This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Lita: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Lithuania,
Editor: Prof. Dov Levin, Assistant Editor: Josef Rosin, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.
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N) Education and Culture
Primary and High Schools
Immediately after the establishment of Lithuanian independence and the return of the Jewish masses from Russia, there came into being, sporadically, in the cities and towns, dozens of schools or at least study classes taught either in Yiddish or in Hebrew. The few educational institutes founded during the German occupation eventually began to teach in these languages. This suited the aspirations of the new state to rid itself of the remains of the German and Russian occupation. Because of this consideration and others, the administration recognized the right of the Jews to create their own educational system. This right and the means to realize it through liberal governmental assistance, was anchored in the Lithuanian constitution and in a series of laws and regulations.
According to the law governing compulsory education, every Jewish community was entitled to establish a four-year primary school (or as it was then called, a popular school) with instruction being in Yiddish or Hebrew. The condition of the authorities was that each class should have an enrollment of at least 32 pupils. Schools that were officially recognized by the authorities were integrated in the school system and fully supported by the government. These Jewish primary schools enjoyed the same budgetary and legal rights as the non-Jewish schools. The teachers in these schools had therefore the standing of state employees. In professional and administrative matters they were subject to the ministry of education.
Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that Community Law did not provide the minister for Jewish affairs with any authority with regard to Jewish schools, his opinions and suggestions carried weight. Already in 1920, the ministry sent a questionnaire to a 116 communities regarding Jewish children aged 7-14. From the answers received it transpired that out of 13,430 Jewish children in that age group, only 8,300 attended school. Most of the others studied in a Kheder. 43 out of the 116 communities questioned did not have a Jewish school.
The National Council played an important role in laying the foundations of Jewish schools and in the raising of their material and educational level. Amongst others, the National Council saw to the addition of equipment and to the pedagogical training of the future teachers. The Council also assisted in improving the studies programs, in the introduction of new teaching methods and in the publishing of textbooks etc. In addition, it assisted, together with the Ministry for Jewish Affairs, in establishing middle schools (5-10 grade), defined as pre-high school and high schools proper (Gimnasium). Since they were defined as private institutes, they received limited government support amounting to a bare 15% of their budgets. Consequently, these schools depended on the tuition fees paid by the parents, and that made it very expensive. Data on the extent of the various Jewish educational institutes in the third learning year after the establishment of independent Lithuania is given in the following table:
|School level||Schools||Classes||Teachers||Pupils||% Jewish
|Pre high school||4||20||30||503||4.0|
If we add to the total number of pupils in the Jewish educational institutes a further 954 (two thirds of those being girls) in that year who studied in Lithuanian, Russian or German schools, and hundreds of children who still studied in the Kheder, then it transpires that the ratio of Jewish pupils out of the total number of children in the Lithuanian school system was over ten percent, in other words, higher than the proportion of Jews (most of whom were refugees just returned from exile in Russia), in the whole population.
The initiative for the establishment of new schools and the strengthening of the existing ones generally came from the parents and local activists. Their ideological and cultural bent determined to some extent, by which language they would study and in which national and social values they would be inculcated. Within this reality three Jewish educational streams consolidated - each one belonging to a separate school system:
The authorities charged the Communists with anti-state activities and some of the teachers who taught in this stream were arrested for this reason. In 1924 the authorities outlawed the Kultur Lige and closed its institutions, including the schools. The schools were transferred to the responsibility of the Yiddish Libhober Fun Visen (Lovers of Knowledge) and a year later, to the responsibility of the Yiddishe Bildungs Gezelshaft (Jewish Cultural Society), which was established at that time by the Folkistim.
The Ministry for Jewish Affairs and the National Council did their utmost for the advancement of Jewish education both materially and spiritually, but at the same time, they were careful not to interfere in the competition carried on between the various streams and also not to take sides in the language war then being conducted between parental adherents of either Hebrew or Yiddish.
