« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 559]

Idols Of My Youth

by Daniel Persky

Translated by Judy Montel

{Reproduction of a sketch of A. Avronin by Mevorach}
From articles which were published in “HaDo'ar”:
On A. Avronin – Vol. 35, No. 36, 5716 [1956]
On S. Perlman – Vol. 38, No. 10, 5718 [1958]
On M. Rodenski – Vol. 32, No. 29, 5713 [1953]

Avraham Avronin

Reb' Avraham Avronin was one of the “idols of my youth” and unaware of the fact impressed upon me a love of Hebrew grammar and with much of his knowledge in our tongue and as well as the joy of life that always burst out from within him. I remember the moment I first met him. I was one of the active members in the youth association “Sfateinu” [Our Language] in Minsk, which was founded by Dr. A.Ch. Rachlin the Hebrew author from the days of “HaDor” [The Generation], (who studied with Sha'ul Tchernichovski at Heidelberg University. He was the son of one of the wealthy families in our city). My job was to go around the homes of the members and verbally invite them to the secret underground meetings (assembly was forbidden during the days of the Czars in Russia).

Once the “Sfateinu” association had a secret party in a private home on the third floor (in the home of the butcher, Leder, whose son Herzl was killed in the government massacre in Tevet, 5666 [December 1905]) with a bit of a drink for Simchat Torah. And a Hebrew teacher stood up, a tall man of middle age, with a small black beard and lively eyes and quick gestures – and his name was new to me: Avraham Avronin. And he was the one who amused us the entire evening until midnight with all sorts of jokes and witticisms, songs and dances. He read a parody on the headline articles in a modern daily newspaper, “HaTzofeh” in Warsaw – with lots of foreign words, as its editor did. Afterwards he read barbed and satirical news on current affairs. He sang the well known Chassidic tune in its Hebrew translation with a pleasant voice: “the Rebbe was in Vashilkov, in Vashilkov – and now he is in Tolno.” He also sang other popular Yiddish tunes in Hebrew translation – and the audience sipped brandy and capered about. Thus we had a pleasant time until dawn. The audience dispersed, as was customary in those days, one at a time with a minute between each person (and it was also arranged that people left alternately through two different gates).

I hinted once already, that the activist and Zionist speaker in Minsk Yehoshua Dov Beininson (one of the first “Chovevei Zion” in our city and one of the founders of the association “Kibbutz Nidachei Yisra'el” in 1882. He was related to the Bilu'im family and afterwards was the secretary of the winery at Rishon LeZion. He died at a good old age of eighty five in Tel-Aviv, 5691 [1931]) influenced us greatly in the spirit of political Zionism – and his home served as a meeting place for the best of the Zionists and Hebraicists in the city.

[Page 560]

I used to go there (together with my late relative, the Jewish National Fund activist Mordechai Rodenski) nearly every evening, since we found a warm and congenial environment there and an atmosphere of Eretz Israel. His charming daughters, Baila and Ruchama, also spoke Hebrew. I also met Avraham Avronin there, the grammar teacher and happy man who was always brilliant in his linguistic witticisms and grammatical inventions. As the youngest, I would listen closely to his hilarious conversations on the science of the language – and I learned a lot from him.

Avronin was known in our city as an excellent teacher, one of the first and most successful who taught using the method of Hebrew in Hebrew. He was studious and studied and read without pause even after he left the benches of the study halls and yeshivas, in which he pursued the Torah all the days of his childhood and youth. He was like a plastered well that doesn't lose a drop. Even then he was amazing in his tremendous knowledge and phenomenal memory.

He moved to Israel in 5670 [1910] and immediately devoted himself to teaching at which he earned a good reputation and left many students – until he retired upon reaching old age. When he was in Russia, up to his forty-second year he did not write in periodicals, but immediately upon his move to Israel the wellsprings of his creativity opened up. Most of his energies were spent on studies of practical language and clear and enlightening grammatical explanations.

During World War I he edited and published (together with his friends, S.H. Bercuse and I.S.I. Adler) a small library for children that contained childish material that was light and entertaining for the little students. A. Avronin translated and arranged and wrote several stories and pleasant and lovely songs. Together with the veteran teacher A. Poper he printed “Written exercises for learning grammar in schools and evening classes” called “Pathways of Grammar” [Netivot Hadikduk] in notebook form (“Kohelet” Publications). He joined the elder Hebrew author of the time, Alexander Ziskind Rabinovitch and together with him wrote a new commentary, scholarly and erudite, on the book of Job, which is one of our most excellent commentaries. A. Avronin also worked also punctuating as well as selecting correct and accurate versions of several groups of liturgical poems (“Divans”) from the Middle Ages. Many articles and sketches called “From the editing Phoenix” were published in the weekly “Ktuvim” [Writings], in the daily “Davar” [Word], in the quarterly “HaChinuch” [Education] and in other periodicals and collections. In these sketches of his Avronin did much to improve our language and to eradicate thistles and common distortions.

Using simple and logical explanation and direct evidence from the sources, he eradicated all the errors in language and style. He gets a lot of credit in the correction of many grammatical distortions.

