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[Pages 443-450]

My Grandfather Reb Gedaliah

By Khannah Neiman, New York

Translated from Yiddish to English by Dr. Isaac Fine

I remember well the old community-owned house where my grandfather's father sat in the rabbi's chair. The house stood next to the House of Study. It was such a palace that the Russian government decreed that it be demolished. I remember that during heavy rains the water would drip down through the roof, and grandfather would move the books from one place to another. From there, they moved to Dovid Shilevsky's house where they lived until grandfather's death.

The family consisted of Bobe, our mother, and her four brothers: Pinchas, Velvel, Zalman, and Moishe-Meier. I still see my grandfather in my mind's eye. He was a tall erect man with a noble face, blue eyes, and a long gray beard. He was always dressed very neatly and cleanly, often with his coat slung over his shoulders. In my view, his appearance was always majestic. In the house, I never saw him other than with a book, except on Christmas night.

Bobe never called him by name. After all, he wasn't an ordinary man such that she could appropriately call him “Gedaliah.”. At the same time, she had too much of a connection with him to call him “rabbi.”. Her solution was to say to him “Listen.”. For example she might say, “Listen, do you want to eat now?”. or “Listen, have you heard what happened?”. As for himself, my grandfather rarely called her Rivke.

Grandfather was accustomed to arise quite early in the morning. Soon after he would open the door, in case someone should wish to enter. He made tea for himself, so as not to disturb those still sleeping in the house. Men often came in the morning for a glass of tea, and also later, in the afternoon. He would leave for prayer in the House of Study with a heavy tallis. bag filled with books, and would arrive back home around twelve noon. He was accustomed to eat only twice a day. The first meal was around noon. If he had a little chicken, he wouldn't eat any dairy products whatsoever for the rest of the day. For other Jews, a six-hour wait was sufficient. His own personal self-imposed restrictions, however, were more severe. He would only eat meat which was “glatt kosher”. I remember how the butcher would come in and tell my Bobe, “Rebbitzin , this is a glatt kosher one.”. In those days I didn't know what that phrase meant. I recall also my mother having told me that, in his earlier years, Grandfather would fast intermittently on Mondays and again on Thursdays. From the point of view of religious observance, he was strict with regard to himself, and lenient with regard to others.

Their income came from the monopoly to sell yeast in the shtetl. This was Bobe's responsibility, since Grandfather couldn't recognize the shape of a coin. At times, however, a Christian would arrive at the door quite early in the morning to purchase a few ounces of yeast. He didn't want to wake Grandmother from her sleep to assist him, and would handle the matter on his own. When Bobe awoke she would soon realize what happened and good-naturedly tell him, “My businessman, it looks like you made a deal this morning.”. Incidentally, I recall one occasion, on the evening prior to a Christian holy day, when some Christians came to buy yeast. We children used to come and help Grandmother. It happened that, after the clients left, my brother Chonan found a three-ruble piece on the floor. He almost immediately gave it to Bobe. Grandfather heard of this from a distance. He called out that they should immediately go out in the streets and announce what had happened, asking who had lost the cash. Grandmother doubted that one could trust the moral integrity of the townfolk so completely. She said that it would be wiser to wait until he who had lost the money returned to claim it. A half hour later, the Christian man who had lost the money arrived at the door, and grandmother gave it to him. Grandmother asked him, “If I had followed your suggestion, would I have the three rubles now to give this man?” Grandfather answered calmly, “No one would have falsely claimed that it was his own.”. This anecdote illustrates not only his own sense of honor, but also his belief in the moral integrity of others.

With regard to tsedekah (charity) it was his custom that, in a transaction, he would never accept small change from a poor man. When he had small change in his pockets and other occasions, he would give it to a poor man. What would happen if he afterwards encountered a second poor man, he would either ask for more small change from Bobe, or would borrow some small change for the second person. Also there were times when a guest arrived in town and grandfather sent him to the local inn, arranging for payment of his lodgings.

The tradition of contributing money to the plates for charitable organizations on the evening prior to Yom Kippur is well known. He frequently wanted to give more than he possessed. He would borrow from someone else in order to make the contribution, and then repay the lender in installments over the course of the year.

With regard to education, he was advanced in his outlook. He held the view that one should not hit school children. Our father held a position far from Goniondz. Grandfather used to tell our teacher that he shouldn't hit his little ones. He also used to say that one should not send children to an angry teacher for education, because one cannot trust an angry man. I recall a case where a mother complained to him about her son, that he was too much of a rascal. Grandfather answered her, “A boy that doesn't fool around can't learn!”