In the small towns, where the limited number of pupils allowed for a single official school only, the parents came to a compromise in the matter of the teaching language and the educational program and established a kind of united school. These were popularly known as pshara shulen (compromise schools). In the beginning, these compromise schools were many in number and carried much weight, as can be seen in table 28.
Since the compromise schools were not attached to any of the three main streams, they did not benefit from their assistance and direction, given to their own. Some of them did not even get governmental recognition. As a result, the physical conditions and the educational level were of a lower standard than that of the other schools. In time, some were closed; others joined the Tarbut or the Yavne streams.
In the first years of the twenties, Tarbut and Yavne established separate seminaries for teacher training and assisted in the upkeep of kindergartens.
The high schools too (both the middle school and the high-schools), almost all of which had been founded locally, received assistance, both material and professional from the different streams. Out of the 14 Jewish educational institutions existing in Lithuania in the early thirties, two were connected to the Yiddish stream, represented by the Jewish Cultural Society, four belonged to the religious stream Yavne, and eight had a strong leaning towards the Zionist stream Tarbut, teaching some 70% of all Jewish students. The budget of this stream reached the sum of 2,333,000 Lit (approx. $233,000) in the school year 1936/7. About half was covered by school fees (particularly in the high schools), and the remainder by the government and the Tarbut center. Details of the statistical breakdown by educational institutes during most of the years of Lithuanian independence are given in table 29.
The reduction in the number of students studying in the Tarbut schools in the school year 1938/9 was caused in part, also by the Lithuanization policy and laws passed in 1936 and which proved to be most burdensome to the Jewish educational institutes. Amongst other things, the teachers were required to teach a number of subjects in Lithuanian, the exams became more difficult and whole classes were transferred to Lithuanian schools. As a result, the number of Jewish pupils increased in Lithuanian primary schools and reached 3,483 in 1936 (20.3% of all Jewish pupils). Another 2,106 Jewish pupils studied in a special framework (called Complekt), within the Lithuanian schools.
In the school year 1937/8, 15,962 pupils studied in 107 Jewish primary schools, Some 15% of those studied in Yiddish schools instructing in Yiddish (excluding evening schools), whereas the great majority, 85 %, studied in Hebrew instruction schools, most of them belonging to the Tarbut stream and a minority to the Yavne stream.
|Institution||School year 1926/7||School year 1930/1||School year 1938/9|
|Pro high schools||11||51||644||11||45||549||3||16||180|
A similar division is to be found, more or less, in the high schools until the annexation of Lithuania to Soviet Russia in 1940. During their twenty years of existence, some 6,000 students graduated from the Hebrew high schools. Approximately 2,500 of these continued their academic studies in Lithuania or abroad, the remainder were absorbed in local work places or proceeded to training centers in preparation for emigration as pioneers in Eretz Israel. Some 2,500 graduates left Lithuania and about 1,500 came to Eretz Israel. It may be assumed that no less than 60,000 students studied in the Hebrew schools in between the Wars. In addition to providing understanding and knowledge of Judaism, Hebrew culture and also as well as the arts and sciences, the schools also encouraged the students to be active in youth movements, in sport organizations, in student councils and in the framework of preparation for emigration to Eretz Israel. There is no question but that the appellation given to Lithuania as the Second Eretz Israel came to it thanks to the widespread and diverse Hebrew educational system, which was second to none in the whole Diaspora.
Religious studies, University studies and vocational training
As mentioned, Lithuania became known as one of the centers of religious studies. Close to one thousand students (971) both local and from abroad studied in 1938, in the four great yeshivot, which flourished between the two Wars. 417 studied in Telsiai, 231 in Slobodka (near Kovno), 208 in Panevezys and 115 in Kelme. Hundreds of youths studied the Torah in little yeshivot and in Talmud Torah institutes scattered among the cities and small towns. In the days before the Second World War there were still a dozen Kheders in Lithuania.
