by Yosef Gur-Arye
Translated by Sara Mages
Zalman Shneur, the renowned writer and poet, opens the first chapter of his book Fendri HaGibor [Fendri the Hero] with these words: Where are you Jews strong as oak trees? You, that in your eyes, the eyes of an innocent child, was hidden the force of life. You knew to give a hand and protect your brothers and sisters at all times of trouble. Like him, I'll also open my memories of Akkerman: Where are you, the Jews of Akkerman, strong as oak trees, the innocent and righteous, laborers, farmers and simple folks, who only want to live in peace and tranquility, have bread to eat and clothes to wear. They were happy with their lot and content with little.
The home of my father of blessed memory
My father arrived to Akkerman in 1912 from the district of Ludmir in Wolyn (Poland-Russia) at the recommendation of his uncle, HaRav R' Yitzchak Wertheim, who served as a rabbi in the city of Bendery [Bender, Moldova] near Akkerman. In Akkerman, my father was accepted as a Rabbi (according to the family tree my father was a seventh generation to Baal Shem Tov) although it was customary in our extensive family that all the boys had to receive a permit to officiate as rabbis. In my father's family the title Rabbi was inherited from generation to generation, and for that reason all the sons were called - HRHR (Half Half-Rabbi Rav). Anyway, my father served as a Rav-Rabbi in Akkerman until 1935 because in this year he moved his place of residence to the capital city of Bucharest.
As it's customary, our house, a rabbi's house, was used as a public house. It was always buzzing like a beehive and people from all the circles of the Jewish population entered and left it, each person with his case and according to his needs. It should be noted, that in terms of religious life Akkerman was different from many cities in the Diaspora. It was customary to say: the most liberal city across Russia (in terms of Jewish religion) is Odessa, whereas the most liberal city in Bessarabia is Akkerman. The Jewish population in this city wasn't the largest and at the verge of the Second World War it didn't reach more than 8,000 persons. At first, my father had trouble acclimatizing among Jews who were free with their opinions because in the towns of Wolyn, from which he came, the Jewish population was ultra-orthodox. But, it's possible say that after a brief stay in Akkerman these Jews endeared him and he endeared them. Father appreciated the proper attributes of Akkerman's Jews: honesty, fine hospitality, decency, etc. I remember that when I was a child I used to hide behind my father's tall chair, which was made of bamboo, and listened attentively to matters of Jewish law that were brought before him. More than once these deliberations continued until well after midnight and my mother, may she rest in peace, found her child sleeping soundly behind the chair…
Of course and as usua,l the discussions focused on matrimonial matters, between brothers and sisters, parents and their children, business partners, inheritances and wills, etc. The deliberations weren't always calm and sometimes the shouts between the "sides" frightened the children and the neighbors in the middle of the night. My father, who was endowed with an extraordinary patience, exhausted all the possibilities of compromise and didn't stop the deliberations before he had found the appropriate solution.
I remember an episode that characterizes the Jews of Bessarabia who, as we know, weren't known as great scholars like the Jews of Lita and Poland, but on the other hand were proficient in the laws of eating…From time to time my father was invited for litigation in one of the towns near Akkerman. The litigants were horse dealers. After my father issued a ruling to the satisfaction of both sides, one of the litigants declared in a loud voice that he was careful with the matters of the Sabbath to the highest level, and to prove it he opened and said: Rabbi, I once traveled from town to town. That day was Friday, so I whipped my horses with all my strength because I knew that the next day is the Sabbath and I had to reach the town by Saturday morning so, God forbid, I'll not violate the Sabbath…
Another story, which is also typical of the Jews of Akkerman, has reached my ears. My father told the story to his brother-in-law, HaRav Yosef Wertheim who was rabbi in Hurbieszow Poland, when he visited the city of Bendery before he immigrated to Israel. And so father told: it happened in 1913, the year in which he began serving as a rabbi in Akkerman. On Sabbath morning when father went to Beit Hamidrash he had to cross the fish market. And here he sees the chief Gabai of the Great Synagogue standing in the middle of the market. The Gabai greeted him with a broad Shabbat Shalom, but felt the need to add: Have you heard such a thing? About two hundred carts of fish arrived to the market today and the price of fish literally skyrocketed - 30 Kopikot a kilo!…
Of course, there were also Jewish scholars in Akkerman, who were heedful of a light precept as of a weighty one, and we shouldn't learn from the individual about the entire community. I remember well the sharp-witted Jews who studied the daily Gemara page like: R' Chaim Keminker, R' Moshe Aharon, R' David Brener and more, but their number can be estimated in dozens and not in hundreds.
