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Our Works that were Published in Smorgon

Translated by Jerrold Landau

A. A Reproduction [i.e. exact copy]

In 1908, we opened an independent school in Smorgon called Ivriya. A year later, we founded a book publishing house in Smorgon. The first fruits of our pens were published in 1909. The first booklet published in Smorgon was called “Theories of Material and Relative Naturalism.” We published it in Russian. The primary idea of this relatively small composition, which was 20 pages in total, is brought down with great clarity, and served as the laying of the cornerstone of our pedagogic methodology, which is as follows:

“In order to teach a child, one must first create an appropriate environment and to weave relationships into that environment. These relationships will awaken the recognition of the necessity of the studies to the student. It is not sufficient to teach in a psychological manner, a principle that Pestalozzi noted (1746-1827). It is necessary to teach in a sociological manner, that is, to consider the relationships between the student and the environment, as well as the relationships that are formed between the teacher and student and the students with each other. For example, when arithmetic is taught, one should set up, so to speak, a marketplace, open a store, and create an environment of commerce – a place in which it would be possible to utilize the knowledge gained in a practical manner, just as they developed in cultural history. The study of writing is the same. There must be some functional difference, for writing is used in the natural cultural environment as a means of interpersonal communication toward overcoming the physical distance in which the writers are located.
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In this environment, the need for the study of writing stood out. In other words, one has to conduct the work in the environment quietly and silently, and use writing in place of speech in this environment as a means of communication between the teacher and students. One must maintain a postal system, so to speak. In short, one cannot teach in a vacuum. The necessity for studying the subject matter must come to fruition through a request felt by the student. The school must turn in to a miniature environment. *

Foreign language must be taught by giving commands. The teacher commands, and the student obeys and fulfills the commands. In short, they suffice themselves with the understanding of the meaning of the illustrative words, and there is no demand for speaking in advance, forced by the teacher into the mouth of the student.

The study of reading: One must not use the clever German method of dissecting the sounds and blending them into words. Rather, one should use an orderly foundation and a printing press. The children organize sentences, words, and pronunciation, and only after that, letters and punctuation. After some time – short or long depending on the shortness or length of time it takes for the individual student to comprehend – the student will grasp those sounds, that is the letters, as they repeat themselves over and over in various words. Thus, the students will develop their intellectual capabilities on the foundation of reading.”

At the end of that year, 1909, our work on the teaching methodology of reading and writing was published in Russian, called “The Methodology of Imitation – Understanding.”

 

B. Jewish Pedagogy

That same year, we published a booklet in Hebrew called “An Open Letter on Sources of Nationalistic Education.” In that booklet, we developed the idea based on the foundation of “a theatrical kindergarten,” with education based on commands rather than nouns, as is practiced in accordance with the “Hebrew in Hebrew”[1]. Therefore, we come to a performance of children and not a story, as is customary in schools. We must always be occupied with actions and activities.

We will bring a few sections from this booklet.

“Until Pestalozzi came, the bent ear (mechanical method) prevailed. Pestalozzi came and promoted the idea of investigation (the observation theory). Fröbel came and put a brake on the absolutism of studying the constitution of the limbs[2] (work and play). Now, republicanism of the limbs (work and play) came to the fore. The child is not full of eyes like the angel of death. The child has eyes that see, ears that hear, hands to work, feet to run, and a palate to taste, etc. Natural learning must be from the perspective of “all my limbs speak”[3]. The person benefits from the world with all his 248 limbs and 365 sinews[4]. The person does not look, but rather adapts. Humanity does not develop other than through the means of adaptation. Adaptation implies two things: to the physical surroundings as well as to the social surroundings. Therefore, we juxtapose: Just as humanity does not [advance] solely by observing but by adaptation – so too is education not solely by observing, but rather by adaptation. This is the pedagogy of its right hand limping on its thigh, with its father, Pestalozzi, the founder of observation, at a time when it needed
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to base itself on adaptation--adaptation to the physical surroundings. Pestalozzi based it on psychology at a time that it should have been based on sociology, on adaption to the social surroundings. Furthermore, adaptation to the physical surroundings is actualized by man in a social fashion. The pedagogy of its right hand looks upon man as upon a physical being. James (1842-1910)[5] advises the teacher to look upon education as “an associative mechanism” – woe to that pedagogy that forgets that man is also a social creature, and that education is in particular a social vision.
Furthermore, as we researched the roots of Fröbel's kindergarten[6], we found one important principle missing. It has “work,” it has games, but it does not have “life.” It is lacking the drama of the children, the lens through which the children's lives peer upon all influences, in all their variety and colors, in all their light and shadows. We interpret that in a place where story is effective, drama should be effective, for drama is not like story. Drama is better than a story in content, feelings, movement, independent work, and educational-moral influence. Aside from this, drama should be nothing other than a game, and [why] should drama lose out because it is drama? Why is its place missing in the games of the kindergarten? Go and see how secondary this matter is! Among the games of the children, “art games” take a very important place. Art games are a ladder rooted in the ground, the head of which reaches heavenward[7]. Its bottom rung is playing with dolls; its top rung is Shakespearean drama. What is the game of kings, shopkeepers, teachers, childbearing women, the funeral, and more, if it is not drama on a hylic foundation? Are these games not the shadows of dawn of the human genius, when the sun at its height shines with its “material?” The place of stories should indeed be taken over by drama. The kindergarten will in the future become the theatrical kindergarten.

German pedagogy has eaten sour grapes, and the teeth of us Hebrew teachers are set on edge![8]. Has the time not come for the teacher to remove the German yoke from his neck? What do we have to do with German pedagogy that it shall rule over us?

But what? The Asian lion cub has become the European monkey!

Hebrew teachers! Remove the foreign idols from your midst! Abandon the imitation, the aping! Sanctify yourselves, purify yourselves – and create! The Hebrew genius will be your help.”

 

C. Cosmism

That same year, in 1908, our Yiddish booklet titled “A Book to the Diaspora” was published.

The first chapter of the booklet deals with the despair that enveloped the Jewish street and which was expressed by the “Last Word” of Ch. N. Bialik.

“From where did this black, dark despair sprout? From what foul wellspring does it draw is life? From the tribulations of the nation, from the flaming disasters? No, have we not made enough sacrifices, have we not built enough altars, have we not heard the word “deserving of death” until this day.
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Do you know from where this despair grows? The oppression ekes at the faith in the heart. There is no faith in the spiritual powers of the nation. And there is no faith in the life of the world to come of the nation. All forms of thoughts in their hearts are that human progress is against us.”
The second chapter expands on the statement of the urgent need for a raising of the soul on behalf of the Jewish nation from its perspective of an oppressed nation. The third chapter portrays the ideal from both a positive and negative perspective.
“We must take the ideal from the life of the nation. The national ideal must grow its limbs from the life of the nation, the life of the festivals, holy Sabbath and weekdays, from the oppression and humor, from the tragedies and joyous occasions of the nation. The ideal must be saturated with the tears of two millennia. It must give an eternal response to the great question, 'why and for what reason, and to what purpose?' It is obligatory to give a logical reason and explanation for all the tribulations that we encountered in our Diaspora history, and reason and explanation for 'the days of blood and rivers of tears.' It must revive our martyrs, the rows of generations who put forth their necks for slaughter as doves. It must tie the long past, full of tribulations with the present filled with affliction and suffering, and must build upon them a new holy temple of restored humanity.

Let us take it from the past to the present. We have a past of our prophets and their visions. We received that past as a legacy: The burning desire for truth, justice, and righteousness. This is the fire that constantly burns in our bones; impatience and pining for a raising of social consciousness of all of humanity, strong longing for the 'golden path' in which 'their swords shall be beaten into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks[9]], to the time when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb – this is our pride, this is our crown, this is the breath of our nostrils. This prophetic ideal will be the soul of our national ideal, not a childish ideal, of a pottage of lentils or of a fleshpot, but rather the ideal that embraces the entire world and all that is in it, like the messianic ideal.”

