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[Pages 86-94]

Chapter 4

Between Holy and Profane

[Page 86]

Beth Hamidrash (The Synagogue)

Translated by Judy Grossman

Micha Baron: I am looking at a picture of the Beth Midrash and can see inside it. On the top floor was the women's section, on the bottom floor the men's section, at the entrance a small hall, the kleizl, where prayers were usually held on weekdays, a minyan[1] for shaharit, mincha and maariv (morning, afternoon and evening prayers). This was especially the case in the winter, in order not to heat a large area.

Shayke Glick: At the entrance to the Beth Midrash, all along the wall there were shelves filled with holy books right up to the ceiling.

Rachel Rabinowitz (Slovo): An ancient and very beautiful Ark of the Torah stood in the synagogue, with a special embroidered cover. Before the holidays the Gentile women used to clean and scrub the building.

Zelig Yoffe: When I returned to the shtetl after the war, I don't recall seeing the Beth Midrash.

Yaacov Charit: And I heard that horses were housed in it…

Views of the Beth Midrash building today

 

Malka Gilinsky (Feldman): Bachurey Yeshive, the students who came to study in the shtetl used to sit and study in the Beth Midrash for many hours. They used to eat Yamim (“days”), in a different home every day, and I remember that they also ate in our home.

On my return after the war I learned how they had abused and humiliated the yeshiva bochers, and this knowledge had an adverse affect on my faith.

Zelig Yoffe: There were three such yeshiva bochers (young yeshiva students) in our home as well. Among them I remember the names Leibe Feldman, Beni and Ezer. They were part of a group, about 50 yeshiva bochers, war refugees from Baranowitz. On 23-24 June 1941, I arranged a wagon for five of them to flee from the shtetl[2].

In 1997 when I was in Dusiat the Lithuanian Jonas Galvydis, told me that he saw how the yeshiva bochers were being abused and humiliated. “I think that they came to the shtetl from Lublin,” he said.

Sara Weiss (Slep):Following my telephone conversations with Aharon Migdal and Rabbi Akiva Egozi-Ojach, I learned a little about them and the families in Dusiat in whose homes they had resided.

Aharon Migdal: I was born in 1921. I studied at the yeshiva in Baranowitz and from there I went on to study at the yeshiva in Kobryn. During the Soviet period we moved to Vilna (Vilnius). Three weeks before the outbreak of the war between Germany and Russia, the older students of the yeshiva moved to study in Salok (Salakas), while the younger ones were first sent to Yanove (Jonava) and then to Dusiat. There were about fifty younger students. The head of the yeshiva obtained visas to Japan for the boys who were in Salok, and they managed to get out of Lithuania and reached Shanghai.

I know that visas to Japan were sent to Dusiat for twenty students of us, but the Soviets deported them to Siberia instead.

First I lived in the barbershop in Dusiat, but with the onset of winter I moved to the home of Getzel and Rivl Binder. Gentiles used to visit them at home and drink alcoholic beverages. The Binders were not strict about “kashruth” (keeping kosher) and so I ate at the home of a woman who ran a small haberdashery shop[3]. Her son Avremel was working nearby Vilna at the time, at the Polygon military camp. I remember that I used to sit there reading and studying, and her daughter (perhaps 18 years old) used to follow what was written with great interest. I don't know if they were of the Melamed family.

The Binders were childless, and I remember that they planned to leave their property to relatives in Utian (Utena).

When the war broke out, they packed their bags and left the shtetl in a wagon, with the aim of reaching relatives somewhere. I don't know what happened to them.

The next day I and another two “bochers” – David Goldstein (from Mezeritch) and Baruch Tenenboim (from Kobryn) – left the shtetl. Baruch survived and lives in Israel. I don't know what happened to David.

Sara Weiss (Slep): Rabbi Akiva Egozi-Ojach doesn't know about these visas to Japan. Anyway, when a couple of Soviets called him to join them he succeeded in fleeing through the second door, and for several weeks wandered from place to place, until he was interned in the Shavli (Siauliai) Ghetto…

In Dusiat, Rabbi Akiva resided in the home of the pharmacist Chaim-Aron and his wife Sara-Nechama , Rabbi Bunim-Tzemach' daughter and the sister of the famous rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Silver.

“Perhaps my name was on the list of those eligible for a visa to Japan, and if I hadn't fled I would have been sent to Siberia…”

Of all the “yeshiva bochers”, the only one whose name he remembers is that of Yosef Mamdik from Kobryn, the supervisor of kashruth.

Rivka Levitt: The synagogue was not only a religious center. Everyone met there, without differences in class. There everyone listened to the rabbi, said the same prayers, and the prayers were the primary source for absorbing the Hebrew language. Various Hebrew expressions were incorporated into Yiddish, and the Hebrew phrase for “Next year in Jerusalem” or “no remnant was left” (Lam. 2, 22) was understood by everyone, but I can remember that the Hebrew words “sarid u'palit” (remnant) were spoiled as: “sure di Pule…“ I am not certain that they understood every word of the Yizkor prayer, but a loud moan could always be heard.

Weddings were held in the yard of the synagogue, and the guests and kleizmer [musicians] attended.

 


Footnotes

  1. This small space was called minyan – from a quorum of ten men required for public prayers. Return

  2. Aharon Migdal (originally from Mezeritch, Poland; today in Israel) and Rabbi Akiva Egozi-Ojach (originally from Putchayov, Poland; today in Miami, U.S.A.) were among these yeshiva bochers in Dusiat. Return

  3. It is possible that the reference is to Henya Melamed, mother of Avremel and Sheine-Musha. Return


[Pages 86-88]

Holy Services

Translated by Judy Grossman

Yosef Yavnai (Slep): In my time the rabbi of Dusiat was Bunim-Tzemach Zilber.

