By Alexander Karnovsky
My great grandfather Avraham-Eliyahu Sandler was born in Vilkaviškis in 1857. As it was normal for a Jewish boy, he had studied first in a heder (kind of primary school), then in a yeshiva (a religious academy). Apparently, he was a good student, because by age 16 he became a teacher's assistant.
A few years afterwards, Avraham-Eliyahu moved to Virbalis and opened there a heder metukan ("reformed heder"), in which girls studied also. That was a novelty, because a traditional heder was for boys only.
Avraham-Eliyahu was also one of the first Hebrew teachers in Lithuania. This needs a short explanation. At that time, the spoken language of Lithuanian Jews was Yiddish, which was based on medieval German with some words from Hebrew. In a traditional heder, a teacher would read a Bible sentence in Hebrew and explain it in Yiddish. In Avraham-Eliyahu's heder only Hebrew was spoken and all explanations were given in that language.
After WW1, when Lithuania became independent, my great grandfather was one of Virbalis Jewish Gymnasium's founders and first teachers.
During his lifetime, Avraham-Eliyahu educated several generations of Hebrew speakers, many of whom have emigrated to the Land of Israel and were among builders of the Jewish state.
Avraham-Eliyahu Sandler died in 1931. The inscription on his tombstone said, "For fifty years, I was a servant of the Hebrew language".