Dr. Shmuel Perlman

Shmuel Perlman was one of my childhood champions and soul mates in my native city of Minsk. Within the family of Hebrew youth his name shone like a precious stone and was an example to us in his knowledge of our language, his devotion to our new literature, as well as in his determined stand for the rebirth of the Hebrew language against the Yiddishists and the various other rivals.

I recall, that immediately after his first appearance in the community of the educated, the Zionists, the teachers and the Hebrew authors, he made a surprising impression as a child prodigy, perfect in all the virtues, with a charming personality and pleasantness of habit and manner. He was one of the few authors who received a complete and correct education also in the teachings of Shem and also in the wisdom of Japheth without rips of the heart and without emotional suffering and mainly, without the battle of existence.

[Page 561]

He was an only son to his parents – and his father, a Torah scholar, an educated man (owner of a grocery store, a descendant of the Gaon Rabbi Yechiel Heilprin, author of “Seder HaDorot”) took care to raise him and educate him within the home as completely as possible. He would hire him a teacher for Bible and Hebrew, and a teacher for Russian and general studies, and a rabbi (this was his grandfather on his mother's side, the head of a yeshiva in Minsk) for Talmud. And the friendly lad Shmuel excelled in his studiousness, in his sharpness and in his desire to study and to read books of Hebrew and general interest. And he quickly had an excellent reputation in the city as a student and expert in the best literature.

In Minsk, as it was known, the book store of Reb' Me'ir Heilprin and his son-in-law, Michl Rabinovitch functioned as a sort of meeting place for sages and authors and as a literary and Zionist center. At first I went there in order to exchange Hebrew books for my older brother Mordechai. However, I soon became, in spite of being a youth of only fourteen, a “regular” in this shop. This was for me a kind of school of literary and journalistic education. And suddenly I witnessed a talented young man discovered there whose name was Shmuel Perlman, who came in often to buy new Hebrew books and exchange old ones. He was then (in 5662 [1902]) merely sixteen-years-old, but he dressed and behaved and conversed like an adult, someone who had already acquired Torah and wisdom. He was elegant to look at, of average height, with dark hair and he was full of grace. Even on weekdays he dressed in the style of the sons of “Negidim”: clean and ironed clothes, a starched shirt with a collar and tie. His speech was also calm and generous; not what I was used to from the butcher's shop in which I spent my youth next to the butcher block next to my father, who pierced the hindquarters [to render meat kosher by removing the femoral artery]. In any case, this young man aroused respect.

And indeed it was unusual: sages and authors stood in the shop batting around words of Torah and scholarship – conducted by that clever and experienced Michl Rabinovitch, for whom all of the old and new books were clear and known. And then, occasionally that young man, Shmuel Perlman, whose black mustache has just begun to grow, intervenes and asks pertinent questions and responds respectably. He spices his words with sayings of the sages and quotes from the writings of the great authors. And with what self-confidence he expresses an opinion about some story in “HaShilo'ach” and some song in “HaDor” or in “HaTzofeh” and “HaZman”. And everyone listens attentively to the assumptions and conclusions of this amazing youth, who is destined to be an author in Israel, according to the prophecy of those who know and respect him. He was always happy and cheerful, full of life and brilliant with humor and clever sayings. Here was a new character who was content with himself.

When I was in the central bookshop of Heilprin-Rabinovitch I stood on the side and not one paid any attention to me at all. That Shmuel Perlman was only one year older than I was. Even though it at the time it seemed to me that I was like an innocent child compared to this mature fellow who was so developed in spirit. Echoes in the heavens: how I used to crane my ears to listen and absorb every syllable which came out of the mouths of those arguing and debating matters of Torah and literature. I especially swallowed up all sorts of news, secrets and gossip which Michl Rabinovitch shared when he returned from Vilna or Warsaw, where he went on book business. Hours and hours he spoke seriously and scornfully about what was going on at the editorial boards of the Hebrew newspapers and the Hebrew publishers with all of the great and small things happening there. Thus he also described the successful and miserable family lives of our famous authors. And he also brought us the prevailing opinions about this writer or another. Just this moment I remembered a nice witticism that Michl Rabinovitch told that he heard from David Frishman: “The difference between Yehuda Steinberg and YCNH”Z (Yeshayahu Cohen Nisan Har-Zahav – Goldberg) in Minsk is this: Steinberg knows how to begin a story, but he doesn't know how to finish it; while YCNH”Z doesn't know how to start a story, but he knows how to finish it.” Stories, news, comments and personal matters like these did very much to bring my heart closer to our Hebrew literature and to make it, in some way, an organic part of my entire spiritual being.

[Page 562]

And then a “bomb” was discovered which demonstrated the fulfilling of the prophecy, which was prophesied for this excellent and promising young man, Shmuel Perlman. One day in 5663 [1903] I entered the Heilprin-Rabinovitch shop and it was roiling. In an issue of the most ancient of the Hebrew dailies of the time, “HaMelitz” in Petersburg, correspondence from Minsk had been printed, written by Shmuel Perlman. And indeed, congratulations: he had already jumped into the depths of Hebrew literature – and his hand was still poised to demonstrate wonders. And what was the content of the correspondence? A terrible attack upon the community leaders in Minsk, who finally took action and ordered a new coffin for the Chevra Kadisha people to carry upon their shoulders up to the cemetery. But these leaders did nothing to repair the “Kadesh” building, the “Talmud Torah” building, the “Linat Tzedek” and so forth. There was dreadful neglect there – truly a “wanton abandonment”. I still recall the first lines of that correspondence, lines that indicated the pen of a “Mazik” [Pest] of ability: “The people of the holy congregation of Minsk are known for their abundance of affection for the charming vessel they have been given, that is: a new coffin of wood…”

