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The first graduates of Tarbut School 1934

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The Schools

Translated by Judy Montel

Two periods must be noted in the development of education in Zhetl. In the first period, up to the 1920s, education in Zhetl was traditional. Poor children learned in the Talmud Torah, which was a public institution and was supported by the rabbi, while the wealthier students learned in the private “cheders”. Among the melamdim (teachers) in the latter period one must mention Reb Yoseli Mendes, Reb Noach Eli and Reb Ya'akov the Shochet. Young boys continued their studies in the small Yeshiva under the direction of the rabbi Reb Tzvi Churgin, while the teens left to gain Torah in the famous yeshivas of Poland and Lithuania.

General studies such as Russian and mathematics were learned from several private teachers. A few also were able to gain a high school education in the cities near Zhetl.

During the 1920s a change took place in the educational system in Zhetl. In 1921, the YIddishist and anti-Zionist circles established a Yiddish school named for Shalom Aleichem, and in 1927, the nationalist circles established a kindergarten that turned into the Tarbut school named for Chayim Nachman Bialik.

Both schools were modern, taught their students a general and Jewish education and became centers of culture and public initiative in the town.

The schools had to fight hard for their existence. Tuition did not cover expenses, municipal support was miniscule and therefore both schools needed side income from balls, plays, lotteries and bazaars. The considerable help received from former Zhetl residents in America must be noted as they kept the schools running and helped to construct their buildings.

A considerable portion of the children of Zhetl, particularly the girls, received their education at the government Polish school while they completed their Hebrew education at evening classes.

This was the face of education in Zhetl up to 1939. That year Zhetl passed to the rule of Soviet Russia which cancelled the public schools and instead established government Soviet schools. In June of 1941 those school came to an end as well and Zhetl approached its tragic end.

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The Talmud Torah

by Alexander Ziskind Silverman, Toronto

Translated by Janie Respitz

The Talmud Torah was situated not far from the Houses of study. The building had four classrooms and a kitchen. Two grades studied in each room, a younger one and an older one.

The teacher of the youngest class was Reb Avrom Yakov. He taught the Pentateuch with Rashi and the beginning of Gomorrah (commentary).

The second teacher's name was Reb Meylekh. He taught Gomorrah to his younger students, beginning where Reb Avrom Yakov left off. He taught the older students Gomorrah with annotations to the Talmud.

The third teacher was Reb Yoine who taught Gomorrah and Talmudic interpretations. His students were able to learn a page of Gomorrah on their own.

The fourth teacher was Reb Shmuel Khaim. He taught the same as Reb Yoine with some additional biblical passages.

Friday evening and Saturday evening the important men in town would come listen to and test the students. Those who regularly came to listen were: Reb Arye the first manager of the old House of Study as well as the Talmud Torah. The second listener was Reb Menakhem the pharmacist. Often, the fourth teacher Reb Shmuel Khaim would come listen to students from other classes. However, the other rabbis would not come to his class, firstly because the boys were old and you had to be a great scholar in order to listen to them, and besides this we must note, Reb Shmuel Khaim came from great pedigree, a son in law of a wealthy grain merchant and it was not befitting for the rabbis of the younger classes to test his students.

Very often an argument would take place between the listeners and the class teacher and they would forget they came to hear the students and not themselves. It was mainly Reb Yoine who would argue with the listeners. We, the students would be happy with such disputes as the listeners would forget about us.


The Students

Most of the students in the Talmud Torah were from Zhetl. However, there were some students who came from surrounding towns. The students from other towns would eat their meals at the homes of the important, well off families. Some of the poor children would also eat their meals with these families. It would sometimes happen that some children would not receive a meal so the Talmud Torah had a kitchen where women cooked food they collected from wealthier homes and gladly helped this cause.


I remember an Incident

I remember a humorous incident that happened to one of our rabbis. As usual, students do not like to silence complaints about their teachers. This is what happened: a few of Rabbi Meylekh's students were angry with him and decided to pull a prank. On a moonlit night, they gathered in the yard of the Talmud Torah, removed the window pane and climbed into Reb Meylekh's classroom. They took his chair, turned it over and poured tar on it and put it back in its place. They left the room and replaced the window pane and agreed to remain silent about it, and they did.

The next morning, when Reb Meylekh came to his class he sat on his chair of course not knowing what the guys did.

His second class meanwhile was reviewing their afternoon lesson. At that moment they became rowdy and the rabbi decided to go see what they were up to. He wanted to get up from his chair, but could not. He tried once, twice, until he stood up with the chair. With great difficulty, we managed to tear the chair off the rabbi.

We could not control ourselves and burst out laughing. Nothing else was needed. The rabbi grabbed a stick and not knowing anything about Freud's theory of self responsibility, he began to ask the students who did this. We stuck to our agreement and remained silent. The rabbi began to beat a boy that he suspected pulled this prank. This boy, and the rest of us ran into the street and the rabbi followed us with his stick. We continued to run until we arrived at the home of Reb Arye. When Reb Arye saw us running and being chased by Reb Meylekh and his stick he called out:

“Feh, it is not nice for a rabbi to chase
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his students with a stick, even if they deserve a beating. This is how we were saved from the rabbis stick. Who knows, maybe a son of the boy that was saved was one of the brave Zhetl partisan fighters?


My Uncle Reb Yoine

Reb Yoine was a sickly man. He suffered a lot and he would often leave his class and go to a certain place for long periods of time. Meanwhile the students would be mischievous. What more do you need! Our voices and shouts would irritate the other teachers and they would tell the managers of the Talmud Torah that Reb Yoine was not supervising his students. They did not consider the fact that he was a weak man. This resulted in Reb Yoine leaving his job as teacher at the Talmud Torah and he began to teach a class at the Middle House of Study for a small group of chosen students.

I remember an incident which shows Reb Yoine's honesty. As mentioned, my uncle Reb Yoine began to teach a class at the Middle House of Study. One day, during his lesson the manager of the House of Study came to check where these students were from: from Zhetl or elsewhere. If the students were not from Zhetl they would have to pay to use the space. When the manager began to question the students he also came to me. My uncle Reb Yoine said that he did not know what to say about me. He cannot say I am not from Zhetl because my ancestors were from Zhetl. But he cannot say I am from Zhetl because my father, in order to earn a living, was in another town. The manager decided that I was from Zhetl as well as most of the other students and the House of Study did not have to charge us any money.

I remember another episode in connection to the Talmud Torah. One Friday afternoon, my uncle Reb Yoine sent me to one of the managers, Reb Efraim to fetch his rent which amounted to three rubles a week. When I arrived at the manager who had a large store I asked him for my uncle's rent so he can buy what he needs for the Sabbath. After he heard me, he left the store and left me waiting. I waited and waited until I couldn't wait any longer. I asked him again and that is when he gave me the three rubles.

It was already late in the afternoon when I brought my uncle his money. Understandably, it was now too late to buy anything for the Sabbath.

My uncle Reb Yoine said: “Reb Efraim does not give me his own money, but money from the town, so why such a fuss?

Also this attitude led to my uncle Reb Yoine's departure from the Talmud Torah and teaching a class at the Middle House of Study.

I would like to include a song we heard from Reb Yehoshua Barzilay during his visit to Zhetl in 1898.