The fourth chapter is called “Cosmism”.
“No nation has the right to sustain the life and business of another nation. No language, no school can benefit from extra rights. Every national language has pathways among the members of the relevant nation and its national institutions. Human institutions, such as the post, the telegraph, and the like, use a general, international language. Every nation without exception is organized upon the communal principle.

In cosmism, the idea of the unity of the oppressed nations into one international group is presented. We regard the strife and disputes among them as a bitter, bloody error, national stifling, and especially as a blinding maneuver of the ruling nation, which takes into their hand the old principle: divide and conquer! However, sooner or later, the separatist egoism will fall away from the eyes of the oppressed nations, and the solidarity of interest of the oppressed will appear as bright as the light of day.”

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D. The Creativity of Children

In 1912, we published a booklet called “Childhood Literature” anthology II of the students at the Ivriya School of the Gordin brothers in Smorgon. It was published by “The New Pedagogy.”

I will include a section from the preface:

Literature to children or literature of children. Earlier, literature was the acquisition of the upper classes, the monopoly of the ruling groups. High level people creations for high level people. Now, literature has descended to the masses, it dwells with the lowly and oppressed of spirit, it is with the poor people, and has even reached the depths of the tramps. The creative fathers of this literature are the faithful of the poor homes, people who dwell amongst their people, feel their pain, and shed their tears.

The child is like the nation. It is an actualization of the moment of the creation of the world[10] – the world of the child. Literature is created for the children. However, the purpose goes forward from there: not literature for children – but literature of children, literature of childhood itself; not the literature of 'childlike adults,' but rather of actual children, children for whom childhood life is their life, childhood thoughts are their thoughts, and childhood acts are their acts; children, with the sun of the joy of childhood over their children, godlike childlike naivete in their hearts, and the satanic blood of childhood in their veins. Bring to the child the freedom of creativity; bring to the child the freedom of the word!

Let us call the children and ask them – they will come and lift the edge of the kerchief covering the secrets of their souls that are covered by secrets. They will come and open for us the door like the hole of a needle to the unfathomable depths – the end and the beginning – which we call the soul of the child.

The methodology of creativity. The catechism that was conceived and born in the image of the Christianity of the middle ages, the catechism by which the principles of religion was taught in monasteries – this 'foreign branch,' the hidden treasure of Jesuit pedagogy, stood as our aid-detractor and was brought in to the cheder. To bring that clash with personal autonomy, that Jesuitism of which there is nothing more disgusting and filthy, that unseemly trait – to bring it in with its head, body, and entire being, with its outstretched boots and filthy dirt, into the soul of your friend and to make it as a person who does his own thing – this unseemly trait was tied with the knot of methodology; with its intellect not calmed until it overtook teaching the written language: questions and answers in writing, a hardening of the mouth and a hardening of the pen. Following this catechism comes the discourse. Not for naught, but rather that it is its child: from the hardening of words comes the hardening of the content, foreign words and foreign thoughts – parroting and aping!

The only result of this non-methodology is the sealing of the sources, the castrating of talent, the flattening of feelings, the clipping of the wings of creativity, the paralysis of thought, the drying of freshness, the dulling of the mind, the minimization of the heart, and the thinning of the soul.

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And the school was filled with this catechism, and there was no end to the astonishment. Europe has become filled with members of 'let us learn wisdom' and there is no end to the gleanings.”
The date is listed at the end, 1 Nisan, 1847[11] years of our exile.

 

E. Education In Contrast with Enlightenment [Haskalah][12]

That year, a prospectus was published entitled “Our Composition.”

I will bring sections:

“We admit to the necessity of education. With this given, we point out the adaptation of the coming generation to its material and concrete surroundings, to its culture in the sense of practical, concrete civilization. We thus reject the rights of teaching in the understanding of giving over 'education'[13]. We reject the rights of the older generation to transmit the culture to the coming generation as a mountain over the head like a barrel [13], in the form of a collection of values, doctrines, theories, weltanschauungs, and life. We stand at the obvious point of an inter-generational battle, the battle of the culture of values between the elders and the youths that set the path for all of history -- between parents and children. This is the 'generational battle.'

'Educate a child in accordance with their way, and even when they age, they will not depart from it' (Proverbs 22, 6) – this is the principle upon which the Haskalah school is based, which the elders latched on to. Every founder of religious theory knows it and uses it to the detriment. They know that everything etched into the tablet of youth will not be erased throughout all the days of their lives. There are only a few special people who are able to uproot the plants that were planted in their hearts and minds at the age of childhood and youth, for this act of uprooting is accompanied by strong feelings of guilt. This guilt and pain were sufficient to frighten an average person to refrain from daring at all to think about or actualize such painful ideas. And fortunate is the person who is constantly afraid [14]. During childhood and youth, everything intellectual turns into an emotional matter, woven and swallowed by the feeling that he it is a matter of emotions. The person acquires a patchwork of youthful essence, which becomes soulful-internal-intimate, personal – and to free oneself from it implies cruelty to oneself, without knowing mercy, distancing a part of the heart, hurting the bird of the soul, erasing a complete section of poetry from the book of life. Doing something of this nature is only possible for those individuals for whom objective truth is more precious than their essence, flesh, tendencies, and being. Therefore, the advocates state that forgetting what is learned is more difficult than learning.

During the days of youth, the intellect is as if it is soft and elastic, with no power of opposition. All theories of education[13] rely on this principle of acceptance of influence. The task of the school of education[13] seems to be the blending of old culture within the younger generation. Its goal is attained because the youth are easily influenced, because the young generation is immersed in an environment where opposition is seemingly removed. It is like iron placed before the heat of the smelter. Forge the upcoming generation while it is still soft and compliant. Bend the sapling while it is still pliable. In essence, the education[14] school is similar to a copier. It etches with the point of a diamond[15] of authority upon the wax parchments

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of the mind and the heart. Then it leaves them to cool, congeal, and harden. The etchings remain in their place in an indelible fashion. The 'educated' students are a wellspring of gramophones and copycats. What has been recorded in them is echoed from them. The old educational-scholastic hymn is spoken and sung from their throats.

The educational-scholastic study is a form of 'flooding of the mind and the heart,' and is worse than regular propaganda. Propaganda, even with organized in a systematic fashion and presented under a government, ecclesiastical, or party rubric, nevertheless remains in essence a free expression. The propagandist and the propaganda target stand next to each other as two individuals with equal rights. However, the educational theory is completely based on spiritual, intellectual, and emotional subordination. It accepts from the outset that the intellect of the youth can be influenced and conquered with great ease. The 'educated' students will be won over for their entire lives. They will think, feel, and act as they were commanded in their youth. 'Educate a child… and even when he ages, he will not depart from it…'

The geriatrization. The educated population is the foundation upon which the older generation ages the younger generation. The elders who have successfully adapted to the life problems that have already existed for ages, are interested in perpetuating and guarding them so they will continue without end. The youth, on the other hand, are bothered by new problems that determine the more open line of opposition. This demands that they draw from energies that are relatively small. For that is the reason that they are created. They are invited to create new creations. They are fit to carry this out both psychologically and sociologically: from a psychological perspective due to their lack of t'he burdens of conservative apperceptions'; from the sociological perspective, because the old principles and ways of life are all captured by the elders. The youth carry on a harsh battle against conservatism, which they hate with all their souls. The elders, with their fear of the youths who come to push them away and remove them from the stage of ideas and the field of activity – in their fear, like Solness in Ibsen's play, in the face of the youths whose essence, arrival, and knocking on their doors – is the foundation of the school of education, which preserves the institution of authority and geriatrization (aging, and subordination to authority). This institution ensures and protects the rule of the older generation. It supports the 'geriatricization.' The school of education is the place in which the elders infect the virus of age upon the youths.

