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[Page 76]



Educational Institutions

by N. Chinitz

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Slutsk excelled in its scholars, as a place of Torah study, its hadarim (plural of heder = a school where little children learned Torah), where they taught the Pentateuch [Humash] with RASHI commentary, the Bible and Talmud. Even the very poor made every effort that Torah would not be forgotten in Slutsk. Some of the melamdim (teachers) were well dressed and “learned in the ways of the world” and their teaching rooms were clean and nice, but these were few. We should mention “R'Welvel Prizivitzer”, a handsome Jew, who treated his pupils softly, taught them the Bible (TANACH) and the first pages of the Talmud.

The heder of R'Shmuel-Yosef Regelson was modern for its time. R'Pesach Karon, a short Jew, with a warm and sensitive heart, was attracted to Eretz Israel. He had a large library and would lend books for a small fee. This Zionist man and his library were famous. His body was bent, and through his glasses one could see two dreaming and smiling eyes. His library and his room filled his heart with love.


The Rav R'Berl Griboshthcik, Head of the Yeshiva in the “Karnayim” synagogue.


R' Zalman Zitin, head of the Yeshiva in the Ironsmiths' synagogue, member of the religious Court in Slutsk.


Rav Goldberg is telling:
“I was in the heder of R'Pesach Ezra's, one of the best melamdim in town. The rabbi was a short man, his head sunken between his shoulders, his face, with a white beard, radiating nobility, his forehead wrinkled like an old yellow parchment, his eyes shining with love and his lips smiling.

The rabbi made me sit on a bench near a long table, where several children already sat, their books open. He opened a prayer book and showed me the large letters, saying: “This is 'alef' – alef, child, and so on.” As I was repeating the words, some copper coins fell on the table from above. “See, child” – he said – “the angels are sending you a present from Heaven.”

In R'Pesach Ezra's heder I learned siddur (prayer book) and the Hebrew language. R'Pesach Ezra's had a library of children's story books and every Shabat eve he would lend his pupils little books that would capture the hearts of the children by their beautiful legends and charming stories.

In the rabbi's courtyard several fruit trees grew – how good and pleasant it was to play in their shade! His wife would gather apples or pears that had fallen from the trees and give them to the children playing around, who would find in them the “taste of paradise.”

The little Yeshivas were well known: R'Nehemia's, in

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The Talmud Torah in Slutsk. Its pupils, melamdim and teachers.
In the 4th row, the second from right, is “Kadish the melamed.”


R'Iserke's synagogue, the lower and the higher class. Who didn't know R'Nehemia, with his sharp mind!

The spacious courtyard of the synagogues – “the Big Bet Hamidrash, the Cold Bet Hamidrash, the Taylors' Bet Hamidrash, the Kloiz and the synagogue Karnayim” – served as a formal meeting-place for the students of the “Little Yeshivot”. R'Yashe Tritzaner, a great scholar and a quiet person, was loved by his students. In the women's section of the Karnayim synagogue R'Beril Gribentchik was teaching. He “had” two tables, a long one and a smaller one. He was a tall Jew, skinny and with large protruding bones, yellowish hair, long sidelocks and a small beard. He was honest and straight, with an appearance of a monk or hermit. His father was making combs, and he himself was an ordained rabbi from the Volozhin Yeshiva, a friend of the writer Michah Yosef Berditchevski. He was complaining about the writer, sighing and coughing: “Such a great scholar, and lost his right path”….

In the Taylors' synagogue, the great Yeshiva Etz Hachayim [“The Tree of Life”] was situated, relocated from the synagogue on Ostrova Street. Here the Gaon (genius) R'Isser Zalman Meltzer would give his lesson. The yeshiva employed two supervisors [mashgichim], R'Pesach and R'Sheftil Kremer, and later it relocated to the special building at the end of Shkolania Street. The supervisor was the Rav R'Asher Sandomirski, who served until the Yeshiva was closed by the Soviets. Rabbis, teachers, authors have graduated from the Slutsk Yeshiva: I.D. Berkwitz, Rav Prof. S. Asaf z”l, Dr. Nathan Klotz, the poet Lisitzki, Prof. Meir Wachsman, Rav Rubinstein from Vilna, Chief Rabbi Katz of Petach Tikva, the son-in-law of R'Isser Zalman, the scholar Kotler and others. Another small Yeshiva was situated in the Blacksmiths' synagogue, and Rabbi Pesach Mamosh was teaching there. It is worthwhile to see what the poet A. A. Lissitzki said about him. Later, Rav R'Zalman, a merchant in coals, was teacher there, a short Jew, full of Torah. Most of his trading was done by his wife, a true “woman of valor” – sometimes he would help her. At the synagogue on Vilna Street the head of the Yeshiva was R'Yitzhak Leib Rabinowitz