I remember the many gatherings that were held with great splendor on the Sabbath and on the holidays, but I especially remember the mitzvah-meals that were held on the last day of Passover to mark the miracle that happened to Baal Shem Tov who was saved from drowning in the Aegean Sea on his way to Eretz-Yisrael. According to the story the ship, in which Baal Shem Tov and his family traveled, capsized at the middle of the sea. They miraculously found an abandoned inn and in it they found dumplings kosher for Passover.
Since, as aforementioned, my father was related to the family of Baal Shem Tov (seventh generation), these meals were held with great enthusiasm and festivity, and many Jews (even though there weren't many Hassidim in Akkerman) gathered to celebrate. Father sat at the head of the table and the Hassidic melodies didn't stop until late into the night.
The plan to immigrate to Cyprus
An important event that is etched in my memory is - the plan, to immigrate to Israel via Cyprus that my father was one of its initiators. The matter occurred at the end of the 1920s. At that time the economic crisis was at its height and it was followed by distress and shortage. In addition, these were also years of drought that were well felt in Akkerman and its environment. The Jews have been hit hard by this crisis and walked gloomy and worried. At the same time my father zl and other activists from the town like Baruch Gevet zl, Steinberg from the town of Shabo and others, started to think seriously about immigration to Eretz-Yisrael and formed a special association for this purpose. However, the British Mandate Government had its own laws. Only a few immigration certificates were given to the wealthy, and only those who were able to prove that they were wealthy received them. I don't know who the main initiator of the plan was, but a number of important homeowners, who belonged to the association, decided that if they can't immigrate directly to Eretz-Yisrael - they'll be able to get closer to it. The plan was: to travel to Cyprus and stay there till the storm blows over, and from Cyprus to Eretz-Yisrael was just a matter of one jump. If my memory serves me, about five hundred Jews joined the aforementioned association. They paid membership fees to the association and decided to send two delegates to Cyprus in order to test the possibilities of existence there and, above all, to find the most efficient ways to travel from Cyprus to Eretz-Yisrael.
The delegates left, spent some time in Cyprus, returned to Akkerman and reported that it's pretty easy to settle in Cyprus and the immigrants are guaranteed good absorption conditions. However, it's not easy to move from Cyprus to Eretz-Yisrael and they shouldn't expect any benefits from the British Mandate Government. This report didn't encourage them and eventually the association was disbanded and the matter ended with great disappointment. However, the matter of this association shouldn't be forgotten because it proves how great the yearning for Zion was, and to what extent the Jews were willing to go in order to reach Eretz-Yisrael.
I immigrated to Israel in 1937 after a period of training that lasted for about three years. My father whispered to me when he accompanied me: you know, my beloved son that we strive with all of our might to immigrate to Israel. Therefore, be a good delegate and make sure that we would be able to follow you.
With the outbreak of the Second World War all the roads and connections were disrupted. The immigration request that I sent to my parents didn't reach its destination and they were only able to immigrate to Israel in 1947. Father was awarded to see the establishment of the State of Israel, but he died of heart attack in 1952 at the age of 64.
It's interesting that shortly before his death he felt that his end was approaching and made all the efforts to publish his sermons and his lineage in two books: A)Binyan Shlomo - about the weekly Torah portions and the sermons and laws in the small tractates Berachot and Shabbat. B) Sharsheret Hazahav [The Golden Chain] which included the sermons of the great Hassidic masters and the details of his genealogy and of his righteous ancestors.
Characters and figures that are etched in my memory
Time has done its usual and erased a lot of things and people, but several characters from those days are etched in my heart and I'll try in the following lines to set, briefly, a memorial for them.
My friend, Motale Shternish zl, was like a brother to me. We grew up and matured together, and my hand never left his hand. In 1928 I traveled to study in a Yeshiva in Kishinev and none of us was able to overcome the longing to the other, and indeed, a year later, Motale also arrived to Kishinev. He was a fine young man and a friend who knew to dispel any feeling of sadness or depression from each friend that he had met. When we walked together - and we were always together - people used to say: here is a pair of jokers. They mainly intended to Motale, but because I was always in his company this nickname also stuck to me. When I traveled to Hakhshara [pioneer training] - he also traveled, but he wasn't as lucky as I was and wasn't able to get the desired immigration certificate. According to information that reached me, Motale perished in 1942 in Odessa and I mourn him to this day because he was an intimate fried and I'll always remember him.
Shmuel Sternisht zl was one of the teachers in Gymnasia Tarbut. He wasn't just a teacher, but a teacher in his heart and soul. In the manner of the people of Akkerman he was stuck with the nickname Dubtzi because he always told us the stories of Sholem Aliechm, especially the story Motl, Peysi the Cantor's Son, who instead of learning to be a cantor became a nanny to Dubtzi the cantor's hunchback daughter. Big a small called the teacher Shternish Dubtzi, but he didn't respond. A friendship developed became us because he was also the librarian. He allowed me to search the library and also let me borrow two or three books at a time. He gave me an appetite for reading and I'm grateful to him to this day.
