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[Page 87]

Memories From High School – Gymnasia

by Dina Fuchs

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

I still remember the personality of the principal of our gymnasia, Roza Solomonovna Diker. I can see her attractive image, full of energy, and her appearance every morning in school dressed elegantly with a shawl about her shoulders. Her quick footsteps and loud voice echoed throughout the school from the moment she entered the building.

She ruled the school with an iron fist and imposed very strict discipline. She behaved with extreme authority towards the teachers and to the students with excessive strictness, even for those far off days. But who knows if that helped her to overcome the difficulties related to her responsible position. Indeed, there were students who didn't accept these conditions and left the school. And that is what happened with me; after 5 years of studies I transferred to Tchernovitz where I completed my studies.

We celebrated the end of the year with a play where I had the main part. Afterwards, as usual, there was dancing. Roza Solomonovna , who during all the years showed a special affection for me and praised me for my diligence at every opportunity, didn't allow me to leave her side the whole evening. Understandably this angered me greatly because I loved dancing. As soon as she began to converse with the woman on her other side, I slipped away and went out to dance with one of the boys, a guest from Hutin. While dancing I felt the heavy hand of Roza who dragged me to sit next to her. Her eyes were flashing with anger and she scolded me that I dared to dance with a boy and that I had the nerve to dance without asking her permission.

The next day I was called to her office. There, she reproached me with extreme anger and tried to strike me with a ruler. Then I burst out and told her that even my parents never hit me and that I wouldn't allow anyone to raise a hand against me. Then I told her that I would never again set foot in her school, and that is what I did.

After the end of year exams I traveled home and met Roza by chance on the train where and we sat and talked in a friendly manner, as if nothing had happened between us. She praised me in the hearing of another person as the best and most loved student and took credit for my success in the examinations. I refused her repeated invitations to come visit her at home.

I was shocked when I heard of her tragic death in Transnistria with many other residents of our town.


[Page 88]

The Vocational School

by Josef Horowitz

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

I want to tell about the attempt that was made to establish a vocational school for sewing and knitting in Brichany. After the holiday of Simchat Torah 1922, Henia Bershtein invited a number of women `to her home and suggested opening courses or a school for girls to learn the vocations of sewing and knitting. The suggestion was accepted by the women and that very evening they chose a committee consisting of Zalta Galgor, Esther Horowitz, Perl Vizaltir, Mirel Vartikovsky, Kaila Kilimnik, Shifra Shtilvasser and others. Two men were added, M. Ferber and Haim Shvartz.

The committee took on the task of collection of money to fund the courses. Thus a call was sent out to the residents of the town to help the institution both in materials and donations of machines. The initiator herself, Henia Bershtein, donated two sewing machines, while others in the Bershtein family donated additional sewing and knitting machines. A teacher was sent from ORT in Kishinev, and after a short time, that autumn, the school was opened in the building of the Fire Department.

It was possible to hope that the school, who all agreed was necessary, would enlarge and develop with time – this did not happen. As long as Henia was healthy she devoted her self

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to this project and encouraged others to join the activities. But when she fell ill and passed away, the initial enthusiasm flagged and there was no one to work for the existence of the school – and after a short time the school was closed.

 

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The Vocational School
Behind the girls stood Henia Bershtein the founder, to her left, Rabbi Moshe Givalder, to her right, Philip Vasilevitz Benkavsky, principal of the State School and next to him Miron Ferber

 


The School of Commerce

by Nesia Goldberg–Rabinowitz

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

The school of Commerce was situated in the new area of Brichany. I was among the first students in this new school that opened in our town. It was very difficult for me since my parents lived in the village of Korstautz and they sent me to live with relatives. I was still young and small, only 11 years old. I remember that the principal, Aksimiok, used to say to me, whether joking or serious, not to come to school on a snowy days because I might “drown” in the deep snow and would only be found when the snow melted.