While the Jews enjoyed autonomy in the educational system in matters of religious and secular subjects in primary, high school and yeshivot, those wishing to study in institutes of higher learning, such as universities, had to prove a proficiency in the Lithuanian language, the language of study. On the other hand, when the first university in Lithuania was opened, in 1922 in Kovno, 368 Jewish students registered for studies (31.5% of all the students in the institute). During the coming decade the number of Jews gradually decreased, but still remained higher than the proportion of Jews in the general population. In the year 1933, 1,209 Jewish students (26.55%) studied at the Kovno University out of a total student body of 4,553. The number of Lithuanian students was the greatest 3,065. In addition to the above there were also 177 Polish students, 64 Russian and 98 others.
Over half of the Jewish students were from the common folk: 32% came from worker and artisan families, 26% from shopkeepers and minor merchants. Among the others were 17% of industrialist families, 12% from clerical families, 9% from farmers and 4% from the professionals.
The makeup of the Jewish student body was as follows (in 1933):
Medical faculty 401, of which 197 in General medicine, 103 in Dentistry and 101 in Pharmacology.
Law faculty - 289, of which 162 in Law and 127 in Economics.
Engineering faculty 205, of which 135 in construction and 70 in Technology.
Natural sciences 159, of which 98 in Biology, 43 in Physics and 18 in Mathematics.
The Arts 155, of which 111 in Linguistics, 41 in History and 3 in Philosophy.
Outside of the university, Jewish youths could study the Arts subjects in Yiddish in other frameworks; amongst them The Jewish Peoples University and in evening school classes for adults, etc.
The educational system for teaching practical subjects was well developed. in Lithuania in 1920, with the aim of assisting the Jewish population to move over to productive work while also raising the professional level of those who were already engaged in craft work, in production or in agriculture. Developed even more was the educational framework for the technical professions, ranging from sewing and gardening to electro-mechanics and auto repairs. Outstanding in these activities was the Ort organization founded in Lithuania in 1920 with the objective of enabling the Jewish population to move into manufacturing and also to elevate the professional level of those already working as manufacturers, tradesmen and in agriculture. In addition to a range of courses including draftsmanship, rewinding rotors, millinery and ladies hairdressing in county towns, there was in Kovno also a central college for youths from the cities. After the refugees from Nazi Germany began to come into Lithuania, two agricultural schools were opened for them.
Press and Literature.
In spite of being cut off from Polish Jewry and from the Vilna cultural center, the Kovno Lithuanian Jewry at all social levels succeeded in keeping up a multicultural life, with a strong national content. As Lithuanian cultural activity was at a low level, there was no problem of the Jews assimilating into that nation and it was but natural for the Jews to hold fast to their traditional culture saturated with the Yiddish language. Unlike the educational system which as mentioned, was dominated, largely, by the Hebrew Language, Yiddish was predominant (often alongside Hebrew) in other spheres such as the press and first and foremost the dailies. The important ones were: Di Yiddishe Stimme (The Jewish Voice), brought into being in the summer of 1919 by the Zionist Organization of Lithuania became in effect the mouthpiece of the Jewish population. Journalists, writers, and poets, both local and from abroad, from all political factions and opinions, wrote for it. During the 21 years of its existence, it was the most widely distributed newspaper in all the cities and towns of Lithuania. The editor was Reuben Rubinstein. In the twenties, a weekend supplement was added: Lithuanian Echo in Hebrew, Musu Garsa (Our Voice) in Lithuanian and Di Velt in Yiddish. In 1925 a publication was added to the newspaper Der Yiddisher Koperator (The Jewish Co-operator) published by the Organization of Peoples Banks and in the thirties a noon edition came out called Haintike Nayes (News of the Day) and an evening edition-Farnacht ( Evening).
Folksblat (Peoples' Page), started at the beginning of 1930 by the Yiddishe Bildungs Gezelshaft (Jewish Educational Society), the editors and some of the collaborators were members of the Folks Partei (People's Party) who presented a sharp anti-Zionist line. In spite of official repression and material distress, the daily was of a high news and literary standard. The influence of the Communists in the paper grew during the second half of the thirties to such an extent that the editor Dr Mendel Sudarski was forced to leave his post and emigrated to the USA. At the end of 1938 an evening edition was also published called Oventblat (Evening Page).
