The teachers and the pupils
The centers for the study of Jewish tradition, Jewish history and Hebrew formed in the city grouped around leaders; as a rule, they gathered the circles in the same districts where they lived. In the early Eighties, not only "otkazniks" learned Hebrew but also those who had began studying the Torah and found the language difficult or who studied Jewish history and culture. Among the teachers, there were those who followed the commandments and there were non-religious people. In one of the ulpans, Protestant seminarists studied. A teacher was esteemed by the number of the students who became teachers after their first year of study. The manuals were photocopied. As the number of the students and teachers increased, teachers unions were formed - Igud Ga-Morim (The Teachers Council) and the linguistic seminar. The teachers had practice to gather meetings where everybody spoke Hebrew only.
Most of the teachers that taught in the illegal ulpans in the Eighties live in Israel now. However, Felix Fainberg and Boris Ostrer still teach Hebrew in Khalom society. In 1991, 3 years after leaving, Hanna Rotman returned from Israel to teach Hebrew. Primarily, only adults studied Hebrew; in 1984, the Sunday schools for children began operating. The children of the "otkazniks" found themselves in a very difficult psychological situation. Their parents were persecuted. Some of their fathers were imprisoned. At school, they were harassed by other pupils - and sometimes by teachers. They endured insults in the streets. Their parents and their friends did everything they could do to help them. They organized childish festivals - especially, on Hanukkah and on Purim - and invited the children of their relatives and acquaintances. The apartment of Makushkin was one such apartment. Mikhail Makushkin was among those who tried to register legally the Leningrad Society of Jewish Culture (LOEK). Another such apartment was the residence of Daniil and Yelena Romanovsky.
At those festivals, the children got acquainted with traditional Jewish culture. Among the guests, there were not only the children of the "otkazniks" but also their friends or the children of the acquaintances of their parents. The traditional aspiration of the Jews to give their children the best possible education made the parents send them, beside common school, to musical ones, to circles for the study of foreign languages, or to painting studios. It so happened that there were almost exclusively children of Jewish families in the "Timurovets" painting studio. Their parents got acquainted with each other and decided that it would be good to give the children an idea of Jewish culture, too. That coincided with the necessity of creating at least a temporary island of psychological comfort for the children of the "otkazniks". So, in 1985, a childrens' Jewish Sunday school began operating in the apartments.
All in all, during 1985-1988, the school operated in 4 or 5 apartments; by the end of that period, there were about 40 pupils in the school. M. Dobrusina ran one of the groups that included about 15 children of the "otkazniks" from 6 to 11 years old. She taught drawing and Jewish classic texts. The school followed firm principles. The children studied Jewish classic texts. Then, they said themselves that they wished to study Hebrew because it was impossible to read original texts without knowing the language. H. Rotman, L. Perelman and B. Ostrer taught Hebrew in that group. When the children studied the Bereyshit book it was decided to let each of them make an illustrated specimen of the book. The "story of Joseph" became the base for it; that story was studied in great detail. Each one's own book became a visible result of the work they had done.
Primarily, they read some fragment of the text; then the teacher gave his comments and haggadic interpretations of the story. I. Dvorkin helped M. Dobrusina to get ready for those lessons. After the lessons, the students made "their comment" in pictures. The other group of 5 students (children of Cherniavsky and Lukin families) followed the same principle. E. Byshevskaya taught drawing; E. Rokhlin and O. Levina - Hebrew, and I. Dvorkin - the tradition. That group studied the materials of Rabbi Khonia ha-Meagel. The children studied not only the texts themselves and agadic interpretations of the texts but also the history of Jewish books. Splendidly illustrated "The Saraevo Haggadah" impressed them the most. So, in the conditions of an underground Sunday school, the principle of integrated teaching of Jewish tradition and history was founded.
That method, based on the involving students to the creative interpretation of the texts, the tradition and the history and the art of Jewish people, was so effective that it was used widely later at legal St. Petersburg Jewish Sunday schools as well as in kindergartens. The first attempt to regenerate Jewish kindergarten was undertaken in the later Eighties. That was a walking group of some children. Rita Demina organized the group. The concentration of people with a fully formed sense of Jewish identity in Leningrad of the Eighties established a base for regenerating the system of ethnic Jewish education as soon as Jewish cultural life was at last legalized. Even after the mass exodus of "otkazniks" in 1987-1988, their followers still stayed in Leningrad and they worked for the Jewish rebirth of the late Eighties and early Nineties.
The history of Khonia ha-Meagel. Drawing of A. Cherniavsky