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[Page 255]

People and Characters

 

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Gorzder Personalities

by Dr. Hershl Meyer

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The question about “the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper” began to torment me before my Bar-Mitzvah. It came to me witnessing my father's suffering; I would speak about this with Zyzke Zusmanowicz. He was a little older than me and thought himself a philosopher. However, barriers soon arose between us that divided us. He had received almost no Biblical nor Talmudic education and, in addition, he was emotionally cold. I was led to Rambam's Guide to the Perplexed by Yankl Gamsoy, a spectacles-wearing young man in his thirties, with reddish hair, a mild face and of whom it was said that in the Slobadker yeshiva [school for the study of Torah] he was considered a genius. He always rummaged in books and prayed near our bench barely moving his lips. In addition to the question of “the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper,” I also discussed the question of “choice” and “predestination.” I learned a great deal from Yankl.

Yankele, the barber, taught me the alef-beis [alphabet], as well as plodding through the Bereshis [Genesis] portion of the Khumish [Five Books of the Torah]. He was a short, lean, pointy-noised man with a sparse beard, sunken yellow cheeks and the voice of a cooing dove. Before noon he was a barber; after noon he was a teacher of small children, preparing several children to learn in kheder [religious elementary school]. During the first few lessons several kopekes [small coins] were thrown on the sefer [book, usually a religious one]: “An angel had thrown it down,” he said, for learning well. He would always come into our home in a great hurry and question me. Before I would translate a verse into Yiddish, he already had the pointer on the next one. I would hear my parents speak together saying that it would be impossible for me to go the Reb Gershon-Feywe's kheder. First, because

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he would not admit such a mischievous child (I was a wild one and would fight with the Heiling boys) and secondly, because of the high tuition…

Reb Gershon-Feywe was a Jew of stately appearance; as straight as a string, with a beautiful four-cornered white beard and with the manner and understanding of an educated aristocrat. His “kheder consisted of a small room in which three purple velvet chairs, on which no one ever sat, stood in a corner – few were worthy of the honor. He would accept only a few children whom he would first examine thoroughly. He was also known by the fact that he touched no child with his hands. One day I went to him by myself to ask him to take me into his “kheder.” He bent down to me, looked at me silently, asked me what I knew, questioned me a little and sent me away saying “I want to talk with your father.” Later when my mother wanted to restrain her Sambatyon [legendary impassable river beyond which the 10 Lost Tribes can be found; “restrain her Sambatyon” is an idiom meaning control a difficult child] a little, she would call out: (not without a certain pride) – “A fellow who went alone, without our knowledge, to Gershon-Feywe!”

My father, seeing the zeal with which I threw myself into all kinds of scholarly books and that I was also trying to learn English, agreed to my traveling back to Plungian, but on the condition that I would take a lesson of gemara [rabbinical commentaries] with Reb Leipzig, a distinguished scholar from Kelme who then lived for a time in Gorzd. I took the lesson with Itske Melamed, the son of the scholar Feywl, and just about the marriage treatise. Itske possessed a sharp sense of the comic: the contents of the lesson with Reb Leipzig's certain naïve gestures and grimaces would immediately cause him to cramp, choking his laughter. Looking at one another, we would both burst out into spasms of laughter. Not me and not Reb Leipzig

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knew why we were laughing – until, one day, he “dismissed” us both.

Elya the shoemaker lived with his family in a side alley in a few small rooms where he silently worked at a poorly lacquered table, pieces of leather, a broken down chair, a rubbed out oil cloth, a small hammer, a small pliers, a chisel, a few knives, patterns and other tools. This was his workshop. His young, genteel face, his small dark eyes, radiated with an inner light. When he looked at someone with his thin smile it seemed “that he knew something about which he did not speak.”

