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[Page 429]

Education in Volozhin


Between the World Wars

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel

[Page 431]

The Tarbut School

By a group of students

The Hebrew Tarbut-School in Volozhin was founded by the town's Zionists after the Polish government had settled down in 1925. A signboard with the words “The Hebrew School in Volozhin” was fixed on the wall.


The sign and the stamp


Among the founders were Ishaya Kaganovitsh, Hayim Goloventshitz, Dovid Kantorovitsh, Shevah Rogovin, Avrom Berkovitsh, Itskhak Shriro and others.


The Tarbut Committee 29 August 1925

From right to left, standing: Liberman (from Smorgon), Itskhak Perski
From right to left, sitting: Noah Perski, Ishayahu Kaganovitsh, Benyamin Shishko


The building contained four rooms and accordingly four learning classes only. There was also a fifth one, the Mekhina (preparation) class in which the new coming pupils were prepared to use the school's main language, the hitherto unknown Hebrew. A second after-noon shift was organized for this additional class.

Hayim Goloventshitz was invited to manage the School and also to teach Bible and Hebrew literature. M. Gurevitsh from Sol, Hayim Levin from Ivye, Benyamin Shishko and Noah Perski both of them from Volozhin served as teachers.

From its foundation until closure the School was short of resources. It did not receive any allowances from the town council. The authorities claimed that in the existing Polish Elementary School, which was supported by the Government, the learning was free and there is place enough for all. Parents who would like to teach their children Hebrew and educate them in Zionist spirit had to pay for it.

The authorities compelled the school to teach the Polish language and history. Its teachers were Polish in the beginning. Later they were replaced by Jews.

The first remarkable happening we remember was the Jerusalem Hebrew University's opening celebration. Lord Balfour standing on the Mount Scopus announced that with the opening of the University a source of wisdom had been founded. Hayim Nakhman Bialik said at the end of his oration that redemption for all of mankind will come from this place.

Volozhin citizens congratulated one another with the “Shehekheyonu” benediction. They felt it was a great victory for the Hebrew Language. The windowsills were lighted with candles like at Hanukah. The Tarbut students gathered on the streets singing Zionist songs and speaking Hebrew.

During the first years of the school's function its pupils wore homogeneous uniforms, blue skirt, black apron - the girls, Blue shirt with blue pants – the boys. Girls as boys wore blue hats decorated with the Tarbut symbol.

The management decided to introduce Latin language lessons to enable students' attending government high schools in which Latin was obligatory. Mr. Mirer from Vilna was invited to teach this language.

The school took also care of artistic education. Mr. Ratner founded a string orchestra and became its first teacher. The band participated in all festivity events of the school and of the community.


The Tarbut String Orchestra – 1926

From right to left, standing: Berman, Lea Shvartsberg, Fruma Rogovin, Efrayim Rogovin, Shlomo Gurevitsh, Israel Berkovitsh, Yakov Rogovin, Shlomo Liberman
From right to left, seated: Bela Potashnik, Mina, Rashl Vaysbord, Shoshana Berkovtsh, Avram Gurevitsh, Hayim Ratner, Hayim Goloventshits, Noah Perski, Benyamin Shishko, Peshke Rogovin,Bela Kramnik, Berman, Tsirke Bunimovitsh


The Volozhin Tarbut School was strongly linked with the Eretz Isroel building, its lands acquiring and settlements. We used to buy Keren-Kayemet stamps, to read monthly Hebrew magazines and to participate in all events linked with Israel, with its language, its style of life its work conditions and the Aliya to Israel.

Our small shtetl' Tarbut School was visited by important Zionist personalities, among them Mr. Isaac Tabenkin, leader of the labor movement in Erez Israel.

The School was positioned near the Great Volozhin Yeshiva. Its fame and tradition influenced our behavior.

Well educated, very polite, we stood up as a teacher entered the class. To our teachers we turned only after raising a hand if permitted. We called them respectfully: “My distinguished schoolmaster or schoolmistress” (Adoni, or Gvirti Hamoyre/a).

Although, following tradition we were able to behave like the Volozhin Yeshivah students. It was known that they did not greet the Hanaziv and boycotted his lesson after the Rabbi slapped a colleague student's face for having spoiled his peyess- side locks. A teacher once slapped our Tarbut - student with a rule over his hand and it was resulted in a strike. We opposed the teacher's entering our class until he excused himself following Hanaziv's famous example.

Hayim Golovenchitz left Volozhin for Israel in 1928. Mr. Benyamin Shishko replaced him until 1931 the year he followed his predecessor and went to the Holy Land.

