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[Page 469]

The Jewish School in Bielsk

by Libe Utzyski

Translated by Libe Utzyski (Ferber) Elson

The Yiddishe Shule in Bielsk

From my earliest recollection, I remember the Yiddishe shule not only as an institution of learning, but as a second home for the young people there. Beautiful memories, exciting happenings in a surrounding of good reliable grownups, who were our educators and guidance counselors. This was our Yiddishe shule that remained in our memories.

It is hard for me to write about this institution without being emotional, but I must be objective, because I know that I am writing an article as a memorial that will be for the future generations.

The Yiddishe shule was a fortress for the working classes who wanted to give their children a progressive view on life and teach them Judaism in the modern way. To teach them respect for work and working-men.




The children understood the hard luck of the Jewish people and tried to improve their image by not being a parasite and be proud of their roots, by not being ashamed of learning Hebrew texts and all the Jewish classics. The best and learned men devoted their time and their money to this high respectable institution of learning.

The Yiddishe shule accommodated about 250 children. They came from all walks of life, shoe-makers, tailors, black-smiths and others. Tuition was minimal and it was hard to collect from the parents the few zlotes monthly because they simply didn't have it.

The standard of the shule was a very high one – to be accepted in the government high school you needed only an exam in the Polish language and if you passed it you were admitted.

The warm atmosphere in school helped the children to overcome the home misery. The teachers implanted in them a belief in themselves to become better people. The teachers were idealists whose goal was to bring up a proud generation of human beings.

The teacher's salary was a meager one. The school budget consisted from donations from the richer people in the town, donations from American landsleit in the States, the few tuition zlotys and all kind of enterprises, parties, shows and other collections from the town-people.

The building was government owned. After a few years the Polish took it away to annex it to their public school. All the Jewish elders intervened, took them to court but to no avail.

With great effort by the Jewish community and beggings from outside help a new building was erected. All the people of this impoverished little Shtetl opened their hearts and pockets and achieved their goal – the Yiddishe shule was opened again.




The one and most influential one to make this dream come true was Chene Tykocki. He was a builder by trade. The Yiddishe shule was his favorite – his baby. He had a heart of gold. In nature like a dynamo he couldn't rest, he worked endlessly until the building was finished.

All the meetings of the organizations, the teachers, were held in the home of the Tykocki's. If the teacher salaries on the end of the month were unpaid, Tykocki gave them his own checks – he collected it penny by penny after a period of time.

This was the way the Yiddishe shule was built and supported – by begging and a lot of money from the States.

The director (the principal) of the shule was Feichman. He was originally from Radom near Warsaw. He married Anne Leventhal who was a teacher in the Yiddishe shule. Moyshe Jungerman, about whom I wrote a special article. Shepsl Aizenberg was an art teacher, hand crafts and the sport director. The children loved him greatly for his warmth and humanity. The whole staff of teachers was a very dedicated group of educators who could be a dream of any institution of learning.

I hope that my few lines will be a memorial page after the teachers and children of our little shtetl Bielsk-Podlaski.

[Page 473]

The Jewish Folk School in Bielsk – A Second Home

by R. Litmans

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

The Jewish secular school, with Yiddish as its language of instruction, was established around 1919, at the instigation of a group of devoted comrades from Bielsk. It was established thanks to the energy, idealism, and sincerity of these people, and after that the school, without doubt, played a large role in the Bielsk/s cultural life.

The school had a large network of Jewish cultural activities. It had scores of leaders with creative abilities. It had the parents of the children, who surrounded them with love and devotion. They were in constant contact with them. They helped them when needed and rejoiced in their accomplishments, which were so clearly reflected in exhibitions of the children's work.


Jewish Elementary School


The high level of pedagogy in the school also came to the fore in the frequent performances of the children, which they so masterfully offered at every holiday, whether Chanukah or Purim

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or a graduation. These were performances especially for children: titles such as “The Lost Girl,” “The Little Snake,” “Boom and Dreidel.” And there were also serious titles, like “David and Michal” and others.