One of the aspects of his character, which is most deeply engraved in my memory, was his constant concern not to trouble anyone in general, and most particularly the family. I remember one time when he was walking to the House of Study. It was slippery and he fell. There were a few men with him at the time. The first thing that he said, after they helped him to stand again, was, “Don't tell the family, they would worry.”. One of the men was Berl Rudsky. He came to us at home and very discretely told my brother Pinchas what had happened. Pinchas became concerned that it was a serious matter and that a physician was needed. This was how the rest of us learned of his fall. For Grandfather the main thing always was not to worry people.

My mother almost deified him. She ascribed supernatural powers to him, believing that he didn't need to use them. In that connection she told us about an incident which had occurred when the great dispute broke out in Goniondz. At that time she was still a young girl. Grandfather had said, “The dispute will last five years. Five years I have taken bread from others, and for five years others will have to take bread from me.” What did he mean, that he had taken bread from others?. At one time in the past, he had been wanted as new rabbi in the city of Vishneve. Grandfather did not want to take the position unless he was accepted as substitute by the rabbi who was leaving. The other rabbi felt that no such interchange was needed and suggested he simply take the position. Nonetheless, Grandfather still felt that by coming to Vishneve he would be taking the bread from another, which was the basis of his prediction. Indeed there was a five-year delay. Would our mother need a better example?

The truth is that the shtetl itself used to ascribe wonders to him. Once a fire broke out in town and my grandfather said, “I believe that it won't go any further than the house of Gershon the carpenter, which is near the House of Study.” And that is how it was. I also recall a comment which was made about him after his death. He died Friday night, the evening prior to Shevuos . The funeral took place on the Sabbath night of Shevuos. One of the town-folk who were present told Pinchas, my brother, that the heavens had split open at his father's death. When Pinchas, who was involved in a secular enlightenment, did not accept this as a factual account, the Jew became angry with him.

He was a very humble man. He truly believed in the saying, “He who seeks honor, honor flees from that person.'. He also lived out his daily day in a manner consistent with this belief.

I recall one occasion when it was necessary to call in a rabbi from another town for consultation in resolving a dispute. The particular matter at hand was extraordinarily complex. The second rabbi was not willing to travel to our town unless accompanied by his sexton. Grandfather's comment, in hearing this news, was “It is not proper for a Jew to be served.”. With regard to his humility, my mother had said after his death, “As it was during his lifetime, so it is after his death. If his funeral had taken place in midweek, the townsfolk would have closed their shops in order to bestow this final honor upon him. However since it took place on a holy day, the shops were closed anyway, and this saved him from having to receive that special distinction.”. In connection with the great dispute I have already spoken about the loss of bread. Actually, this was not an exaggeration. We were truly in hunger. Our grandmother was a very proud woman and didn't want others to be aware of the extent of our suffering. Fridays during the day she would heat up the oven thinking that perhaps one of grandfather's allies in the dispute might come to the house to see if we had enough provisions for the Sabbath. The hot oven would give them the impression that she was about to heat up chulent . The pots, however, were empty.

I remember a story told to me by my uncle, Moishe-Meier, in connection with the dispute. The leaders of the opposition group were from the strata of society referred to as “the upper crust.”. When some dirty work needed to be done, however, they sent out common folk. One Sabbath, Grandfather was saying Shmoneh Esrei. prayers in the House of Study. The community was accustomed to wait until he was finished. A sharp-tongued shoe repairman spoke out and said to the assembled congregation, “Who are you waiting for?”. Hearing this, Grandfather was filled with pain and shame. It was perhaps the first time in his life that he had cried on the Sabbath. Years later, when the dispute had become a matter of the past, the children of that same shoemaker died. The cause was clear. This was a punishment from God for having humiliated the rabbi. He came to Grandfather to ask forgiveness and to ask my grandfather to pray for him. Grandfather's answer was, “Surely, I forgive you. You want me to pray for you, of course, I will say a chapter of Psalms if you like. But do you think I have some sort of special connection with the heavens?”

There was another who also came years later to ask forgiveness from grandfather. He was the owner of a yard goods shop. He wanted to bring Grandfather a lounge chair called a fauteuil in French. Also, in this case, the answer was, “I forgive you, I forgive you, but I don't need a lounge chair. My father didn't sit in a lounge chair and I don't need one either.”

Although Grandfather was always concerned that grandmother should not worry, she was nonetheless constantly preoccupied with the needs and responsibilities of daily life. Hers was the responsibility to see that the children had enough to eat, that they had proper garments and when they were a little older, that books were available for them, etc. I remember many scenes when Grandmother would be at home sitting with an obviously anxious appearance. Grandfather would turn to her and ask, “What are you worried about?”. “What am I worried about?” Grandmother responds, “I've lived a magnificent life,” and then went on to convey a concern to him. Grandfather would answer, “As far as the past is concerned, you should think that we have lived in wealth. As far as the future is concerned I have faith that we will make it through.”

There were cases when even Christians who had a dispute with the Jews would come to Grandfather for a judicial decision, rather than take the matter to a civil court. There were cases when the decision fell to the favor of the Christian, and the Jew was very unhappy.

