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[Page 68]

Chapter III

Education and Culture

 

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Hebrew Education in Our Town

by Y.E.

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

Anyone who wants to write about education in Brichany would have to stand and wonder why the education was so meager and inadequate. This town that felt itself to be so important, that viewed itself – and thus others viewed it – as progressive, cultural, etc. It had acquired a reputation of many educated and intelligent people living there and was known as a town that hundreds of its young men and women reached Torah–rich levels. How did it happen that the attitude to Hebrew education was absolute indifference? Certainly in other areas much was happening, the town was attentive to other needs and established stable public institutions that became a source of pride. Yet, why was a public Hebrew school not established? Even the Zionists who naturally should have been very motivated, did not do any consistent activity in this matter, whether because they didn't have the requisite initiative nor the talent for getting things done or whether they feared budgetary complications.

It is a fact that Hebrew education in Brichany was neglected and forfeited to private persons and to chance. From time to time, there was some awakening and a few attempts were made but they didn't persevere. At any rate, this was the situation until the “New Heder” (Talmud–Torah) was founded in 1923.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Heder was still the main source of Jewish/Hebrew learning and the teachers (melamdim) were the ones who educated the next generation. These were divided, of course, according to their level into various ranks: teachers of the youngest children, teachers of Bible and Rashi (classic biblical commentator) and teacher of Talmud (Gemara).

The teacher of the youngest children taught the Jewish children the beginning of reading Hebrew by using the siddur (prayer book). These youngsters went to Heder for 3 – 4 years where they spent the whole day, from morning until evening. However, they didn't learn all day; in the winter they sat inside quietly waiting for their turn to read, while in the summer they sat outside without any supervision and only when it was their turn to read were they called inside twice a day to sit before the Rebbe to learn for only a few minutes. In this way they learned a few years in the Heder until they learned to read the Hebrew siddur.

When the child reached this stage, he left the Heder of the younger children and advanced to the Heder of the Bible and Rashi teacher. The number of pupils in this grade was smaller and the instructor taught them the Portion of the week in the Bible – Pentateuch (Humash) and continuing with the early Prophets. Also in this Heder the pupils attended all day from morning until evening, in the

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The Committee for Culture and the Hebrew Language with Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Haivri
from Novosolitzki (known later as the “Red Rabbi” – 1911
Sitting, from right: The teacher Milisman David, Veisman Nahum, Rabbi Haivri, Kuperman David, Lerner David
Standing, from right: Bichoch Benjamin, Vertikovski H…, Shteinberg Reuven, Frankl Avraham, the teacher Efraim Chik

 

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summer from 8 A.M. until the cows returned with only a one hour recess for lunch and half an hour for praying Minha (afternoon prayer) and having a snack. The pupils learned for a number of years in these classes, each child according to his ability and achievements. There were many children who did not progress any further than this. However some reached the level of studying Talmud. Indeed, there were no changes in this arrangement and teaching method. There were, of course, pupils who reached admirable achievements, even independent study of the Talmud and the Tosefot commentaries, but these were relatively few.

Every teacher was called by his name with the addition of the word teacher (melamed), e.g. Aharon melamed, but each had a nickname, usually generally accepted names yet some names were derogatory, which was also common.

These are the names of the teachers who I remember, according to their levels. Teachers of the smaller children: Meir, Peretz, Shmuel, white Yeshaya, yellow Hirsh, red Yaakov (Yankl), black Avraham, Moshe (son of red Yaakov), Yisrael, Beryl.

The teachers of Bible and Rashi, and Gemara (Talmud): Aharon, Zeingvil, Zeide (Itamar's), Itzi (Horostkover), Yossi (Rodover), Elia, Avraham (Haim Sofer's).

This last teacher was considered the best teacher. He was a Hassid and very knowledgeable, who was very serious about his work. He was privileged to develop many students who had great respect for him and who was referred by them all his life as “Rebbe” even when he wasn't present.

By now, in the beginning of the 20th century, there were teachers, although very few, who thought it necessary to add to the classes one hour a day of secular studies, taught by an external teacher. However, these classes did not last, mainly for two reasons. 1– One hour a day was not sufficient to teach the pupils even a minimum, 2– the parents were not satisfied with this situation and demanded more such studies. Thus a new type of pupil came into being, those that studied in the heder half a day, in the afternoon because in the mornings they studied in the Russian state school, with double divisions. Very quickly the parents preferred the Russian schools and thought less of the heder. As time passed, the pupils who only learned in the state school increased and didn't attend the heder at all. From this point onward the Jewish studies were reduced to one hour a day, which they received from a private tutor or didn't learn Hebrew at all.