 

F. Aformism – Non-Structure
The meaning of aformism is the rejection of “education” – the recognition that education leads to damage, preventing the development of the human understanding. It endangers spiritual progress.

Aformism means an opposition to formism, to the forging of the soul of the young generation by a special institution existing to impart the form in the style of the older generation, according to its ideology and interests. To 'educate' means to impart the sum total of knowledge and doctrines that were formed and accumulated by the generation the older generation that is going and not returning – to the upcoming generation that is coming of age.

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Therefore it impedes its development, without allowing it to create the form of a new, fundamentally youthful world. It disturbs the youth from creating and accumulating its own perspective, from searching and finding its truths and lies, its pure path and its errors – in short, its direct path and empty non-paths.

The young generation has more talent and opportunities to find a new truth than those who are part of the older generation. However, the educational school sees its purpose solely as a means of imparting the old truths, science, arts and crafts to the young generation.

If it is our intention to raise a free young generation, a generation of free thinkers, who are free from previously accepted ideas, we must not burden their shoulders with the yoke of ecclesiastical faith or the yoke of university science, but rather give them the possibility to think their thoughts or to believe in their convictions in accordance with their soul and intellect, without anyone disturbing this. We must give the young generation the right of thoughts and feeling. The task and mission of the young generations is to forge new forms and to mint new coins. It is forbidden to impose on them the patterns of thought and usual paradigms of feeling, with an engraving that is completely lost on them.

The bearer of aformism is the younger generation, the youth. All who attempt to rectify the school complain unanimously against the lackadaisicalness and deliberation in effecting the changes. Procrastination is natural. The rectifiers approach the communal activists, the parents, and the teachers with their daring plans. They do not approach those whom they should be approaching, those who are interested with their full heart and soul in the improvements and rectifications – the young generation, to the youth studying in high schools and educational institutions.

Aformism directly approaches the young generation whose members are its bearers. Obviously, we do not denigrate the appreciation and assistance of all the preceding elements of humanity, of all those to whom cultural, moral, and social advancement was dear to them and close to their hearts. We especially value the collaboration of the four forlorn elements of society of our times: the worker, the woman, the oppressed nation, and the individual personality. These are the additional forces. However, the youth themselves, at the head like a pioneer, march under their banner, which is the banner of aformism, on the foundation of the international youth union. The youth guard strange vineyards, but do not guard their own vineyard. The are the tar-ointment on the wheel axles that pass over them and trample them. They give the lion's share with their sacrifice for every liberation movement. They fight for the liberation of the workers and nations, but not for their own freedom.

It is impossible to explain cultural history and especially the migration of cultural centers unless one uses the law of conservation. Cultural material grows and progresses in cubes [i.e. powers of 3], and the propelling force is a square [i.e. powers of 2]. Therefore, as the large amount of cultural material gathers up, the propelling power dwindles relatively until it reaches a state of stagnation or freezing. The raw material grows at the expense of the processing. The example, formalism and arbitrariness enslave and chain the free, the drive for change and drive for duplication and tripling. The 'journeys of apperception,' the opinions

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that we have adopted are not from the network of ideas that are spilling to enter, to burst inward. The inert principles decide the variable principles. The continuum of cultural development has moved from those 'barbaric' mechanisms, to nations lacking culture, and then to nations with a low cultural level, or, on the other hand, to the nation suffering from cultural hypertrophy, and tends to jump toward exaggerated conservatism – that is a crying contradiction with the environment that surrounds it, and that forces it to revolt – toward renewal. The idea that European culture has utilized will not disappear because the population is set in a moderate climate, not too cold or too hot. This theory, developed by H. Thomas Buckle (1921-1862)[16], is completely unfounded. The development of culture cannot be explained geographically or heteronomically[17]. The sprouting of culture as well as its wilting and withering are conditioned by its content, and the essence of the spirit and culture, by the psychology of the nations with a plethora of culture or a lack of culture. The blandness of the phenomena of culture must be exposed in all its essence, from its inner core.

The educational school serve as an intensely conservative institution, leading the younger generation on the path of preservation. Were it not for this education, the young generation, remaining free in spirit, uniting with its ideas, doubts, quests, and realities, would begin the culture of the spirit anew, from the beginning. They would pave a path toward the currently 'unrecognizable,' which has no border or end. Europe, according to our understanding, stands before a dilemma: either to accept the theory of aformism that will free the youth with a spiritual, intellectual, and emotional freedom, and remove the faith and science from the library; or it will be become irredeemably decadent after some time. It will become frozen like its sister Asia. Europe will be destroyed from a cultural perspective.

The new pedagogy is the pedagogy of the youth promising endless movement, 'a perpetuum mobile' [perpetual motion machine] of cultural advancement without reversals and congealing of the conservative ideals.

 

G. Historism
When we also use the principle of evolution in the realm of creations of the spirit, understanding that they develop, we are forced to accept the opinion, that they are also liable to breakdown and dwindling. With evolution comes dissolution. Science is the theory of explaining the world which stands to be dismantled, and anything standing to be dismantled is as if it is dismantled already. In the current historical era, it is accepted as a true principle, a true doctrine, since we do not yet have a better, more believable theory. However, we must recall at all times that it is sustained by the perspective of 'a working hypothesis' with a low efficacy, basing its correctness on practical, material results. For the true value of any opinion and idea is not from straightforward truth, but rather from the potential or actual ability to change the material in its environment.
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All the systemtology, all theories to explain and understand the world that are created by humanity are based on the search for the 'non-existent' – on the desire to invent or create something that does not exist in reality. We can describe this activity in the following words: the anthropomorphism of the external world and the objectivity of the internal world at the time that it drifts as a burden.

All the following intellectual metaphors mislead the world: vitalism of the self with fetishism; psychism in accordance with animism, etc., politicism, monotheism in faith, pantheism, Paulism, Munism, or as it should more accurately be called, pannaturism, naturism, polynaturism and mononaturism in science – all these metaphors can be divided into two categories: teleological fiction and causal fiction. Fetishism stands at the sign of the teleological phantom. Each and everything seeks purposes and drives to achieve goals that are not presented before it, as if 'it wants.' That is, it is activated, if we use the scientific lingo, by outcomes, by hoped for results, expectations that he hopes to achieve.

According to science, each and every thing is causal; it is forced by urges and forces that act in its environment. Every event, every process is influenced by antecedents. Teleology is fictitious, it produces models of explanation that do not at all explain. For every purpose is based on a previous purpose, forever. The human intellect does not rest quiet until it brings the purpose to non-purpose, which is, to an independent purpose, and brings the teleology to an independent teleology, that is a world of purpose unto itself.

Casualism is seemingly a game of imagination. It is a deception of the imagination that is supported by intellectual tricks. That is to say, it stands on an extension of the chain of phenomena by the intermediate links of reason, so that it is difficult for the gaze of the intellect to gasp the two ends at the same moment of time. Every reason rests on the preceding reason, every cause rests on a precursor, such that every developed person is not satisfied until he arrives at the camouflaged cause, the sublime of the sublime, independent sublimity.

When we consider the systemology, we realize that all general theories that existed until this time were in in essence explicative, explanatory, interpretive, commentaries. From the outset they determine that they require explanation, that they have an essence that serves as a commentary, and that there are things that require explanation – at the behest of which the sought explanation is found. The supreme and most praiseworthy explicative is fetishism, which is the crown of objective rationalization. Everything, every phenomenon, every process is intelligent. Here, there is pure teleology, the path from fetishism to science seemingly lights up the degeneration of explicativity, of stumbling or the lack of the image of clarity. Animism is to a known extent a contraction of the reasoning of things: the behavior of a thing makes rationalizations through its living spirit and actions, which dwell within it and after some time are found outside of it. In polytheism, we already find agglomerates of things and processes that are united by essences, more accurately beings, reasons

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that are called gods. Therefore, the explicativities are separate from the essence of the things and dwell in creations that are specifically designated for such.

