Compilation of Memories (Memoirs)
Grandfather in Cheder
My education began in the Cheder rooms of educated teachers at about the age of four. My mother and father brought me to the teacher, “Berl Sima”, the name of the family I do not remember. The Cheder was a room four meters by four meters and there was light from four windows. At the head of the long table sat the teacher, Berl, and around the table sat the boys and girls. In front of him, he had an open Siddur. Next to him, he had a “יד” (a long and narrow stick). He showed the child next to him the 'א and the 'ב and he sang it again, this is Aleph and this is Bet. He took my hand and while my parents were still there taught me the Aleph, Bet. The studies of the letters lasted about a quarter of an hour. In the afternoon, the same studies in a different room, about the same size, with the teacher Rish Dachne (a young boy who helped teach and also brought the children from home and back again). There were about forty boys and girls in the room. On the second day, they added on Gimmel and Daled. Each day letters were added until we finished the alphabet. The studies were expanded with the addition of the vowel points, and after that “הטראף”, putting letters into words. By the time I almost reached the age of five, I was one of the outstanding students that knew how to properly read each and every page of the Siddur. When I reached the age of five, The Rabbi Berl started to teach us “החומש” (Torah) the “ספר ויקרא” (Leviticus) so as to greet the crowd that came to great Shabbat H’Chomish. Some words we did not understand and he started to teach us the letters of Rashi.
The teacher R’Berl was not a young man, a small beard, black peyote, uncombed white hair and was not pedagogically educated. He did not have the sense of Torah. He treated the children with warmth and praise but at times he got angry and punished a boy or a girl. The punishment was to stand in a place called “קינו”. This was to stand in a corner behind a pole for ten minutes to an hour and a half. A stronger punishment was to get hit by a “conchik”. It was a short stick with five leather strings. The guilty one was to lie on the bench with hands and legs spread apart. The punishment was from five to twelve blows. (I was lucky that I never stood in the corner and was never hit).
The first day of Cheder my mother and father took me, while on the other days a young man, Rish Dachne, brought us back and forth from home. In the regular summer days, the children from our area took a short cut which took five to six minutes. In the fall and the beginning of the spring, with the melting of the snow and the cold, the way was longer by half an hour. The reason for that was because it took time to pull our feet out of the mud and we had packs on our backs. R’Berl’s house was at the end of the town. That was the place that water descended in to the canal that passed on to the Prut River. The Prut was parallel with the first part of Zablotov for several kilometers. The second part of town was called “Damitch”. The schoolhouse consisted of two rooms and a big kitchen. The corridor was wide and long and had room for a cow and a wagon. The rooms were full of light and clean air. In the spring the Rabbanit took care of chickens and eggs in the kitchen. Behind the house was a large, swampy area. It was a place that rain water accumulated and did not drain down to the canal. The canal was about eight meters across and the water was about sixty centimeters deep. The children from the Cheder Berl and from the street bathed in the canal in the summer. They used the water from the canal for drinking except for when it rained. About fifty meters from Berl’s house was the city wash house. Obviously the swamp had frogs that made noise all evening, as well as mosquitoes and many crawling insects. In the summer the children played on a wide strip on one side of the swamp as well as on a green lawn on the second side. The chicks of the Rabbanit played alongside the children.
At about the age of six, I left the Cheder of R’Berl. I left with knowledge of Chomish and the letters of Rashi. I was happy being among the students in this place of light and good air. It was great fun in the winter sliding on the frozen swamp with my friends.
From the Cheder of R’Berl I entered the Cheder of R’Moshe Mendel Gadles. (I did not know his family name) This Cheder was closer to our house and in the summer, only a three minute walk which was between small houses and narrow streets filled with mud.
The teacher R’Moshe was about forty years old with a black beard and payot and a good, soft heart. He was one of the Chasidi Kosov who prayed in the Kosov Beit Midrash. He led the morning prayers on Shabbats and he was involved with those who prayed.
R’Moshe was one of those who arranged to have something physically wrong in order to avoid the military service. It was not unusual for Jewish youngsters to have a problem with a right eye or a broken finger so as not to be fit for the army and the army examiners were paid off so they were registered as “unfit to serve” and so saved their lives from the difficult service.
The teacher R’Moshe did not come from a Yeshiva or a school for teachers as was usual in the schools of Zablotov at that time. He was a buyer and seller of bargains in the main street on “Market Day”. He did not make a living and left the business and the store and tried his luck at teaching. He was a beginner in the teaching of Chomish, Rashi and Gamorrah. R’Moshe had a small house in a small, narrow street. This is how most of the people of the town lived. Those who had a bigger house had a yard and trees. The streets in small towns and villages did not yet have names as is customary in our times.