Almost all the teachers were non–Jews; only one was Jewish, however most of the students were Jews. Nevertheless the atmosphere in the school was anti–Semitic and the few non–Jewish students behaved with contempt towards us. The teachers also did not hide their hostile attitude to the Jewish students, and even the best of the Jewish students

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The Municipal School of Commerce

 

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were harassed and treated very strictly. Frequently they intentionally gave them failing grades. I was also treated this way.

Despite this many pleasant memories remain with me from the days I studied there.


The Cultural Life – Institutions and Organizations

by Y. Amitzur

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

CULTURAL LIFE

Brichany had a reputation in all the surrounding area as a place of education and culture and as a progressive town. Already at the end of the 19th century many of the youth were drawn to education and traveled to large towns and cities to study; some even reached the universities and returned home with diplomas and doctorates. At first these were few in number but very slowly the numbers increased and in the first decade of the 20th century almost all the youth were gripped by a great ambition to study. Everyone went to school, not only the children of the rich and well–off middle class but also those of meager means whose children's studies caused great difficulties to their families.

Tens of youth went to Odessa, Kiev, Kamenitz–Podolsky and other cities and succeeded in entering the high schools there despite the strict limits that were imposed against the Jews in Czarist Russia. However many youth were not accepted and had to study as external students.

There is no doubt that the desire for education for its own sake was shared by most of the young people. However, there was an unspoken ambition to achieve an education that would lead to making a good living. The Jewish youth in Brichany – mainly the middle class – had no real idea of practical employment and had no possibility of entering the business world nor finding a place for themselves. Each young person had only one model to follow – that of their father: to wait until he matures and marries and to open a store or try his hand at some kind of commerce with the dowry. Until then he had noting to do and was forced to sit idle. He could expect no change or opportunity.

The parents also went along with things as they were. Many of them approved of the ambition of their children to pave their way to a better future. However, some sent their children to study only out of a desire for prestige – they didn't want to do less than other parents. “Everyone studies, why shouldn't my son also study? Is he worse than others or maybe, G–d forbid, is he less able?” Therefore, they all carried the burden of the heavy expense involved and did everything they could to give their children an opportunity for education. Sometimes they even didn't eat properly to save money to pay a private teacher to prepare their son or daughter for examinations.

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The youth themselves tried to ease the problem of their parents by finding some type of employment such as tutoring other students but many found help in the Stipend Fund established by Kazimir.

Kazimir was the owner of the largest estates in the area and also of the nearby village Vaskautzi. He was a liberal person and looked for ways the improve the condition of the Russian people. This was the custom of most of the liberal Russian intelligentsia in those days and they “solved” this problem by promoting education and knowledge to the masses. Therefore, they founded a Stipend Fund so that anyone wanting to study – no matter what religion or race – and could not afford to do so, could take advantage of this fund. Understandably many of the young people in our town and those of neighboring towns applied to Kazimir and almost all of them received sizeable assistance.

When Kazimir died in 1912 many of the Jews of Brichany went to Vaskautzi to pay their last respects. The burial service included a Jewish cantor and choir that were brought especially from Mohilev–Podolski. However many of the Christian attendees openly displayed their displeasure and some left the “Jewish funeral” of Kazimir.

INSTITUTIONS AND PROJECTS

The relatively large number of active Jewish intellectuals in town left its mark on public life and especially cultural life. The townspeople were proud of the various cultural institutions, some of them existing for decades despite the changes and vicissitudes of the times. Even those organizations that didn't last very long contributed to raising the cultural level of both the youth and the adults.

Various and varied cultural projects that were held from time to time were also successful although they were temporary; but due to their frequency and continuity were able to influence the youth, draw them to awareness and activity in this area and determined not a little to the cultural character of our town.