As a result, the things themselves almost lose their entire intellect and reasoning. With monotheism, the world is completely denigrated as illogical and inexplicable. Intellect and explanations are centered around god.

Science makes an additional step, a large step, in the direction of inexplicativity. It takes from its interpretive charm, from the explanation of existence, the free well and understanding. Instead of god comes nature.

However, the action of explaining is completely a trick of the mind, an imagination of understanding. Every explanation demands a following explanation. Every interpretation is connected to postinterpretation, and there is no end. The derived conclusion is that the bounds of desire for explanation is the explanation itself. The explanation is explained from itself, which is a non-explanation. That is, the removal of the final chain from the model of reasoning from a fact that does not say 'interpret me,' or explain me. That is, we come to the idea that a fact as a fact does not require explanation. Every explanation of it is held within its essence as a fact.

The model of creation and essence. The two theories that are forced are those that pursue the intellect of man. In faith – creation; in science – essence. The former is a technical concept. The second is a biological concept. Both of them desire to respond by subduing the fact, to bring something from nothing, and they fail. Faith is forced to come to independent creation of a creator, and science is forced to come to the independent essence of existence, to nature. Both create reality or something in order to explain things that cannot be explained and do not demand explanation.”

(“Our Composition” 1912, Smorgon)

 

H. The Arrangement of Children

In 1913, our composition “The Arrangement of Children” was published with five chapters: a. The value of the written language; b. the pleasantness of learning; c. the methodology of our reading; d. tools; e. curriculum.

We will bring a section from chapter 3, the methodology of our reading.

“Study and Reading

The methodology of the written language transgresses against the principles of pedagogy, against the natural principle. The written language is a language that stands on its own, and all teaching methods for a foreign language must apply to it. Written language is like a foreign language, and must be taught in a natural fashion, without the aid of the mother tongue, which is the spoken language. Since the foreign language is not taught through the means of translation to the mother tongue but rather through its own essence, it stands that the written language should also be learned

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via its own essence, without the intermediation of the spoken language, without translation to the spoken language – that is, without reading.

For example 'shev' used to be translated to the child. 'Shev' means 'sit down.' Today, we are wiser, and we do not translate it to the student's language. We do not exchange a contract for a contract, a word for a word, but rather explain it within the context of the concept, that is, we tie the sum sounds of “shev” to the concept of sitting. The teacher says, 'Shev,' and the child sits down (the theatrical kindergarten). It is thus even with the written language: the teacher shows the student the form of the word 'shev' – and sits down; 'amod' [stand] – and stands.

The sum of the letters of 'shev' and 'amod' are tied to the concept itself and not to a word that expresses 'shev' or 'amod.' Later, through the help and means of this vocalized word, one comes to the concept of sitting, standing, or the like. Why does the translation to the spoken language come, what does reading do? How superior is the power of vocal symbols than the visual symbol of letters? Why do we use the latter over the former?

You see – you remember – and you do. The eye sees, grasps the form of the word and sentence, the association arouses the related concept, and the strands are heard and filled in – not through lip reading, not by moving the lips, but by 'understanding' alone, the reading of the issues, seeing – and doing.

We have forged two ideals in linguistic techno-pedagogy.

The theater of the children – to the spoken languages

The school of the mute [the wordless school] – for the written language.

Reading is literally a translation, but whereas the translation from one spoke language to the next is an art known to expert translators – this translation from the written language to the spoken language is something equivalent for every person. It is done by set principles. The principles of reading are indeed the principles of translation.

The visual methodology is completely directed to the learning of the written language as an independent language. It is not involved with reading, with translating to the spoken language. The imitative method is a mixed methodology: it utilizes the written language, while not abandoning reading.”

That year, and in that publication, our book “The Child” or “The Fivefold Covenant” was published in Yiddish. It is a dramatic poem with five scenes. This book presents the idea of the unity of the unity of the five forlorn individuals in our society: the worker, the woman, the oppressed nation, the youth, and the individual personality.

That year, our booklet “Our Cheder” was published in Yiddish.

* * *

In 1911, we edited the publication “Der Yunger Yid” (The Young Jew) in Smorgon.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. A Hebrew educational methodology where the language is taught by using the language itself (a form of immersion). Return
  2. I am unsure what 'Republikat -Haeivarim' means. Return
  3. A quote from the Nishmat prayer, recited on Sabbath and Festival morning services, as well as at the Passover Seder. Return
  4. A traditional formulation of the human constitution, adding up to 613 – the number of commandments of the Torah. Return
  5. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_James Return
  6. Fröbel coined the term “kindergarten”. Return
  7. Based on Genesis 28:12. Return
  8. Based on Ezekiel 18:2. Return
  9. Isaiah 2:4. The next phrase about the wolf dwelling with the lamb if from Isaiah 11:6. Return
  10. The term used here for creation of the world is “Harat Olam” – known from the Rosh Hashanah musaf liturgy, following the three cycles of shofar blowing. This entire article is full of biblical and liturgical innuendoes – I am only pointing out some of the most prominent ones. Return
  11. An unusual dating scheme. Since the destruction of the Second Temple was 70 CE, the secular year would be 70+1847 = 1917. Return
  12. Often translated as “enlightenment” as the enlightenment movement, but here it likely means knowledge of a more or less secular nature. Perhaps “erudition.” Return
  13. A reference to the coercion at Mount Sinai (termed as the mountain being held over their heads like a barrel). Return
  14. Proverbs 28:14. Return
  15. Jeremiah 17:1. Return
  16. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Thomas_BuckleReturn
  17. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heteronomy Return


 

[Page 221]

“Ivria”

by Hanoch Levin

Translated by Sara Mages

Chapter in the history of Hebrew education in Smorgon

Smorgon served as a place for one of the pedagogical experiments in the field of Hebrew education on the threshold of the new century. Echoes of the educational movement, and the ideas laid at its foundation, traveled far from the town's narrow passages, crossed the borders of its district – between Vilna and Minsk, and spread to the wide domain of Russian Jewry until it knocked on the doors of H. N. Bialik and E. L. Lewinsky, who were not exempt from determining their opinion, and their position, on the voice that came from Smorgon, Lita [Lithuania]. This right was brought to our town by the sons of HaRav Gordin, Abba and Zev, who were later called the Gordin brothers. They were known in Russia as seekers of anarchism but remained in the spiritual life of our people to fertilize the generation's mind with original seeds of thought – from the school of Abba Gordin.

However, all that came later. Earlier, in 1905, the dynamic young men arrived at the home of HaRav, R' Yehudah Leib, author of “Divrei Yehudah” and “Diglei Yehudah,” from the fanatical Hassidic Ostrow, to “free” Smorgon. They were deeply interested in knowledge and craved action. They were full of new thoughts and sought an outlet for their youthful vigor. They didn't come empty–handed. The amazing autodidacts, “the Gordin brothers,” already had the best minds of their generation. They were already familiar with the teachings of [Max] Striner, and knew whole chapters of his book, “The Individual and His Property,” by heart.

Their rabbi and teacher was [Pierre–Joseph] Proudhon, and saw him as a strong spirit. Tolstoy captivated them with his educational–pedagogic teachings, and the new gospel from “Yasnaya Polyana” shook all the cords of their hearts. And above all – the deep rooted knowledge of all the treasures of Jewish culture, the Talmud and its commentary, Halacha, Midrash and Aggadah – the legacy of HaRav, R' Yehudah Leib.

It wasn't long before the two began to implement their eclectic doctrine, in theory and in practice, in the field of education, and they started in Smorgon.

