<< Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page >>

Ostrina portion translation of Shchuchin Yizkor Book

Translated by Rochel Istrin

Kehillot Austrin - Ostrin

Aharon Abelov, Khanon Glembotzki, Chaya Draznin, Shlomo Ztz'pinshka

Yakob Yelin, Hinda Lipshitz, Shmuel Novik, Tzvi Segalovitz, Dina Shklarovski

 Shlomo Boyarsky, Mikal-Meir Ezrski, Abraham Kzimir,

Itzak Reznik, Moshe Sholner

[Page 295 {27}]

The Shtetl [Village] of Ostryn

The village of Ostryn, surrounded by forests, was set in the fields of White Russia at the crossroads of Grodna to Vilna. Ostryn seemingly sprouted directly from the forest. All the roads to and from it led through forests. For a distance of two to three kilometers from the village, on the way to Grodna, stretched the Hashkolanski Forest. Along that forest, gently flowed a stream called Kotra. The road that led to Shtutchin descended into the Baranichi Forest. On the way to Kamiyonka in the direction of Kaskidal, the thick Dzembrova forests continued. Where the Nowy Dwor road descended leading to Vilna was the Heloviski forest. All around were many lakes. One brook named Osterinka crossed the village. The source of this brook was in the estate of the Count Skavinski. It passed through the roads to Vasilishuk and Nowy Dwor and behind the brick factory where it spilled into the Kotra, a tributary of the great Neiman River.

For many years, Ostriners used two wooden bridges to cross the stream Ostrihnka, one on Nowy Dwor Road and the other on Vasilishuk Road. Only after the Polish government took power were two concrete bridges built because the main road to Bialystok-Grodna-Vilna went through the village.

The two largest cities nearest to the village were Grodna, at a distance of fifty kilometers, and Vilna, at a distance of 66 kilometers. There was no train station in the village, the nearest Being [?] at Rozhanka, a distance of 28 kilometers. Until the First World War, many Jews in the village had never seen a train in their lives.

At the time when the Russian Czar ruled, the village belonged to the Vilna District. During Polish rule, it belonged to Novogrudok District. The regional capital until 1930 was Lida. After that, it was Shtutchin.

In former times, the village was the feudal property of the Prince Drotzki-Lubetzky. The Jewish settlement grew in the village. It increased with the influx of Jews from surrounding villages by the decree of the Russian Czar at the end of the last century [1800's]. At that time, strongly built rural Jews came to the village: tenant farmers, millers, innkeepers and forest laborers. The Jewish population rose to 375 families, about 2,000 people. The Christian population numbered about six hundred people. The populations in the neighboring villages were mainly White Russians, with a Polish minority. All of them were estate owners. This was also true in the village. After the Polish government was established (after World War I) Polish teachers, clerks and settlers began to appear in the area. This was official government policy in order to increase the number of Poles in the areas where those of Polish nationality were in the minority.

The Jews lived near the center of the village. The Christians lived in the alleys and on the edges of the village. The Gayayoneya Provoslavic Church stood in the middle of the marketplace and seemed to look scornfully down at the low wooden houses of the village Jews. In the year 1930, the Poles put up a wooden Catholic church on a hill near the village. The center of the village was the Market Place. From here, the roads and lanes led out in all directions. The shops were there, tens of them belonging to Jews. The storekeepers and the merchants, whose homes were adjacent to the stores, were considered the most respectable citizens (ba'aley batim) of the village. The simple folk among the villagers, craftsmen and laborers, were crowded together in the lanes. A social division existed between the merchants and the blue-collar workers. The daughter of a merchant or storekeeper was considered wellborn. A match between her and a member of the lower class was definitely considered unfitting. Only at the beginning of the twentieth century, and specifically after the First World War, did this change. At that time, workers began to feel their potentially great strength; and they began to intervene in the public issues of the village. The divisions fell apart. There was no longer a social difference between one man and another.

