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[Page 429]


Hebrew Education In Brest

By Tzvi Har Zahav (Goldberg)

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

The method of teaching pupils in Brest was the same as in other towns. Whoever knew the interpretations and the Chumash and Rashi believed that he was qualified to teach Torah to some children. So he would collect some pupils and conduct a cheder. From the beginning of the Zionist movement, there sprang up in various cities “Cheder Metukan” – modern Hebrew schools, which had some reforms and changes to the teaching methods. In Pinsk it occurred to Yehuda Leib Berger, a bookseller, to open such a school. In Brest there was no such activist to open a modern cheder, and the old style of teaching prevailed.

Two people stood out from the other Hebrew teachers, both in their methods of teaching and of attracting students. Therefore, they were called 'teachers' and not Torah instructors. One ran a cheder and one taught at home. The first was Ben Zion Neumark, and the second was Mordechai Sheinerman.

Neumark was a Zionist activist, an official of the national Zionist movement and a journalist. When VIPs would arrive in Brest, he would make every effort to provide comfortable accommodations and lodgings. He was known in all circles and accepted – he introduced a better teaching system in his school.

Sheinerman was a community activist and dedicated Zionist. A cultured man with refined manners, he would give lessons in the homes of the wealthy. He also visited Israel, but due to an eye disease, he had to leave the country. He returned to Israel in later years and spent the last years of his life there.

After a short period of teaching in Horodok, a small town in the Vilna district, and in Lubashov a town in the Minsk Gubernia, Pinsk district - I arrived in Brest. My experiences in those places were closely connected with my transferring to Brest. A friend in Horodok had invited me to come there to teach. The town had two religious Torah instructors and one Russian teacher. Several educated men, who were not happy with the religious instructors, were seeking a good teacher for their children. I let myself be persuaded and came to Horodok. Several of the local residents asked me to teach their children – as Hebrew was since my childhood days the language that I thought and spoke in – I taught my pupils Hebrew in Hebrew, not in Yiddish as was then the custom. I would speak to the children and their parents only in Hebrew. I introduced reforms to the teaching methods: songs, exercises, and playing.

The religious instructors upon seeing these 'crazy' reforms became alarmed for their livelihoods. They turned to a petition writer and asked that he write accusing me to the Chief of Police in Vilna and requesting that he should expel me from the city. The parents of my students told me to bribe the petition writer so that he should not send his letter. But I did not want to do this. For four weeks the letter lay in his office. The police chief was busy with other matters of the day. Then I received an invitation to come to the Starosta (police chief) in the evening for a 'chat' and bring my textbooks with me. When I arrived the police chief began by asking me details, I replied and the secretary wrote it all down. The questions were; had I ever been in St Petersburg, Moscow or Kiev? If not, perhaps my parents had been there? What was I doing in this town? Who were my acquaintances and friends? For what purposes did I need the 'dry' scientific textbooks? After these questions and answers, the Starosta realized that I was not a dangerous revolutionary. He apologized to me, saying that he had received a complaint and that it was his duty to investigate the matter. However, he gave me good advice, which was to leave the town, so as not to cause complications and conflicts.

After Pesach, I came to Lubashov, and there I stayed for a longer time. A vital issue of my life caused me to leave this quiet town and transfer to Brest. Before coming to Brest I sent an inquiry about opening a Hebrew school there. I sent a letter to my uncle, Moshe Pesach Gvirtzman to permit me to print an advertisement, but his wife, Lipshe interfered in the matter and would not allow this announcement…. However, it was printed and even pasted on the walls of the synagogue schools.

Before the High Holydays I ordered benches in the modern style that I had seen in a Russian book, and with these, I furnished several rooms and the school opened. Several of the city residents entrusted me to teach their children. As soon as the school became known in the city and the religious teachers heard about its innovations, they decide that the best way to get rid of me would be to report me to the authorities, and one day a police officer came to see me at my school – the story of Horodok repeated itself, but with some differences..

The police chief came to see me, and I was not invited to his office. He came alone without a secretary and without a protocol. The questions were few, the textbooks not checked and he apologized – but said that he had to investigate according to his duty. This time he did not advise me to leave the city.

At the opening of the first class, people also enrolled for the evening classes, which were for adults and enlightened people with whom I could discuss matters that could not be mentioned openly. For example, I once remarked that it is the commentaries that suggest that King Solomon did not write his psalms by himself. This gave the 'learned scholars' the grounds to accuse me of being an 'Apicorus' (a heretic). I was cautious enough to say that this was not my opinion. They further said that it would be a sin to entrust children to me to study Torah.

New higher-level classes opened up in my school and the Torah studies became an chief part of the curriculum. The religious teachers found new deficiencies – the Torah was not studied according to the chapter of the week and not with Rashi, but with a different method – and more complaints…..

