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[Page 177]


[photo:] Naftali Steinberg

[handwriting that is legible says 'Drohitchin']

        Naftali Zechariah Steinberg, or Naftali the Teacher as he was called, was born in approximately 1863 in Pinsk. As a child he lost his father, Yitzchak, and had to spend his childhood and youth in poverty and under trying conditions. He studied in religious kheders and yeshivas, and was certified as a teacher.

        Naftali did not want to pursue a rabbinical career. He was attracted to secular culture and became a follower of the Enlightenment, specializing in pedagogy. He was self-taught, and studying intensively on his own as much as he could. After finishing his yeshiva studies, he would take a dictionary and study Hebrew and other secular subjects. He would also spend time reading book; even in later years he never let a book out of his hands. Naftali distinguished himself in his knowledge of both old and new Hebrew literature.

        Naftali was barely 17 years old when he married Chaya Sarah, a daughter of R. Motya Pinchas, the kheder teacher, a Jewish scholar from Drohitchin. In approximately 1880, Naftali began teaching in Drohitchin, but he was dissatisfied with the educational system and teaching methods of the old kheder, where the children would sit at long tables as their teacher would teach them the alphabet. Once they knew the rudiments of Hebrew, they then proceeded to study the weekly Torah portion with the Rashi commentary and Prophetic books. They also learned to write some Yiddish from a workbook. Later on, they started studying Jewish law, including Talmud and the commentaries. Girls studied Hebrew, prayers and basic Yiddish writing skills. There were special Jewish “writers” who were responsible for teaching Jewish girls how to write Yiddish letters. Naftali didn't approve of all of this, and established a new educational system, reforming the study program and changing the teaching methods of the Kheder, which he re-named a Class.

Naftali's modernized education system was not approved of by the people in town. The parents didn't entrust their children to Naftali. So Naftali was forced to settle for a class geared only for girls, since there were some modernized families who were willing to entrust their daughters to Naftali to learn Hebrew.

        Some time later, Naftali managed to win over a few parents in town, and he was able to open a class for boys too. This class was the first modernized class in Drohitchin.

The gravestone of Naftali Steinberg, who died 24 Kislev [Dec. 5], 1921 [actually 1920]

[Photo:] Here is buried the outstanding man, enlightened in all sciences, and who raised thousands of students, Naftali Zechariah, son of Levi Yitzchak Steinberg. He died on 24 Kislev 5681 [Dec. 5, 1920]

[Page 178]

        In Naftali's modernized class there was a blackboard, and the children sat at desks. They studied Bible, Rashi, grammar and Hebrew. They read the works of Mapu and Smolensky, and learned by heart the poems of Gordon and others. Later, Naftali attracted the teachers Leibush Neiditch, Yitzchak Avramtshik and Ozer Lev. With their help he developed a network of modernized classes, and he had the major influence on them. He did this his entire life.

        Obviously, there were many kheder classes in Drohitchin having Talmud and other religious subjects as the main part of the curriculum while leaving secular studies in the background. Naftali was the undisputed leading pedagogue in town, and was considered the “rebbe” of the modernized community in Drohitchin.

        Naftali died on Kislev 24, 1921 [sic] in Drohitchin. He had three children: Zeidel (who died in Chicago), Feigel (who was killed with her family in Pinsk) and Chana (who lives in Israel). Chana and Feigel followed in the footsteps of their father Naftali, and for years worked as teachers of their own modernized classes in Drohitchin.

[Photo:] The Folk School under German occupation in 1917. Seated from left: Tordos Leib Milner, Naftali Steinberg, Moshe Beszhedsky and Yosef Wasserman. Standing, from left: Rossel Valevelsky, Pinsky (from Slonim) and Chana Steinberg.

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