« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Pages 35-38]

A Hundred and Fifty years ago
(Excerpts from the Book of Records of the Holy Community of Korelitz)

by Ch. A Kaplan

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

If you wish, a period of 150 years is not the longest. A Jew who has merited a long life and is still going about among us had dealings with people of that generation who took part in its events. In any case, the spirit of that period has not yet disappeared; we are still influenced by its customs and miss the romanticism of its way of life. In moments of repentance, we lament, in the recesses of our heart, the good, old days, stamped with the seal of our great-grandfather, days which have long gone by, never to return. Let's observe, then, how our ancestors lived - not from hearsay and the conversation of the elderly - which are not accurate, but rather from instructive letters from ancient documents which, though covered with dust, are alive with the feelings of men and women; and the echo of their joys and aspirations, sighs and annoyances still reaches our ears through the space of the generations. Here, for example, in the book of records of the holy community of Korelitz, the souls active in the events related in the book are forever silent, for they have gone the way of all the world, but when you read the clauses that tell about them, despite the low level of their culture and their faulty and stammering Hebrew, we can still appreciate the value of this written list for future generations - behold this entire nearby and far off period comes to life before your eyes, and the distant echo of loving, strange sounds which still hover in the air of two neighboring periods, seeking their correction, reach your ears.

 

A.

The excerpt concerning the woman Batya, daughter of Reb Yitzchak Eizel (Eizik?) “who performed an irreligious act, travelling from Novoredak to Korelitz with a Gentile - may his name be erased! - without a chaperone”, is a human document from a time of suppression of personal freedom, and the desire to live erupts when both the body and soul were put in chains. Batya was not, God forbid, a dissolute woman, flirting with a Christian fellow. She certainly had no other way of getting to her hometown of Korelitz and when this “Gentile - may his name be erased!” happened to come by travelling alone and let her get into his wagon for a few cents, she took advantage of this opportunity. The woman Batya was not so familiar with the laws of “privacy”. The clause in the book of records itself calls her sin “folly”, but the community leaders have no mercy. The “scandal” was entered into the records with her severe punishment beside it “so that people would hear and fear. ” The clauses relate in the following words:

“As the woman Batya, daughter of Reb Yitzchak Eizel, performed an irreligious act, travelling from the holy community of Novoredak with a Gentile without a chaperone and nevertheless added to her sin, daring to open her mouth wide and speak illegally and contemptuously against the leaders of our community in the committee and in the community room, the community leaders have therefore placed the aforementioned woman Batya under the ban of excommunication, and she may not be summoned to a judge's decision and may not even be involved in the commandment of burying a deserted corpse, nor may anyone do business with her until she appeases the community leaders and promises never again to repeat the scandal of performing the aforementioned act, transgressing Jewish law . We have come as witnesses. Signed, Sunday, 6 Tammuz 5540 (1780), here in Korelitz. ”

The woman Batya committed two transgressions for which any offender is guilty: first, she travelled alone with a Christian man, may his name be erased!, without a chaperone; and secondly, she “opened her mouth wide and spoke illegally and contemptuously against the community leaders.” Therefore, she was punished with “complete excommunication” - not less and not more - that is to say, she was removed from the community entirely and was rebuked and made liable to malice, disgrace and insults, and after her death, she would likewise be made liable to shame seeing that no one would be involved in her burial. Such an unbearable situation compelled her to surrender and accept the judgment. The community leaders were victorious. The wickedness of the heart of the woman Batya was suppressed. And although it was in her nature to be loud and vocal - she could easily “speak illegally” - nevertheless, she could not argue with those who were more aggressive than she was. The second clause, which is undated, relates:

“As the aforementioned woman Batya admitted that she had sinned and promises never again to repeat the scandal caused by performing the aforementioned deed, we, the leaders of the community, have therefore cancelled the aforementioned ban of excommunication, which is henceforth like a piece of broken pottery without any substance to it.”

There is, however, another surprising and unexpected epilogue to Batya's dispute with the leaders of the Korelitz community. On Tuesday, eve of the month of Menachem Av 5540 (1780), it is recorded in the third clause:

“As the woman Batya has gone back to being rebellious and continues to exhibit heretical tendencies ( heresy and lawlessness - editor) against the leaders of the holy community of Korelitz and has cursed them with grievous curses and has also maligned and cursed the new leader in his month of office, the community leaders, joined by the nine town elders, have therefore agreed, according to the regulations clarified above, that the woman Batya should again be placed under the ban of complete excommunication until she appeases the community leaders. 24 leaders and community heads joined by the abovementioned town elders in the community room.”

The feelings of anger and wrath on the part of the insulted woman increased, apparently, at the expense of her sensible reasoning, and she fought against her enemies with her weapons - grievous curses. We can suppose that the woman died while still under the ban and was given a contemptible burial. She stood in rebellion until the day of her death, for had she repented, the fourth clause would have protested against the victory of the community leaders.

 

B.