From time to time I would come to him with a few shoes to be repaired. Once, noticing a little closet with books in a small side room, I asked him what he was reading. “There is not enough time for this,” he answered, pointing to the pile of shoes. He asked, “And you, do you already read books?” Boasting, I answered, yes, a book by Rambam and I began to speak about the problem of “knowledge” and “free will.” He laid down a boot on which he was putting a sole, scratched a tuft of hair, thought for a while and then said: “You are confusing yourself with simple speculations. If God knows or not, for instance, if a fire will break out in my house. I am sure that here, Gershon Yankle's son will not be the one to start it. What we do depends on our upbringing, knowledge and sense. Elya the shoemaker had a deep effect on me.

Bere-Welwe the baker was blessed with an encyclopedic memory; he never wrote anything down, but knew exactly the dates of all births, marriages and the yahrzeitn [anniversaries of a death] for everyone in the shtetl; knew exactly every life history including that of their grandfathers and grandmothers. He knew everything that happened in the shtetl during the course of generations. And if someone needed to learn something about this, he went to Bere-Welwe…

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– He was a poor man, who had a sick wife. Baked bread and challah [braided egg bread] for Shabbos [Sabbath] in a tiny little room of his small hunchbacked straw covered little house, from which it seemed that steam was gushing out. He regularly walked a little bent over in thought in old, flour covered clothing, curling his half gray, half black beard with two fingers. When he met someone walking in the street, his face smiled, his eyes brightened as if asking, “Ask something, I can tell you so much…”

Every city – Jews in Lithuania would say – had its “city meshugenem” [crazy people], but small shtetlekh like Gorzd could not permit itself such a “luxury.” It was satisfied with a little, “a disturbed one,” someone “who had a screw missing in his head” or was just strange. Gorzd had two such: One was Shmuel-Hirshke, who loved the bitter drops [liked to drink whiskey]. When he was a little tipsy, the group of jokers would begin good naturedly to bother him, to elicit from him very spicy remarks – “Agreed – agreed”

– he would answer them in a bass voice – “I will tell you such that you have never heard before, but first let me turn to the side, so that I will not see how you gather a few groshn for me”…

The second one was Mendl-Dovid, a tall, slender, stately Jew who working at a job with a merchant, would from time to time travel to Memel. As a rule, he would speak to the point on everything, but only recall the word “stones” and he would remain standing as if bewitched. A strange fire would begin sparkling in his eyes when he began talking about accumulated stones: “What stones – sapphires, emeralds, a fortune, I can buy up the entire shtetl with one of them.” The shtetl clowns would say to him, “If Reb Mendl-Dovid sold several of them to the rich Memel merchants then you would become rich.” “Who told you that I will not sell,” was always his answer – “but they do not yet buy!”


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Itse the Chimney Sweep

by Rywka Naveh (Katz)

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Who does not remember him? A small Jew, thin, he would go through the shtetl [town] all week and knew exactly with whom it was necessary today to sweep out the chimney. He always carried a thick rope on his back wrapped like a bagel, on which hung a small ladder, although it was never clear to us children why he carried it. An old ladle was always in his right boot with which he would empty the inside of the chimneys with a skillful hand. We children often would follow him and would envy him for how nimbly he would climb on each roof like a cat. A ladder that reached to the brick, red chimney lay on the thickly covered [wood] shavings. He always wore a hat, for which no one was able to determine the color it once had been. His blackened pants, stuck into the boots, stood as a good neighbor for the above-mentioned ladle. We would compete to determine if the hat was once brown, or perhaps a grey, because it was always black, as was his entire physiognomy, even his beard. We could not stop marveling how it was possible that on Shabbos [Sabbath]

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Itse had a new beard – but a grey one!... And his bright eyes always looked out from his black face – now they did not shine, but on Shabbos they looked like everyone else's eyes. We never knew his family name because who would have thought to call him anything but “Itse the Chimney Sweep.”


