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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Sh. Shulman: Notes from a Former Teacher in the Folk Shul, Pt. 2

“Notes from a Former Teacher in the Folk-shul [Yiddishist, Labor Zionist elementary school]” by Sh. Shulman, Pt. 2.
As appears in Khesbn (The Reckoning), vol. 1 (1946): 84-88.
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.]

... Finally, the building was completed and the folk-shul was converted into a daily school.
The friends’ joy was boundless. The folk house became popular among the Jewish intelligentsia. All came to see and admire the strength of the idea.
Men and women friends divided themselves into committees and conducted an information campaign among the Jewish community about how important it is to educate Jewish children. Their agitation and circulating of literature brought good results.
Children streamed in of various ages. The first term brought in 120 children.
It was joyous, lively in shule and around the shule, and everything was living and blooming. (All of us were after all a quarter-century younger in those days.) We practically lived in the folk-shul. In his own way, each person found his place there.
The course of study was not yet firmly set at that time. It experienced the same fluctuations as in the other, eastern, cities, although the local shule was born a decade later.
The course of study depended mostly on the caprices of the teaching personnel:
If the teachers were Poele-tsien Yiddishists, the emphasis was placed on Yiddish with a Labor Zionist interpretation. If the teachers were folkists, the Poele-tsien ideology, or ideology in general, was forgotten. For example, if the teachers were former Talmud-Torah [Hebrew religious school] teachers, then the emphasis was placed on Hebrew studies and ordinary nationalism. The name and content of the radical shule was then radically erased.
The teachers were even hired by an education committee, with specific instructions from their Poale-tsien colleagues, but in the majority of cases, the “Torah experts” -- in a foreign language -- were no higher in their cultural level than the “educational committees” of the elementary religious schools in those years.
If the teacher candidates were able to make a good impression, either with their smooth tongues or a recommendation from a smooth tongue, everything was considered to be in order.
So it went until a specific incident would suddenly awaken the attention of a few colleagues to a deviation here or there from the P.Ts. program — and a shadow would also fall on the teachers’ mastery of pedagogy. A racket and a commotion would begin that lasted until the end of the term . . . and in the second term, nearly the same was repeated...
At the same time, one must give well-earned credit to the Poele-tsien colleagues. They were always dedicated with heart and soul to the children’s receiving a Jewish education.
No one spared time, health or money. With all their energies they were devoted to building the national Jewish school movement.
I am not recounting any of the colleagues and leaders by name because all, without exception, did their ideal work completely.
With their love and zeal for Jewish children’s education, they stimulated the more subtly perceptive members of the Arbeter ring [Workmen’s Circle], who have an ear and feeling for spiritual changes and excitement in Jewish life.
In the Arbeter ring, the idea of Jewish children’s education had begun to ferment. Some took stock of their own children’s education — and drew conclusions: that it could not continue as it was; that change must come. In their circles, it stormed and bubbled — for, and against, Jewish education. More were opposed in the beginning. A small matter, introducing nationalism, God-forbid chauvinism, in their four cubits . . . For their whole lives, they hoped and dreamed that peoples would disappear. The stateless peoples would be swallowed up by their stronger master peoples. Linguistic assimilation, especially, was their desire, as a step toward complete assimilation.
So who is more suited to jumping into or, more correctly said, being the first to be shoved into the melting pot with their language and culture, if not the stateless Jews? As it says in the Biblical verse: you shall be a light unto the nations! [Isaiah 41:6]
And here suddenly their ranks were invaded by “kramolniks” [Russian: subversives], who wanted to disrupt and destroy their cosmopolitan dream . . . . How could one possibly allow it? There was bubbling and boiling in their ranks.
Ultimately, the rebels won . . . They were permitted to conduct negotiations with the representatives of the Folk-shul.
Instructions about conditions were given to their committee:
1) that the study program of the Folk-shul must be revised.
2) the inscription, Folk-shul, on the shield must be removed and replaced with — Arbeter ring shul.
Following that, one could discuss financial support and other technical matters. Needless to say, the shidekh [match] was not made. The conditions were so stiff and severe that no consideration could be given to conducting further negotiations. In simple language, it would have meant that we, the Poele-tsien, must dissolve.
Nevertheless, the spirit of the times prevailed. A few years later, a Jewish school was born at the Arbeter ring — true, under the name, Arbeter ring, but a Jewish shule. In the beginning, it had a pale program of Jewish studies, but with time the shule grew and became a mature, full-blooded — Jewish school.
At present, both types of school, the Poele-tsien and the Arbeter ring, have created a joint middle school.
Overall, the idea is approaching and maturing for a complete merger of both types of schools into — one.

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