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Culture War in Volozhin

By Binyamin Shapir–Shishko (of Karkur)

Translated by Jerrold Landau based on an earlier translation by M. Porat z”l

that was edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel

My father Reb Mordechai son of Nisan Shishko was a lover of Zion, and moreover, he was G-d fearing individual who appreciated scholars. I was his only son, but despite this he fulfilled in me the adages of the sages, “exile yourself to a place of Torah” [Pirkei Avot 4:14]. He sent me to study in far-off Kremenchug (Ukraine). During World War One, there were four yeshivas there: Knesset Yisroel, Knesset Beis Yitzchok (from Slobodka, Lithuania), the Yeshiva of the Lubavitch Hassidim, and the Shaarei Torah for youth at which I studied.

The principal of that Yeshiva was Rabbi Elazar Yitzchok Shushkin, who was known in Kremenchug as “The Great One” [Hagadol]. He was married to the sister of Rabbi Yochanan Rudkes of Volozhin. He would sit all day wearing his tallis and tefillin, not uttering a secular word. The Yeshiva Head was the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo Heyman of Parich, who married Yochanan Rudkes' daughter. The Yeshivah was immersed in the spirit of Volozhin.

At the beginning of 5681 (1921), I became friendly with Moshe Zalman Lunts, who was an outstanding objector of the Diaspora[1].

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I became active in the Zionist movement through his influence. This caused a definitive change in my world outlook. When I came to Vilna during the early 1920s, I did not continue with my Yeshiva studies. Instead, I registered as a student in the Tarbut teachers seminary, under the leadership of the renowned pedagogue Dr. Shmuel Yona Charnow.

This decision caused great distress to my father. He wrote me the following heart-aching letter: “I have become weary of my life [based on Genesis 27:46] when I see that my only son has become involved with a group that violates the holy matters of Israel, for whom the name Tarbut is appropriate – ‘a brood [Tarbut] of sinners’ (Numbers 32:14).” One can see from this the distance between the fathers, who appreciated Torah and sanctified the Name of Heaven, and the younger generation who became weary of Diaspora life and decided to hasten the footsteps of the Messiah, placing their stress on the revival of the Hebrew language, and making aliya to Zion.

With the closure of the Eitz Chaim Yeshiva of Volozhin during the First World War, the voice of the Torah was silenced in the city. A crisis arose in the children's education. Many of them did not study in the cheders. The Zionists took advantage of the open situation and decided to open a Hebrew primary school based on the pure Hebrew language. The Talmud Torah building had been standing empty for a long time, with no classes being held in it. In the year 5685 (1925) the Zionists “invaded” that building and founded the Tarbut school.

Shomrei Hachomot, headed by the Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, began a holy war to and demanded a return of the building, so that they could renew the study of Torah that had ceased, and specifically in the Yiddish language, which was spoken and understood.

During the 5687-5688 (1927-1928) school year, a bitter culture war took place in Volozhin. That year pained the Jews of Volozhin greatly from both a moral and cultural perspective. The two sides fought bitterly over the rights to the building. This battle was accompanied by fist-fighting and ended with literal bloodshed, and a desecration of the Divine Name.

When I completed my studies in the Tarbut seminary at the end of the year 5687 (1927), I nevertheless fulfilled the commandment of honoring one's father. I acceded to him and traveled to teach in the Tachkemoni religious school in Zabludow. I returned to Volozhin after a year of teaching in Tachkemoni. The Jews of the city from both streams regarded me as a man who had the power to unify the two opposing sides, and who could put an end to the conflict and the desecration of the Divine Name.

In truth, it can be said that there were enthusiastic Zionists on both sides. Reb Eliyahu Schwartzberg, the principal of the religious school, and the founders and members of the leadership of the religious school – Reb Yisrael Lunin and Reb Shlomo Chaim Brodna – were Zionists, and nobody disputed their faithfulness to Zion. This battle was about the spirit that should prevail in the school: one side stressed the fear of Heaven (Shomrei Hachomot, who tended toward the Aguda preferred the Yiddish language to the Hebrew language). The other side, the Zionists from the Tarbut camp, did not even forgo

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The religious school in Volozhin on Lag B'Omer on Mount Bialik. The students of the religious school with their teacher Reb Eliyahu Yitzchak Schwartzberg.

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the language of study even to a single iota. The urging of Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro, who pleaded that they should learn “In the beginning, G-d created” [Genesis 1:1] in the spoken mother tongue [i.e. Yiddish] was to no avail.

A joint meeting was called in the home of Rabbi Shapira. Yeshayahu Kahanovitch (chairman of Tarbut in Volozhin), Yaakov (Yani) Garber, and David Yitzchak Kontorovitch were the chief spokesmen for the “secularists.” Dov Lavit and Yitzchak Perski participated from the youths. Reb Yisrael Lunin, Reb Yaakov Shmuel Ruchamkin, Reb Shlomo Chaim Brodna, and Reb Yaakov Weisbord participated from the religious side. I was the arbitrator between them (i.e. participated from both sides).

It was agreed that the religious school, whose language of instruction was Yiddish, would be closed, and the rights of the Tarbut school to the building would be recognized. The condition was that the students were required to recite the Shacharit service prior to the beginning of the classes, and that Reb Eliezer Moshe Meltzer was to be appointed for that role. Peace pervaded in Volozhin. A single Hebrew school now existed, and I merited to serve as the head and principal for three years. Even after I made aliya to the Land of Israel, the school continued to exist with Yaakov Lifschitz serving as the principal. He led the school in the spirit of the founders.

With the entry of the Soviet army to Volozhin in the year 5699 (1939), the school stopped being a Hebrew school, and conducted itself in the Yiddish languages. Finally, it was invalided by the new regime, and turned into a Russian school, until destruction came upon it and its students.