Afterwards, in the evening, when I came by our sausage shop at the head of “Nimiga” (where there was a rickety bridge over a creek which filled up in the springtime) – and there our educated neighbor, owner of the preserves shop burst in among us and he showed my father: “Look and see, Reb' Yitzchak, in “HaMelitz”, how he stripes the community leaders with whips. And really, whom does the writer have to fear? For he isn't a yeshiva student – and his parents are well-to-do…”

Without exams or special ceremony – as a given, as if by a magician's hand, the authors, sages and teachers who came to the Heilprin-Rabinovitch shop – they crowned Shmuel Perlman with the honorary title of “Author”. And the attitude towards him, which had been respectful earlier, rose and gained in altitude. And by then he already brought along a friend who was like him – this was David Zhuchovitzki (the veteran author, David Zakai, writer in “Davar”), a fellow of external education who tutored. The two of them became close, tight friends, strolling the heights of the city and speaking Hebrew out loud – and in many instances I would tag along after them and listen jealously. Here were two young Hebrew authors – and what was I? (Even though in “HaTzofeh” in Warsaw in 5663 [1903] my first correspondences from Minsk had already been printed, but I didn't count them at all.)

And truly the amazing Shmuel Perlman did not rest with the first step he took in “HaMelitz”, but he continued to climb and ascend on the most respected literary ladder of that time: a fresh and detailed criticism by Shmuel Perlman on Bialik's poem “Masa Nemirov” appeared in David Frishman's bi-weekly “HaDor” in the month of Tammuz 5664 [July 1904]. Shmuel Perlman explained, that before us was not an ordinary “poem”, but a new biblical creation called “Masa”, which contained the description of the riots and the poet's cry of pain inextricably linked.

[Page 563]

5766 [1906], the year the Czarist “constitution” was granted, brought in its wake a wave of riots against the Jews of Russia and condemned Minsk to a blood-sacrifice. The lives of our brethren the children of Israel were shaken to the core. The stream of emigration to America grew stronger. Among the youth as well, the pioneer movement to the Land of Israel was awakened –especially under the influence of the well-known summons of Yosef Vitkin. Outer tumult and inner embarrassment seized the house of Israel in Russia on every side. Among those who left the bloody country, were not a few of the young activists and Hebrew authors. It was as though Minsk had been emptied of its cultural forces. The grammarian Avraham Avronin and the leader of “Chovevei Zion” Reb' Yehoshua Beininson moved to Zion. The writer of these lines, instead of moving to the land of Israel, as he had planned, was forced to go down to America (since my older brother gave me his ticket). Our friend, the glory of our community, Shmuel Perlman traveled to the cityof Bern in Switzerland in order to study at the university there. There were rumors about him: after he was already ordained to the rabbinate, it was therefore incumbent upon him to also be crowned with the honorable crown of doctor of philosophy. Could anything be beyond such an able and multi-talented young man?

Mordechai Rodenski

I knew Mordechai Rodenski from the days of his youth in my native city of Minsk. He was a relative (his mother's mother was my father's sister) and I still recall when he arrived in our city from his small town of Berzin, near our city. He arrived in about 5664 [1904], in order to continue his studies at a well-known yeshiva, even though he already know much of the Talmud and also spoke fluent Hebrew. His qualities and attributes were already apparent at that time, and these did not leave him his entire life: he was always happy and cheerful, always laughing and joking, involved with others and enjoyed helping and saving – and mainly, wonderfully good-hearted. I recall that we eagerly awaited his arrival at our home every evening, for he brought with him a joy of life, pleasant conversations and loyal friendship.

Apparently, he was born Zionist, for immediately after we became friends we joined the Hebrew youth association in our city “Zion and her Language” (another two of the best of her members are in America: the poet Dr. Aharon Domnitz of Baltimore and the biblical researcher Dr. Yosef Zukerbram of New York) – and there at the first meeting, this Mordechai opened his mouth and gave a speech which amazed the two or three dozen people present at the meeting. We all understood that this lad was gifted with decent speaking abilities. And indeed, he became the amazement and the envy of all when we saw the strength of his spirit and the daring of his posture at the podium at small and large meetings while his tongue spoke fluidly about the Zionist idea, about Dr. Theodore Herzl, about the Congress, the shekel, the Jewish National Fund and the Colonial Bank. He knew how to spice his words with elegant parables, even with verses from scripture and sayings from the Gemara.

The glorious reputation of the child prodigy preacher quickly spread among all of the Zionist circles – until he was invited to speak everywhere and the youth melted with pleasure. Although even then my powers of observation had been sharpened a bit and I noticed the fact that in every speech he repeated in great detail Ezekiel's prophecy of the dry bones. Between ourselves, we had almost decided that there was no Zionist speech without the dry bones.