With the expansion of the Socialist camp in the Lithuanian Zionist movement, they began to publish a daily, in 1934, under the name Dos Vort (The Word), edited by the pedagogue Efraim Greenberg with Berl Cohen, as his deputy.
Der Yiddisher Lebn (Jewish Life), spoke for the Achdut movement (which included Agudat Israel, Tze'irei Israel and unaffiliated Orthodox) began to appear in 1921 as a daily. Two years later it became a weekly and later, part of the editorial staff moved to Telsiai. The editors were Shmuel-Zeidl Shereshevski and Yoel-Dov Zaks and one of the regular contributors was R. Dovid Levin, one of the founders of Agudat Israel in Kovno. He wrote a weekly commentary in verse on current matters and signed with the pseudonym D.B.S.
Der Moment (The Moment), published by the Revisionist movement and its adherents, made its appearance in 1933 and generally used articles written by Jabotinsky and other publicity material which appeared in the Warsaw Moment. Due to ever growing deficits, the paper folded in 1937. The editors were Eliyahu Glezer and Mordekhai Katz.
Most of the dailies continued to appear for a long time and in addition to political and informative material, also included literary and art supplements. Consequently, they had great influence on the shaping of the cultural and social character of the Jewish masses.
There were other dailies too, which attempted to compete with the above by expressing a different point of view. The did not last, as a rule, and folded after a few months for various reasons. Among them were:
Nayes (News), published by a number of Jewish writers, ex-Soviet Russia (August 1921-March 1922). Edited by Dr A. Mukdoni.
Kovner Tzeit (Kovno Times), an organ of the organization of property owners headed by Leib Chodosh and supported by sections of the Christian-Democratic party. Appeared in the first half of 1926. Edited by B. Shapiro.
Kovner Tog (Kovno Daily), non party newspaper (April-June 1926), edited by Kalman Zingman.
Morgen Kurier (Morning Courier), non party newspaper, appeared during the month of July 1933. Edited by Reuben Tzorfat.
Letzte Nayes (Latest News), non party newspaper, appeared during 1936. Edited by Eliezer Shibolet.
Besides dozens of publications representing parties (a few will be mentioned in chapter ten), economic organizations, professional organizations and public bodies etc, a great many journals appeared in Yiddish and Hebrew, devoted to the Arts, literature, entertainment etc. A few will be mentioned below, in order of their appearance:
Veltspigel (The World's Mirror), a journal of essays and entertainment, appeared in 1927-1928, edited by I. Stutchinski, Zakhariah Shuster and Rafael Khasman.
Funken (Sparks), a family weekly. Appeared in 1931/2 and distinguished itself with its humorous anecdotes. Amongst others, it included material of Jewish life in the Lithuanian towns. Edited by ReuvenTzorfat.
Veltspigel (New World Mirror), weekly, devoted to society and sport. Appeared during 1934. Edited by Gedaliah Shuster.
Velt (The World), as mentioned above, weekly, appeared during 1935. It devoted much space to literature and entertaining material from the whole world. Among the regular contributors were: David Cohen (eventually the leader of the Working Youth Movement in Israel), the poets Mordekhai Yaffe, David Fram, Israel Ma-Yaffit. Edited by Reuven Rubinstein.
Alemen (For Everybody), an illustrated weekly for the family. Appeared during 1935, edited by Reuben Tzorfat.
A philosophy journal appeared in 1935 with the participation of Nathan Greenblat (Goren), Dr Esther Elyashiv, and Dr Chaim-Nahman Shapira.
Following are a number of publications in Hebrew, excluding political party material, which will be mentioned in chapter ten:
Hatzofe (The Observer), published by the Tarbut center. Appeared in 1927, edited by Moshe Cohen with the participation of Nathan Grinblat (Goren), Dr Tzemach Feldstein, Dr Ya'akov Rabinson and others.