The sons of the simple people enrolled as members of the Zionist Youth Pioneer Federations. Together, they reveled in song and dance. Together, they dreamed of going up to Israel, to a world of greater justice, more beautiful and more interesting than theirs that was waiting for them in the near future.

[Page 296 {28}]

Religious Life in the Village

Religious life in the village centered in two "btay midrash" (Houses of Study, or Synagogues; to be referred to here as "synagogues"): the Large Synagogue and the Small Synagogue. These were built of bricks and stood adjacent to one another, sharing one courtyard. Both had an elaborate "aron hakodesh" (ark, the part of the synagogue where the Torah scrolls are stored) and were filled to overflowing with Holy books. These tomes were not meant only to impress but were in constant use. The Jews of Ostryn devoted themselves to Torah and to avodah (vocation) each according to his ability.

Adjacent to the Large Synagogue were two small "kloizen" (small rooms for prayer). Adjacent to the small synagogue was a single kloiz. The main gabai'im (managers of synagogue affairs) for the large synagogue for many years were Chai'chik DRAZNIN, the head gabai, and Yishayahu KRINTZKY, who assisted him. (Among the builders of the large Synagogue was Eliezer Meir PELOVSKY). The gabai of the small synagogue were Alter (the son of Eliahu Chaim) and Avraham YELLIN. Prior to them, it was Moshe Yakov ZATZAPINSKI. The prayer leaders (baaley tefilla) in the village were Ichy Ber ZALUTZKY, Itchy Chaim, the butcher KAMIONSKY, and Yisroel, the son of Zalman. The need for a second synagogue came about because the population of the village increased substantially and not because of any dispute between the villagers. As the congregation grew in numbers, the original synagogue was just too small to hold everyone. The financial means of the village Jews were insufficient to complete the building so money was collected from neighboring villages, too. Finally, a wealthy widow from Vilna gave a generous donation that made it possible to finish the building.

[Page 297 {29}]

The Large Synagogue was always humming with the movement of many people while the small Synagogue was known for its quiet and order. The Rabbi and the most respected members of the community were seated along the eastern wall of the synagogue while the rest of the congregation sat on the western side. On each Sabbath of the new month, a chazan (cantor) led the prayers. He sang the Sabbath evening prayers in the small Synagogue; and on the Sabbath morning, he led the Musaf prayers in the large synagogue.

The synagogues in the village were not only a place for prayer but were also the main meeting place for the Jews of the village. Here, they exchanged information and caught up on all the village news. They discussed the situation of Jewry in the world at large and in the village itself. Here, they heard about all that was happening in the world. For the children and the youth, the synagogues were a place for games, mischief, and the release of excess energy. The open courtyard between the two synagogues became an improvised sports field. There was a "chevras Shas" (group of men who learned Talmud together) at the Large Synagogue whose members were composed mostly of householders well on in years. Among them were some outstanding scholars, including Akiva BOROCHOVITZ, Yisroel ZALIKOVSKY the grocer, and Reb Ber the flour merchant. During the whole week, they learned individually; and only on the Sabbath, the village Rabbi would expound before them.

In the larger kloiz, there was a "chevras Chayei Adom" (group of men who learned the simpler Talmudic material together). Most of the members were working class men: tailors and cobblers. The Rabbi would go over the lessons with them daily, between the afternoon minchah prayers and the evening ma'ariv prayers. Over time, many men joined this group. The gabai (manager) of this group was a cobbler named SAVITZKY, an outstanding Torah scholar.