R' Eliyahu Welbitesh zl was my father's friend. He was a Talne Hassid and in his childhood he visited R' Dudel from Talne together with my father. He was a pleasant looking Jew, a successful merchant, and had a large family. Every morning he came to our house and inquired about the health of the family members. My father zl honored him with the best aliyot [ascents] to the Torah, which were only given to the privileged, and it seems to me that this fact aroused the jealousy of the rest of the worshipers.
His grandson Yehusua (Drori zl), who always accompanied his grandfather to the synagogue, befriended me. He later became one of the founders of Gordonia and one of the high officials of the Workers' Federation in Hadera [Israel].
R' Yosef Ben-Zion was a resident of Kamyanets-Podilsky in Podolia and no one knew how he ended up in our town. He was lonely without a relative or a savior, smallish and adorned with a very short goatee. All year long he taught the Torah to the Jewish children in one of the villages near Akkerman, and came to Akkerman for the holidays. Our family, who knew that he was lonely, adopted him and he ate with us each time he came to Akkerman. He had one weakness: he ate and talked very slowly. We used to say in our house - if R' Yosef Ben-Zion had finished his meal - it is a sure sign that dawn has arrived…
Sometimes, during the High Holiday he had the luck to be invited to serve a cantor in one of the towns. At Simchat Torah the clowns used to harass him and urged him to sing AdamYesodo me-afar, ve-sofo le-afar [Man comes from dust and ends in dust] from the prayers of Yom Kippur. He tried to trill his voice, but most of the times he wasn't able to. The kids tried to help him and threw handkerchiefs, towels and everything in sight at him, but he never lost his temper.
From my childhood I still remember other homeowners like R' Zeidl Auerbach who knew sickness all of his days. He was a scholar and an enthusiastic Hassid. He had a tremendous drinking power and was able to drink, all at once, the water that we kept in a copper jug. His friend was R' Moshe Wizblat who was very skinny, literally skin and bones as they used to say in our town. He was God-fearing and a Hassid and his nickname was Mamenyu [mother] because he used to wring his hands and emit a sigh that was accompanied by one word - Mamenyu. He prepared himself for the next world and studied the Torah day and night. His wife had to take care of this world, meaning that she had to earn a living, and for that purpose she had a textile shop. She was very proud at her educated husband and believed that thanks to him she'll also have a place in heaven.
by Binyamin Girshfeld
Translated by Sara Mages
From the days of my childhood I especially remember the image of my grandfather, R' Leibale' the ritual slaughterer (R' Yehudah Hirschfeld). He was a scholar and a God-fearing Jew, and for 46 years served as a Mohel and a ritual slaughterer in Akkerman. He wrote several books, which were printed in Jerusalem, on the laws of slaughtering (Pnei Aryeh, Shaar Aryeh, Amery Baruch). He was also a scribe and specialized in writing in tiny letters. His letters were written in flowery Hebrew and elegant handwriting. He used to straighten his white beard while reading the Holy Scriptures and left the hair that fell between the pages of the books. At times, we, the children, found his hair between the pages, and I remember that father used to say to us: children, don't touch the hair, it's sacred!
Grandfather passed away when I was six years old on one of the Sabbaths of the month of Kislev. I remember that father gathered all the children, informed them of grandfather's death, started to cry after he covered grandfather's face with a white sheet, got dressed in his everyday clothes and went to Beit HaMidrash.
My father also served the Jewish community of Akkerman as a ritual slaughterer until the outbreak of the Second World War. He was observant and zealous in all the religious values like the rest of the ritual slaughterers in the city: R' Mendel Gelman, R' Nachum Zukerman and Asher Malmud. On Sabbath eve and holidays, summer and winter, my father used to go to the mikveh. He always returned with a guest to drink a cup of hot tea together and chat about this and that.
We had a Christian neighbor in our yard, who was a friend of the family, but he was a drunk. Whenever Grisha - this was his name - got drunk, he would come home singing and cursing out loud. He had a one-horse carriage, and it turned out that the horse memorized its way to the stable. When Grisha came down from the carriage, he used to open all the doors and gates, release all the geese, chickens and pigs, and announced in a loud voice: All of you, go to hell! He used to say to his son Favco, who was weeping bitterly: You, you also get out of here, I'm not your father, I'm not the homeowner, I'm not a father and I'm not a husband, all of you, get out of here! All the neighbors gathered to watch the show which was repeated often.
We lived not far from the [Dniester] Liman River, and in the scorching summer days we bathed in its pure and sweet water. Young and old flocked to the river bank, not only to bathe but also to nourish their eyes in the beautiful landscape, which was especially beautiful in the evening when the water merged with the blue sky and the bright stars sparkled around.
