Ephraim Shkolnik

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Ephraim Shkolnik

Hebrew: אפרים שקולניק
Birthplace: Rozhinoi, Poland
Death: April 08, 1907 (73-74)
Mazkeret Batya, Israel
Immediate Family:

Son of Noach Shkolnik and Sara Shkolnik
Husband of Faiga Rachel
Father of שרה ציפה שקולניק; Shmuel Shkolnik; Chana Rivka Gorodenchik; Morris Moishe Leib Shkolnik; Private and 2 others

Managed by: גורי לבנון
Last Updated:

About Ephraim Shkolnik

אנציקלופדיה דוד תדהר

The SchooInik Chronicles* With corrections supplied by Ophira Rahat


My great grandfather Ephraim Shkolnik was one of the original settlers of Colony Ekron (now Maskeret Batya, Israel) in what was then Palestine, I never met him but I was very close to his third son, Morris L. (Moshe Leib) Schoolnik, my maternal grandfather. It is my memories of him and some of the tales he told me that are prompting me to write this chronicle.

Before proceeding further I would like to explain the different spellings of the family name used in this chronicle. The Hebrew version, used in Israel, is best transliterated in English as "Shkolnik". My grandfather Moshe Leib upon entering the United States took the name Morris Louis Schoolnik. When other family members emigrated to the US they followed my grandfather's lead in the spelling of the family name. Each individual in this chronicle is listed by the name used for the major portion of that person's life.

II. PAVLOVKAlROZHINOI, RUSSIA The story begins in the mid 19th century in a village of Jewish farmers called Pavlovka, located near the city of Rozhinoi in the Grodno district of Poland which was then ruled by Czarist Russia. At that time, the Jews in Eastern Europe were considered to be a separate ethnic and religious group. As such they lived apart from the general population, generally in small villages. Generally they were tailors, artisans, and small businessmen. The people of PavlovkalRozhinoi were somewhat unusual in that they were Jewish farmers. Living conditions must have been very primitive.

ANECDOTE: My grandfather told me that he remembered watching his brothers cut slices from a tree to make wheels for a cart.

ANECDOTE: My grandfather's childhood home evidently consisted of a one-story building with an attic used for a sleeping loft. The house was heated only by a stove which had a zig-zag chimney to maximize heating. My grandfather described how he and his brothers would fight for a place to sleep near the heat of the zig-zag flue.

ANECDOTE: My grandmother Margolis (nee Gelman) who lived in the same village described to me how she once saw the interior of the home of what was evidently a wealthy family. She remembered marveling at the shiny wood floors. She couldn't understand how a floor could be maintained in such condition. She did not tell me what the floors in her home were made of. They must have been either stone or bare earth.

  • The Baron Edmond de Rothschild (and Herzl too) believed antisemitism will disappear when the Jews will go to Eretz Israel

III. EMIGRATION TO PALESTINE In 1881 and 1882 Pogroms encouraged by the government were occurring in Russia raising fears in the hearts of the Jewish farmers in Pavlovka/Rozhinoi. In late 1882 Yehiel Brill was commissioned by Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever acting for Baron Rothschild to find a group of Jewish farmers who would be willing to emigrate to Palestine which was then ruled by the Turkish Ottoman empire Baron Rothschild had agreed to fund such a colony provided the colonists were farmers from their youth and would travel to Palestine at their own expense. Ten men were to be selected initially. They were to travel to Palestine and undergo training at the Mikve Israel Agricultural School before actually founding a farming colony. Once they were established on the land they were to send for their families.

After a considerable search, Yehiel Brill had found the village of Pavlovka and the offer was made. A village meeting was held and ten men were originally selected. An additional man was later added.

ANECDOTE; Because of the many volunteers the successful group was selected by lining up those wanting to go and gauging the calluses on their hands.

*This was only done to Avraham Yacov Gelman. The anecdote about the farmers waiting on the line and showing their hands as proof, relates to Gelman only, not the 'crowd' fighting to join the group

ANECDOTE: The story goes that the eleventh man was added so that they would be sure to have a Minyan (the ten men required in order to hold a religious service).

Yehill Bril was the Baron Rothschild's agent, he did not like Y.A. Gelman who was the 11th man was needed for a Minyan, or as Shulamith Laskov says to write letters to Russia, or teach the children -- there are different views on the matter. In any case, Brill was not happy to see Gelman joining the group. and said "I didn't want to take him, because I heard he left farming a long time ago and was only 'a melamed' and also because he was not naiive like the other famers" (Brill, quated in Mazkeret a new book by M. Naor, p. 23)

Ephraim Shkolnik was one of the original group. He left behind a wife and 6 children. My grandfather Moshe Leib was his third son.

