Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum Leon Bramson (1) Leon Bramson (2)
What shall Jews do in Russia? When conditions for Jews grew worse in Russia at the end of the 19th century, the educated members of the Jewish community, especially young people, tried to find answers for a way out of the existing state of affairs. As it was useless to expect the tsarist authorities to show an understanding of their situation, all that was left for Jews was to place their trust in the greatest spiritual authority of Russia – the writer Lev Tolstoy. It became necessary to hear from Tolstoy himself how he viewed the situation of the Jews, the campaign directed against them and what, in his opinion, Jews in Russia should do. Fate brought the young Leon Bramson to hear answers to these vital questions for the Jewish community when he and Rabbi Josif Krauzkopf from America met with Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana on a summer’s day in 1894. Bramson told the writer of the difficulties Jews in Russia had experienced and explained that the
activists among the Jewish community saw the engagement of Jews in agriculture and trades as a way out of the existing situation. Tolstoy heard with great interest that there were already several agricultural communities and hundreds of thousands of Jewish artisans; that Jews were leaving cities to engage in agricultural labour; that educational farms were being established and new plans for training in trades were being drawn up. The news that a society for trades and agriculture that supported Jews already existed surprised the writer. Tolstoy approved of Jews wishing to get involved in other work, agriculture in particular. “The more Jews will work the land,” he said with great enthusiasm, “the better it will be for them. If an entire generation appears that will cultivate land with sweat on their brow or will work in workshops, so much the better. The more people till the land and sow, the fewer of them go into trade and the happier and better the life of the nation is.” These are Tolstoy’s words as written by Bramson in his 1937 memoirs about the unforgettable meeting in Yasnaya Polyana.
Bramson was greatly encouraged to get involved in further activities after he visited Lev (Leo) Tolstoy, the great Russian author and intellectual, in Yasnaya Polyana. Tolstoy praised and supported the work begun by Bramson and his associates – the founding of Jewish agricultural colonies and farms for educational purposes and the training of artisans. Many years later Bramson wrote about this meeting in his memoirs: “reconstructing in my mind that unforgettable day, I again experienced for hours a spiritual upsurge and a belief in the victory of the brotherhood of nations, as well as encouragement to work for a better life for enslaved and subjugated peoples – all the things that our common teacher in Yasnaya Polyana dreamed about.”
Leon Bramson 18691941
Students in the fields of Ungurinė [Ungarina] farm (Marijampolė [Mariampol] county), 1933–1935. World ORT Archive
Lev (Leo) Tolstoy. Esfir Bramson’s personal archive
Leon Bramson, Chair of the ORT Central Board, devoted much attention to the activities of the ORT Vilna Technicum. On 28 April 1935 he made a special visit to take part in an ORT Vilna meeting, the agenda of which is shown here. Esfir Bramson’s personal archive
Poster advertising a charity concert organised by ORT in London in support of the ORT Vilna Technicum and the ORT vocational school in Vilnius (“Saturday evening, 20th May at 8 PM the singer Iza Kremer will perform Jewish and Russian folk songs”). World ORT Archive
Announcement by the BRAMSON ORT Technical Institute in New York about registration of new students at its colleges in Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn. Esfir Bramson‘s personal archive
Jewish weekly “Apžvalga”, 4 June 1939, Nr. 21.