Translator's footnote:
  1. Mr. Porat added the following comment here: Frydele di Rebbetzin's son – see page 243. Return

The Volozhin Kindergarten

By Miriam Levitan (Rosenberg) of Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau based on an earlier translation by M. Porat z”l

that was edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel

In the year 5694 (1934), Aryeh Tofaf and Reuven Rosenberg founded a kindergarten in Volozhin. The impetus for this was from Fania Levitchki (Kivilevitch) who came from the Land of Israel to visit her family. She spoke with admiration about the kindergartens in the Land of Israel, in which the young children spend time in song, play and dance.

Her words made a great impression, and the people immediately set out to found a kindergarten in our city. For this purpose, they rented two rooms in the house of Reuven Rogovin. They invited Rachel Shevach as the first kindergarten teacher in Volozhin. She spoke to the students in Yiddish, but taught them Hebrew songs. Rachel was a young, blond-haired woman with unusual energy. The kindergarten developed and expanded thanks to her organization and pedagogical talents. She succeeded in engaging volunteer assistants, who helped her in her daily work. They also assisted her in preparing performances of the students and the sale of tickets.

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Children of the kindergarten with the kindergarten teacher


One of the important things in the educational activities of the kindergarten teacher Rachel was expressed in taking the children outside “the walls” into the bosom of nature. She hiked with them a great deal in the fields, forests, and the park of Count Tyszkiewicz.

This kindergarten laid the foundations for social equality. Rachel did not show preference for a “well pedigreed” child over a child from an ordinary family. In her eyes, they were all well pedigreed. She did not discriminate between a child from a wealthy home and a child from a poor home. They lived a life of commonality, eating and drinking together. She attempted to expose the spark of talent in the children, and when a child displayed such signs, she nurtured them carefully.

In time, the children began to speak Hebrew. In this manner the kindergarten served as a corridor, preparing the students for the main hall – the Tarbut Hebrew school.


Translator's Note:

The following photo and caption was added by Mr. M. Porat:


Purim in the Kindergarten – 1935

Names I remember (Mr. Porat's note):
1-Rachel Shevakh, 2-Sonitshka Perlman (my sister), 3- Rivele Perski (Getsl's), 4-Feyguele Rapoport (Meyshl's),
5 - Esterke Kaminietski, 6- Iser Rapoport (the Dentist's), 7- Yoel Rosnberg (Ruven's)

Of all the lovely children two only escaped the Shtetl's fate: Sonitshka Perlman-2 and Feyguele Rapoport-4


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The Library

By Fruma Guzman (Yuzefovitz), Jerusalem

Translated by Naomi Gal and lightly edited by Jerrold Landau

Every now and then, Hershel Zeltzer, a well-read man, used to visit our house, and he suggested that I join the group volunteers working in the library. I agreed. He invited me to a meeting in which the following activists participated: 1) Hershel Zeltzer. 2) Sara Yuzefovitz (my sister). 3) Elka Kaganovitz. 4) Krushchovsky. 5) Mariasia Potashnik. 6) Akiva Potashnik. 7) Noach Perski 8) Sonia Kozlovsky. 9) Yisrael Rogovin.

These members gave their time and energy to the library, by founding it and raising money for it through performances. From the report given in that meeting it turned out that these volunteers established


The library committee in 5689 (1929)

First row from top (from right to left): 1) Sonia Kozlovsky 2) Hershel Zeltzer 3) Mariasia Potashnik 4) Zeev Perski
Second row: 1) Akiva Potashnik 2) Fruma Yuzefovitz 3) Elka Kaganovitz 4) Krushchovsky

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the library without communal support, but rather solely from revenue from performances they staged themselves, and with personal contributions.

I saw before me ample opportunity for interesting and effective work. I was given the task of finding a partner and go out with her to raise money, since they could not afford the rent. I went out with Chana Weisbord. Our outing was crowned with success. There was no home in Volozhin that did not respond generously, and with the money collected we paid the rent.

The library was in the house of “Chaya the Krever” on Smorgon Street. Books were loaned out three times a week. Many youths came to borrow books because they liked this place very much. It served as a social meeting place, a place for conversations, and exchange of opinions about literature and art.

Soldiers too came to borrow books, among them Poles who contributed some books. Children of poor and working class people who wanted to get an education also subscribed to the library. This was the only place where they could acquire knowledge.

There was no permanent librarian in the library. Some members, among them a soldier from Lodz, bound the books. The library committee took upon itself assistance roles as well. We assisted Linat Tzedek, that is, we used to spend the nights in the houses of elderly and isolated people. Before I made aliya to the Land, some of them came to thank me for all the beneficial work I did for them. In this manner, we worked for the benefit of others and not in order to be rewarded.

Religious Education During the Thirties

By Menachem Mendel Potashnik (New York)

Translated by Naomi Gal and edited by Jerrold Landau


The Large Beis Midrash

The large Beis Midrash stood in the market, close to the yeshiva. “Leibe der Shamash” served as the shamash and Torah reader. Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, used to preach in the Beis Midrash twice a year – on Shabbat Hagadol and in Shabbat Shuva. His sermons consisted of explanations of halacha and aggada [lore], in which he displayed his great expertise in Talmud.

It is a sacred obligation for us to mention a few scholars who contributed greatly to strengthening the religious life in the city. One of them was Rabbi and Gaon Mordechai Levin. In the yeshiva he was called “Mottel Traver” (after the name of his native city Trav). He spent most of his life in Volozhin. He was a great expert in Talmud and rabbinical decisors. However, his modesty was as vast as his knowledge. He believed in what the sages said: “He who is haughty has a

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defect.” He used to talk to children about Torah. He was well liked by the yeshiva people and the city's Jews.

We should remember positively one of the prominent youths – Rabbi Yaakov Stolarski. They called him in the yeshiva “Yaakov Kletzker.” He became known as a great scholar. His impeccable morals were well known. He was close to Rabbi Chaim Walkin. We should similarly also mention Rabbi Nathan Dickstein, a Volozhin native, he had great ethics and many good traits.