The school had gifted, capable children, literally artists, ballet dancers, singers, and reciters of poetry. They presented poems by Peretz, Reizin, Einhorn, Mani-Leib , and Kulbak. They enchanted everyone.

The school was our pride and crown. It was the heart of the town. Idealism and love for children were enshrined in every corner of the school. The school and the club where children would gather in the evenings were a second home for them. In the club the children gave talks, drew, and made various things out of cardboard, clay, and wood, braided straw, knitted, and embroidered.

The children loved the school and felt close to it. I remember how the Polish governmental authorities came one Friday night and forcibly took the school in order to give it to the hospital that was nearby. For them, our school was nothing but a building. But for us-it was a matter of existence, a sacred spot; and when the pleas and intercessions of the teachers to rescind the decree were ineffective, the children tried to lead a battle with the police. We mounted a passive resistance. We would not leave our classes. We stayed day and night. With fear and trembling and with tears we declared that this was our home. Why don't they take the public school that was also in the neighborhood and was even closer to the hospital? Why ours? But our pleas and tears did not help, and with brutal force the police ejected us and locked the doors forever, and they offered us no other locale.

But our studies were not interrupted for long. A faithful, devoted leader of the school was found-Tikotzky[1] -and he put his whole house at the disposal of the children. He and his wife stayed in the kitchen, and we children returned more industriously to our studies. We began early in the morning and continued into the afternoon. Then a new building was found, the large house of the teacher and his wife, Yoche Kaplanski, who labored so devotedly for the Bielsk library.

And then far and wide resounded the loud, happy songs of the children. The beautiful tunes enlivened the streets around the school. This was a time of resurgence and rebirth.

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Because of the work of the teachers, a broad, multi-faceted education developed among the town's young people. They formed choruses, drama clubs, and musical groups. There were lectures, Friday evening discussions, assemblies, and concerts. A rich community life developed around the school.

From the Jewish school, children went on to study in Vilna, in the gymnasium, in the technical school, and in the teacher's school, and some even went abroad. The school produced engineers, artists, rabbis, and teachers. It produced skilled workers, all productive people, because their education instilled a love of labor, a love of books, of beauty, and of an elevated perspective. The students were imbued with a spirit of independence.

The school and its teachers, both men and women, wrote an excellent chapter in the history of Bielsk. The teachers, without doubt, symbolized the great spiritual and ethical values of Bielsk Jewry.

The tormented and tortured teachers will shine for us with the heavenly glow of martyrdom. Their names will glow like a Ner Tamid [the Eternal Light that burns at the front of every synagogue]. Let us never forget them. Let us always remember them. We should recall the martyrs, like Moyshe Youngerman[2], Shepsl and Sarah Eisenberg, Chana Levitan, Teichman, the brilliant Yossl Katz, the Brezinski sisters, and Wolfson.

Moyshe Youngerman, who came to the school from studying in the beis-medresh and from Torah learning, was a self-taught maskil [a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment movement]. He had a wide knowledge of literature and history. He was a real Yiddish teacher. His classes on Yiddish were very interesting. He taught the children Mendele, Sholem Aleichem, Peretz, and Asch. He had written about Tevya the Dairyman, about Motl, Peysi the Cantor's Son, about Peretz' folkloristic stories, and about Asch's Shtetl and Kiddush ha-Shem. Every year during Chol ha-Moed Pesach, at the time of Peretz' yahrzeit, when the school organized an assembly, Youngerman arranged that only the students would deliver talks about writers. I remember that I had to speak before a whole audience about Peretz' biography, about his works, about his Chasidism, and so on.

Also educational were his Hebrew lectures. He learned the most beautiful chapters of Psalms. He sought the nicest sections of the Hagaddah. He taught us Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, and others. A student from the Jewish school knew no less of Tanach than did a student at the Tarbus School.

