded and the walls were covered in moss. We despaired.

Summer is here and we need lumber, but we have no money. What to do? Mr. Frankfurt went somewhere and obtained four thousand zlotys. The walls were bought and work began again. It was a miracle that the building was covered with a roof before the cold returned. The remaining winter months served as vacation time. The plan was to complete the building during the summer and to open the Gymnasia in the fall of 1937

[Page 157]

The construction took three years. The cornerstone on Yuridica Street was placed on 16 Tammuz 1934. The celebration upon completion was on Aleph Kislev 1937. There were many participants in the festivities which included a grand parade.

When the cornerstone was placed the following special scroll was read:

“Blessed are you, our God that has brought us to this day.

Today is Friday, the 16th day of Tammuz, 1934, 1864 years since the destruction of our second temple, thirty–seven years since Dr. Binyamin Zev, ben Yaakov, Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress, seventeen years since the Balfour Declaration, 12 years since the League of Nations announced our national home, 16 years since the establishment of Poland by Dr. Ignaz Mosteshitsky and Governor Yozef Pilsudski, during the presidency of the Zionist movement of Nahum Sokolov. On this day the cornerstone was placed for this school, Gymnasia Tarbut in Kovel, Volyn. This was accomplished by the friends of the Hebrew schools, the authorities and all the volunteers.

In the year 5697 since creation, in the ninth month, the month of Kislev, the school was inaugurated, with great happiness, in the presence of its founders and representatives of the government, as well as Friends of Hebrew School and representatives of other institutes in the Kovel.

[Page 158]

The building stretched over an area of 325 m sq. on a lot of 3200 m.sq. It had three storeys with a staircase in front. The structure had 22 rooms and halls. Of these, 8 halls were divided for classes, but one was a gymnasium, three were laboratories, an office, a staff room, principal's office, medical room, cloakrooms and a library.

At the laying of the cornerstone for the gymnasia building, the inspector from the Kovel area said that the completion of the construction will give Mr. Frankfurt a beautiful graduation diploma. The completion of the building was much more than a graduation diploma. It was a brilliant success for Mr. Frankfurt, z”l. The dream of his life was achieved. He reached the heights of his educational and public life. He was only forty–nine years old at the time. The gymnasia had existed for 17 years in a precarious position– waiting for a disaster to happen. Now he was given wonderful tools and the gymnasia became the high ground to which all students aspired.

Mr. Frankfurt, z”l, reached the height of popularity. A committee has been formed to celebrate his fiftieth birthday in 1938. Its members are Moshe Perl, M. Leyer, Yosef Avrech, M. Rosenfeld and Yaakov Kuptchik, z”l.

A congratulatory letter was sent to him by “Tarbut” of Poland, “Tarbut” of Kovel, teaching staff of the gymnasia, the committee of the Society of Friends of Hebrew Schools in Kovel and graduates. Among other remarks, the following was said: “You are the one who founded the gymnasia and you led us to fight for its existence, development and success. The institute was erected in spite of the tremendous struggle and times of despair. You encouraged us all. The building is wonderful and is temple for the education of our youth.

Our cultural life is difficult. We still have a further goal and there are many obstacles in our way. World events proved that the ideals of redemption are our only anchor in the stormy sea, the sea of exile. There are so many threats trying to obliterate us. You understood this, dear Mr. Principal, seventeen years ago when you began this holy task of national education. You undertook the correct road for our culture: total revival of the Hebrew language and its spirit– a complete Hebrew education without any shortcuts”.

[Page 159]

Contribution of the Gymnasia in the rebuilding of Eretz Israel

It is well known in general and Jewish history that small towns, or even villages, became famous due to the sages and scholars that had settled there.

Zionist and Hebrew Kovel received its spiritual strength from the Hebrew Gymnasia. It was a miniature “Yavneh”. Our town became known throughout Poland as a Hebrew and Zionist town. Due to this fame there were many outstanding teachers who were well educated and they contributed much to the spiritual and cultural development of the town. These teachers did not only teach their students, but they were involved in public life throughout the town.

The Gymnasia, was, first and foremost, the fortress of the Zionist and Hebrew movements in town. It was a wonderful nursery where young people were nurtured and they were the ones who carried, on their shoulders, the dream of the revival of the Hebrew language and the rebuilding of Eretz Israel. This is where the strike force was honed and it went out to conquer the Jewish youth and to bring to them Zionist ideas.

Almost all the outstanding counsellors and leaders in the Zionist and pioneering youth movements in town were graduates of the Hebrew Gymnasia. These graduates were the spokesmen of Hechalutz, Hechalutz Hatsair and Hashomer Hatsair. They also were the debaters with those who opposed these ideas. If you met a young man or woman on the street speaking fluent Hebrew and dreaming of making Aliyah, you knew that they were the results of the education in the Hebrew Gymnasia. This Gymnasia which was a temple on the banks of the Turia River.

It seems to me that our teacher and rabbi, Yaakov Rotman–Netaneli, who lives with us here in Israel, defined best the essence of our Gymnasia. He said that his duties in the Gymnasia were not only to teach, but he saw himself also as an ambassador. His role was to encourage the youth of Kovel to make Aliyah. This is true because the Gymnasia was like an embassy whose aim was to prepare the Jewish youth for Aliya.

Indeed, the Gymnasia did wonders. The graduates of the Gymnasia did not only stand out in Kovel, but also here in Israel. Among them are teachers, kindergarten teachers, writers, important functionaries and public figures.

 

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