Yaakov Binyamin Katzenelson
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
Yaakov Binyamin Katzenelson was born in Kapulia in 1859 and studied at the yeshivot (rabbinic seminaries) in Volozhin and Kovna. He was the author of Ol'lot Efraim (Gleaning of Efraim, 1889), a poem which drew attention to the Maskilim (intellectuals) at a time of negative relations to the followers of the Enlightenment movement whom Katzenelson describes unsympathetically as career opportunists [and whom he compares] to the beloved and idealized heroes, the enlightened yeshiva students with their desire for education. Ben Yemini (Katzenelson) then lived in Warsaw and was a collaborator on the Hebrew encyclopedia, Eshkol. At that time, his wife lived in Korelitz, at the home of her mother, the widow of the rabbi of Korelitz, Rabbi Yitzchak Yechiel Davidson and there, in Korelitz, their son, Yitzchak Katzenelson, was born (Tammuz 1886).
Lexicon of Yiddish Literature, Zalman Rajzen, Vol. III. Vilna, 1929.
Rich in achievements, the elderly Hebrew writer, Ben Yemini (Yaakov Binyamin Katzenelson), has passed away. He lived and breathed totally with love for the Hebrew language and the Jewish People. His erudition in the field of Judaism was immense. He was especially well-versed in Jewish history. He wanted to continue where the Enlightenment poet, Weisel, left off. This work remained in manuscript.
He was active for decades as an educator and raised a generation of pupils of whom he was proud. His son, the poet Yitzchak Katzenelson, grew up under his supervision; Yaakov Cohen learned his masterly Hebrew from him. The engineer, Shmuel Shwartz, who discovered the anusim (Jews compelled to convert to Christianity) in Portugal, was his pupil. Hundreds of his pupils may be found around the world. To the last day of his life, he took an interest in all the latest works that appeared in Hebrew and Yiddish. He was the initiator of and collaborator on the first Hebrew encyclopedia, HaEshkol.
Friday edition, Haynt 5 Kislev 5691 (Nov. 28. 1931), Issue 272
Raya Schneur (Rishe Kaplan)
If we are talking about the Zionist Korelitz, I recall the noble and delicate figure of Reb Moshe Avraham, the ritual slaughterer, and the JNF representative in our town. Dressed in a black Capote and with a cane in his hand, he used to rush to business concerning the land of Israel. From the day of his arrival in our town to his last day, he had within his heart a burning love for the Zionist Ideal. His arrival in Korelitz aroused a scandal because of his Zionism. When he arrived in our town from Odessa, many inhabitants opposed him at first, because of his well- known opinions on Zionism. He quickly organized the Zionists in the town, and these held a heavy campaign on his behalf. A strike was called, and the meat of the other slaughterers was boycotted until his opponents stopped their war against him and he was accepted as a ritual slaughterer. From the moment that he started his duty, his life devoted to the Zionist Ideal. He took part in strenuous work and activities, which raised his status among the Youth of Korelitz as a symbol and an example of action and devotion.
He himself had a hard life. His family life was surrounded by troubles and suffering, He was a widower, and the daughters that his late wife had given him, lived with him in his house. One of his daughters was married with many children, and some of these children were brought up by their grandfather. None of the problems in his house clouded his vision of Zion or of anything connected with Zionism: he organized, explained, convinced, and collected funds. He was a permanent citizen in all the town's houses, which he visited in order to organize pairs of youths for emptying the JNF boxes. Eventually, when a large part of the youth made Aliya, and others avoided jobs of this kind, he used to go to all the houses to empty the boxes. He did this in order to keep the operation going and to keep in touch with the contributors.
He himself did not have the courage to make Aliya, but he wholeheartedly assisted those who aspired to make Aliya. I remember that one of the girls' Aliya was delayed (she now lives in Kfar Saba). He immediately turned to the Palestine office to discover the reasons for the delay, and labored to speed up her Aliya. Every time that the pioneers going on Aliya traveled to Novogrodek on their way to Palestine, he used to travel the long way to Novogrodek with them. Reading the articles of S. Pitrushka on Fridays in the Heint newspaper, Vos Hert Zich in Eretz Yisroel? (What's new in Palestine?) was, for him, like a Mitzva or the pleasure of prayer with a religious man. He used to thirstily drink in each line on what was happening in Palestine. When it happened that Pitrushka's usual article was not published on a Friday, Moshe Avraham used to write a letter to the Heint newspaper, Why didn't
you publish Pitrushka's article on Palestine? How was it possible to read a Friday newspaper without an article on the Land of Israel, he asked. Mrs. Vittel Shkolnik-Arieli, who visited Korelitz in 1937, told me that Reb Moshe Avraham used to visit her at her home every day in order to hear some living words about the land of Israel.
