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[Page 71]

Educational and other Learning Institutions

Translated by Judy Montel

Edited by Warren Blatt

Until the twentieth century, there were only traditional “cheders” [primary schools] in Kielce, in which the Jewish children of the city received their education. There was no demand on anyone's part to change the nature of the educational experience. Like the other forms of Jewish life, which were set and crystallized, so too the paths that led to the education of boys and girls were paved, and no alterations were made to them. The “melameds” [teachers] taught Torah to the children of Israel in the time-honored technique that was accepted in all of the Diaspora of Israel.

Over time, there were some new faces among the “melameds”, and they brought the learning of the Hebrew language and its grammar within the “cheder” walls.

Wawe Fuks, who immigrated to the United States towards the end of his life, was a pioneer in the city of Kielce in the area of teaching our ancient language to the children of the Jews of the city; for this purpose he invited a Litvak to his “cheder” who came from Lithuanian Brisk [Brest-Litovsk, now Brest, Belarus], named Jakob Dajbuch, and he taught the children of the “cheder” Hebrew. Of course, the instruction was primitive, without plan or method, as in: he commanded, I commanded, you commanded, etc.

But to begin with, the first push to learn our national language came from that “melamed” and his name is worth mentioning with praise and glory.

Rabbi Nachman Dawid Kaszanski, Z”L [may his memory be a blessing], a speaker and poet, did much to spread the knowledge of the Hebrew language among our young people. Also in the “Talmud Torah” school, of which he was principal, and also in his private lessons, he taught the Hebrew bible and the Hebrew language with good taste, intelligence and a nice erudition. Many acquired biblical sayings with the greatest pleasure and began to have a sense of their beauty, and thus later also came to read the books of the new Hebrew literature, which began developing at the same time, and also to read the Hebrew periodicals, “HaMelitz” and “HaTzefira”. And through this, secular education began to infiltrate the study hall and find a place in the hearts of the youths that studied there.

Another speaker of the Hebrew language who lived and was active in Kielce was Szaul Eliezer Fridenzon, Z”L. He also wrote articles and composed a commentary on the Scroll of Esther. He was a rival of N.D. Kaszanski. They would compete with one another in the area of private lessons and in writing inscriptions upon monuments and gravestones. And they would dismiss one another; each one would point to his fellow's faults. However, the envy of scholars promotes wisdom. Their efforts started the “melameds” inclusion of some fresh air within the mildewed walls of their “cheders”. Study of Hebrew bible, to which the “melameds” formerly devoted just one hour, which is neither a day nor a night, began to have a more prominent place in the curriculum, and they paved the way for the Hebrew schools which arose later. One “melamed” called “Kozowski” opened a “cheder” in which besides Jewish studies the children also learned Russian, mathematics, the Hebrew language and its grammar. This was a kind of “enlightened cheder”, which served as a transition to the schools in which there were no longer “melameds”, but men and women teachers, and the curriculum in them was the same as the curriculum in the general government schools.

[Page 72]

The fundamental change in Jewish education did not occur in one month and not in one year; a long war was conducted between the “cheder” and the modern school, a war that in the city of Kielce took twenty years. Even afterwards, when the school had finally won a decisive victory on the Jewish street and reigned supreme in children's education, the “cheder” did not disappear completely from the world; it continued to exist alongside the school in a slightly different form, in accordance with the demands of the time. The “cheder” was removed from the private sector and into the public sector. The private “cheder” which was limited to several dozen students in a narrow room, turned into a public “cheder” with hundreds of students which was housed in large rooms equipped with educational instruments and more or less appropriate to hygienic and sanitary demands.

The “Yavne” society founded a type of “Mizrachi” “cheder”, and “Aguda” founded the “Yesodei HaTorah” [Foundations of the Torah] “cheder”. And in order to survive, these “cheders” also had to include the subjects studied in the public schools into their curriculum.

I will briefly go over the process by which education developed in the city of Kielce, the wrestling between the new and the old until it was finally necessary to remove the old to make way for the new.

