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 The author’s mother skiing in the 1930s (image courtesy the author)

Indeed, the variations of circumstances and beliefs within the community were so numerous that a detailed record of just one Jewish school in the town published by Aryeh Sole, who had been one of its teachers, breaks down the Jewish students into no fewer than 21 different groups (Light in the Mountains: Hebrew Zionist education in Carpatho-Russia from 1920 to 1944, 1994). The school was the Zionist gymnasium  (grammar school) which aimed to prepare pupils for life in Palestine.

There were the poor, the middle class and the wealthy (the latter doubtless less numerous than the former but significant). Members of each of these economic classes were divided on their attitudes to religion.

Sole identifies four streams regarding religious observance. His evident anti-religious stance may have made him overstate the strength of similar feelings in the wider Jewish population. He divides Munkacs Jews into assimilationists, the “merely Jewish” who did not seek to escape from their Judaism but were not devout, the orthodox, and the fanatics.

Then there were differences based on secondary schooling. Jewish children had a choice of non-Jewish schools teaching in Czech, Hungarian or Ruthenian, Torah schools of the Hasidim, the Zionist gymnasium which taught in Hebrew and finally the choice, taken typically by the very poor, of no secondary schooling at all.

The divisions did not stop there. Among Hasidic Jews, the disciples of the feisty Munkatcher Rebbe disagreed strongly with devotees of the Belzer Rebbe. My grandfather was in the Belzer camp hosting a small congregation of his followers. The Munkatcher Rebbe was also at odds with the Zionists. “Whoever sends their children to the accursed Hebrew school shall be wiped out,” he reportedly declared and “for the past ten years, I have spat whenever I pass the godless Hebrew high school”.

Hebrew, he felt, was the tongue of the holy books and of prayer. Using it as an everyday language amounted to sacrilege. Another concern was that Zionist youth groups and training camps included teenage girls and boys. Sole recounts that public meetings between the sexes “were considered licencious”. Anti-Zionist parents feared their daughters would “come under the influence of atheistic Zionist boys”. When rebellious daughters “were caught red-handed at [Zionist] youth movement activities, the episode often ended in slaps and quarrels, sometimes even in a nervous breakdown”.
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Marilyn Herman
December 9th, 2018
11:12 PM
Thank you for this interesting article. It throws light on a lot of things. My father (David Herman's brother), was from Munkacs.

Ros Gelbart nee Herman
December 8th, 2018
12:12 PM
I so enjoyed your account of Jewish life in pre-war Munkacs. My father and his family lived near the Corso and he also spoke of the diverse and vibrant community. We self-published his memoirs, which included childhood memories of family life as well as his experiences in the Holocaust, in David’s Story - see www.45aid.org. Thanks also for so many helpful pointers to other writing on the subject!

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