For a livelihood, my eldest brother Mordechai attempted to obtain the position of “magid” [sermonizer] in a synagogue for Mordechai Rodenski, even though this was difficult since he was so young (about fourteen-years-old). Finally, the lad gave a trial sermon in a small study hall at the edge of the city – and my brothers organized what is called a “claque” today. He prepared and practiced about five or six boys and young men, myself among them, for the purpose of mutual influence, who found themselves positions in various corners in that study hall. And during the sermon, all the members of this “claque” pursed their lips to show their amazement, and at the end of the sermon they attached themselves to Jews around them and spoke of the greatness of the young speaker – until the entire gathering, out of mass psychosis, was full of his praise. And he did indeed receive this position and succeeded at it.

[Page 564]

Mordechai Rodenski then became one of my four closest friends (the other three were: the teacher and author Moshe Lieberman of Boston, my future brother-in-law Eliezer Shimonovitch of Moscow, and Avraham Yablonka, a veteran laborer in Israel, he worked at the potash works at the Dead Sea and died there of typhoid). I was naturally a Hebrew and Zionist activist and did all sorts of jobs, large and small for our movement of rebirth. I also became a bit of a “politician” in the unions and insisted on my intention to execute my proposals and plans. These four stood at my side afterward in the new Hebrew union “Sefateinu” [Our Language], which was founded in Minsk by the young author A.H. Rachlin. Our group was close knit and had a lot of influence in this important union, which was built upon the ruins of “Zion and Her Language” [Zion Usefata].

With Mordechai and the rest of our group we would go out to stroll every evening until midnight on the two busy streets “Gubernatori” and “Zacharovi”, and on Shabbat afternoons in the two city parks – and we spoke Hebrew out loud and in public. These two main streets also served as a “bourse” for the proletarian parties, such as: Bund, Socialist Democrats, Socialist Revolutionaries and others. In any case we would, willingly or not, become involved in sharp arguments in Russian and in Yiddish with the left wing “comrades” of all the political streams. In my usual way, I would argue fiercely and extremely, dismissing all the rivals. Mordechai was not like that. He would speak calmly and in a relaxed way – and in the middle of his words, he would suddenly begin to overflow with songs of Zion. A national home in our city, which was suffused entirely in the atmosphere of the land of Israel that was being rebuilt was the home of Reb' Yehoshua Dov Beininson, which functioned as a Hebrew and Zionist center and was always full of joy and life, respected local guests, as well as those from out of the city. Several times a week we, Mordechai Rodenski and other Hebrew youth, would visit in his house in the evenings, enjoy a cup of tea, speak Hebrew with his beautiful daughters Baila and Ruchama, read enthusiastic letters from the new settlements [in the land of Israel] and hear pleasant and romantic memories from the charming old man from the days of “Bil”u” and the early days of the new Yishuv [settlement]. In his pleasant voice he enjoyed singing old and new songs of Zion for us, and Mordechai Rodenski would come in after him with much enthusiasm. While Mordechai played “Askoka” with him afterwards, I would look in the well known useful book “Mishpat HaUrim” by Yehoshua Steinberg, which was always on his table, for he took the elegant epigrams he used n his letters to his daughter and son-in-law in Rishon LeZion (once he wrote, that presently he could not leave the Diaspora “because and wherefore his hands were bound and his feet had been put in irons”).

Not many days passed before Mordechai knew nearly all the people in town, and they knew him – until he became a kind of a “community ladle” and was involved in every local matter and did everything with a pleasant smile, a dance, a song. Then the popular author A. Litvin founded the “Po'alei Zion” political party in the small painters' synagogue (“Maliarsker Shul”). I went there fore about two years on Shabbat afternoons to hear history lectures from Rabbi S.I. Gliksberg and lessons in scripture by Rabbi Meir Heilprin, Y. Berger, I.Z. Nofech and others. The “Po'alei Zion” party grew and broadened, on and on until it began to number several hundred members – and began to compete with the Bund. Important forces of the intelligentsia could be seen there who excelled as speakers, debaters, leaders and guides such as: A. Rubenstik, Lapidot, S. Niger, Chaika Cohen (wife of the storyteller M.I. Saliovski of New York), Gurvitz the brush maker and others. “Po'alei Zion” a la Minsk (“Mintshokes”) were not socialists and didn't recognize class warfare, but were popular Zionists and proletarian (like “Hitachdut” and “Tzi'irei Zion” later on).

[Page 565]

Mordechai Rodenski also joined them and immediately took a leading role. He would run to all the small groups in private homes and to the large meetings out of town or in the forest – and lecture and speak and also sing and read from the stories of Sholom Aleichem, the poems of S. Frug etc. He was the enlivening spirit of the party. In general he was comfortable with all sorts of people from all the different streams and types: on Shabbat he would give a studious Zionist sermon and on Saturday night he would lecture on an academic-political topic in the “Po'alei Zion” underground and on another evening he would come to “Sefateinu” and lecture once more, this time in Hebrew.

In 5666 {1906] I left Minsk and went down to New York. But my dear relative Mordechai, the man of the community remained in Minsk. From newspapers and letters I learned that he became a leader of “Po'alei Zion” not only in Minsk, but also in all of white Russia [Belorussia] and in Lithuania and that he traveled from city to city, gathering audiences in secret and preaching the popular worker's Zionism. He even began publishing articles in their newsletters, “Das Neue Leben”, “Yidishe Virklichkeit” and others.