Another devoted teacher was Shepsl Eisenberg, a talented artist and sculptor, involved in the sports movement and

[Page 476]

the choir. He took an active part in all the activities of the children in the club. He led summer camps and excursions, far and near. He threw himself forcefully and with youthful enthusiasm into every activity. The school was his whole life. He had a well of unflagging energy and initiative. He worked in the school with love and stamina, with devotion and extraordinary responsibility! He showed everywhere his organizational talent and adaptability.

Teichman, who came from Radom and married Chana Levitan, became a Bielsk resident. He was very intelligent, quite educated and with pedagogical knowledge. He had a talent for community activities in general and particularly for cultural activities for children. He had the virtue of drawing the notice and summoning the appropriate attention not only of children but also of their parents and of the entire town. He was, without doubt, a real teacher at the school. He was its most energetic steward and lively spirit, a man of constructive ideas and executive ability. Many times he published works in the pedagogical journal of Tzish”a[3], “The New School.” He also translated books of world literature, such as Colas Breugnon by Romain Rolland, and others.

Chana Levitan-she was quiet, pretty, charming, cultured, and modest, devoted, punctilious about work. She was the most aesthetic person in the school, and she conveyed this quality to the children. She was respected by everyone, and she showed respect for others. Her behavior toward others was always correct.

Sarah Eisenberg-a gifted, capable teacher. She was loved by the children and held their attention and confidence. Happily and enthusiastically she worked with the children in all of their performances. She devoted herself lovingly to artistic work, and thanks to her, all of the children's holidays were successful and meaningful. Her sensitive ear and her sharp eye were always on guard for the children who surrounded her every day.

Wolfson taught accounting. Her classes were quite lively, especially when it was time for quick calculations. Even the quietest children took part in her class. She taught for only a short time in the school, because then she went to Warsaw and worked at the Tzish”a school.

The Brezinski sisters, too, were among the pioneers of the school and taught the children energetically and generously and helped with all the important undertakings. Both sisters were great friends to the children.

[Page 477]

One of the most gifted and skillful teachers in the school was Chava Slutzki. When she was still young, after she graduated from the Polish gymnasium in Warsaw, Tzish”a sent her to teach Polish in Bielsk. Before her, Polish had been taught in the school by a Polish Gentile who was of a military bent. He struck the children more than he taught them, so when Slutzki replaced him, the children were brought to life with general rejoicing.

Slutzki was full of life, with energy and sensitivity, with her strong desire to teach and to convey her knowledge to the children. She taught the children Mickiewicz, Slowacki, Ozheshko, and Konopnicki. She stressed particularly the ethical, the altruistic sides of the heroes of the works. She read to us the most beautiful stories and tales of Korczak. She talked about his pedagogical work in the Orphans' Home, where her youngest sister had also taught-a beautiful girl. Slutzki dedicated a great deal of her time to the children. She even gave private lessons to the slower students at no charge. She was interested in every individual child. She even visited them in their homes in order to become closer to them. She had an intuitive insight into the child's soul.

I will always remember how once on a Yom Kippur evening, when everyone in town was at the Ne'ilah service in the beis-medresh, she came with her fiancé to my home and brought flowers, asked what I was reading and how I understood the book. She showed that much active interest in another person. All the children loved and respected her, and she loved and protected them. Everyone cried and was upset when she left the school in order to work in Warsaw and at the same time study in the university.

When she was working in Warsaw and living at 76 Leshna, children from Bielsk would come to her like Jews to a rabbi-for advice. She helped each one, some with work, some with learning a craft, with help in distributing a book of poems that a young, unknown artist had written, and some with getting into the Yiddish theater. Mina Berengoltz [Mina Bernholtz, aka Mina Bern][4] ---today an artist in the Yiddish theater in America-owes thanks to Slutzki for her accomplishments on the Yiddish stage.

Chava Slutzki had an unquiet nature. She was a person who began on the highest rung of mentshlichkeit. Until the moment of her last breath, she studied and created and sought new ways and ideals. When she was older, she even became an artist, a great painter. Who knows how many hidden talents she would have shown

[Page 478]

if she had had more years of life. Her memory is dear to all Bielskers.