The advice was of Abba Gordin. At the beginning it didn't aspire to great things, all they wanted was to establish a new school, new in meaning, as an intermediate stage. “Heder metukan” [improved or reformed heder] served as the first layer of their educational structure, in the sense of a corridor to the parlor. They discussed and decided to set principles first:

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  1. The teaching in “heder metukan” would be Hebrew in Hebrew.
  2. The institution would be secular and free in its essence. It will not teach prayers and law, and will try to distance itself from everything that the religious spirit emanates from.
  3. With that, its teachers will focus on the acquisition of original Jewish values, as expressed in the classical literature – the Bible, and at the same time teach the new Hebrew literature. They will try to also bring the generation's thinking, with its various streams, before the talented students.
  4. “Yasnaya Polyana” will serve as an exemplary example.
Equipped with a fiery desire, clear principles and a well–tested plan, the two went out to conquer the uncultivated field, as they called it, of Jewish education in the town of Smorgon.

Although their father, the rabbi, stood aloof and his religious consciousness objected to the “youthful act” of his sons, he secretly blessed, from the depth of his heart, their exceptional daring out of hope that the work, and its framework, the concern for the matter and the difficulties of making a livelihood, will do their part and the “rebellious sons” will “grown up.”

The rabbi placed the rear half of his spacious apartment at the disposal of the “brothers.” Abba Gordin, and his brother Zev, went to work without delay. They collected furniture, everything they could lay their hands on – tables chairs and benches from the neighbors and even from Batei HaMidrash in town. With their own hands they distributed notices wherever they came: in the streets, in the shops, in the synagogue, in the heders and in the “small yeshiva,” in these words:

Since the Gordin brothers, the rabbi's sons, are opening “heder metukan,” our brothers, the Jewish people, are asked to come and register their children, in the place, on the day and the hour listed below…

And since the number of places is limited, we hereby notify everyone who is interested that, first come, first served.

The notices were written in three languages: Hebrew; Yiddish and Russian.

The results weren't long in coming. The day after the announcement was published many began to knock on the door of the town's rabbi.

Young mothers, daughters of homeowners, came to register their daughters. Also young fathers, “free,” so to speak, who “walked with the time,” were seen at the entrance to the rabbi's house. Some were anxious, some ashamed, with their little boys holding on the edge of their garment. And there was something to be anxious about: the Gordin brothers had a reputation of complete heretics. It was known that they dissociated themselves from the yoke of mitzvot and respect. Even on the Sabbath, and on holidays, they didn't come to the synagogue to pray and, there were those who said, that they would teach in “heder metukan” without a head cover…

Despite fears, 120 students enrolled in the first few days and it was necessary to stop the registration. The rabbi's rooms were too small to contain all this population and, in addition, the melamdim in town got up and “shouted”: the oppressors of the Jews deprive us of our livelihood, they, Heaven forbid! convert this “holy flock,” the Jewish children, who have not sinned, and, Woe for the calamity,

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at the rabbi's house, R' Yehudah Leib, author of “Diglei Yehudah.” The melamdim, of the town of Smorgon, called for a meeting and threatened to delay the “reading” on the Shabbat.

Under these conditions the Gordin brothers decided to move their school from the rabbi's house, so they wouldn't be an obstacle to their father – on one hand, and be free in their actions – on the other hand. They went and rented a suitable house, with a large courtyard, across the Minsk Street Bridge.

A few days later, on the house, on its facade, above the window cornice, a large sign, almost to the width of the house, was displayed with all its glory. Only one word was written, in a shade of gold, on its black background:

“Ivria”

On this day, the first Hebrew school was established in Smorgon (1908).

Loyal to their conviction and devoted to their opinions, the Gordin brothers set out to introduce to the new school, “Ivria,” the new methods of the best thinkers of their generation who, in their opinion, ensured the natural development of the child and his progress in life, and sought new means and ways to ensure the success of their enterprise.

Needless to say, that the Jews of Smorgon were amazed at the sight of the “Torah” that was being taught within the walls of “Ivria.” They wondered, and didn't understand… And how was it possible, sixty years ago, to explain these “strange” methods of education?

First of all, the children were free to do everything that was right in their eyes. They sang and danced at school, painted and sculpted, and engaged in all kinds of work and practical thinking. They didn't sit at all on their benches, they ran around all day long, and didn't read a book, even for a short while. Is this a new doctrine, and this is the reward? They also don't know how to hold a pen in their hand. The children of Smorgon will grow up, Heaven forbid! to be uneducated, and instead of becoming important people, they would fall into bad ways and become “actors.” Yes, real actors. There was an urgent rumor that “plays” were being held at “Ivria,” A “theatre,” Heaven forbid! Such, and similar, was the picture that appeared before the Jews of Smorgon when they looked at the aspect of “Ivria” – and weren't in favor of it …

The teachers, Abba and Zev Gordin, didn't notice what was happening around them. They were so engrossed in their new concept and were oblivious of the war that the religious circles, and the melamdim, were preparing against them. The two spent day and night at school. Here, they ate their meal… and here… they couldn't even fall asleep. “Ivria” was their only vision. They wrapped their souls in this educational enterprise. Even when students began to drop out, because of the hostile propaganda and whispers, they consoled themselves and said:

Leaves fall in the wind and the tree trunk stands firm.

The rate of leaving the school increased after a terrible incident took place within the walls of “Ivria.”

A girl, the only daughter to her parents, was beaten by one of the students and the teacher stood

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by and didn't intervene – the girl has to fight back, she must capture her place in the children's group on her own. The girl run away from school – startled her mother, and she burst out with complaints: scandal, how could such a thing happen? Children are beaten and the teachers stand idly by. The rest of the children will see and learn from the teachers' behavior. And what do you think will happen in the end? They will grow up without manners, to be robbers and thieves.

It must be published in the “Gaztin.” – – In the “Gaztin” – tells Abba Gordin in his book “Thirty years in Lita and Poland” – they didn't write but, they talked all over Smorgon about this “incident,” and the conclusion, that the townspeople came to was – that the school, “Ivria,” should be uprooted with everything in it.

And how do we do that? We will take the children out and the shepherds will only be left with their “flutes.”

The incident was – stimulating, and it would have brought disaster to the educational enterprise, but, the Gordin brothers' “flute,” with its clear beautiful sound, continued to play…

We must prevent disaster. The teachers of “Ivria” went out to the public in a publicity campaign. From house to house, in a face–to–face conversation, they tried to explain their way in education. The town's homeowners locked the doors in their faces. “We will not even allow them to stand on our threshold – these converts.” But they didn't give up, they found a few sympathetic fans that understood their spirit and believed in them. Two of them stood to the Gordin brothers in their distress and they are: Rachel Lamdenski, daughter of the former community activist who enrolled her only son to “Ivria” out of recognition, and the second, Yosha Lvitan, that his son and daughter also studied at the school. They didn't spare any effort to explain to the public and spread the idea of the new Hebrew school.

Abba and Zev Gordin's new pedagogical doctrine ripened in those difficult days. It was modern in its foundation and preceded, in almost one generation, the patriarchs of the new Hebrew education in the Diaspora. The method was given a clear form, it was embedded in scientific patterns and was well explained – it is the method of instructional teaching (the imperative method) of the Gordin brothers.

From their little experience at “Ivria,” they understood that the students do not grasp the method of wording. Not the verbal memorization and its numerous repetitions, but the liberating activation of the senses by direct contact – to do, perform and create.

In 1908, the year of the establishment of “Ivria” school, a textbook by S.L. Gordon was published by Tushia Publishing. With all its innovation it didn't answer all the pedagogical requirements of A. and Z. Gordin's school. Again, the boring statistics, and almost all of it words, words and names, and this is the innovation – pictures and drawings – but what will the children do with them?

The teachers of “Ivria” asked for a trigger which leads to movement. They

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wanted to start the child's mental mechanisms by means of short orders that give birth to actions and movements. From here came the name – the command system.