The “Modern Heder” had a special place in the community. It brought a ray of light by the method of “Only Hebrew” [lit. Hebrew in Hebrew]. We remember with a blessing its first founders-teachers: Kagan, M. Hazanowitz, the well-known writer Avraham Epstein (Aba Aricha), Yarkoni, Berger, Gutzeit, Sweidel z”l and, may he be inscribed for a long life, the teacher S. Nachmani (Nachmanowitz), who is now in Eretz Israel and was one of the first founders of the “Modern Heder”.

In 1914, a second Modern Heder was established in Slutsk by the teacher Yitzhak Katzenelson (Hazanowitz' brother-in-law) and Reuvke Altman,

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a great scholar, very knowledgeable in Hebrew Literature. Nahum Chinitz and Israel Aharon Sviranovski were also teachers in this Heder.

In Slutsk was known the “Old Talmud Torah,” where there was more shade than light, yet it educated an entire generation of poor people and laborers, who later headed several movements and institutions. Two of them I remember: Kadish the melamed with his thin beard, an honest and righteous man, who continued his holy work to the end of his days. He taught Talmud calmly and tried to make his pupils understand difficult passages. I shall mention also the director of the general studies Mishkovski, a Bund man, who opposed Hebrew and all that was connected with it. He was an honest man, was married to Klara Mironovna, a Zionist woman, who gave fiery speeches.

Another Jewish-Russian institution was the Jewish school “Evreiskvya Utchilishtza,” but this was a “Jewish School” only by name, since the instruction language was Russian, except very little “religion” and “Hebrew” and a few prayers. During vacation days and formal holidays, as the king's birthday and the like, the principal Levinsohn would appear in the synagogue with the School Choir and the officially appointed rabbi, Levinsohn would speak and the ceremony would end with the performance of the choir.

During WWI, as the flow of refugees grew, in 1914-1915 the Talmud Torah became full of children of refugees and a new branch of the local Talmud Torah was opened. The Rav R'Yosef Feimer introduced Hebrew and Bible [Tanach] as mandatory subjects of study. A girls' school, of four grades, also opened. The principal was Chaim Kagan, the language of instruction was Russian, but they taught the Yiddish and Hebrew languages as well. They also began to teach the girls Hebrew and Yiddish songs. Most of the teachers were members of the BUND and the Bundist spirit was beginning to rule, little by little.

The “Tarbut” School that opened at that time in Slutsk was soon closed by the Soviet regime, then was opened again during the Polish rule. Among its teachers were: Azriel Nakritz, Shemaryahu Barhon, N. Chinitz, Lipshitz and others. In the evenings they had “evening courses” in general education, Hebrew and various other subjects.

Slutsk had a wonderful Library, with books mostly in Hebrew, Russian, Yiddish and some other languages. Annexed to the library were a reading room and a club. The library played a major role in the cultural development of the youth and the laborers. For the Yeshiva students, as well, the library was an important source of development; they drank with great thirst whatever they read.

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Among the Russian important institutions stood out the classical Russian High-School, of 8 grades. The graduates of this school were known for their extensive general knowledge. The school was known through Russia, and many students were “externs” (studying elsewhere) and came only to pass the exams and receive the matriculation diploma. Those who passed the exams were happy – many failed. Sometimes an anti-Semitic teacher would ask a non-relevant question, only to be able to give the grade “failed.” The historian and writer Saul Ginsburg wrote in his book “Historic Writings” about the school:

“In the Slutsk region lived many Polish Calvinist estate owners, people of culture, who were free of the Catholic fanaticism and treated the Jews with tolerance. The contact with them influenced the Jews culturally and enlarged their spiritual outlook. Moreover: among the enlightened estate owners were often people who openly assisted Jewish young people who aspired to a good education, while the environment was in total opposition. In Slutsk there was a large Polish Calvinist community. Two of them, noblemen of the House of Domanski had business relations with Kaplan Yakov of Minsk, and they suggested helping him enroll his son in the Slutsk High School. Indeed, in 1840 Meir Kaplan was accepted as a student in the school, in the 4th grade. Most of the teachers were Calvinists. It is worth mentioning, that one of them, Vanovski (the Vanovski who was later the Russian Minister of War was from the same family) studied Hebrew with Meir. The high school was impressive: a large two-story building, long and wide, with a large entrance, on the “Boulevard Street”.