The most remarkable choice of the teacherly idealists in their work that was characterized by inventiveness, boldness, and initiative was working with all their might for irregular, low salaries but remaining unbending in their battle for the existence of the school and for the honor and rights of Yiddish.

They, who served as examples of true excellence, they, who fought for their lives and aspired to life under all conditions, are no more. Their lives were cut off-gone with the smoke. Jewish Bielsk, with its deep roots in Jewish life and tradition, is a ruin. The heimish Jewish life that was so juicy, so colorful, so dynamic, is a ruin.

The earth of the Jewish school, the earth of Jewish Bielsk, will never cease calling for vengeance for the blood of its pure martyrs whom the Nazi beasts slaughtered.


(From right to left) First row, standing: Sarah Eisenberg, Kamm, Chana Levitan, Novogradski, Wolfson, Chishilevski
Second row, seated: M. Youngerman, Dr. Cohen, Rabbi Youngermann, Vaksman, Fredmiestki
Third row: Kramer, Abrimovski, Yiztchak Vaksman, Rachel Bendes, Pinia Rabinovitch, Fanya Epstein, Chuna Tikotzky, Yosef Levartovski

Translator's footnotes

  1. Chuna Tikotzky wrote chapters on page 445 “We Will Not Forget the Bielsk that Was Destroyed,” and page 448 “In Bielsk after the Destruction.” The chapter “Response from America after the Holocaust” on page 523 is a response to a letter that he wrote to Libe Utzyski Elson. Return
  2. See page 500 for a profile of Moyshe Jaungerman. Return
  3. Also Tsisha, Tzisha, or Tzisho. Acronym for “Tsentrale Yidishe Shul-Organizatsye” (Central Yiddish School Organization). They were Yiddishist schools which included girls in their student bodies. A memorial book dedicated to the schools is titled In Lerer- yisker-bukh: fun Tsisha Shuln in Poyln (לערער-יזכור-בוך : די אומגעקומענע לערער פון צישא שולן אין פויל) Return
  4. Mina Bern, (May 5, 1911 - January 10, 2010), was born in Bielsk Podlaski. She was a star of Yiddish theater in Poland, Israel, and New York. Return

[Page 479]

Disputes with Rabbis in Bielsk

by B. Shtern[1]

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

In Bielsk were three rabbis. With two of them, the organization came into conflict. One dispute came from outside sources that drew the rabbis in.

The first dispute involved the head rabbi, Ben-Tzion[2]. This first dispute was more about “collecting evidence,” as it is called in rabbinic language than an actual dispute. It involved the payment of ten rubles that the new owners of the bathhouse refused to give to the organization. This was a yearly contribution that the previous owners of the bathhouse had always paid. The bathhouse and the tax on kosher meat were the sources from which the rabbis, the slaughterers, and certain city institutions would get their income. The organization considered itself an important institution and had gotten a contribution of ten rubles a year from the bathhouse. The owners of the bathhouse had promptly paid the tax. In that year, however, the bathhouse was taken over by new people, and the new owners, Nachman Glazer and Berl the Bathhouse Attendant, refused to pay and maintained that this was by agreement with the rabbi, Rabbi Ben-Tzion, not to pay the ten rubles to the organization. The rabbi himself, an excellent, wise man, could not have been against the organization, so the organization decided to learn the truth. One Shabbos evening I went with my constant companion, Yoelke Yehuda Zaveliches, to the rabbi. Rabbi Moyshe Aharon, the rabbi's son-in-law, met us and asked what we wanted. We told him. He said that the rabbi was learning. The son-in-law said that when the rabbi finishes the evening prayers, he studies alone in his room. When he finishes and says Havdalah, then he will speak with us. He forbade us to go in another room and assured us that as soon as the rabbi was finished, he would let him know about our request and he would surely hear us out.