However, I was obstinate in my actions and stuck to my opinions. The school flourished and there was no lack of students as long as I was in Brest. Together with all the other residents, I was expelled from the city in 1915. Not only the school, but even speaking Hebrew was an important issue -when I arrived in Brest no one spoke Hebrew and no one had heard of speaking such a 'dead' Language. They told of a Sephardi emissary from Israel, who had arrived in the city and had great difficulty in communicating with the Jews. I turned to the more educated students of the city and proposed that we form a Hebrew-speaking Society. They agreed, and gradually also adults joined this society. I drew up a program, but none of the important officials helped me. We could not get permission for this group, so everything was conducted in secret. The meetings took place each time at a different venue. Thus the speaking of Hebrew spread through certain circles in the city. There were even parents of some of the students, themselves not members of the group, who would greet me in Hebrew on the street, and who would timidly speak to me in broken Hebrew – but nevertheless Hebrew.

This innovation was taken up, even though in mockery by some. They especially talked about my wife because we only spoke Hebrew at home “it is crazy that a woman of our city should speak Hebrew in the street and at home, whoever heard of such a thing?”

At the end of 1918 I returned to Brest for a further 18 months. The city changed and became modernized –the residents were newcomers and they were preoccupied with the worries of making a living and nobody thought of Torah study in Hebrew. All the former teachers had also vanished. My wife died, and I could barely exist from the private lessons that I gave a group of young men who wanted me to teach them Hebrew.

A year later, representatives from the Tarbut organization that had founded Hebrew schools in other Polish towns came to Brest and started evening classes in Hebrew. They invited me to join them, but I did not accept as I was preparing to make aliyah to Israel. After much preparation and difficulties, I left for Israel in Elul 1921.

[Page 437]

The Model Hebrew Primary School

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

The Central committee of Tarbut in Poland had designated Brest as an appropriate location to found a Model Hebrew primary school that would be a shining beacon for teachers and the educational administrators. This school, named “HaTechiya” became an example of a modern school. The headquarters of Tarbut had sent their best teaching experts. We should remember here:

The spiritually rich and talented teacher Akiva Rosenbloom, who was murdered in Kowel as one of the Nazis' first victims there.

Leah Kreinitz (may she live to long years).

Gedalia Shklarski, Zev Levana and others who now live in Israel.

Teachers of the Techiya Hebrew School in Brest 1922

[Page 438]

The Tarbut Hebrew High School (Gymasium)

Based on the foundations of the primary school, there was later founded the Tarbut Hebrew High School. It provided Hebrew and general education for those from Brest and district that had finished primary school. As with the Tarbut primary and middle schools, the standard was high. Children whose parents were Zionists attended these schools, and they had to give up the idea of attaining a Matriculation certificate because the Tarbut middle school was not entitled to grant its students diplomas.

The teachers of the Tarbut high school and its headmaster, Zev Lutwak, were concerned with a good education based on Jewishness and also general Polish studies. After a long battle with the Polish authorities the Tarbut Hebrew High School together with its sister school in Bialystok, obtained full official certification to grant matriculation diplomas.

This caused great celebration in Zionist circles. In Brest, even former opponents of Hebrew and Zionism joined in the celebrations. It was a resounding victory for the spirit of the Hebrew movement – previously the attitude towards the founders and supporters of the Hebrew schools had been one of apathy and indifference, and that the revival of Hebrew schools was only a dream.

The joy in Brest expressed itself in celebratory meetings and an open prayer Sabbath in the Great Synagogue with the participation of all the Hebrew schools' parents and students. Zev Dov Begin, the secretary of the kehilla council, welcomed them in the name of the kehilla. H.Tash spoke of the significance of a Hebrew education in the Diaspora – for such a Zionist celebration to be held in the Great Synagogue was unprecedented.

The Great Synagogue was under the direction of Rabbi Z. Soloveitchik - it was known as an opponent of Zionism – and until then it had not permitted Zionist celebrations.

[Page 439]

The Trades School Hostel

This college was founded immediately after W.W.1. There were many orphans from Brest and district who had been left homeless – their parents had been murdered, and their children wandered in the streets of the towns and villages of the Polessie district. These hungry and exhausted children found salvation in the orphanages that provided accommodation and schooling, these orphanages existed in every Jewish community, and even the smallest towns provided shelter for these abandoned children with no future. The Polish authorities did not care about its Jewish citizens.

The Jewish Society for the care of orphans in Polessie took over the responsibility for caring for homeless children.