There was a famous shochet in Volozhin named Rabbi Yehuda Avraham Perski, who served in this holy position since the time of the Netziv. He worshipped in the yeshiva and knew the names and accomplishments of all the yeshiva's dignitaries and heads. He told me that he had the privilege of seeing Rabbi Itzele, the son of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin.

He died during the thirties when he was over one hundred years old. As an old man, when his eyes dimmed and his hands weakened his son-in-law, Reb Yisrael Daivid Cheiten served as shochet.


The “Kleizel”

A Beis Midrash known as the “Kleizel” stood on Vilna Street. One of the first gabbaim in the Kleizel was Reb Menachem Yoel Potashnik, who was well respected by the congregants due to his activity in all the communal institutions. He was a linen merchant. Before he left for his business in the nearby village, he used to worship in the first minyan. When he returned from the village, he used to enter the Kleizel to study Daf Yomi [the daily Talmud page, based on a worldwide cycle] with the Chevra Shas. Rabbi Mordechai Levin was the teacher of the class. On Friday nights he used to explain the weekly Torah portion. Rabbi Yaakov Kaganovitz (“Yaakov Divenishker” currently in the United States) used to teach a Talmud page.

After the murder of Reb Menachem Yoel Potashnik the gabbaim in the Kleizel were Rabbi Yisrael Lunin and Rabbi Yosef Tabachovitz. Rabbi Lunin was represented in all the institutions of the city – the community council, the bank, Mizrachi, etc. Rabbi Yosef Tabachovitz served as permanent gabbai of the Council of Yeshivos.

Reb Moshe Lavit served as shamash in the Kleizel. When we were children, our deepest wish was to get a [scroll of the] Prophets to dance with on Simchat Torah in the Beis Midrash. On Shemini Atzeret, when the shamash fell asleep after lunch, we used to linger for hours around his house, waiting for him to wake up so that we could go with him to the Kleizel and get a [scroll of the] Prophets[1].

After his death, Rabbi Avraham David, who was also a melamed, was appointed as shamash of the Kleizel. He was very strict about the commandment of washing the hands. He used to walk in the street and encourage everybody to recite the Asher Yatzar[2] blessing.

Moshe Shlomo the Melamed (Wolkovitz) served as Torah reader in the Kleizel. A group for the recital of Tehillim [Psalms] existed. Before the end of the Sabbath, it [the members of that group] would read Psalm 119 of Psalms, opening with the words “Fortunate are those pure in their ways.” That chapter was read with a very sweet melody.

The night of Hoshana Rabba was a sleepless night in the Kleizel. The entire book of Psalms was read that night. Reb Chaim Zirolnik (Chaim der Shneider) would bring a basket of apples, and distribute fragrant, delicious apples to the right and left.

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The members of Tiferet Bachurim at the farewell party for Rabbi Shimon Langbard before he made aliya to the Land of Israel in 5695 (1935)

On top (at the book shelf) from right to left: 1) Yitzchak Chaiken 2) Nissan Chaiken 3) Baruch Gelman
First row: (from top to bottom) 1) Elimelech Bloch 2) a Yeshiva student 3) the son of “Eli the locksmith” 4) Binyamin Bakshtanski 5) Yisrael Gelman 6) Yudel Shimkin (Yudel the Smith) 7) Hershel Kagan (Hershel the water carrier) 8) Leibe Bunimovitz.
Second row: 1) Zalman Shapira 2) Bayle Shapira 3) The Rebbetzin Sheina Disha Shapira 4) Pesia Shapira 5) Rebbetzin Chana Langbard 6) Rabbi Shimon Langbard 7) A yeshiva student 8) Mendel Potashnik 9) Yitzchak Moshe Shapira (in the top hat) 11) Germans' son-in-law.
Third row: 1) Hershel Shalman 2) Yehoshua Shalman.
Fourth row: 1) Nachum Kagan 2) Yitzchak Perski 3) Eli Shlomoshek's 4) Eli he son of Yekutiel 5) Alter Rogovin 6) Gershon Berman 7) Eli Berman.
(On the photo) In honor of our teacher and rabbi, the Rabbi and Gaon Shimon Langbard – Go in Peace.

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“Tiferet Bachurim” (“The Glory of the Youths” society)

There was in Volozhin an association of Tiferet Bachurim, whose meeting place was in one of the rooms of the large Beis Midrash. It had about thirty members. Its organizers were Rabbi Shimon Langbard (the son-in-law of rabbi Yaakov Shapira), Rabbi Aaron Shmidman (“Aaron Pinsker” the association's chairman), and the writer of these lines.

On Sabbath nights during the winter, public gatherings were held in the large Beis Midrash dedicated to the weekly Torah portion. The speakers were from among the yeshiva students. One of the excellent speakers was Rabbi Yaakov Kaganovitz.

In 5695 (1935), Tiferet Bachurim brought in its own Torah scroll. This association had its own Minyan that worshipped on Sabbaths and festivals. They also conducted Shalosh Seudos [Third Sabbath meal] celebrations, accompanied by song and words of Torah. The association had its own library as well. Rabbi Aharon Shmidman, Reb Eli Yitzchak Schwartzberg, the lawyer Lapidos and Rabbi Yaakov Stolarski (“Yaakov Kletzker”) served as regular rabbis.

Most of the members were laborers and wholesale merchants. The secretary was the writer of these lines. In 5695 (1935), when Rabbi Aaron Shmidman married a woman from the Shishko family in Borisovska (Baksht) and left the city, I was chosen as the chairman of the association. I served in this capacity until the outbreak of World War Two.

Alongside Tiferet Bachurim there was a chapter of Poalei Agudas Yisroel. The headquarters of that organization was in Lodz. Two of their members – Yitzhak Perski and Elimelech the Cantor's [son] – left for Hachshara. Perski made aliya whereas Elimelech perished in Volozhin.