ANECDOTE: According to my grandfather at one point it was illegal for Jews to leave Russia. They must have had to use false identities. Evidently some way existed to do this and it worked until a Yeshiva bocha ( student at a religious school) intimidated by the gruff questioning of a Czarist army officer gave it away.

  • Ophria Rahat notes that the 11 DID have official Russian papers, also Bocha yiddish from the hebrew Ba-hour means yong boy. Bocha is pronounced bocher by yiddish speakers).

The eleven men embarked upon what must have been a long and difficult journey. Land travel in those days was either by train or stage coach. The final leg of the journey was by Ship. Entrance into Palestine was difficult as the Ottoman empire had legal restrictions against the immigration of Jews . In spite of all the difficulties the eleven men finally disembarked at Jaffa on December 14, 1882.

IV. EKRON/MASKERET BATYA After their arrival they proceeded to Mikve Israel where they remained for ten months. During this time the settler, mostly Y. Brill and later Hirsh, the director of Mikveh Israel, searched for land on which to build their village. In October 1883 they purchased 2800 dunams of land in the Arab village of Akir from Ibrahim Afuna, who may have been an Efendi living in Jaffa. This land had soil suitable for growing wheat and other seed crops which they had grown in their native land.

ANECDOTE: When I was a teen-ager my cousin Frank (Ephraim) Schoolnik visited our home in New Jersey. He was introduced to me by my grandfather who was also visiting as one of the "old time Schoolniks". Frank and I bear the same Hebrew name, Ephraim, after our mutual great grandfather, one of the original founders of Ekron. Many years later during a conversation at some major family affair Frank said that the original colonists had made a mistake. Instead of looking for black dirt to grow wheat they should have looked for sandy soil to grow oranges. The inference was that growing oranges would have been more lucrative than growing wheat. *Except that during WWI & WWII fruit could not be exported due to German subs operating in the Mediterranean Sea.

After purchasing the land, the eleven men began to build homes in the village which they renamed Ekron in the belief that it was the site of a biblical village of that name. The name of the village was later changed to Maskeret Batya to honor the wife of Baron James Rosthshild who was the daughter of Solomon (Sholmo) Rothschild who was James Rothschild's brother. Batya was the mother of Baron Edmund Rothschild.

At first the colonists lived in an mud shack in the Arab village for three months while they waited for a building permit from the Ottoman authorities, finally obtained by Hirsh from the Turkish Pasha in Jerusalem who received a nice Bakshish (bribe).

This house had a straw roof and no windows.

The Ottoman Empire restricted the construction of residential buildings. However, it was permissible to build a cowshed. The villagers then obtained a license for a shed. Construction was limited to one roof, evidently because they were limited to one cowshed ( n this "cowshed" the animals were on the ground floor and the families lived on a second story above the barn. A long building was constructed containing living space for the eleven families as well as village buildings. There were four apartments, then a village building, and then four more apartments, etc. These vii/age buildings must have included a meeting area for religious worship, storage space, a medical facility, and classrooms. The eleven men also began to farm the land. In order to do so the Arab tenant farmers had to be evicted which caused resentment on the part of the Arabs against the Jews. The villagers then began sending for their families who had to make the same journey and overcome the legal restrictions limiting immigration as the original eleven.

ANECDOTE: Marsha Gutman (Schoolnik) who immigrated to the Hartford area in the 1930's and raised a family there told me that her parents were caught up in this. Because immigrants were limited to direct descendants of the original eleven, her father Zvi lannovich changed his name to Zvi Shkolnik and claimed to be a member of Ephraim's family.

The village was governed by an overseer appointed by Baron Rothschild. This overseer had complete authority over village farming activities including choice of crops, farming methods, etc. If a particular farmer wished to plant a different crop or use a different farming method he had to have the approval of the Rothschild Overseer. This authority evidently stemmed from the fact that the village was not self supporting and was continuing to receive support from the Baron. This financial support continued into the 1930's.

There were many strong differences of opinion between the villagers and the Rothschild Overseer. The worst of these disputes occurred in 1889, a sabbatical year. The villagers wished to let the land lie fallow in compliance with the biblical injunction for the seventh ;year. However, the overseer insisted that the land be tilled. Most of the villagers gave in but the resentment lingered.

This was a religious community. After the village was established, Baron Rothschild offered the village a gift, asking them what they wanted. they asked for a synagogue. The Baron's people were surprised at this, thinking that the villagers might have asked for some additional farming equipment. However, the synagogue was duly built. The villagers, however had their practical side which at times conflicted with the religious requirements.