My Grandfather was pleased that during the approximately thirty years during which he had been rabbi in Goniondz, he did not have to give many divorces. Incidentally, couples came from other shtetls where there was no flowing river to seek a divorce from him. According to Jewish legal requirements, the divorce document needed to list the name of a flowing river near which the divorce was awarded. Speaking of divorces, I remember situations when, as a child I would sit at Grandfather's side in the house when a couple would come to him seeking a divorce. Grandfather always tried to arbitrate and make peace between them. As a girl, it annoyed me that he would do so, and I would think, “They want to get a divorce - let them divorce!”. During those tender years I was too young and immature to understand what dissolution of a marriage meant. Actually I was fascinated with the procedures, the volume in which the divorce decrees were written, the witnesses, and the questions.

Once a couple came for a divorce. As usual, Grandfather tried to arrange a reconciliation. However, they were not willing to consider this option. When he found that all of his arguments were of no avail, Grandfather told them, “I don't divorce on Thursdays.”. He was hoping that perhaps over the Sabbath they would have second thoughts. The result was that the couple lived out the rest of their lives together, had children and also grandchildren as well.

When he became afflicted with the cancer from which he eventually died, I had the privilege of watching over him one night. During that period, cancer victims were not given medication to alleviate their pain. The poor thing had to go on in suffering. He would ask me to put the cushions down on the sofa, and from the sofa on the bed. When I would ask him, “Grandfather, are you suffering pain?”. He would answer, “No, thank God.”. Everything he did was to avoid giving concern to others. A few weeks later he emitted his last breath and departed from the world. It would be difficult to find a man like him in his generation.

He was in full possession of his mental faculties up to the last minute of his life. During the day on Friday, several hours before his death, a man came to the house with a question. Pinchas wanted to know what grandfather's position would be and he led the man into the room where grandfather was lying. My grandfather answered the question. Several minutes before he died he muttered the name “Krapniak.”. We didn't understand his meaning at that moment. During the week of sitting shivah , Krapniak came to the house to comfort us. The family wanted to know whether mentioning this man's name had a significance. In response to our inquiry, this man explained that Grandfather was accustomed to borrow several rubles from him each year prior to the Days of Awe , in order to have more to contribute for the plates which received donations to charitable organizations. During the year the rabbi would repay Krapniak in installments. Since Grandfather had died in the middle of the year, he wanted the family to know about this financial obligation so that they could fulfill it. We, of course, paid his debt.


[Pages 451-456]

Family Memories

By Chana Neiman

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

My grandmother was a woman of valor. She carried the responsibility of providing the family with all necessities.

My mother was the only daughter. She was given in marriage when she was 16 years old. My father had a leather store for the first 10 years after the marriage. But the business went from bad to worse and they had to give it up.

[Page 452]

In as much as my father was, as Sholem Aleichem would say, a Jew who could hold a pen in his hand, my father took a position as a bookkeeper. Actually, it was with a nephew of my grandfather, far from Goniadz. I was three years old when he left home. He held this position for the last 10 years of his life. He would come [home] only twice a year on Passover and on

[Page 453]

Sukkous [Feast of Tabernacles in the autumn]. My father called it a “paper life” because every day of the year we would [be in contact] with letters. Be that as it may, I barely have memories of him. All that I remember is that when he would come home from afar for the holiday and tell stories, the uncles would laugh heartily. Apparently he had a good sense of humor. My Uncle Moshe Meir told me this in passing here in America. He [my father] died at the age of 42. My mother was left a widow with six children at the age of 36. This is the reason we had to leave our home so young and go to America. First, Yakov Yehosha, my oldest brother; later, me and then Khonen and Malka. My mother remained in Goniadz only with Yonatan.

My mother was one of the quiet types, but a deeply emotional person. One can imagine what it meant for her to send away her young children across oceans. She did not want to come here for religious reasons and she obviously could not be without us. She wanted us to return. Therefore, Khonen actually did return and arrived just at the outbreak of the First World War. My mother was never happy with herself. She could not make peace with the fact that she could not read the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible] in the original [language]. She knew a little Hebrew, but not enough to read Tanakh in the original; during the years of the First World War, when there really was not enough to eat, she perfected her Hebrew. I was told this by Yonatan. He said to me that she asked him to help her.

After the First World War, when Benyamin the soyfer [scribe] came to America, he told me that my mother was the city nurse. She

[Page 454]

actually was infected with typhus and died erev Pesakh [eve of Passover] 5679 [1919] at the age of 51. She was fully aware and her last words were: I thank God that my children are not now helpless as when their father died. Benyamin the soyfer also told me this. Yonatan was not in Goniadz then. He had to run away.