Bentzke Chaitowitz: Rabbi Zilber passed away in 1918. I remember that his son, the famous Rabbi Eliezer Silver (Zilber[1]), via the Association of Rabbis, came to Lithuania from the USA in 1914 to visit his father in the shtetl.

Micha Baron: I don't know who replaced Rabbi Bunim-Tzemach, but in my time the rabbi was Rabbi Gershon Barisnik. According to Sonya and Meir Glick's wedding certificate of 1923, Rabbi Barisnik officiated at their wedding ceremony.

Zelig Yoffe: According to a school report card in my possession, in 1936, the rabbi of the shtetl was Rabbi B. Slezinger (Rabbi Tuvya Dov-Ber).

Shayke Glick: If I am not mistaken, he came to the shtetl in 1928 and was childless. I remember that he was a warm person and gave his sermons in a pleasant way. As far as I know, Rabbi Slezinger perished with his community.

“And the Pioneers Aren't Righteous?”

Yoel Zeif: Despite the differences of opinion between the rabbi and us, the members of Hashomer Hatzair, he treated us with respect and considered us the best of the youth! I recall that the rabbi once wanted to visit our “maon” (club). He came and apparently was also impressed, but it didn't prevent him from asking: “How did you dare light a lamp on the Sabbath?”

At home we behaved respectfully to our parents and didn't do things to upset them. My father was not especially observant, but he followed tradition and went to the synagogue to pray. In contrast to him, my mother was very religious and very strict with regard to religious observance. Before I made aliya to Eretz-Yisrael, people asked my mother whether she had given me phylacteries. Her reply was, “Why should I give them to him; so that he'll desecrate them?” My mother regretted the fact that I was not observant.

Here, in Israel, in order to instill a little bit of Yiddishkeit [Jewishness] in my children, I used to take them to the synagogue, especially on the High Holidays, and I tried to run the Passover Seder exactly as my father had done.

A letter of recommendation from the rabbi of Dusiat,
Rabbi Tuvya Dov Slezinger, for the Dusiater Dov Zilber Caspi

 

Micha Baron: Preachers and emissaries also used to give speeches and preach in the synagogue, and I remember the visit of an emissary from Mizrahi[2]. The whole shtetl turned out to hear him. Most of the time they listened quietly, but when he began to talk about the pioneers and secular kibbutz, the desecrators of the Sabbath, the noise level rose, as fathers and sons began to argue. The fathers supported the speaker, who had come in the name of religion, and the sons knew that in Eretz-Yisrael life was not abandoned. When Froike Zeligson asked the speaker “and who milks your cows on the Sabbath?” he replied: “We have a permit from Rabbi Kook.” Pandemonium broke out, and with the permission of our rabbi the argument continued after the evening prayers. Noah Poritz stood on the dais and replied with biting remarks.

The next morning the emissary went out to collect donations, and to my surprise, my father, who was an anti-Zionist, said to him: “I don't give money to liars!”

Yitzchak Porat (Poritz): It was in 1934, in the resort town of Krakinova. I had come there to visit my mother Rochel-Leah. On the Sabbath most of the vacationers gathered in the forest around the rabbi of the town, who gave a sermon about the pioneers who desecrated the Sabbath, and he vilified both the pioneers and the Zionists.

My mother dared to contradict the rabbi in front of everyone, saying to him: “In the Bible it is written that everyone who walks four cubits in the Land of Israel is guaranteed life in “Olam Haba” (the next world) because he is a righteous person. And they, the pioneers, who don't just walk around in Eretz Yisrael but dry swamps, aren't they righteous people? Are they Gentiles, desecrators of the Sabbath?” The rabbi stood astounded at the sight of the wrinkled woman, and was amazed by her courage and her rebuke. Many of the people applauded my mother's words.

Rivka Shteinman (Shub): Eretz Yisrael was in the hearts of all the residents of the shtetl. There was a drought in Eretz Yisrael, and the news worried everyone. The rabbi assembled the townspeople together in the synagogue to pray for rain. Several years later, when I was already in Eretz Yisrael and there was again a drought, I recalled this event, and only then did I understand its full meaning.

Yosef Yavnai (Slep): In my time there was a cantor who was also a shochet [ritual slaughterer], and on holiday eves he used to assist the rabbi. The cantor had a choir in the synagogue, and they also used to sing together at weddings and parties.

Shayke Glick: That was perhaps in the chor-shul (a synagogue with a choir), which stood in the square of the Beth Midrash and was burned down during one of the fires. After the fire they put up another building, not exactly in the same spot but nearby, apparently for fear of desecrating a holy site… I think that after the fire they no longer sang with the accompaniment of a choir in the synagogue.

Micha Baron's father was the Torah reader, and Eliyahu Orlin also excelled in prayer, but I remember Leizer Glick, who was the reader in the big synagogue. His son Israel-Velvel prayed at the “Hassidic Minyan”, and aroused emotions with his wonderful voice.

Yaacov Charit: I well remember the strong voice of the shochet, who lived on our street, Maskewitcher Gass. Now times are different in Vilna (Vilnius), “Jerusalem of Lithuania”. The synagogue reader here is about ninety years old, and there is no one to replace him.

 


Footnotes

  1. In the introduction to his book “Anfey Erez”, Rabbi Eliezer Silber (Zilber) recalls his memories of the pogrom in Dusiat in 1905. The title of the book is a play on words: Anfey Erez means cedar branches, but the Erez in the title is the acronym for Eliezer Rabbi Zilber. In Hebrew, the word erez would be written ERZ, without vowels.
    In his memoirs, Yosef Yavnai (Slep) also refers to this pogrom. Return

  2. A religious Zionist movement. Return

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