Tiferet Bachurim also voted in the committee of Keren Hayishuv (The Yishuv Fund), the members of which were Rabbi Yosef Tabachovitz, the writer of these lines, Rabbi Avraham Yaffe, Rabbi Chaim Bergman, and Reb Hirsh Schneider. This committee was one of the most active among the towns of the White Russian border.

The members of the association subscribed to the daily newspaper of the Aguda, which was published in Warsaw. The were thirty subscribers.


“Beis Yaakov” Religious School for Girls

Volozhin had a Beis Yaakov religious school for girls headed by a teacher who graduated from the teachers' seminary in Krakow. The school was founded in 5695 (1935) by a group of young people. One of the important rabbis in our area, Rabbi Yitzchak Weinstein, the rabbi of Vishnyva (today in Israel) was invited to the inauguration celebration. He was very helpful in establishing this school. Cheina Garber, the daughter of the Rabbi from Horodok Rabbi Eli Ben–Zion Garber (today she is Cheina Kosovsky and lives in the United States) was also invited. During that period, she was very active in the field of religious education in Volozhin and its surroundings.

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The students of the Etz Chaim Yeshiva on the occasion of Mr. Yaakov Shmidman's aliya in the year 5693 (1933)

Standing (from right to left): 1) Nathan Dickenstein 3) David from Ivye 4) Yosef Schlosberg 6) Zvi Schneider 7) Mordechai Levine (Mottel Traver) 9) Chaim Levin
Sitting: 3) Yaakov Stolarsky 4) Yaakov Shmidman 3) Chaim Hillel Ben-Sasson
Sitting on the ground: 1) Michael Liskowitz 2) Yona Ben-Sasson
(On the photo) “On the day of your aliya to our Holy Land
Blessed you are.
The students of Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Volozhin”

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She gave a fascinating lecture, rich in content in the firefighters' hall. The hall was full to capacity. Her speech was peppered with quotes of the sages, and she charmed the audience with her words. Her speech became a topic of conversation for everyone, for a female torah scholar, aside from Rebbetzin Freidele, was not a common site in Volozhin during those days.

Beis Yaakov was located in the house of Reb Mordechai Shishko ion Kromer Gasse.


The Council of the Yeshivot

There was a Council of Yeshivos in Volozhin (the headquarters was in Vilna, under the direction of Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky). Its goal was to ask the householders in every town to contribute 18 Zloty a year to support yeshiva students who were studying in the yeshivos of Lithuania. The Council of Yeshivos in our city consisted of Rabbi Yosef Tabachovitz, Rabbi Yisrael Lunin, Rabbi Yaakov Shmuel Ruchamkin, and Reb Mordechai Shishko. Rabbi Yosef Tabachovitz served as gabbai and permanent treasurer. He used to raise money and transfer the funds to Vilna.


The Daf Yomi (Daily Talmud Page Study)[3]

Daf Yomi study took place in Vilna. That is, there were people who studied a page of Gemara every day. There was great interest, and a significant number of participants. Rabbi Shimon Langbard gave the class. Today he serves as the head of the Volozhin Yeshiva in Bnei Brak.


Translator's footnotes:
  1. On Simchat Torah, processions around the synagogue [hakafot] are conducted with the Torah scrolls. Some synagogues also possess scrolls of the prophets, to be used for the recitation of the Haftarah on the sabbath, festivals, and fast days. (The custom of most synagogues is to read the Haftarah from a printed book, so most synagogues do not possess scrolls of the Prophets). Since the Torah scrolls for the hakafot would be given to adults to carry around the synagogue, it seems that the children were allowed to carry the scrolls of the Prophets. Return
  2. The Asher Yatzar blessing is recited after using the washroom. One first washes one's hands, exits the washroom, and recites the blessing. Return
  3. Daf Yomi (Daily Page) is a worldwide program, founded in 1924, that promotes the study of a page of Talmud a day in accordance with a cycle that lasts about 7 ½ years. The program continues to this day. Return

Polish Schools in Volozhin

By Miriam Levitan (Rosenberg) of Tel Aviv and Pnina Chait (Potashnik) of Holon

Translated by Jerrold Landau based on an earlier translation
by M. Porat z”l that was edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel

The Powsechna - Primary School

This school contained some four hundred students in seven classes. At lease one third of them were Jewish. At the beginning, it functioned inside a building on Vilna Street. Later, the city council constructed a large new building, with a gym and a physics laboratory, on a spacious plot.

The first manager was Tyszkowski. The official language was Polish, but it also taught German. Mr. Yitzchak Shwartzberg[1] served as the Hebrew teacher. He taught us Hebrew and Bible.

We remember the wonderful summer excursions. At sunrise, we would go to the banks of the

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Berezina River, ten kilometers from Volozhin. We would return at sunset. We would pass the day in sports games and song. We bathed in the river. The pinnacle was the kumzitz – eating together.


The Polish Powszechna primary school
(Mr. Porat notes that the building remains as built until now.)


The academic level was high. The teachers were excellent pedagogues. They took interest in every student and followed their progress in their studies. They paid special attention to students who required extra nurturing. The school also concerned itself with artistic education. Singing clubs and drama circles were formed for that purpose. The students appeared in various plays, to their enjoyment and also to the enjoyment of the parents.

At first, a liberal spirit pervaded in the school. As time went on, when the Polish authorities began to display hostility to the Jews, the change also took place within the walls of the school. However, since the Jewish students excelled in their talents, they formed the living spirit of the school.[2]


The Commercial High School

After graduating the primary school, we continue to the commercial high school, which was founded around 5694 (1934). It had four grades. At first, we studied in the afternoon in the Powszechna school building. Later the commercial school built its own splendid building.

Professor Zukowski from Vilna, a physician by profession, served as its principal. He was liberal with a positive attitude towards Jewish students. Our sole Jewish teacher was Rachel Kivilevitch, nee Meltzer, a native of Volozhin (wife of Shneur Kivilevitch). She graduated

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Students of the Polish Powszechna school

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from a Russian high school in Lida and the Hebrew Seminary in Vilna. Later, she studied for two years far away in the University of Prague. Mrs. Kivilevitch taught Jewish history.

