Gan Shaʻashuim - גן שעשועים
About this newspaper
The weekly "Gan Schaaschuim" is considered to be the first Hebrew periodical for children to appear (prior to its appearance Olam Katon- עולם קטֹן had been published in Jerusalem as an irregular supplement – 7 issues in total – to Eliezer Ben-Yehuda's "הצבי"). It was initially published in Lyck (nowadays known as Ełk in East Poland), a town that was then a part of Germany, and is now in the north-east corner of Poland. A total of 78 issues were published between 1.2.1899-30.9.1900, under the editorship of publisher Avraham Mordechai Piurko (Łomża 1853- Grajewo 1933), a Hebrew writer and teacher.
Prior to Gan Schaaschuim, Piurko published an anthology entitled "נטעי נעמנים" (1883) that consisted of one hundred stories and moral fables, a small part of them written by him, and the rest being translations and adaptations from various sources. Most of them were didactic in nature, aimed at transmitting to young readers a moral imperative. Still absent from this anthology is the Jewish-nationalist orientation, which would be prevalent in his subsequent publications. After this anthology, Piurko published the first Bibliotheka – a series of 11 booklets, "children books for reading and amusement" (Grajewo 1893). This series included stories from the history of the Jewish people, in chronological order, and in biblical style. His next big project, after these two ventures, was the first constant Hebrew periodical for children, Gan Schaaschuim.
The world of Children's newspapers developed dramatically during the 19th century. In the beginning of the century children's newspapers were deemed agents of education and spiritual guides. As the century progressed, with the transformation of the concept of "childhood" and the rising awareness to children's spiritual-emotional needs, the newspapers became less didactic, and started reflecting the children's world from their own point of view. Contrary to this trend in contemporary European children's newspapers, their Hebrew counterparts in the early 20th century, Gan Schaaschuim included, retained their didactic goals, containing more literary works and texts that were less attuned to children's needs and desires than, for the sake of arguments, crosswords, riddles and games.
From a visual perspective as well, Gan Schaaschuim was not accommodating of its readership; the pages were full of textual content, printed in high density, with no images or illustrations. The first issues were not even punctuated. Piurko was well aware of the benefits of punctuation, and he apologized to his readers in the editorial of the first issue. Partial punctuation started from the 14th issue only, mainly in poems.
Piurko had three main goals for publishing the newspaper: instilling values in the younger generation, expanding their education and knowledge and strengthening their ties to the Jewish nation and religion. In his own words: "brining the youth's hearts closer to the Torah, and instilling them with virtues"; "developing their spirits, and introducing them to the history of the world, of their nation, and prompting their knowledge about the nature and the world"; "to encourage their affection towards our sacred language, and bonding them to their people and religion" (cited from an article penned by Piurko for the first issue and entitled, הגות רוחנו). And indeed, in the articles and also in the literary sections of Gan Schaaschuim these tendencies are prevalent. The writing style is somewhat heavy and excessive, with biblical elements, and with a Maskilic character.
The issues of Gan Schaaschuim contained short stories, poems, articles and items in the realm of popular science, a world 'news' section, fable adaptations, phrases and epigrams. Also included were translations of texts from various languages and texts written by Piurko himself and other writers. Amongst the latter, it's worth mentioning David Shimoni and Jacob Fichman, who launched their writing careers here. Compared to other children's newspapers, the component of humor and leisure amusement is scarce. Even the section called הוללות ושכלות (foolishness, silliness) is more didactic than amusing, and is full of moral phrases and references to the bible and the sages. A "שערי תשובה" section was Piurko's means to stay in touch with his readership. In its second year, a new section named "למען ציון" (for Zion's sake) was written by Kadish Yehuda Silman, under the pseudonym of "סימן קל", where news from Eretz-Israel and current events were covered.
Gan Schaaschuim was also distributed outside of Eastern-Europe; in Jerusalem, in Greece (Salonica), in France and even in the US.
Dr. Adina Bar-El
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