We did not have to wait long. The rabbi emerged from his room and made Havdalah. His son-in-law told him about us. The rabbi called us into his room. His son-in-law, too. We all sat around a large table on which lay many holy texts. The rabbi first asked who we were. I answered. “What do you want, children?” he asked. So I explained that we were representatives from the Bielsk Workers Organization and we needed

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money. Every year we would get a contribution of 10 rubles from the owners of the bathhouse. But now the new owners of the bathhouse refused to make the contribution because the rabbi had freed them from the obligation–and we came to learn the truth.

They were both very interested in what I had said.

“What does your organization do for the workers?” the rabbi asked.

“We try to win higher wages for them and shorter working hours,” I responded.

“How do you do that?” the rabbi pursued.

“Through strikes,” I answered.

“And what does the city get out of that?” he asked.

The rabbi, naturally, did not dare to ask why we should get public funds when we labored only to improve the situation of the workers. But he carefully formulated his last question: “How does the city benefit?” I told him that the city received many benefits, and I made a broad statement:

“The workers help a large part of the population and contribute to the overall life of the city. When working hours are long and wages are small, the workers' families don't have time to go out and they don't have dress clothes, because they don't have enough money to buy them. It's obvious that they don't even have enough for necessities. And this affects the merchants and the businesspeople who don't get business from a large proportion of the population. It's quite different when the workers have shorter hours and earn higher wages. Then they can buy necessities and enjoy good food, and the merchants have a higher income.”

The rabbi and his son-in-law looked at each other. For a while they were silent, and then the rabbi said, “Let's get down to business.” He was, he said, not prepared and not willing to discuss with me this “new Torah” [as people referred to arguments for economic equality] that I had laid out before him.

“What do I have to do with all of this? What can I help?” he asked.

“We don't accuse you of anything,” I reassured him. “All we want to know is whether there is an agreement between you and the new owners of the bathhouse that they need not give our organization ten rubles a year.”

“I will tell you. Children,” the rabbi addressed us, “you and I are in the same situation. We both have to go

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to the bathhouse owners. You can't help and I can't help. My whole strength amounts to a groan, which I must give to you.”

“We really don't want any help,” I answered. “We can handle the shtetl. What we want to know is–about the agreement, whether it exists or not,” I said sharply.

“Lies and falsehoods!” the rabbi exclaimed. “I have made no agreements with anyone.”

“Thank you so much,” I said, and, wishing him and his son-in-law a good week and a good night, we left his home.

In the morning we went to the bathhouse owners, and we told them that the rabbi had denied their story about the agreement.

In the meantime, the story had spread around the city, and everyone was shocked at the bathhouse owners. They came to our organization and pleaded with us to come for the money.

The organization came when they were not expected and received the ten ruble donation.

The second rabbi, Rabbi Moyshe Chaim, was far different. While the head rabbi, Rabbi Ben-Tzion, devoted himself to Torah judgments, kashrut, and religious inquiries, and the rest of the time to Torah study–Rabbi Moyshe Chaim devoted himself to charitable undertakings. At his urging, a number of institutions were created in Bielsk to improve the lives of the poorer classes in the population. He had established a loan office where poor businessmen, merchants, and craftsmen could borrow money at little or no interest. Rabbi Moyshe Chaim himself was the overseer and director. The institution was organized by directors and clerks. Of course, there had to be books and records. To this end, they had a bookkeeper and an aide. The aide was a member of our organization, a certain Zeidman, an intelligent young man, a son of Duvid Schuster. He was a weak man (he had tuberculosis) and spent his earnings on medicine. Then the young aide came to the organization with a request for help, because he was losing his job.

The organization looked into the matter and found that it was indeed so, and therefore it decided to fight the young man's injustice.

On a certain evening, I and my companion, Yoelke Yehuda Zaveliches, went to the rabbi, Rabbi Moyshe Chaim. He received us in a friendly

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manner and asked why we had come and what we wanted. I told him the whole story, that Zeidman needed the few rubles that he earned, because he was ill, and if he would lose his job, his health would grow worse and his life would be in danger.

Rabbi Moyshe Chaim heard us out and declared that it was out of his hands. The directors had to decide. He gave us a date when the directors would be meeting.