The Boulevard was always full of students, wearing coats with shining buttons. The teachers were well dressed, walking around proudly as if saying: Here we are the rulers, and everything is in our hands – good or bad.

A high-school for girls, of seven grades, was also opened. There was also an elementary private school, of six grades, headed by Rav Ashman and a commerce school of 8 grades, situated in a large and beautiful building, on the road to the train station. The building was well planned and had laboratories, reading rooms and meeting halls. It was headed by Ivanov, a liberal and respected man. The commercial school had a norm of admission – for every 10 Cristian students one Jew was admitted, and the other school admitted 2 Jews to 10 Christians. The Jews covered the cost of managing the school; otherwise it would have ceased to function. The town maintained also a 2 grades school by the name of Smena, for girls of poor families, where they taught Russian and arithmetic and very few other subjects.

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The Head of the Yeshiva

by Rav Yosef Eliahu Henkin

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

The great scholar R'Isser Zalman Melamed z”l – all days of his life were one long chain of learning, teaching and acitivity. The days of his study in Volozhin were the days of the hunger for “enlightenment”; many of the students were attracted, but not this student. He continued studying Torah and was a good friend of the Rav, teacher in the Yeshiva, R'Chaim Soloveitchik z”l. When Volozhin was closed, he went to Radin.

After he married the daughter of R'Feivel Frank z”l from Kovno, his wife took upon herself the duty of providing sustenance, so that he could continue studying. He and his brother-in-law R'Epstein z”l were appointed heads of the Slobodka Yeshiva, without a salary.

At the time, the Sloboda Yeshiva was supported by the well-known donor R'Ovadia Lachman. During the great controversy concerning the study of “Morals” at the Yeshivas, according to the method of R'Salanter, the Kovno and Slobodka Yeshiva Heads were part of the opposition.

After arguments and changes, R'Isser Zalman had to decide whether to return to Slobodka or to settle in Slutsk. He was also busy at the time with taking to print his work on the Jerusalem Talmud.

After many hesitations, he decided to go with his family to Slutsk. Yet, the arguments between the rabbis in Slutsk deterred him from stabilizing the situation of the Yeshiva; therefore he took upon himself to take care of the ordinary physical needs of the Yeshiva as well – and he did both things with great success.

His lessons were liked and appreciated more than the lessons of the other teachers in the Yeshivas, and his talks on the subject of Morals made a huge impression, and I remember some of the talks he gave between the afternoon and evening prayers [between Mincha and Ma'ariv], which filled our hearts with the fear of God, in particular during the month of Elul and the “Ten days of repentance,” as he would often burst in tears. From 1897 to 1904 he served as teacher. He was also Head of the Religious Court in Slutsk, and was busy publishing his writings, as well.

After that, they appointed R'Isser Zalman Rabbi and Head of the Religious Court and the other rabbi remained only in the yeshiva in Zaretse Street and surroundings.

Since then, the Yeshiva developed more and more, until finally it built its own fine building, after having wandered from the synagogue on Zaretse, to Ostrover, to the Taylors, to the Kloiz, all in parallel to the well-known “exiles” of the Sanhedrin. Hundreds of students flowed to the Yeshiva of Slutsk and its name became famous. One of its branches became the Yeshiva of Shklow, as the scholar Fruskin z”l was sent there to serve as teacher. The Slutsk students opened a Yeshiva in Stołpce as well, with the help of the Head of the Religious Court there.

At the time the yeshiva was located in the Ostrova Bet Midrash, the “enlightenment” movement and secular studies spread among the students. The Yeshiva immediately prohibited secular studies and reading newspapers. Some of the students left and opened a new yeshiva. Rabbi Isser Zalman, firm and stubborn, fought against any deviation from the accepted ways of the yeshivas – only our holy Torah and its commentaries should be the guides of Judaism.

The Odessa Yeshiva was different from the others: its leaders introduced Torah and general Education together and it became known as a shelter for those who left Torah, and the name “Yeshiva” was kept only as a cover.