Galim (Waves), a weekly devoted to youth, Appeared in 1927 edited by I. Zherdin.
Petach (Opening), a fortnightly journal of a group of writers: Leah Goldberg, Ari Glazman, Shimon Gans, A.D Shapira (Shafir) etc. Appeared in 1931-2. Included a supplement called Pa'am (Once).
Olameinu (Our World), a fortnightly published by Brit Ivrit Olamit (Worldwide Hebrew Association), appeared in 1932/3, edited by Dov Lipets.
During the years 1921-1932, some 60 publications appeared in Lithuania in Yiddish and Hebrew. It may be assumed that the number did not change much during the years 1932-1939. For further details, see entry Kovno, sub-heading newspapers and publications.
A still greater number of single-issue publications in Yiddish and Hebrew appeared on a multitude of subjects, as detailed below. According to various sources, the number of Yiddish publications totaled over 300, and in Hebrew 200-230. Data on the numerical division by publication year as compared to the number of publications in other languages appears in table 30.
Besides text books written by high school teachers in Kovno and political party publications, the majority of the 230 Hebrew books included in table 30 dealt with Torah research (mostly printed in Kedainiai) and the history of Lithuanian Jewry and its literature, as can be seen from the selection given below:
Lessons in Ethics by Note Tzvi Hirsh Finkel (the monitor of the Slobodka Yeshiva). Published in 1920.
Zikhron Ya'akov (Jacobs memoirs of Jewish life in Russia 1860-1896), by Ya'akov Lifshitz 1924.
Maimonides Philosophy of Law by M. Lazarson, 1929.
Avraham (The Words of Abraham), compilation of questions and judgments with new interpretations in Talmudic problems. Vol.1, by Dov Shapira, 1930.
Anthology of Lithuanian Literature edited by Yitzkhak Kisin,1932.
First Spark (The founding of the Love of Zion movement in Lithuania), by Eliezer-Eliyahu Friedman, 1932.
|Year||According to Official statistics||According to
|* 109 were printed in Kovno, 109 in Kedainiai, 3 in Telsiai, 3 in Marimpol, 2 in Vilkaviskis, 1 in Vilkomir (Ukmerge), 1 in Virbalis,1 in Raseiniai and in Shavli (Siauliai).
**14 were printed in Kovno and 2 in Kedainiai. They divide according to subjects: 4-general, 4-literature, 3-Natural Sciences, 1-Art, 1-religion, 1-history. In total: 1400 pages.
***10 were printed in Kovno and 10 in Kedainiai. They divide by subject: 12-religion, 3-Sociology, 2-Psychology, 2-natural sciences, 1-literature.
History of the Jews in Kovno and Slabodka, by D.M. Lifman, 1934.
Be'arov Yameha (In her Old Age), novel by Nathan Grinblat (Goren), 1935.
Agadot Avraham Mapu (20 letters which haven't yet been printed), edited by Aba Balosher 1938.
History of Modern Hebrew Literature, volume 1, by H.N. Shapira, 1940.
It is quite clear that there were more creative writers in Yiddish than in Hebrew. There were many also who wrote in both languages, as did Ari Glazman and Nathan Grinblat (Goren), mentioned above. The first one of the editors of the journal Petach published a book in Yiddish (A Fenster tzu der Velt a Window to the World), and participated in the Yiddish anthology called Ringen (Rings). The other, among the leading Zionists in Lithuania, published and edited dozens of works in Hebrew, but also wrote in Yiddish and belonged to a writers group called Mir Alein (We Ourselves). A few of them wrote in both languages. In the second half of the thirties, two groups coalesced. The Zionist writers wrote chiefly for the dailies: Di Yiddishe Shtime (the Jewish Word) and Dos Wort (The Word). Some also participated in the journal Toyern (Gates). The left wing writers and the supporters of Yiddish were to be found chiefly at the daily Folksblat and a few wrote for the journal Brikn (Bridges).
Theaters and other cultural centers.