THE LIBRARIES

  1. The first library in our town was established in the 1890's by the earliest group, “Hovevai Zion”, and was located in the home of Shlomo Veinshtein (Shlima Brishes). The first director was Avraham Kleinman z”l who was among the best educated people in town and one of the leaders of “Hovevai Zion”. After his passing the library moved to the home of Avraham Goldgal z”l, also from Hovevai Zion and he managed the library. However, the days of depression of Zionism began and the library was in a degenerated state. The number of readers greatly diminished, no new books were acquired and many of the books that had been in the library were lost or remained with the readers. When Avraham Goldgal moved to
[Page 93]
    ”Mesila Hadasha” near Kushta, the existence of the library ceased completely and the books that remained were transferred to the public library.
  1. The public library was formed in the beginning of the 20th century by the society Support of the Poor and at the initiative of a group of assimilated Jewish intelligentsia from among the socialists together with the one time assistance of the society “Disseminating Education” in Russia. The heads of the library were Sarah Kizhner and later, her brother Wolf Kizhner. Thanks to their devotion and good management the library grew and developed into an important cultural asset in Brichany.
When the library opened, their inventory numbered 1800 books most of them literature and a number in social studies, and almost all of them in Russian. In addition there were less than 50 books in Hebrew that were transferred from the Hovevai Zion library, and a few books in Yiddish that apparently had been donated and consisted of the works of Mordechai Spector, Yaakov Dinzon, and even Meshel Shemer. During the years the number of books increased and close to the end of its existence there were almost 7000 books, among them 180 in Hebrew and about 300 in Yiddish.

Theoretically the library was supposed to be public and officially it was owned by the society “Support of the Poor”, which gave substantial amounts of money for yearly maintenance. However, in actuality the assimilated leftists headed by Katya Ginzburg ran the library and they determined its character.

In the library's early years no one complained about its character; no public body supervised their activities nor felt it had a right to claim involvement in the management. It's not surprising therefore, that the leftists entrenched themselves in the library and did whatever they desired, so that after many years they felt they “owned” the library. When the Zionists awoke and began to claim they should take part in the administration of the library, no one listened to them.

The Zionists, especially Tzeirei Zion, tried for many years to penetrate the library and to change its one–sided character, but with no success. Only after a difficult and tiring struggle did the leftists agree, in 1920, to allow Tzeirei Zion three representatives (out of 12) in the administration of the library. They participated in the meetings of the administration for three months but all their demands to enlarge the sections of Hebrew literature and Yiddish literature were denied, and the budget for new books was spent entirely on Russian literature. Finally, when they saw that the representatives were strengthening their pressure on the public, the leftists began to decrease the frequency of meetings of the management, and all library matters were handled by themselves behind closed doors. Thus, there was no point in the representatives of Tzeirei Zion continuing and they resigned from the administration. Then a proposal was raised, by the writer of these lines, to open a Zionist library in Brichany; the proposal was accepted after long discussions (see article by Y. Horowitz).

When Bessarabia was annexed to Romania the authorities frowned on the existence of the library because they suspected that the leaders were Bolsheviks. After a meticulous search was conducted

[Page 94]

the library was closed and the librarian W. Kizhner was arrested. It was the Zionists who fought for his release and the reopening of the library. It should be noted that they did not demand any special privileges and did not propose any conditions, although they were able to take over the library or at least to receive appropriate representation in the administration. However, they were too naive and believed the leftists would realize this themselves.

READING ROOMS

At various times reading rooms were open in Brichany; all of them, with one exception, were branches of existing libraries and were considered part of them.

The first reading room was initiated by Hovevei Zion together with the library, which was situated in the home of Shlomo Veinshtein, and remained open until 1904. It had the Hebrew and Yiddish newspapers of those days: Hamelitz, Hatzefira, Hazman, Hashiloach, Der Friend, Der Yud and others. It was open only on Shabbat and holidays yet there were many readers. Often conversations and debates arose concerning topics that appeared in the papers. When the library moved to the home of Avraham Goldgal, the reading room was shut down.

Near the public library was a reading room containing the daily, weekly and monthly newspapers and magazines but they all were in Russian. It was open every day but had only a small number of readers. This room existed for 5 – 6 years and was closed apparently due to insufficient funds.

The Zionist library also opened a reading room with General Zionist newspapers in Hebrew and Yiddish. At first there were only a few readers however with the passing years it was full of the youth who came to read the papers and the literature.