Even in that controlling period, there were “insolent” and “brazen” men and women who stood up against the community and quarreled with the powerful leaders in the community room. The quarrel would sometimes reach dramatic moments as in the case of the woman Batya or would sometimes be temporary, instantaneous “among faithful friends” and would frequently come to an end with an expression of regret and acceptance of authority. It is clear that a brave individual finally surrendered and was compelled to grovel before those more powerful than he - the community, which had power and dominion. Here, before us is a dispute of two moments. The first moment:

“As, among our many transgressions, Zvi son of Yaakov and Gershon son of Rabbi Yitzchak spoke contemptuously against the community leader in his month of office and against other honorable people in the study hall and during the prayer service - therefore, in order to make this matter known so that the Children of Israel shouldn't be like a flock without a shepherd, we have unanimously decided to punish the men as explained here, namely: that the abovementioned men should henceforth not be called up to the reading of the Torah by the name “our teacher”, but rather by the name “member”. The aforementioned Moshe Gershon is henceforth (not) permitted to serve as “gabbai” (synagogue treasurer) and transfer money collections and they may never again be appointed to any position, and even one member of the assembly can prevent them from returning to their former status.”

And we learn a very important thing from this - and precisely in praise of the community leaders: they punished without mercy only when the offender acted contrary to Jewish law. The community leaders did not allow the honor of the God of Israel to be disparaged. On the other hand, they easily relinquished their own dignity and did not punish to the full extent of the law. The punishment of being called up to the reading of the Torah by the name “member” instead of “our teacher” is not the most severe. The “transfer of money collections” and “preventing appointment to a position for ever” is more perceptible, but cannot be compared to “complete excommunication”.

 

C.

In these days, when elections for any important community are on the agenda, disagreements break out between the ultra-orthodox and the secular. The secular aspire to a completely secular community or to a community that has modern orthodox functions, while the ultra-orthodox want to reduce precisely the community functions and establish them solely - on the basis of religion. There are grounds for supposing that the ultra-orthodox have taken this stand regarding the Jewish community out of a lack of knowledge about the history of communities and their functions. The clause brought down below is exemplary proof that the ultra-orthodox of the past generation- contrary to the ultra-orthodox of our days - expanded the boundaries of the community, imposing on it not only religious and cultural functions, but also economic -functions which, by their nature, belong to the authority of the government and in their name, the government sets up special offices. The “community leaders” were concerned with the body as much as they were concerned with the soul.

Let's read the interesting clause in its source and language:

Due to the great outcry from the town which has reached our ears in reaction to the tailors' oppressing the residents with the high prices they charge for sewing clothes (They take high prices unheard of in communities around us.), we, the community leaders, called a meeting where it was decided from now on to institute a strict regulation so that no such outcry will ever, God forbid, be heard again in our borders. Namely - that no one of the local residents-whoever it may be - should dare give a tailor more than the fee regulated by us as stipulated in the price list in exchange for his sewing. And here are the details:

A) gabardine without rows (seams) - 2 guilder, and with rows - 2 guilder and 15 groschen; silk gabardine - 3 guilder; cloak - 3 guilder; silk cloak - 4 guilder. B) fur coat with cat trim - 2 guilden and 15 groschen; with fox or grey squirrel trim - 4 guilder; fur coat with “platzaynike” (?) with fur - 3 guilder; magpie -one guilder and 13 groschen; jacket from any cloth - one guilder. These prices are all for large sizes. For smaller sizes, it will be proportional to the prices stated above.

And prices were likewise set for other kinds of apparel which the clause enumerates one by one regardless as to whether the tailor made them before or after the holiday. And the clause continues:

“This was all done in agreement with all the community leaders as an immutable law and it is required of all the town residents -whoever it may be - to obey the law, and it is likewise required of all the tailors not to charge more than the prices stipulated in the aforementioned list. And even just one member of the abovementioned assembly can protest to make sure that the regulation is carried out properly, and if it should become clear that one of the tailors is not in compliance with the regulation explained above and is disparaging any one in the community, he will receive a heavy fine as seen fit by the members of the assembly.”

Why did precisely the tailors overcharge for their “sewing craft” in the holy town of Korelitz? As the clause remarks, “So such a think won't be heard about in neighboring towns?” And why tailors of all people and not the other craftsmen? We can't find any clue to that in the clause which is unique in the entire book of records because a listing of prices for other kinds of craftsmanship was not set. This is a sign that everything was as it should be. And although it is not stated explicitly, it is very likely that the tailors were forced to accept the decree and not charge more than the prices set in the price list “so that they would not be penalized with a heavy fine”, and if they were penalized, some clause would have testified to this. But there is no clause to this effect.

* HaOlam, volume 18, pg. 274-6, 11 May, 1933. Thursday, 15 Iyar 5693, London


[Pages 39-41]

Little Pages of History

by Hassia Turtel-Oberzhanski (Jerusalem)

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

The town of Korelitz is situated in a fertile environment on the banks of the Ruta River, on the main Slutzk-Niesviezh-Mir highway leading to Lithuania and to the other crown lands of former historical Poland. Korelitz was then in the possession of the great Lithuanian princes, the Tchartoriskis and the Radziwills. As a dowry for Princess Stephanie Radziwill, control of the place was transferred to the authority of the princely family - Wittgenstein. In addition to this event, many other happenings in the history of Poland and Lithuania took place in Korelitz.