At that time, however, the Rav Reines z”l founded a yeshiva in Lydda, for the study of Torah and other studies, but his hopes that its level of Torah study would be high were not fulfilled and the students' bags were full of books by the new Hebrew writers and writers in other languages. The same was the fate of other yeshivas, founded next to older yeshivas, as that of Slutsk and some others. However, the Etz-Chaim Yeshiva, under the directorship of Rabbi Isser Zalman, grew, and hundreds of students from near and far came to study. During WWI, the worries of the Head of the Yeshiva were great: he had to watch and make sure that the students should not be mobilized and sent to battle and he was concerned with the city matters as well, as the chief rabbi: refugees from Poland and Lithuania filled the town and he had to take care of their needs. Epidemics erupted, and the rabbi fought like a hero to keep everything in order.

During the days of the Revolution and the victory of the Bolsheviks, he made every effort to keep the yeshiva and the Talmud Torah functioning and he was arrested and saved by the fact that he was liked and respected by the leftists for his deep devotion to the poor and the oppressed. Finally he was forced to escape to Kletsk, which belonged to Poland, and remained there several years; after his son-in-law the scholar Rabbi Kotler became the Head of the yeshiva, he made Aliya to the Holy Land.

In addition to his holy work at the Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem,

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and printing his writings, he became the main authority in all religious matters and was a great help to his fellows. I shall not exaggerate if I say that thousands of letters asking for help for individuals and institutions were received from him in New York, most of them in his own handwriting. Only during the last year of his life somebody wrote the letters for him and he would sign them. Some of the letters reached our office after his death.

Here are described some of the ways of the scholar, who brought light to the children of Israel by his study, his deeds and his merits. He was the father of his students and the teachers who worked with him.

He supported me personally as well and helped me establish the yeshiva in Stołpce and sent me students from Slutsk.

May he rest in peace and may his eternal rest be of honor.

(From his book that appeared in New York 1951)

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The Reformed Cheder

by S. Nachmani

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

At the beginning of the year 5667, the first reformed cheder was opened in Slutsk by the Hebrew teachers Mordechai Hazanovich, Shimshon Nachmani and Dov Cohen. This institution gained a reputation all over the area and the number of its students increased month by month. Until the establishment of the “Reformed cheder”, the education in Slutsk was poor and dark, by the melamedim (teachers), who tyrannized their students with a cane and a leash, without a trace of Hebrew and a national spirit in their teaching. There was an enormous opposition to the reformed cheder from the melamedim and the ultra-Orthodox. This issue also came to Delturia before the authority.

It is worth noting that Avraham Epstein, Hillel Dubrov and Y. D. Berkowitz conceived the idea of the establishment of a reformed cheder back in the years 5662-3 (refer to Berkowitz and Epstein's letters).

Epstein's trip to Ekaterinoslav for training in the teaching method of Hebrew in Hebrew and pedagogy in general ended in disappointment. He realized that the three of them are not ready for this: they lack professional and pedagogical training. The trio dispersed. In the meantime, Berkowitz became known as a master Hebrew writer. Dubrov wandered from school to school in the cities of Ukraine. Epstein was a teacher in schools in Warsaw. A few private Hebrew teachers remained in Slutsk. Due to the aspiring for a matriculation certificate, there was a great demand for Hebrew teachers. Dubrov's activity left traces, such as: the Zionist library and club Tsheina (founded with the great help of Y. D. Berkowitz), which was closed after Zionism was banned by the government.

The Hebrew teachers and admirers of Hebrew literature were S. Nahmanovitz and Dov Cohen. It was the period of crisis in general Zionism and the Hebrew teachers belonged to the left-wing parties and Po'alei Zion.

In approximately 5664, a new teacher, Mordechai Hazanovich, was discovered in Slutsk. Hazanovich, who came from Stari Durogi, where he was a home teacher with Mr. Leib Berger. Hazanovich found him a partner in Slutsk and settled down with her. He was known as a gifted teacher, with a pedagogical sense, even though he did not receive pedagogical training in any Ulpana (school). In the meantime, he was content with teaching private lessons and there were many who knocked on his doors inviting him to teach Hebrew to children and adults.

The rumor about the reformed cheders reached Slutsk. The traditional cheder and the Talmud Torah for the children of the poor still stood firm, although there was one young teacher who installed benches in his cheder, but the teaching method remained as it was. Hazanovich, of course, joined the Hebrew Speakers' Association, which continued to have a miserable existence. He visited or taught in the reformed cheder in Homel under the management of Israel Adler and once he was familiarized with the teaching methods according to the natural method, he came up with the idea of opening a cheder of this kind in Slutsk. Some of the parents supported him and the main helper was the head of the local Zionists, attorney Karpman, even though he did not intend to send his children to the reformed cheder. His story should be told in the chapter regarding the Zionist movement in Slutsk.