With the assistance of the Joint, they founded a Trades School in Brest. They purchased a large three-storey building at no. 28 Third of May Street in 1924. There they opened a dormitory /hostel – the house and garden was a model of tidiness and comfort. They accommodated 80 orphans and deserted children who could study Torah and a trade there, with the aim of bringing them up as honest members of the community.

The dormitory/hostel was run on the basis of the income of self supporting youth organizations and self supporting work from skills such as locksmithing or carpentry which they had been taught in the ORT trades school. Thus the hostel served to bring up these children into their working lives and society. Furthermore, there was an unspoken aim - the training of pioneers for Israel. That was difficult to achieve - the majority of the youths got their first education in the Tsarist pre-war Russia, where life was hard and oppressive, and did not awaken Zionist thought.

Nonetheless, the administration board managed to instill the spirit of Israel into the young people. They learned Hebrew with enthusiasm and prepared to go to Israel.

Three years later, the hostel sent its first group of students to Israel. All of them settled as pioneers. (One of them, Yitzchak Fogel – lost his only son Ben Zion Fogel in the War of Independence.1948).

Since that time, there were other groups that were sent to Israel, however, the Bund and the leftist Poale Zion reacted negatively to the activity of the hostel. According to their doctrine, the training and teaching of trades was their exclusive area and why should Hebrew “Tarbutniks' be involved with this? Especially considering that it was the Ort school that had provided them with their skilled training….

However, they did succeed in wresting the hostel away from the Zionist influence and the Zionist pioneer ideology, which had influenced the underprivileged and oppressed of the Brest and district community. But from all that involvement and greatness only dark memories remain – a broken aching heart that says in your blood and memories they will stay alive!

[Page 441]

Education and Cultural Institutions

By Nachum Chinitch

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

In the Old Brest there was for over 40 years a great yeshiva in the Mishmar synagogue. The heads of this yeshiva were Rabbi Simcha Zelig and Rabbi Moshe Sokolovski, they were under the patronage and supervision of Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik.. About 100 students studied there day and night, and from this yeshiva many great and talented students in Torah graduated such as: Rabbi Meier Berlin, the genius Shlomo Politzik who was known by the name of “the Mezricher genius “, and others.

The city's Talmud Torah (synagogue school) had existed for centuries and had over 100 students, it's higher classes were preparatory to the yeshiva. In it's last years Rabbi Yakov Zalman Lifshitz was the headmaster under the supervision of Rabbi Israel and the head Gabbeh was Rabbi Butche Schochet.

In 1918-20 the concern was for the saving of lives, and the building of the new Talmud Torah. Later, Rabbi Michael Orchov took over.

In 1905 Modern Cheders appeared in Brest under the supervision of skilled teachers who worked in the system of “Ivrit Beivrit” – Hebrew taught in Hebrew. The rooms were spotless, there were new benches and many colorful posters on the wall, like in a modern classroom.

The first to introduce these Modern Cheders to Brest were David Kupchik and Eliahu Sini. It's worth noting that Eliahu Sini was a renowned chess player and that he owned a vast library. He had spent several years as a teacher in the U.S. before returning to Brest. Important teachers of the Hebrew in Hebrew method were the elderly grammaticist Tzvi Har Zahav, who died in Tel Aviv, Rabbi M. Sheinerman, Ben Zion Neumark, Fundig, and others.

Brest also had general high schools, a commerce (business) school, state primary schools, and also two Jewish middle schools with Russian as the teaching language. After W.W.1 the Joint funded the establishment of schools for the children of Brest.

The Young Zionists (Zeirei Zion) formed the “Techiya” public school with 7 classes with Hebrew as the teaching language in all subjects – Polish, Polish History, Maths, Geography, etc. The “Techiya” had over 200 students. As well as that there were 2 kindergartens and a dormitory. The two language Hebrew/Polish school called “Tel Chai” taught Hebrew, Tanach, and Jewish history.

Over 150 poor students studied at the ORT Trades school that was under the directorship of the engineer M. Feldstein. There was also a public school established by the Bundists and the Leftist Poale Zion with Yiddish as the teaching language. Later this school split up into 2 separate schools with the Bund school headed by David Shneider and the Leftist Poale Zion school by M. Menachovski.

The Young Zionists also conducted evening Hebrew classes including the geography of Israel, as preparatory courses for the pioneer movement.

In 1924, the Tarbut High School was established with 3 classes from the Techiya school and 2 other broader classes totaling 140 students. Amongst its founders were: Chaim Tennewitzki, Izbitzer, Neumark, Winnikoff, and the headmaster Z. Lutwak.

In the Tarbut High school, the spirit of Hebrew ruled, but the general studies were in Polish. In the Polessie province, only 2 Hebrew High Schools were granted full government accreditation – the Tarbut school in Bialystok and the Tarbut school in Brest. There was much ideological debate – one side wanted to attain official accreditation at the expense of the Hebrew studies – the other side demanded that the school conduct all its teaching in Hebrew only, including general subjects. Tarbut lasted until the outbreak of W.W.2.