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The History of the Yiddish School[1]

by Binyomin Kaplinsky of blessed memory

Translated by Janie Respitz



Zhetl is a poor town in the Novogrudek Township, 150 kilometres from Vilna, 15 kilometres from the train station (Novoyelnia), and has in total barely 4000 residents, 70 percent Jews, the rest being Poles and White Russians.

There are no factories or enterprises in town which could employ a large amount of Jewish workers. The only large enterprise in town, which incidentally belongs to a Jew, employs few Jews.

The majority of the Jewish population are craftsmen (the majority: shoemakers, carpenters and tailors), and merchants. A large number of merchants deal in agricultural products from the surrounding village population. Zhetl was known as a town of religious scribes. Young people from Zhetl would write Torah scrolls and Mezuzahs that were sent to America. This earned them a fine living. Over the past few years this trade has fallen and the former scribes live in dire need. Zhetl is known in the region for being a developed cultural town and before the war had a reputation with its revolutionary movement. The scribes who worked for merchants laid the foundation of the revolutionary movement in 1905.

At this time there were a couple of factories in Zhetl with 50 workers and already in 1899 there were circles of the “Bund”. In 1904–05 the socialist revolutionaries were gaining ground and even today stories are told about the great discussions and meetings that took place in the forest behind the town which would last for days and both sides would bring forces from other towns. The majority of the youth during those years of reactionary activity left for America and from there helped build the Yiddish school in Zhetl.

Those who took part in the movement in 1904–05 and remained in Zhetl were community activists in various institutions. They were the founders and builders of the Yiddish school which they support until today.



The actual history of the school in Zhetl begins in 1917. This is when the so–called “Literary – Dramatic Society” was founded by people who graduated from the school in 1905.

During its short existence the Literary – Dramatic Society succeeded in running rich and varied activities: there were many lectures and readings, they founded a library, and the drama club performed theatre in Yiddish for the first time in Zhetl. The Literary – Dramatic Society bought its own building which over time was sold. Thanks to this society the prestige of Yiddish and Yiddish literature grew. They brought the Yiddish poet Leyb Naydus to Zhetl for a few weeks and he held readings. There was such an exciting atmosphere toward Yiddish in town that the teachers Esther and Libke Kaplinsky, with the permission of the German occupation authorities, opened their own school and had to use Yiddish as an auxiliary language to German.

The above mentioned teachers had previously worked at the German Military School, which was headed by a teacher in military uniform. The foreign pedagogical language and military discipline created a revulsion among the children to the school. Later, when these teachers founded their own school, their use of Yiddish attracted the students as well as support from the Literary – Dramatic Society.

At the end of 1918 when the Germans left Zhetl and the surrounding region, the school was closed and the Literary – Dramatic Society was forced to cease its activities.

The authority changed every day. Hunger and typhus epidemics were rampant and did not allow parents to think about their children's education. The children ran around tattered, isolated,

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filling the streets and experiencing all the horrors.

In 1919 when the Poles gained authority those active in the Literary – Dramatic Society came together and decided to open a school in Zhetl. They themselves were not sure what type of school this would be. The old way was no longer appropriate, of this they were certain.

In an abandoned building in “Patiye's brick building” a school was opened. They took the benches from the Literary – Dramatic Society. The school resembled a modernized religious school with Hebrew taking priority. There were 2–3 classes. The first teachers were A. Ivenitsky, Esther and Libke Kaplinsky, Zimelevitch and others. In 1920 when the Bolsheviks entered Zhetl, the school was closed.

By the end of 1920 a group of initiators gathered in the library. They were: Ovseyevitch, Barishansky, G. Shvedsky, M. Leyserovitch, Y. Sendrovsky (deceased), Y. Gertzovsky, Y.B. Rabinovitch, A. Ivenitsky and M. Rabinovitch and they decided once again to open a school, however with a firm foundation and clearer direction. There was a rumour in town that in Bialystok there was a school organization that supported Yiddish schools. We wrote to them asking for help. An instructor came from Bialystok who was sure there already was a school in Zhetl. She refused to help due to lack of funds. She claimed her organization can only help schools that already exist. She advised us to open a school and then she could get us some help. We took a loan of 1500 marks from the library fund and borrowed 10, 000 marks from our supporters and Shvedksy went in the spring of 1921 to Vilna to find teachers. Right after Passover our first foreign teacher arrived in Zhetl, Liberman, and the first grade of today's 7 grade Sholem Aleichem School was opened in Zhetl.



The school opened with 15 students. Within the first 2 months the amount rose to 30 including 5 boys. The school was divided in two grades and 2 new teachers were hired: the teacher Ganzovitch for Hebrew and a female teacher Berlinerbloy for Polish. They also hired a secretary who was in fact the administrator Y.B Rabinovitch. A few “experts” from town came to Liberman's first few classes and could not imagine how he could teach everything in Yiddish. The school had 10 –15 volunteers but not all were active. From the beginning, the orthodox fought bitterly against the school and even opened up classes in the Talmud Torah for girls so they would not attend the Yiddish school. A heated discussion arose among the board of directors of the school as to which direction the school should take. There were differences of opinion. The following wanted the school to have a Yiddish secular character: Barishansky, Ovseyevitch, Shvedsky, D. Vilner, Y. Senderovsky, Rabinovitch.


The committee, teachers and pupils in the Yiddish School 1922

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Opposing them there was a minority who could not separate themselves from the old tradition. The minority lost. The school joined TSISHO and received 30,000 marks and later, regular subsidies. The board of directors wrote to Zhetl Jews in America about the school and asked for financial support. The board held a meeting every Saturday afternoon at the school (this tradition continues until today), to deal with actual questions about school life. At this opportunity they would discuss important world events (this tradition also continues today). At first tuition covered 40 % of the budget and including the monies the school received from the central organization there was a deficit of barely 30% which had to be covered by the board. For this purpose they organized lotteries, concerts, performances and entertainment which brought in earnings. Our American friends pulled through and the school subsists.

The school was not just a learning institution for children. It also became an educational institution for the parents and volunteers who had a scant notion about a modern Yiddish school. Many parents believed that walking with your children in a field or forest was a waste of time, and the study of nature was useless. Once at a board meeting it was suggested the school buy anatomy pictures, – thanks to the insight of one of the board members, the purchase was made.

It is worthwhile to add, the school was opened completely without a charter. In 1922 we elicited a charter in the name of the deceased board member Man, and in 1928 the division of YISHO was legalized in Zhetl and took on its name.

The school began to grow as did the need for an appropriate location. It was clear to the board that if they wanted the school to exist, it needed its own building. This way, they would no longer have to worry about rent and the school would have a firm foundation under it.

The appeal for help was warmly received by Zhetl Jews in America who created a committee to support the school headed by the tireless Max Handelson, who provided the other volunteers with courage and hope to continue with this work. The slogan for the school to have its own building was divulged at a banquet at the home of D. Vilner celebrating the first anniversary of the school. Everyone present donated on the spot for the planned building. The board strove to build the building on a public lot. Where does one find an appropriate place? One lot is too low, the other, too small, another, “a sacred place” where it would be forbidden to build such a “non kosher” thing like a Yiddish secular school. Thanks to the help of our American friends the issue was solved and the school bought its own lot. In 1922, Leyzer Rabinovitch arrived in Zhetl as the representative from America, bringing support for Zhetl's institutions. Rabinovitch, who ran away from Zhetl in 1905 clearly remembered the rabbi's stick at the Talmud Torah where he went. He showed interest in the education of Zhetl's children in general, and specifically, our school. He's interested in a school where the child receives knowledge and an education without beatings and fear of the teacher. He realized that the school must exist and needed to have its own building. A bitter struggle ensued with the other Zhetl institutions but in the end the school was victorious and received 200 dollars with which we bought a lot.