In order to bring the children into free oral expression, sentences of command were thrown into the classroom, one by one – to do, to act, to play, to be in motion and create.

Sentences, of this kind, were easily absorbed by the students until, a short time later, they had a great treasure of sentences, not isolated words, orphan and abstract, unrelated to one another, and all the more so, do not bring the children into action, activity and practical work but, to miniature masks of human actions that are stored within the framework of logical connections that cause the child's activity. The young teachers, sons of Rabbi Gordin, preceded the members of their generation with new pedagogical thought of an active and working school, preceded – with complete faith.

Since the founders of “Ivria” continued to follow the path they had chosen, and constant movement, action and workmanship found a place at the school, there was no reason not to set up the theater in the institution. Its growth was organic. All that was left for the teachers to do was to arrange the sequence of actions that the commands provoked around one subject and before them was a dramatic novella, a miniature play.

But Smorgon, in the first decade of the twentieth century, what did it have to do with the new advanced method? For her, it was the “theater” that – “He that keeps his soul holds himself far from it” [Proverbs 23/7]. That – and no more?

So far oral expression, but, how to teach reading and writing? It turned out that these can also be acquired by a game. The teachers of “Ivria” ordered from a carpenter and a tinsmith, both parents of students, typesetting boxes of letters and vowels. Each student was given a typesetting box. The students created, without any difficulty, imperative sentences from their typesetting box, and as small printers they stood before the general typesetting box, which was located in their classroom, and pulled from it, wonder of all the wonders, letters and words which joined in their hands into sentences that all of them demanded: do, act and create. It was impossible to pull the little ones away from this “magic box.” In turn, they composed written actions and built worlds.

At the same time, the teachers for beginners in Smorgon, Yankel Kazan, Baruch the melamed, and Itza Mechlis, stood before their flock and in a gesture (“teitel” in a foreign language) showed them the form of a holy letter in the “Sidur” and said: Kamatz, Aleph– A.

This is the way of A. and Z. Gordin, who couldn't settle for little in spiritual matters, and didn't rest until they published it in public. What did they do? They gathered strength, sat down and prepared a textbook for the children of “Ivria,” and like them everywhere, by the name, “Theatrical Garden,” which contained a series of gradual lessons for an entire school year, from beginning to end.

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When they finished their work they sent the manuscript to Moriah Publishing in Odessa. They didn't wait long for an answer, and the letter – the letter of H. N. Bialik himself and its exciting opening:

“Your work is useful and important” – and the first part and the last part is something like this:

Under the existing conditions (financial), the publishing house does not see the possibility of publishing your book (and again, the most useful and important), since, in the whole country, there is only a small number of institutions, “kindergarten” and “Ivria” such as yours, that can use your book. Therefore, you should send your manuscript to Eretz–Yisrael. Who knows, maybe your salvation will come from there.

Also, this time, the young educators didn't despair. Zev Gordin left for Warsaw, to Ben–Avigdor, with the recommendation letter from H. N. Bialik in his hand: helpful and important… Ben–Avigdor welcomed the teacher from Smorgon, praised their work, but he also rejected the publication of the book for the same reasons that H. N. Bialik rejected it – the generation is not ready for it…

And again, it was “Ivria” that saved its founders–teachers from loss of faith and despair. In their day–to–day work in the children's kingdom, although, a small kingdom (of the 120 students half remained) – they saw the whole vision. At last, they said, not the word written on paper is the essence of education, but the word engraved on the hearts of their students. Nothing else, only “Ivria” alone is the realm of desire, the promised land… “Theatrical Garden” wasn't published by Moriah, and not by Tushia, in 1909 it was published in Smorgon by the authors. After its publication booklets, on didactics and new methods of teaching, were added as loyal companions. This publishing house, which was born in Smorgon and called “The New Pedagogy,” published an original book, the first of its kind – “From Children to Children.” It was a collection of works by the students of “Ivria.” The two, who stood out among the young participants of this literary collection, were: Pinchas Lamdanski in poetry, and Tzvi Hersh Kevito (the future famous announcer of Radio Moscow). In the story, Lamdanski's father, who traveled through Odessa for his business, visited H. N. Bialik and gave him the collection, “From children to children.” The venerable national poet praised the book. When the story became known, the situation of the school improved and its virtues rose again. The teachers, Gordin, no longer had to fight for every child's soul. Many came to study with these “stubborn,” “craftsmen of one craft.” “Ivria” school in Smorgon developed a reputation throughout Russia and even overseas. An article written by A Litvin, who visited our town that year, was published in the American “Forverts.” In amazement and enthusiasm he tells about the institution and adds: I examined its students and there was no end to my amazement at the sound of their fluent Hebrew speech, the extent of their knowledge and understanding. Also S. Ansky, the well known writer of “The Dybbuk” who left to wander in the Jewish settlements to investigate the situation of the Jews and to collect folklore treasures,

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sent a positive opinion on “Ivria” to the company on whose behalf he was sent. Among the other visitors, who spent their days at the school to closely examine the methods used in it, were: the teacher and educator, Y. Y Glass, author the “Heder,” and Hochenberg the author of textbooks at the time. They published their impressions, both orally and in writing, in public.

“Ivria” has long ceased to be just a school, a closed educational area in Smorgon. The institution began to serve as a source of inspiration and center for the new Hebrew education for the entire district of Vilna, and even beyond its borders. The extensive pedagogical work, which took place within its walls, found expression in many textbooks, the most famous of which was “Alphon Mischak” [Alphabet book with games]. On the occasion of the publication of the “Alphon,” Abba Gordin left for Warsaw. There, he made his first contacts with Hebrew teachers and educators, pioneers of Hebrew teaching in the Diaspora, Y. Alterman, P. Halperin and Pugachev who heard about “Ivria” and knew its process according to rumor. They were amazed by the young teacher, who stood before them and lectured confidently and enthusiastically about his pedagogical opinions. They didn't support everything, but the “innovation” – the new way – captivated them.

It was Fischel Lachower, the literary critic and historian of the new literature, who recognized the merits of the book “Alphon Mischak,” the fruit of six years of experimental work in “Ivria,” a theory, which can be carried into practice. It was he who blessed the completed work and published the book by “Safrot” Publishing.

Al off a sudden, the place became too narrow for the Gordin brothers in Smorgon, not they despised it, but because they knew a bigger world and new horizons were revealed to them.

The blessed acquaintance with the literary “lions,” I. L. Peretz, D. Frishman, young Sholem Asch and other “young priests,” who stood at that time in the eastern “wall” of Hebrew creation – all these, including their literary–pedagogical program, could no longer be stored within the walls of “Ivria” in Smorgon. The talent and dynamism, inherent in them from birth, now wanted a broader field of action. In their imagination, the teachers, from the home of HaRav Gordin, had already taken off beyond their town to evoke a general human–educational movement. For six whole years, from 1908 to 1914, the joy of small school children filled “Ivria” in Smorgon and, suddenly, its voice fell silent…

The school didn't open for the 1914 school year. The joy of the children of Smorgon ceased and the taste of childhood life was taken from them. They looked up with grief at the sign “Ivria,” which hung orphaned on the school's fašade, a painful reminder of what was, and passed.

The author, Elchanan Cajtlin, son of Hillel Cajtlin, immortalized “Ivria” in his book, “In the House of Literature,” and so he wrote:

The Gordin brothers came to my father's house in Warsaw. Stood and preached before him about the new ways of education and unacceptable forms of teaching. In their hometown, Smorgon, they founded and managed a school that served as a laboratory for their daring ideas. They were the first among our people to lay the

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foundation for a school called, “Creative school.” Thanks to them Smorgon was given the right to be the first Jewish town with new modern education.

