David Giora: My studies in the Hedder and at school

The first Hedder of Rav Asher

When did I start going to the Hedder? It must have been between the age of three and four. What parents did not want their child to know how to pray or at least know the blessing of Shema? So, like any Jewish boy I also began to study in the famous Hedder of Asher Melamed (the teacher).

Rabbi Asher’s Hedder was on “Cozia” street. It was a very old street located parallel to Fiinknh street and Filsodskigo street, and stretched down Aozskobiand street to Fzsizd street. It was about 100-150 meters long and probably was a commercial street in the past, as hinted by its name (maybe used for selling goats, as “cuzia” means goat in Polish).

Rabbi Asher ran his Hedder in his private apartment. What does an “apartment” mean? In the room where we studied stood two benches by the wall, one of which also has a desk next to it, on which one could lean his arms. Children who came to study sat on top of each other without the desk. Rabbi Asher himself sat facing the window at the big desk with a student next to him. In his hand he held “a finger” of white bone.

The teaching method was very simple tea and the daily prayer book served as the textbook, to show that every Jewish child should know how to pray. On the first page of the Siddur appeared the alphabet and the first stage was studying its punctuation, in Ashkenazi accent, of course.

As in the famous song “Oyfn Frifatsak” the singing and chanting began with “Kamatz Aleph”, and only after learning the whole alphabet could the student start learning “Parashat Keriat Shema”, ie the prayer “Shema Israel”.

The kitchen was located in the back room, which was actually a dark room, together with the dining room and the bedroom of the Rabbi and the Rabitzan. The window of that room turned to the stairwell, so the only light came from the room where we had learned.

I remember the Rabitzan and her constant smile as she leaned over the cooking pots in the dark room. The smell of the dishes penetrated the nostrils, especially when it was on the eve of the Sabbath and holidays.

I would come to the room early in the morning and we would begin, as if in choir, the “Mode Ani” prayer, I was a happy boy when I could recite it by heart, and the “Shema”, of course.

My late mother was very strict about saying “Shema” before I closed my eyes at night. Like every Jewish boy I wore a “Talit Ketana” (prayer shawl) and kissed it at saying the word “Tzitzit”.

At noon my mother used to bring me a pot of food. The blue pot, more like a kettle, was covered with a cloth, so that the soup will not chill. I certainly was not a great eater, but being the eldest and the other children too young to go to Hedder, all attention was directed at me, in order for me to be a successful son.

Asher Melamed would come to our home every six months, in order to get paid. In the dialect of those days it was called “Zman” (time). The small payment that he received from each parent was barely enough to keep his family (as far as I remember the rabbi has no children), but the main thing was to test the “Tach’shit” (the jewel) in front of the parents. I certainly tried my best to recite everything I knew to my parents. Both the rabbi and my parents were happy.

In the courtyard of the Rebbe, like in every Jewish house, was the famous lavatory. When I was a little boy it was common to use a bedpan, so I had to run alone off the stairs to the yard, and I often didn’t manage to remove my pants and underpants, (tied by Shleikes), and I stained my pants.

Those who wanted to pee during the lesson, had to use a container that stood in the dark room of the Ravitzin and was used by everyone. I, as a small child, of course, was ashamed to do my business there.

As all Rabbis, Asher Melamed had a Kantzik (a whip), which was in essence made of a goat’s leg to which leather straps were tied. I do not remember if someone was ever beaten up with the “Kantzik”, but seeing it was enough to keep the room quite.

As I’ve already mentioned – every child in his turn, would come to the Rebbe’s desk to learn the daily lesson. The happiest time was when a parent would come into the room and the child will be sitting hunched beside the rabbi at the desk, and would be honored with a coin thrown by the Rebbe (the coin of course being the plight of the parent or a relative) over the head of the student with the belief that the Angel Gabriel was giving it as a gift for studying well.

Class has started early and usually ended up in the dark, because here, there were neither schedule nor set hours of school, and whoever studied Torah more – the better.

I had many friends in my Hedder, but who can remember their names?

One name, the same as mine, David, was etched in my memory. This David was the son of the Rabbi from Bialha, little David, who with his “Peot” (sidelocks), was nothing like me at all, but our friendship stemmed from the fact that we were both the same age. And our mothers met every day coming to feed us.

I cannot remember how long I went to Rabbi Asher, but the first impression of the room was well engraved in my mind.