The board sent a delegate to TSISHO in Warsaw and received 100 dollars for the building. A representative from YEKAPO, M. Shalit also came to Zhetl at this time. He succeeded in receiving a subsidy for our building from the YEKAPO central office in the amount of 100 dollars. In 1923 construction began and within 3–4 years it was ready.

A special building committee was created. Various fundraisers were organized in Zhetl as well as in surrounding cities and towns. The drama club performed and all proceeds went to the building. We received lumber at a discounted price from Zhetl lumber merchants. Our board member Man, did not forget about Zhetl Jews living in other cities and they responded warmly. They also took out loans which were later paid back through ticket sales of performances at the school. Our American friends supported the construction the entire time and finally, with everyone's effort, the building was built.

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Meanwhile the school grew and developed. Every year a grade was added and we were forced to rent a larger space. The number of teachers also increased. In 1922 an instructor by the name of Poliak came from the central office to offer instruction in school work. The school was in regular contact with TSISHO which was sending regular support. A children's library was founded at the school and the prestige of the school was continuing to grow. On Chanukah, the end of the school year and at every other opportunity, the teachers organized children's evenings which were well received in town. Every children's evening was a celebration for the children and their parents. Everyone came dressed up to see the little ones move freely on the stage, singing and playing.


The board, teachers and pupils in the Yiddish School 1928


The amount of children attending the Talmud Torah was shrinking. Girls completely stopped attending the Talmud Torah and the boys began to visit our school. Our school organized open meetings and gatherings where with their own forces (teachers and board members) and with the help of instructors from Warsaw, advocated for the Yiddish secular system.

In 1925, a meeting was organized in the House of Study with the participation of Sh. Gilinsky from Warsaw. The orthodox barricaded in an attempt to disrupt the meeting. However we gently advised that the foolish outbursts from the teachers of the Talmud Torah would only bring more prestige to our school. Influenced by our school, the children from the Talmud Torah began to demand vacation, and they organized a few strikes until their demands were met.

According to its position and convictions of the board, the school was progressive and enlightened. The portion of volunteers who felt more connected to traditional Judaism slowly moved away from it: some earlier, some later. The atmosphere in town however, where there was not a large working class, was middle class, petty bourgeois. The school, wanting to gain the confidence of the parents so they would send their children to the school, had to adapt. In order to achieve this, in the first few years of the school's existence there was a quorum and on Saturday and the Jewish holidays they would pray and the school had income from these religious obligations and vows. On Sukkot, the janitor of the school, Pinye, would run around to the parents of the children with his own Etrog asking them to bless his Etrog. Pinye the janitor must be included in the history of the school. He worked at the school from its founding, for 15 years, and felt he was the boss. Board members and teachers change or move away. He has remained. One thing he could absolutely never learn: how to tell time. The teachers had to make a special board showing where the big hand and little hand of the clock had to be for him to ring the bell for recess.

The level of the school also rose gradually. In 1925 the school organized an exhibit of the children's work. Representatives of the government would come. The teacher Ekshteyn would greet the crowd in Polish and dwell upon the demands of full equal rights for the Yiddish School.

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In 1925 they began teaching German and in the sixth grade part of the Polish program was passed on to seventh grade. The school also had a very fine choir. In 1926 the first graduation ceremony took place. Together with the teachers, the graduating class took a trip to Vilna where they spent a whole week.

1926–27 was a year of feverish construction. They could no longer learn in the rented space due to overcrowding and our own building was not yet completed. Although the building was still without a floor, we began to use it in 1926 as a source of income. A temporary stage was built and the drama club performed. The school's drama club now had a name, “Arvy”, which stood for artistic corner (Vinkl). The name was given by an amateur actress who came from Grodno, L. Garber – Kovensky. The first production in the new building, “A Romanian Wedding” brought in an income of 1000 gulden. They were now organizing performances and balls in the building and the proceeds went to the building. The firefighter's orchestra played these school events for free.

Although they were still not learning in the school, the dedication of the new building took place in December 1926. Representatives from all of Zhetl's institutions were present. A large sum of money was collected especially for small ovens. Finally, in 1927, one grade of the school began to learn in the building. The children marched festively through the town and were warmly greeted by all. At the beginning of the next school year, the school finally went into the new building which was built with everyone's effort.



As we entered the new building the school began to blossom. The entire school lot was 70 metres long and 30 metres wide: and the building, which was 22 metres long and 12 metres wide became the centre of all cultural work in town. The children spent their free time in the walled schoolyard. The school had a permanent stage and was built according to the corridor system. When there was a large event, they would remove the plywood walls of the rooms and create the largest theatrical hall in town. Travelling troupes would rent it for performances. The hall was used intensively: for example, from May 1926 until September 1928, 248 different cultural events took place.

The school grew to seven grades and because of this there was no graduation in 1927, but only in 1928 with 16 graduates.

Those active in the school were also active in communal life, in city elections, Jewish community elections, everywhere we went, we were a force to deal with. From 1927 until today the school received subsidies from city hall. The school has representation on city council, the Jewish communal council and all the economic organizations take us into account. When elections to the Popular Bank and Interest Free Loan Society take place, the voice of our school movement plays a distinguished role.

The school tried to organize evening courses for workers, and in 1927 the children organized a mandolin orchestra with more than 20 instruments. A special music teacher was hired and within a short time the orchestra lit up all the school celebrations.

The school library continued to grow, and under the direction of the teacher Baksht, who had a certain weakness for the library, there were more than 1000 books by 1929. The school succeeded in bringing together the working youth in town. In 1928 a sports club was founded which was later legalized by “TOZ” (which was also founded in Zhetl as a school initiative). They would exercise in their green and white uniforms and add prestige to the school. For a time there was a cycling section of the sports club, and until today the former tourers remember with love their instructor, the teacher Herman Frenkel, who made them work hard.

The number of children in the school increases and reaches 250. Besides this, we opened a kindergarten and hired a special kindergarten teacher. Materials in school were not bad. The tuition flowed in regularly, our American friends sent a larger sum every year and the performances brought in profit. There was a so–called “Mother's Committee” that helped plan all the events. They would arrange for all the props that were needed and the energetic Khane Malke would get as much done alone as ten others together.

The fast growth of the school did not allow its opponents to rest, the orthodox as well as the “enlightened” Zionists, who in the early years hoped the school would go in their direction.

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Both understood that the Talmud Torah would never compete with our school which continued to develop and needed something new to attract a crowd. In 1927 the Tarbut School opened in Zhetl, where Torah and heretics were brought together, where they taught girls Mishna and on breaks you could find pupils eating pork. These were the same managers of the Talmud Torah, the same franchisees, but the sign is different, new. The Zionists began to group around “Tarbut” and with demagogic baiting they instilled fear in the provincial parents. They also started a drama club at “Tarbut” which competed against our school and both clubs performed the same play on the same night.