There were forty students in that school, including eight Jewish students. Their names are as follows: Etia Berman, Tzvia Lunin, Pnina Potashnik, Miriam Rosenberg, Rivka Rogovin, Hirsh Tsart , Rafael (Foleh) and Mina Shrira.

The Jewish students did not suffer from any discrimination or oppression. This was thanks to the personality of Professor Zukowski, who instilled a liberal-cultural spirit in the school. We never heard the insult “Zhid” or anything similar from the Christian students. In order to emphasize the lack of discrimination, Professor Zukowski appointed Miriam Rosenberg as “Starostina” [Student leader]. Her job was to organize school parties and celebrations, and to present gifts to the principal on his birthday.

The academic level was satisfactory. The students gained practical knowledge in business. They were employed in banks and government institutions during the vacation months in order to train them in practical work. Miriam Rosenberg's joy was boundless when she uncovered a significant error made by the bank manager.

The school was forced to close [Mr. Porat added: after two years] due to budgetary difficulties. A high school with a humanistic leaning opened in its place. Miriam Rosenberg and Tzvia Lunin traveled to continue their education in the commercial school in Lida, which had four grades. Anyone graduating from that school was accepted to the high school of commerce in Vilna or Warsaw.


Translator's footnotes:
  1. Mr. M. Porat notes here that he was known as Reb Eliche Dverelke's. The principal Tyszkowski was followed by Mr. Trechinski. Both were Polish. Return
  2. Mr. M. Porat adds the following detail (I did not edit his words): Particularly good was the arithmetic teacher, Pan Glukhovski. In Poland, the five grades system was used: 5-very good, 4-good, 3-sufficient, 2-insufficient, and 1-flunked. The highest grade Glukhovski gave his students was 4 minus, because for 5, he would say, knows only the God Almighty, the teacher's knowledge might be 4, so the best student could be graduated by 4 minus maximum. The second manager was Mr. Trechinski, who became the Volozhin mayor. Return
  3. Mr. M. Porat, the original translator, added the following entire section, which does not appear in the original book, along with the photo. I left this in its original state, with only minor corrections to spelling and grammar.


The Volozhin Gymnasia - High School

Mr. Trechinski the former Powszechna School manager and now the town mayor initiated the establishment of a Polish High School in Volozhin. He created a committee to lead this project. Amongst its members were also representatives of the Jewish community, one of them my father, Yosef Perlman. Financed by the town inhabitants and sustained by the district authorities a stone building was erected at the former cattle market on the western Volozhinka border.

The Gymnasia opened its doors on September 1,1938. It was the first and also the last year of its functioning as a Polish School. It contained two parallel, first course classes with a complete staff of teachers and one hundred students, among them just eight Jews in a town with a 50% Jewish population.

Before reception, the applicants passed a rigorous examination in Arithmetic, in Polish language, History and Geography. Poland was strictly preserving the Numerus-clausus numbers in its anti-Semitic attitude.

The Jewish students from Tarbut were: Vulke Brudno (Ptsholke), Eyzer Finger, Monie Perlman (the author), Sonia (Boonies) Perski, and Etele (Ruvn's) Rogovin. The Jewish students from Powszechna were: Berl (der Tzigayner) Tsart, Moyshele Halpern and Arele Tsart.

There were few, if any, relations between Jews and gentile students, despite the common language, i.e. Polish we had to speak during the whole learning day.

But we were proud of our new School. The building was beautiful outside and inside. The classes were large and spacious. We were seated two and no more students at a table. Not to compare with our poor small and poky Tarbut School. We had to wear blue well-ironed uniforms, a jacket, a hat, and long slacks.

The teachers were highly professional; most of them liberal, they did not show anti Semite feelings. Except the Polish language teacher Mr. Protasevitsh who was a Catholic College graduate. He did not omit any occasion to tell a dirty story about a well-known minority. (I was told that during the Fascist occupation Professor Protasevitsh was ardently collaborating with the SS solving the Volozhin Jews final solution.)

The school was directed by Doctor Konopnitski, a short very intelligent man, nephew of the famous Polish poetess Mary Konopnitska. He taught us Mathematics and Geography. We were glad to participate at his lessons; an important part of which he used to tell very interesting stories from around the world, not neglecting politics. After the Soviets occupied Volozhin our director -“Dirtio” (so nicknamed by affection) continued his teaching and educating methods. Once he compared the German dictatorship to an inverted pyramid, supported by military bayonets. He claimed that the pyramid should fall when during war the bayonets are turned as requested against the enemy. The Police understood the allusion. A day later Mr. Konopnitski was arrested and sent to the Communist Concentration Camps whence he never returned.

Mrs. Kopylova, a big and strong woman, was our director's life partner. As doctor of natural sciences, she taught us Botany and Zoology. After the director's arrest she was “resettled” in Siberia. I had the opportunity to work with her there at hay harvest in a collective farm. Mrs. Kopylova was really a very good, strong and efficient worker. She proved practically her botanic knowledge.

Our teachers were called “professors.” Except the French language teacher, she was called “Ma Soeur” – “My Sister” in French. As a Catholic nun she wore white monastery garments. “Ma Soeur” was a sympathetic lady teaching French grammar and French popular songs. I remember them till now.

The majority of the gymnasia students learned German as second language in the morning hours. Our group to learn French was a small minority once a week at afternoon. Also learning French was the Volozhin “Starosta's”- (District governor) daughter. We were jealous looking as the “Starostianka” the highest Volozhin official's daughter would be conducted home after School in an elegant carriage harnessed to a pair of beautiful horses.