In the small klois was a "chevras mikra" (a group of men who learn the Five Books of Moses with the Commentaries) who were composed of blacksmiths and steelworkers. Their Gabai (manager) was a smithy. A "chevras Mishnayos" (a group of men who learn the sections of the Talmud dealing with Torah Law) met in the small Synagogue every morning as well as every afternoon between afternoon and evening prayers. Many of the men who davened (prayed) in the large Synagogue would come join these study sessions in the small Synagogue afterwards. For many years, Rabbi Neta Hirsh BRETLOSKY taught the lessons voluntarily (without salary). The study was systematic. There were scheduled conclusions for each portion of the material. Wen a "siyum" (celebration at the completion of each section) was held, they partook of a feast while competing in pilpul (Talmudic debate) until their hearts rejoiced. The simplest of the simple Jews formed a "cheveras Tehillim" (group of men who read Psalms together). After their prayers they would "gulp down" some verses of Psalms. Every afflicted person knew they could turn to the members of this group to offer balm to their souls.

In addition, a "chevras Tiferes Bachurim" (literally "Company of Splendid Young Men") existed where teenaged boys could learn Torah together. Torah learning was considered for the sake of pleasure, and not for any specific purpose. Jewish workers, after a day of back breaking labor, Jews who were constantly troubled over their parnossah (source of income), would forget all of their troubles under the influence of a beautiful new Torah lesson or a challenging Talmudic debate. Even the simplest Jew had the greatest respect for the Torah scholars who could ply the Oceans of Talmud; and they listened with great concentration to their every word.

The Village Dispute

Even though the Ostryn community put a priority on the salary of their Rabbi and on purchasing necessary religious articles, the Rabbi's salary was woefully inadequate. Most of his income came from fees for ritual slaughter, the sale of yeast (a monopoly customarily given to the rabbi's family to supplement their meager income), and from officiating at weddings.

Occasionally, disputes broke out among the congregation about the role and direction the community was taking. The wealthy "enlightened" householders viewed the community as a secular municipal institution, while the Rabbi and his supporters wished to continue the ancient tradition of the community as a religious network only. Laborers protested that the well-off householders had wrested control of the community institutions and that their opinions totally were ignored. These controversies sometimes reached such dimensions that one group boycotted the butcher shops associated with the other side or proclaimed that their "shchitah" (ritual slaughter) was "treyf" (not kosher). In one instance, the Rabbi, HaRav LEIBOVICH may his memory be blessed, put a ban on the meat from a particular butcher, Leizer Hirsh DRAZNIN, the son-in-law of the butcher Chaichik KAMIONSKY. However, the public did not heed the Rabbi's call to ostracize him and continued to buy meat, slaughtered by his son-in-law, from the butcher shop of CHAICHIK. In the end, the sides came to a compromise. Such disputes usually broken out during Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of Passover) when the Jews of the village were free from their occupations and turned to public issues. Their sustenance for the week of Passover was prepared already and they were not working at their usual occupations because of the holiday, so their time was free for public matters.

[Page 297 {29}]

Maggidim/Itinerant Preachers

The maggid was a multi-faceted lecturer who delivered colorful sermons on a variety of ethical themes, using a combination of stories and parables to give either harsh rebuke or gentle persuasion. From time to time, such preachers came to the village. As soon as one arrived, he would hang a notice on the door to the synagogue informing the public as to when he would speak and his subject. By the time the sermon began, the synagogue would be filled to capacity, standing room only. Each maggid had his own signature melody by which he preached. The lecture would be generously spiced with verses from the Torah, the Talmud, and the great classic Jewish sages, heavily dosed with humorous anecdotes. When the preacher described the waiting terrors of gehinnom (the place of punishment in the afterlife), the audience could feel its feet burning and smell their singed beards. When he spoke of gan eden (the place of reward in the afterlife), his listeners thought they could feel the bliss and taste the ecstasy awaiting each upright and righteous Jew "after a hundred and twenty years". All the men would nod their heads sagely as they followed the message of the maggid while the women in their separate gallery wept with excitement. Laborers who had worked hard all day fell asleep with expressions of nachas (satisfaction) on their slumbering faces, their tired heads leaning on the wooden stenders (high individual tables where prayer books and Gemorahs [books of Talmud] were supported during prayer and learning). Every sermon was based on the designated Torah portion of that week and incorporated practical moral lessons applicable to the people's daily lives. Among the maggidim were some real "fire and brimstone" preachers whose sermons were a lively topic of conversation even after the preachers had long left the village to move on to their next appointment. Collectors visited each home in the village the next day in order to collect donations for the maggid who had spoken the previous night.