In the 14th century, Korelitz was a passing through station for the Tatar hordes, who destroyed it. The Swedes also left signs in Korelitz during their wars with Poland in the 17th century. In 1705, Korelitz was honored to have as a guest for 24 hours the Russian Czar, Peter the Great, on his way from Grodno to Moscow. Korelitz served as a place of assembly for the Polish nobility who gathered there to hold an election (after the death of King Augustus II) in order to restore a king of the Piast Dynasty to the Polish throne. In 1812, the remnants of Napoleon's Grande Arm?e passed through Korelitz during their retreat in the wake of their defeat in Russia. After the division of Poland (1772), Korelitz came under the rule of Czarist Russia, to which it belonged until the First World War (1914).

 

The Old Jewish Community

Unfortunately, we lack historical documents relating to the establishment of the Jewish community in Korelitz. The oldest tombstones in the Jewish cemetery are from the 18th century. It is nearly a certainty, however, that there was already a Jewish settlement in Korelitz many years earlier. According to a census from the year 1765, the Jewish community had 336 taxpayers (adults only); that is to say, the Jewish population in all numbered about 1,000 souls. According to a census of 1897 (under Russian rule), the Jewish population numbered 1,840 souls out of a general population of 2,259.

The Jewish community had no official status under Russian rule. The community's expenses were covered by a tax on meat (“karobke”), which was collected by one of the Jews who was given this responsibility on lease from the Russian authorities.

The old community supported two synagogues and a small place of worship for Chassidic Jews. One of the synagogues was called the “Old” because it was erected on the site of the “old” synagogue, which had been in existence since the 18th century and had burned down in 1911. Many yeshiva boys regularly studied in the “Old” synagogue until the First World War. They received their meals at the homes of the town's well-to-do families. The “Old” synagogue also served as a hostel for various groups of students: “Eyn Ya'akov”, “Mishnayot” and psalm reciters. The following charitable societies were also in the town: bridal fund, hospice for the poor, burial fund and a free loan society for the needy. The Jewish community was concerned about and supported the poor and saw to it that they didn't have to seek charity in other towns lest they humble themselves before “strangers”…

 

Between Both World Wars

According to the Riga Treaty of 1921, Korelitz reverted to Polish rule following the Polish-Bolshevik War. In the period of renewed Polish rule (1921- 1939), the Jewish community was involved with organizing spiritual-social life. Their first concern was - education of the younger generation. Two elementary schools were set up and later a “Tarbut” school. Jewish children also attended the local Polish public school. Parents of means sent their children to pursue their studies in the government high school in Novogrudek as well as in the Hebrew High School or Teacher's College in Vilna.

Lively social activity developed in the town of which young people were generally the leaders. All the Zionist youth movements were active: “HeChalutz” (Pioneers), “HeChalutz HaTza'ir” (Young Pioneers), “HaShomer HaTza'ir” (Young Guard), “Beitar” as well as the “Zukunft Bund” (Future Union) youth movement. Many of the pioneer youth realized their dream of moving to the Land of Israel. Starting in the 1920s, there was a steady emigration to the Land of Israel on the part of Korelitz's sons and daughters, who had first undergone training and preparation for kibbutz living on the farms of the “HeChalutz” and “HaShomer HaTza'ir” movements.

 

Worsening Economic Situation

On the eve of the Second World War, Korelitz numbered 1,300 Jewish souls out of a general population of 2,000 residents. The Jewish population made a living from small business, crafts, gardening and from leasing fish ponds, gardens and fruit orchards. These economic groups established a “Cooperative Workers and Trade Bank”, which provided low interest loans. The economic situation of the Jews was very difficult and, with few exceptions, most of the people were in need of support from relatives living abroad. The situation in the last years before the Second World War was especially difficult, during the period of increased anti-Semitism and the boycott of Jewish business. The Polish “settlers”, who came from western Poland, led a campaign against Jews - among the local White Russian population who had lived peacefully with the Jews for generations.

 

The Destruction

Under German occupation, Korelitz experienced the same tragic road to death as did hundreds of other cities and towns in Poland. In February 1942, after a series of death “aktions” in the town itself, the Jews of Korelitz were transported to the ghetto in Novogrudek. In the great slaughter that took place in Novogrudek on August 8, 1942, the Jews of Korelitz were murdered, together with the Jews from surrounding neighboring little towns. Only a small group of 20 Jews from Korelitz succeeded in escaping to the partisans in the dense forest around Nolibaki. A few of the surviving remnants were fortunate to make their way to Israel.


[Pages 42-48]

From The Community Records of Korelitz

by A. Litvin

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

 

A. A woman ostracized for travelling with a non-Jew without a chaperone

Whereas the woman, Batya daughter of R' Yitzchak Izik,[1] performed a shameful act, namely travelling to Novogrudek with a Gentile man without a chaperone; and as, in addition, she committed another sin – opening her big mouth and reviling the leaders of the congregation at a meeting in the synagogue, we, the undersigned leaders of the community, have, therefore, issued a judgment and a punishment to the effect that the woman Batya should be thoroughly ostracized: she must not be called upon for any reason, nor must she participate in performing the “mitzvah” of burying a deserted corpse and no one should do any business with her until she apologizes to the leaders of the congregation and takes it upon herself not to commit such crimes.