The girls didn't attend the heder however they learned reading and writing privately with the teacher of the children. In addition, there were special teachers only for the girls who were called “writers” (schreibers). In our town there were a few such teachers and the most prominent one was Haim Schreiber (not his last name !) or red Haim. He opened a type of heder for the girls in the women's section of the “Shoemakers synagogue”. He taught the girls reading and writing in Yiddish, a little bit of arithmetic and elementary Russian so they could at least write an address.

Attempts at modernization of the heder were tried, sort of an improved heder, and such a heder was opened by Yehoshua Kahat, but did not prove long–lived. But this was the first time

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Pupils of the school of Yosef Hantzis

 

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they tried to teach by the natural method – that is, Hebrew in Hebrew. The heder of Ephraim Chak should also be mentioned; it existed for many years and produced many good students. To his tribute, the atmosphere was one of Hebrew and Zionism and in this spirit he educated his pupils. Many of them made aliya to Eretz Yisrael before the Holocaust.

Meanwhile, the necessity for learning Hebrew grew. Many parents were not happy with the current situation. Although they didn't even dream of giving a full Jewish–Hebrew education to their children – this generation had not been prepared for such learning – yet they were not willing to be satisfied with the small amount of education given in the heder. They wanted their children to learn and know Hebrew. Since there was no school that could fulfill this need they sent their children to study Hebrew with a private teacher. It's interesting to note that in those days – before World War I – there were no Hebrew teachers in all of Brichany. Those who taught Hebrew in Brichany were brought in from other towns and cities. They were A.L.Yagolnitzer, Haim Viner, David Milisman, Baruch Zaltzman, Avraham Frankl; each one came at one time or another to our town to teach Hebrew to Jewish children, and lived there for a few years. The major part of their work was giving private lessons, although some parents started a New Heder, albeit without a license from the authorities. All of them, especially those who stayed in Brichany for a long time made a great effort to instill Hebrew in the children and to raise the desire for Hebrew education among the parents. However, the financial condition of the teachers was quite weak and they could not afford to remain in their positions and therefore left Brichany.

In town there were two private schools, one managed by Zusia Lerner and the other by Yosef Hanthis and both operated for many years. At first the instruction was only Russian and later, due to the demands of the parents A. Lerner added Hebrew to the curriculum. He hired the Hebrew teachers who had come from out of town, sometimes as partners other times as salaried workers. These partnerships, which were made in order to advertize the school, usually didn't last long and most broke up after a year or two whether because of financial difficulties or personal discord between the partners. Parents who wanted their children to learn Hebrew again had to face choices of private tutors for one hour a day or two to three hours in a group. No public institution took any interest in furthering Hebrew education.

Only in 1909–1910 the Society of Tradesmen, Farein, took the initiative and opened a Russian–Hebrew school, which was the first Jewish public school established in Brichany. The members of the Farein and its leaders David–Yosel Kizhner, Yosel Shneider, Haim Shneider, Motti Kramer and others whose names I've forgotten, were full of initiative and hungry for constructive action. They weren't satisfied just with criticizing the current state of affairs but founded, with much effort and work, economic enterprises for their members. After these projects succeeded they decided to establish a Hebrew–Russian school. This was a very difficulty decision to implement. It's possible that the Farein members didn't take into account the great difficulties that awaited them, legal complexities such as a license, and money and administrative problems, etc. However, all these matters didn't prevent them from continuing. The school was finally founded! To the authorities this was considered a regular school

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belonging to Z. Lerner not a public school. It had many pupils, a number that increased year by year, however, the middle class circles were unhappy with a school run by tradesmen and many did not send their children to study there.

The school existed for 3 years and then closed. Its closure happened during an economic crisis that was the result of oppressive acts by the authorities against the Jews; there was no possibility of trying to change this situation. Right after the revolution broke out a serious attempt was made to establish a Hebrew school, this time by the General Zionists. Josef Babanchik offered his beautiful and spacious home for this initiative; he and his family lived in the nearby village of Cheflautzy where he owned a large flourmill. The school was quickly opened and well–known teachers were brought in: Hillel Dovrov, A.L. Yagolnitzer (both of them died in Eretz Yisrael) as additions to teachers already in Brichany: Mendel Weinshtok and Moshe Kornblit. A Supervisory Board was appointed composed of Zionists and public figures: Moshe Givalder, Aharon Steinhaus, Benyamin Biyzutz, Shalom Kilimnik, Avraham Ber”g, Yehiel Cherkis and others.

We cannot know how this school would have developed if it had been given a chance. However, the times were stormy – during the revolution and the following political changes – brought about the end of the new school, which did not last even one year.