In 1930 we celebrated the tenth anniversary of our school. The celebrations which lasted a few days took place at the end of the school year, and besides the representatives from the surrounding towns, it was also attended by Senator Dr. Tzemakh Shabad from Vilna whose attendance added great importance and prestige to our celebration. Saturday night there was a festive children's evening and Dr. Shabad arrived in the middle.


The String Orchestra of the Yiddish School 1929

First row: Dobeh Lusky, Miriam Epshteyn
Second row: Libe Koyfman, Malke Mayevsky, Luba Sahtsky, Mikhle Shalkovitch,Rivka Breskin, Yudis Mayevsky, Khaye Alpert
Third row: Khaye Rokhl Karpelevitch, Yokhe Bulansky, Rokhl Berman, Shayne Sokolovsky, Eliyahu Busel, Sonieh Shilovitsky, Shifra Dunetz, Malke Grosh, Rivke Mirsky, Yekhil Yoselevitch
Fourth row: Aron Gertzovsky, Shifra Fridnberg, Rokhl Rabinovitch, Malke Lusky, Soreh Breskin, Yente Rivka Gal, Hinde Barishansky, Nekhame Belaus, Moishe Lisagursky


Dr. Shabad was impressed with the performance. He didn't believe he would see something so good in Zhetl. There was also a parade where the children in the sports club, led by the late Leyb Frenkel, went to the market place and then to the synagogue plaza and performed various gymnastics exercises. Jews who would have never entered our “non kosher” walls came to our school to hear Dr. Shabad. His name itself was an attraction. Later, Dr. Shabad shared with his readers of the “Vilna Tog” his impressions of our anniversary celebrations and placed Zhetl as an example for other towns.

In honour of our anniversary we published a special newspaper which we called “Our School”, with articles and dissertations about the history of the school written by L. Frenkel, Barishansky, Brandes, Moreyn, Y.B Rabinovitch, and others. In the paper there were greeting s from A.Golomb in the name of the Yiddish Teacher's Seminary and notices of the deaths of two board members, M. Man and Y. Senderovsky.

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Most of the copies of this paper were sent to our supporters in America.

By the 10th anniversary the board of directors was comprised of: Yehoshua Ovseyevitch, Avrom Moishe Barishansky, Hirsh Busel, Alter Gertzovsky, Khaim Ganzovitch, Asher Levit, Yehoshua Lusky, Mashke Mirsky, Avrom Savitsky, Simkha Rabetz, Khaim Mikhl Raznov and Gdalye Shvedsky.



The anniversary celebration gave the volunteers courage and energy to carry on their work in difficult bitter times which were already being felt in the air with the crushing repressions. The school was among the first to feel the consequences of the difficult economic crisis in the land. Parents did not have the means to pay tuition. Some removed their children from the school and sent them to public school. When a father asks, what is the priority, to provide a child with bread or tuition, it is hard to give him advice. The wealthier were attracted to “Tarbut”. The board did not take this casually, so besides publicity work they looked for new sources of income to help cover their losses. To achieve this they organized the first school bazaar in 1931 where items were sold, mostly gifts from graduates and friends of the school. The first bazaar raised a lot of money and from then on, the school has organized a bazaar every year.

The same year the school ran broad cultural activities in town. They organized a Popular University which offered lectures twice a week in the winter on various literary, natural science and communal topics. The teachers headed the lecture roster along with other cultural forces in town. The Popular University was very well attended and even brought in an income of a few hundred gulden.

The school was the first to feel the period of reaction which was beginning throughout the country. There were a series of attacks from all sides on the school. Even the greatest optimists felt everything was lost. “Tarbut” wanted their subsidy increased at our loss. We did not allow this to happen. The parents of our students were mobilized, contributed to the debate and the attacking criticism was rebuffed.

The board of directors which ran the Popular University was not pleased with the authorities, and when the new school laws came into being in 1932, it was one of the first victims.

When the new school year began we had to look for a new board.


Sixth and seventh grades of the Yiddish School, 1928

First row seated: Mikhle Shalkovitch, Yudis Mayevsky, Nekhame Senderovsky, Shmuel Kaplinsky, Yosef Senderovsky, Dobeh Lusky, Henia Namiyat, Malke Mayevsky
Second row seated: Eliyahu Busel, teachers Shaykov, Olshteyn, Blyuma Markus, Herman Frenkel, Esther Bruk, Akiva Baksht, Fania Batsheykov
Third row standing: Yehoshua Lusky, Rivka Mirsky, Zlateh Patzovsky, Shifra Fridnberg, Khaye Alpert, Leah Rabinovitch, Yekhie Yoselevitch
Fourth row standing: Shifra Dunetz, Libeh Koyfman, Sonieh Shilovitsky, Nekhame N+Belaus, Khaye Vilner, Minye Berman, Rokhl Berman
Fifth row standing: Feygl Stukolsky, Rozeh Daykhovsky, Hinde Barishansky, Dina Man


Members of the board also suffered…some lost their source of income and suffered in other ways because they belonged to the school. Due to many reasons the financial situation of the school was very bad. Teachers were barely paid for 8 months and no help came from the central office as they were facing the same problems. During the school year of 1932–33 conflicts existed at the school, even teacher's strikes which demanded they be paid minimum wage.

The board remained devoted to the school during these difficult times. More than one was haunted by the thought: “What next? How much longer can we suffer? How will we be able to sustain the school

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so it doesn't collapse in this time of crisis when a black cloud is about to destroy us?” It was then decided to expand the board and attract active elements. Some parents co–opted the board. The recent ones believed the school must adapt more to the town and its ambience, to the other parents and offer more Hebrew, this would make the foundation of the school more solid and make it easier for us to compete with “Tarbut”. They tried to steer the school in that direction but their wishes were not fulfilled.

During the school year of 1933–34 practically an entire pedagogical council was hired. The newly arrived teachers began to fortify everything that was shaken up during the difficult years of crisis. The nominal wages of the teachers were agreed upon and what the board promised was paid. The number of teachers was reduced to 4, who worked 7 hours a day, besides the extra curricular work like the drama club, library, cooperative etc… The students were now those who left a few years earlier. The most difficult years of the school were 1933–34 when the Zionists prospered and “Tarbut” had the strength of certificates. Our school responded with stronger publicity work. In 1935 the school was visited by the chairman of TSISHO, Sh. Kazdan, who became aware of our situation, held an open meeting as well as a separate meeting with graduates and school activists.

The children's evenings continued with great success, especially those with a social tendency. The parents and the entire town had changed, becoming more progressive. If at one time we feared just saying the word “socialism” within the walls of our school not to frighten the fathers, it was now a natural thing which no longer frightened the majority of the parents. The school won a lot in content.



Friday, the 21st of February 1936, around 7 o'clock in the evening an alarm suddenly sounded in town: The school was burning! Although Zhetl was used to fires, at that moment we did not want to believe this was happening. We ran closer to the school and saw smoke and flames coming from the locked building. Those gathered ripped off the doors and windows and began to save what they could. However, the fire quickly seized the dry walls of the building and they only succeeded to save the secretariat and a portion of the library.

