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[Page 78]

Educational and other Learning Institutions (cont.)

During this period there also began to be competition between the girls' schools in the city; they became less respected and discipline suffered.

In this kind of a situation every educational institution was forced to use means that had a whiff of commerce about them: advertising and public relations, and whoever succeeded more than his fellow would gain a larger number of students.

A month before the beginning of the school year the public relations and advertising mechanisms were already active. The homes of the Jews were filled with announcements and flyers in which the administrations of the schools promised the parents mountains and proclaimed the innovations that would be introduced to their school. A Jew who picked up the morning newspaper would find among its pages various types and styles of announcements from the schools.

kie078.jpg [39 KB] - The Minc sisters' school
The Minc sisters' school

In those days there were several private and public schools for boys, and each school would do a lot of public relations and advertising on its own behalf. The innocent parents stood at a loss and did not know how to use their judgement amid the wave of advertising. This one pulled them in one direction, and this one in another. Soon the times of needing to visit the parents in their home in order to win their son or daughter had returned, just as the “melameds” had done in their era. The state of the Jewish schools had reached such a low level during the period before World War II. The result of this degraded level was the diminishing of the image of the Hebrew school.

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I will return to the history of the development of the schools for boys in Kielce. As we already mentioned, the first attempts to establish a school for boys were not successful. The first schools, which were founded with great effort, were not able to stand on their own. Their time had not yet arrived. They were like wild flowers that blossom early and wither quickly. The first frost defies them and freezes them entirely. Thus the schools of the early founders did not succeed. The old “cheders” continued to exist. The parents would send their sons to “melameds”, and fed them Torah according to the old method.

Meanwhile several young men from Lithuania came to Kielce and they gave private lessons in Hebrew and Russian. Children who learned at the “cheder” would take private lessons in the evening hours from teachers whose income came from teaching “what the hour demanded”. These young men prepared the ground upon which the Jewish schools were later established. They worked underground, they did the work of secular education in secret; their activity was not noticeable. And despite this they prepared the hearts for the enormous change that was about to take place in the education of boys. But not everyone could afford to pay tuition to both a “melamed” and a private teacher. For this reason, a strong demand for a school was created, which would include in its curriculum Judaic studies and also secular studies, which a person needed in life.

About two years before World War I, a man called Chwat arrived in Kielce, with very little education but with initiative. He got up and founded a school for boys. He found teachers and assistants among the young men who were giving private lessons, and who were already known to the parents of the teachers as being qualified for their positions. This school found students easily. Chwat, in order to insure his own material existence and not be entirely dependent upon his school, which had many expenses in the first several years, attempted to convince the authorities to accept him at the Russian government Gymnasium as a teacher of religion. His request was accepted. He was became a teacher of religion at the Gymnasium for the Jewish students who, at the time, numbered several dozen. A position in a government educational institution given to a Jew was an unusual phenomenon in our city. This position elevated Chwat's reputation in people's eyes. Especially, on holidays, when prayers were held in the synagogue for the welfare of the monarchy, and he would come leading his Jewish students from the Russian Gymnasium, wearing the hat of a Russian clerk, with a two-headed eagle attached to it and a small sword clasped to his hips, he made an impression with this appearance of a man who was close to the monarchy. In those days, one did not scorn the reputation of such a man.

Indeed, his students at the Gymnasium mocked him, when they heard the Russian language that came out of his mouth, distorted and ridiculous; but what happens between the walls of the Gymnasium does not leave them. This position of his in society was a big help to him also in his private school.

However, even this school did not exist for many years. World War I broke out. During the early years of the war Kielce was nearly a battlefield. Battalions would travel through and also be stationed in the city. All of the educational institutions were closed. Only in the third year of the war, when the front lines moved farther away from Kielce and the Austrians made themselves a permanent encampment in the city did the schools reopen as well as the high-schools. In this period Jewish Gymnasiums began appearing in Polish cities. Galicia supplied great numbers of teachers.