[Page 298 {30}]


The venerable Gaon (Torah genius) Rabbi Yakov Tzvi SHAPIRA died in the year 5667 of the Hebrew calendar (1907). He was world famous for his commentary on the Mishnah "Tiferes Yakov". His Rabbinical position was inherited by Rabbi Yakov TEBSHONSKY, who was a talmid (student) at the famous Volozhin Yeshiva (founded by the leading disciple of the Vilna Gaon) and the Slobodka Yeshiva. A fellow student at Volozhin eventually became the Zionist national poet, Chaim Nachman BIALIK. Rabbi TEBSHONSKY was an honorable man of stature, projecting a dignified appearance, and zealous for the honor of the Torah. He addressed the congregation four times during the year: on Shabbos HaGadol (the Sabbath preceding Passover); on Shabbos Tshuva (the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur); on Yom Kippur) the Day of Atonement (before the concluding prayer service (Neilah); and on Shabbos Zachor (the Sabbath preceding the holiday of Purim). His eloquence was so incomparable that all of the members of all of the synagogues in Ostryn crowded into his synagogue to hear his sermons. He would speak from three to four hours straight in a pure voice with crystal clear articulation. All listeners sat rapt to catch every word like a gem, marveling both at his amazing grasp of the Talmudic and classical ethical sources of the Torah, and at the depth of his genius and his ability to make the most complicated concepts seem simple and obvious. The Jewish community of "Lithuanian Jerusalem" [Vilna] offered him the prestigious post of maggid (preacher) (Vilna) but he refused this illustrious post, preferring to stay in the little village of Ostryn. His permanent place was in the Large Synagogue (Bes HaMidrash HaGadol) and only rarely did he leave to join the Small Synagogue (Bes HaMidrash HaKoton).

Immediately after the prayers, he would turn to his house and immerse himself in the Holy Books. He was a great masmid (extraordinarily diligent student of Torah) and did not take part in ordinary community life. Rabbi Tebshonsky drew many yeshiva bachurim (young men who learned Torah exclusively) to him, even those who learned in distant places. When they came to Ostryn for the festivals, he would invite them into his home and discuss Torah with them. He related to them as dear companions and encouraged their parents, most of whom were very poor, to make every possible effort to allow their sons to continue learning Torah for as long as possible before taking them home to help earn a living for the family.

At the end of World War I, the division of the area was unsettled. While Polish legions controlled Ostryn, Germany ruled nearby Grodna. The village was closed and locked, stranding several visiting Yeshiva students who were unable to return to their yeshivot over the border. The Rabbi gathered them into the small synagogue and created a private yeshiva for them that he addressed twice a week. Rabbi Tebshonsky published a commentary on the Book of Esther entitled "Pdus Yakov". Every single Jew in Ostryn acquired this book. An addition to this, he wrote thirty-two books on interpretations of holy subjects. Tragically, Rabbi Tebshonsky died young in 1922 from typhus. Every Jew in the village mourned the untimely passing of their beloved and admired Rabbi and leader at the age of 47.

After the death of Rabbi Tebshonsky his post was given to Rabbi Chaim HaCohen LEIBOVITZ, a relative of the legendary Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisroel Meir HaCohen of Radin). His daughter Gittel taught in the village Tarbut (non-religious Zionist) school. When she reached marriageable age, he wanted to take a rabbinical student for her but his "enlightened" daughter refused. In the end, however, she succumbed to her father's will and married the young man he chose for her. Her husband sat for many years learning Torah in his father-in-law's house. After the death of Rabbi LEIBOVITZ, a dispute arose among the villagers between those who wished to pass the rabbinate on to his son-in-law and those who disagreed. The followers of the Rabbi carried his coffin into the synagogue, placed it beside the ark containing the holy Torah scrolls, and threatened the community that they would refuse to bury the Rabbi until it was agreed to make the son-in-law Rabbi in his place. The congregation gave in to this demand; and the son-in-law, Rabbi S. GERSHONOVITZ was made Rabbi of Ostryn. He was the last to hold a rabbinical position and was martyred during the Nazi occupation.