Pinkhas, the oldest of the sons, was a student in the Volozhin [Belarus] yeshiva [religious secondary school]. As Moshe Meir told me, it was during the time when [Jewish poet Chaim Nakhman] Bialik studied there. Returning, he [Pinkhas] began to study Russian and other languages. He mastered the Russian language perfectly and also knew German very well. Incidentally, none of them attended the Russian school because they would have had to sit without a hat. The grandchildren did go to the Russian school. My Uncle Moshe Meir told me that when Pinkhas returned from the Volozhin yeshiva he tried to establish a library in Goniadz. In general, he was interested in communal matters. For example, after the fire in 1906, he saw to the obtaining of a 10–year loan to be paid back with low interest, so that those who lost property in the fire could rebuild and have a roof over their heads. Later he also founded a loan fund. Incidentally, he was one of the first Zionists in Goniadz. At the time of the First World War he was carried off at least to Rostov–on–Don. When I was in Russia in 1937 I had the opportunity to see him and his family. It was a sorrow to see that a Jew such as he was severed from religious books, from Hebrew books and Jewish communal life in general. His son was an engineer and at that time had a very responsible position. The daughter is a bacteriologist. At that time, she

[Page 455]

worked in a hospital. My uncle and aunt are no longer here. It should be understood that I do not hear from the children.

Welwl, long may he live, is in Israel with his family. He also was an active Zionist, would go around selling shekels [memberships in the World Zionist Organization]. However, things are good for him; he and his family accomplished their life's dream.

Zalman wanted to go even further; he wanted to go to America, hoping that he would study there. With his capabilities and his diligence he could surely be a professor. He left his home and simply did not tell his parents that he was going to America. Alas, grandfather died not long after his [Kalman's] departure and he felt guilty. Meanwhile his brothers at home began to ask him to come back. Not being satisfied with his achievements here, he and my brother Khonen returned

[Page 456]

and arrived right on the eve of the First World War. Zalman was taken for forced labor during wartime, went through the seven levels of hell, but later returned to Goniadz and accompanied our mother to her eternal rest. He, himself, became infected with typhus and died a lonely man. His fate was to accompany both our father and our mother.

Moshe Meir, the youngest, left for America as a young boy along with Moshe Rudski. He went through all the difficulties of immigrant life here; with great effort he became a dentist, but he was not happy with this profession. He himself always said: “ A trade – making holes in teeth and then filling them.” By nature he was more a poet. Standing at the dentist chair he would hum parts of musical creations under his breath; he loved to quote Bialik and [Jewish poet Shaul] Tchernichovsky. He was also a Zionist. He bought land in Eretz–Yisroel and hoped to see it one day. However it was not destined for him [to do so].


[Pages 455-462]

Torah in Goniondz

By David Bachrach

Translated from Yiddish to English by Dr. Isaac Fine

Goniondz did not give rise to any scholars of great reputation, but the shtetl at all times had its Torah students, scholars, and sons in yeshivas. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Goniondz was drawn into the stream of the enlightenment, both in Hebrew and in Russian. During that period, the voice of Torah became weaker. As a fire, which does not burn out immediately but smolders for a lengthy time period, so was it with Torah-yiddishkeit. in our town. Goniondz experienced a major intellectual and spiritual revolution during the 1900 - 1920 time period, from traditional to modern yiddishkeit. Since Torah-yiddishkeit is the foundation upon which the second stage was built, it is proper to delineate that phase of our shtetl life here in the memorial book.

 

Reb Gedaliah

Reb Gedaliah Kamenitzky was also known as “the old rabbi.”. He was a classical example of the older generation both in his stature in Torah and in his patriarchal appearance. He was continually studying, yes, even living Torah. He had little use for the “vanities of this world.”. For him, the main thing was “the next world.”. One should prepare oneself.

In the last year of Reb Gedaliah's life (1907), I prayed with him as part of the minyan. in his house. I recall that he was always sitting at the table learning by memory. Once my father told me that he was studying the tractate Nedorim , which is a Kamenitzky family tradition. Years later, in the book “Knowledge of the Holy” I read the following anecdote with regard to this family. Reb. Pinchas-Leib Hacohen, the father of Reb Gedaliah Kamenitzky (both, in their time, rabbis in Goniondz) told how his grandfather Reb Schloime Hacohen was in great danger on the sea when the ship on which he was traveling threatened to go under. He dreamed that the ship would survive the storm because of the merit of his son Tavye, who had just that day completed his study of the Talmud tractate Nedorim. And that is indeed what happened. He noted the day of his dream and, returning home, he discovered that his son Tayve had indeed ended the tractate on that day.

Reb Gedaliah's four sons all were able students, but they were all caught up in the enlightenment.

