Wednesday 5 August 2015


YISROEL GUREVITSH (April 1, 1887-1941)
            He was born in Vitebsk, Byelorussia, into a well-to-do, rigorously Orthodox family.  He received a traditional Jewish education in religious primary school, and he acquired a general secular knowledge in his home with his older brother.  At age fourteen he graduated from a Russian public school and at age twenty from the Vilna Jewish teachers’ institute with distinction (Russian was the language of instruction).  He worked as a teacher thereafter—initially in the high school for girls run by N. Funt in Vilna, later in the state public school in Smorgon (Smarhon’), Vilna region.  In late 1915, with Vilna already under German occupation, he was appointed manager of the first secular Jewish school for boys, which the “Khevre mefitse haskole” (Society for the promotion of enlightenment [among the Jews of Russia]) opened there.  Within a short period of time, he converted the school into a major, exemplary, and popular institution of learning.  Many of the hundreds of graduates from the boys’ school later took up prominent positions in various professions in Jewish cultural and community life in Poland.  He wrote throughout on pedagogical themes.  He served on the editorial board of the pedagogical journal Di naye shul (The new school) (Vilna and Warsaw), and of the publication for adults, Shul un heym (School and home) (Vilna), in which he published articles on children’s clubs, relations between parents and children, issues of education and teaching programs in the school, and also reviews of textbooks.  He was the most important contributor to the school commission which produced the first Yiddish vocabulary for physics, chemistry, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry (all published in Di naye shul, 1920-1921).  He published Mayn togbukh (My diary), the operational principles of school (Vilna, 1921), and with Yair Shusterovitsh he compiled a variety of textbooks used by Jewish schools, such as: Aritmetisher rekhnbukh (Arithmetic textbook) (Vilna: Farlag Univers, 1921), 72 pp.; and Algebraisher rekhnbukh (Algebra textbook) (Vilna: Farlag Univers, 1923), 172 pp.  He also carried out the following translations: N. Ribkin, Geometrisher rekhnbukh (Geometry textbook), 2 parts, Planimetrye (Planimetrics) (Vilna, 1922), 152 pp., and Stereometrye (Stereometrics) (Vilna, 1922), 107 pp.; V. Don and F. Tikner, Onshoyungs-geografye, in farbindung mit natur-visnshaft (Conceptual geography, in connection with natural science) (Vilna, 1922), 98 pp.; A. M. Ostryak, Onshoyungs-geometrye (Conceptual geometry) (Vilna, 1923), 146 pp.; A. Kiselyov, Elementare geometrye (Elementary geometry), part 1 “Planimetrye” (Planimetrics) (Vilna, 1924), 289 pp.  Together with his wife Khane, they adapted Aritmetik far onfanger (Arithmetic for beginners) by Wentworth and Reed (Vilna, 1923), 129 pp.  In Hebrew he published: Hanegina haivrit (Hebrew music), with M. Alpirovits (Vilna, 1912); Sheelon algebra, aritmetika lematekhilim (Algebra questions, arithmetic for beginners), with his brother M. A. Gurevitsh.  In 1926 (according to Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon), he had ready for publication in manuscript: “Yidisher historish-geografisher verterbukh” (Dictionary of Jewish historical geography), with E. Y. Goldshmidt; a Yiddish translation of “Fizika” (Physics) by B. Kustrinski and “Fizika poplarit” (Popular physics) by B. Kustrinski and M. A. Hurvits; “Mowa Polska” (Polish language), with Y. Khmel, for Jewish school children; “Lematekhilim beivrit” (Hebrew for beginners), with his brother again, for students who already have a command of the mechanics of reading and writing Yiddish.  He was active in the community in a variety of educational organizations in Vilna, mainly the “Tsentraler bildungs komitet” (“Tsebeka,” Central educational committee), which was the central administrative institution for the entire secular Jewish school system in the city.  He later supported those elements among the Yiddish teachers and school leaders who sought compromise between Yiddish and Hebrew in the classroom, and he became one of the founders of the independent school and educational institution known as “Shul-kult” (School and culture association).  In May 1928, after a sharp conflict with Tsebeka, he left the Mefitse-haskole school in Vilna.  The great majority of parents and students from the former school left, together with him, for the new school.  The language of instruction remained Yiddish, but the number of Hebrew subjects became significantly larger.  In 1939 when the Soviet authorities took over the city, Gurevitsh was removed from his directorial position in the school.  In 1941 the Nazis murdered him in Ponar.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1, pp. 554-56; Undzer tog (Vilna) (April 1, 1937); A. Vinik, in Tsayt (Vilna) (April 1, 1937); B-n, in Tsayt (April 6, 1937); Lerer-yizker-bukh (Teachers’ memory book) (New York, 1954), pp. 91-92.

Yitskhok Kharlash

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