We learned hard, the Tarbut graduated children in a foreign environment. But we became accustomed and finally defended ourselves honorably during the lessons and the recreations. We participated in the school excursions by foot and on bicycles to the Berezina and to the Count Tyszkiewicz summer palace in Biala, 20 km. from Volozhin placed within a fenced for deer and gazelle natural Park reserve inside the big Nalibok Forest.

For the first time in our life, we participated also at a true dancing party that was organized by the School before Christmas.

The hard learning and the pleasant time passing stopped suddenly with the outbreak of the war on September 1st, 1939.

The doors were widely reopened three months later when the Polish gymnasia was converted to a Russian High School. It became filled with Jewish youth, thirsty for education, which they had been deprived of during the Polish Numerus Clausus regime.

During the 20-month Soviet period the school flourished. Higher classes were added. Many Jewish teachers, refugees from the territories occupied by the Nazis in Poland, were employed. The Russian High School functioned until the outbreak of the German – Soviet war on June 22, 1941.


The Gymnasia High-School In Volozhin-taken September 1998

The building remains intact until now. Nowadays it serves as a professional Belarus agriculture school on the Naberezhna Street in Volozhin.


1938/1939 graduates from Volozhin Tarbut School last class students
and from the Volozhin Polish Gymnasia first year Jewish Students

First Name Last Name Nickname
Arele Tsart  
Avromtshe   Der Guiber
Bentshe Finger  
Bentsike Finger  
Berl Tsart Der Tzigayner
Eyzer Finger  
Feygl Berman  
Frumke Goloventhitz  
Frumke Alperovitsh  
Golde Rubinshteyn  
Hayim Lungen Lungen-Leber
Hayke Rudnitski Di Kadelikhes
Itskhok Perski Nehame-Leythes
Leybl Berkovitsh  
Meyshele Halpern  
Reyzl Vaysbord  
Sonie Perski Boonies
Sorke   Di Mazepe
Voolke Brudno Ptsholke
Yosele Altman Kurtser Freitig

All of them murdered at the age of 17-18 by the German Nazis and their European associates.

God Almighty, avenge our young schoolmates' innocent blood!

From all classmates two only had escaped the Shtetl's fate: Etele Rogovin and Monie Perlman (the translator [Note by Jerrold Landau – Monie Perlman is Mr. M. Porat, the original translator]), both of them now living in Tel-Aviv.

Theatrical Life in Volozhin



“The Sale of Joseph” show

by Reuven Rogovin

Translated by Jerrold Landau based on an earlier translation
by M. Porat z”l that was edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel

And the city of Volozhin rejoiced and was glad[1]. Everyone was talking about The Sale f Joseph that would be performed shortly by the Volozhin amateur troupe, with Avraham Berkovitch as director. Nevertheless, for the time being, not a sign could be seen of the important event. Those in the know were whispering amongst themselves that something was going to take place, but one could not hear anything clear from them. However, when they began to remove the pumping machine and other equipment from the firefighters' hall, everyone knew that they were preparing the hall for a performance.

[Page 455]

Then the curious ones asked: Who would be going? Who was part of the troupe, and who would be the actors? Very few, the nearest only were told secretly: Simon's role would be Yaakov the son of Chaim the butcher, Judah's role – Yudel Sara Laya's, and Joseph's – Motke Gedalya Zisl's. All those names made sense, and were more or less accepted. But the public was astonished to hear that the main role would be played by Meir Pesha Yente's, a man over fifty years old, chronically ill with asthma, who never stopped coughing and moved his limbs heavily. He and none other had been assigned to play the role of Pharaoh. It was dust in the mouths of the mockers and jealous people: even with all these “good traits” he was designated from birth of playing the role of the mighty ruler…

There are times to lengthen and times to make it short. Therefore, I will proceed immediately to tell the story. One bright morning, Chaim Bronke's (Narushevitch) was seen affixed signs throughout the entire city. The signs announced that on such-and-such day and such-and-such a time, the play of the Sale of Joseph will take place in the firefighters' building. Tickets were sold at the pharmacy by Avraham Berkovitch. Of course, all the tickets were snatched up immediately. Everyone sought ways of getting to the great theatrical production.

All the who's-who of Volozhin came to the gala show. The hall was festively decorated, and a stage and curtain were installed. The audience was dressed in festive clothes. The bell rung once, twice, and a third time, the curtain was raised, and the audience was astounded. It was magic! It was hard to believe that it was the creation of Avraham Berkovitch. Look at the first scene: On the stage center a veritable bonfire was set. The fire was burning. Joseph's brothers were warming up around it are singing “Flame rise up, rise up flame!” On the horizon Simon and Levi appear, wearing strands of silk to which were attached long knives, made of tiles and covered with polish. Their blood is boiling inside, as they are ready to kill and to exterminate the people of Shechem who violated their sister Dina. The scene reached its climax when Meir Pesha Yente's enters. Wonders and miracles! When I saw Meir, who changed his figure into Pharaoh, I could not restrain myself and I called out loudly: “Bravo to the expert, Avraham Berkovitch!” It was said by our sages: Even if all the people of the world gathered to whiten a crow's wing, it would be impossible. But it was done by Avraham Berkovitch. He changed the laws of nature. My eyes could not believe what I have seen. From Meir's bosom appeared the figure of Pharaoh, a veritable representative of the dynasty of Ramses. The crown on his head was a real crown. Although suffering chronic asthma, incessantly coughing, and moving heavily – he remained Meir, the son of Pesha Yente. But with Avraham Berkovitch's makeup he became the mighty ruler…


Translator's footnote:
  1. Based on Esther 8:15. Return

[Page 456]


Plays that I Recall

by Fruma Twebner (Kivilevitch) of Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The “Sale of Joseph” play that was described by Reuven Rogovin belongs to an earlier period. I remember the play that was performed during the 1920s, more precisely in the year 5684 (1924).

First of all, several words about the operetta “The Sale of Joseph.” It was a popular operetta that appeared in several versions. Amateur troupes already performed it during the 17th century.