I spent many hours and days in our street, Breiskya Ulica. Standing before my eyes is the building of the Romanian Secret Police that belonged to R' David Berkovic zl. Across from it was a large courtyard with three synagogues: The Great Synagogue, Beit HaMidrash and the Kloiz. Akkerman's fourth synagogue was located in Izmail Street. This synagogue was called Ramsleina (craftsmen's synagogue), and excelled in its beauty inside and outside. On the Holy Ark, which covered the entire eastern wall, were different engravings and also the cantor's pillar was impressive. The Gabba'im sat on both sides of the pillar, and the two exit doors were intended for the cantor and the singers who appeared on Sabbath eve and holidays. As we know, the Germans held the remaining Jews of Akkerman in this synagogue until they led them to their last road.
Frequently, when I anchor in the region of my childhood and youth, I find myself in Akkerman's old Beit Midrash where I spent quite a lot of my time. The renowned Jewish writers dedicated a prominent place in their work to Beit HaMidrash and I, of course, will not add anything new in my description. From the dawn of my childhood I absorbed everything that took place within the walls of this Beit-Midrash. The special Jewish experience came to expression inside it, and I remember all the worshipers, the important homeowners and the least important homeowners, according to the order of their seating, as I remember all kinds of events in this Beit-Midrash that stand alive before my eyes.
|The extensive Girshfeld family|
|The entrance gate to Beit HaMidrash|
From among the various personalities, that I remember now, I'll appoint: R' Yosel Ben-Zion, son of Efraim Tzvi, who liked to drink and ran a lot to do his little business. In the bathroom he used to run into a pile of stones and woe to the one who was captured in his hands; R' Moshe was able to sing, and when the Gentiles gave him a small coin, he sang the Tochecha [rebuke] and showered them with curses in the Holy Language that they couldn't understand; R' Leizer the blind, who had a bass voice, was mostly begging for alms in funerals; Babe de lange [the tall], who was in charge of the women's Mikveh, also served as the prompter in the women's gallery of the Great Synagogue and read from her Tze'nah u-Re'nah in a loud voice; R' Idel always talked to himself and cracked seeds constantly. Every once in a while he was seized with madness and it was necessary to tie him with ropes; Yasha the newspapers seller, who was semi-paralyzed, used to come to parties that he wasn't invited to dressed in a black suit, a shirt with a white collar and a bow tie, and his face shone from joy and happiness; Pessi was the cantor's helper at the synagogue. He recited El malei rachamim for a fee, and lengthened and shortened the prayer according to the price that he was getting… and there were more and more characters like them.
Now I see before my eyes the elderly, R' Motel Feigin, as he's sitting and praying at the eastern-wall. He was one of the richest men in the city, a handsome Jew that his beard was white from afar and his opinion was accepted by others. And there were other respected homeowners who were Torah scholars and proficient in Shas [six sections of the Mishnah] like: David Brand, the brothers Granick, Aharon Cohen, Chanich Shapira, Haim Kminker, Shmuel Berger, Yakov Grishfeld and others.
And if you have a public event that isn't related by any means to Beit HaMidrash - a wedding, Brit Milah, Bar-Mitzvah, Yahrzeit and, of course, also funerals. Now, echoes in my ears Shmuel Gordon's El malei rachamim before the departure of a funeral. I also see the beggars standing at the roadside and hear the voice of Leizer the blind calling: Give elms to the poor! The class differences were especially prominent at the funerals. Besides the coffin-bearers, who volunteered to do so, only a small number of Jews were dragged to the funeral of the poor and the beggars knew in advance that they will not fill their bowls with donations. It wasn't the same when an important person passed away. He was rewarded that the masses will accompany him, by foot or by car, and the beggars also won a fat share and their bowls were filled with coins.
And now I hear the wailing of a woman who bursts in the direction of the Holy Ark. In those days it was probably the last resort in times of danger. Jews, Help! - she would shout in bitter tears - help - my son is struggling with something worse than death. And merciful Jews, sons of merciful fathers, immediately rushed to help, recited Psalms or just fulfilled their obligation by saying Brukh hu Ubarukh Shemo [blessed is He and blessed is His Name] and Amen.
And here I hear the fiery speeches of the emissaries from Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal] or Keren HaKayemet [JNF], about the redemption of the Land of Israel during the break between Shacharit and Mussaf prayers in Beit HaMidrash. The orthodox Jews took advantage of this opportunity to warn that the Sabbath isn't kept in Eretz-Yisrael, and the emissary's words were swallowed by the interjections.