When World War I broke out he held important positions in public life in general and in that of the Zionist movement in particular. Due to the decrees of the Czarist government to chase the Jews out of the near provinces, thousands of refugees gathered in Minsk naked and with no possessions. A broad aid-committee was arranged in the city headed by the veteran Zionist leaders such as: Avraham Kaplan, the author Michl Rabinovitch and others. Mordechai Rodenski was appointed as the secretary and organizer. He was given a tremendously responsible task of organizing the masses of the miserable refugees and to find them places to sleep, what to eat and to wear. And he indeed worked wonders.

Mordechai Rodenski was also the youngest of the leading speakers in the national assembly of all the Jews of White Russia [Belorussia] which took place in Minsk and was elected to serve on the national committee of that entire region. Here too he demonstrated considerable talent in organizing the communities and founding them upon correct principles.

When Minsk fell under Polish rule, the Zionist movement grew stronger and community life revived, while Mordechai Rodenski was notable as one of the central figures who were active and activated others. In Minsk a daily newspaper in Yiddish called “For'n Folk” began appearing and its official editor was Dr. H.D. Horvitz (who was one of the editors of “Der Friend”, “Folks-Zeitung” and others). However the real editor was Mordechai Rodenski, who wrote many daily headline articles, lighthearted sketches and calls to the public to arouse the people and enliven its spirit towards a more correct and enlightened future.

But together with all these things he didn't neglect his Hebrew work and was active in this area as well in holding meetings, circles, schools, evening classes and other things.

When he arrived in New York in 1918 he began work immediately in the office of the Jewish National Fund. Without pause and without let-up he did his job, holy work, faithfully and with devotion and true joy. Much of his time he was a wandering traveler going from city to city, from town to town, from community to community, to preach about Zion and the redemption of the soil. And everywhere he was received affectionately and with genuine friendship, since he knew how to speak to the masses and appeal to their spirits.

In his first years in New York he stood at the head of the “Tzi'irei Zion” political party and also edited its Yiddish weekly “For'n Folk”. He was a decent journalist and excelled especially at describing the characters of the first Zionist leaders, most of whom he knew face to face.

For over fifty years of his entire short life he devoted to the national, Zionist and Hebrew movement.

[Page 566]

Secular Education in Minsk

by Moshe Kalyoch

Translated by Jerrold Landau

At the end of the 19th century, a revolution took place with respect to the relationship of the Jews of Minsk to the Enlightenment and to education of children. Until that time, the children of Minsk were given a traditional education, but from that time, the parents no longer felt that this was sufficient, and they desired to impart secondary and higher level general education to their children. This aspiration was not only the domain of the wealthy, but also of the children of the middle class.

With this aspiration, the parents ran into the obstacle of the “Numrus Clausus”[1]. As is known, the government schools of Russia accepted only a set percentage of Jews according to a set quota. They would only accept the best students. The closing of the path to education for the Jews of Czarist Russia occurred both in the secondary schools and the universities. The percentage of Jews accepted to universities was even lower than that of the secondary schools. A Christian was eligible to enter university with a secondary school graduation certificate, but a Jew would only be accepted with a certificate of excellence of a gold medal, and even this would be in accordance with a specific percentage.

Therefore the Jews were forced to set up their own network of secondary schools. The curriculum was the same as in the government schools, and they did have government rights. That meant that the graduates of those schools were eligible to be accepted in universities, however the matriculation certificates were given under the government supervision. Representatives of the educational supervisor of Vilna, the “Northwestern Zone” would be present during the examinations, and their decisions would determine the issuing of matriculation certifications. This was unlike the situation in the government schools, where the teachers would give the marks and sign the matriculation certifications. Of course, the examinations with an external examiner would be far more stringent than the examinations in the government schools.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a commercial high school as set up in the city by Count Vita. This school officially accepted a quota of 50% Jewish students. In reality, their number was larger, for the Christians were not interested in studying in a commercial school that opened up the possibility of study in higher technical schools but not in universities.

After the revolution of 1905, several private technical schools were founded in the city. The principals were Russian. For example, there was Palkovitch's school. My father wanted me to learn in that school and asked the principal to exempt me from studies on Sabbaths and festivals. The principal refused, claiming that if he exempts me, all the Jewish students would want to be exempted from studies on Sabbaths, and the classes would be empty.

There was also the Real School of Chaikin, where all the teachers were Jewish. There was a private Humanist School, where Jews were accepted almost without restriction.

The Jews also wanted to impart education to girls. For that purpose, progymnasia were founded. A progymnasium is a gymnasium with four upper level classes. Later, regular gymnasia were founded. There was the gymnasium of Baboshina where almost all the students were Jewish girls. The Ministerial Gymnasium accepted 50% Jews, as did the Marianskaya Gymnasium for girls.

There was also a girls' commercial school, where the student body consisted completely of Jewish girls.

At the beginning of the war, my Aunt Pozirayski was granted permission to found a gymnasium for Jewish girls in recompense for the death of her physician husband in the battles of the First World War. There was also the girls' gymnasium of Skorodnikova, a Christian woman, which started as a progymnasium and turned into a gymnasium.