There was no initiative within our activities in which he did not participate. I remember in the market - - the bazaar, when we started organizing in aid of the JNF. To our joy, the public responded to this enterprise, and the revenues were larger than expected. Reb Moshe Aaron was happy with this new enterprise which we had discovered and with our modesty in such great success. A short while after the Bazaar, Moshe Avraham came to our house and told me that he had a present for me for my distinction and my success in this Bazaar. I told him, It's not necessary! and I said that I considered the success itself as a prize and a source of happiness. He, however, was adamant and, a few days later, he brought me a small album published by the JNF to mark the inauguration of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The album contained his own dedication: words of love of Zion and longing for the land of our fathers.
To this day, when I participate in a market-bazaar of the working-mothers' association, the memory Zionist market in Korelitz stands before me and energizes me in memory of the innocent and distinguished Zionist who does not leave me.
My father told me about the same matter that Reb Moshe Avraham used to correspond with various Zionist functionaries. It happened that letters of his were found on Behr Borochov. The police, who were looking for Zionist activists, went out to search for him and to find him. At first, they searched for him in Novogrodok, but they eventually found him in Korelitz. They arrested him Davke on a Saturday and held him in jail for a month. Thanks only to the efforts of Reb Nachum Ayzik Beigin the Shochet, he managed to raise a sum of money, and was thus released. My father also noted that That Reb Nachum Ayzik Beigin was also an honorable Jew and a good Zionist.
Kalman Osherowitz -- Raanana
My grandfather was one of the biggest grain merchants and one of the owners of a flourmill in the Vilna region. He was a learned man and a successful businessman, and carried on the business dealings of his father, Reb Idel-Asher (this was the source of the family name - Osherowitz). He worked in the supply and transfer of produce on the Minsk-Vilna line and was blessed in his work. With the foundation of the railway line in this region, he lost his financial base and lived in poverty. He wanted to teach his eldest son to do clean and easy work. He chose for him the profession of writing Holy Books. Indeed, my father succeeded in his profession as a highly talented artist. He excelled in making houses for Phylacteries from one skin. He did not, however make a good living, since, in his time, there was little demand for his products. The simple people did not understand this subject, while the Pedants did not have the money to buy high quality Phylacteries. On the other hand, the work was hard and exhausting, and required a high degree of exactitude. My father therefore expanded his business and also dealt with the processing of leather for Torah parchment and for Phylactery straps. He also manufactured tombstones with a high degree of artistry.
He also fulfilled the task of Attendant in the court of our town's Rabbi, as well as Attendant at the old house of learning. He served well known Rabbis such as, for example, the late Rabbi Mordechle Slonimer, who served in our town before he came to Slonim. When Rabbi Avraham Cohen was ill and bed-ridden in his last years, he passed on to my father the task of handling weddings. My father fulfilled this task all his life, with the rabbis who came after the passing away of Rabbi Avraham Cohen. In our town, people used to say: A wedding without Klezmers is still possible but, without Reb Moshe-Avraham, it is impossible. He instructed young rabbis with his advice, and they took his opinions into account. He was popular among both young and old, and many people asked for his advice.
In those days, a young woman who gave birth to a son would not turn to a doctor, but rather to Reb Moshe- Avraham. He was the circumsciser, and he was the expert who decided whether the child was ready to enter the covenant of Abraham our Father. After the Brit he used to visit the newborn child a number of times, until the wound had completely healed up. He even used to advise the mother how to take care of the child.