The entire town gathered around the burning building. The cries of the children were horrible, in the glow of the flames which they wanted to extinguish with their tears. In view of this tragedy we were able to see how our school was deeply rooted in the town and how much it was surrounded with love and devotion. Thus, the desire to correct this injustice and rebuild the school was strengthened.

While the spot where the school stood was still smoldering with remnants of the building, the board gathered at the home of Ovsyevitch and decided to get to work. It was decided, the next day, Saturday, all the parents would be invited to a meeting at the cinema.

Practically the whole town came to this parent's meeting. When Barishansky spoke about what the building meant to the town he could not hold back tears and cried together with most of those present. It was decided to rebuild right away. The atmosphere at the meeting was such that even our opponents promised to donate.

Two urgent questions faced the board: should they try to rent a place so the school could continue to function normally and the children would not run around without supervision, and then raise funds to rebuild the building. The Polish public school allowed the older grades to study there in the afternoon. Besides this, we rented a place for a few classes and took a few rooms in the Jewish communal building. It is worthwhile mentioning, the Jewish communal building wanted to remove our classes with force and when the children were learning, the police had to intervene.

On Sunday, 2 days after the fire, a consultation took place at the home of Barishansky where, from among invited sympathizers, a building committee was constituted. On the spot an assessment was made for over 500 gulden. It was decided to carry out a campaign throughout the country, beginning in Zhetl with a public appeal to help rebuild our building.

The appeal to help our school was published in the newspapers “Folkszteytung”, “Vilner Tog”,

[Page 211]

and the American “Forverts”. The board immediately sent Ivenitsky and Barishansky to Vilna to try and get something for our school. Although at the time Vilna was running its own campaign for their own school chaired by A. Rozental, it was decided they would help in our campaign. Ivenitsky remained in Vilna for a few weeks to carry our campaign. The Vilna press warmly supported our campaign. The family of the late Dr. Shabad showed interest in our campaign, the school children gave some money and within a short time we raised almost 1000 gulden in Vilna.

The work in Zhetl did not stand still. Young and old were assessed and paid in installments. Building began. The first money we received from the insurance company (the whole amount came to 4000 gulden) went to buy lumber and the work went quickly. Whoever did not have cash, paid with work. The wagon drivers provided their horses for free and on the Sabbath, when they did not work and the young people had free time, they became the wagon drivers and brought the lumber from the sawmill to the building.

The board's goal was to have the building ready for the new school year and worked with great speed to achieve this. The money received from the central office was not sufficient because we had to pay the teachers at the time when the income of the school was significantly reduced. The danger was we would have to stop work due to lack of funds. Representatives from our school went to neighbouring cities such as Novogrudek, Lida and Baranovitch to carry out campaigns for our building. In order to inform the central office of the situation of our school a delegation consisting of A.M Barishansky and B. Kaplinsky went to Warsaw. B. Kaplinsky remained in Warsaw for quite a while and with the active help of M. Bornshteyn, Todres and others, carried out a campaign for our building. Practically all the Warsaw professional unions contributed including the artist's union and other institutions. There was also a meeting of individuals in Warsaw which resulted in raising over 500 gulden. During this campaign a photograph of our building was published in “Folksteytung”.

Ivenitsky carried out a campaign for our building throughout the township of Novogrudek as well as through Polesia and Volhynia. Donations came in for our building from all corners of Poland from former teachers, graduates and friends. The call for help went beyond the borders of Poland. We received 5 pounds for the committee to support Yiddish secular schools in South Africa. Our American friends founded a committee which held a lottery and sent over 200 dollars for our building. A group of our graduates sent donations from Cuba as well.

By the end of the school year the building was ready, except for the roof and it was decided the graduation ceremony should take place there. A temporary stage was built and we prepared for the celebration. It rained cats and dogs all day and the children along with the teachers and volunteers continued to watch the sky. By evening, the sky cleared and the ceremony which was dedicated to the 60th birthday of Avrom Reyzn took place under a starry sky.

The tempo of work did not slow during summer vacation. The board was in debt, borrowed and at the beginning of the school year a portion of the building was complete: no ovens for heating, but nevertheless, ready.

The dedication ceremony for the new school building took place on September 12th, 1936. It was bigger and much nicer than the previous building. The building was 30 metres long and 15 metres wide and had a permanent theatre which could seat 500 people and 6 spacious rooms.

Dr. Veinreikh (Weinreich) came from Vilna as a representative from YIVO. Guests came from the surrounding towns and cities. A special car came from Novorudek as well as representatives for the schools in Slonim and Zholudek. The hall was full to capacity. Kh. Ivenitsky opened the celebrations in the name of the board. He greeted all the guests, friends and builders. We received greetings from TSISHO from Y. Aronovitch, from YIVO from Dr. Weinreich, from our school supporter's in Novogrudek from the lawyer Gumener and from the Zholudek school from their teacher Voltchkovsky. There were also greeting from Zhetl's institutions (The Bund, “Cultural League”, Clothing Union, Builders Union, Craftsmen Union, the Popular Bank and others). Every institution and individual donated certain amounts to complete the building. At our celebration we received 28 telegrams with written greetings.

[Page 212]

There was also a celebratory renewal of our school flag funded by graduates.

Dr. Weinreich later wrote about his impressions of our celebration in the “Forverts” giving our friends in America regards from their hometown.

Those who planned the celebration were proud of their work. They really did a colossal job. Up until the dedication of the building, the cost was 11,000 gulden and all was made possible thanks to the energy of the volunteers who managed to transform the warm feelings our school enjoyed from the public into actual deeds.

It is worthwhile to stress that the school did not receive a penny from the state, the communal authority nor the Jewish community.



The School entered its own building but the volunteers could not rest: half the building was without a floor and ceiling, winter was approaching and there were still no ovens. We could not raise any more money in Zhetl – almost 2000 gulden for our town was a colossal amount. The board delegated Ovsyevitch to go to Warsaw to bring cheques from the central office in the amount of 500 gulden with which we bought the first three small ovens.

Over the next two years the construction of all the rooms was completed. However, the walls looked naked (by 1930 only two rooms were painted), the roof was not yet complete, there were no double windows. The travelling performers said our hall was excellent but lacked comfortable seats. For 4000 gulden we can eliminate all these defects…

The board was now composed of Ovsyevitch, Ivenitsky (chairman), A.M. Barishansky, Busel, Binyaminovitch, Isar Gertzovsky, Kh, Ganzovitch, M. Mirsky, B. Kaplinsky, Kh. Roznov. Graduate representatives were: Z. Patzovsky and Y. Indikhshteyn. The secretary of the school was Y. Khlebnik.

The largest amount of school volunteers were parents of the school children, or parents of graduates. To replace those who lost interest in grey school activity, the board co–opted new members which they perceived to be diligent and hard working.

One of the most important and vital branches of the school is the “ARVY”. Beginning in 1917, when they first performed Goldfadn's “The Sorceress” until very recently they have provided hundreds of amateur performances.