[Page 567]

{Photo page 567: The Marianskaya Gymnasium for girls.}

Aside from private schools under Jewish ownership, such as Chaikin's school where all the teachers were Jewish, it was difficult for a Jew to obtain a position in a government school. However, they were forced to accept Jews to teach religious studies.

Any Jew who knew Russian and who was recommended by the community was eligible to serve as a teacher of Jewish religion. The lot of the teachers of “religious law” to the Jewish students in the high school was especially difficult. Such a teacher would not dare to give a bad mark to his students, so as not to cause difficulties in a student graduating to a higher grade. The situation of the teacher of Jewish religious was even worse than the art and gym teachers, whose marks were not taken into account all that seriously. Even the teachers of the Christian religion were in a better situation, for the Christian students would treat their priests with respect. However, the Jewish students, who were already attending a non-Jewish public school as a first step to casting off religion, found no interest in this study. Indeed, in my time, the teachers began to teach Jewish history (from an abridged book of Dubnow[2]) rather than religion, but this was insufficient to place these studies at the same level as the study of general history.

For the most part, the teachers came from the Haskalah circles and had tasted Russian culture while still maintaining a connection to Judaism - such as the government rabbi who was the principal of a Russian school for Jewish children at the elementary level, and other such people. Even the blue uniform - the long cape with sparking buttons - was insufficient to instill fear upon the unruly students. In the school in which I studied, the elderly Rabbi Chonalesh would run around the classroom, covering his ears to avoid hearing the racket that was pervading there, pleading with the students to stop, to lower their voices. Even his white hair and his pleas were insufficient to influence the unruly children. He was replaced by Burstein, the character of a principal and teacher in a “Kozion” school, and whose pride exuded from his official cloak with buttons and his manner of speech. He had a house full of girls who knew nothing about Judaism, and were alien to anything Jewish. His manner was

[Page 568]

to run around the benches and to plead with the students to not make noise, as follows, “People, people, what will the Christians say?!”

In the seventh grade, his place was taken by the well-known Hebrew writer and teacher of the city (even in Hebrew literature of the 1890s), Abba Sirotkin. With his wonderful understanding of the youth, and partly through my influence, the students appreciated the value of this man who taught us Hebrew history. There were those, however, who mocked his poor Russian accent. In the final class, when he bid us farewell at the end of the year, I spoke in his honor. In the manner of orators, I expressed to him our feelings of esteem and thanks for “teaching us well the history of our people.”

There were teachers who earned a more polite relationship, whether due to their pedagogic experience or because they taught in the girls' gymnasium, where the students were less rebellious. This was the situation with Gerasim Abramovitch Zarchin, one of the best teachers of the city. My wife, who studied in the Ministerial Girls' Gymnasium, told me that the students related to him with respect - but nevertheless, they mocked his Talmudic style of presentation. Second to him, the religion teacher in the most prestigious Maria Girl's Gymnasium (Marianskaya Gymnasium), was Iosip Yakovlievitch Gurevich, who was known as a purposeful assimilator and faithful sycophant to the authorities. His unfitness for the currents of the Jewish community in the city was expressed by an incident in the winter semester of the 1907-08 school year, when he did not hold back his anger and denigrated some of his students in the Jewish gymnasia with the term “Yehudonit.” A storm of protest broke out against the name. Every day, letters of protest against the undesirable teacher signed by Jewish students in the high schools of the city appeared in the Russian newspaper of the city, “The Northwestern District.” It seems to me that this gave him the impetus to publish his 28 page Russian booklet that year, “The Jews, the Languages and the Culture of the People in which they Lived and Live,” that he published in Odessa. (Apparently, the Jewish publishers in Minsk did not want him.) In it, he expressed his “religious” opinions in the spirit of Jewish assimilation of the west.

[Page 573]

The School of Dentistry in Minsk

by Zalman Ginzburg

Translated by Sara Mages

The article was translated from Russian by Mordechai Berger

In 1911, a School of Dentistry was founded in Minsk. This school was very important to the youth who sought to buy a vocational education and make a decent living especially given the fact of the lack of vocational schools, not only in Minsk and the Minsk Region, where the population consisted of several million inhabitants, but also in the neighboring regions. In the entire region of northwestern Russia there wasn't even a single vocational school of higher education apart from the Agricultural High-School in the city of Gorki in the Mogilev Region.

The owner of the school, the dentist Demichovski who received a license for its opening, was, in fact, also its financer and omnipotent ruler. He invited Dr. Limpanov, who enjoyed great prestige in the city, to manage the school. The school graduates were given the title, Doctor of Dental Medicine, which was both legally and scientifically preferable to the title of a dentist (dental practitioner), a title that was widely shared by those who engaged in dentistry at that time. The study period stretched over five semesters and lasted two and a half years. The curriculum included a line of theoretical courses such as general and applied anatomy, psychology, nearly all healthcare professions on a limited scale, and specialized subjects such as the special field of oral surgery, healing of the tooth and denture technique. The teachers were local doctors, some of them famous like the surgeon Shapira (the middle among the three surgeon brothers), the dentist Nappelbaum and others. Almost all the teachers were Jewish, and so were most of the city's doctors.