 

Harav Tzvi Hirsch Volf

Reb Tzvi-Hirsch Volf arrived in Goniondz as rabbi after the death of Reb Gedaliah. He was in tune with the new spirit which reigned in Goniondz and with modern times. He was an energetic young man of distinguished appearance. He spoke and read Russian fluently, and knew who to approach in the Tsarist government when a problem needed to be resolved.

Harav Volf did not fulfill the commandment to “study day and night.”. Nonetheless, he was at the same time, an accomplished student. His daughters were enrolled in the high school in Grodno. Later, he had a youngster who studied in the modern Hebrew school in town. Reb Volf was at the same time a pious Jew and a modern rabbi.

Harav Volf was accustomed to study Mishna Brura. between early afternoon and sundown prayer services. After the sundown prayer service, he studied Mishna . When Yaakov Rudsky stumbled and allowed construction to be done on his brewery on the Sabbath, which was a profanation of the Divine Name, Harav Volf withdrew his permission to conduct a regular study session in Gemara , which previously had been Yaakov Rudsky's privilege.

Harav Volf accomplished his greatest act of statesmanship during the First World War in 1915, as a refugee in Bialystok. This was in connection with the order given by Nikolai Nikoliavitch that all Jews should evacuate their homes, which lay along the entire battlefront, within forty-eight hours. Harav Volf, together with leaders of the Bialystok community, arranged to have the decree lifted for the entire Bialystok region for a certain time - until the Russians themselves later had to evacuate.

 

Krapuniak

Old Krapuniak was a distinguished student. He was from Reb Gedaliah's generation and was always steeped in Torah. His son-in-law, a young rabbi who was waiting for a position, studied at his side for several years in the House of Study. Both he and his son-in-law died one after the other around 1909, and the House of Study became still.

 

Itze-Lieb

One did not hear Itze-Lieb the shamash. when he was studying Torah. In my time he was almost blind. He was accustomed to study Mishna by memory alone and quietly, standing on the bimeh.

 

Zelig Issac's

He was the father of the Rudskis and a brilliant Talmudic scholar. There were legends told about him and about his life. He was accustomed to study day and night in a solitary fashion in his brick home, and was almost never seen in the House of Study, even on the Sabbath and the High Holy Days . He would, however, visit with his rabbi in Kotzk during the Days of Awe.

Zelig Issac's was a fervent Chassid. During an earlier time, he was a leader in the great dispute which took place in Goniondz, toward the end of the 1880's, with regard to the rabbi - ritual slaughterer - cantor. When the misnagdim. won the dispute, he withdrew from the world. Children used to hear Zelig Issac's Gemara nigun. coming out from the window of his home, though they would not see him. When he took a stroll on the synagogue hill to catch a breath of fresh air, the children would ask themselves, “Who is that?”


[Pages 463-468]

Reb Binyamin Yosef son of Reb Tzvi Boyer

A. Miltshan

Translated by Lazer Mishulovin

Donated by Bradley and Kathy Fisher

Binyamin the scribe accompanied the Goniadz Jew from the cradle to the grave, as they used to say in Goniadz. That is how, for example, already before a Goniadz Jew came into the world, Reb Binyamin provided the mother in the labor room, a “Shir Hamalos” for all of the four walls[1] , written in his beautiful scribal handwriting, so that, Heaven forbid, ghosts or evil sprits could not harm the newborn. In the synagogue, prior to the circumcision, Reb Binyamin lead the prayer, “Shira Chadasha Shibchu G'ulim,” and during the circumcision, he was the chief host of the celebration, bestowing all the honors and taking care of all the arrangements. When the child had grown up just a bit, the father would bring him to the synagogue, where Reb Binyamin would call him by name and give him to taste from the wine of the Kidush and Havdala. Anyone with ancestral merits, would have the honor to hold the thick woven Havdala-candle, which Reb Binyamin himself had woven and provided for the synagogue.

Later, when the child had just started to babble, Reb Binyamin would provide a printed Hebrew Alphabet on a big tablet with all the vowels and letters from long and shorthand. When a child would enter chader[2] . to the melamed[3] , the first turn would be to Reb Binyamin, as the Jewish book vender who supplied the prayer book with large letters; later on, a Pentateuch and then the whole twenty-four scriptures. When, God helped, and the young boy grew to his Bar Mitzvah, then began the process of ordering from Reb Binyamin a pair of nice Tefilin (phylacteries) from the best of the best, as it is written in Shulchan Aruch[4] : finely polished with see-through leather, (i.e. that the parchment should be visible from below the Tefilin), with a nice wide “shin”[5] from both sides and a maroon velvet Tefilin bag on which was sewn the name of the Bar Mitzva boy with the Jewish date and a big gold embroidered Star of David. Reb Binyamin arranged the entire Bar Mitzvah celebration:. Prepared the Bar Mitzvah boy for his Haftora and the blessings; on Shabbos, called up to the Torah all of the friends, relatives and the bar mitzvah boy himself for his Haftorah, and simultaneously partook in the Bar Mitzvah celebration.