There was a flurry of emotions in Beit HaMidrash when a controversy broke out between the old rabbi and the young rabbi. The first - well versed in Poskim and the Talmud, while the other - a rousing preacher and a pleasant cantor. Things came to such an extent, that when three Jews died in one day, many claimed, that the fire of the great controversy has caused this disaster.
The members of Beit HaMidrash kept the flame burning and belonged to Agudat Yisrael or Mizrachi. Beit HaMidrash not only served as a place of worship, but also for all the needs that Judaism was associated with. Here, groups studied Mishnayot, Ein Ya'akov and Tehillim Zager [recited Psalms]. The parties for the Torah scholars, who finished the reading of the book, took place here. These parties ended with the rabbi's sermon and the eating of knaidlach, and sometimes, especially on Lag BaOmer, also the smell of goose fat rose from Beit HaMidrash… The melodies before the Mincha prayer also emerged from there on the Sabbath, and I especially remember the sorrowful melodies, which were sung during Shalosh Seudot [the third meal eaten on the Sabbath], when the Jews parted from the Sabbath Queen.
Of course, the Shamash, Yisrael-Moshe, conducted with honesty and dedication the great preparations for the holidays and festivals, while the honorable Rabbi Roler gave sermons on the Sabbath and holidays. As usual, he always ended them with the blessing - Veba lezion goel venomar Amen.
I close my eyes and see Beit HaMidrash on Tisha B'Av, its benches overturned, beralach [snails] are thrown from different directions, and the sad melody of Eikhah [The Book of Lamentations] is piercing Beit HaMidrash.
Especially etched in my memory is the special status of the bowls on Yom Kippur before Kol Nidre prayer. Young and old sat, each in front of the bowl that he was in charge of, and his eyes examined every donor and every donation. Is that the voice of the cantor Avraham Rybak that is rising in my ears? For all of these, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.
I also hear the silent weeping of R' Motel Zarchi, a God-fearing Jew with a thin beard who always had a gloomy expression in his tortured face. When I was a child I loved to look at his face because, for some reason, it seemed to me that light was strewn on it, as it's written Light is sown for the righteous. When the worshipers reached Shema Yisrael, R' Motel prolonged the last word of this verse and the cantor wasn't able to continue until R' Motel had finished his trill…. Interestingly, the worshipers in Beit HaMidrash weren't satisfied with their own cantor and were eager to hear Lishmoa El Harina Vel Hatfilla [Let us listen to the song of our prayers] from good cantors like Moshe Cohen, Nisan Kentor and Tzvi Krankurs who prayed in the Great Synagogue. The Jews of Akkerman had a special affinity to Cantorial music, and even the secular and assimilated Jews, who didn't want to give up a piece of Cantorial music, flocked to the Great Synagogue. Nonetheless, a Jewish heart…
by Yehoshua Harari
Translated by Sara Mages
From the summit of my 80 years on earth, after 60 years of life in Israel in which I dried swamps, paved roads and built many houses, including my home, I'm still tied by bonds of love to my hometown, Akkerman, where I spent the first twenty years of my life.
Indeed, the landscape of my birthplace left its mark deep in my soul. The city lay on a hill surrounded on one side by the water of the [Dniester] Liman River, and on the other side by vineyards, orchards and fields. The long shore of the Liman River was used for growing vegetables, reeds, fish farming and storage of timber, and the Liman's port connected us with the city of Odessa - the Jewish metropolis. The river froze in the winter and the snow accumulated to a great height. The ice was stored in cold-cellars and lasted for the entire summer.
In the summer, the swimming beaches stretched from two directions on long bridges which were supported by poles. There was a beach for men, and quite far from it, a beach for women. The timber from the warehouses floated by the beaches and helped the children to learn to swim. Those, who weren't lazy, were able to take a hot shower because one of Asbsorov's three flour mills was located on the beach. Later, also the electric power plant was located there. The plant used the Liman's water to cool its machines, poured the hot water back into the river, and here you had a hot shower. However, in the winter it was necessary to go to the Bania - a public bathhouse with steam.
The frosty winter landscape with temperatures that reached between 25 to 30 degrees below zero, and the large piles of snow that accumulated in the streets, is well remembered by everyone who lived in Akkerman. It should be noted, that the city residents knew how take advantage of the summer season for the winter season by collecting firewood, pickling vegetables (even watermelons) in big barrels, and accumulating a stock of powidło [fruit stew] from the fruit of the season. I remember that Yosef Beretz, a resident of Kibbutz Degania who visited Bessarabia, sent an article to the weekly Hapoel Hatzair [The Young Worker] and its title was - Cooking Powidło, because every place he visited he came across this phenomenon.
The temperature difference between summer and winter was very large. Thanks to the high temperature in the summer all the vegetables and fruit that we know in Israel, apart from subtropical fruit and citrus trees, grew in our place. Huge quantities of fruit and vegetables streamed to the city, and the watermelons piled high. Dozens of carts with apples and plums arrived to the market, and as a child I was impressed with this abundance.