In 1920 another attempt was made to found a school, and this one would be partially public, and would utilize the license of Yosef Hantzis. In previous years Hantzis had operated his private school in the Russian language. He didn't see the need for any changes in his curriculum and didn't feel the need for Hebrew studies. When Bessarabia was conquered by the Romanians there was no longer a need for Russian. Thus Y. Hantzis was left without a school, because he knew very little Romanian. Then he changed his mind and sought partners for his school, looked for a public institution that would give the needed approval for his school and was willing to make various compromises.

The General Zionists were pleasantly surprised with this turn of events and they immediately joined into partnership with him. They had the power to influence the curriculum without the work and effort and without budgetary worries; the financial and administrative responsibility fell to Y. Hantzis, while the approval of Hebrew teachers and the supervision of the program of studies belonged the Zionists. Thus a Supervision Committee was formed and made up of Moshe Vizaltir, Aharon Steinhaus, Avraham Ber”g, Benyamin Bitzius and others. Two teachers taught Hebrew in the school – P. Hacham and Yaakov Steinhaus (Amitzur).

This partnership could have lasted longer since Y. Hantzis was a pleasant person and in addition was interested in maintaining the agreement;

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Teachers and pupils of the New Talmud Torah, 1926/27 of the school
Right to left: Givlader Shaul, Horowitz Koka, Vertikovski Moshe, Vertikovski Sarah, Kornblit Moshe

 

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also the General Zionists, on the other hand made no exaggerated requests and their demands on Y. Hantzis were very modest. At long last, a stop was put to engaging teachers without any credentials. However, the partnership fell apart when the time came to build the New Talmud Torah.

And here is the place to mention the institution of Talmud Torah, which after the establishment of the new building was called the Old T”T. It was founded in 1826/7 for the children of the poor whose parents couldn't afford to pay tuition. This T”T was no different than the other heders except that these children never continued their studies after the heder and remained with a very elementary education. The teachers (melamdim) were Brill Melamed and later Yisrael Chak.

In 1923 a modern Hebrew school was finally established due to the initiative of the Zionists; it was called the New Talmud Torah. This school continued to operate until the Holocaust. Thus a new page was opened in the annals of Hebrew education in Brichany. Therefore, a special article in this book is devoted to the school.

Two more schools existed in Brichany, which influenced the young generation in town.

  1. The two–level Russian school (later Romanian), to which many parents were eager to send their children. Very many of the children received their basic education in Russian and later in Romanian in this school.
  2. The private high school (gymnasia) of Roza Solomonovna Diker (Pinhas). It was established after World War I, during the reign of the Romanians. The school was Jewish in terms of the ownership and the students all of whom were Jewish but in content and curriculum it was Romanian. In the early years it offered some Hebrew studies taught by Moshe Vartikovski but later even this little bit was discontinued. No one really cared. Not one public institution arose and demanded that Hebrew language, literature and culture be taught – not even the Zionists!
However, the value of the gymnasia was that it enabled the youth who wanted to continue their studies to do so without having to travel afar. Many of them later acquired a higher education.

In order to complete the picture I will include in this survey two educational undertakings that were experiments that did not succeed.

  1. The Hebrew kindergarten. In 1925 a group of parents initiated the founding of the first Hebrew kindergarten in our town. They paid for a certified teacher from the Kindergarten Teachers Institute founded by Alterman in Kishinev; an apartment was rented and the school established. However, since no public institution was willing to support it and the expenses (not the tuition) was more than the parents could afford, the kindergarten lasted for only one year. After that no further attempt was made.
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  1. The Yiddish school. Following the formation of the Hebrew school, the “New Talmud Torah”, the leftists decided to open a Yiddish school. They turned to the Society for Support of the Poor and received from them a small amount; they also collected donations from their supporters and sympathizers. Sizeable amounts of funds were sent from America. All this was not sufficient and the school closed after a year. The main cause was not the lack of capital but rather the lack of pupils. From the beginning the parents did not send their sons to this school and sent only the girls since they felt that the boys needed to learn more than just a little Yiddish. Despite visits from the leftists

 

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The first Hebrew school in Brichany, 1924. The teacher Hinka

 

to the homes of the poor and much propaganda accompanied by promises of shoes and clothes, the project did not succeed. In addition, the girls who were registered didn't persevere and when they had acquired some reading and arithmetic skills they stopped their studies. In the second year the number of pupils was so low, that the school closed.

It is possible some of the parents were influenced by the fact that those who had brought about the opening of the school and their friends didn't send their own children to this institution.

This survey covers events only until the end of 1926.

 

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