From the study bench, I was taken toward honor in “Haneim Zemirot” in this operetta. I performed the role of Joseph, the son of old age of Jacob our forefather. In the Powszechny [Universal or Public] school in which I studied, I participated in various plays of “Zimrat.” Apparently, “Kol Hazamir” reached Moshe Weisbord, the producer of the operetta, and he invited me to star in it. Moshe Weisbord also played the role of Jacob our forefather.

Yitzchak Berman performed the role of Judah. We approached our work with awe and love. The rehearsals took place in the home of Aharon (Ahrke) Tzart, the father of the physician Avraham Tzart. Tzart's daughters and sons were theater lovers. Tzart's son participated in the play in the role of one of the sons of Jacob our forefather. The rehearsals were very difficult and tiring, and lasted until late at night. After several months, we found ourselves ready to perform before the wider community.

I think that this is something that should be told over to our children – the difficulties that a young actor of Zimrat met within the family circle. My mother had a dim view on theater. In her opinion, it was disgraceful for a girl from a good family to be involved in this “idolatry.” She was concerned that I would fall into a bad crowd. However, in order to calm her suspicions, she requested that the content of the operetta be read before her, so that she could verify that there was no foul language or other matters that may violate modesty.

Tzvi Rogovin acceded to my mother's request, and read the operetta to her. My mother found that it was a kosher story, the words of which do not violate Tzena Urena[1]. It passed her censorship. However, she was not calmed even with this. She requested that Tzvi trouble himself to come to take me to the rehearsals and bring me back home. Tzvi took all this responsibility upon himself. Only with this condition did my mother allow me to participate in the rehearsals.

We should recall that the participants were not professional actors, but rather amateurs. Moshe Weisbord did everything in his power. He worked over the material, and a refined product emerged from his hands. He inducted us to the inner chambers of the art of acting, and his words were absorbed in our blood.

[Page 457]

Fruma Kivilevitch in the role of Joseph In the play “The Sale of Joseph”


If my memory is reliable, the operetta “The Sale of Joseph” was performed by the Young Zion Chapter in our city. The play took place in the army barracks hall, which was comfortable and fitting for theatrical performances. (In time it became a movie theater.)

It is not in my power to describe how the Jews of Volozhin felt about the upcoming performance. The city took on a festive appearance. The ambience was unusual. They prepared for this event as if for something that no eye had ever seen and no ear had ever heard. Those curious will especially want to know how a girl filled the role of a boy – the son of Jacob's old age. The play turned into a topic of conversation for everybody. There was no house in Volozhin in which the Sale of Joseph was not discussed.

The Tzofim came to the play with floral wreaths, chocolate, and candies. The first performance took place with unusual success. The audience was ecstatic, and a stream of flowers, chocolate, and candies began to pour onto the stage. The audience was especially astonished by the song of “Joseph.” The Tzofim left the hall in high spirits, with singing and praise for the performance. “Fortunate is the eye that merited this.” The songs of the operetta became popular songs that were sung in the homes and on the streets for a long time.

The success of the play reached the broader community of Volozhin. They approached Tzeirei Tzion with a request to put on an additional performance. The elders of the city, the notables of Volozhin, came to the second performance. Important householders, heads of Tarbut, and heads of the Zionist movement came. They sat in the front row.

[Page 458]

An event took place during this performance that is etched in my memory to this day. When the brothers cast Joseph (i.e., me) into the pit, I sang “from the depths” the following song:

O, how great is the anger of my brothers!
I felt that my bones were going to split.
O, how heavy is the mist here, it is unbearable.
Scorpions and snakes, many in the cracks.
I curse you, snakes, in the name of G-d,
Who created heaven and earth.
You should hold in your venom,
I am a grandson of Abraham of old.

I had just finished the song, and then the sound of bitter weeping was heard in the hall. In particular, the voice of Reb Yehoshua Gurwitz reached me. He was weeping over the bitter fate of Joseph. I was very touched by the resonance of the role that I was playing with the honorable audience.

The second performance in which I participated was Dos Pintele Yid (The Quintessence of Jewishness). A girl from Zabrzhezh also participated in this performance. I performed the role of the child Yisraelke. The Sale of Joseph play spread my name as a “star,” therefore the audience awaited the play with great interest. Avraham Berkowitz, the sign artist, explicitly noted my participation. Even though I heard my praises, I nevertheless practiced over and over again for the play, for the fear of the community was upon me. This play was also accepted by the audience with great enthusiasm.

In the year 5685 (1925), the amateur troupe performed a play about life in the Land. The play was performed under the auspices of the Hechalutz chapter, and took place in the Gmine hall. The producer was “Kochav Noded” [Wandering Star], an itinerant actress who lived in Volozhin for a certain time. The name of the play was “The Red Rose.” Its content was taken from the life of the Shomrim [guards] in the Land of Israel. The play portrays the Shomer going out to guard, whereas his wife was busy preparing for her birthday party. One of the guests brought her a wreath of red roses. When she saw the wreath, a great fear fell upon her. She said that she saw signs of blood in the roses. Then, her husband suddenly entered, wounded all over and bleeding. He then died. Musia Rogovin played the role of the wife. The role of the Shomer husband was played by Chaim Binia Kahanowitz. The role of the presenter of the floral wreath was played by Fania Kivilevitch.

With time, the Tarbut School began to develop the theatrical arts among its students. Within its walls, an amateur troupe was set up, which performed “Shlomoke Charlatan” in the year 5689 (1929). The income was dedicated to the benefit of the school as well as the Jewish National Fund. This performance was produced by an itinerant actor named Azach. This performance was also very successful.

[Page 459]

We performed many plays (including Hamechashefa [The Witch]). I cannot recall them all due to the passage of time. The Volozhin community loved theater. Every new play that was performed aroused great interest, and brought light and joy to the Jews of Volozhin.


