As we publish the Lanowitz book we basically let the remnants of our community commit to print their deepest memories. These memories are part of their reality. Their story is the story of townsmen who thought they were contributing to the Ukrainian economy. They stole neither their neighbors' fields nor their assets. They practiced the crafts known to them, without pushing out anyone else.
These Jews wanted to live in a quiet place, untouched by history, where they could develop their culture, and practice their religion. It was there they planned to await their redeemer to lead them to the Promised Land. As they managed through their thrift to reach a reasonable standard of living, their Gentile friends destroyed them
This was a town of good, thoughtful and interesting people. Its youths dreamt of a better future, while sensing the fermentation within the Russian administration. The town had its creative people and its Hasidim who left their mark on its citizens.
The generations who follow us need to know that our parents were people of faith. They believed in the goodness of men and were let down. Gentiles not only disappointed us, they disappointed themselves.
Lanowitz is no longer. Its residents were killed in a most cruel manner by members of one of the most enlightened nations of this century. Those who survived this tragedy are in a position to describe its details with accuracy and candor. Their stories are testimony to the animal spirit in man. The rulers of the world need to realize that a safe place for Jews (in Israel) contributes to world peace.
We endeavored in our book to provide an accurate description of our town's culture; of a community fenced-in by its religious faith, but also subject to nationalist aspirations and international hopes (socialism).
The culture of Lanowitz is described in order to emphasize all that was lost with its demise. It is a reminder to small nations what can happen to them when they remain undefended. The individual stories serve to illustrate the spirit of our town.
Let the testimony of each of our survivors be a warning to all of us as to what can happen.
This book describes the Lanowitz community as it was. As such, it can serve as a research tool to social scientists who wish to better understand the source of strength that made it possible to maintain a successful autonomous community for hundreds of years. The book can also serve as a source of documentation to the government of Israel should it in future wish to demand compensation from Germany and the USSR.
Above all, the book is to serve as a fitting testimony by which to commemorate all those of our community who perished in the Holocaust. Let their memory never fade.
By H. Rabin
It is difficult to establish accurately when Lanowitz was founded. There are only a few sources and their authenticity is doubtful. In our research, we tried to weigh the scientific evidence as to when the town was founded. This evidence contradicts the local legends that had developed over time. Let us instead quote from the notes of our beloved historian, the late Shmuel Averbuch, who dedicated his last years in the United States to record the history of his town in his journal. His work shows the influence on him of his first twenty years growing up in Lanowitz. According to his research, the town was founded in 1625. However, Lanowitz is already mentioned in the list of towns composed by the Council of Four Lands [Active from the middle of the 16th century to 1764-Ed]. According to these notes Lanowitz was listed as being in the province of Vohlyn as an organized legal community.
From other historical sources such as census and tax records, we learn that the town was given to Pashkov Yalowitzky [Ref.: Illostrovi Pashwadni po Vohlyn] in 1444, and to the Kozminska family in 1545.
In all the geographical encyclopedias, Lanowitz appears to be a Jewish town, separated by 12 km. from the Ukrainian village of Laniwitz. The town of Burchiwky, between the two, appears to have been the district town. According to these sources, it is reasonable to assume that Lanowitz existed since the 15th century.
According to the (Polish) Slovnik Georgraphichny published in 1902, a publication noted for its anti-Semitic bias, Yalowitzky collected taxes (in Lanowitz) from 15 garden plots, 15 smoke-stacks and 2 grinding mills. The dearth of garden plots indicates few farms, while the 15 smoke-stacks, to differentiate from chimneys, suggests that Lanowitz was already industrialized. This is another indication that the town was likely Jewish because in that historical period, Jews were the primary contributors to Russian industrialization.
The above mentioned period precedes the Jewish exodus from Spain. