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The Pioneers of the Hebrew School

Yaakov Frydman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Cheder Metukan[1] in Sochaczew had little that differentiated it from the old-time cheder. It had the same order, the same table, and the students sit around the table – with their books – and the teacher – the Rebbe, sits at the head. Or he wanders around the table, studying with the children, and always stands beside a second student and asks him something; or he orders him to recite himself… The difference between the old cheder and the Cheder Metukan is that in the Cheder Metukan they studied “Hebrew in Hebrew” [2], everything in the Holy Tongue [3], more Bible [4], etc…

The teacher (Melamed), who was already called “Lehrer”, would from time to time still pinch a student there who was getting comfortable; or yank at his ear, so hard that the student thought that his ear remained in the hand of the teacher; or from time to time would utter a curse just like the old Rebbe. Just like the Rebbe-Melamed, the “Lehrer” would also die for a coin, until he would receive the tuition, Rebbe-gelt (money). His situation was somewhat worse, for he had somewhat fewer students than the simple Melamed. Children of Zionist parents, who wished to fulfill the commandment of Zionism with their entire will, studied in the Cheder Metukan. And how many such families were there in the city? And if there were not one such crazy person given over to this idea who would be the first to bring their children as a sacrifice to the Holy Tongue, the Cheder Metukan would not have been born. In our town, this person was Simcha Grundwag. He was the first one who, with his iron will, created the Cheder Metukan and later the Hebrew School. Thus through the course of several years, a generation of Hebrew speaking children and youth appeared. In later times, after the First World War, the Hebrew School enlarged, and the “Yavneh” School was created.

When we mention the revival of the Hebrew language, it is our duty to mention the idealistic teachers who sacrificed themselves for the language, who went hungry, suffered, and struggled for their existence, perhaps even with more difficulty than the Melamed in the city. They were called heretics and apostates. They were persecuted from all corners. Let us make mention of these idealistic teachers.


Gedalya Warszawski

He was born in 1867 and died in 1908.

He was the son of a wheat merchant. He stood out from all of his brothers. He joined the Zionist movement already in Herzl's time. He was given over to Zionist activity with his heart and soul. He understood that Zionism implies the revival of the Hebrew language, and he started teaching a group of children with the “Hebrew in Hebrew” methodology. I still remember today the names of the parents to whom he was the first teacher of their children. These were the children of the teacher Gedalya Warszawski – Shlomo and Ozer, the children of his brothers Shlomo and Nachum, and the children of Nachum Grundwag, Hertzke Graubard and Yitzchak Warszawski.

These Hebrew studies continued until the Russian-Japanese war [5]. Warszawski went away to London, and occupied himself there with the spreading of the Hebrew language. He reopened his cheder when he returned to Sochaczew from London, and called it by the same name – The School of Ivrit BeIvrit of Gedalya Warszawski. However he became ill, and he died a short time later at the age of 39.

His death resulted in a rupture of Hebrew education, for there were not enough new young powers who were able to continue his Hebrew education. The period of the Cheder Metukan came later.

The Teacher Patalowski

He was tall and thin with large eyes that looked through strong concave glasses with a great deal of goodness. He was a family man with several children. He lived in room that served as both his residence and his cheder for teaching. It was not for naught that he was always upset and very angry – only during the times that he studied with the students. His constant agitation was due to several reasons: he had a difficult life, he did not have an assured existence, he worried about his income that was not received on time, and perhaps this was the reason that he wished that the students would absorb the Hebrew words and expression quicker and in greater quantity. He wanted the children to think only in Hebrew. He wished that the language should go hand in hand with the Zionist movement, and this was no light matter. Perhaps this was the reason that he could not remove himself from the old teaching customs – a strong pinch, a tug on the ear, or he would even honor the students with a blow over the hands, which would bring tears to the eyes. It is possible that he had to do this, that he had a need for this. His thoughts, feelings and devotions could not resist the far off, so that if he saw that some student is not progressing – he wished that the student would feel “as far off as he” – – –

Thus did the teacher Patalowski bear the heavy yoke for years, until he obtained a second place with more income in a second city.

Prior to his taking leave of Sochaczew, the thought was hatched to open up a modern school with modern arrangement and with a set curriculum. The “Hatikva” School was founded, with a certain amount of students who already knew Hebrew. The assistant of the teacher Patalowski became the head of the school.



The new teacher took over a great deal from his Rebbe: being upset and beating the students. He did not think at all about the fact that the student was still a young lad, and that he should conduct himself entirely differently. Perhaps that was the reason that his state of health deteriorated. He coughed constantly and did not eat to satiation. He almost did not eat at all, but he was full of flaming fire. His Zionist speeches were inspiring, and the youth drank his words with thirst. The students also liked him very much, for he sacrificed for the existence of the school.

He conducted the studies for several years in that manner, until the school enlarged and they had to engage another teacher or two. He could not manage with the new teachers, for his hot temperament made it difficult for him to get along with people. He left the city.

He had many difficult years. He lived in a small room in an attic near the school, large enough for one person. He went hungry more than once, which caused his illness to worsen.

Later we heard that he was lying in critical condition in the Jewish hospital in Warsaw. Some of our friends visited him. Finally the news came that he was dying. We went to Warsaw, and found him already dead. Thus died the young temperamental Hebrew teacher who sacrificed his life for the Holy Tongue.

During the time of the interruption, the aforementioned wealthy families, Rechtman and Graubard, brought in a private teacher who, with the permission of those families who hired him, took on a few other children from the city, and further spread the Hebrew language. This was the teacher:


Aharon Rumianek

He was a Lithuanian Jew who knew Bible, Hebrew, and other subjects very well. The two aforementioned families put him up in their courtyard. All of the students in their courtyard studied with him, and also a few of the neighbors, such as Dawidowicz and others. Later Rumianek formed a group with whom he studied Ein Yaakov [6]in the Beis Midrash, and also established a group of Zionists to study Bible in the Beis Midrash. Because of him, the first scandal broke out between the observant Jews and Zionists who interpreted his words, which injured the honor of the observant Jews.

Moshel Grodzisker

He was a simple Jew, a Melamed like the other Melamdim, but with a different methodology. He wished to educate his students only with the Hebrew language. Moshel Grodzisker had his students. I still remember the names of some of them, like: David Wolrat, Shaya Rozenfeld, Pinka Kohen, Shmelke… Katriels, Ozer Warszawski, Graubard and Yaakov Szuster.

Aside from these, there were a few other teachers of children in the city – some who taught Talmud and others who taught Bible to the children.


Hashomer Hatzair

by Yaakov Frydman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

After the great suffering of the First World War, a new, free life began. The four years were marked with blood and destruction, and the future was seen as if through a fog. Nobody knew how and with what to begin, until Zionism arrived and opened up new perspectives. The Zionist work called and placed its demands. The young and old followed after the call, and a ray of new life appeared. The call was to go together and confide, for the word “Land of Israel” resonated deep in the Jewish heart, and the new word “Chalutz” (pioneer) attracted us to our Land, to a new life and future. The movement took off, and the nationalist youth especially threw themselves with their fiery temperaments into the arms of Zionism.

The situation of the children of age 12-16, mainly cheder youth, brought me to the realization that something must be done about the situation. However, it was not so simple. The children were not of one makeup, but rather came from various families, observant and secular, and one must earn their trust as well as their interest. We had to find the proper language and appropriate movement.

I organized a small group of children under the name “Pirchei Zion”. After a certain period of time, I saw that this was not succeeding in attracting the children, especially the Orthodox children. However, I took a new step, rented a room and began to invite the children together, and systematically declared the purpose. Some of them were content with such a small movement, and others began demand a purpose, a program, for the program of “Pirchei Zion” was too weak. Then I found it necessary to connect with Zelig Wajsman of blessed memory of Warsaw, who at the time was the leader of Hashomer Hatzair. He advised me to adopt the program of Hashomer Hatzair for the children. The small group revived, and had an effect on the large number of new children who joined with the agreement of their parents. This was a very great step forward, bringing girls and boys together in one room where the conducted various sporting exercises and Hashomer style scouting activities, with a special emblem and uniform. The parents trusted me very much with their children. The movement organized itself very smoothly in accordance with the program, as a troupe divided into twelve tribes, with each tribe having its own emblem and leader. We began to learn the history of Zionism and the Land of Israel.

{Photo page 169: Keren Kayemet activists with Aharon Freidman of Jerusalem during the time of his visit to Sochaczew in 1937. The inscription on the photo reads: “In memory of the visit of Aharon Ish-Shalom from the Land of Israel on the days of 12-30 Tishrei 5698. The Activists of the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael in Sochaczew.}

From time to time, the parents were invited into the headquarters of the Hashomer Hatzair, so that they could see with what their children were occupied, and how seriously they were enveloped in the new youth movement. They liked the regimen to which everyone submitted themselves, and all of the regulations. If a conflict broke out between parents and children, the parents turned to me – and everything was straightened out.

From time to time, Hashomer evenings were organized, which made a good impression. The income went to the national fund.

The first Lag Baomer expedition left a strong impression upon the Jewish population of the city. They saw for the first time in Sochaczew how their children marched under the national banner, like scouts with all of their details, through the streets of the city and out of the city into a fresh forest, to spend the day not only with “bows and arrows”, but with pride and joy in the fresh air and open field. At night, when the expedition returned to the city, everyone was waiting for them, and looked for them with satisfaction. When we returned to the Zionist headquarters from where the picture of Dr. Herzl was hanging in honor of the expedition, everyone paused, and the young heads made an arc around the great Zionist leader. This had a great reverberation with the Jewish population, who perhaps witnessed this for the first time.

After the expedition, other children, young and old, came to us.

The development of Hashomer Hatzair, the first youth organization in Sochaczew, brought great benefit to the nationalist movement, and brought much life into the Jewish home. The parents assisted, with the hope that this would help them realize their plans to go to the land of Israel. However, only a small number merited doing that.

{Photo page 171: Hashomer Hatzair in Sochaczew.}

The Hashomer Hatzair in our city wrote a fine chapter of history during its short period of existence, until my leaving for the Land of Israel at the end of 1920. In order to commemorate my taking leave of the children on the final day before my departure, I photographed them – and this photograph remains as my only memento of all of them. They gave me the first emblem of the troupe and the banner as a memento, and to guard until they themselves would come to the Land of Israel, as well as a private small gift. They could not take leave of me, and the fair member Chaim Krongold, who became the leader after the departure of Zelig Wajsman to the Land of Israel, found it necessary to accompany my wife and I to the Polish border, in recognition of my service to Hashomer Hatzair in our city.

Thus ended a fine chapter in the life of our young children, who were later murdered by the murderous Hitlerism.


The Worker's Movement

by A. Sztszafa of Paris

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I came to work in Sochaczew in the year 1926. A short time later, I founded a Communist circle along with Betzalel Jakubowicz, David Skornik, Yehoshua Skornik, Shaul Diamant, Gershon Peperkowicz, Chaim Meir Kalabielski, and others.

Later, two professional unions, of shoemakers and tailors, were founded. Berl Brzozowski (Sztivniak) [7]was the chairman of the shoemakers, and Mordechai Knobel was the chairman of the tailors. In the beginning, we were located with Yechezkel Bornsztejn on Warszawer Street, in a not overly large room that was furnished with one table and several long benches. Later we were located at Shmuel Gitejn on Warszawer Way (near the line that went to Wyszogrod). Still later, were moved to Yidel Loksztyk on Trajanower Street.

We created a library for the professional unions under the name “Worker's Library of the Professional Unions”, where the working youth borrowed and read Jewish books.