Hoga-Mira's Itse

There was a second Jew with the same name in Gordz: Hoga-Mira's husband Itse. Or as we would call him: Itsele. This Jew did have a family name; he was called Golis, but we did not refer to him with only this name, but “Professor Golis.” Why? Because there was no greater expert in Gordz for clumsy or – God help us – broken feet and hands than Itsele. He was a small [man], half blind, one eye closed. He would tap his way and would walk with pride. He usually would leave the worry about earning a livelihood to his wife. Hoga-Mira necessarily was very hard working in her trade and every business man in Gordz knew it was his obligation to give Hoga-Mira something for Shabbos and often in the middle of the week, too. However, if someone, God forbid, did something to a joint, a hand or a foot, Itse immediately would appear and like a “doctor” would work with the moaning patient until the joint was placed back in the correct place. Then he would call out with pride: “Did you hear a click? It went in!”… In addition to this specialty, he also offered a series of special advice and means of healing almost every illness. The income from joints would flourish mainly in the winter, when the snow would fall overnight and cover the street with [ice], flat as a mirror and we would go on the street trembling and often falling and hurting ourselves. Many Gordzer sprained feet went through Itsele's hands….


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The Shoys Family

by Dvoyre Shoys

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

My late husband, Leibe, would tell me many stories about his father, Yankl Shoys. He was a particularly open type of scholar, a follower of the Enlightenment, who was skilled in Jewish and worldly secular studies. He read a great deal and was interested in the astral system, knew the names of the stars, their context. He was very interested in astronomy, and Einstein's “theory of relativity” [on which he would base his study] was not unknown to him. (Leibe, his son, truly inherited the love of astronomy from him.) Despite being a pious Jew; he would speak boldly about the solar system, about the earth, that it is round and that it turns on its axis in space, accompanied by the moon.

He was very progressive and educated for that time.

Yankl Shoys was a well-known personality in Gordz. As a communal worker he took care of the poor strata of the shtetl. Whoever needed help, an interest-free loan, arranging for care for a sick person, help for poor brides – nothing passed without his help and he did it not because of mitzvus [commandments], simply because he was a sympathetic, characteristically dear person with a good heart.

Yankl Shoys also was versed in political questions. He would make things clear to people who were barely skilled in political problems. He analyzed confused political matters with his sharp mind, and his explanations and interpretations were to the point, accessible and easy to understand.

Besides these qualities, he possessed a healthy sense of humor, always told suitable jokes. His humor had

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a special charm and much folksiness flowed from his jokes and parables.

I met my husband's parents in Kovna, already as Leibe's bride. When I stuck out my hand to Leibe's father during our first meeting, he said with a smile on his face that showed a satisfied spontaneity: - “Thank God, a Jewish daughter!”

 

Zelda Shoys

She was a quiet, good woman and very devoted to her husband and to her children. She was a very sturdy, toiling Jewish woman. She already was standing and baking bread herself at four o'clock in the morning, milked the cows, was occupied the entire day with the customers in her shop.

She bore her responsibility to raise the children with great determination and honor, endeavored to satisfy everyone and to fulfill everyone's desire.

She was very Germanized in speaking and appearance. However, she did not stand out locally from the other women in the shtetl when speaking.

*

The two older sons emigrated early to South Africa. The oldest and the youngest of the two children, Leibe and Freydka remained in the house. Leibe also left the home early and only the youngest daughter, Freydka, remained.

Freydka was a simple girl in weak health and worked as a knitter.

Of the entire Shoys family, [only] Zisl Shoys and I

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(a newly arrived member of the family – Leibe Shoys' wife) survived. Zisl now lives in South Africa with his wife, daughter, son and grandchildren. Despite the fact that I never saw Zisl and only heard of him from the stories of his brother Leibe, I considered him as my own brother. And although his letters were sometimes short and to the point, they speak of his high culture, genteel heart, good and fervent opinions.

The idyllic life of the Shoys family was interrupted by the Hitlerist murderers. They chopped down the last tree of the many-branched Shoys family.


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The Zilberg Family

by Rivka Naveh (Katz)

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The Zilberg's house was one of the very last houses on Tamoczna Street. Fields stretched behind the houses that led to the German border - we in Gordz called it di gryne [the green].