In 1904, a school was founded in the city, directed by H. Szrajber, a man of broad knowledge, much energy and eager for adventure. (He later held an important position in Russia in the Krenski government). He school was in spacious rooms and in accordance with sanitary demands; the curriculum was suited to that of a public school. The students were divided by grade. Every subject had a special hour devoted to it. Between lessons there were breaks. The ringing bell would announce the beginning and end of the classes. The students wore a uniform. Such a uniform blurred the distinctions between the poor and wealthy children and also gave the students a special look that elevated them above the “cheder” children. In those days, uniforms reminded people of authority and aroused proper behavior in the hearts of the masses towards the person who wore one. Aside from this, they attracted the children, who loved anything new. And in addition to all of these reasons, the uniform contained another sort of educational principle. The children were recognized in the street, and the teachers could distinguish between their students and the other children, and they could keep a sharp eye on them, that they not leave the school's strictures when they were outside the school walls.

This first school in Kielce ran into difficulties and obstacles from its inception that held back its development. And despite all of the efforts by the principal and the Zionists who supported it, it ceased to exist. Two years from the day of its establishment it was forced to close, to the joy of the “melameds”, for whom this school was a thorn in their sides.

[Page 73]

The main reason for the closing of the school was the lack of a qualified teaching faculty who were able to direct such an education institution. The teachers who were invited to teach at the school were mainly dilettantes in the teaching profession. They were students, or advanced “melameds”; but neither the former nor the latter knew a single chapter in pedagogy and didactics. The students made no progress in their studies; the parents were forced to send their sons to “cheder” in the afternoon hours so that they would not remain ignoramuses for the rest of their lives. The “melameds” found its weak point which they used to undermine its existence. In this school, Hebrew bible studies were an important part of the curriculum. One “melamed”, when he wanted to show the child's father that his son who studied at the school didn't know a verse from the bible, asked the student in front of his father: “Son, who were “Gidalti and Romamti?”” The child shrugged his shoulders and said in embarrassment that he had never heard such names. The “melamed” cried out in triumph: “You see what I told you, they don't even know the bible, their main subject at the school”. And without hesitation the “melamed” takes the book of Chronicles from the bookshelves and shows, black on white that in chapter 25 it says that “Gidalti and Romamti” were sons of Asaf who served with musical instruments before the Ark of the Lord.

The student apologizes and says that in his school, they are not learning Chronicles, but the “melamed” does not release his prey and continues to test the student saying: Yes, Chronicles you aren't learning; but the Pentateuch, of course, you are learning. And without a doubt in the book of Genesis, which is the first book in the Torah, the students are as expert as they are in “Ashrei Yoshvei” [Happy are those… Psalm 84/5, an introductory verse, in addition to Psalm 144/15 to Psalm 145 all of which are recited numerous times in the daily prayers.] If so, tell me who said: “One [am] I and he [is a] man”?

The “melamed”, knowing before whom he stands, that the student's father is ignorant of the Torah, purposely says the words out of context in order to cause the student to fail and to prove the righteousness of his words when he claims that the parents are, with their very own hands turning their sons into ignoramuses, into “Goyim”, as it were, when they send them to the schools. And that these are not a “cheder” or a Yeshiva, but a sort of factory for turning young innocent children into heretics, freethinkers, without Torah and without manners or common sense. “For your eyes are those that see,” continues the “melamed”, triumphantly, “that the child, a pupil of the school, doesn't know the Pentateuch.” And he takes down the Book of Genesis and shows the child who is standing ashamed, the words in the Torah portion of Miketz: “And we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he [each] man his own dream etc.” [In the Hebrew text the italicized words are consecutive].

With such strategies the “melameds” attempted to give a bad odor to the school in the eyes of the masses, who were mostly observant of the commandments and kept the tradition of their ancestors.

The Zionists who conducted propaganda in favor of the school were considered: “Fine to speak of it, not so fine to fulfill it”. They themselves sent their sons to the Russian Governmental Gymnasium [high school]; those whose sons did not get in to the Gymnasium sent them to the Polish trade school or to private Polish schools which were being set up in those days with a government license.