Chwat was invited as a Hebrew teacher to Szefer's Gymnasium in Lublin. He did not remain in service there, teaching in a Jewish Gymnasium was not his strength; he was lacking the necessary pedagogical information a teacher needs; he suffered greatly also from the students and also from the Gymnasium administration. And in addition to that, his family affairs were defective. Life became difficult for him. All these things sent him to an early grave – and he was only forty-five years old.

Meanwhile a young Litvak named Prybulski opened a Hebrew school in the city. He gained experience in teaching from his private lessons as well as from his work in Chwat's school. He found teachers from the students of the Wolman Gymnasium. He was the first who introduced female teachers to boys' school. His school succeeded and continued to exist up to the outbreak of World War II. Its owners became wealthy. Before World War II broke out the owner of the school acquired a large stone house. Prybulski was physically weak but fierce in spirit. He had pedagogical talents; he knew how to handle children and also how to run a school. He arranged his school in such a manner that its expenses would be small and its income great. And since in the first years he was the owner of the only school in the city that was known to be well run, he succeeded in his endeavor. Also afterwards, when dangerous rivals arose who knew how to teach according the new methods, his school continued to exist through the force of inertia and the power of the advertising he had acquired in previous years.

kie080.jpg [30 KB] - Prybulski's school
Prybulski's school

At the same time in 1917, the “Mizrachi” association was founded in the city. Among the other tasks it took upon itself -- political, national and community-wide -- it devoted much energy also to cultural activity, especially to educating the boys and girls in the spirit of Torah and tradition, to plant love and affection for our national holy emblems, for the Land of Israel, for the Hebrew language and for Jewish history. As soon as the “Mizrachi” association was founded it opened a schools called: “Torah VaDa'at” [Torah and Knowledge]. In its early years the “Mizrachi” ran into many difficulties in realizing its goal of its educational institution. The main difficulty was the lack of national-religious teachers. There was not yet a college for such teachers in Poland. The teachers' seminaries in Vilna and Grodno did not produce religious teachers. The “Mizrachi” did not want to bring secular teachers into its school, to prevent them from influencing their students with their opinions and views. The school committee preferred to introduce “melameds” of the old type to its educational institution for religious subjects, and local teachers for the secular subjects.

The Jews of Kielce received the first announcement regarding the opening of a school in which the students would receive national-religious education with great joy and enthusiasm. This was the school they had been waiting for.

In the very first days after the publication of the announcement regarding the school founded by the “Mizrachi”, parents crowded in dozens in the small “Mizrachi” apartment where they came to register their children at the new school. A total of over two hundred children of various ages were registered at that time.

The “Mizrachi” had a serious problem – for two hundred children they needed large rooms and an apartment like that was unobtainable at any price. During the war construction ceased in all the cities of Poland and apartment rentals were scarce everywhere. This was true in Kielce, especially, which was close to the front, since the inhabitants of all the neighboring villages found a safe haven in the district capital. The houses were very crowded. Even a private individual had trouble getting a room, and a large apartment for a school was out of the question. Finally the problem of the apartment was solved as well. The Kozowski brothers inherited a “cheder” from their father, who died around that time, with all of the furnishings in it. For a short while they continued to run the “cheder” but the school of the “Mizrachi” saw them as a serious rival to their “cheder”. And indeed many of their students came to register at the “Mizrachi” school.

In one day they found themselves without a livelihood. Therefore, when they heard that the “Mizrachi” was looking for an apartment for their school, they came to the “Mizrachi” committee and offered them their apartment which had four rooms with a long and broad corridor, which could also be used as a classroom if the need arose. The apartment was found suitable for the school, because it could contain about two hundred children. But the condition they set was that they be accepted as “melameds” at this school.

[Page 82]

With no choice, the “Mizrachi” committee accepted this proposal. The national-religious school opened, the first public school in the city. The best of the “melameds” in the city were invited, Hillel Oberman, of the “Mizrachi” founders from Kielce, a famous Torah scholar in the city, Bunem Wirzewa, a gifted man with a talent for exposition, and even if he had not read many pedagogy texts, he knew intuitively how to approach a child, how to analyze a difficult matter and explain it so the child would understand it. Adults also enjoyed listening to the way he would explain a difficult topic in the Gemara. He also knew how to catch the children's interest.