[Page 301 {33}]

Reb Shmuel the Cantor

Among those serving the religious needs of the community, the Cantor Reb Shmuel was famous. Tens of years he was the cantor, the slaughterer, and the mohel (ceremonial circumcizer) in the village. He was from the celebrated family of the Rabbi from Brisk, having been orphaned in early childhood and adopted in turn by the genius Reb Yoshe Ber, the son of the Rabbi of the city of Brisk, who taught him Torah. He learned Torah with the chief Rabbi, Rabbi Chaim SOLEVICHIK, known widely for his genius. The world of melody drew him inexorably until he left his learning and applied himself to chazzanus (liturgical music). He was the lead voice during the Days of Awe (the High Holy Days) accompanied by a choir, which was an innovation at the time in small villages. Many guests were invited to his table. At that time, there were no Jewish maids. Country girls from the surrounding areas would come to the village to serve in the Jewish homes in order to earn themselves a dowry. When a girl came to work in his house, he would set aside an amount of money in addition to her regular salary that could be used to buy a horse or a cow when she came of marriageable age. Many farmers from the surrounding areas knew him and were his friends. They married his former housemaids. During the years, when they came to the village market, they would bring him appreciation gifts from their agricultural produce. Their devotion to Reb Shmuel was boundless. During the German occupation of the First World War, the authorities forbade the raising of tobacco. Reb Shmuel was addicted to smoking and suffered from the unavailability of tobacco. Then, "his" farmers (the ones who had married his former servants) raised tobacco in secret and supplied him generously with enough sacks of tobacco to last him throughout the war years and into the twenties when Poland again ruled the village.

He was a Jew who loved pleasure but only the pleasure permitted by the Torah. Always brimming with the joy of life and joking tastefully, his quips spread and were repeated throughout the village. They even became famous in neighboring villages, near and far. In his old age, he lost his voice but still continued to pass before the cabinet containing the Torah scrolls during the prayers. The congregation enjoyed his intonation of the prayers because it so clearly expressed the meaning of the words. He died in a very old age during the winter of 5686 (1926).

[Page 302 {34}]

Burial Society

The Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) had a complete monopoly on religious burial services and sometimes took advantage of it. It was rumored that, in rare instances, they had actually delayed burying a wealthy person in order to demand payment according to their estimation of the family's wealth. (This money was then used for charitable purposes.) Once a year, on the Thursday of the week when the "V'Yechi" portion was read from the Torah, a grand dinner was held to which all the Jews of the village were invited. For many years, the treasurers of the Burial Society were Chaichik DRAZNIN and Yeshayahu KRINSKY. A death, when it happened, caused a pall to wrap the entire village Jews. Ostryn Jews observed the mitzvah (commandment) of "Halvayas haMes" (accompanying the dead). Many, many of them would accompany the coffin with the body all the way to the cemetery.

[Page 302 {34}]

The Chederim for Older Children where Bible and Talmud were Taught

The teachers in these Chederim were mostly princes of learning whose subjects never strayed from the text and whose intellectual demands from the students were strict. …

[Page 303 {35}]

Yoshe Ber, the Melamed from Vasilishok Street

Yoshe Ber was an expert in Tanach (Bible). He would sit at the head of a long table and explain each verse. Then, in a chorus, the pupils repeated the verse in Hebrew and the explanation in Yiddish. This is how they learned every day, according to the traditional Jewish system of memorization. Yoshe Ber was a weakly person in physique and found it hard to get up from his regular place to move about the room. However, it seemed like he had muscles of steel to the students sitting in arm's reach whenever they received a deserved "gift" from the teacher's hand. Obviously, all the pupils tried to catch the places furthest away from the Rebbe's chair!