The small house of R’Moshe, where he taught his Cheder, had a kitchen where his wife, the Rabbanit Golda, would bring in and take out merchandise. She dealt with eggs, vegetables and chickens. All of this bothered us because it was right near where we studied. It was also dirty. In the winter it was uncomfortable due to less light and fresh air. In the year and a half at this Cheder, we studied Chumish, Rashi, the early prophets and a little Gamorrah. We also wrote words in Hebrew. My father tested me on Shabbat on what I learned and sometimes this happened in the presence of the Rabbi who came to visit on Shabbat to eat at my father’s table. He was very satisfied.
From the Cheder of R’Moshe Mendel Galdis I went to the Cheder of R’Asher Pasternak. This time I knew the teacher’s family name. R’Asher was a member of the family. He was son-in-law of R’Moshe Shmaryahu Sperber זל who was the brother of Grandmother Freide זל. That is to say that Grandmother Freide’s father, R’Gershon זל and the father of R’Moshe Shmaryahu and R’David were brothers. Thus Rebbe R’Asher was part of the family. When the “teacher” left stores and businesses, he became an educator of Tanach and a little bit of Gamorrah. He was middle-aged and healthy and related with great sympathy and love to his students. He also prayed in the Beit Midrash of Kosov together with my family.
His apartment was a few minutes away from our apartment in a narrow alleyway; he had a room and a narrow kitchen. This was opposite the toilet of the Beit Knesset of the town. It was only used by those who prayed in the Beit Knesset, as well as the youngsters who studied Torah day and night in the winter. Everyone on that street also used the toilet. The window of the toilet was not opened, except during the summer, because of the smell. The light of the second window looking out on an open area was not enough in the winter and fall. The air in the room was not clean. (This paragraph refers to Asher)
The outside area was also not clean due to the Rabbanit and her chickens and chicks in the kitchen. There were two narrow rooms for a family of six people. (Daughter and son, brother and sister)
I studied with ten friends in the Cheder of R’Asher for a year. We studied Tanach and a little Gamorrah as well as writing in Yiddish with his brother-in-law, Nathan Sperber, who was a teacher of Yiddish. Nathan gave lessons to many of the people we knew in order to earn money. R’Asher left his rented apartment and the Cheder after his father died to go to a town in Bukovina. He received an inheritance of a wood business and a small property. He and his family settled there and made a living. We students enjoyed his teaching.
I went from the Cheder of R’Asher to the Cheder of R’Itche “Putral” (a nickname). I didn’t know his family name. His small house was on a hill about fifteen minutes away. The windows of the Cheder looked out on a large area that was used as a meeting place as well as the market, which took place on Tuesdays. In the “shuk” things were bought and sold and merchants came from everywhere. R’Itche was not tall and had a yellow beard. His wife had a stall with all kinds of sewing accessories. R’Itche was very strict and he had a stick in his hand when he taught. This caused the students to be afraid of him. “מלמד מקצוע מריש-דוכנא למלמד” We studied Chumish, Rashi, the book “משלי” with musical notes and a little Gamorrah. In the summer we studied from six in the morning until twelve, had an hour for lunch, and then until nine in the evening. In the winter we studied at five o’clock, before the morning prayers, an hour for breakfast and all day until nine at night. On market days (Tuesdays) the students had an hour or two free, while the Rabbi went to help his wife in the business.
I was only punished once by the strict, pedantic R’Itche “Putral”.
After we left his Cheder, we went to study with a man who was not famous for his teaching. This was R’Moshe S Hirsch. He was the son-in-law of R’Moshe Yacob Fishel, who gave him a big airy room in his house to teach eight students. This place was far from the middle of town Most of studies were Gamorrah. This Rabbi did not leave a big impression on me and after some time I left the Cheder of R’Moshe and heard that he had left teaching.
I then entered the Cheder of the old Mendel Bloch who went to teach after he lost his money in the soap and candle business. For one year I studied Tanach, Gamorrah and Shulchan Aruch with eight of my friends. After this, I entered a Cheder with students that were older than me and the teacher, R’Moshe Yehudah Kressel, favored using the whip when necessary. He had a long white beard and patches on his clothes.