A separate institution was the Brest Orphanage, with over 150 children. They had a good school called ”Ha Chaim” founded by the Mizrachi Organization, whose director was Rabbi Shmuel Yosef Halperin, a learned man of high standards. Also Naphtali Rabinovitch who cared for the welfare of the orphans. Later, the school enlarged and took on the name of “Tachkamoni”.

The Jewish library occupied an important place in the life of Brest. From 1905 until W.W.1 it was the cultural center of the city with over 800 books, mainly in Hebrew, Russian and Yiddish. This library was under the auspices of the Zionist organization and its last directors before 1914 were Moshe Lubetkin and Isser Tzemach.

During the expulsion from the city in 1915, the library was locked and the books left inside. But the Jewish laborers that the German Army brought into the city for forced labor from the surrounding towns moved many of the books. In 1918 when the Jews returned to the city, the library committee was able to retrieve many of them.

These books formed the basis for the new library on Bialystokski St. The library committee included members of the Young Zionists and the librarian was Scholem Halperin. After the fall of Trumpeldor and his comrades in 1920, the library was called “Tel – Chai”.

The Tel Chai Library Committee
From R.to L. – K. Lubelsky, M. Barlas,
S. Halperin, A. Ludski, B. Arenson, Tupak
Standing – Z. Hellman

[Page 443]

The Hebrew Tarbut Gymnasium

By M. Arazi

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

In accordance with the orders from the German Military powers in 1915, Brest was evacuated. Although some residents transferred to the neighboring towns and villages, the majority wandered far into Russia, away from the fighting front. Thus the existence of the Brest Community was uprooted, it had been one of the most beautiful centers of Judaism with its origins going back before the Polish/Lithuanian Commonwealth. As soon as the New Polish republic emerged after W.W.1, the remainder of the city's residents who had survived the bitter fate of homelessness returned to rebuild it from the ruins. Many of the residents, who had wandered far away at the outbreak of W.W.1, never returned and settled in new places.

Those that did return had never seen such a catastrophe…. They tried to settle into temporary accommodation in the cellars under mountains of bricks and rubble.

Many families lived for long periods like animals in their dens. But the will to rebuild was so strong that these cellar dwellers began to rebuild their homes from the ruins. There were few essentials available, but with the help of a soup kitchen and the assistance of the American funded Joint organization, many were saved from starving. The problems of poverty, food and homelessness pushed aside all other needs – it was particularly difficult to re-establish a cultural and community life.

With many difficulties new schools were created. The Tel Chai Library was opened. The orphanage with it's hostel and educational center. The first Hebrew kindergarten was formed by Esther Halperin Chinich, for the first time, Hebrew was heard and spoken by the kindergarten children.The first Hebrew public school was the “Techiya“ school. Many of its teachers and students migrated to Israel.

In Brest as in other polish towns, the Tarbut organization had to fight on 2 fronts: against the Yiddishists (Bundists) and the Polish assimilation propaganda which pulled the student youth away from the wells of Jewish and Hebrew culture.

The supporters of the Hebrew language culture organized themselves – my father Ben Zion Neumark, Itzbitzer, L. Winnikoff, Gedalia Hoffman, Zaretzki, Y. Rosenblum and Zelig Braverman – Jews who were occupied with the worries of making a living, had to take on the task of building a Hebrew high school.

Together with H. Lutwak who came to us from Galicia they would spend entire nights worrying about the finances, the teaching staff, and voluntarily conducting enrolment drives for students. In 1924 the school stood erected with 3 regular and 2 preparatory classes. The first teachers were Lutwak, Liberman, Rosenblum, Shklarski, and Lehrman. They had a few textbooks and some teaching material in Hebrew. From time to time there would be a delivery of teaching material from Warsaw. This was not as much a community activity but the fulfillment of a dream, the celebration of their achievement.

The headmaster and staff naively thought that the students should occupy themselves a great deal with Polish and Polish literature and history, just as in the Polish state schools. The ambition was to reach a standard to enable the school to obtain official Polish recognition –this placed the school administration in a dilemma.

The teaching and learning of Hebrew suffered as a result of the Polish studies.

The struggle between the nationalistic Polish content and the Zionist character of the school was to be echoed between the students and in internal debates at the Hebrew middle schools. The discrimination against the students of the Tarbut School was linked to not gaining entrance to further study at Polish universities as was possible in the Polish public schools. This stopped the Tarbut administration from resting until it achieved this for the Jewish youth.

The Tarbut Hebrew High School in Brest

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