Signed: Saturday night, 6 Tammuz 5540 (1780)
(4 signatures of the members of the community)

A few lines written further:

Since the aforementioned woman has corrected her errors and has taken upon herself to refrain from doing such things, we, the “chiefs of the community”[2], have decided that the ban of excommunication should be entirely cancelled like a broken clay vessel.

 

B. A court house attendant – a thief and his punishment

In memory of and as testimony for later generations - it is recorded on the next page how Zvi Bar Chaim “Segal” used his “hand-work” to steal from other people in the community, including several property owners, as it has become clear to the chiefs of the community and of the court of justice, so that we, the “chiefs of the community” and of the court of justice, have decided that this “runner”[3] (that is, the attendant) should be disqualified from giving testimony and for taking an oath, from today and henceforth, until he swears, wearing his prayer shawl and burial shroud, that he will no longer steal.

(Signed, members of the congregation and court, 5554, 1794)

 

C. A Tax (Fine) for Tailors

Regarding the great outcry from the town which has reached our ears[4] in reaction to the tailors' oppressing the residents with the high prices they charge for sewing clothes (They take high prices unheard of in communities around us.), we, the “chiefs of the community”, therefore, called a meeting where it was decided from now on to institute a strict rule so that no such outcry will ever again, God forbid, be heard in our borders. Namely – that not one of the local residents – whoever it may be – should dare give a tailor more than the fee regulated by us in exchange for his sewing. And here are the details:

Men's apparel: A) gabardine[5] without rows[6] – 2 guilder, and with rows – 2 guilder and 15 groschen; silk gabardine – 3 guilder; cloak[7] – 3 guilder; a silk cloak – 4 guilder. B) fur coat with cat trim - 2 guilder and 15 groschen; with fox or grey squirrel trim – 4 guilden; fur coat with “platzaynike” ? with fur – 3 guilder; magpie ?(article of clothing) - one guilder and 13 groschen; jacket from any cloth – one guilder. These prices are all for large sizes. For smaller sizes, it will be proportional to the prices stated above.

Ladies' apparel: A) “tchuhai[8] with cat trim- 3 guilder; with fox – 3 guilder and 15 groschen, with grey squirrel – 4 guilder; smooth “tchuhai” - 2 guilder; “tchuhai” with “abnav” ( i.e. a blouse with a fur collar) – two guilder and 15 groschen. B) “tchuhai” from “mareh” (flowered silk) and covered with “kradishur” ? -3 guilder and a smooth ________ - 2 guilder and 15 groschen. C) garment made of calico and nankeen ( thick black cotton material in lattice) – one guilder; a garment edged with “mareh” – 2 guilder; garment edged with “kradishur” – one guilder and 15 groschen; smooth garment - one guilder and 15 groschen. D. “Vist[9] made of “mareh” covered with golden spangles - 13 groschen; made of “liama” (golden pieces) – 2 guilder; other “visten” in proportion to these. E) waist jacket made of “liama[10] - 2 guilder; from other kinds of silk – one guilder and 13 groschen; from calico – one guilder; weekday body jacket with rabbit or cat trim – one guilder; jacket and “zaleshkesh[11] stitched with fox - one guilder; “zaleshke” from good material with gold, or a _______ from “mareh” with ________ - 15 groschen; other “zaleshkes” in proportion to these.

All these regulations were approved by all the community representatives so that there would be a law which none of the town's residents should transgress, no matter who he or she may be. The tailor must not take more from this “instructor”. Even just one of the assembled representatives can protest[12] to make sure that these rules are strictly obeyed. And if it appears that a tailor is violating these regulations and is taking more from one of the residents, whoever he or she may be, that tailor is to be punished with a substantial “fine” according to the judgment of those attending the meeting.

(Signed: two synagogue treasurers, the beadle and trustee)

28 Tishrei 5565 (1805)

 

D. For not making a ceremonial meal following a circumcision

It was once customary to invite all one's relatives- close and distant with their wives, children and grandchildren- to a joyous event. Since half the town was “bound” together through marriage, it is easy to understand that, for an ordinary person in times of poverty, arranging a meal was like experiencing a pogrom. Therefore, many people were actually afraid to announce a wedding, circumcision, a congratulatory occasion, etc. to the public at large. They would make the meal for a “few people”, in short, those closest to those celebrating the joyous event. The “community”, however, did not let themselves be duped. What do you mean not having a party? Going behind their backs?

And thus it was written in the Korelitz records book in 5568 (1808):

Because something terrible happened in the congregation due to our many sins to cancel the meal following a circumcision ceremony (regarding which it is hinted at in certain holy books that one should have a meal for all the invited guests) and even a person who is in a position to make a meal doesn't do so either, it is therefore unanimously decided that whoever doesn't make a meal – for at least 10 people – a ban of excommunication will be placed on the sexton of the synagogue if he invites anyone to a congratulatory or happy occasion and a ban of excommunication will be placed on anyone who goes to a congratulatory occasion including even the “circumcisers” and the greater and lesser godfather, and even the very own brothers of the person making the joyful event must not go. Finally, the congregation relaxes its stand and places an obligation on the circumcisers and on all those involved in the circumcision to endeavor to make a festive meal for anyone who is not himself in a position to make a meal.