On that date, we came again and we found Rabbi Moyshe Chaim; the Koziner Rabbi, Shimei Shershenovski; and his son-in-law, whose name I forget. Rabbi Moyshe Chaim presented us to the directors. After we waited for an hour, I asked why we did not get down to business. Rabbi Moyshe Chaim responded, “We're waiting for the directors who are still coming.”

After a bit more waiting, it became clear that no one else would be coming, and they suggested that we postpone the meeting. I could not agree: “We are not legal people. We can't make many such visits, especially in the neighborhood of the “police headquarters.” Why can't we manage the business now? So we're missing one director. We don't need all the directors,” I maintained.

After a brief consultation among Rabbi Moyshe Chaim, Rabbi Sheshenovski, and his son-in-law, they said they were ready for business. I repeated the points that I had made at our first visit. Rabbi Shershenovski and his son-in-law did not argue and took no part in the proceedings. Rabbi Moyshe Chaim was the sole speaker, and his attitude toward us, as representatives of the organization, was far different from the attitude of Rabbi Ben Tzion to us when we came to him about the dispute with the owners of the bathhouse. Rabbi Moyshe Chaim considered us to be people who were mixing into his “business.” We even came to sharp words when I countered his argument that the institution would save money, and that this was an argument for letting the assistant bookkeeper go. When I stated that if someone else took his place, no money would be saved, Rabbi Moyshe Chaim could give no direct answer. He did not directly deny the fact. He answered indirectly that the directors had the right to decide what they thought was necessary, and he remarked, “If your organization will impose on us, that is irrelevant. We are speaking only about justice.” I answered this sharp remark

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even more sharply: “If you don't see what is just in the action of our organization, it's because you have little experience with us. But our organization has had plenty of experience with bosses, and we have found very little sign of justice among them.”

Rabbi Moyshe Chaim had not expected such a sharp response and was a little taken aback. At that moment he did not know what to say. He thought for a while and then declared that the matter was clear to everyone. Now they would discuss what to do, and they went into another room. We waited.

We did not have to wait long. After a half hour they came out and gave their decision: Zeidman would not be fired and could remain in his position.

We left Rabbi Moyshe Chaim's house, thanking them for their just decision. But young Zeidman did not remain in his position for long. Sadly, less than two years later, he passed away.

Translator's footnotes

  1. Beryl Stern is the author of Zikhroynes̀ fun shṭurmishe yorn Byels?, 1898-1907 [Memories of Stormy Years, Bielsk 1898-1907], published in 1954 by A Committee of the Workmen's Circle in Newark, NJ. The book can be read online at the Yiddish Book Center website. Return
  2. Rabbi Ben Zion Sternfeld (1835 – 1917) was written about in the English section on page 13. He was the author of Sha'arei Zion and was appointed Rabbi of Bielsk after the death of Rabbi Yellin. Return

[Page 484]

Like Children to Their Mother

by Libe Utzyski

Translated by Libe Utzyski (Ferber) Elson


Like Children to Their Mother – Memories of the Jewish Elementary School

It is winter – it's very cold in school. A cold wind is blowing in the corridors. In the school rooms children are freezing with their teachers. Their noses red from cold.

Who can take responsibility for the children's welfare? But there is no money I the school budget for wood to keep the school warm. Mr. Tykocki was the one who provided for the payments for the teachers (more or less) but money to keep the school warm – there wasn't any. So, every winter we, the active members, made a drive for money to keep the school warm.

It was the time when I came back from learning in Brest Litovsk (in high school) and right away I organized the drive with other friends. We divided the town in sections and everyone went from door to door to collect money. It was rewarding to come in to school in the wintery days and find the children comfortable on their benches and taking in their knowledge and being grateful to use for the warmth we provided to them – this was the best lesson for us.


The Amateur Group in Bielsk

I think there isn't one Bielsker that doesn't remember the amateur group by the Yiddishe shule! The shule was always short on money. We were tired from beggin from the little Rodchilds and big Kabtzomin, so we decided to sell our talents! We'll give the people cultural pleasure with humor and they'll pay us money that will go for the support of the Yiddishe shule.