Hazanovich energetically approached to realize his idea and influenced his friends Nahmanovitz and Cohen to join him. The principles were: a) a mixed school for boys and girls, b) the method of teaching is Hebrew in Hebrew. A spacious, four-room apartment was rented, with a closed yard next to it. Furniture was ordered from the carpenter Tuviah Makhanik and his son Yosef, who was a devoted Zionist. The furniture was the same as those of the local gymnasium: benches, cathedrals, blackboards, cabinets and more. Ads have been posted in the city and in the synagogues regarding the opening the reformed cheder. The Zionists helped with propaganda that was successful and in the fall of 5667, the reformed cheder was opened, which was filled with male and female students for grades 1, 2, and 3.

The three teachers obtained “melamedim” (teaching certificates) certificates, which decorated the walls of the rooms, and they started teaching using the method Hebrew in Hebrew, from the first day. It was like a wonder to see the little children speaking and singing in Hebrew in the house and on the street. The lack of experience was made up for by their efforts and their study of Hebrew and general pedagogical literature. Language studies were made according to the books of Ben-Ami, S. Ben-Zion and the Bible. The special teachers, Moshe Katznelson and Yosef Goldberg, were invited to teach the general studies, in order to teach Russian in the evenings. The material achievement was also surprising. The investments in furniture and appliances were covered little by little. In the first winter, in addition to the teachers, they hired also a Shamash (beadle), Reb Meir the shoemaker, who took care of cleaning the house, heating the stoves and served as a messenger. The propaganda against the reformed cheder by the melamedim


The teachers of the reformed cheder

From right to left: S. Nachmani, Mordechai Hazanovich, Dov Cohen, Noah Rubenitz

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and the ultra-Orthodox circles was fierce. Is it possible? Can boys and girls study together and walk bareheaded? But all this was to no avail.

In the summer of 5667, many students were added and it was necessary to invite another teacher. They wrote a letter to Avraham Epstein, who was then living in Warsaw, and he responded immediately, returned to Slutsk and joined the group of teachers. Epstein, who had already gained experience in the natural method and was by nature a gifted teacher and an educator with supreme grace, increased the attraction to the reformed cheder and many flocked to it.

The coordinator of the work was Hazanovich, who was already a permanent resident of the city and a father of a family, and so it was natural that he handled all the technical matters of the reformed cheder. The rest of the teachers, who were singles and did not live in the town, did not take root in the reformed cheder. They strived to do great things, some of them went far away, and some strived to immigrate to Israel.

The accusations against the reformed cheder increased day by day in the ultra-Orthodox circles mainly, the rabbis announced a boycott of it and there was a case of one old man, who was absent from the city for a while and upon his return he found that his grandson had been studying in the reformed cheder. That old man tore a tear and behaved mournfully and announced that he would not rise from his mourning unless his grandson leaves the cheder of the heretics.

One morning, the reformed cheder was surrounded by the police and a thorough search was made in the children's benches, in the chimneys of the stoves and also in the attic. The police searched for a self-defense weapon. Indeed, there was a basis for the police's concerns, because one of the teachers was a member of the self-defense committee. He used to aggressively collect sums of money from the wealthy residents of the city in order to purchase weapons, and they probably snitched on him. Of course, no weapon was found, because it was hidden in the safest places. The panic that arose in and around the cheder was stopped by attorney Karpman, who suddenly arrived in a carriage. After a conversation with the police inspector Nadziratl Gaborski, the search was stopped.

The single teachers did not last long in the cheder. The first to drop out was S. N. that for reasons beyond the institution's control, was forced to leave Slutsk in 5668 and his place was temporarily filled by the teacher Eliyahu Greenfeld (who is of course Eliyahu Yarkoni, one of the first veteran teachers at Petach Tikva). He didn't last long at school either, and likewise, Avraham Epstein and Dov Cohen, who left Slutsk and traveled far away. Other teachers came in their place. However, the reformed cheder was established and existed until the October Revolution and in addition to Hazanovich, other teachers such as Ze'ev Gotzeit, Berger, Noah Rubenitz, Nachman Schweidel, N. Enchantedin, taught there.