Original footnote:

  1. The author wrote this work in 1939 and it was published in “Shul Vegn” (School Paths). Due to the outbreak of the war, the second part was not published. We are publishing it here verbatim without any changes because it reflects the events from an important part of Zhetl's population. We also avoided stylistic and orthographic changes in the text. Return

How Can I Grasp This?

by Avrom Savitsky

Translated by Janie Respitz

How can I grasp this, how can I understand,
My town of Zhetl is cleansed of Jews.
In the peaceful nest, where my cradle stood
My parents are no longer present.
My friends and acquaintances, youthful as lions
Have you all perished? How can I believe this?
How did death not fear you,
The giants that you were?
Your arms of steel, your hearts, which burn
Your gait and stance, as if forged from bronze.
Only a bit of ash remains, which the wind has carried,
There is not even a tombstone to cry at, wail,
For your unlived years,
For your children who were never born.
For your celebrations you could not enjoy,
Tears of joy, which mothers could not shed.
But your testament will remain forever,
Distances, oceans will not grind them up.
I hear my mother's voice, my father's,
I hear your voices, dear guys.
When I eat, when I sleep,
As long as I live,
And I will pass on to my children,
That you did not fall in battle,
With guns in the trenches to achieve more power.
No!!! You fell with the souls of heroes,
With a tired bodyv And only because
You were born Jews.

[Page 213]

We Are Building a Yiddish School

by Moishe Mirsky (Montreal)

Translated by Janie Respitz

During the First World War a Literary – Dramatic Society was founded in Zhetl and it did not have any political allegiance. Its goal was the cultural revival of the town. Its founders were: Gdalyahu Shvedsky, Avrom Moishe Barishansky, Shloime Khaim Vernikovsky, Yudl Vinitsky, Yisroel Ber Rabinovitch, Yosef Senderovsky, Yehoshua Oseyevitch, Motl Levit, Yisroel Moishe Vinitsky, Motl Man and Moishe Mirsky. The drama club was organized under the leadership of the Lis brothers from Lodz. They also ran various cultural activities including lectures by visiting lecturers. I remember a few by name: Avrom Zak, Leyb Naydus (Grodno) and Yakov Pat.

After the war in 1920 the Literary – Dramatic Society decided to open a Yiddish secular school with Yiddish as the language of instruction. This decision led to a split in the society. A group of Zionists left and opened their own locale. The leader of this group was Shloime Khaim Vernikovsky, the son of Menakhem Vernikovsky (the pharmacist).

Shloime Khaim was considered to be one of the most talented young men in town. He devoted all his youthful passion and energy to Zionist work, however his life was short. He developed inflammation of his lungs and died at the young age of 24. His untimely death had a huge impact on all those involved in the Literary – Dramatic Society. He was an intimate friend to all from our early days in Heder. May his memory be a blessing!

We opened the first class of the Yiddish school. The first teacher was Lieberman from Vilna. He won the trust of the parents in Zhetl with his modern teaching techniques.

The school continues to grow day by day. We hired a teacher and opened a preparatory class. A few years later we hired Herman Frenkel (from Lodz) who brought a lot of life into our town.

It is difficult today to describe the bitter and obviously distinguished struggle that ensued between the two administrations to recruit students to both schools. This ambitious cultural struggle instilled a lot of content for the youth and the school directors.

The Literary – Dramatic Society transformed into a school organization and joins the drama club without the central Yiddish school organization. At the time the drama club had 40 members. The director was Herman Frenkel, and the technical director was Moishe Mirsky. The drama club existed until the last World War. It performed almost the entire Yiddish repertoire and carried the financial burden of the Yiddish school.

In 1922, Leyzer Rabinovitch (Feyvl's son) came to Zhetl on a visit from America with his family. He brought 500 dollars from the American Zhetl Relief Fund for the Yiddish school. This is when it was decided to build our own building. The board appointed a building committee with the following members: Avrom Moishe Barishansky, Khaim Ganzovitch, Yosef Senderovsky, Moishe MIrsky and Yitzkhak Leybovitch.

The school board of directors received nice gifts from the neighbouring noble estates.


The board members and teachers of the Yiddish School
at a going away party in honour of Y. and M. Dvoretzky

First row: Asher Levit, Hirshl Busel
Second row: Khaim Mikhl Roznov, Gdalye Shvedsky, Avrom Savitzky, Mayta Savitzky, Yakov Dvoretzky, Esther Leah Busel, Avrom Moishe Barishansky, Yehoshua Ovseyevitch
Third row: Khaim Ganzovitch, Alter Gertzovsky, Gitte Zaks, Dovid Moreyn, Leybl Frenkel, Yehoshua Lusky, Moishe Mirsky, Simkha Robetz, Mrs. Brandes and the teacher Brandes

[Page 214]

The nobleman Stravinsky from Nakrishki sent twenty five giant beams for the school building.

In time, two magnificent buildings were erected in Zhetl. One housed the 7 grades of the “Tarbut” School named in honour of Khaim Nakhman Bialik, the other, the 7 grades of the Yiddish School named in honour of Sholem Aleichem. The schools also had kindergartens. I will not mention the names of the teachers from the “Tarbut” School because I do not remember them. I remember the names of the teachers from the Yiddish School since I sat on the board.

The Yiddish School went into its own building in 1926. The teachers at the time were: Herman Frenkel, Akiva Baksht, Leyzer Olshteyn, Gitte Zaks, Blumeh Markus and Fanieh Botchaykova. The first kindergarten teacher was: Leah Berniker.

Leah was a great pedagogue and she won over the parents with her devotion to the small children. She built up the kindergarten to 150 children. Leah Berniker was also very successful with her children's presentations. She lived in Zhetl for a few years and today she lives in Montreal, Canada.

The building of the Yiddish School also had a theatre which seated 400, a wonderful stage and even a section for the musicians. This was the largest and nicest hall in the region. Thanks to this the best troupes came to Zhetl from all around Poland including: Avrom Morevsky, Samberg, Yona Turkov and Diana Blumenfeld, “Azalzel” form Lodz, Dzhigan and Shumakher, Godik, Ella Lilis and Dovid Herman and his studio. The last one spent a few weeks in Zhetl with his troupe. This was in 1920 before he left for America. The Jews of Zhetl were great theatre lovers with eyes and ears open to everything that had a connection to theatre.

The Yiddish schools in Poland were not subsidized by the government and had to support themselves. Part of the budget was covered by tuition. A negligible subsidy was given by the city. Most of the budget was subsidized by performances and the central office.

Our board struggled to keep the school running, but thanks to their devotion and stubborn work the school existed until the last World War.


Tenth Anniversary Party of the drama club by the Yiddish School in 1927

[Page 215]

The Tarbut School

by Dvoyre Gorodaysky–Shkolnik (Kfar–Saba)

Translated by Janie Respitz

The Tarbut School began to organize in Zhetl in 1927. Its first founders were: Reb Hertz Leyb Kaplinsky, Feyvl Epshteyn, Shaul Kaplinsky, Khaim Levit, Tzaliye Moshakovsky, Dovid Senderovsky, Dvoyre Gorodaysky, Yerukham Izrealit and Yoel Tcheplovodsky.


Dvoyre Gorodaysky


I remember the first meeting of the school board of directors on Sabbath Nakhamu at Feyvl Epshteyn's home. We decided to begin with a kindergarten and in time, transform into a school. In order to realize our plan we needed a location, inventory and a kindergarten teacher. Feyvl Epshteyn went to Vilna, hired a teacher, Rozeh, and rented a room at Itche the butcher's. We raised money for inventory from all possible sources.