ANECDOTE: One of the villagers cut down a tree because that particular species was not "Kosher" (ritually acceptable). This caused quite a fuss as trees were both scarce and valued. Because of this and other similar conflicts, the villager was estranged from the village.

These were difficult times. The farmers had to contend with natural disasters which destroyed their crops, thieves (most of whom were Arabs who worked on the moshvah)* who stole their animals, and the edicts of the Turkish government which ruled Palestine.

ANECDOTE: My cousin, Marsha Gutman, told me how one of the residents of Ekron awoke one morning and went down stairs to his bam only to find that all of his animals had disappeared during the night. They were never recovered.

ANECDOTE: I remember part of a conversation between my grandfather and one of his relatives, partly in Yiddish and partly in English about his reasons for leaving Ekron. My grandfather described how "Shmuel and the others" would argue over one sack of wheat.

The Jewish villagers did their best to keep the Turkish government at arms length. For instance, the government would issue a document called a "nefoos" on the birth of a child. The Jews however did not inform the government of such events as they felt it was not the government's business. Vital statistics were not kept and as a results residents of Ekron, including my grandfather did not know their own birth dates.

The farmers mainly raised wheat and sorghum which is a grain used for fodder. When the wheat crop failed due to drought, or when their food supply was attacked by rats, the Jews had to use the sorghum for food. Chickens and cows were kept in the first-floor barns, giving the villagers a supply of eggs and milk. Since the people lived on the second floor, their living quarters were often invaded by barnyard odors.

For their Sabbath meals they often purchased potatoes and rice from the Arabs as well as animals for Kosher slaughter. They also had small vegetable patches which were worked by Arabs in a kind of tenant farmer operation.

In addition to farming skills which they brought from Poland, some of the villagers including my grandfather had worked at carpentry in Poland. this skill stood my grandfather in good stead when he came to the United States

v. Mazkeret Batya in Israel

The village became financially independent in the 1930's. During the War of Independence Mazkeret Batya was a staging area for convoys running the gauntlet of Jordanian shelling of the Jerusalem road in order to resupply the Haganah which was trying to take rescue the population of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem from the Jordanians. *Unfortunately the survivors were taken to the Jordanian desert and held captive.

The original long "cowshed is still standing and a museum has been established showing the history of the town.

ANECDOTE: This tragic tale of persecution and resistance came to me from Julie Machlin who is a granddaughter of Yosef Shkolnik. At the time this took place, Yeshayu Machlin and his family were living in Be'er Tuvya. Circa 1923. By this time, Palestine was no longer ruled by the Turks, having become a British Mandate as a result of World War 1. Yeshayahu's wife Maryasha, daughter of Yosef Shkolnik, was about to give birth. Since there was no midwife in Be'er Tuvya Yeshayahu took his wife to Mazkeret Batya wher a midwife was available.

Young Julie who was about 4 years old went along. They traveled by horse and wagon. As they traveled it was necessary for young Julie to hide under a blanket when they passed an Arab village for fear of attracting the attention of and attack by the Arabs. While they were traveling, Arabs attacked three Jewish settlements, including a Kibbutz near Mazkeret Batya,Be'er tuvya, and another village.

When Julie and her father returned to Be'er Tuvya after leaving her mother at Mazkeret Batya they found that Be'er Tuuvya had been largely destroyed by the Arab attack. Since the Jews were not permitted by the British too own firearms it was difficult for the Jews to defend themselves. However, three guns had been hidden by the villagers and they used these to good effect, avoiding loss of life among the villagers. Their property, however, was largely destroyed. The attacking Arabs were finally driven away by the arrival of the British Police who had been called by jews in the neighboring village of Gdera who had seen the flames.


Since colonial times the Schoolnik family has become dispersed into 4 continents and 4 countries.


About אפרים שקולניק (עברית)

אפרים שקולניק נולד ברוזינוי, פלך גרודנה, בשנת תקצ"ג (1833) לאביו נח ולאמו שרה בת משה לוין. קיבל חנוך מסורתי והיה אכר בכפר פבלובקה. היה מעסקני המושבה עקרון ומסור לעבודת החקלאות. נפטר בירושלים, כ"ד ניסן תרס"ז. צאצאיו: שמואל; יוסף; חנה רבקה אשת בנימין גורודנציק (מראשוני בוני נוה צדק); משה ליב; שרה ציפה אשת צבי שקולניק; פרומה (ארצות הברית).

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Ephraim Shkolnik's Timeline

Rozhinoi, Poland
September 10, 1861
Pavlovka, Ruzhany, Grodno, Russian Empire
Rozhinoi/Pavlovka, Russia
April 8, 1907
Age 74
Mazkeret Batya, Israel