Many wrote and sang about the blessed land of Bessarabia and the abundance that fell in its share, especially in the south. When we lived in Izmailosky Street I always saw the convoys of railcars on the tracks and the bendigot [stevedores], who lined up in the direction of the Liman and filled the barges (the tankers of those days) with wheat, grain, barley and corn that were sent abroad. I remember this sight to this day.
A chapter in itself is the wine industry. During the harvest time the whole city was marked by this. Merchants, who even came from Warsaw, and all kinds of religious ministrants ran around the streets of our city to make sure that the wine barrels, which were exported abroad, were strictly kosher.
We can't separate the Turkish fortress (Krepost) from the landscape of Akkerman. It was shrouded in mystery and various legends were told about its towers and dungeons. Also the two town squares, one in the city center and the second in the other end, constituted, of course, an integral part of this landscape.
by Yakov (Jancik) Zukerman
Translated by Sara Mages
When I try to remember Akkerman, my childhood, personalities, landscapes, events and experiences from the past, I'm amazed how little I remember from there. I only remember a little bit about public affairs and personalities who were active in the Jewish community. It seems to me that it's possible to explain this phenomenon by saying - that, in fact, we didn't live there when we lived there, because our existence focused on the Land of Israel. We sat on the banks of the Liman River and sang songs about Lake Kinneret. We walked in the square by the fortress and our heart was in Kibbutz Degania or Masada. Even when we were there, we knew very little about the public life that occurred in the community or in the synagogue, and the politics, which was conducted in the conversations of the idlers of Agudat Yisrael, didn't interest us at all.
I started my formal education in Manya's kindergarten. She was an educated woman, saturated in Russian culture and talented. It was necessary to have some degree of boldness to manage, as much as possible, this kindergarten purely in Hebrew. The song, which is known to every child who attended kindergarten, is echoing in my ears: On a window, on a window, stood a beautiful bird. The kindergarten teacher Manya explained to us the meaning of the Russian words, and then started to work hard on introducing the melody. I progressed from kindergarten until I graduated high school. I'm sure, that many have already raised their memories in this book about the good teachers that we had in high-school, and first and foremost, about the image of the principle Berger. For sure, they didn't spare praises at his expense, but let me mention a particular disadvantage. As a teacher, Dr. Berger, who was highly knowledgeable, didn't know how to teach it to others. We can say about him that he was like a samovar full with water, but his tap was faulty. He knew eight languages, including Arabic. I think that he learned this language by himself, since it's clear that there weren't any Arabic language schools in Akkerman or in Odessa. Maybe he studied Arabic in Leningrad, because for some time he was the secretary of Tzeirei Zion in Leningrad. At any rate, he was a renaissance man to the full meaning of the word, and his mark was evident in the institution that he managed and nurtured. We had another interesting teacher - Feinbelt. He had a good pedagogical method and was a superb teacher.
When I was ten I joined Gordonia. I arrived there directly from the Hebrew Speaking Association. At the chapter, and at school, we only spoke Hebrew between us. I only started to study Yiddish at the age of 15, and it's no wonder that people said that I spoke Yiddish like a real Gentile… In fact, I didn't need any Yiddish because we spoke Russian at home. My mother was a teacher in a Russian elementary school, an amateur singer, a collector of Ukrainian and Russian songs, and we had close ties with Russian families. And if I didn't need to know the language for my teaching job with an Achvah group, whose members came from the middle class and only spoke in Yiddish - I would have remained, to this day, a total Gentile in terms of my knowledge of the Yiddish language… However, for us, the Gordonia members, the Hebrew language was like a mother tongue. We spoke, of course, in Ashkenazi accent, and only in 1930. when the first emissaries came from Israel we started to speak in a Sephardic accent. The teacher Epstein, who came from Israel, was the first to speak in this accent in Akkerman. He was like a second Eliezer Ben-Yehudah. He only spoke only in Hebrew with Jews and Gentiles. At first, everyone made fun of him but, slowly slowly, he accustomed everyone to turn to him only in Hebrew. He didn't deviate from his way or speak in any other language. It's worth mentioning that the son of the teacher and librarian Sternshis only spoke in Hebrew although his mother wasn't a Zionist.
From among the leaders of the Jewish community I especially remember Stretz who prepared me for my Bar-Mitzvah. He was a unique figure, a man of values who remained loyal to the principle of self-employment. He chopped wood with his own hands and didn't use a water-drawer. He put a yoke on his shoulders and brought the water to his house. This matter seems very strange in light of the way of life in the city in those days. He only had one son, and when his son entered the ranks of the Revisionists he stopped talking to him... I remember, that when he taught me the Haftorah for Parashat Chayei Sara which dealt with Abishag the Shunammite, I started to shower him with embarrassing questions
about the behavior of King David toward the young girl Abishag. Stretz complained to my mother that I was teasing him with my questions and throwing him out of balance….