Before Chanukah, Rabbi Asher “manufactured” spinning lead dreidels (spinning top). We, the children, had to bring lead seals. How would he produce them? The lead was put in a large pot and melted, and the molten contents were poured into a frame of several pieces of wood, which he would tie together and thus create something resembling a square. Only later, during study hours, he would sculpt the spinning top with a kitchen knife and stamp, or rather engrave, the letters “NGHS” – “a great miracle was there”. And we children would call it this:

Nate – that is planted or given name

Ganev – a thief

Hact – break

Slasar – locks.

Peak student knowledge came when he was able to recite Kiddush of Yom Tov, and I, of course, remember well when I recited or rather sang the Kidush before the Passover with my father’s employer, Welwel (Ze’ev) Orlovsky. I received a Zloty, of course.

The second Hedder in Brontzweig

When I left Rabbi Asher’s Hedder, I was probably five years old.

The rule among the teachers was that every teacher has to teach the child a certain chapter in the Jewish way of life. I understand that it was Rabbi Asher’s role to us teach the fundamentals of prayer.

The Brontzweig Hedder, in contrast, (I confess that I do not remember his first name, just as I do not remember the family name of Rabbi Asher) was more advanced and we have learned Chumash, Rashi, Hebrew writing and perhaps Yiddish. In Mr. Brontzweig’s I’ve learned only one “Zman”.

Mr. Brontzweig’s Hedder resided in a “Stiebel” in Mala street (“Mala” means “small” in Polish), a street parallel to Filsodskigo street and Dluga street (later renamed Firsgo Maja Street [the 1st of May]).

My special memories from this Hedder are: The figure of the Rabbi with his short red beard, his constant headaches, which were a reason for students (including me) to occasionally bring him a medical powder called “Kogotk” (small rooster in Polish). This powder, which we bought for him at the pharmacy, was wrapped in plain paper and I remember well how Mr. Brontzweig would pour the powder into his mouth, and drink a little water.

Later on, Mr. Brontzweig became a teacher in “Yavne” school, in which I also learned for one year.

The third Hedder of Samuel Ibkobitz

If there is a place in the world that has left its impression on me for the rest of my life,it is Rabbi Samuel Ibkobitz’s Hedder.

Later I learned that Rabbi Samuel, who was admired not only by me, but also by many other students, was my late grandfather’s cousin, Samuel Ibkobitz (my grandfather’s father’s was the brother of Shmuel’s father).

Rabbi Ibkobitz’s Hedder residedon Snkbitzh street and was one of the most advanced Hedders in our town. To begin with, all religious studies were in Hebrew, albeit with Ashkenazi pronunciation, but still – proper Hebrew. We also learned reading and writing in Yiddish, it being our everyday language.

While in the other Hedders we refrained from studying “Nevi’im” and “Ketuvim”, it was common practice in Rabbi Ibkobitz’s Hedder. I liked the stories of “Parashat Ha’Shavua” which Rabbi Ibkobitz told us with stories from the Midrash.

In Rabbi Ibkobitz’s Hedder I felt, for the first time, the taste of school sitting on the bench next to a school desk. But why did this Hedder have such an impact me, more than the other two? I believe it was due to the fact that I studied there from age six to the age of ten continuously, though not for whole days, with a one year’s break in which I learned in first grade in “Yavne” school, where the teacher Ibkobitz taught.

While in other Hedders they called the Rabbi “Rabbi,” in this Headder he was called “Teacher,” and the people referred to these Hedders as “Mizrahi.”

As a kid I, of course, had no idea of the meaning of these names, but I liked the method of studying and the treatment of the students.

I think that of all the students who studied with me in this Hedder, only one, Rosenblatt, survived, and later served in the Israeli Navy. As far as I remember, his father was a barber in Siedlce, and in 1949 I brought him and his parents together in the port of Haifa.

I met the teacher Ibkobitz by coincidence in West Germany in 1946-7 when I was in a displaced persons camp “Btzignhiim”, and later on in Tel Aviv, memorial ceremonies held for our destroyed community. Every time I would meet my darling Rabbi (he really was dear to me, because now I already knew he was a relative of ours) I kissed him as if he was my grandfather.

Rabbi Shmuel was not only occupied by teaching, but also by playing with his students. He would turn his back to his students and guess what actions they were carrying behind his back. The trick was very simple, he would, supposedly, cover his eyes (and his glasses), which would create a mirror effect in the lenses, and see the antics of students.