Signed: Two synagogue treasurers, Eve of Purim, 5568 (1808)

 

E. A payment made by the “godfather” and “circumciser”

In former times in Russia, it was a great honor to be a “godfather” and “circumciser”. Later, this was also a good livelihood. Sometimes, however, those involved in performing a circumcision were required to provide a ceremonial meal out of their own pockets for a poor person celebrating the joyous event. We find such a regulation in the Korelitz book of records:

“It has been agreed upon and decided in the “committee” of the meeting of the “community leaders” that whoever is a godfather at a circumcision ceremony is required to give “chai”, that is 18 groschen; the circumciser, 9 groschen: uncovering the membrane of the corona of the baby's penis - 6 groschen, sucking out the circumcision blood – 3 groschen. All this money is to be given to the wives of the synagogue treasurers with which to help poor mothers giving birth. At every wedding, the groom must also give 18 groschen for charity to the wives of the synagogue treasurers for the stated purpose. ”

 

F. A Jewish man was caught with a married woman in a “closed room”

As a shameful act was committed in our holy community due to our many sins – namely, the man Mordechai was found in a closed room with the woman, Leah daughter of Reb Chaim Segal, the woman being married, and this was confirmed by witnesses, therefore, we the “community leaders”, have decided to pay them back for their evil deeds and have pronounced a judgment on her, such a “licentious woman, as she. Meanwhile, however, the matter has come to naught. That is to say, the woman ran away like a refugee that very night and we were unable to carry out the decision as planned. We are afraid, however, that this “licentious woman” may return one day. Therefore, we, the “community leaders”, in the presence of the rabbi and the members of the local court of justice, have all decided to issue a great ban of excommunication on anyone of the people of our community, whoever it may be, who lets this “licentious woman” into their house, even for a minute - this person will henceforth be separated from the Jewish People and the Jewish religion and from all activities which are performed among the People of Israel. This has all been decided by a majority of votes of the “community leaders” and selected fine people, in the presences of the rabbi and members of the court of justice. The meeting was held in the community synagogue and I signed the decision on the rabbi's orders:

Tuesday night, 12 Shvat 5570 (1810) Signed: Ze'ev Wolf, cantor, and trustee of the local congregation

What is interesting about this account found on this page of the records book is the fact that nothing was done to the man. The entire ban of excommunication was imposed on the woman.

 

G. No one is eager to be a “kvater” at a circumcision or an usher at a wedding

Kvater” (one of the participants at a circumcision ceremony) and the usher who accompanies the bride and groom to the wedding canopy are the loveliest of honors among religious Jews. Yet in Korelitz 100 years ago, no one eager for these honors could be found. The synagogue ministrants (rabbi, beadle and cantor) were responsible for this. They would put out collection plates at every joyous event. These plate payments were called “tzushrayich” in Korelitz. This laid such a heavy burden on the common resident that he had to forgo the honor as well as the festive meal. Such a regulation is discussed in the records of Korelitz.

“As it was an old custom that every “kvater” at a circumcision ceremony and every usher at a wedding had to give “tzushraylich” (payments) to the synagogue ministrants and, as a result of which, the good deed of serving as a “kvater” or usher at a wedding is in danger of falling by the wayside, this has become a very big problem for the person making the happy event, as he can no longer find a “kvater” or an usher. Therefore, in order to prevent this good deed from disappearing entirely and to raise it from the ground, where it has fallen until now, it has been decided among the “community leaders” in the presence of certain exceptional individuals and members of the court of justice and the rabbi to institute a prohibition on making payments to synagogue ministrants so as not to embarrass anyone who doesn't have the means. From today on, a complete prohibition has been put into effect forbidding any “kvater” or usher at a wedding to give “tzushraylich” (payments) to any synagogue official, and anyone who transgresses this rule will- in addition to being ostracized- be penalized with a considerable fine and suffer great disgrace. The same ban is also imposed on synagogue ministrants if they do not let everyone know who has transgressed the prohibition of giving “tzushraylich”. Whoever knows that someone has transgressed this rule is required to inform the “parnas hachodesh[13], the leader representing the community during that particular month.”

 

H. For mocking the “community leader for the month”

“Whereas two of the townspeople, Zvi ben Yehuda and Gershon Behari, opened their mouth and reviled the community leader in his particular month[14] and other fine people in the synagogue study hall and at prayer time, we have unanimously decided - in order to make a fence so that the “Children of Israel” should not be “like a flock of sheep without a shepherd” - to impose a punishment on these individuals, as enumerated here – namely, not to call these people up to the reading of the Law with the title “morenu” ( “our teacher”)[15], but rather with the title “chaver” (“friend”, “member”)[16], from now on, and Gershon will be forbidden to serve as synagogue treasurer forever, and they will never again be chosen for any congregational or social position. And even one of those present at any meeting can, with his protest, keep these people from being chosen again. And in order to ratify the congregation's decision, which was formulated in the community synagogue, and to give it more power, we have signed it: Sunday, 2 Nissan 5544 (1784)
(5 signatories)”

Exactly a month later, on the same side and page of the record book, there is an addition to the aforementioned decision:

