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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Leyzer Meltzer: Twenty-Five Years of Arbeter Ring Schools in Los Angeles, Pt. 2

“Twenty-Five Years of Arbeter Ring [Workmen's Circle] Schools in Los Angeles” by Leyzer Meltser [Lazar Meltzer], Pt. 2.
As appears in Khesbn (The Reckoning), vol. 1 (1946): 89-93.
Translated by Mark L. Smith.
[Translator’s note: words underlined were written in English, but with Yiddish letters; names of well-known persons are spelled as they usually appear in English.]

... From the opposite side, it was not at all easy to achieve a breakthrough to the larger Jewish street. Ordinary Jews were suspicious of the Arbeter ring school because it seemed unlikely to them that one could give a Jewish education without religious ceremonies and religious instruction.
Here, as in other cities, religious Jews conducted a vigorous fight against the Arbeter ring schools. It was not at all easy to fracture this wall of opposition, but through the devotion of the school leaders and cultural activists the wall was partially breached. The best example is that today that Bureau of Jewish Education recognizes our Arbeter ring schools and supports the schools in a significant manner, just like the other schools and Talmud Torahs [religious elementary schools] in the city.
But the path of the Arbeter ring schools was hardly strewn with flowers. No sooner did the school became somewhat established on the Jewish street, somehow receiving “civil rights,” a new problem arose that nearly ruined all of the intense effort. We mean the historic split in the Arbeter ring, which did not bypass our city.
The far-left elements in the whole country captured the majority of the Arbeter ring schools. Here in the city, they could not take the school, but did seize the house where the school was located, hanging a lock on the door and not allowing the children and teachers to enter, and — finished!
With this, the existence of the Arbeter ring school was actually assured because not only friends of the schools but even all of the principal opponents of the schools in the Arbeter ring threw themselves into the effort, and when the doors were closed at the school on the corner of Soto and Brooklyn Avenue — where the school was then located — the directors of the school together with the socialist Farband [Alliance], rented a house on Cincinnati Street and the school grew by leaps and bounds.
The Arbeter ring schools here in the city were fortunate with teachers. Nearly all of the best teachers in the country taught here in the city. It is sufficient to mention the names of Barzilay, Klewens (Mratshni) Waldman, Pine (Paniberye) and the current teachers. They are all well-known pedagogues, familiar throughout the country.
Thanks to our schools, the children come in direct contact with the pulsating Jewish life here and everywhere. Whoever has not seen with his own eyes how, in all three Arbeter ring schools here in the city, the children are working with a holy sensibility to collect aid for the benefit of the victims of Nazism, how they bring their snack money to help rebuild the Medem Sanitorium [a famous institution for children in prewar Poland] in connection with the actions of the Jewish Labor Committee, cannot understand how great an effect the teachers’ discussions with the children about everyday issues have on them.
Certainly, the school teachers are not satisfied with the results of their work — certainly they wanted better results — but the fault does not lie in the schools’ not being what they ought to be, but surely in not having the Jewish home environment in the inadequacy of the few hours a week that the children are given in the present supplementary schools; one must consider that, because of the great changes that are taking place in American Jewish life, it may also be necessary to reconstruct our school system in such a way that instead of supplementary schools we should have day schools where they will study Jewish and general subjects the whole day. We know in advance — some will say — that it is a dream, a fantasy, but more than one fantastic dream has already become a reality, and we are sure that with a suitable effort this will not be a dream.
What could be done in our neighboring Canada, in the cities of Montreal, Winnipeg, and Toronto, and what was possible in Mexico City, is also possible in Los Angeles. We have shown more than once that in communal work Los Angeles can be an example for America, and it is not at all impossible that we should also now be able to make this dream a reality.
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