The school entrance conditions were simple - without exams, only a certificate on completion of six classes of high school for boys or girls. In light of a lack of vocational schools of higher education in the area, and the difficulties for Jews to enter schools of higher education, this school was an excellent solution for many students who wanted to purchase a good profession. The influx of students was great. As I recall, about two hundred people were accepted every year, most of them women (about 97%) and the same percentage, maybe even more, were Jews. There were only a few Russians in the entire school. Usually, the students studied diligently and the practical side of the profession - healing teeth, pulling teeth and the preparation of dentures - was their favorite. Dental care was given at school for free and therefore the students were able to practice.

At the beginning of 1914 the first class finished its studies and all the graduates fared pretty well in the profession in Minsk, in nearby cities and towns, and some settled in other cities. In 1915, as the war front got closer to the city, the school was moved to Yekaterinoslav and with the establishment of the Soviet regime it was given a government seal of approval.

Many of the graduates continued to study in faculty of medicine and successfully completed their medical education, either in the Medical Institute of the University of Minsk or in other universities.

[Page 574]

In the field of education for Girls

by Ahuva Kosovski

Translated by Sara Mages

The writer is a member of Kibbutz Gan Shmuel

I spent the years of my childhood in the town of Fanipol [or Fanipal] near Minsk. My father, Mordechai Retner, engaged in the lumber trade. I wanted to train myself for teaching and study at the Hebrew Seminar in Minsk, but, in order to enter the seminar I had to complete my education. In the years 1915-16, since I was a working girl in the morning (I worked as an educator at a Jewish orphanage for children ages 3-5), I studied in evening classes for Jewish girls. The studies were held every day, 3-4 hours in the afternoon at the building of the Jewish Gymnasium for girls of Lavidova- Nofekh. Daria Yonovna Nofekh, of the Levidov family from Vilna, wife of Max-Mordechai Nofekh (the eldest son of Yehudah-Zev Nofekh), was one of the first Jewish women in Russia who completed the courses for higher education for women in Petrograd and opened, in the 1890s, the pro-gymnasium for Jewish girls in Minsk. This school, which was located near Namiga Street, was considered a good school and several years later it was recognized by the government as a gymnasium. There were three to four departments there. One of the teachers in Lavidova- Nofekh's gymnasium was Menachem Itzkowitz-HaLevi.

On the occasion of a severe shortage of teachers during the revolution, the authorities turned to the Jewish youth, who intended to study at the seminar, with a suggestion to undergo a crash course in Yiddish in pedagogy and didactics subjects. I passed this course and was drafted to work at a government school. Later, I entered the Hebrew Seminar where the teachers, Moshe Cohen, Michal Rabinovitz, and Chain Tanezer, have taught. Two years later I finished my studies at the seminar. I remember that one day Shaul Tchernichovsky came to visit us, he was drafted to the army as a military doctor and was stationed at that time in Minsk. The teacher, Moshe Cohen, welcomed the guest and I recited the song “Sachki Sachki al Hachalomot” [“Laugh, laugh about the dreams” by Tchernichovsky] and after the recitation Tchernichovsky told me that it was one of the cherished moments of his life.

During my studies at the seminar, and after I graduated it, I worked at a Hebrew School for girls under the management of Mrs. Pines. There were about four morning classes there.

After the Bolshevik Revolution we taught children, and also adults, clandestinely, in the cellar. Once, we, the members [of the movement] who studied Hebrew, were arrested and sat for about ten days in jail. One of my friends, who became a communist, released me first and later also the rest of the members.

I was a member of the “Halutz” committee in Minsk. Chaim Tanezer was among the founders of the “Halutz” in Minsk. He used to give the gentile carter kind of a certificate signed by him and a bribe, and in this manner “Halutzim” [pioneers] were smuggled across the border to Poland. We worked in the “Halutz” under mortal danger. In 1921, I also crossed the border together with my husband, David Kosovski, and a group of ten people. We reach Baranowicze and from there we immigrated to Israel.

My brother, Yitzchak Retner, immigrated to Israel together with Yosef Trumpeldor and was in the Jewish Brigade. My second brother, Chaim, was also in the brigade.

[Page 575]

Of Days Past

byEliezer Kaplan

Translated by Sara Mages

Eliezer Kaplan (1893-1952) - was one of the prominent leaders of the Labor Movement in Israel. See about him in an article in our book (pages 366-7) that was written by his widow, Dvora Kaplan, and in the article of President Zalman Shazar below. The following chapter was taken from the book: “Eliezer Kaplan, Vision and Action,” edited by Yosef Shapira, published by Am Oved, culture and education, 1973
As we know, the formation of “Tzeirei Zion” [“Zion's Youth”] in Russia is tied to the Zionist association “HaTehiya” [“Rebirth”].