However the parents' enthusiasm waned when they saw over a period of time, that this school was not fulfilling the hopes they had of it either. Although the two “melameds” mentioned above did their jobs in the best possible way, after a few hours of study the children were left on their own. The Kozowski brothers, “melameds” of infants, were not wholly suitable to classroom instruction, they didn't know how to teach a class of forty children, how to maintain order in the class. They were used to teaching children individually.

But the main disadvantage was the lack of a principal. No educational, commercial or public institution can exist without appropriate direction. The “Mizrachi” committee, which had no experience in this matter, opened a school and left it to its fate. True, a special committee had been selected whose function was to deal with the school; but its activities were limited to administrative matters alone, in managing the financial matters, income and expenditure, taking in the tuition fees and paying out salaries to the “melameds” and teachers. A public school needs a principal who will devote his attention to the internal affairs of the educational institution that has been put in his care, to oversee the course of studies, make sure that they are conducted according to schedule, correct defects, fill in faults, seal the cracks and holes that turn up from time to time. The principal must stand on guard and enforce the internal discipline with the teachers as well as the students; he must ensure that the curriculum is carried out, that one “melamed” complements another, that there is not confusion in the manner of learning, that one teacher does not pull in one direction and a second one in another, that no one is left working on their own. The principal must organize the work in such a way that a unifying spirit hovers over them that joins the various actions to a unified general movement that meets the goal that was set up by the founders and initiators, who came to create a public educational enterprise.

And without appropriate direction the structure began to fall apart. At the end of the school year the number of students fell. Meanwhile, the “Aguda” also opened a public “cheder” and the “melameds” who had not found work at the “Mizrachi” school gathered there, and competition between the “Mizrachi” and the “Aguda” began in earnest. In this situation the school committee felt it necessary to take vigorous action so that their tender creation continue its existence and not expire in its infancy.

The first action was the severing of the ties between the school and the brothers Kozowski. To do this it was necessary to make the effort to acquire appropriate quarters for the school, in order to be rid of “melameds” who were not worthy of their diplomas. The school had made it an aim to raise the education of the boys in accordance with the spirit of the time and the nationalist demands that were awakening then with greater urgency, with the advances of the Zionist movement among the masses of the people in connection with the Balfour Declaration.

[Page 83]

The committee searched tirelessly and succeeded. The Gertler brothers bought an old building from a Pole and rented it to the “Mizrachi”. The building was prepared and adapted to a school building; an additional advantage was that it also had a big yard that the children needed during recess.

For the second academic year the school was moved to new quarters. New “melameds” were taken on as well as teachers for secular studies. The direction was put in the hands of the writer of these paragraphs, and the “Mizrachi” school stood fast against all the competition from the right side, as well as against private competition.

The same year, 1918, a Jewish Gymnasium opened in Kielce as well. During the third academic year, the number of students at the “Mizrachi” school shrank again, as some of them transferred to the Gymnasium.

The Gymnasium, the high school, had a powerful magnetic force still from the days of the “Haskala” movement [which was in favor of secular education]. The “Mizrachi” school was forced also to interrupt its functioning for a time because the military authorities took over the school building for those conscripted to fight against the Bolsheviks, who were approaching the capital city of Warsaw. The principal himself was conscripted. The students scattered and it was difficult to assemble them again when the war was over.

However, a short time later a young man appeared, the son of holy people, with lots of energy, Icak Finkler was his name, about whom we will have more to say in the coming chapters. He infused a new spirit into the “Mizrachi” association and also was very active and did much to revive the “Mizrachi” school. He reorganized the school, introduced new local forces as well as from other places; Women also began to serve as teachers for secular subjects. The school took on the sophisticated appearance of an educational institution, religious and nationalist, and finally joined a chain of schools that were sponsored by the National “Mizrachi” Union called “Yavne”.