On Fridays, before the children were sent home, they read the weekly Torah portion with the traditional vocalization and melody as it is read in the synagogue. And, "oy" to the student whose strident voice rang out in discord from the rest! He sometimes took on the additional role of physician for his charges.  During the winter season, when a mother would complain that her son had a sore throat, the Rebbe would use a spoon as a tongue depressor and spread honey (or, if severe, his own secret concoction) to the throat with a long feather and the boy would quickly recover. For stomachaches his remedy was a purge. He had charms to ward off the evil eye, and folk remedies for circulatory problems too. His pupils watched him in open-mouthed awe as he performed his medical "miracles". They knew by heart the verses he whispered against the evil eye. The children especially enjoyed the Rebbe's "medical" ministrations on their classmates because meanwhile they had unscheduled breaks from their studies.

[Page 304 {36}]

Moshe Avraham's Cheder

Reb Moshe Avraham was on the short-tempered and authoritarian side. He was strict about his students knowing their lessons well. It was bad news for a boy who failed his exams. He explained the lessons very well. His rich imagination painted living portraits of the Tanach for the children in words that pleased the ears. He was a talented speaker and often was asked to speak before the whole congregation at the synagogue. He was the regular speaker on the night of Yom Kippur. His talks fired the imagination, causing the women among his listeners to weep and moan in the Ladies' Section. Their voices split the air of the synagogue and filled the sanctuary. During the semester breaks, he would travel around the neighboring villages and speak before eager crowds of listeners. His income from these speeches was a welcome supplement to his meager salary, as all the melamdim (cheder teachers) lived in dire poverty. In his old age, he served as sexton in the large synagogue of the village.

Ishiya, the Melamed from Novidvor Street

Ishiya the Melamed was a moderate and quiet man. He always was ready to teach Torah to someone who was interested, even without pay. Never in his life did he raise his hand to strike a pupil. When the boys misbehaved and acted wildly, it was enough for him to scold: "Shaygetz!”(Gentile!) “Mechutzaf!” (Insolent!) Az Ponim!” (Impudent!)  Since he did not hit his students, an exception among the Rebbes, he was not accepted by many of the parents. Both the parents and other Rebbes not only did not think that the strap caused harm, but exactly the opposite! This was the proven and traditional way to inculcate the pupils with the fear of heaven...

Reb Avraham YELLIN

An innovation in the educational system of those days was the "Modern Cheder" of Reb Avraham YELLIN. He was a recognized Torah scholar. A tall man with clever eyes and a quick brain, modern for his generation in regards to education and to life in general, he was an educated man and an expert in Hebrew grammar. From him, the residents of Ostryn learned the Hebrew language and its grammar. It was accepted in the village that "Who never learned Torah from the mouth of Reb Avraham Yellin does not know proper Hebrew". He was the first to rent a room solely for his "Modern Cheder" instead of teaching out of his private apartment, as did the other Melamdim. The tuition at his school was relatively expensive. The other Melamdim took 8-12 rubles for a semester while he demanded 20-32 rubles for a semester. Being accepted to his cheder was regarded as a great accomplishment.

                In his cheder, the Tanach was interpreted according to the reformist Moses Mendelsohn with the explanations in German instead of Yiddish. The basic subjects were Hebrew, Bible, Grammar and Language. Later, he broadened the subjects taught. Vizhianuc (the Principal of the local Russian school) came to teach the Russian language, mathematics, geography and Russian history in the cheder. Eventually, he added lessons in Talmud to the curriculum taught by yeshiva students.

There was a small library near the cheder of Reb Avraham Yellin independently run by the pupils. At the end of the semester, he would hold examinations and give prizes to the outstanding students. He would often court the most talented students among the village children, accept them in his cheder, and continue to support them. Several generations of pupils passed through the cheder of Reb Avraham Yellin.