Feyvl Epshteyn


Feyvl Epshteyn gave the first 100 zlotys, Hertz Leyb Kaplinsky–300 zlotys. The remaining money we took to the bank and bought chairs and tables. In truth we had a poor inventory however it allowed us to open the kindergarten.

But we were still missing one thing: children. In order to solve this problem we went from house to house to mobilize children. We did not take into consideration the age of the child or ability to pay tuition. We took big and small children by the hand and led them to the kindergarten. I remember carrying out this task with Hirshl Kaplinsky and we succeeded in recruiting 35 children. For a beginning, this was a lot and encouraging.

The second year we rented a larger space at Haynke Breskin's. We rented two rooms and invited Berta Tchapnik from Grodno to be a kindergarten teacher. During the school year we succeeded in recruiting 70 children and we broadened our circle of volunteers. Among others involved in the school were: Yosef Kalmen Butkovsky and Leybl Beshkin. The kindergarten teacher Tchapnik did all the preparations in order to open the first grade of the Hebrew school.

We rented space at Yosef the barber's for grade one. We then turned to the central office of “Tarbut” and they sent the following teachers: Golda Finkel, Shleymke Goldinberg, and Bas–Sheva Beshkin.



The Tarbut School fought all its years for a flowing budget and even more for an investment budget. Nothing was too difficult for us when it came to raising money for the school. Besides tuition we raised money through performances, the drama club, Sukkot bazar, dances and other sources. Important entries in our budget were: the subsidy from city council, help from America and besides this there was a group of patrons who would often open their wallets to fill a gap in the budget. Two such patrons were: Reb Hertz Leyb Kaplinsky and Feyvl Epshteyn. They gave from their own pockets what was lacking from other budget entries. The profits of the drama club played an important role in our budget.


The Drama Club

The drama club at the Tarbut School was founded in 1930 by Leybl Beshkin. The decorator was Avrom Matyuk. As I remember the first performances were: “Hertzele the Illustrious”, “Soreh Shayndl From Hehupetz” and “The Jewish King”.


Kindergarten of the Tarbut School 1935

[Page 216]

The performances took place in our school rooms at Yosef the barber's.

Participants in the drama club were: Khaya Urseyevitch, Soreh Abelevitch, Fraydl Berman, Bas -Sheva Beshkin, Yosef Kalmen Butkovsky, Shloime Goldinberg, Hirshl Gertzovsky, Yoel Tcheplovodsky, Avrom Langbart, Hadasa Leybovitch, Shloime Levenbuk, Dvoyre Savitsky and others.

The entire time we rivalled the drama club at the Yiddish school. We tried to hide the plays we planned to perform from them, but as if out of spite, they always found out.


The board, teachers and pupils of the Tarbut School 1928

Standing in the last row: Avrom Lngbart, Yitzkhak Krashinsky, Shaul Kaplinsky, Hertz–Leyb Kaplinsky, Moishe Ruven Mordkovsky, Yitzkhak Moishe Gafanovitch, Yisroel Ozer Barishansky


It is possible they saw which books we borrowed from the library, yet for a long time we had another suspicion. We suspected our friend Fraydl Berman, then Levit, whose sister, Peshe Levit was in the drama club of the Yiddish School, got the secret from her. Later it appeared the opposite was true. Peshe would repeat her lines of her role in her sleep and Fraydl would then know what the Yiddish drama club was rehearsing.

Angry tongues would wag and say the members of the Yiddish drama club would stand under our window, listen to our rehearsals and learn what we were planning to perform. As soon as they found out what we were doing, they would begin to rehearse the same play. This is how Zhetl would enjoy the same play in two separate locations.

The following would often happen. We would hang up a notice that we would be performing one play or another, and a half hour later the drama club of the Yiddish School would hang up a notice that they were performing the same show.

Most of the plays were very successful. However it did happen, that we did all the preparations, the artists were already made up, the stage was decorated, but there were barely 50 people in the audience. Nervously we would run from the box office to the hall and from the hall outside, sometimes to our opponents in order to see how they were doing.

Sometimes our show would end successfully but with the cash box half empty.


The Building

We made a big effort to build a building for our school. We worked hard to collect money from wherever we could. We began with a five dollar appeal. To achieve this we drew a “dollarubke” on a piece of paper and asked the photographer Dovid Leybovitch to photograph it and copy it.

[Page 217]

Then we sold these photographs for 5 dollars and this is how we began the fund to buy the lot behind Yudl Khaim Rashkin's house. The board members of the school borrowed from the interest free loan society in their own names and later the school paid them back. It often happened that the board members would pay the debt out of their own pockets.

A second source of income was American help as well as the Tarbut central office in Warsaw. Besides this, we assessed the craftsmen. One gave us a door, another a window. Others donated labour. If I am not mistaken we also received a large gift from the nobleman Stravisnky in the form of wooden beams.

This is how we assembled wall after wall until we had a five room place with an office.


Yisroel Fergamenik


When we had a celebration we would take down the walls of the rooms and create a large hall.

The dedication of the building was organized with great fanfare with the participation of director Bernholtz from Lida and inspector Eynshteyn from Warsaw.

The first graduation from the Tarbut School took place in 1934. There were 5 graduates in total. I figure, all told the school graduated approximately 200 children, mostly boys.


Actors in the performance of “Hertzele”, 1927

First row: Khaye Abelevitch, Yekhiel Turetsky, Mayshke Levit, Hadasa Leybovitch.
Second row: Khanie, Yoel Tcheplovidsky, Fraydl Berman, Feyvl Epshteyn, Avrom Langbart, Rivke Breskin, Shaul Kaplinsky, Yitzkhak Krashinsky, Soreh Turetsky.
Third row: Gershon Rashkin, Khaye Ovseyevitch, Rokhl Rabinovitch, Soreh Libe Breskin, Hirshl Gertzovsky, Khaye Dvoyre Savitzky, Yosef Berman, Dvoyre Gorodaysky, Yisroel Senderovsky.
Fourth row: Hirshl Kaplinsky, Khane Obershteyn, Yitzkhak Leyzerovitch, Shaynke Mnuskin, Leyb Zelikovitch, Pinkhas Mayevsky. Last row: Yosef Leyzerovitch, Zelik Gertzovsky, Moishe Ruven Mordkovsky, Avrom Matyuk, Avrom Aron Breskin, Leyb Mnuskin.

[Page 218]

Stamp of the Tarbut School



It is hard for me to remember all the teachers at the Tarbut School. Please forgive me if I have simply forgotten a few names. I remember these teachers: Hadasa Bril, Shloime Goldenberg, Khaim and Etl Vilensky, the teacher Kakiel, Naftali Blukh, Tchertches, Borukh Kaplinsky, Yisroel Fergamenik, and Nokhem Shoykhet.

The teachers put a lot of energy and strength into the school. Disregarding the difficult financial situation, they brought the school to a high level.