A unique secret reading room was opened by the society Hatechiya during World War I, in the home of Shmuel Feldsher. Due to the harsh political conditions at that time, the existence of this room was not widely known and it had only a few readers, mainly members of Hatehiya and its supporters. When the revolution broke out there was no further need for secrecy of the reading room; the life of the people became very turbulent and the readers ceased to visit. But then the Tzeirei Zion opened its club and one of the rooms was dedicated to a reading room.

THEATER LOVERS

Among the travelling troupes, Brichany was known as a town that loved theater and they were drawn to it. Not one year passed, other than those during the war when the Czarist authorities prohibited Yiddish plays, without the appearance alternately of 2 – 3 groups, who remained in town for months and performed some of their best repertoire. One winter, two separate groups arrived

[Page 95]

and they performed every night in two halls – those of Kramer and Feindman (the third one, of Horowitz, did not yet exist) – the audiences didn't tire of seeing them perform.

Among the groups were some who were well known and of high repute, such as Sam Adler, Fishzon and others. The great enthusiasm of the theater fans brought about, several years later, the visits of the famous Viennese Group and Wiket (Warsaw Yiddish Kunst Theater) with Zigmund Torkov and Ida Kaminski, each of them performed several times in our town. Before the war Russian and Ukrainian groups appeared before full halls.

The local youth also performed a few plays, mostly in Yiddish and a few – before the revolution – in Russian. Before World War I, Moti Glaizer was very active in theatrical matters. He organized productions, directed them and acted in them. After the revolution, Tzeirei Zion was active in this area, and had no need of help from Glaizer because he was not one of the Zionists. Their performances were directed by Yaakov Steinhaus (Amitzur) and later Yosef Lerner. Differing from most of the traveling troupes, the amateurs were careful to perform plays that had literary value like Shalom Aleichem, Pinsky, Hirshbein and others. The audiences were happy to attend these plays and the halls were always full. The income from the performances was donated to various public institutions for Zionist activities.

We should note Neigas, a hatmaker by profession, who was an enthusiastic theatre fan and very capably presented some plays.

LITERARY MOCK TRIALS

Literary mock trials, which were conducted from time to time, aroused great interest among the public and were organized by Tzeirei Zion.

The people in town were proud to declare that Brichany was the first town in Bessarabia to conduct such trials and it spread from here to other towns. Whether this is true or not, certainly in our town these events were very popular and became an important part of the cultural activity.

For a few years tens of trials were conducted in town on various literary topics and the public thronged to them, sitting for hours in the hall, sometimes 6 – 7 hours, tensely following the trial, listening to the sharp debate between the rival sides and sat and waited for the “court decision”. Every such trial turned into an exciting and emotional event (without exaggeration), and days afterward was the subject of disputes and exchange of opinions among the youth. Some mock trials were repeated, at a different time and with other participants.

I still remember mock trials that concerned “Motka the Thief” by Shalom Ash,

[Page 96]

about “Bontzi Shveig” by Y.L. Peretz, “The Farshtoisene” by Y.L. Peretz, “Menachem Mendel” by Shalom Aleichem, “Mirele” from ”Kichlos Hakol” by David Bergerlson, “Shabtai Tzvi”, the false messiah, “The Modern Jewish Woman”, and “The Jewish Student” and many more.

The participants were mostly from our town: S. Givalder, S. Weissberg, M. Tilipman, S. Cherkis, L. Schwartz, Y. Steinhaus (Amitzur) and others. However, sometimes persons from out of town took part such as emissaries from Eretz Yisrael, and national personalities like Y. Skavirski, the editor of “Erd un Arbet”, Z. Fradkin, C. Shorer – now the editor of “Davar”, and others.

The librarians witnessed the great interest in the trials and told of the large demand for these books by the readers.

Nor were curiosities lacking following certain trials. In the trial of “Motke the Thief”, S. Kilimnik the clockmaker was appointed one of the judges. He was most influenced by the words of the defending attorney and voted for the acquittal of the “accused”. The next day he regretted his decision and became very disturbed and emotional and could not calm himself. He said, “What did I do ? If Motke had broken into my store and stolen all my merchandise, would I then have found him innocent?”