[Page 305 {37}]

The First Buds of Modern Teaching Methods in the Village

External students with high school diplomas from Vilna, Grodno, and Bialystok frequently came to Ostryn when they needed money to continue their studies. The village youth craved knowledge of the modern world outside their limited experience. They (especially the girls who had no cheder) offered these college students plenty of work as private tutors in Russian as well as other general subjects. These students would stay for awhile in the village until they earned enough money. Then, they departed to whence they came. Other external students came to take their places until they too departed. The demand for studies was very high. Sometimes, the tutor would fall in love with his pupil and marry her, remaining in the village.

There was one such teacher called VADOMBLANSKI who came from Eishishok.  He graduated from a Pedagogy College in Grodno. He came to the village on the eve of the First World War. Like those who preceded him, he planned to stay a short while to earn some money. He married a young woman from the village, from the ZALIKOVSKY family, and became a permanent resident of the village. He was a very successful teacher. In 1913, he founded a private mixed-gender school and brought his father, a melamed from Eishishok, to the village to teach the holy subjects. He taught secular subjects in the school: history, geography, and mathematics. Most of his students were from financially well off families. This school only operated for one year because he was drafted into the army at the outbreak of the First World War. After the war, he did not return to the village but went to Kovna to become a teacher in the Tarbut school ("Culture"--nationalist, secular Jewish school) there.

Mr. OTINSKI was another teacher who came to the village. He used to appear before the court of law that convened in Ostryn. He began by tutoring Russian and other general subjects to village girls, mostly the daughters of laborers. He continued until the outbreak of W.W.I.

[Page 307 {39}]

New "Cheders"

During the First World War, several yeshiva students were stuck in Ostryn, unable to travel because the roads.  Disruption by the armed forces made it impossible to reach their distant yeshivas. They sat and sat without employment in the village until finally they sought to make a living as teachers. They opened new cheders that taught Talmud on a very high level and taught in private cheders as well as in Houses of Study.

During the German occupation, school attendance at a newly opened government school was compulsory. The language of instruction was German. Of course, they also invested time in the holy subjects. The head of this school was a man named KASCHINEVSKI with his wife. The teachers VIGDOROVICH, SERVER, and others, all native to Ostryn, regularly returned to the village for their vacations during the school summer break. They organized choirs, theater performances, and lectures on literature and science. These activities introduced a spirit of life into the village. (After the First World War a great change occurred in the villager's values. The traditional foundations of Jewish life were undermined; and new parties arose. The Bund began to operate and drew many of the children of the masses, as did the Zionist parties, etc.)

 The First Modern School in the Village

 In 1921, the first primary school, taught in Yiddish was established. The Principal was VOLCHAKOVSKY, a native of Zaludok. He was a talented teacher, a good organizer, and an enthusiastic Yiddishist. He came to Ostryn and began with private lessons. Within a short time, he had gathered around himself a group of admirers and supporters from the working class of the village. Under his influence, they founded a school to be taught in Yiddish. They rented a building and began to register pupils. At first, they took students for the high primary grades and later opened lower grades, too. The study program was that of Tz.Y.Sh.A. In addition to Voltchakovsky, the other teachers in the school were Chaim VOLITSKY and Dovid SHKLAROVSKY. The school opened a club for students and had wide cultural activities. The hymns of the Bund were heard in the village, something arousing great indignation, especially among the local Zionist youth.