He was renowned for his hospitality. An emissary who came to the town, a wandering preacher, or any other passer-by - they all found a place in his house to lodge and to rest. This was how my grandfather used to serve the public in a variegated manner. When he used to sit down to the work from which he made his living - he could not always sit peacefully and do his work. Public affairs disturbed him all the time, while he earned almost nothing from public affairs. He was a member of all the societies which existed in Korelitz at the time. Among these,
he was one of the membeof the Chevra Kadisha, and managed the cemetery list all his life. Without him, nothing was done. He was a member of the Psalms society and the Mishna Society. He himself handled a Mishna study group for members of the Amcha society. He had a wonderful talent for explanation.
My mother Leachika died young, and I never got to know her. My father remained a widower for most of his life. As the youngest child, I used to accompany him to his lessons, celebrations and festivities. I remember his beautiful stories and the enthusiasm of his listeners. Often, when I remember the days of my youth, I regret that I did not keep to heart his words and proverbs in order to set them down in print.
My father was a dedicated and faithful Zionist. He used to buy the Zionist Shekel every year. When the Zionist Bank was established, he was one of the first to buy a share.
His dream was to go to Palestine and to settle there. We helped him to fulfill this vision. When I made Aliya, I started to take care of his Aliya. We finally brought him when he was 78 years old. I remember his joy when we traveled to Jaffa to get Palestinian Citizenship from the British Mandatory Authorities. He was happy from the honour which he received from his son and grandchildren. In order to realize his dream of settlement, we bought him a plot of land in Herzlia. This plot he later bequeathed to his grandchildren who survived the Holocaust. He died of old age, at the age of 88, on the 9th November 1943.
Reb Pesach, son of Yeshayahu Baruch the Cohen, Kaplan, was more than 90 years old when he died. He was one of the senior householders in Korelitz. He managed to live in the Land of Israel for a few decades, and was buried next to his wife Hinda-Faygel in Karkur. He had lived there from his arrival in Palestine until he was widowed. His was a personality of Torah, tradition, love of others, common sense, humor and hilarity, and a deep understanding of the problems of his time and of the youth. He was involved in the life of the community and he played a significant part in its ongoing daily problems, such as making a living, public worries, educating the younger generation, negotiations with the hostile authorities, whether the Czar's government, or whether the Anti-Semitic Polish Republic. He fulfilled his public duties in a warm and sensitive manner, without expecting to be rewarded. He spent a few years wandering around the USA. On his return to Korelitz at the beginning of the 20th century, he knew enough English to be able to write letters for inhabitants of Korelitz to their relatives in America. Three generations of Korelitzers benefited from this public service. Reb Pesach showed a high talent in musicianship and Chazanut. He was a scripture-reader and prayer leader on Sabbaths and high holidays at the new Synagogue. His house was used for public meetings. He educated his four daughters and only son in the spirit of Zionist pioneering. All of them made Aliya. His children inherited his musical talents from him, as well as his righteousness, his faithfulness and perseverance in fulfilling his functions responsibly. His house in Korelitz became the focus of the youth who were organized in the pioneering movements. Reb Pesach managed to make Aliya with his wife Hinda Faygel, to his children in the land of Israel. He underwent all the absorption problems as a pioneer. In his final years, he was a member of a Kibbutz, together with his daughters. He bestowed a great heritage to us Korelitzers, who went out from the town to pave roads in the wide world. Each of these roads brought us thither.
Y. Ch. Bielsky
He was old when he was gathered to his people. He was the scion of the race of powerful Hebrews in his body and in his spirit. He was born in Korelitz, from where he gathered his family thirty-five years ago and went to Palestine. He knew that his religious beliefs did not clash with the secular life of his daughters who were living on the following Kibbutzim: Einat, Givat Chaim, Yagur (home of his daughter Raya), and the town of son, Netanya. As long as he had the strength to do so, he supported himself by working as a bookkeeper in Karkur, where he was an honored citizen, and loved by everyone. It also happened, when he spent the last period of his life with his daughter on Kibbutz Givat Chaim or with his daughter on Kibbutz Yagur, that he was a loved visitor on the Kibbutzim. He was involved in their lives, and followed their lifestyles. He enlivened their parties with his pleasant voice and lively humor. He often rolled before the young members chapters of life with hilarity, spiced with sayings, proverbs, jokes and wisdom. These were all drawn from his rich popular reservoir. He lived within his beliefs, while honoring his children's beliefs. They also honored him and were proud of his nobility. At every family gathering, he used to carry with him a heart full of love for children, and brought with him a fresh breeze. Pesach Kaplan held within himself the best and most superior of his generation, as well as a mature and wise knowledge which was aware of his family who were saddened by his passing. His Jewish Melody will flow forever in the life of his extended family, as well as in the life of his friends from Korelitz and other friends.