The last Tarbut manager was Mr. Yaakov Lifshits from Rakov. During his time in the position there was a major demand for higher classes. The community decided to enlarge the existing learning space. Building materials were bought and amassed on the courtyard. But the shortage of resources disabled its construction. Despite this classes were added. And towards the last year of the Hebrew School's existence seven regular classes plus the very important “Mekhina” were functioning. The problem of space was meanwhile resolved, until better conditions would come, by enlarging the second shift and by occupying a part of the women's partition in the Volozhin main Synagogue, which was situated some hundred yards away near the Yeshiva.

During Yaakov Lifshits' managing period new teachers were required. Mrs. Fruma Lifshits, Yaakov's spouse and Ms. Lapp (Lapoovna) were teaching the mekhina and the children in the lower classes. Yaakov Finger from Soll became our teacher for Hebrew language and its grammar and literature. He gave also lessons on Jewish history and the geography of Erets Israel.

Ms. Rachel Melzer, our natural science schoolmaster, was a born Volozhiner. She was married to Shneur Kivilevitsh (Yudenrat head in 1942). Rachel spoke with her students only in Hebrew, avoiding Yiddish even during the breaks while the children in the elder classes spoke Yiddish.

Mr. Taller from Moltshad' was responsible for the Religious branch: all 5 Pentateuch Books, Judges and Prophets, Kings, Prayers and some Gomorrah chapters. Mr. Taller privately used to prepare some boys to the Bar-Mitsva ceremonies.

Yakov Lifshits, as well as managing the School also taught us Arithmetic. Each Friday he would also gather all the students and read before them chapters from Sholom Aleykhem in Yiddish. We were enchanted by the Yiddish writer's stories. It's a Pity that the Volozhin Tarbut School did not find time or resources or did not want to teach us some Yiddish writing and grammar.

All these disciplines listed above were taught in Hebrew Ashknaz-dialect. In Israel the Sefarad dialect dominated. The differences are in pronunciation. In Sefarad-dialect the emphasis is put on the word's end, in Ashkenaz - on its beginning. Some characters are spelled otherwise, so the same words written in equal way are read differently; for example: the word “letters” becomes in Sefarad Hebrew “otiyOT”, in Ashkenaz - “OYSSIyoys”; “shaNA toVA” - in Sefarad, “SHOno TOYvo” -in Ashkenaz and so for.

Some Volozhiners who made Aliya to Erets Isroel visited the Shtetl with their children in the mid thirties. We heard the “new” Hebrew, and asked to learn the language in the “new” way. Our demand was fulfilled but partially. The prayers and Bible we continued to read in Ashkenaz dialect. Arithmetic, Grammar, Literature (Biyalik, Mappou, Mendele) and Hebrew songs were changed and taught with the modern Sefarad pronunciation.

Thanks to our Tarbut teachers we arrived in Israel after the war with good Hebrew and we were able to begin a normal life immediately after landing in the Holy Land.

Mr. Shlomo Baykalski the handsome, smart and talented young-man from Zheludok taught us the Polish language, its history and geography. During three years (1935-8) with Baykalski we were able to thoroughly learn the Polish language. He encouraged us to read books. We managed to read at this short period hundreds of books all of them in Polish: H. Sienkievitsh, A. Mitskievitsh, I. Kortshak, Dolenga, Mostovitsh, B. Prouss, L. Tolstoy, N. Gogol, Jack London, Mark Twain, D. Amicis, A. Dumas, E. Zola, F. Cooper, K. May, Dickens, Walter Scott and many, many others. (Due to this massive reading I am currently able to read and to write Polish after not using this language for more than 60 years –Translator's note).

S. Baykalski continued to lead the musical circles. By profession a violinist he created a mandolin orchestra and organized a chorus.


The Tarbut Mandolin Orchestra – 1936

Standing from right to left: The teacher Shlomo Baykalski, Gershon Lunin, Feygl Berman, Golda Rubinsteyn, Itke, Haya Rudnitski, Vulke Brudno
Seated from right to left: Sonia Perski, Fruma Poderevski, Etele Rogovin, Fruma Goloventshits, Fruma Alperovitsh, Miryam Levin


The recreation time we passed in children's games, volley ball (siatkoovka in Polish), ball throwing camps (Makhanayim – in Hebrew) and reading books.

The Volozhin Tarbut School functioned from 1925 until 1939. At the beginning of the 1939/40 school year after the Soviets occupied Volozhin it acted as a Yiddish school, this school year it finished as a Belarus School.

The School and its building were completely destroyed in 1941.


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