The writer Y.D. Abramsky dedicated in one of his “The Bridge” booklets warm words to Gotzeit, and these are his words:

- - - “Gutzeit was one of the best persons, he was an old bachelor all his life, as if he was born an old bachelor, with one blind eye, a Hebrew teacher, accustomed and experienced. A master craftsman. He set the foundations of the Hebrew language in Slutsk. Berkowitz and Lisitzky had a vision and high aspirations. Gotzeit was the foundation and the root of Hebrew. Anyone who is from Slutsk and knows Hebrew - he is one of Gotzeit's students, he was the “unknown soldier” and the Hebrew language owes him a lot and it owes him a favor for his acts. He supported economically his old mother and his sick sister, and dedicated his life to the Hebrew. Many teachers


The reformed cheder in Slutsk, its students and teachers

In the center: The teachers Eliyahu Yarkoni (Greenfeld), M. Hazanovich, Avraham Epstein, Dov Cohen

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I have seen in my life. I have never seen someone like him. He had a passion for grammar. All his essence was dedicated to the Hebrew grammar. The one good eye he had was a good eye for the Hebrew, a straight eye, observes to the “roots” and observes the ways of the “declension”, so they will not deviate from the right path. It was said of him, of Gotzeit: Gotzeit saw with his one eye things that the big “reviewers” did not see with their two eyes. The “stress” was never “lax” in his hands, he knew the difference between the “Vav Hachibur” and “Vav Ha'ipuch” and how to use them, and he practiced the expression of gutturals and the laxities letters according to all their principles… Gotzeit had a student named Yaakov, who also had a passion for the Hebrew language, that used to say: If you want to know more about the letter “Ayin”, from which I learn Hebrew well, go to Gotzeit : “Gotzeit is the “Ayin of Ya'akov”, he is the source. When my time to leave Slutsk came, I took a book and wrote on it: “To the man that only the truth was spoken from his mouth”.

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The letters of Avraham Epstein

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Letter A

Ekaterinoslav, 26 Shevat, 11.2.1903

My brother Dubrov!

My brother, please send me the latest notebooks - the verb tables for Zeldas, I need them very much. - - - The letter of our association, “Hebrew speakers”, made a pleasant impression on our association. I myself served as the secretary that evening and I was assigned to prepare a reply to your letter. But you already know my answer, I'm a little lazy and I don't have much free time. Nevertheless, don't be desperate, as I am slowly getting to my main goal. I am now teaching a company of various artists, and if I will succeed, I intend to take the test to get a teacher's certificate - this certificate is of necessity. I am not sure if I will be able to complete it until May. The time has come to do something regarding the foundation of a reformed cheder in Slutsk. It is necessary to collect material, to group a collection of various objects and things - necessary material according to the English method. It is necessary to encourage the people, to act according to the public opinion, in general, and to prepare the ground for it. It is necessary to buy different toys made of wood and stone. In one word, to take from everything that can be taken, small as well as large, and do not underestimate it. The details are in the letter.

Your brother,
Avraham (Epstein)


Letter B

Ekaterinoslav, 6.6.1903

My brother Dubrov!

I wonder about two things. I am amazed at myself that I could hold back for such a long time and not write you anything, but I am even more amazed at you, how could you go over this thing in silence, as if all this did not concern you in any way and as if there had never been anything between us. I can't believe that you have already stopped being interested in me, in my situation, in my ambitions and my future plans. We all had one goal, you and me and Berkowitz, and this goal brought the three of us together and created a special atmosphere between us, some kind of relationship and inner connection that goes beyond the usual friendship.

Believe me, my brother, I myself did not divert my mind for a moment from this goal, and the idea of finally founding a “reformed cheder” in Slutsk was the main thing that directed all my thoughts, deeds and actions. And if I myself have not written to you until now, I deserve to be reprimanded and I hereby say “I have sinned!” But you - how could you completely forgot me and did not remind me of my duty to my city and did not ask me what I was thinking of doing and did not write me anything about the state of affairs in Slutsk and how your preparatory work for the benefit of our idea is progressing? It is an enigma and it will remain an enigma! However, I do not wish to settle an account with you. I know for myself that just as I do not write because of my organic laziness, which has been rooted in me since I was born, so do you, you do not write because… because writing is extremely easy work and therefore it's hard for you. This thing is a parable to a woodcutter who happened to sign his name and couldn't, because his hand was trembling, and he was amazed at the same thing: even the cedar in the forest explodes with the force of his hand, but to hold a pen – that is beyond his strength.