During the days of the [First World] war, life went on in Jewish settlements. The east and the west had mutual contact. There was a constant stream from west to east and from east to west. The borders were opened and the Jews of the east came into contact with the Jews of the west and they influenced one another. Those from the west found in the eastern Jews a strong and vital Jewish life, both religious and national life. The small villages in which the Jews constituted a majority of the population were a new discovery in their eyes, remnants of the Middle Ages; they were charmed by their romanticism. Many things that the western emancipation had made them forget were aroused again, all unnoticed and they began to pay attention to these things. The authors described the atmosphere of eastern Jews in their works; the artists began describing in the plastic arts, whether with paintbrush or gouge, to their brothers in the west, types of eastern Jews.

And on the other hand, the external manners of their western brothers had great influence on eastern Jews, their ironed European clothing which removed the barrier and external difference between Jew and Christian, their fluent foreign speech which had no accent that marked it as Jewish; the politeness with which they treated one another, particularly men and women – all these had a great influence on the Jews of the east, in particular on the younger generation, which began imitating the manners of their western brothers. First of all, they exchanged their traditional Jewish costume for European clothing. Yesterday he wore a long “kapota” [coat] and a soft hat with a brim, and the next day you saw him newly incarnated, dressed according to the latest fashion in a short jacket, long ironed trousers, wearing a molded derby like one of the aristocracy. Those who were unable to part from their traditional clothing all at once, separated between the sacred and profane, saved their traditional garb for Sabbaths and holidays and wore the European clothing on weekdays, days when they came into contact with the outer world.

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Secondly, they began learning the national language. These changes and alterations entered the lives of the Jews not from a tendency to assimilate; on the contrary, at the same time nationalist feelings were growing among the Jewish masses as was quite well known, as a result of the events that were occurring during the same period in the wider world and in our Jewish world. The resurrection of small nations to new life, the hopes that filled hearts as a result of the Balfour Declaration, caused a great awakening of national emotion among the younger generation, to infuse the concepts of the rebirth that Zionism had fostered for the past twenty five years. Also in circles that up until now had regarded the Zionist movement with apathy or scorn, the idea of the renewal of Israel in its ancient homeland found a place. Also the very religious, who fought against the Zionists, even they began to express an interest in the land of Israel. Many of them joined the “Mizrachi” which was very active at the time. Young rabbis with energy spread out then in all of the cities and villages to spread the word about the Zionist idea.

Thus the Jews also wanted to straighten their posture, to emphasize their essential qualities, their independence from their neighbors. Therefore they were rapidly influenced by their western brothers, because they saw this as a means of being liberated from the bonds of exile that were so burdensome to them. In various areas the Jews began to show their activity: in the fields of education, politics and the economy.

During this period Jews established elementary and high schools for themselves. A national council was organized which administered the policy of the Jewish population; financial institutions in the form of popular banks, savings and loan banks, commercial and industrial banks.

In this general state of the Jews, the Kielce community could not remain backward and failing. It too opened a Jewish high school in a building that it rented for this purpose from the Sztrozberg brothers. The opening of a Jewish Gymnasium in the city was the kind of surprise for many of our brethren that refreshed their hearts. Every father who sent his son to the Gymnasium saw him in his imagination as a doctor, engineer, lawyer. They began registering their sons to the Gymnasium with enthusiasm. Willingly they paid the sums that were levied upon them. The question of teachers didn't exist. Horizons opened and from Galicia, which was a overflowing with intelligentsia, academics with their doctorates, lawyers, doctors and teachers began flowing into Congress Poland [the former Russian “Kingdom of Poland” (1815-1918), which included Kielce], people who did not find a field of activity in their places of residence while here there was still a wide open field in this area, and the newcomers conquered the vacancies. In Congress Poland the [degree of doctorate and the] title “Doctor” was an honorable title, an important title, a title of studiousness and inspiration. A “Doctor” was respected wherever he turned up. In the synagogue he was seated in a place of honor, at meetings he was elected to be the chairman. But from the time the “Doctors” of Galicia began to arrive in the cities of Congress Poland, their honor was diminished somewhat; the masses ceased to respect them.

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