The masses began to pull their children out of the school and to send them back to the “cheders”, when they saw that the school had disappointed them and that their sons were not succeeding in their studies.

The progressive wealthy members of the community turned their backs on the Hebrew school. They preferred the educational institutions of the Gentiles to a Jewish school, which to them was a sort of “cheder”. And the first Jewish school in Kielce was left abandoned on all fronts, struggled for its existence for two years until it passed on.

[Page 74]

A few years passed without a Hebrew school in the city. And then two brothers named Joskowicz arose to renew the Jewish school in Kielce. These were years of revolution throughout Russia, the Jewish press, which was born and developed in those days and gained wide distribution among the masses of the Jews, propelled Jewish life forward. Among the masses a movement began to create a modern school in which their children would receive the knowledge they needed for a life that was changing and making giant strides forward. Many of them looked to the brothers Joskowicz, who were meagerly educated, who worked at private education, that they should be the initiators in this matter, and they received promises from many artisans that they would give financial and moral support – if they would just open a school.

After they had overcome obstacles and difficulties they finally opened a Hebrew school. Much emphasis was placed in the curriculum on the Hebrew language and Jewish history; public school subjects were also given an important place.

But this school as well did not get through the year. The constant undermining of its existence by the “melameds” on the one had and a lack of administrative abilities on the other caused it to close only six months after it opened. The “melameds” spread libel about Izrael Joskowicz, who was known in the city as Izrael Jekil's and who had secular education and was a Zionist, saying that he was a heretic who didn't believe in the existence of the soul. They repeated a tale about him that when his child died, he didn't sit “shiva” – the seven days of mourning. In response to the questions of his neighbors, who spoke to him about the matter, why he was changing the traditions that were set down by wise men? He responded dismissively: “Ah, nonsense! The electricity was turned off, why are the mourning customs necessary?”

With such fictional deficiencies they besmirched his name, so that parents would not send their children to him.

In those days there was a Jewish school in Kielce; but this was a girls' school, and according to the curriculum, it wasn't a Jewish school at all, since no Jewish studies were taught there; it was modeled upon the curriculum of the Polish school. Even the most orthodox sent their daughters to this school; they thought innocently that girls might acquire knowledge and education. An educated daughter was a glory in the house; her education also improved her chances of a good match afterwards. It was not necessary for her to learn Torah. “Whoever teaches his daughter Torah, it is as if he is teaching her foolishness.” Running a household according to the rules of the “Shulchan Aruch” [book of Jewish law] is something she can learn from her mother. And Judaism was losing nothing from the education of their daughters.

Some of the most religious and the Chassidim, when they later saw their error and tried to repair the damage, were too late – the defect had already spread through their homes, and it was not possible to cure it even by founding the special “Beit Ya'akov” schools for their daughters. “Beit Ya'akov” was attended mainly by the daughters of the poor, and the daughters of the wealthy Chassidim continued to be educated in regulated schools which were supervised by the government.

[Page 75]

Mrs. Stefanja Wolman was the one who founded the girls' school in Kielce. It is worth expanding our description of this woman. Even if she was a member of the assimilated circle, she had some precious qualities that gave her a special value and raised her honor even in the eyes of her opponents. Her first husband, by whose name she was known even after his death and her marriage to another man, was outwardly crippled: a short hunchbacked man, but his spiritual gifts, his broad knowledge impressed the young Stefanja, who was charming and beautiful. She did not reject him, a spiritual closeness grew between them and they married.

After the death of her husband, she and a friend, Mrs. Paradystal, decided to open a school for girls. It began as an elementary school, like all the pubic Polish schools that existed at the time, but over time it developed and became a high school, a Gymnasium for Girls.