The house stood in a garden and a small gate from the street led to a veranda with windows full of flowerpots.

Shmuel-Dovid was one of the most esteemed business owners in Gordz and their house was a center of communal activity. Everyone in the Zilberg family actively led the Zionist work in Gordz. As young people, we would be proud when Ela or Eta Zilberg would give us the honor of going [with them] on the “emptying.” This is what we called going to all of the houses in the shtetl [town] and emptying the Keren-Kayamet pushkes [collecting the funds from the Jewish National Fund household containers in which donations had been placed].

Kalman Zilberg was the chairman of a series of committees at communal institutions as, for example, the firemen, People's Bank and other philanthropic institutions. Gordz Jews acted with great respect for the Zilberg family and to their communal activities.

Of the Zilberg family, Professor Moshe Zilberg is in Venezula and Ela Zilberg [is] in London.


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Reb Yankel Glick

by Yizhak Glick

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

My father, Reb Yankel Glick, was born in Gorjd to his father, Reb Yizhak Glick. Grandfather was a Talmid Chacham and a wealthy person. My father was one of the respected citizens of Gorjd. His seat in the synagogue was on the east wall, together with the Rabbi of the community. Father was called Yankel Glick, and my mother was called Hinde Dem Rebbes. As was customary in those days, sons and daughters of rich people were married to Rabinical families, since the “Yichus” was of great importance. My father was the son in law of Rabbi Yossale Jaffe, who was a descendant of a Rabbinical family for twelve generations. Rabbi Jaffe was the communual Rabbi of Salant, and from there he came to serve in Gorjd. After a few years he was called to serve as chief Rabbi of Manchester in England.

Father was good looking, tall and had a round beard. He was an upright person, modest, meticulous and strict. His clothes were always clean. I remember the black hat he used to wear. On Saturdays and festivals he wore a top hat and a long dress suit, and everyone remembered the fur (“ Pelz”) with the tails that he wore in winter.

I remember well our two – story house which stood opposite the market square. Behind our house we had large areas of land which extended to a far distance.

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We used to sow vegetables, mainly potatoes and cucumbers, and father would send the goods to the town of Memel. The fieldwork was done by non Jews, supervised by father. His other occupation was with spirits. The non Jews were fond of drinking. On Sundays and market days many of them came from the villages, and the house was full with them.

In the 1914 war we escaped from Gorjd until after the war. On returning we found that the house has been burned out and our economic situation was bad. We lost our dear mother who went to England before the war to visit her parents and could not return because of the war. She became ill and passed away in England. It was now up to father to bring up the children. I remember that we then lived in a street where there were few Jews and also our landlord was also a non Jew. It was close to the non Jewish cemetery. As children the place arose our curiosity, and also fear.

We dreamt about Erez Isarel. Father was a dedicated Zionist. How happy he was when he was able to emigrate there. The Jews of Gorjd were happy with us and many envied us. Father, my sister Hanze with her husband, and my sister Sarah settled in Jerusalem. Father never left Jerusalem until his last day. He passed away at the age of 82 and was buried on the Mount of Olives.

May his memory be blessed.


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Reb Zusia Zussmanowitz

by Abba Zussmanowitz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

My father, Zusia the watchmaker, made a living by repairing watches, in his spare time, he was involved in communal affairs. He was a board member of the bank and active in various community affairs.

As a young man, he was the commander of the fire brigade (I inherited that position from him in my hometown of Herzliyah).

There was an interesting story circulating in our family about my father's excellent craftsmanship as a watchmaker.

The town clock on the tower, not far from the public park, did not work for many years because no one could repair it. Not until Zusia the watchmaker came along and succeeded in making it work again by making a little wheel with his own hands.

In reward for his work, the local nobleman gave Zusia a big present of lumber and other construction materials, enough to build a two-story building. The family lived in this house until World War I, when a big fire broke out in Gorszd and the house burned down.

Father lived long enough to immigrate to Eretz Yisroel and resided in Herzliyah until the day he died (1937).

 

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