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[Page 691]

Small Notes

Customs and Folklore in Brest

by Benjamin Gruzhevski

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

The Keren Kayemet Tax

Brisk D'Lita was greatly under the influence of its rabbi – Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. It had a great many yeshivas and synagogues, both Chassidic and Orthodox (Mitnagdim). Rich businessmen and merchants supported these institutions, large and small, and even such “Mitzvas” such as Hoshannas.

The Zionists were a majority in the city. They included most of the intelligentsia led by Colonel Dr. Shteinberg, who had full authorization from the Odessa Committee (The Zionist Headquarters in Russia). Leaders were C. Padua, M. Rabinovitch, Ben Zion Neumark, Leon Horoditche, and A. Pochachevski (from the first Chovevei Zion) – they had participated in the first Zionist Congress.

After our successful annual collection of donations for settlements in Eretz Israel on the Eve of Yom Yippur in the synagogues, we decided to levy a special Keren Kayemet tax on all the Jews of Brest. Because of our opponents, we decided to keep this decision secret. After Yom Kippur we formed a special committee that would collect the Hoshannas. Three days before Hoshanna Raba we sent out people who stood in pairs the entire day and night on all the corners of the city, on the roads that led to the villages that supplied all the branches for the Hoshannas.

We tried to buy all their stock, but many of the village peasants refused to sell us their branches at our offered price – they thought that they would get a better price in the city. This was a risk that would damage our whole plan; therefore our members, after arguing with the villagers, tore the leaves off the branches. The stripped branches were therefore rendered worthless. The peasants did not understand and stood all day in the city awaiting their fortune. Hundreds of Jews passed by and saw the damaged branches and would not touch them. A day before Hoshanna Raba there was disquiet in the city due to the lack of the Hoshanna branches – at this stage the Zionists posted notice in all the central spots announcing that 'Kosher hoshannas' would be sold at certain locations. Every Jew that wanted to carry out the mitzvah of Hoshanna ran quickly to purchase them. Many became enraged when they discovered that it was a Zionist scheme, but they had no choice other than to purchase from us. The price was higher – we earned a kopeck from each sale. All the money went to the Keren Kayemet.

There were some individuals who refused to buy from the Zionists. The Zionists decided to delay the prayers and sent special messengers to the villages to buy branches for them. The rabbi had to buy from us and willingly paid the tax. That particular Simcha Torah was characterized by especially joyous dancing.

 

The Keren Kayemet Congress In Brest 1913
Including: Zisman, Kvianovski, Lubelski, Koloditzki,
B.Z. Neumark, Markran, Henich, and Kviatkovski

 

Letterheads and Stamps of Various Brest Institution

 


[Page 695]

Folk Stories

by Meyer Ashkenazi

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

The people's doctor, Dr. Shteinberg, used to say: I have the recipe for long life, to live until 120. He would explain thus on every eve of Yom Kippur, Passover, and Simchat Torah: One's home should always be as clean as on the eve of Passover, one should always eat until full as on the eve of Yom Kippur, and one should always rejoice as if it were Simchat Torah.

* * *

When he would visit a sick patient he would accept payment for his services, even on the Sabbath. When the rabbi, Chaim Soloveitchik, raised this matter with him, he replied: “Rabbi, if the women know that I won't accept payment on the Sabbath, they'll all get sick on the Sabbath! It is written that the Sabbath is a day of rest – what sort of rest would I get every Sabbath? Rabbi Chaim replied: “ you bow to the golden calf the entire week, at least on the Sabbath free your soul from the weekly work. You are a physician of the sick and a liberator of the oppressed. Are you then not duty bound?

* * *

He would charge ten kopecks a visit. Upon departing, he once heard a woman say: “the doctor, came, took a tenner and departed! Hopefully he took the illness with him…” She thought that he was a Gentile, but he immediately replied to her in Yiddish: “yes I took the tenner, but the illness is still with the patient, and it will be a miracle from heaven if he survives!”

* * *

When there was an outbreak of cholera in the fortress, 28 Gentile and 8 Jewish soldiers were stricken, Dr. Shteinberg ordered that a huge pot of stew be cooked and given to the sick soldiers. All the Gentile soldiers recovered and the Jews died. When asked why he replied: “ from this we learn that Jews can't tolerate pork!”

* * *

Brest was renowned as a bastion of the Mitnagdim. One of them, an educated young man married into a Chassidic family. His new father in law wanted him to become a Chassid and said: “ I don't care whether you go to the Gerrer or Kotzker Rebbe, as long as you are a Chassid, I don't mind….” The young man replied: “ I don't believe in either the Gerrer or Kotzker rebbes, I only believe in what one says about the other!”

* * *

Reb Shmuel Landau, a learned Jew, came to Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik on Purim and said: “I wanted to send the rabbi the best wine as a Purim gift, but I could not find a suitably expensive container for such a good wine. I decided that the most expensive container is myself, so I drank the wine and then I came to you!”

* * *

My grandfather Reb Meyer Ashkenazi was born in the old Brest (before they shifted the city) and died in the new Brest when he was aged 101. When he was ninety years of age, my grandfather fasted on Tisha B'Av. My grandmother, seeing that he was weakened, asked him to eat something - he took her by the hand and led her outside to the street. He showed her how the entire sky was lit by fire, and said: “see how the synagogue is burning and you tell me to eat!

My grandmother died aged 100.

* * *

My father Reb Gershon Moshe, blessed be his name, died aged 98. He was never sick, never wore glasses and led the prayers at the lectern at the 'Hakodesh' synagogue on the High Holydays. When he turned 98, he was confined to his bed for 2 days and passed away peacefully without any suffering.

My mother, Bashe was born in Bialystok and died in Brest aged 96. She did a great deal for the poor and saw to it that no one would go hungry on the Sabbath.

 

Brest Jews in Military Service of Various Countries

From R-L top to bottom: Pesach Barkai (Burkowstein) Served in the Israeli Army
M.Bikov – Polish Army
L. Raf – British Army W.W.1
S. Ramo – Soviet Union Military
C. Finkelstein – U.S. Army W.W.1
D. Tennenbaum - U.S. Army W.W.2
Silver – Jewish Legion (British) W.W.1
Josef Butkovski – Tsarist Russian

 

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