Yiddish was dominant even more in the Jewish theater than in literature (fiction). Already in 1918, troupes of actors, in part amateurs, were active in the towns, great and small, which were emptying of inhabitants. Although these troupes fell apart within a short time, some made their way to Kovno in an attempt to integrate in the effort to create a professional and established theater. A real change in the situation occurred after the writer and critic Dr A. Mukdoni settled in Kovno, and he devoted considerable space in the newspaper he edited, Nayes to the theater. Thanks to his efforts, the autonomous Jewish authorities established a special theater department and in parallel a drama studio to train future actors for the Jewish theater to come into being in Lithuania. After months of training and practice, the students appeared in public in the spring of 1923, in a pantomime of the play The Love of the Three Oranges by Gucci. Although the play did not succeed, the troupe continued to appear until it fell apart.
A further attempt to raise the dramatic theater level was made by the Kultur Lige, which established the Lithuanian Jewish Theater in 1924. As some of the audience were still accustomed to use the Russian language, they began to stage plays in that language, even those on Jewish themes, such as Uriel D'Acosta.
Under the initiative of the director of the Tarbut company, Dov Lipets, the teacher Nahum Porokhovnik (Pirkhiyahu), the Hebrew high school principal Dr Yehoshu'a Friedman, the light stage artist Haim Leikovits and others, the Hebrew Dramatic Studio was formed in the middle of the twenties. In it, dozens of young men and women who knew Hebrew underwent training in the art of the theater. Some of the students joined local and Eretz Israeli theaters. One of them was Zalman Leviush, who in the course of time joined the Matateh (the Broom) and the Kameri theaters.
The Vilna Jewish Theater, the Riga Theater and artists of the stage won greater success in the Lithuanian towns. The Moscow theater, Habima (The Stage), visited Lithuania in 1926 and put on plays, until it moved to Tel Aviv in the thirties. The official theater hall in Kovno, was filled with out-of-town youths, when Habima played. They came to watch the classic dramas Der Dibbuk (the Evil Spirit); Hagolem (The Clay Figure), Hayehudi Hanitzchi (The Eternal Jew); Hamabul (The Flood); Yom Shishi Hakatzar (Short Friday) etc. A similar reception was given to the workers theater Ha'Ohel who put on, among other plays, Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah); Ya'akov Ve'Rachel (Jacob and Rachel); Bashefel (At the Low Point) etc.
The local Lithuanian Jewish Theater flourished to the extent that on Saturday evening, three Jewish theaters put on plays in Kovno simultaneously. Many of the plays were by well-known Jewish authors. Others were mostly of the best Russian and Western European repertoire. Low-class plays (called Shund) too, shared the stage.
A new important development in the theater took place in 1936, when the actress Rachel Berger joined the ranks of the Jewish theater producers. After receiving Lithuanian citizenship, Rachel Berger hired the Beth Ha'Am (Social Center), in Kovno and staged many plays with the participation of young actors from the Jewish Dramatic Studio in Hebrew.
Many of the theaters and visitors who appeared before the Kovno audience also gave one-man performances, lectures and theater performances in the county towns and thus brought the local Jews closer to the art works of the great personae in the Jewish world. Some of the performances took place due to the initiative of the local activists of the political parties, of the youth movements, women's leagues, professional organizations and above all, of the schools. The students' celebrations of Hanukah and Purim, literary evenings in honor of Mendele Mokher Sfarim, Shaul Tchernichovsky et al were cultural events which drew in the whole populace.
Guest artists and great public personalities from abroad appeared on the Lithuanian stage, among them the poets H.N. Bialik and Itzik Manger, the actor couple Yoelit and David Vardi, philosophers and historians; Shimon Dubnov, Haim Zhitlovski, Zelig Kalmanowitch, Abba Achimeir, Ze'ev Jabotinsky and many others.
Of great cultural importance were the local public libraries. A total of 120 Yiddish and Hebrew public libraries existed in the Lithuanian cities and towns. Besides these, there were an equivalent number of libraries in the various schools.
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