The board, teachers and pupils of the Tarbut School, 1939


Tarbut School

by D. Gorodieski-Shkolnik

Translated by Judy Montel

The Tarbut school in Zhetl began to be organized in 1927. At the founding meeting at the home of Shraga Epstein we decided to open, for now, just a kindergarten, and over time turn it into a school. In order to accomplish our goal, we needed a kindergarten teacher, an apartment and equipment. Shraga Epstein invited a kindergarten teacher from Vilna, her name was Rosa. We rented the apartment in the home of Reb Yitzchak the butcher and the equipment we obtained with donations from Reb Herz Leib Kaplinski (a total of 300 zloty) and from Shraga Epstein (a total of 100 zloty). We borrowed the rest of the money from a local bank

However, we were missing the main thing. To remedy this, we went from house to house and registered children. We did not pay attention to the age of the children or to their ability to pay tuition. We took from whatever we could find. And we succeeded. Tzvi Kaplinski and I registered 35 children. It was a good beginning.

For the second year, we rented a larger place already in the home of Shayna Mirsky and to run the kindergarten we invited the teacher Berta Chapnik from Grodno. During this year the number of children rose to 70 and we also succeeded in widening the circle of community activists connected to the school. And then we found the right hour to open the Tarbut school.

[Page 219]

Memoirs of a Student

by Soreh Epshteyn – Shoar (Natanya)

Translated by Janie Respitz

“The grasses grow evenly in the field,
A child must be happy, rich or poor;
The sun sends us all its blessing and shine,
We are happy to be Jewish children!”

This was the first song we sang on the first day of school. This was also the first day in the history of the Yiddish School in Zhetl, 1921.

I was among the first pupils. Until then I had not attended any school. The majority of the children in Zhetl, until this time, received their education from private teachers. I remember, as if in a dream, the well known teachers in town that would come to our house: Mutshnik, Bender and others.

The first two classes of the newly founded school were in the home of Berl Mirsky, on Hoyf Street across from the post office. The place was not suitable, it was crowded and uncomfortable. Within a short time we moved to a second place in a small street past the synagogue, at the Christian Kavalevsky's and then to Senderovsky's brick building at the marketplace.

Here we finally felt at home. Firstly, we occupied the second floor, the rooms were bigger and it was possible to organize evenings and performances for larger audiences.

With the growth in the amount of pupils (every year a new grade was added) the administration could not have all the pupils learning in the morning. Some had to learn in the afternoon.

Fall and winter, when the days were short we returned home with lanterns. We would walk slowly, not rushing.

Tuesday evenings were especially interesting after the market day in town. We would accompany the last village wagons as they left town. In the winter we would jump on the back of the farmer's sleighs; if he was a nice gentile, we would ride for a bit, if he was mean, he would yell at us and threaten us with his whip…

Often we would stop in a yard, mostly at Khaye Sorke Alpert's, and in the garden build a snowman. We would strictly guard him and after each thaw we would fix him using the light of our lanterns.

Near our school, Reyzele lived in an attic room. She had a small candy store. When we headed home in the evening we jumped into Reyzele's shop and bought a snack.

The main thing was, she would often give us snacks on “credit”. She was the first to teach us about debts…

However, this inn was also not suitable for a school. We did not have a yard and we would sow the vegetable garden at Dorogavn's on Novoredker Street.

We would bring wheelbarrows filled with manure, fertilize the garden and quickly return to our lessons at school.

Gradually a request was made: to build our own school building, more comfortable with a suitable yard.

At the time, when the school moved into Senderovsky's brick building at the marketplace, people began to “make noise” in town.

The attention turned to the big brick building in the middle of the marketplace which “ruled” over the whole area. This was my grandfather Feyvl's building.

How many pleasant recollections I have in connection to that house!

In those days a guest from America was a rare phenomenon. And now, my uncle, Leyzer Rabinovitch, is coming for a visit. The town was spinning. They cleaned, whitewashed the gutters, threw yellow sand in the yards and decorated the streets more than usual.

The big day arrived!

Delegations from various institutions began to approach the brick building. Among them was a delegation of school children. My uncle Leyzer brought some money with him. Some of the money he donated himself but most of it was collected from American Jews to build a building for the Yiddish school.

[Page 220]

The pupils from the Yiddish School say farewell to their teacher P. Zabitz, 1922


Understandably, it took some time, but finally the plan was realized.

They chose a nice lot on the corner of Novoredker Street which led to Tcherne the miller and there, with great celebration, they laid the cornerstone of the school. The joy was great, indescribable. The Tarbut School did not yet exist in Zhetl and the Yiddish School was the first Jewish educational institution in Zhetl.

Slowly, slowly the school was built. Large, comfortable bright rooms, a large place to play and a garden.

There was a special stage where school children performed as well as theatrical performances for adults.

The small street became alive with loud, happy children's voices.

Unfortunately I did not go to the new school because by then I was studying at the Polish public school.

However, I loved the Yiddish School very much because I remembered the difficult times when it struggled for existence.

It was a joy to see how it slowly grew and became a beautiful, splendid school which was capable of educating all the children who longed for it.


The Polish Public School, 1928


[Page 222]


Translated by Judy Montel

The town of Zhetl was founded in the year 1498, but the year in which the Jewish community in Zhetl was founded is shrouded in mystery. It stands to reason that over the years the few tenants, artisans and tradespeople organized themselves into a Jewish community and hired themselves a rabbi.

The first rabbi of the Zhetl community that we know of is Reb Chaim HaKohen Rapaport (1720-1729), who had been the rabbi of Lemberg and participated in the debate with the Franciscans that took place under the auspices of the Catholic clergy. It makes sense that the father of the Maggid of Dubnow, Rabbi Ze'ev Kranz served as the rabbi of Zhetl.

During the years 1840-1850, Reb Zeev Wolf HaLevi, author of the book “Emek Halacha” sat on the throne of the rabbinate in Zhetl.

In the past century, the following has held the crown of the rabbinate in Zhetl: Rabbi Reb Tzvi Hirsch Dvoretzki (1850-1891), Rabbi Reb Baruch Avraham Mirski (1892-1912), the only one of the rabbis of Zhetl who was a Zionist activist, Rabbi Reb Zalmen Sorotzkin (1912-1929), currently one of the great rabbis of Jerusalem and the last rabbi of the community of Zhetl: Rabbi Yitzchak Reitzer (1930-1942)/

The cradle of many rabbis stood in Zhetl, rabbis who became famous in the Jewish world and served as rabbis all over Russia and Poland. We will list some of them here: Reb Aryeh Leib Segal, author of “Marganita Taba”, who was elected in 1696 as the rabbi of Minsk, Reb Tzvi Hirsch HaKohen, author of “Chidushei Maharsh”a”, who lived at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18” centuries/ In 1740, Reb Ya'akov Kranz was born in Zhetl who became famous as the Maggid of Dubnow, in 1839, Reb Yisrael Me'ir HaKohen was born in Zhetl, who became known as the Chofetz Chayim. Zhetl was the dwelling place of the Rabbi Reb Aryeh Yellin, author of “With Beautiful Eyes,” who died in 1886. In Zhetl, Rabbi Reb Shmuel Rabinowitz lived, the rabbi of Moscow, who died in 1924.

The rabbis of Zhetl ran the spiritual leadership of the town for generations, and if they also had organizational talents, they managed its practical matters as well. From here came our ancestors' extra vigilance in choosing a rabbi. They were very concerned that the rabbis of Zhetl should be great in Torah and in leadership. And indeed, the community of Zhetl can be proud of its rabbis.


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