Something similar happened to Moshe Gropenmacher, who could not resign himself to the acquittal of Shabtai Tzvi. A few days later he was upset with this miscarriage of justice and couldn't compose himself until he went out, as advised by someone, and collected tens of signatures for an appeal that he officially presented to the head of the panel of judges.

IN THE PAST

It is worthy to mention the spiritual lives of our forefathers, those of the old generation in Brichany.

During my life there, the Study Halls (Batei Midrash) were empty of habitual scholars, yet in each one stood a bookcase full of religious tracts and Torah commentators, available to anyone who might take an interest. Occasionally one would be able to find a Jew who took a break from his work and sat bent over one of the books and studied with a quiet murmur. Also in the hours before the morning prayers and afterward, as well as between Mincha and Maariv, a number of men studied Mishnayot (Mishna) or a page of Gemara (Talmud). The conversations between the worshipers were mostly about Torah topics and even the regular conversations were mingled with Torah tidbits.

As in other communities there were various societies for Torah study, such as Sha”s, Mishnayot, Ein Yaakov – each one according to the level of the learners. They set times for themselves to study Torah and devoted themselves to study Talmud daily either alone or with a partner (hevruta). When they reached the end of a tractate they held a celebration called simply “a completion” (sium) and sat together enjoying themselves talking about Torah matters.

I remember until today the Sium celebration of the Sha's Society that was held in our home.

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Immediately after the Maariv prayer the people of the Society gathered in our home and sat at table and completed the last section of the tractate. My father, z”l, gave a homiletic sermon (drasha) and after it questions were posed and answers given and innovations of interpretation were suggested. The table was set with grandeur with herring, pickles and other delicacies, also whiskey and wine flowed, accompanied by singing and melodies and even dancing. The people stayed until late at night and enjoyed the radiance of the Sium celebration. Often speakers on Torah and commentaries from the Yeshivas in Lithuania visited our town and would give their sermons to an audience on Sabbaths and also on weekday evenings – “Everyone who heard enjoyed it.”

This is the way our fathers lived their “spiritual” lives.


[Page 98]

The Zionist Library

by Josef Horowitz

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

Until the Romanians conquered Bessarabia, only one municipal library, managed by Sarah and Wolf Kizhner, existed in our town. However, it was under the influence of the leftists and Hebrew literature was very underrepresented. There were many books in Russian, a few books in Yiddish and very little in Hebrew. All the requests by the Zionists to acquire books in Hebrew didn't help despite the fact that the Zionist youth was organized in groups such as Boslia, Maccabi, Gordonia, Hashomer Hatzair, all of whom demanded Hebrew reading matter.

After many deliberations the General Zionists and Tzeirei Zion decided to found a Zionist library in Brichany. A joint founding committee was formed and the members from the General Zionist were B. Bichoch, A. Ber”g, M. Givalder, M. Vizaltir, S. Weissberg, Y. Cherkis, Y. Kahat, S. Kilimnik, A. Steinhaus. Members from Tzeirei Zion were R. Dimitman, Y. Horowitz, H. L. Khorish, G. Zeital, Y. Feldsher, Sarah Shneider and others. Members of the Zionist youth took upon themselves to collect donations in money or books (Hebrew and Yiddish) from the residents. A contribution was given by David Shneider (who lived in Brazil and later Eretz Yisrael in Ein Vered), in order to commemorate the memory of his late brother Mordechai Shneider who was among the activists in Tzeirei Zion. An estimated 1800 books were bought with the various donations and thus the basis was in place for the Zionist library.

In the early years of its existence the library was located on the main street, at first in the home of Peika Khorish and later in the home of M. Vizaltir. In later years it moved to one of the rooms in the New Talmud Torah. Its first director was Yosef Feldsher and when he went to Eretz Yisrael, Buma Yaffe was appointed in his stead.

The income of the library that derived from readers' dues was insufficient to acquire new books and to bind old ones, therefore many of the Zionists committed to a monthly contribution. However, the library frequently had no funds and the members of the committee gave of their own money to maintain the library.

Nevertheless, the library grew and developed and filled an important role in Brichany.

 

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