“Since the abovementioned individuals have bowed to the” Great Court of Law“, which was convened here, and have asked the leaders of the congregation for forgiveness, we have decided to pardon them for what occurred here and from now on, these people may return to their former standing.”
(5 signatories)

 

I. Smaller attendance, more happiness

A wedding, more than a circumcision ceremony, was a joyful occasion on one hand and a source of misery on the other. According to a custom of earlier times, people invited close and distant relatives-even the farthest removed – on both sides in addition to friends, acquaintances, neighbors and synagogue ministrants. For an average person, therefore, making a wedding was a real disaster. Consequently, the community of Korelitz was compelled to issue an order as recorded in the book of records:

“It was unanimously decided by the representatives and leaders of our community, in the presence of several fine people (distinguished individuals), regarding the needs of our community according to the rules recorded in our record book: that whoever makes a wedding, whoever it may be from our community, must not invite any but his closest relatives up to his nephews and nieces on both sides. One may also invite the community representative for that particular month, the closest neighbors on both sides, synagogue ministrants, wedding ushers and the host of the house where the wedding is taking place. And whoever has a “mechutan” (father of a son-in-law or daughter-in-law) living in town, may invite him as well to the banquet (where they are making the meal). Also the relatives up to the nephews and nieces of the groom's father may be invited to the wedding. However, regarding invitations to a meal following a circumcision ceremony, he must invite more than those included above as well as the circumciser and synagogue ministrants, precisely those who serve the congregation. Each and every member of our congregation, whoever he may be, is obligated to obey this requirement. This rule does not apply to those living in surrounding settlements which do not fall under the restrictions of this regulation. The synagogue ministrants are also excluded from obeying this regulation. All of this was decided upon at a meeting of the congregation including the threat of ostracism from the community, and whoever transgresses this rule will be subject to great punishments and fines. Should any congregation of our community wish to cancel this regulation, three valid Jews (i.e., those with voting rights) suffice to protest the ruling.”

Recorded, Thursday, 18 Marcheshvan 5554 (1794)
Four signatories

As is easy to imagine, according to this regulation, which greatly limited the number of invited guests, there still remained a considerable number of family members to invite to the joyful event.


Footnotes

  1. Korelitz Community Records, Pinkasey Kehilat Korelitz, p.137, side 2 Return
  2. “Chiefs of the community” - title borne by the leaders of the Jewish community Return
  3. In the book of records – runner, Hebrew “ratz”. He is also called “special emissary” who was the usual attendant or an extra attendant who served the congregation as an “extra postman” in case they had to announce something in another city or town regarding a decree or some other distressful thing about to befall the Jews. Return
  4. Community records, p.118, side 2 Return
  5. long cloak without a split Return
  6. rows of velvet around the edges Return
  7. a kind of lady's coat Return
  8. a “shuba” – from Russian, a fur (coat), an overcoat of silk and satin cotton cloth sewed at the waist from the front with little buttons, in the back without a seam. The sleeves were at first wide and later narrow according to the new style. Return
  9. This was also called “figara” or “bezrukovnik” - a kind of small, sleeveless jacket. A kind of “sausage” was sewn in the back at the waist with wadding so that the garment would hold tight. Return
  10. a kind of small under jacket called “zeleverm” (?) In Russian, “dushegraykaReturn
  11. a kind of woven piece of gold cloth with lining which women used to wear on their chest while nursing a child. Return
  12. At the Jewish meetings, just as in the Polish parliament (Siem), the “right of veto” prevailed. In other words, one could change a decision already taken only if the assembly was unanimous. If, however, one of the representatives was opposed, no decision could have any effect. Return
  13. One of the twelve community leaders who were also called “alufei hakahal“ (leaders of the community), each of whom was a kind of representative for a month. When one was in charge that month, none of the other leaders had the right to get involved. Only at meetings would all twelve come together and have the right to vote. Return
  14. The “community leader for the month” was considered an official person only “in his month”. In the other months, he was the same as everyone else. Return
  15. The title “morenu” (“our teacher”) was given to any young man, a “fine Jew”, a scholar or a simple person when he had earned certain merit for the community. Return
  16. The title “chaver” (“friend”, “member”) was given to every man soon after his marriage. This title indicated that he had equal rights with others in the community. These titles were usually used when a man was called up to the reading of the Torah in the synagogue and when the person bearing this title was mentioned in writing. Return


[Pages 49-53]

Yitzchak Katzenelson's Native Town

by Zippora Katzenelson-Nachumov

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

 

 

Among the endless, dense forests of the State of Minsk by the Empress Katerina great highway, a broad, paved road which leads to the capital city of Minsk - 24 “verst” from Mir, 22 “verst” from Novogrudek and 20 and some “verst” from Baranovitch – was once located Korelitz… one of the lovely small towns pulsating with the vibrancy of the warm blood of Jewish life. The town was so intimate, cordial, ours…

[Note: Verst is a Russian unit of measure, equal to 3500 feet - HS]

One of the famous, great noblemen of that region, a friend of the Jews whose name was Korelitch, decided to develop his property. In the State of Minsk, in Minsk alone, he found a very honorable Jewish man whom he settled here as a lessee. This first resident brought along other Jews, first of all his relatives, one of whom was a tavern owner, and if there is a tavern, Christians show up right away. They leased forests from the nobleman, out of which they made villages and fields. Jews began trading in wood and later in grain, and that is how the famous town of Korelitz first became a respectable, a very, very respectable small town. The old, very old cemetery, the old synagogue with its artistic, fine woodcarvings, gave evidence of vibrant Jewish life going back 600 years.

