ABSTRACT When I Grow Up, I will Make Aliya...

The "'Tarbut" Network in Poland and its Children's Periodicals

Adina Bar-El

"Tarbut" - a Zionist network of Hebrew-language educational institutions - functioned in Poland between the two World Wars and operated kindergartens, elementary schools, secondary schools, teachers' seminaries, adult education courses, lending libraries and a publishing house that produced pedagogical materials, textbooks and children's periodicals.

The network was launched in 1922 when the first national "Tarbut" conference was held in Warsaw, and operated primarily in the eastern region of the country in teritories previously controlled by Russia.

By the outbreak of Wqrld War Two, it had 45,000 students enrolled in some 270 institutions, constituting roughly 25% of all students enrolled in Jewish schools in Poland, and 9% of the entire Jewish student population in Poland.

The "Tarbut" schools were secular in nature, offering general studies in the sciences and humanities, Polish studies (by order of the government) and Hebrew studies. The ideology was Zionist-nationalist, grounded in Jewish history and aimed at guiding the Jewish student towards playing a pioneering role in Palestine.

After World War One, the center of Hebrew literature shifted from Eastern Europe to Palestine, a development that was palpable, inter alia, in a drop in the number of Hebrew materials for children. "Tarbut"'s role in this area as publisher and co-publisher of various children's Hebrew periodicals was thus vital.

Its first venture into the field was Shibolim ("Ears of Corn"), a Hebrew biweekly published in Warsaw during 1922-1923, edited by A. L. Jakobovitch and later by Aaron Zeitlin with the participation of Jacov Fichman. The text contained materials with and without Hebrew vowel marks, indicating a wide range of readers' ages. Some 70% of the content of Shibolim was literary - both original and translated works in a variety of genres; and the rest was devoted to entertainment, sports and crafts. Current events, whether related to the Jewish world or to Poland, were not covered at all. The illustrative material was minimal, generally reproduced from the sources of the translated texts or from other published Jewish sources.

 

With financing based on subscriptions, the publisher tried to expand the readership, but this failed to produce the needed results. Publication was halted for two months after the first year. The periodical then reappeared as a monthly, and finally it ceased entirely, clearly as a result of lack of funding. This problem was endemic to the Polish press generally and to the Jewish press in particular during the early 1920's, when Poland was struggling to recover from the war.

Twelve years later, in December 1935, "Tarbut" launched another Hebrew- language periodical, Olami ("My World"), which was to be followed by Olami Hakatan ("My Small World") and Olami Haktantan ("My Tiny World"), all biweeklies geared to three age groups respectively: 5th - 7th graders, 3rd -4th graders and 1st - 2nd graders. While "Tarbut" was in difficult financial straits by then, the distribution of the Olami Periodicals was apparently successful, in contrast to the Shibolim venture, handled through schools and reaching thousands of young readers. Publication of the three biweeklies was cut off by the outbreak of the war in 1939.

Better illustrated then Shibolim, Olami - edited by Shmuel Rozenhek with the assistance of Elkhanan Indelman - featured a reverse proportion of content

than Shibolim - some 70% devoted to general topics and 30% to literature. However, reading was encouraged through the listing of new books, and reader self-expression was sought and was published in the periodical. In contrast to Shibolim, current events in Palestine were covered extensively, including the conflict with the Arabs, facts and figures on Jewish settlement, nature and agriculture in Palestine, and the development of Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. Side by side, material on Polish history was presented, with an emphasis on the Jewish role in Poland's battles and the contributions of Jewish personalities. The celebration of Jewish holidays and festivals both in Palestine and in the "Tarbut" schools was depicted. Columns on crafts, on sports in Poland and on popular science also appeared regularly. Both Olami and Olami Hakatan made reference to growing anti-Semitism in Europe and particularly to the deteriorating situation of the Jews in Germany.

Olami Hakatan featured letters and other creative efforts by the young readers mostly on serious Zionist themes, reflecting the probable influence of their Hebrew teachers and/or the editors. The periodical also instituted correspondence between children in Poland and Jewish children abroad, particularly in Palestine, reprinting some of these letters. Olami Haktantan, which began publication in 1939, put out only eight issues before the outbreak of the war. Designed with large letters, including vowel marks and line drawings, the periodical consisted of entertainment and content related to children's everyday routines.

All four periodicals expanded their readers' Hebrew vocabulary and stimulated Hebrew leading by providing varied subject matter. Olami and Olami Hakatan, in featuring material on current events and highlighting the milieu of Palestine, clearly reflected the Zionist agenda of the later 1930s.