You are a lively man with many activities who love to work, and write a few lines - this is beyond your strength and it makes you to sweat. First of all, how are you? Is everything good with your health, your spirit and your financial condition? How did the loneliness affect you after Berkowitz was taken from you? (Berkowitz contacted me after he escaped in the middle and left you alone, but from the words of his letter I saw and understood the great inner battle he had before he decided to leave his safe place and try the big world).

Are you still dealing with public needs, like you've been dealing with up until now? What is the state of the Zionist movement in our city? Did you have an election and who did you choose? (Surely the “honorable delegates” who were in the Minsk church were elected again this time). What is the state of the library “the child of our plays” and who is managing it now? What is your attitude towards the library and the association, after you resign? And the Association of Hebrew Speakers - does it still exist?…

I'll now move on to the question that concerns us the most, the “reformed cheder”, which we want to establish in our city. It is difficult, of course, to limit the time in which our idea can come true in reality. But I am certain that the actions for its realization will start – I do not have any doubts about that for a single moment. This thing is necessary, and it cannot be otherwise.

During the time that I spent in the reformed cheder in Ekaterinoslav (this is surely already known to you) I learned to know all the details of the matter, both from the material and technical side as well as from the descriptive side. I realized that

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the establishment of such an institution and its maintenance require much more forces and much larger sums than you can imagine. Only a social initiative, only the participation of some public institution, of some association, or an entire society, will be able to put this thing on a proper and strong basis. The efforts of individuals will do nothing, because the “reformed cheders” are in a special situation, which originates from the nature and essence of the cheders themselves.

One of the main conditions of the cheders of this kind is: an arranged division between the students based on their knowledge and their languages. In the old cheders there is no regime and order in this regard. In almost every cheder, the number of students is the number of classes. The melamedim themselves are conducted according to some gradually known method: Bible - Chumash, Talmud and Hebrew, everything in taught in a mess.

The reason for this vision is understandable: the melamed must, according to the nature of things, always accept new students, because the number of veteran students naturally decreases. Therefore, if in a certain period of time, he had 20 students with similar knowledge, then over time, this number of students will decrease and their place will be taken by new students, who do not have the knowledge of the veteran students. Meanwhile, he already has two classes. And this process is expanding from time to time. This is how the mess occurs, which finds a place in almost all the cheders, and which brings the melamed to a loss of his strength and the students to a loss of time, apart from the immoral effect on the students, which is a direct result of such an abnormal situation.


Letter C

Ekaterinoslav, Tuesday, 1 of Chol HaMoed 2.4.1903

My brothers and friends!

You brought me to a great trial in your letter. You didn't make a mistake when you said that my “corner” is dear to me. From the moment I came here I would miss it and all my actions and thoughts were aimed at the main goal of returning to my corner and fulfilling the idea for which I traveled to Ekaterinoslav. However, for that very idea I decided not to listen to the voice of your call. I am still not ready enough, I still lack the experience, so that I can head a respectable enterprise as the foundation of a “reformed cheder”. The pedagogical information and the plans, which I have already gained, are not enough. They are news I picked up by hearing and sight. However, I desire to actually work and acquire the practical information. And such a case, as it seems to me, will be available to me in a few days.

One of my acquaintances, who is also the chief supervisor of the reformed cheders, both here and in Nikolaev, promised to find me a position in the cheder in Nikolaev. Although there is more than an eighth of a doubt in this matter, nevertheless I promised him to wait for his answer. And regarding the companies that you want to establish, I say to you: I stand behind you! If you manage to open a cheder for little children that begin their studies, that would be great, and I ask you to guard the little orphans - the children of Haya Zelda - whom we all owe respect to. I think that you can have them even among the girls – there is no harm in that. After all these things I am telling you that I will indeed intend - even if it will be only in a long time from now - to return to Slutsk. Much of it depends on the state of affairs. But my return should not stop you from doing everything you have set out to do.

Zuta intends to reply to your letter, perhaps he has already written to you. I have already reconciled with Zuta, I spent the first seder night in his company.

Your brother Avraham


Letter D

Ekaterinoslav March 20, 5 Nissan

My brothers Dubrov and Berkowitz!