The small town of Korelitz was colorfully built and offered a splendid panorama outwards from its very center, that is to say from the marketplace, which stood on the highest place in the area, and all the little streets extended downward from there. People would say “downhill” at the end of the town, where peasants already lived, and especially owners of orchards and gardens. Whenever heavy rains fell, there would be a flood and the trees would be nearly submerged, but this didn't cause any harm. On the contrary, Jews would be doubly happy: first, on account of the trees, which revived after a recent hot spell, and secondly, because they were protected, thank God, from the deluge, living, as they did, on the hill. The fate of the orchards and gardens was closely linked to the livelihood of the majority of the Jews because they were the local lessees. Korelitz also had many Jewish craftsmen and a considerable number of storekeepers. The peers of the town dealt in wholesale wood and grain. They were the old, most respected property owners, the aristocrats of Korelitz but, as said, most of the Jews, ordinary Jews, were involved in small trade with products from orchards and gardens. People also did business in dairy products. Cheese from Korelitz had a very good name in the entire state.

With regard also to “Yiddishkeit” (Judaism), Korelitz did not lag behind the other distinguished small towns. The position of town rabbi was formerly held by the finest personalities. The town had synagogues, yeshivot (rabbinical seminaries) and religious elementary schools where all, definitely all Jewish children drew knowledge from Torah and wisdom. No ignorant people, God forbid, were to be found in Korelitz. Even the water carriers knew a chapter of Jewish oral law.

On all sides of the big, boisterous market place, on the top of the hill, there extended long rows of stores and shops of all kinds, especially dry goods merchandise. But was anything lacking, God forbid, of other things? Our Jewish brothers had thought of everything. Anything a man could eat and whatever a head, a Jewish head, could remember – you could find in all the stores and shops.

At the start of one of these rows of stores stood the only traditional town well, the pride of Korelitz. Every guest arriving from the state capital, i.e. from Minsk itself, would be shown, first of all, that well which was a reminder of the first inhabitant of Korelitz, the founder of Korelitz, the town's first Jew. The first well in Korelitz is located near the first tavern. For hundreds of years, that was always the gathering point for people and horses. The horses would get fresh water and the people would drink fresh liquor, often diluted with water, on account of which disputes often broke out between the Christians and the tavern owner. Therefore, one of the few town policemen was stationed there. The “gorodovoi” (policeman) watched the drunkards to make sure they wouldn't kill one another seriously. He would do his job thoroughly, although he was tipsy himself …. Taverns were not places where you would meet people with sober thoughts to get information, but the well, the town well, was really a source of the latest news, especially at a time when people had not yet begun reading newspapers. The living newspapers were then the wagon drivers. Jewish wagon drivers used to travel around distant places, bringing back the freshest news reports from all over the country. Especially when pogroms against Jews used to take place in the far off sections deep inside Russia, as far as distant Moscow, where the first expulsion then occurred…and the inhabitants of Korelitz, thirsty for news, would soon surround them, the first arrivals, when they would water their horses at the well. The wagon drivers would immediately and gladly transmit all the news. Seldom, however, was there good news... They knew that Jews become distressed upon hearing about the troubles that befall other Jews, the torments which they have to endure in the bitter exile… and the Messiah still refuses to come… Apparently, the cup of suffering which we deserve for our sins is not yet full… Elderly Jews would shake devoutly and their lips would recite psalms while doing so… Women, especially elderly Jewish women, would weep aloud and also young women, charming girls, would sob but would quickly wash their faces with the crystal clear water from the well, and their faces again shone brightly and they swiftly smiled.

Further down the street, the one in disrepair which, in fact, is called Zalamanke Street, leading to Novorade (Novogrudek), on a second hill on the side of the nobleman's house, stood the only Russian Orthodox church. Here, entire groups of Christians used to move along the way, going to the prayer service on Sundays and holidays and would buy a garment or very long candles for the numerous saints of the Church. The dry goods merchants had a great opportunity to do business on important Christian holidays and weddings. This made the storekeepers very happy and they prepared themselves in advance with a large selection of red dresses and bright red kerchiefs for the young Christian girls who attracted the attention of the discharged imperial soldiers who also needed a wife of their own, besides stocks of live cattle. The whole market place and the road to and from the church would fill with the loud chattering of carefree Christian youth. Everything around would also be covered with the red color of the red kerchiefs which would sparkle from the burning glow of the sun and blind the eyes of the storekeepers themselves. They would point to this red panorama and say, “Look! Everything around is red…like blood…like…”

The narrowest lane of the town opened from one of the sides of the market place, but it was also the most distinguished - the Rabbi's Lane – at the end of which stood the rabbi's house. This house, the largest in Korelitz, was the pride of the Jews of Korelitz because, for many generations, it was the seat of the town rabbi and also served as a community center. The rabbi's house was always open in order to give a cordial welcome to all distinguished guests as well as merchants from out of town who showed up for business and to welcome others who came simply to visit the old Jewish town and look at its remarkable sights.