And as an end to the unfinished “pedagogic poem” of “Ivria” in Smorgon, and as an echo of orphan poetry, I bring one case that the hand of fate has made it a symbol:

After the First World War, in the early 1920s, the survivors, refugees of sword and famine, returned from Russia to the ruins of their hometown, Smorgon, The first thing they wanted to do was – to establish a Hebrew school for their children. In the “women's section” of the ruined Great Synagogue they installed a temporary house of prayer and housed the first classrooms there. They invited from Vilna the teachers, young Y. Tatarsky and the veteran teacher Beck.

Between classes, in one of the breaks, a group of children, whose members wandered every day among the mounds of their destroyed town, dragged kind of a strange beaten object – a tin sign whose shape had been lost and was covered with rust. They brought the sign to their teachers and together deciphered one word: – “Ivria.”

The golden color didn't remain in its letters. On the ruins of the town of Smorgon the sign wallowed in ashes during the days of the war, as if it wanted to stay there and not be taken away. This is last remnant of a loyal testimony of interesting educational experience.

 

A. and Z. Gordin

 

[Page 229]

The Smorgon “Kibbutz”

by M. Ivenski

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

 

Smorgon was located between Vilna and Minsk. It was considered a small town in the district, but in truth it was livelier, if not even greater, than the district town Oshmien. It was easy to make a living in town – there were more than a few wealthy Jewish families. Although most of the residents were simple shopkeepers and workers, Smorgon was considered a rich town. There was enough “flour” and the Jewish residents sought to plant also “Torah” as much as possible.

The main source of livelihood in Smorgon was the leather manufacture. The owners as well as the workers were totally dedicated to their work; however, spiritual matters were not neglected and Torah study was always first. When the Volozhyn Yeshiva was closed in 1892, some of the Balebatim [well-to-do and respected leaders of the community, lit. “house owners”] brought a number of students and teachers to Smorgon, thereby establishing, amidst the “weekday” atmosphere of business, a kibbutz [group] of learners and worshippers, who were immersed in Torah study with body and soul.

Most of the members of this kibbutz (called “kloizniks”), were adult men ordained as rabbis. But the group included younger men as well, who had just left the yeshiva to begin their independent lives. There were no regular lessons at the kibbutz, but the kloizniks would study in pairs, learning from one another.

One of the kloizniks (1895) became later famous as the

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Yiddish writer A. Weiter. His real name was Aizik Meir Devenishki, and the kloizniks nicknamed him “the Bianiankener” after the name of his town of birth. Aizik Meir Devenishki was probably 15-16 years old at the time; he was one of the oldest of the younger group.

Considering the standards of the times, the kibbutz was doing well financially. The kloizniks did not have to “eat days.” They even received a weekly support that could amount to 2 Rubles and 50 Kopeks a week for those who had been ordained as rabbis. The others received 30 Kopeks a week, sometimes less. But nobody was hungry – the community would not let anyone fall. The money for the weekly payments was collected from various sources: at circumcision ceremonies, weddings, contract signing ceremonies, even at funerals. It was said that the community would collect money for that purpose “from the living and from the dead.” The collector, who was also the supervisor in the yeshiva and the beadle of the synagogue, was a short Jew, with a face that looked like yellow parchment. His name was Feitel. This Feitel would fast for days, sleep on a bench in the synagogue and be content with very little, as long as his kloizniks were taken care of. He was for them a father, albeit sometimes a very angry father.

Life in Smorgon was peaceful and comfortable. Businesses flourished, as did Torah study. However, this serene situation did not last long. Something happened in the shtetl that caused an uproar. It was kept secret for a long time, but in the end the secret came out. “Horrible things” became known, and the entire town was distressed.

In the outskirts of Smorgon lived a former activist named Ivan Frantzovitch Sinitzki, who was considered trouble by most of the balebatim in town. Sinitzki was a true Russian (although Polish by origin), a fine, respected gentile, who helped Jews whenever he could. However, he was one of those who intended “to turn the world upside down” – change things that were there “since creation.” He was part of the Russian intelligentsia and he devoted his life to “enlighten the masses.” Among the Jews of Smorgon he found fertile ground for his ideas. Most of his students and followers were Jewish adolescents – boys and girls.

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Sinitzki's influence was definitely felt in Smorgon. The sons and daughters of the best Jewish families would go to Sinitzki's house to listen to his lessons. Among them were the rabbi's daughter Liebe Ginsburg (who later became Mrs. Lyessin) and her sister Beile. The balebatim in town were furious, but kept silent: their own children were involved in this.

Sinitzki's influence reached even the Beit Midrash, the study-house where the kloizniks studied under Feitel's supervision. Sinitzki had two representatives there: young Nuchimovski and Shimshelevitz; they preached socialism – the great and important meaning of Labor.

The idea of socialism we could understand and accept; but we could not consent to the activity of assimilators – assimilators were treif, “impure.” We were nationalists.

Shimshelewitz, who was also a “Hebraist,” recommended a Hebrew book, “The Enlightened Carpenter.” This was a small book, part of a series of Hebrew books published by Ben Avigdor under the general name of “One-Groshen-Books.” This book described a Torah student, a genius from Volozhyn, who left his studies and became a carpenter, an “enlightened carpenter,” whose idea and goal was “to be useful to humanity.” Shimshelewitz told me that this was a true story. He knew the young genius who became the hero of the book: his name was Avraham Walt. Shimshelewitz also revealed the secret: this Walt had been in Smorgon a while ago and had a long argument with Sinitzki. Walt was indeed a genius – he said – a socialist, a poet, but he had not yet left Judaism. He was a fiery nationalist… he was a genial person, a great personality…

“The Enlightened Carpenter” caused controversy and indignation, in particular among the kloizniks…

The book set forth among Jews the idea of “work” as a socialist concept. This idea was later adopted and promoted by A. D. Gordon, as the “Religion of Work” [Dat Ha'avoda].

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I was greatly impressed by Shimshelewitz's words…

Even before I met Walt personally, I felt the effect of his ideas. Shimshelewitz would bring us pages of poems written by that mysterious person, who had become the hero of a tale. The poems passed from hand to hand; they were full of Jewish suffering and pain, and willingness to sacrifice his life for Jews.

But Shimshelewitz brought to the kloizniks not only national poems by Walt; he brought also revolutionary poems…. this was actually his main goal. The poems had a significant effect; they greatly inspired some of the younger kloizniks.

The revolutionary poems were known not only among the kloizniks. Craftsmen and other workers were aware of them as well, and in 1896 circles of Jewish workers began to organize. Most organizers came from Vilna; among them was a friend of Walt (Lyessin), Shmuel Levine (Dr. Shmuel Levine, who died in New York about 30 years ago). Levine worked among the kloizniks as well and he talked with admiration about one of them, a genius, who became a great poet and socialist. He meant his friend Walt.

By that time, strikes began in town. This was already too much for the Balebatim – they were furious. At the same time, a preacher came then to our town, Simcha Cohen, who was a singer as well as a speaker. He would “sing” his sermons in a threatening voice that penetrated the souls of his listeners. In his sermons he asked the fathers not to spare their sons, but to do everything in their power to annihilate the “idol worship” [socialism] from their midst. The effect of the sermons was great: it caused trouble in many families, where sons and daughters of rich Jews helped enlighten poor laborers, show them how they have been exploited and organized strikes against their own fathers.

Even among the kloizniks in the Yeshiva incidents began to happen. Feitel the supervisor caught one of the students, Botwinik (from Rakov) reading from a book that he kept on top of his open Gemara [Talmud volume]. Actually the book was an entirely

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“innocent” book: it was a grammar book of the Russian language by Kirpitchnikov. But a rumor began, that the Rakover was one of Sinitzki's men. The result of Kirpitchnikov's grammar book incident was sad indeed. One of the Smorgon Jews, the rich man Baruch Nathan, slapped the Rakover and drove him out of the Bet Midrash.