Forgive me for my late reply. I had a few things to take care of, things that were not so important, but kept me so busy that I couldn't turn my heart to other things. And now my mind is free in such a way that I could handle the question that occupies us with the proper seriousness. You want to found companies for beginner girls and you are asking for my advice on how to arrange this and how to introduce the natural method. I have already written to Berkowitz regarding the pedagogical information and the basics of the method of study, that they are one of the things that cannot be acquired only by sight and hearing. All the theories and lessons in the world will not give or add anything to you, before you have acquired a decent experience in action. Continuing education in the profession of teaching is not given from person to person in written classes; It was obtained with a lot of hard and continuous work, in total addiction to this thing. Although you can acquire the basics of the natural method according to Epstein and Sheltzel, but the technique and the pedagogical tact will only come after a while.

I myself also applied to the advice of the teachers' council of the reformed cheder and here they also replied to me the kind of things I said above and they also offered that I would use the material collected and recorded in the journal of the cheder. This material is very respectable because it is not a theory that is created after a thorough and deep thinking first, but rather the result of live work. I will try to copy this material little by little and send it to you, and it will be of great help to you.

And now I would like to make some general comments on the matter regarding the companies you want to establish.

It is necessary as much as possible to reduce the forces and not disperse them. It is necessary to set up a “cheder” in the full sense of the word. It is necessary for the apartment to be spacious and the furniture, the benches and the tables, to be of the best quality available. This thing is very important because during their studies, the students have to do various movements and actions from time to time and therefore everything should be aimed at those actions, so that the students do not feel any pressure and distress and it will not be harmful to the order and the regime.

The natural method is visible and therefore it is necessary to prepare a collection of various objects: pictures, names of toys, earthenware, straw, dirt, hay and other trivial things. The bottom line: it is necessary to get the students used to bringing all the objects they find into the cheder. And all these objects need to be marked with numbers and called names. Mainly this is necessary for the sake of the students, to make them like the studies. It is necessary for this purpose to plan multiple things which bring them into motion, and to occupy them

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all at once. The teacher must speak only a little, only in the necessary time, and bring the students to the inventions by asking questions, in such a way that they themselves find the answer to the question. He must also treat the students with affection and sometimes also have fun with them, and the main thing is to prepare himself before each and every lesson.

In order for you to know for yourself the progress of the studies and how far the students have progressed, make a journal and write down in it every time the new words and everything that deserves to be written down. I am sending you one page as an example.

A month later, after the students have learned to chat and understand what is being said to them, start teaching them to read and write. Reading and writing will be learned together, in parallel. We need to purchase a movable Alef Beit, large letters that are printed on pieces of parchment. Maybe one of the Torah scribes in our town could make one? You can teach the writing according to Yalin: Reading according to the little children - the student's book.

But first of all, you must visit the municipal school for a certain time and watch the ways of teaching. I think that Yalin will do his best for you and this will be easy for you. And here I almost have nothing more to say to you. If something comes up during the time that could benefit you more or less - I will let you know at the time.


Letter E

Slutsk, February 6, 1908


I have to leave my hometown - Slutsk. From working here in the “reformed cheder” for a whole year, I was left with a pile of torn hoodies and a swarm of debts on my back. In short, I have no purpose to stay here. In case some position is found around your place, in a village, in a town - it is all the same for me! As long as your poor body is still debating in the world of chaos, it needs to be fed. It seems that this is how I am destined for my creativity, that I will be constantly tottered from place to place, without status and without a path. The result of my stay in Slutsk – only despair in the heart and a row of graves in the soul.

Try to get me a positive answer.


A small episode: our Nahmanovitz was really exalted, he was a real hero: in the middle of winter “on a stormy night”, he suddenly left without his parents' knowing about his leave and without a government license! And he did not have enough time to take his belongings as well. It is said that his suffering soul found rest in Rogtsov. “He traveled from Slutsk and settled down in Rogtsov”. Oh Slutsk, Slutsk - my heart belongs to you, to your cheders and to your heroes!

Hillel my friend!

The conditions you propose me are accepted (although the salary is somewhat insufficient). I am willing to accept this position upon the agreement of the council.

The first-class delivery is aimed at my belongings. If God's decree is that I should be among the Hebrew teachers, - then I only want to be a teacher for little children. The little children are my sphere, in which I feel like a fish in a stream. I don't know, maybe it's a coincidence, but in Slutsk I gained a lot of publicity as the teacher who was more liked by the students. I think I have some talent about it.

When are the two months of vacation? It was appropriate to set them in the months of Sivan, Tamuz.

I am waiting for an official answer from the “teachers' council”.


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