Another interesting character was the principal of Talmud-Torah School, who was also a teacher. His name, Tchichelnitzky was a bit strange and caused many jokes among my group of friends. He used to whip his students with a special kind of whip (kanchik), and in this respect he was unique in Akkerman. Incidentally, Talmud-Torah was under the influence of the Yiddishistim [advocates of the Yiddish language].
The members of Agudat Yisrael congregated in Beit HaMidrash. I had a shtot [a permanent seat] in this Beit Midrash despite the fact that I wasn't a God-fearing Jew. I actually won a shtot in the eastern wall after my father got into an argument with Beit HaMidrash and kept away from this place. Since then, I came to Beit HaMidrash by myself, sat in my shtoat, and found myself in the company of important homeowners, masters, and influential persons in the terms of Akkerman of those days… Apparently, they treated me with some kind of respect because my great-grandfather, and also my grandfather, served as rabbis. Also, my second grandfather (on my mother's side) wasn't a worthless person, and he is - Yankel der heizeariker - the cantor who was famous not only in Akkerman (by the way, I was named after him). I wasn't awarded to know him, but I know that he was one of the great cantors and that he also composed several payers. He is well praised in Encyclopedia of Bessarabia, in the chapter about Bessarabia's cantors. He was given the nickname heizeariker [hoarse] because of this incident.
During the days of the 1905 pogrom he hid for several days in a cellar from fear of the rioters, and when he came out his voice became hoarse. It was told about a competition between him and the famous cantor Nissan der Belzer, and my grandfather (actually - his voice) had the upper hand. He left Akkerman after the aforementioned pogrom, traveled to Czechoslovakia and England and many flocked to hear his prayers. I own a booklet of prayers that were composed by this grandfather. My uncle, one of the sons of Yankel der heizeariker, was also a cantor and a slaughterer. He studied at the conservatory and was the one who managed to decipher his father's writings. Later, he left the chazzanut, studied medicine and became a surgeon. Apparently, the musical talent, which characterizes several members of our family, is hereditary and originated from my grandfather and maybe also from my grandfather's grandfather. Anyway, mother received a good measure of musical education from grandfather Yankel. She knew many songs and recorded every song with a folkloristic character in her notebook. To this day, my mother's melodies are echoing in my ears, and on the wings of these melodies I'm also carried to those days.
If I mentioned Beit HaMidrash, it should also be noted that the people of Beit HaMidrash conducted all the affairs of the city. The tax, which was entrusted in their hands, was the main source of income of the Jewish community, and those who hold the pay - also hold the opinions… I remember that David Brand, one of the people of Beit HaMidrash, was almost the only ruler and ruled everything that was related to public affairs. Frequently there were disagreements between the people of Beit HaMidrash and the Zionists, and I remember, that in not one case, the Zionists were the losers. It's difficult for me to remember the nature of the battles that took place in those days, for as I said at the beginning of this article, I wasn't involved in them and they didn't concern me at all. When I was in Akkerman I saw myself as Mordecai Tzvi Manne, the poet from the Haskalah period who is standing still on top of a hill, his soul is yearning to Zion and he's asking: Where are you, where are you the Holy Land, my soul yearns to you. For us, Akkerman was only the corridor to the parlor. Our hearts, opinions and feelings were given to Eretz Yisrael, to the parlor, and everything that happened in the corridor was unimportant and insignificant.
by S. Yisrael
Translated by Sara Mages
Like in most cities in Bessarabia the majority of the Jewish population in Akkerman was merchants and professionals. However, also the craftsmen constituted a significant portion of the population, and there isn't a profession that the Jews didn't engage in. In our city, there were a number of crafts that the Jews and Christians dealt with together like: carpentry, shoemaking, glazing, painting, electricity, baking, tailoring, bathhouse attendant, etc. and there was also one Jewish blacksmith - Avraham Grynszpan. On the other hand, there were also professions that were only in the hands of the Jews: tailors, watchmakers, milliners for men and women, photographers, goldsmiths, dental-technicians, furriers, dressmakers, bookbinders and tinsmiths. It should be noted, that most of the craftsmen in our city were involved in the public life and served as community leaders.
There's no doubt that it's fitting to place the tailor Leib Stambul, who was a loyal and dedicated public activist, at the head of the privileged and honored craftsmen. He was elected as a member of the community council, was a member of the board of Tarbut, ORT, Maccabi, the New Jewish Hospital, and more. It can be said, that most of the important public institutions in Akkerman enjoyed the public activity of Leib Stambul. A chapter on its own is his Zionist activity. He was one of the first members of Hovevei Zion in the city. Later, he was active in the General Zionists Party, the committee of Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal], Keren HaKayemet LeYisrael [JNF] and even in the Halutz committee.