As a young man he was a follower of the Admors of Kosov. He fought against the Chasidim of Vishnitz in the battle of the money collection between the Rabbis of Kosov and the Rabbis of Vishnitz. (Note: The Kosovs sent money to those who settled in Israel RDK) He was a merchant who became a teacher. He only took students who had knowledge of “גפ"ת (Gamorrah, Psukim, and Tosafot). It’s to my parent’s credit that I was in his Cheder. “זנב לאריות” (the tail of the lion) The studies were Gamorrah, book of ethics and the Talmud. These studies had a great affect on my spiritual development.
R’Moshe Yehuda’s house stood at the end of a narrow street full of mud and dirt. The house was big with several rooms for his family. The Cheder for study was high, wide and clean. The several windows gave light and air. There were two students, one of whom was three to five years older than me. His name was Leib Waller. He then went on to secular studies in science and law. Dr. Leon Waller became an important lawyer in Kolomaya.
The second student who was my age was Yehudah Ben Itzchak Tilinger. He had exceptional abilities, a quick grasp of subject, a sharp mind and a wonderful memory. In spite of this something was not right. We learned together under several teachers and then under Rabbi R’Moshe Yehudah. A great future was predicted for his students. They were mistaken in their predictions. Tilinger’s future blew up to the shame of his family. He defamed and discredited the House of Israel. He went into secular studies and became a PhD in Philosophy. He studied a different culture, left his religion and became a “priest”. He totally removed himself from God and his Torah. He became another “Pfepperkorn” (an infamous converted Jew) who in his time was an anti-Semite and a betrayer in the “Reuchlin” blood libel accusation. Tilinger after several years went to America, took off his cloth, and became a preaching Rabbi in a Beit Knesset in some small place. One of our acquaintances, the writer Gershon Bader from Lvov that lived in New York, removed the mask from his face and reported his crime to the Jewish press. He was disgraced and disappeared.
I left the Cheder of R’Moshe Yehudah after a year when I was capable of studying a page of Gamorrah and Rashi by myself. The studies in this Cheder left a great impression on me. The study of the Talmud and the beautiful stories that came out of the pinched corner of his mouth, that had a pipe, woke the hearts of those that prayed. His pleasant prayers came down to us at the Beit Midrash of Kosov at the end of Shabbat, Minche and other occasions. He stopped teaching but I did not know the reason. The man, who seemed the most capable teacher I had, was let go. After he left the Cheder he continued to study Torah, continued to live with his wife, Ichah, and his children who made a living in a small paint store in the Market.
The last of my teachers was R’Efraim Fund. He was another one who strayed. He sold books, lost his business and lowered his status to become a teacher. He was one of the Chasids of Kosov who was learned. He was known for his knowledge of Mikra and Grammar and secular subjects. Since he did not come from the Yeshiva or the teacher’s school, he was not a “professional” teacher. We were eight boys that knew Torah and had the drive for more education. In his Cheder I began to lay Tfilin and celebrated my Bar Mitzvah.
The celebration was in the middle of the week in the Kosov Beit Midrash after prayers. It was not a big party. The studies in this Cheder influenced me as much as those in the Cheder of R’Moshe Yehudah.
They reminded me of what my father told me when I was young. He had studied with two old men, the relative, R’Moshe Shmaryahu Sperber and Feibish Itzchak, Moshe’s son. He learned from them as water from the well of life. “באר-מים-חיים”. My father studied in the winter on Saturday night and in the summer, after the afternoon nap. At the same time, my mother and my sisters Gitl, Sarah-Yita, and Elka read the books “צאינה וראניה” Tsena and Rena (Yiddish Torah studies for women), “נחלת צבי”, and “קהל חסירים” all in Yiddish. Speaking of wonderful things, my father and my mother read their books out loud. I sat sometimes with my father and sometimes with my mother to listen to their enjoyable studies and readings. This influenced me as much as the studies in the higher Cheders from Cheder R’Asher until I finished Cheder.
I liked and was close to Meir Maher Ben Menachim. He was an impressive man with wide shoulders and a long beard. He was smart and had been an official teacher in the town of Petshenishin, which he left some time ago. His wife, Reisel, and their grown children had set up a business in their house not far from the house of Grandfather Nathan. They dealt as wholesalers of flour and as retailers with the delivery of eggs outside of town. R’Menachim studied the Torah but in prayers he opposed the extremism of the Chasids. There were those who were “mitnagdim” מתנגדי (those opposed to Chasids) who prayed in the Midrash opposite Grandfather’s house. Meir’s house was open to secular learning. His sons studied secular studies as well as languages (outside of Hebrew and Yiddish). In our house these studies were forbidden. Meir Maher and his older brother, who was older than him by three years, encouraged me to taste from the “tree of knowledge” and my eyes were opened by the books of the Haskalah in Hebrew and studies of the German language. Most of the time we studied in their house and they lent me books to take home. His older brother, Zeev, kept double-entry accounting and everything related to running a business. It was all entered in German. This knowledge opened up the way for me to earn a living and run a business. This in spite of the barriers my parents set up against secular studies. They did not let me go to a secular school and did not let me have a private teacher to learn the languages of the country. They wanted to stop me from going to the house of my friend Maher because in that house there were Mitnagdim who would embitter and poison your brain and heart.