Besides for all of the aforementioned functions, and the actual administration of the big synagogue of which he was the unofficial manager, he sat entire days “learning and praying” in the full sense of the word. When one passed his house, which was located between the synagogue and the study house, through the window they would notice Reb Binyamin, sitting hunched over large scrolls of parchment, inscribing the Holy Torah with great holy-awe and encircling every letter with peculiar crowning and embellishments.

The greatest joy that Reb Binyamin created for us children was in the month of Adar, as the Talmud says: “As Adar arrives one increases in joy.”. It was then, when in the second window of his so-called salon, appeared an exhibit of all types of Megilla scrolls, rolled and folded, small and large, with various decorations; a large collection of various gragers (rattles), tinned Haman-rattles, engraved colorful toy-hammers, richly painted; a whole collection of different Purim masks: Haman, his wife Zeresh and their brat Vayizasa. But the main attraction was Haman and his ten sons on the gallows, in gaudy oriental colors. This was so skilfully crafted, that when one pulled a little string, Haman jerked and wriggled his hands and feet as if a spirit possessed him, and the little Hamans would accompany him with the quivers. When we, chader boys, on our way home for dinner would pass Reb Binyamin's window and stop, wondering at the beautiful exhibit, Reb Binyamin would send over his youngest daughter to pull the string. The wriggling of the Jew-haters would let loose our enthusiasm and joy of revenge. We would stand this way for hours at the window and even forget about dinner.

The day before the holiday of Shevous[6] , Reb Binyamin would call us from Motye's chader to help him spread out the grass and roses on the street of B'neymke the tailor all the way to the Synagogue and in the Synagogue as well – in honor of the Festival of the First Fruits. On the eve before Simchat Torah[7] , it was the task of the chader-boys to climb up to the highest balcony of the Synagogue, to kindle the candles in the clay pits that Reb Binyamin would prepare there. On Simchat Torah eve, Reb Binyamin would conduct from the almemar the Hakafos and hand out the children's flags. On Simchat Torah morning, he would take us young boys, “holy sheep,” under his Talis like under the Chupa (canopy), for “Kol Hane'arim[8] ”.

We would often come to the Synagogue to catch a smile from Reb Binyamin, a lovely glance, or a joke with a rhyme, which he always had prepared for us. Across from Reb Binyamin sat a Jew by the name Chatzkel Burak. He was a town tailor by profession, who throughout the week would sew fur coats for the peasants of the surrounding region and come home for the Shabbos. He is the pedigree of the Blum family in America, and the father of Dr. Blum in New York. While he was observing how Reb Binyamin would sit entire days writing Torah scrolls, he came up with an idea:. For the few hundred rouble which he put aside throughout the long years of his work in the village, as well as for the accumulated money his son sent him from America, he would begin writing a Torah scroll in the name of him and his wife and place it in the Holy Ark for the future generations, while serving as a memory for him, his wife, children and grandchildren. He discussed his idea with Reb Binyamin and they put together a plan, travelled to Bialostock, purchased the best parchment and approached to actualise the plan.

It took a few years to write the Torah scroll. When it was completed, they celebrated the Completion of the Torah at Zerach Miltshan in the center of the market place. The director of the whole ceremony was, naturally, Reb Binyamin the scribe. The whole façade of the homes and all of the shopwindows were hung with colored lanterns on which were sketched different animals, such as: Weasels, dragons and scorpions, which no zoo ever saw its equal. Inside, on clothed tables, were spread out the snow-white Torah Scroll, and Reb Binyamin was dressed up in a black silk suit with a snow white bowtie, a velvet hat and was selling letters. The people were buying; one for himself and one for his wife, one for a daughter who reached her time, so that she should find her mate, or for a son who has to stand for the military draft, he should be free of Fonye's[9] . hands. After inscribing the letters in the scroll, Toba Tzivke would honor everyone with liquor and biscuits. For the conclusion celebration, the whole family has gathered; starting with Shlomo Yosel's large household, Yoel Chana-Chaya's and all the rest of the relatives and friends, no one was missing. Our Reb Binyamin is sweating pitifully as he is announcing everyone by name and the amount each one contributed for the conclusion of the scroll, or the letter, which word and of which verse in the Torah he bought for his maiden, Miss Elke, or for his son, the groom Shmerl. So it went, the entire evening, until the people stopped coming and there were no more letters. Only then was the completion. The scroll was rolled up, clothed with the beautiful, shiny red velvet, gold embodied jacket, with a dedication to Chatzkel Burak as the sponsor. They carry the canopy with the four sticks from the synagogue, and under it they escort the elderly Chatzkel Burak with the Torah Scroll. Near him stands his wife Toba Tzivke, who supports him with her hand, surrounded by the whole family with candles in their hands. Following them, the whole group marches to the study house, skipping the puddles along the market lane; holding the lanterns, candles and torches. Yehuda the Kirzshener dances before them backwards, claps with his hands, sings a happy song, a melody, or dances in a kazaske.