It goes without saying, that he educated his son and daughter to Zionism and Zionist fulfillment. His son Nisan, who was one of the activists in Gordonia, immigrated to Israel after his graduation from the Hebrew High-School. In 1936 Leib Stambul followed his son and immigrated to Israel together with his family.
Upon his arrival to Israel he didn't stop his public activity. In 1950 he was one of the founders of the Society of Emigrants from Akkerman and the society's Loan Fund. He maintained close ties with the former residents of our city. Everyone knew that Leib Stambul was the best address at time of need. He was rewarded to live to a ripe old age and enjoyed his children and grandchildren. He passed away in 1968.
The tailor, Yakov Yashpan, was among the founders of the craftsmen's synagogue and also served as the Gabbai [beadle] of this synagogue together with the lawyer Bendik Axelord. He was tall and handsome, well dressed, good natured and honest, and was valued by the residents of our city.
Fondly remembered is the tailor Wasiniwesky who was highly accepted by his clients, Jews and non-Jews, who were among the crème de la crème of the city. He gave his children a Jewish education, and his only son was among the activists of Tzeirei Zion in our city.
The watchmaker R' Ben-Zion Kogen, who was known by his nickname Ben-Zion der zeigermacher [the watchmaker] or Ben-Zion der weiser [the white], was a Jew with a gracious facial expression and a long beard. He was a God-fearing Jew who didn't skip a prayer. He was one of the respected craftsmen, did his work faithfully and honestly and acquired a lot of friends.
Another watchmaker, who was also a public activist, was Berel Roitman. He represented the craftsmen in a number of public institutions and was among the activists of HaOved HaTzioni [The Zionist Worker].
A special character was Yeshayahu Greenstein the silversmith. He merged chazzanut [Jewish liturgical music] and silversmith. He also hummed various pirkei chazzanut [Cantorial pieces] and trilled his hoarse voice when he sat at his workbench. Chazzanut was a hobby for him, and when a synagogue in the city wasn't able to obtain a cantor for the holidays, R' Yeshayahu was always willing to lead the prayers. He also organized a small choir that accompanied him - and also that on his own expense.
From among the carpenters in the city it's worth noting Haim Britva and Teshmerinski. The first was a Zionist activist, a member of HaOved HaTzioni, and also taught woodworking at ORT school. He was also among the activists of the Zionist funds. The second was highly respected for his honesty and good manners. He was rewarded to immigrate to Israel with his family.
If we move to the printing profession we should mention two noteworthy Jews,
and they are: Pinchas Aksler who was an active member of the General Zionists Party, and helped all the Zionist parties in preparing their printouts, and Gedalyahu Goldfarb who was a burnt Yiddishist [advocate of the Yiddish language], a member of the Kultur Lige [Culture League] and a supporter of the Yiddish School. Despite being one of the opponents of Zionism, he couldn't convince his daughter to follow this road. She immigrated to Israel and built her family here.
Another Yiddishist, Fruma Feinland, who was also an activist in Kultur Lige, was rewarded with a similar fate. Her daughter also immigrated to Israel and established a family here. Fruma, who sewed hats for women, was among the founders of the Yiddish Drama Club. She was the star of this club and played many roles in the plays that were produced by the club and even gained success. This hobby was often at her own expense because the burden of income was imposed on her after her husband died at a young age. Her many friends, who respected and admired her, were loyal to her and only ordered their hats from her. She went through many difficult years during the World War, but she managed to reach Israel and was rewarded to live to a ripe old age in the company of her daughter and her family.
There was also an interesting character among the locksmiths, and he's - Pinchas Milman. He was among those who came to the synagogue early in the morning. Before the onset of the prayers many Jews, who enjoyed listening to his tales about people and events that he encountered in his occupation, gathered around him. Not to mention the many stories that he had told about America, the golden land, and about all the great things and wonders that he saw there when he visited his eldest son who lived there.
We'll also mention the tinsmith Eli Ber Kizlman, A kind-hearted Jew, short and skinny, what was called in Yiddish a dravene Yeddel [a small Jew]. He was among the builders and the Gabbaim of the new Kloiz and donated a Torah Scroll. For the festive grand opening he was carried from his house to the Kloiz accompanied by kleizmer band. His only son served as a cantor in the craftsmen's synagogue and later in London.
Apart from them, there were many other craftsmen from the working class who lived from the labor of their hands. Some of them engaged in public activities, each person in his own field. They were honest and modest in their thoughts and deeds in the words of the poet [Bialik] in his poem I'd rather be with you.
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