Her school was run as an exemplary educational institution with its excellent regulations. The principal influenced her pupils with the quality of her spirit, her energy and her strong will. Her students held her in affection, respect and admiration. She would teach them manners and good values: to speak the truth, to speak briefly, to speak to the point, to keep their word. “Try to have your wishes come true,” she would say, “if you are convinced that your cause is just, don't be soft as a reed or melting like wax under the influence of others' desires.”

kie075.jpg [34 KB] - The principal Stefania Wolman and her Gymnasium class
The principal Stefania Wolman and her Gymnasium class

She would devote an hour a week to teach her pupils the ways of life. She mainly emphasized the importance of character in a person. She would say: “Try to emphasize your personality and focus your character, so that it will be as solid as iron, because only those who are graced with an aggressive will and who have a strong and crystallized character can walk securely on their life's path with confident steps, and gain respect for themselves.”

[Page 76]

And because she did what she said, for she herself had these characteristics, her influence upon her students was very great.

Although at the beginning of her activities in the field of education she was far from matters pertaining to Judaism and kept Judaic studies out of her curriculum; she did not offer even the religious study that was required in government schools in either Hebrew or Polish. But over time, under pressure, the demands of the parents, who were infused with nationalistic feeling, she also included the study of the Hebrew language within the walls of her school, in order to satisfy the wishes of her students' parents. But the students did not succeed in this subject. The principal introduced the study of the Hebrew language to her school not of her own desires but as a side issue; therefore, she considered the subject as a foreign implant that did not “take” in the soil of her school. This attitude to our national language was noticeable also in the selection of a Hebrew teacher. In all the other subjects, she endeavored to acquire outstanding pedagogical forces, and for the study of the Hebrew language she took whatever came to hand, even from the detritus. The students, who sensed the derogatory attitude to Hebrew on the part of the principal, began to also hold the teacher and the Hebrew language in contempt. The teaching of Hebrew served as an advertisement for the school without any positive results.

Towards the end of her life there was a change in her attitude and she began to grow closer to the Jewish masses. She was active in the orphanage, which was established at her initiative in Kielce after World War I. Also the “HeChalutz” movement that began then among the youth, whose goal was to move to the Land of Israel in order to bring its wilderness to life, struck a chord in her heart and she treated it enthusiastically. During the last years of her life she would also contribute to the Zionist funds.

At her death she was accorded great honor by the Jews of Kielce, who accompanied her to her eternal rest with aching hearts; they knew that they had lost and active woman of initiative and her death left an empty space in the field of community activism. Her loss was felt in many circles of the Jews of Kielce.

I will mention here the name of another woman who was active in the field of girls' education in Kielce. Mrs. Sloma Rajzman, the wife of Icza Mejer Rajzman, opened a girls' school as well at the same time. Mrs. Rajzman, an educated woman, knew something of pedagogy, industrious and active, she knew how to administer her school and establish it, so that it could stand up to unexpected winds of change or opposition. This woman was full of a positive attitude towards Jewish values and included the study of the Hebrew language within the walls of her school and dealt with this subject with no less attention than that she bestowed upon any other subject matter. A young man of energy, talented and with pedagogical abilities was invited to teach the Hebrew language; the students succeeded, therefore, in their studies. Some of them left this school knowing Hebrew quite well.

kie077.jpg [33 KB] - The principal Mrs. Rajzman and her students
The principal Mrs. Rajzman and her students

Mrs. Rajzman's school, from its inception, was meant for girls from the popular social strata. Daughters of artisans, grocers, laborers; in contrast, Mrs. Wolman's school was the educational institution of the wealthier social classes. For a long time these two schools existed alongside one another without either interfering in the other's territory. There was a place for each and they did not compete.

However, after World War I, independent Poland began developing a chain of public government sponsored schools and instituted compulsory general education. The sons and daughters of the Jews began attending the government schools, whose doors were open to them, and where they could receive their first education for free. And in addition to the schools for girls that were already in existence, the Minc sisters opened a private school for girls in Kielce.

The principal of this school, Mrs. Myrjam Minc, a well known Zionist activist, invested of her spirit and soul in the education of the pupils, and in infusing their hearts with nationalistic values. The Minc sisters were active in Jewish public life and supported Zionist slogans. One of them moved to the Land of Israel afterwards. In their school they devoted lessons not only to the study of Hebrew, but to the study of the Hebrew bible and Jewish history as well.

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