So, we played theater! We had our own actors, singers, comics, primadonas and it was rolling!! The townspeople loved us! They bought tickets and had a good time. Our leader was Mr. Duksin. He was a man that understood theater and taught us the right way to be on the stage – it was his hobby. He did it without pay.

When Mr. Duksin left with his family for the U.S. (Unfortunately he came back. He couldn't adjust himself to the American way of life and was killed by the Nazis together with his family.) we used to bring a “resysor” from Bialystok to direct us. But this was too expensive and it took away money from our shule. Se we decided to form our group and directed each other. We called ourselves “Full of Joy.” It brought in lots of joy to the people of Bielsk and money for the shule.

We ourselves made the program, decorated the stage, swept and cleaned the floors and sold the tickets.



The Yiddishe shule was a quiet revolution in Jewish life. It was an institution that cared not only for the cultural education of the child but also for its physical fitness. The child should grow healthy – in contrast of the cheder education that cared for the soul only. We wanted a good education and a healthy body.

Twice a week we exercised in the shule during the winter months – summertime always outdoors.

We hired a place in the outskirts of town and there we had our exercises and breathed in good fresh air from the surrounding fields.

Mr. Eisenberg was the instructor of the sport club. We were under the supervision of the town's doctor. He examined us from time to time and told us whether we were fit for the vigorous exercises.

The sport club had a soccer group and two volley ball groups. One for boy and one for girls. Our groups used to go for matches to the nearby towns, even Bialystok. We used to make all kinds of excursions to distant places. Summertime we made overnight walks to the nearby forests (with the permission of the Saresters). We used to make bonfires, sit around in a circle and sing all kinds of Jewish songs. We returned home at day break.

This club was active in the evenings. Members played chess, checkers and small billiards. We didn't allow card playing in clue. We had reading circles and many books were discussed.

With time we decided to make additional income for the shule. We made Saturday night dances for people out of the club and different entertainment – people came and paid admission.

Once a year our group used to visit many historical places in Poland. It wasn't a comfortable ride on a bus. We used to put benches or little chairs from the kindergarten in a plain truck and ride like this a whole night to reach our destination. We slept on the floor of the Jewish shules in Warsaw or other places. Every member had a knapsack with a small blanked and a few things to eat among them one pound of hard sugar. You must be wondering why sugar? One glass of tea without sugar was 15 groshen (pennies). One glass of tea with sugar was 25 groshen. We couldn't be so extravagant! We needed the money to visit Yiddish theater, the first time we saw an opera (it was Barber of Seville), we visited museums and the Royal Palaces and the beautiful gardens like Lariensky and Krashinsky's.

After such an active week with so much walking and very little food everyone lost a few pounds but full of inspiration and joy of accomplishments we returned home the same way we came.

I remember that on one of our excursions to Kusmir (Kazimierz) via Warsaw we took a boat on the Vistula to reach to reach our destination to Kazimierz. A big storm broke out and our boat was stuck on a sand dune. The captian and the crew couldn't release the boat the whole night and next day. We were very hungry and there wasn't any food on the boat so the captain advised us to take a little row boat and go to the other shore and buy some food. I was in the committee to go with the boat and buy whatever was available. We got four big loads of bread and six farmer cheeses. You can hardly imagine the joy and happiness of the hungry group – they ate it up in a few minutes.

We reached the Palace of the King Kazimierz, the Big One. It was beautiful. But the thing that interested us was the old Jewish synagogue. The synagogue was built by the King (in the 13th century) in honor of his beloved Esther, his Jewish mistress. She, Esther, embroidered the paroychet (curtains) for the Ark and we saw it under a glass it was kept. We noted also a wooden love-sit hanging on the wall. The sexton explained to us that this was a gift from Esther. On this little bench all the Jewish children were circumcised and the Tzadik was seated on it. When the love-sit was showing signs of deterioration they hung it up on the wall.