From time to time, strike actions occurred. In the year 1928, a large strike of all of the tailoring workers took place, which ended with a victory for the workers. On May 1, 1929, a large demonstration of Polish and Jewish workers took place. On the eve of May 1, there were a few arrests of Jewish and Polish workers. My wife and I were arrested, among others. We were sent by train to Lowicz at night. We spent a day there, and were freed at night.

A Communist faction existed in the above-mentioned organizations, which in fact controlled their cultural and professional activity. We also had a “Moper” (assistance for political arrests) party cell.

Adam Kluska, Beniek Jablonka (the shingle maker's brother-in-law from Kaluszyn), Shaul Diamant, and others were active in the above mentioned organizations.

A Bund group was also active under the leadership of Sh. Swiatlowski and Yechiel Meir Zalcman (Szkalek). They joined together with the P.P.S. during elections. Shlomo Swiatlowski was the leader of the sick fund, and Zalcman was a member of the city council.

The professional unions were dissolved in 1930, due to police persecution. However a group of enthusiasts did not give in, and continued on with this work. In the 1930s, a sporting society was founded under the name of “Sztern”, which was first located in the house of Nachum Warszawski, not far from the Magistrate. Later, it moved to the house of Zelig Izraelski on Warszawer Street. I was part of the management committee along with Yossel Grundwag and others.

We conducted cultural activities. The aforementioned workers library was given over to us. We even had a group that studied Esperanto. We often organized readings of Jewish and Polish writers and lecturers, which were well attended. We went on excursions from the city during the summer.

An especially honorable chapter in the Sochaczewer workers movement was taken by the dramatic circle, which was comprised of gifted amateur players. I will mention a few of the participants: Lipman Diamant, Aharon Kahn, Yossel Grundwag, Machla Szwarc, Shaul Diamant, Zalman Fursztenberg, Pese Fursztenberg, Aharon Grosman (from Wyszogrod), and Feiga Broder. They put on good performances. The beautiful decorations made an impression.

Our activity greatly assisted the development of the cultural level of the working youth of Sochaczew. Our readings were not only attended by the workers, who made a point of attending our performances. The entire organized Jewish community of our city loved our amateur players.

Thus did we maintain our cultural activity until the outbreak of the war in 1939.


  1. Cheder Metukan is an 'improved' cheder, which employs modern pedagogical methods. Return
  2. A Hebrew language teaching methodology (called Ivrit beIvrit) where the Hebrew language and even other subjects are taught with the language of instruction being Hebrew. This methodology is used in many present-day Hebrew schools as well. Return
  3. A term for Hebrew. Here it is as opposed to Yiddish, which would have been the language of instruction in the older cheders. Return
  4. Bible here refers to the Prophets and Writings (as opposed to the Chumash or Pentateuch). The study of these subjects in the traditional cheders would not be de-emphasized. Rather, after mastering Chumash, the students would have gone on to Mishna and Talmud. Return
  5. 1905. Return
  6. An anthology of the aggadaic (story type as opposed to legalistic) sections of the Talmud. Return
  7. Shtivel in Yiddish is 'boots', so Sztivniak might mean the 'bootmaker'. Return


The First Amateur Theater

by David Wolrat

Translated by Jerrold Landau

At the beginning of the twentieth century after the period of the Sale of Joseph [1], my father returned home from America. He left with a Polish Jewish hat with a visor, and he returned with a short jacket, a hard, black men's hat, and a shaved beard.

Of all the miracles that he had seen in America and talked about, what he had seen in the New York Jewish Theater affected him the most. The stories strongly influenced my brother Pesach. Every evening, the audience of listeners grew in number, more and more. This was a daily event – every evening after work and dinner, our house with full. My father sat under the shine of a flashlight and talked. He also sang the songs that he had heard. The fantasies of the audience were awakened. People began to buzz, and theater became the source of excitement in daily conversations – until people boldly came to the idea that an amateur theatrical troupe should be created to perform a theatrical piece. After heated and sizzling debates, it was decided to perform Hertzele Meyuchas (Hertzele of Good Lineage) by Moshe Richter. My brother Pesach was nominated as director, and he put together a troupe. The biggest problem was – men, there were – but women?…. Whose respectable daughter would go out to perform in a theater…

Our relative Rivka Szwarcer was a frequent visitor to us – she was young and sweet, with a long, charming face, black hair, and a keksl [2] on the top of her head.