This teacher also used to have breaks, so we had time to play in the back yard, especially football. The room was opposite the apartment of Rabbi Shmuel and his wife, whose image I remember well, though she died before the war, and I also remember their daughter and son very well, and they are the ones who saved their father from the claws of the Holocaust.

Samuel Ibkobitz, my favorite teacher, died and was buried in Israel.

May his memory be blessed.

The Yavneh School

Siedlce housed a Hebrew school – “Tarbut”, but apparently the city’s leaders, or more correctly – a group of teachers with a religious Zionist affiliation, saw the need for another school, that would cater to the needs of the traditional-religious population. This school, “Yavneh”, was founded in 1934 and this was the only year in which it operated.

I was lucky to be one of the first graders of that year.

I remember many events of my life, but the morning of September 1st 1934, when my late mother took me to school, and as usual I was the first by its locked gate, certainly etched itself in my memories.

“Yavne” school was on Pilsudkigo street, a few houses from Polski Bank, on the top floor of a residential building. Later on, “Tarbut” school took the same location.

The teaching method was according to the Polish primary school curriculum, with religious studies added.

Since this was the first year I found myself in a real school, you might say that it didn’t make a particularly good impression. Discipline which was roundly less than satisfactory (in my humble opinion), and since I got there after spending time at Hedders (of Rabbi Asher, Birintzooig and Ibkobitz), it seemed to me that anyone could behave as he wished.

One new thing that I’ve learned was enriching my knowledge of the ancestral heritage and also taking my first steps in the depths of the Polish language, which teaching was mandatory by the government.

In short, I would mention that this school lasted for only one year, and at the end of it’s one and only school year, I went to study at the No. 7 school in our town, the Janusz Korczak School, about which I will talk separately.

National School No. 7

There were eight public schools in Siedlce.

The school I am about to talk about resided on Sooiintoinskh street, on the top floor of a house which had shops and even a bathhouse. This house had two entrances. One entrance, entering through the door and a going up a stairwell led to the top floor were a long corridor with classrooms spread on either side, headmistress Bargoba’s office, the staff room and the secretary.

Through the large gate, where the courtyard and the toilets were located, the student had to cross one class in order to reach another class. It was particularly difficult to cross the classroom when a boy or girl needed the toilet in the middle Class, and I was quite a “Ka’ker”, so I had to cross the class many times, running with all my might, but never forgetting to apologize to the teacher.

The difference between the Polish school and the one in Israel was that they studied for seven years – from the age of seven to the age of fourteen, this was probably a compulsory education law, and no previous study was customary or familiar.

In elementary school the parents had to pay a small fee of one Zloty per month, probably a renovations fee, and I can remember my parents not having enough money to pay, and the secretary would send a note to my mother.

I spent four years in the elementary school No. 7 with Wanda Koniitznh, the polish teacher, as my principal teacher educator, until I graduated fifth grade.

Who were my classmates?

Kozinitzki Moses (who lived on 1st of May street), Kornblom Nafatli (who lived on Snkbitzh street), Daratbkh (who lived on Filsodskigo street), Muskat Palti (who lived on Folskigo street), Stotskh Moses (who lived on Vyskov street), “Der   Callies’ (Asher) (who lived on Roskosh street), and I – from  Folskigo street.

In my class there were also Jewish girls, among whom I remember only: Arman Rebeka (our neighbor on the same floor), Aiglnik Hanna, Freilich, Kramazs Hanna.

I’ve met my friend, Moses Kozinitzki in the summer of 1934, when we spent time with our families in Roosze village, with at Haparitz Kotun, and never parted since. I began to attend first grade at “Yavne” school with Moshe and we sat on the same bench. Moshe also went with me to Rabbi Shmuel Ibkobitz, so we spent most of the time together.

The Kozinitzki lived in the “Aofitzinh”, an alley linking Snkibitzh street with Folsikigo street, so that when I went into the room of Rabbi Ibkobitz, I always walked past their home (if one can call it a house at all, for it was just one large room where the whole family lived, Parents and three children).

I am the one, left of the terrible Holocaust, who is able to write down the stories of these events, for the sake of future generations and to tell that I was a child and I had friends from childhood.

And of all those mentioned above, no one was left, all were destroyed in Treblinka extermination camp.

May they rest in peace.

Written by David Giora.
Translated from Hebrew by Mr. Yuval Romano.