The fact that a kloiznik was beaten upset the entire kibbutz in the Bet Midrash. Older pious people were angry at Nathan, who dared to raise a hand on a teacher. The Rakover was a friend of mine, we lived in the same neighborhood; and although I did not always agree with him and we had many arguments about his friendship with the assimilates, I suffered the consequences of the well-known saying “woe to the wicked, woe to his neighbor”…. Smorgon had become too crowded for me. Many of my acquaintances had moved to Minsk.


 

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Whenever I speak about her…
(A chapter of memories)

by Regina Helman

Translated by Sara Mages

 

Not without excitement and longing I bring up my memories today on the sheet of paper before me…As in a play, the images of my childhood pass before me through a bright transparent mirror, and I hold them one by one.

Smorgon my hometown – my cradle stood in you, I took my first steps in you, in your streets I learned my first lesson in human relations, and bought wisdom in your “Heders” and “schools”.

My house in you was small, but the whole world resided in it. It was saturated with faith in God and love for the nation of Israel.

Untypical for girls, my father of blessed memory entered me to the “Heder” of Rabbi Gershon Yankel in Karka Street (Krever Gas). I was a small tender girl then. I was barely five years old.

Even now I can see in my dreams the long wooden benches adjacent to the tables. There were various strange engravings on them, birds and animals that the children's imagination carved, some with a small cheap knife, and some with a nail or a piece of glass. Next to this long table sat a congregation of babies, boys and girls, and learned prayers, the Chumash and the Bible. Next to the “class room” was a small room that served as the residence of the “Rabbi” and his “Polish woman”, dark and narrow was this room and its entire space was filled with two wide beds. The naughty among us played “hide and seek” under the beds of this gloomy room.

Attached to the Rabbi's house grew a tree that its bough almost covered the roof and sloped towards the fence. I remember that the teacher's goat was tied to this tree. The goat, “the only daughter”, was spoiled but kind hearted and overflowing with milk for the children of Rabbi Gershon Yankel. One day, the goat disappeared, and it was “Tisha B'Av” in the rabbi's house. The Rebbetzin clasped her hands, cried and shouted in a voice full of fear.

“The goat is lost and gone, Woe to me! our provider!” Needless to say, that we, the small children, participated in the great grief of the rabbi's wife.

My mother of blessed memory educated us in the spirit of tradition and religion. Every morning, when we got up, she placed us, the children, in a row and we repeated after her word by word: “Modeh Ani Lefanecha” [“I am grateful before You”], and at bedtime, when we climbed on our beds, she gave us a copper laver full of water and a bowl on its side to wash our hands and say: “Hamapil hevlei sheina” [the Bedtime Shema].

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Our mother insisted that also her daughters will pray “Shacharit”, “Mincha” and “Maariv” every day.

And what is remarkable in this? After all, our mother was the daughter of a rabbi, the granddaughter of “R' Yosile der Villner”, and also the uncles were teachers, judges and rabbis like R' Yodel der Zurferner, R' Zalman and others.

Every Friday, after “Kabalat Shabbat”, my father used to bring a poor guest to the house, and mother brought a needy “Yeshiva Bocher” [an unmarried Yeshiva student] every Tuesday.

My father was a scholar, a “reader”, a respectful man with a pleasant voice. His teaching was organized and in his spare time he taught us. How I loved to hear my father explaining the Bible. His explanations opened my eyes, and to this day I haven't forgotten the knowledge that I acquired from him in my childhood. On summer evenings and on the Sabbath he taught me “Pirkei Avot” and “Barchi Nafshi” in the winter.

The first planted words of wisdom and morals in my soul, and the second the love for poetry and the wonders of God. I grew up a little and started to study in the “Reformed Heder” [“Heder Metukan”] of the teacher Schinuk of blessed memory. He was an excellent teacher, a “grammarian”, an enthusiastic lover of Zion, and an advocate of the Hebrew literature. Parallel to my studies in the “Reformed Heder” I also studied in the Russian Elementary School.

Nevertheless, I preferred my Hebrew studies over the Russian studies. When I started to read Hebrew books on my own – I didn't let them go. I was shaken when I read “Ahavat Zion” [Love of Zion] and “Ashmat Shomron” [The Guilt of Samaria] by Abraham Mapu. For many days I wandered dreamily and my eyes rose longingly to Zion.

Our teacher Schinuk had a large part in nurturing the Zionist dream among the children of Smorgon. He inspired us with his stories and lit a sacred fire in us for the love of our nation.

I remember a short essay that I wrote at that time under the influence and the teaching of our favorite teacher. The essay was about a way-of-a-dream, and this is its summery: One day the teacher Schinuk came and said to us: children we are going on a trip. The teacher took us and transferred us on eagles' wings to Eretz Yisrael. And here, our feet are standing at the gates to Jerusalem. We climb the mountains around her and descend into the valleys. In a valley, between fields and vineyards, Jewish farmers are reaping with joy, and the sounds of happiness and joy are being heard from all sides. Blue sky stretches over our heads. Jewish shepherds are sitting on the hills playing their flutes and their sheep are dancing in front of them. We come to a vineyard and our teacher picks a cluster of grapes and tells us: let's carry it with a “pole for two”- we carry the cluster of grapes and bring it to our brothers in the Diaspora.

I woke up and it was a dream. The teacher Schinuk of blessed memory checked the essay and praised the writer (it's me) publicly. He asked me to give him my essay so he could read it before the members of the “Zionist Federation”. I remember the phrase that the teacher wrote on the essay in addition to the grade:

[Page 236]

“Indeed, your feet will step on the land of Zion and your eyes will see the return of our people to their country.”

Not before long, the “Reformed Heder” of Schinuk of blessed memory received a “burst of power.” A young Jewish woman, a graduate of the Zionist School “Yehudia” in Vilna, who was qualified as a teacher, came to Smorgon, married our teacher Schinuk, and helped him with his revival work.

Maybe this teacher from “Yehudia” in Vilna was the cause of my deepen desire to be a teacher. That thought gave me no rest and I looked for ways to make it happen. My parents' financial status was strained, there were many children at home and my sisters came of age. O where will my help come from? My prayer and my secret tears were received in the heavens. Spirit and salvation came to me from a place that I've never expected.

In those days, Dr. Epstein of blessed memory lived in Smorgon. A precious Jew and an ardent Zionist. Though, he was a doctor for his people's illnesses, meaning, body illnesses, he didn't prevent himself from giving medicines for the illnesses of our people's spirit and soul. The city's Zionists gathered in his home for holiday parties or for reading parties from the nest Hebrew literature. And since I was gifted with a nice voice and read poems with the correct emotion, I was invited to one of these parties to read the poem “Igeret Ketana”[A brief letter] by Hayim Nahman Bialik. It seems that I succeeded in reading the poem, because soon after Dr. Epstein invited me and had a long conversation with me. He asked me about my aspirations, examined me carefully, and had made this decision.

The next day, Dr. Epstein came to my father, sat with him for a long time, and persuaded him to send me to a kindergarten teachers' school in Warsaw. My father didn't want to hear about Warsaw. Rumors spread: that “girls were abducted” in Warsaw in order to send them overseas… but my father accepted Dr. Epstein's offer to send me to “Yehudia” in Vilna. And thus I arrived to “Yerushalayim deLita”. The gates to the Torah and knowledge opened before me in this Jewish metropolis, and I lived the life of national and cultural revival of that generation. On holidays I returned to Smorgon. In one of these days - we presented in this city “Chana and her Seven Sons” with Moyshe Kulbak, who later became famous. Smorgon, my Divine city, accompanied me in all the many stations of my life, in all my long wanderings around the world, in the steppes of Russia and Siberia, and in the European countries. And now, when I check my way of my life, I find that a lot of the grace and beauty of my hometown, from the good and noble, are embedded in…[the remainder is missing]

 

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