In 1907, I joined the movement when I became a member of “HaTehiya” in Minsk. It was the only association that a young Jew, who was debating about national and social issues and striving for a real Zionist act, was able to join. The circles of the local community leaders, and the circles of the intelligentsia in the city, didn't participate in “HaTehiya.” It contained teachers from “Heder Metukan” [“Reformed' Heder”], the Hebrew School that was established at that period in various Jewish communities, various workers such as assistants in shops, accountants and ordinary folks. We were a folk association. The role of “HaTehiya” wasn't significant in the great struggle between the parties in the Jewish street - the Zionists, the Bund, the Jewish Socialist Workers Party and the Zionist Socialist Workers Party (or S.S.) - we mainly took upon ourselves the “unskilled work” of the Zionist Organization. We worked with dedication for “Keren Kayemet,” distributed Shekalim [tokens of membership in the Zionist Organization] and conducted meetings and balls with Zionist content. We were, as we called ourselves, “the arms and legs of the Zionist movement.” “HaTehiya” also tried to maintain contacts with the movement in Eretz-Yisrael. Through the association we received issues of “Hapoel Hatzair” [“The Young Worker”] even those that still appeared in hectograph. The Israeli atmosphere largely prevailed in “HaTehiya.” In its parties we heard, for the first time, the songs of work and life in the country. Some of its members immigrated to Israel - whether to settle or for a temporary visit. Those were the days of our Zionist liberation.

With the revolution in Turkey and its declaration on constitutional regime, the state of depression and despair, which prevailed in Zionism after Uganda, ended in the Zionist movement. The Zionist awakening became stronger and the gravity to the movement and the country increased in the circles of the Jewish youth. A few regional centers have been established. Out of the conferences of “Tzeirei Zion,” which were held at that time, two are noteworthy- the council of “Tzeirei Zion” in Minsk in 1912, which also raised in its daily agenda the question of pioneer training as a prerequisite to immigration, and the council of June 1913 that also convened in Minsk. Dozens of members, from near and far, attended this regional council - from the Baltic, Kiev and the Caucasus. From Kiev came Z. Zilkin, the representative of “Tzeirei Zion” who, at that time, established a group named “Et Livnot” [“Time to Build”]. This group supported Herzl's Zionism and saw its role in educating a new guard for the Zionist activity among the people without establishing a mass movement. In this spirit Zilkin raised a debate in the council regarding the course of action of “Tzeirei Zion” and its platform. We didn't accept Zilkin's opinion because we saw that “Tzeirei Zion” became a labor Zionism movement.

[Page 576]

The representative from the Caucasus is engraved in my memory because of a special fanny episode: a number of council meetings met at our home. As a precaution, several members stood on the guard so the evil eye of the Tsarist police will not see us. And here, the guard was horrified at the sight of a man dressed in strange cloths entering the yard and headed straight to the stairs. Only after a few minutes it became clear that we had no reason to fear because it was the representative from the Caucasus who came dressed in Circassia clothes.

In “Tzeirei Zion” council of 1913, various decisions were accepted on organizational natters of importance to the development of the movement in the future such as: the establishment of a central office, preparations for the Eleventh Congress that will take place in Vienna, and also a decision on a conference of all-Russian council of “Tzeirei Zion” that will also meet in Vienna. I was elected secretary of the center.

In the few months after the council an awakening took place in the movement and its activities increased. The election campaign for the Zionist Congress was organized for the first time by meetings, written material and emissaries to various places. At that time I visited Smarhon, Vilna, Grodna, Riga and other locations on behalf of “Tzeirei Zion.” We published several newsletters using a hectograph before it was decided to make the “Shararit,” which was published under the editorship of Eisenstadt in Odessa, as the official vessel of the movement. Among the questions that we brought before the movement we also raised the matter of the economic operation among the masses. Although we nixed the concept of class struggle as inevitability among the people, and hadn't dedicated a space for it in our program, we emphasized the need to take care of the situation and the needs of the working classes and the poor. We pointed to this concern as one of the main tasks imposed on our young movement.

Our intensive work towards the Eleventh Zionist Congress bore fruit. We placed for election a substantial number of members of “Tzeirei Zion” and “Hapoel Hatzair” and appeared in the congress as a delegation of ten. Through our participation in the congress we started to pave the way for the United Zionist Labor Movement as the highest institution of the entire movement. However, our work wasn't easy. We came to the congress as a group of young people who lacked experience and organizational tradition and we were under pressure from various sides. The members of “Hapoel Hatzair” appeared in Vienna in a large delegation, and indeed, we were very close but there wasn't a lot of identity between us. The members of “Hapoel Hatzair” placed in the center the activity in Israel and the preparations for it, while our heart to given to increasing the status of the Jewish worker in the country and we also saw the need for the expansion of the work, which was called than “the present work,” in the Diaspora.

Our situation wasn't easy even inside the Zionist organization in Russia that we were part of: its spokesmen treated us with a little contempt and a little fear. They feared our distorted ways and more than once warned us about the bitter experience of the democratic youth movements that were based on the idea of work and how the relationship between these youth and the Zionist movement in general was severed. Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Yitzchak Greenbaum imposed fear on us. Despite all the difficulties and moral pressure, we knew how to feed our independent way in the movement. We were also not deterred by the fact that some of the people, who came to the congress as supporters of our faction, didn't remain so at the end.

In Vienna we established a frame for the movement in, and outside Russia. “;Tzeirei Zion” was elected as all-Russia center and given assignments to educate the youth and prepare it for immigration and practical work in various fields. In a special consultation with the people of “Hapoel Hatzair” we established cooperation with the movement in Israel, orientation and relationship. A general committee of the Russian Zionists convened in those days in Vienna and we also took an active part in it.

Translator's Footnotes:
1The quota system. Return
2See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Dubnow Return


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Minsk Memorial Anthology     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Lance Ackerfeld

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 8 Apr 2016 by MGH