chapter  VI
4 Pages

In a Christian School

In a Christian School My studies in the Kheder, the one-sided stimulation of my mental faculties, and the utter neglect o f bodily exercise, resulted in a mental precocity which made me at an early age take a serious view of the material conditions o f the family. I was elated when father realized some little profit in his meat business, and I felt utterly miserable when losses occurred. And, alas! the losses far outstripped the gains. Oppressive gloom, privation, and poverty began to haunt our little home; mother looked worried and helpless, and father, I could see, was quite unable to ward them off. The premoni­ tion of coming misery took increasing hold of my mind when I was eight years of age, and robbed me of all those innocent frolics and cloudless days, so full of care-free gaiety, which make the delight of youthful years. When I was twelve I decided to do something for my future, so as to be able to help the family. In the autumn of 1876, when the public elementary school was reopened after the summer vacation, I applied to the director for admission. Although elementary education had been compulsory since 1873, the Polish authorities did not enforce it upon the Jewish children, knowing the inflexible religious objection of the Jews to sending their boys to a Christian school to mix with Christian boys and, still worse, with Christian girls, and to be taught by gentiles. Besides, the way to school led through the precincts of the Catholic church and Dominican monastery, which the Jews shunned as the abomination of desolation. In these circumstances, I thought, a Jewish tutor who could teach Polish and German had a fair chance of earning a living by giving private lessons to those Jewish youths who, for com­ mercial purposes, needed such knowledge. This prospect made me take the risk o f attending school. The schoolmasters were liberal-minded, having gone

through their training in various government colleges and seminaries in the ’sixties of the last century-a period of the efflorescence of liberalism in Central and Eastern Europe. The Crimean, Italian, and Prussian Wars in 1854-5, 1859, and 1866 discredited and weakened the old institutions of Russia and Austria, and seemed to open up a new era for the various nationalities inhabiting those empires. The reign of liberalism was, it is true, o f short duration-from about i860 to 1878-but it was a period of intellectual and humanitarian awakening, and it brought toleration, enlightenment, a thirst for knowledge and free development. Here and there a Jewish youth or girl, though cribbed and cabined in the ghetto, caught a glimpse o f the new light. Some were dazzled by the vistas opened up to them and were lost to Judaism, others were attracted by the new objects of study, and pursued them with zest in order to become enlightened Jews; on the whole, the latter were in a minority.