It did not take long for her to be overtaken with the desire to play in the theater. She girded herself in strength, and demonstrated her willingness. She ignored the scandals that took place in her home, that even led to slaps.

The roles were distributed as follows:

Hertzele Meyuchas:Mote Pindek
Izikel his son:Pesach Wolrat
Yankel the wagon driver:Pinchas Rozenfeld
Teibele his daughter:Rivka Szwarcer
Chava Leah:Lozer Rozen [3]
Chaim Yoel:Mordechai Hejman
Directed by:Pesach Wolrat
Simcha Grundwag:prompter
Lozer Rozenfeld:decorations and makeup
Music:The Rotsztejn brothers

On the Sabbath after dinner, the city was sleeping, the shutters were closed, my father was reading, my mother was tired and fell asleep. Outside it was sunny and warm, and the young people wished to go strolling in the Lustgarten [4]. I had a completely different desire on those Sabbaths. I had to accompany Pesach – we had a very important mission, since Pesach was the official “photographer” of the intelligentsia of Sochaczew. My mission as follows: to wait in the house until I was sure that father and mother were sleeping soundly. Pesach would then cautiously open the shutters to the outside, and then the windows. I then handed over to him the sizable apparatus. I then sneaked out through the window, closed the shutter, and carried the apparatus for Pesach.

We went to the Schlossbarg [5] and climbed up to the summit, where wall were standing that were marked with shots from bygone battles.

Already waiting there were: Yankel and Nachum Bombasz, the Dawidowicz brothers, Simcha and Nachum Grundwag, Simcha and Vove Rozenberg, Avraham Zylbersztejn (the jester, Pinchas Graubard, Moshe Sznajder with his girlfriend the daughter of Yosef Wolkowicz, Mote Pindek, Moshe Leder's son, Rivka Szwarcer, Gutsha Zajdendorf, Lozer and Pinchas Rozenfeld, Lozer Rozen, and several others whose names I cannot remember now.

There we began the first rehearsals of Hertzele Meyuchas. Pesach photographed the group between one scene and the next. Herman and Lutek Skotnicki stood on a neighboring hill playing Poliand [6] with the son of Pinie the rope maker.

Those rehearsals continued until late in the afternoon – when the sun already began to sparkle and reflect over the Bzura, which ran close to the hill. At that time, some of the group were sitting and others were lying on the soft grass, dreaming of the first performance.

When the stars began to appear in the deep blue sky, the group climbed down from the mountain and intermingled with the Jews who were returning from Maariv in the synagogue…

Eventually, posters began to appear on the streets. Curious young men and women stood in little groups with Parisian heads [7] – reading…

The entire Sochaczew was on wheels [8]. People could barely wait for the Saturday night when the troupe would appear in the new theater in Chaim Lezjor's place.

On Saturday morning, groups of wild people formed in front of the synagogue. They were delirious, and forgot that inside; they are already at the spitting [9]… In the community shtibel, the services were already long over…

Immediately after Havdalah, Shrege's [10] people began to line upon Trajanower Street – from Barsower Street until the Synagogue lane – all of them were streaming from Warsawer Street to the theater, where they pushed one on top of the other to purchase tickets. Inside, long rows formed. On the wall there was a portrait of the Kaiser with a number of medals on his chest. The musicians sat right by the stage, headed by Moshe Rotsztejn with his half closed tearing eyes… His face was adorned with a black trimmed beard – he played the first violin – his violin played best when he had first made Kiddush over a little 96er [11]

Chaim Rotsztejn also had no objection to whiskey – he played the second violin. Yisrael Rotsztejn had a rosy, round face with a black, thick moustache, thick lips, and a small goatee [12] under his chin. He played the trumpet.

