Streetwise: Rehov Biram, Haifa

Reali High School founder Dr. Arthur Biram was both party to the revolution in education in the Yishuv.

biram street 88 (photo credit: )
biram street 88
(photo credit: )
The name of Arthur Biram is synonymous with education in Haifa and the Reali High School is named after its founder and first principal. But while Beit Biram is situated on Rehov Abba Khoushy, the main road winding up the Carmel toward the university, nearby Rehov Biram is the address of the more humble Ironi Gimel (Alliance). However, Biram would have been satisfied with the location of the street named after him because it provides a transportation link between the University of Haifa and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. While the peak of the street is marked by a number of high-rises, the lower part of the road leads into a leafy suburb occupied mostly by young professionals, many of whom have graduated from Reali, the university and the Technion. Dr. Arthur Biram, a philosopher and educator, was born in 1878 and died in 1967. He was witness to the revolution in education in the Yishuv and its development after the establishment of the State of Israel. Born in Saxony, he studied philosophy at the University of Berlin. He was also a rabbi. In 1898 he was one of the founders of the Bar-Kochba club. He was already an experienced teacher in Berlin when he was approached by Shmaryahu Levin to head the Reali School, which was being built on the old Technion campus in Haifa's Hadar neighborhood. This was in 1913 and it was not his German background that had qualified him for this job, but his perfect knowledge of Hebrew. For this was the year of protest against the teaching of science in German and as a result there was pressure to establish a Hebrew school. Biram accepted, made aliya and became Reali Hebrew School's first principal. HIS HIGH morals and belief in Zionism were inherited from his parents. His father was a modest but successful businessman, a strict and precise person who believed in peace in the home. He was impressed by the vision of Theodor Herzl and passed on to his son his belief in a national home for the Jews. Biram's mother was a strong, optimistic person who loved theater and opera. Both parents wanted him to have everything they had missed. At 13 Biram started high school, studying Latin and Greek. His father dreamed that Arthur would be a rabbi in Israel but although he was ordained, he preferred to teach. At the University of Berlin Biram studied languages, including Arabic, and was awarded his doctorate in philosophy. On arrival in Palestine, he set about his work as headmaster of the new Reali school with 60 pupils and three teachers, the classrooms equipped with planks, soap boxes and oil drums serving as desks and chairs. During World War I, Biram was drafted into the German army and stationed at Afula railway station. There is nothing written to describe his state of conflict when serving in what was then the enemy army. In 1919 he returned to the school and his vision lives on until today. He wanted to see holistic education with craft-related subjects occupying a third of the syllabus. A moral lifestyle, discipline and good works were as important to him as academic study. The motto: "Walk humbly" (Micah 6:8) was the emblem on the school uniform, special clothing for school being an innovation in itself at that time. The two scout groups were an integral part of the school: the Vagabonds, founded by science teacher Pinhas Cohen and the Carmel Vagabonds, founded by Arye Kroch. Biram was not a supporter of the short school day; he believed that pupils gained academically and socially by spending as much time as possible at school. In 1923 the Reali boarding school started functioning in two tents, and a year later the cornerstone was laid for the permanent building. STRONGLY INFLUENCED by Dr. Eliahu Auerbach, a German physician who firmly believed in the health benefits of sports, Biram established a strong department of physical education. The physical education teacher at the boarding school was a young woman, Hannah Tomeshevsky. They married and had two sons. Tragically, both sons were killed - Aharon in an accident while on reserve duty and Binyamin, an engineer at the Dead Sea Works, by a mine. By the 1930s and the increase in immigration, branches of Reali opened in the Central Carmel and Ahuza. Although the school attracted the "crème de la crème" of Haifa society, Biram was not an elitist. He was realistic in his expectations and believed that a strong nation could not be built by academia alone, that there was value in training for manual labor and agriculture. After the riots in Hebron, Biram introduced compulsory courses in self-defense and with Ya'acov Dori founded an institute of sports and physical exercise, a predecessor of the Reali Gadna program. He wanted Reali pupils to be disciplined fighters, to have stamina and physical strength. It was on this campus on what was then a winding donkey track up the Carmel, that the expanded high school was established in 1949 and named for Biram. Biram resigned as principal in 1948 to be replaced by Joseph Bentwich. On his 75th birthday, he authored a collection of essays on the Bible and in 1954 he received the Israel Prize for Education. His work continued for he was still occupied with teacher training and was still active on the Council of Head Teachers. He was the instigator with the support of David Ben-Gurion of the military boarding school in 1953, named after his son Aharon. In spite of his personal tragedies and his reputation for strictness and discipline, Biram had a warm heart and was widely respected and loved by his students and staff. Even after retirement his home at Rehov Eder 17 was open to former students who visited him with their families. They called his wife "mother," a poignant name for the woman who lost both of her sons. Thanks to Beit Biram archivist Shimon Valdhorn.