It will be understood by telling of an incident. Once I borrowed a book by Schiller in German from my friend Meir, while we were still students in the Cheder of R’Efrayim Fund. I had just started to learn the language and it was difficult for beginners to deal with a book full of ideas. I did not understand the meaning of the author. My mother’s eyes watched every move I made so that I would not stray from the straight path and enter the folds of the epikorsim (non believers). She and my father wanted that I should only study גפת (Gamorrah, Psukim, Tosafot) and be friends with those who feared God and not with the sons of Meir. My mother was sitting and saw me reading and took the book from me. She hit me, released her anger, cursed me and sent me to the Beit Midrash. When my father came home from the studies in the Kosov Beit Midrash, I was called to come home and stand trial before him for the terrible sin. My father was soft-hearted with a good disposition. He listened coolly to my mother’s long accusations. He didn’t hit me and I was not punished with a whip as my mother demanded.
I was chastised by a flood of moral lessons מוסר. This was according to the books “ראשית-חכמה” and “שבט מוסר”, the book of heresies and the Talmud. Secular books lead you to hell, and are controlled by the evil angels, etc. That night I had terrible dreams, bad thoughts, hunger and thirst because I was not given food or drink as usual. I was tired, exhausted from the blows and I was angry, shamed and emotionally wounded. I saw in my dreams the evil angels that my father mentioned, that shot arrows at me and filled my body with thorns.
The dead came in the middle of the night and prayed in the big Beit Knesset, opposite our house, and added to my suffering.
The following morning I came to the Cheder of Rabbi R’Chaim Fund, sad and tired. The fear of bad dreams of that night was still with me. The wounds I got yesterday were not bandaged. My mother followed me with Schiller’s book under her arm. In front of the teacher she poured out her anger on me and my friend Meir and demanded the worst punishment for us. She sentenced the book to be burned. It was not that she hated me but that she took pity on me, and worried about the son she loved.
My mother was one of the women in the town who listened to her son-in-law who said “watch over your son’s education.” If you don’t do that, what happened to “זיידה ויציס” could happen to you. Zeide was the son of the widow Vitzi. Her house bordered on the house of her father-in-law R’Nathan. Zeide was known as a learned man who tasted of the Tree of Knowledge. He tasted and he was damaged. He accepted the preaching of the missionaries and went to London and became an active member of the group. The family tried to rescue him from the inciters but their efforts failed. One day he came back to his family. The whole town regreted his returning to Judaism and his family but his family received him with open arms and joy. This joy with Zeide did not last more than a few months. He took sick and died. After he returned from London, the women and old men told the details of his demise. The preachers without his knowledge had a picture of him and by means of witchcraft they poisoned and burned the picture. The poison and the burning killed Zeide in Zablotov. According to the people in town, there was a parable that they told. “Be careful of your sins and studying heresies or what happened to Zeide Vitsis will happen to you.” The young non-believers explained that many members of Zeida’s family died of pneumonia and tuberculosis; therefore Zeide was affected by the bad air of London and died when he returned.
After my mother finished telling the story of Zeide, the teacher R’Efrayim, spoke to me and his students and not about Zeide. He explained that their study of Torah was to me and my friend, Meir Maher, part of their heart and soul. It was part of their “being”. One can study some of the languages of the country and this was not a sin. Our Chachamim חכמים (our learned scholars) זל wrote that it was imperative to teach their sons a vocation of writing and bookkeeping (arithmetic) in order for them to make a living in the future. He warned against enjoying this too much. There were three boys who knew Torah who also knew the languages of the country. Heaven forbid that they should become heretics and stand together with Zeide Vitzis. Regarding the book of Schiller that I had, it was not burned but returned it to Meir Maher and the teacher told mother to go home in peace because her son was fine.
Content last updated Wednesday, April 03, 2013 at 04:58 PM Mountain Standard Time