The actors who participated in the play “Shlomoke Charlatan.”
The photo was taken on 27 Adar II, 5689 (April 8, 1929)

First row, top to bottom, right to left: a) Yaakov Berkowitz b) teacher c) Rivka Polak d) the teacher Derechinski e) Yisrael Berkowitz f) the teacher Afrimzon g) Dora Eidelman h) Simcha Perski
Second row: a) Musia Rogovin b) Sonia Perski c) the guest actor Azach d) Yona Shapira e) Cheina Goldschmid f) Shabtai Baksht. Third row: a) Dov Lawit b) Mina Perski c) Efraim Rogovin d) Shlomo Brener


Translator's footnote:
  1. A traditional book on commentary and lore on the Torah, designed especially for women. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tz%27enah_Ur%27enah Return

[Page 460]

The Maccabee Basketball Team

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The students of the Tarbut School were initiators of the basketball team in our city. They were jealous of the gentile youth, who practiced and played basketball games in the yard of the buildings of Count Tyszkiewicz, and later on the field of the residence of the government officials. We decided to measure up to them. At times, we won and they were defeated, and at other times, it was the opposite.

The idea behind the need to found a basketball team earned a positive attitude from all the Zionist parties and youth groups – Beitar, Hashomer Hatzair, the General Zionists, and Revisionists. The group was non-partisan, and its intentions were purely altruistic – a healthy soul in a healthy body.


The Maccabee Basketball Team

Standing (right to left): a) Efraim Rogovin b) Yisrael Berkowitz c) Yaakov Berkowitz d) Shabtai Baksht e) Shlomo Meltzer f) Aryeh Kaplan g) Reuven Rogovin
Second row: a) Dov Lawit b) Shmuel Rogovin c) Yisrael Perski
Sitting on the ground: a) Hillel Sharira b) Aryeh Leib Perski c) Yosef Szwarcberg


The captain of the team was Efraim Rogovin, who was an expert basketball player. He displayed effective initiative in this, and he trained the basketball players to be obedient and brave.

[Page 461]

The writer of these lines was chosen as the honorary captain. Efraim conducted practice for the team three times a week, and saw success in his efforts.

We should note that even though the group earned moral support from the entire secular community in our city, it did not receive any material support. From that perspective, our team was supported on nothing. Therefore, every basketballer had to provide his own uniform, which consisted of a shirt and short pants with blue stripes – patterned after the blue and white national flag. We kept the uniforms with the brothers Yaakov and Yisrael Berkowitz. When the shoes were torn, “Shimon the Dzhik” fixed them for free.

The team quickly gained renown throughout the entire region – Vishnyeva, Ivyanets, Baksht, Zabrezye, and Trab. It was invited to play in those places. The team was received enthusiastically by the Jews of those places, and the visits became a holiday in their lives. The atmosphere during the game was sublime. Travel to the nearby towns was not that expensive. They hired a wagon, and seated half of the basketball players on it. After travelling a few kilometers, they would switch, and the other half would go onto the wagon. Thus, after having “gotten on and off” they arrived in their place happy and glad. An extra, “Little Peretz” (Peretz Rogovin) always accompanied us on this trip. He was a fanatical basketball player, and never missed any basketball game.

Without doubt, the central “historic” event of the team, which ended in a particularly painful manner, was the competitive game with the chosen ones of the border guard that was stationed in Volozhin. As is known, a brigade of approximately one thousand soldiers was stationed there. It was not difficult to find basketballer players, even particularly good ones.

Efraim Rogovin met the captain of the army basketball team by chance. He recommended that Efraim arrange a getting-to-know-you game between his team and our team, which would take place on the army sports field (Wojskowy Plac Sportowy). On the spot, they agreed on the date of the game.

Avraham Berkowitz made use of his artistic talents and drew official announcements, which were posted in all areas of the city. On them, written in large letters, it stated that on such-and-such a day and such-and-such a time, , the Maccabee team would compete with the chosen ones of the border guard brigade. Tickets at such-and-such a price could be purchased upon entering the sports field.

Members of the team prepared for this competition as if for the Day of Judgment. They felt that they would require Divine assistance in order to defeat the chosen ones of the border guard. Therefore, thy approached Motel Traber, a Yeshiva lad, and asked him to choose verses from the Book of Psalms that might be able to tear up the decree of defeat.

Even though Motel Traber had never seen the form of a basketball in his entire life, he regarded this as a form of obligatory battle, “to wreak revenge upon the gentiles.” Therefore, he approached this matter with full seriousness. After diligent study of the books of Psalms he selected the following verses:

[Page 462]

Who maketh my feet like hinds', and setteth me upon my high places.
Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped.
I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them; neither did I turn back till they were consumed.
I have smitten them through, so that they are not able to rise; they are fallen under my feet.

(Psalms 18: verses 34, 37, 38, 39)[1]

On Sunday morning, before the beginning of the game, the basketball players recited these verses with devotion and intention during the Shacharit prayers. Some did so in the synagogue in Aroptzu, others in the synagogue in the marketplace, and still others in the Kloiz on Vilna Street.

The beginning of the game was nice. The band played the Polish national anthem and Hatikvah. However, what took place after that on the field, we did not even see in our nightmares. We immediately met an inimical attitude. Our team let through several goals at the beginning of the game. There were many anti-Semitic riffraff and lowlifes in the crowd watching the game. Inflamed by this dizzying victory, they broke out in hateful shouts “Zydzi do Palestyny!” (Jews, go to Palestine). When the number of goals that we suffered reached seventeen, and the anti-Semitic shouts increased, an angry shout suddenly pierced the air: “Makabiusze zejsc z Placut!” (Maccabees, get off the field) The basketball players immediately began to leave the field, accompanied by anti-Semitic taunts.

The basketball team existed for a brief period. After several of the members of the team made aliya to the Land, and others were drafted to the Polish army, it weakened, and “its soul departed.”


Translator's footnote:
  1. The translation of these four verses is from Mechon Mamre: https://mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt2618.htm Return


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