Tall Noach stood hunched over the bass and strummed.

At one point, Yisrael Rotsztejn stood up, and gave a signal to the orchestra. They began to play the overture. Hearts began to beat faster – the audience sprung up. A portion of the audience stood up on the benches.

In the cellar where the dressing rooms were located, everything was in a heat. It smelled like makeup. Lozer Rozenfeld applied makeup to the actors. The former young people suddenly grew older… they simply could not be recognized. I was getting in the way – passing the boots and kapotes to them – and to someone else, the whip and the cotton kaftan. Lozer Rozen, who was playing the servant girl Chava Lea, was standing in the hall, dressed in ladies shoes with high heels, with red makeup on his cheeks. On his hair he wore a long haired wig with a braid. He attempted to squeeze into the dress, and he required the help of the women. He attempted to take some steps and he fell – he was not used to these shoes…

Pesach was standing behind the scenes. He took a final glance to ensure that everything was in order. He looked through a specially prepared hole in the curtain.

The hall was full… Simcha Grundwag called the personnel to the stage. Everyone was in a fever due to nervousness. The bell was heard – a signal that the curtain was slowly opening. It was dark in the hall – it became silent and one could hear a pin drop on the ground – hearts stood still – the curtain was open, and the first words of Yankel the Wagon Driver could be heard from behind the scenes.

“Brrrrr, there is a frost today”. Pinchas Rozenfeld made his debut.

The first act finished. The entire audience clapped bravo. The musicians played, the audience did not hear – a faint noise that grew louder – the bell rang – it was silent again.

During the second act, Lozer Rozen sang – “Chava Leah, good Sabbath”. He begged her response. Suddenly, the soprano started. The audience gasped with laughter…

The final curtain fell, fell and rose. The audience did now want to leave. They tore toward the place of honor, for they wished to personally thank the actors who were still bowing down…

New stars appeared in the Sochaczew sky – wherever one went and wherever one stood, people talked about theater and the actors.

Sochaczew was elevated to new heights. Further performances were arranged – which included:

David's Violin: by Joseph Lateiner

The General Strike: by Herman Shtipt

Father and Mother's Problems: By Boris Thomashefsky [13] and Max Gabel.

However, the troupe lost one of its finest and most active talents. Pinchas Rozenfeld drowned while bathing in Gambin. He was fourteen years old.

The troupe made an impression not only in Sochaczew, but also in neighboring cities – where it was invited for visiting performances. I was the “kmahele” [14] of the troupe. I sang in the choir as we traveled to Lowicz – Grodzisk. Things went smoothly… Gradually, members of the group began to get married, and the period came to an end. It left behind a fresh excitement, which was taken over later by the younger group…


  1. I am not sure of the reference here, but I suspect it is referring to the name of a play. Return
  2. I am not sure of the meaning of this word. It is evidently some form of hairpiece. Return
  3. This is a female role played by a man. Return
  4. The public gardens (literally, Cheerful Gardens). Return
  5. A hill in the city, as described in other articles in this book. Return
  6. Probably a game called 'Napoleon'. Return
  7. I am not sure of the reference here. I would guess that “Parisian heads” is a reference to sophistication and interest in culture. Return
  8. An expression for excitement. Return
  9. The 'aleinu' prayer at the end of services contains the phrase “And they bow down to emptiness and nothingness, and pray to a god that does not save” – referring to the idolaters. I accordance with some customs, particularly Hassidic customs, people discreetly spit when reciting this verse (immediately covering it up with their shoes). This is a play on words of the word 'nothingness' ('reik'), which can also mean 'spit'. This phrase here means “that they were already at the end of the service”. Return
  10. I am not sure what the term Shrege's refers to. It could be a personal name. Return
  11. A reference to a type of whiskey. Return
  12. The word used is 'fishbone'. Return
  13. For a online biography of Boris Thomashefsky, see http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/biography/Thomashefsky.html. Return
  14. I could not find this word in the dictionary. It appears to be of a Polish root, and probably means something to the effect of “choir director”. Return

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