During the Napoleonic War, when the French world conqueror fought against the Russian general, Kutuzov, the Jews of the large city of Bobroisk ran away throughout the surrounding areas. A part of the many branched Katzenelson family also tore itself away from this stream of refugees from the city of Bobroisk. Through its direct and indirect members, this eminent family occupied the position of town rabbi in many cities and small towns in White Russia and Lithuania.

In Korelitz, as well, the town rabbi, Rabbi Yitzchak Yechiel, of blessed memory, was from that important family. And when his lovely and intelligent daughter, Hinde, grew up and became the dream of the best young men from far, far around, the rabbi couldn't find any more suitable groom than his own cousin – “Who is then from greater, distinguished lineage than our family?”, and so it was decided to make a match between the rabbi's daughter, Hinde, and his nephew, the prodigy, Binyamin- Yaakov Katzenelson from Kapulia. (My mother would always say with a laugh that that was her first “hint of Kapulia”!)

This occurred in 1882 in the years of the first revolutionary movement of the “Narodnaya -Volia” (People's Freedom) after the assassination of Czar Alexander II. The successful assassination stirred the minds of the entire Russian intelligentsia and made an impression on the pioneers of our Haskala (Enlightenment) movement. However, the mighty reaction of Czar Alexander III suppressed the revolt, sent it leaders to the harsh labor camps in Siberia and persecuted the smaller revolutionaries in cities and towns throughout all of Russia. The Christian revolutionaries were even concentrated in the villages, where they became teachers. This movement was called “Going into the people”.

Jewish supporters of the “People's Freedom” movement, however, settled almost exclusively in towns and small towns, that is to say, among the common people. There, they began to instruct the youth. Libraries were set up everywhere, and young men and girls gathered there. The serious young people began to read about sociology and political economics. The majority, however, preferred to read polite literature in Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish. They began to swallow up novels from world literature, and girls would practically choke reading Sh.M.R's (?) works so quickly. This renaissance did not avoid the small town of Korelitz either.

 

From right to left: Binyamin-Yaakov Katzenelson, Avraham, Yitzchak,
Hinda and Gershon Katzenelson

 


[Pages 54-56]

The Two Times I Visited Korelitz

by Dovid Einhorn

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

 

 

When a person is born, an invisible note is hung on him which he carries on his person all his life – that is his name and the place where he was born.

I was born in Korelitz in 1882. A year later my parents moved to Novogrudek. When I was seven years old, my father took me for a walk on Castle Hill in Novogrudek. On the horizon, you could see roofs and trees.

Pointing this out to me with his finger, he said:

“Look, Dovid! You were born there!”

It was a bright, warm day at the end of the summer. The grain crops in the field were already ripe. The rye waved in the breeze. The wheat bent under the load of its ripe spikes. The barley with its hairy ears shone like small bands of rays and, among them, the fields of buckwheat with their little white flowers looked as if someone had poured milk over them. Together with the green chickpeas, they looked like woven carpets.

This colorful picture was etched in my memory together with my Korelitz - a memory from my youth which has never been erased.

The second time, I saw Korelitz in another light: It was already late in autumn. My father, Dr. Binyamin Einhorn, decided to settle in Rubiezhevitch. The house which the small town had built for the doctor was nearly finished and my father wrote to my mother to come with the children.

Communication with the town was, of course, made possible by wagon drivers who carried passengers and merchandise in their large wagon booths. My mother quickly ordered two wagon booths and we soon set out on our way.

The road to Rubiezhevitch led through Korelitz.

I remember that it was a cool, clear autumn night. A big moon poured its silvery light over the whole town and everything was quiet. The lamps in the windows were out. Only a bright light from the tavern where we stopped lit up part of the street.

Suddenly, my mother drew open the curtain of the wagon and said to me:

“Come, Dovidke. Let's take a walk and have a look at the small town. You were born here”.

Our walk didn't last long. The elderly wagon driver, an old acquaintance of our family, was already standing next to the wagon. He looked at me and said to my mother: “Is this the pale little boy whom the good Jew of Korelitz blessed?”

“Yes”, answered my mother with a sigh.

Meanwhile the wagon and carriage drivers had come out of the tavern, looked around their wagons to see if everything was alright, tying the ropes around the boxes and bags more tightly. Then they got up on the coach box, gave a crack with their whip and the whole caravan began moving from the place. My mother, who was sitting by the open curtain, suddenly began calling:

“Look! The whole sky is burning!”

The caravan stopped and everyone got off the wagon and began wondering which little town was burning. Finally everyone agreed that Mir was the little town that was burning, and we would pass by Mir on our way.

When I looked at the red sky, all my limbs began shaking. My mother could hardly calm me. The fright of a red sky remained with me for a long time.

That was the last time I saw Korelitz. Today it's a dead town for all Jews.

 

Korelitz after a fire

 

[Page 57]

The New Bet Midrash, Korelitz

 

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Karelichy, Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 03 Oct 2014 by LA