[Translator's note: The rest of page 198, as well as page 199 are written in Yiddish]
Rina Grabelsky, nee Mordechovitz - the last representative of our parents' generation - was born in 1891. She was born into a lower class working family. In Korelitz, she diligently studied everything that could be studied through private teachers and at the Cheider: The Bible, Hebrew, Russian, Arithmetic, etc. At the age of 16 or 17, she emigrated to the USA, to study and to be educated. After arriving in New York, she succeeded in finding a post in the Hebrew department of the local National Library. While she was working, she attended evening lessons, studied English, and even attended lectures at the City College until after her marriage. The National and Zionist heritage was imbedded in Rina's blood. Thus, in 1920, she emigrated to Palestine, together with her nine-year-old daughter, and went to Mikve-Yisrael to work in Agriculture. Rina also spent a period of pioneering in Kibbutz Ein-Harod. She experienced many changes in her life; she returned to the USA, returned one more to Palestine - and in 1930, she came with her husband, the Author Moshe Stavy-Stavsky for a visit to her town of birth, Korelitz. For the pioneering youth of Korelitz, her visit was an unforgettable experience.
Thirty years later, we met again in Jerusalem, at one of the parties of the Working Mothers' Organization. Rina's alert social sense found its expression in extensive and dedicated activities: with the Working Mothers' Organization, with the Hebrew Language Administration during the period of mass immigration, and in recent years with the Committee for Soldiers. She did not miss one lecture of the State's Ministers and even regularly attended the Bible Circle at the State President's residence until her last moments.
In the last weeks of her life, she planned to visit her daughter and granddaughter in the USA. During my last visit to her, after her heart attack, two days before she passed away, I saw a photograph of her on her table. She had just brought this photograph from the photographer. I said to Rina, Please give it to me. She took a pen and wrote a dedication. When I told her the general date, she replied that she wanted the Hebrew date. She wrote while saying out loud, 17th Av, 5729.
Her memory is blessed as one of one of the dearest and distinguished people of our town, Korelitz.
[Translator's note: the rest of page 201 and first five lines of page 202 are in Yiddish]
I wish to set up a monument to the many Korelitzers, among whom I grew up. Together with them, I toured the streets; I rejoiced in their joys and I suffered with them in their sorrows. Among them were extended families of which, no remnant or fugitive remained. I chose one figure, who was etched in my memory more than any others. His name was Yossel der Zalamanker, Yossel der Geller. What was his surname? It is doubtful whether I ever really knew. It is even doubtful whether he ever used it, except for official purposes, of course. Why should I have chosen him especially? Maybe it was because I was a witness to a consultation between him and my uncle Eliyahu-Chaim regarding the establishment of an Eyn-Yaakov study group, on which my uncle was counting. Or maybe it was because I loved to watch people when they were walking to the House-of-Study. I do not know whether this man died a natural death and had a grave of his own, to which the town's residents accompanied him in sorrow at his funeral, or whether he died in one of the strange killings, together with those with whom he had lived, and above whose graves were heard the sounds of wild exultation.
He had no children, and all his property was the goodness of his heart and his honesty. He was short, his face was covered by a yellow beard, and his blue eyes were very calming. He paced slowly and comfortably on his way to the House-of-Study, looking left and right, in case he should encounter someone with whom he could hold a conversation. However, things were different on Wednesdays, Market day, when he made his weekly living as a trader in eggs.
Fearing that he would be late for the Mincha prayer, he would make haste. He used to run straight, and would leave behind everyone that he met on the way. He was hot in his coat, his jacket was open, and he undid the buttons of his shirt while he was running. He huffed and he puffed as he ran. When he approached the House-of-Study and met people whose destination was the same as his, a grin broke out on his weary face, and he started gleaming all over. It sometimes happened, however, that he used to arrive when the House-of-Study was empty. He then went outside and walked around the building. Maybe a Minyan could be gathered. Every so often, he would look at the sky to see whether it wasn't too late for prayer.
[Translator's note: Pages 203-209 are in Yiddish].
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