So marches the whole train under the command of Reb Binyamin until the little lane of the study house. At this time a delegation of all of the neighbors, relatives and ordinary good friends appear and attach themselves to the train. They march in a pressed crowd until the anteroom of the study house. Chatzkel Burak's cheeks are flaming and joyous tears roll down his cheeks. The crowd yells out loud “This is the Torah and this is the reward.”. “Let us be joyous and festive with this Torah for it is our strength and light,” as the masses enter the study house. They take out all of the Torah Scrolls from the Holy Arch and they perform the Hakofos around the almemar.

After all the honors are allotted, the Safer Torah is placed in its position in the Holy Arch, one wishes each other life and health until one-hundred-and-twenty and the crowd disperses. Our Reb Binyamin, dead tired, barely crawls home….


1. It is customary to post psalm 121 on the walls in the labor room. Return
2. Traditional religious school. Return
3. Teacher of children. Return
4. Book of Jewish Law. Return
5. Twenty-first letter of the Hebrew Alphabet that is engraved on the Teffilin. Return
6. Pentecost, an early summer holiday celebrating the gathering of the first fruits and the giving of the Torah to the Jews. Return
7. The last day of the Holiday of Suckot which marks the completion of the annual Torah reading. Return
8. The prayer recited when calling up the Children for the Torah on Simchat Torah. Return
9. The Yiddish word for Russia or Russians. Return


[Pages 469-472]

My Synagogue and the Synagogue hill

Feigal Rubin
(Daughter of Reb Binyamin the Scribe)

Translated by Lazer Mishulovin

Donated by Bradley and Kathy Fisher

The Synagogue and the Synagogue hill meant a lot to us, Goniadz's, and it is important to record the agony and the ecstasy, the joy and the worries that occurred at the Synagogue hill – my Synagogue hill.

I am saying “my,” because as a young girl I thought that the synagogue and the Synagogue hill is the property of my father and my mother. The Torah Scrolls that were in the Synagogue were naturally my fathers, in fact I see him writing them.

The memory of my childhood and youth are tightly bonded with the synagogue and the Synagogue hill. I was brought up at the Synagogue hill, dreamt dreams of joy at the Synagogue hill.

How great was the pain and suffering when we learnt that the Polish hooligans desecrated our holiness and tore a Torah Scroll. The impression is unforgettable, engraved deep into my memory. This happened after the Holidays in the year 1912. Scraps of torn parchment of a Torah Scroll were scattered at the Synagogue hill, dirty and trampled. The ritual washstand was broken and scattered with torn muddy towels. The entire Goniadz was drenched in sadness, full of pain, resembling depressed mourners. My father cried so much, similarly as when my mother passed away in that same year. Rabbi Wolf, the town Rabbi, came out with an order that we should fast, and the grief was very great. They brought down snuff-dogs, who sniffed and ran around the Synagogue hill and down the Synagogue hill. However, since it was after a rain, the dogs were unable to discover the footprints of the criminals. .

Heart wrenching scenes would take place, when a mother with a heartbreaking lament would devolve upon the Holy Torahs in the synagogue, pleading from them to make an effort on behalf of her ill child. Children as well, would beg mercy in the synagogue before the Torah Scrolls for the sake of their ill father or mother, that they should not remain lonely orphans.

The synagogue and Synagogue hill were soaked with lots of tears, however, also joy.

A wedding in Goniadz!. The entire city, old and young, take part in the joy. The bride and groom are being escorted to the Chupa[1] . Where? Naturally – At the Synagogue hill. The music is playing. The windows are illuminated with lanterns or candles in all of the homes that lead to the synagogue avenue. The young couple, full of happiness and hope for a new life and a happy future, experience their happiest moments on the Synagogue hill.

Summertime, the Synagogue hill was full of children, happy, worry-free, playful; the air resounding with their chatter and laughter, playing in little horses, games like the “devil,” “fifty fifty” or military manoeuvres.
After a hot summer-day on a choking summer evening, we would go to cool off at the Synagogue hill. We would take along pillows to lie on, or to sit and schmooze.

And who can forget the Holidays?. The Synagogue would be packed with people, old and young and the Synagogue hill with children, who would, with din and hurly-burly, run in and out and fill the air with happy worriless cacophony.

Another picture swims before me. The year 1911, it was on the last day of Passover. A fire breaks out in my Uncle Gershon Leib's shop. Screams and alarms. They rescue the children, the bag and baggage, property and goods. Where is the securest place?. On the Synagogue hill. A cry from the children. A lament from fathers and mothers; blankets and pillows, furniture etc. The synagogue and the Synagogue hill is their safe haven – my Synagogue hill.

