The first Jewish Rabfak and the last Jewish school
In 1926, after some reorganizations, the Leningrad Institute of Jewish History and Literature was closed down. The Jewish department of the rabfak attached to the Leningrad State University existed somewhat longer, until 1932. It was a two-year preparatory department for young Jewish workers. It was established in 1924. Graduates of the rabfak entered the university. Two years' training was necessary to prepare Jewish workers from small towns to understand the university course in Russian and to give them basic knowledge to enter the university. In the first year, they were taught in Yiddish; in the second year - in Russian. All in all, there were 30 student places in the rabfak; the provincial Departments of People Education, the Central Bureau of Jewish Sections and the Jewish Sub-Department of Ethnic Minorities of Narkompros sent their students there.
It was necessary not only to have the permission of the proper organization to enter the rabfak, but also a record of manual labor as a worker. Depending on the age of the future student, labor experience ranged from 2 to 5 years; however, for members of the VKP(B) or Komsomol, the norm was from 1 to 3 years. But young Jews from small towns had no possibility of obtaining such experience because of widespread unemployment rate in their towns. Nevertheless, in 1924, there were 26 students. Shortly after, it became clear that well qualified Yiddish-speaking teachers were no longer necessary. The most advanced rabfak students moved from the Jewish department to the Russian one already during their first year; so the number of students in the Jewish Department decreased.
There were two teachers in the Jewish Department of the rabfak who stood out. They were S.B. Yudovin, who taught drawing, and Z.A. Kissel'gof, a teacher of mathematics. Both had taken part in Jewish scientific and cultural societies before the Revolution; they had gone on expeditions and both had lectured and organized concerts. Z.A. Kissel'gof was not only a rabfak teacher, but also the director of a Jewish ethnic school and a children's home. Just after the Revolution, the Jewish orphanage on the Tenth Line of Vasilievskiy Island was nationalized; the children's home was based on it and a Jewish school was established and attached to it. The Jewish school run by Z.A. Kissel'gof operated longer than any other Jewish educational institution. Only in 1937, shortly before Z.A. Kissel'gof was arrested, was it reorganized into a common city school with no ethnic orientation.
In the mid-1920s, a special train full of children from Ukrainian Jewish children's homes came to Leningrad. Z.A. Kissel'gof met them himself. Beside pupils of the children's home, the children of Leningrad Jewish families, mainly from Vasilievskiy Island, also studied at school No.11. The parents knew the friendly atmosphere of that school. All subjects were taught in Russian; Yiddish was one of the program subjects.
Leningrad children who had said their first words in Russian regarded Yiddish as yet another foreign language taught at the school; whereas for the children of the children's home, it was their mother tongue. Intensive extra-curricular activities were characteristic of the school and Z.A. Kissel'gof was the inspiration for them.
Kissel'gof used to say that if he had the chance, he would teach music to each pupil. Music classes and chorus practices as well as the theater circle were based on a Yiddish repertoire. Naturally, there were Pioneer and Komsomol organizations at the school; besides, the Jewish Ethnic School No.11 was a collective member of OZET. But the rich life of the school came to an end. On June 12, 1938, at night, a prison van "voronok" came to the school and the men from there asked a boy in the yard, "Where is your father?" They had come for the director. 11 months later, Kissel'gof was set free. When he was imprisoned, his wife died. A day after his release, he fell ill with pneumonia (they had damaged his lungs when they beat him during interrogations) and died shortly thereafter. In the coffin, his body was covered with red shroud with a Star of David.
First issue of 11th Ethnic Jewish School. 1938. Photo