[Page 309 {41}]

The Tarbut Schools 

When Polish rule was established, a law of compulsory education came into effect. School age children were registered. The language of instruction was Polish. A great outcry arose in the village: "Our children are being led to apostasy!" The Zionist circles rose to action. One Motzei Shabbos (Saturday night), when most of the village's Jews were in the synagogue, they convened a general meeting. Aaron ABLOV and Yosef VIGDOROVICH explained to the assembled public that there is no choice but to establish a modern school that would be recognized by the government authorities but in a Jewish spirit. Most of the audience was convinced. On the spot, they chose a committee to organize and activate the decisions made that night to establish a Jewish school that would be recognized by the Polish authorities. The Melamdim and those active in traditional Jewish education vehemently rejected this plan because it ignored the vital importance of religious instruction. However, many activists from both the older and younger generations joined the committee notwithstanding. They included Yitzchak GREZLASKI, BerlPARETZKI, and others who did succeed in setting up the school. The school's classrooms were in the women's sections of the synagogues. A teacher's union was set up and a principal chosen. The Polish teacher, a woman named Kovalski from Lodz, had a Polish Teacher's Certificate so the license for the school was obtained in her name. She was Jew completely assimilated into Polish society.

Aaron ABLOV taught general history and Hebrew, the language of instruction. Dovid SHKLAROVSKY was the math and geography teacher. The daughter of the Ostryn Rabbi, the teacher Gittel, was the teacher for all the younger classes. Moshe BERZOVSKY was the music teacher. The town melamdim also were appended to the teaching staff. They taught Tanach (Bible) with the commentary of Rashi. Because of a shortage of qualified teachers, the Headquarters of the Tarbut schools in Vilna could not supply certified teachers at first. They made do with teachers from the local work force. In the school's second year, two registered teachers were sent: CHAZAN TZIGELINITZKY.

[Page 310 {42}]

They changed Principals, too. A teacher from Lida named NOVOPRUTZKI came to replace the original one. His subjects were Polish and mathematics (An interesting note: The children were taught mathematics in their mother tongue Yiddish while all the rest of the subjects were taught in Hebrew.) From year to year, more certified teachers were added to the staff; and the student body grew. The school was on the rise.

A New Building for the Tarbut School 

The classrooms in the women's sections of the synagogues could not hold the student body. A vacant lot was allotted to erect a building for the school. The public was very excited about the idea but the financial resources were limited. Some tens of parents and activists in the field of education volunteered for the new school. They donated days of work, dragged bricks and building materials, and served as assistants to the professional construction workers. Construction continued for years and was finally finished in 1935. The Tarbut School moved to its new wider and more comfortable and appropriate quarters.

Gradually, the local teachers left the school staff. Outside teachers with government certification took their places. Serving alternately in the position of Principal were CHAZAH, KLECKO, BRONSTEIN, KRAMER and others. The school reached a high academic level and was acclaimed throughout the vicinity. Many neighboring communities sent their children to learn at the Tarbut School in Ostryn. Under the school's direction, a choir and orchestra, led by the very talented teacher Lazer KAPLINSKY, were formed. From period to period, the school's students presented performances before audiences. These performances pleased the public very much and helped to unite them in support of the school. Every Lag B'Omer (33rd day of the counting of the Omer between Passover and Shavuos--a Jewish children's holiday) the traditional trip to the Halovisky Forest took place. The band led the way. The children spent the day playing games and singing and dancing in the heart of nature.

Most of the populace supported the Tarbut School, even the religious because time was invested in religious studies too. Usually the students paid tuition. Only the poorest students were released from the obligation to pay. There was a parent committee responsible for the financial and organizational matters of the school. Among the parents on this committee, a few names stood out. Berl PARETSKY was the connection with the headquarters of the Tarbut schools. Yitzkak GRAZELSKY supervised religious affairs and organized a special minyan for the students, honoring them on the Sabbath and Holidays by calling them up to the Torah and Ezra MEIEROV, Motke MEIEROV and Yosef VIGDOROVICH. Over time, the Tarbut School became the cultural center of the village. The sounds of Hebrew being spoken could be heard in the streets and houses. The Nazi murderers silenced the voice of Hebrew in the village.

The Necrology begins on Page 368 {100}.

<< 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.

  Shchuchin, Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Martin Kessel and Mike Kalt

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 9 Aug 2003 by LA