The year 1916 – The world renowned Cantor Sirota comes to us in Goniadz. Goniadz is in a holiday spirit. We, children of the Hebrew school, march with our teachers (Moshe Levin, Yoal-Meir Kohen, Yonoson Neiman and Shimon Halperin) singing Hebrew melodies into the synagogue, where we listen to the songs of Cantor Sirota.

Boys and girls, students of the Hebrew school, would do their assignments; learn Bible verses by heart at the Synagogue hill.

Over there, we built towers in the air, hoped and dreamt of a nicer and better world, a world of fairness and justice. We dreamt of the Land of Israel.

My town Goniadz and its people were massacred by murderous hands; desolate and destroyed are my synagogue and my Synagogue hill.


1. Wedding canopy. Return


[Pages 473-474]

Sketches of Goniondz
(A Bundle of Memories from an Old Goniondzer – Nisan the tailor's son)

By Dovid Forman

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Although not a historian, I understand from the name “old market” that Goniondz began to build on the river side. As the city spread, the “old market” remained for the annual fairs and markets to sell horses and cattle and Kalin to singe his pigs.

The new, larger market already had a semblance of a large city, as if planned by a master craftsman, divided into a privileged side and an unprivileged side, as ostensibly, the great world cities – New York or London with an “east” and a “west”…

I will describe the large market a little, beginning from the eastern side with the Meysim[1] Alley: Avraham Tshudak's house, unfortunately a ruin almost sunken into the earth, an indication of thkises haMeysim…[2] Avraham had dressed his “house” in a large hat, that is, a roof much larger than the house itself. This “hat” stood on poles. In general, this hat was not “permanent,” but it was not enough simply to complete the house, so he made the hat so that no water would pour on his head…

After his house – a brick one – Yoske's son Yitzhak. On the south side – Moshe's Ruchl[3] and several wooden houses and then several brick ones up to Peshe, the baker and Chaim Dinke's brick one.

Farther, Zelig-Ayzik's brick house was a complete “center” for him. First of all – Malka-Reyzl's “office” and the second story a center for medicine: there was the pharmacy and also the doctor, although Yankl the refuah[4] had a large practice at the old market.

On the west side (Respect!) two wooden houses of Meirke's Reyzel[5] and Shimeon Maranc – and the entire side of brick houses – up to Moshe-Gershon and Markowski. I remember when the brick house was finished, Markowski and his family would sit on the little bridge on Shabbos in the evening and throw nuts and sweets for the Jewish children.

The south side as with the east side – one brick building, Zarah's son Leizer's and only a few wooden houses.

Goniondzer “mountain” – three continuous mountains, Beyle-Ite's, the Shul[6] mountain and the T-mountain with the large, deep valley in the middle. If one looks carefully with a good eye, it is evident that all three mountains were one mountain from the beginning of time. And, to be truthful, they are only half mountains because they level off to the street on the south side.

And the dol[7] , is, as is known, a Hebrew word that means “poor,” because the Jewish poverty settled there.

So Mendele Moykhet Sforim[8] can describe the shwitz-bod[9] . and the mikvah[10] better. And, lehavdil,[11] Sholem Aleichem has already described the beautiful synagogue with the old beis-medrash[12] before me… But I remember the rathoyz[13] that stood in the middle of the market as if it was the municipal duma[14] or uprawa[15] . And I still remember the turme[16] that stood not far from the city hall, because of an actual incident:

Yehuda the shoemaker had a feud with a katsap, namely, he, Yehuda made a pair of boots for him. The katsap[17] put them on and did not want to pay. Sheyne-Feigl's son, Yisroel-Moshe, his worker, a strong youth, pulled the boots off of the katsap's feet and gave him a push so that he flew into Zelig-Ayzik's wall. The frightened katsap brought the uriadnik[18] and Yisroel-Moshe was put in jail – near the city hall. When the constable left, Yisroel-Moshe gave the door a push and – the youth was gone! Later the constable met him in the street: “How is that possible? What right did you have to break out of jail?” Yisroel-Moshe answered him: “If you talk a great deal, I will make a danos[19] of you, that you put people in a broken jail”…. The constable became quiet and then the ruin was taken down.


1. dead men's. Return
2. resurrection of the dead Return
3. either Moshe's wife or daughter Return
4. healer – old time doctor Return
5. Meirke's daughter or wife Return
6. synagogue Return
7. refers to the poor quarter Return
8. pen name of Yiddish writer, Sholem Yankev Abramovich Return
9. steam bath Return
10. ritual bath Return
11. word used to separate the sacred from the profane or secular Return
12. house of prayer Return
13. city hall Return
14. Russian parliament Return
15. cultivation Return
16. jail Return
17. derogatory nickname for a Russian Return
18. constable Return
19. denunciation Return

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