I was thinking to myself: Esther from the Megillah was saving Jews from Homen not to be destroyed and Esther was instrumental that Jewish children should be circumcised according to the Jewish law. She herself didn't add much to the Jewish people, but at least indentified herself with them.

All these thoughts brought me back to my Yiddishe shule which formed our thinking and helped us analyze things and happenings. The shule broadened our horizons even after our learning there. Like children to a mother we clung to her and she was like a mother to us.




[Page 488]

A Call for Help from the Bielsk Yeshiva[1]

To our Brothers in the United States!

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Seeing that the Yeshiva in “Bielsk-Podlaski”, which has existed, with the help of G-d, in our city for nine years already and which has in its time produced hundreds of students who are an ornament for G-d and for our people, with their greatness in learning Torah and wisdom and their great idealism, and for the pride of our city, they need a building for praying, studying, eating, sleeping, because they wander around without a designated place for all these things. The greatest number of these students come from poor families. We take it as our duty in this year to build our own building for the yeshiva. With a very small amount of capital we are committed to building, thanks to the important first donation from one of our American brothers, who has donated to that goal, with the hope of finishing this year, with the donations and support from our friends and sympathizers of the sacred yeshiva.

Sadly the crisis has horribly ruined us, so that we do not have the ability to continue our holy construction work on the yeshiva, which is a sacred task of our time, and we stand with folded arms and we look despairingly on our many efforts that we have expended so far on this labor lest it go unfulfilled. Therefore we turn to you, our brothers, whose hearts are bound up with your hometown of Bielsk-Podlaski. Follow now the example of our American brother, who was the first to promise an important donation to build a building for our yeshiva, which is an existential question for us, and join us by making your donations to further the construction work on our holy yeshiva.



DEAR BROTHERS! Fortify our wills and add to our strength, and give us the ability to further our holy construction work and to complete with great joy the great, holy work that we have begun.

We hope that our call to you will go deeply into your hearts and souls and that you will quickly respond with your vows and contribute to the building work of the Bielsk Yeshiva, and by the merit of the Torah, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, will help you with good things and you will be blessed with brachos [blessings] from the Torah.




[An image of the round seal of the yeshiva contains
the following text translated from Polish and Yiddish]

Polish: Yeshiva Beis-Joseph[2] Bielsk

Yiddish: Branch of Yeshiva Beis-Yosef in Bielsk

Moshe Aharon Ben-Da'as,[3] the rabbi and leader of Bielsk-Podlaski

Mordechai Goldin, head and teacher in the Yeshiva of Bielsk-Podlaski

Building Committee
Moshe Gewirtz Aharon Nissl Kaminetzki
Eli Zuckerman Ziskind Goldveitz
Alter Litvak Noson Gewirtz
Dov Kadlibavski


Editor's footnotes
  1. The appeal as published in the Bielsk yizkor book was a facsimile, or photocopy, of an original that predates the Holocaust. According to another chapter, Rabbi Ben-Da'as (printed on his official stationery as Bendas) died in the Holocaust. The crisis referred to in the text may have been the Great Depression of 1929. This appeal then may date from 1929 to the 1930s. Return
  2. Handwritten Yiddish letters, in the online archives of the Center for Jewish History (CJH), were sent by Rabbi Goldin on stationery with a preprinted letterhead. The name of the school appears in the letterhead in Yiddish, transliterated Yiddish and Polish, and English. The full name is printed in English as “Rabbinical College “Bejs-Joseff” Bielsk-Podlaski (Poland).” The stationery shows the address as ul. Mickiewicza 86b. On some letters 86b is crossed out and replaced with a handwritten address number of 111 or 111b. At link to the CJH archives can be found on the Bielsk Podlaski KehilaLinks site Return
  3. The personal stationery of Rabbi Ben-Da'as had the English spelling of his last name as Bendas. An example appears on the Bielsk Podlaski KehilaLinks site. The site also has a link to other examples which appear in the CJH archives. Return


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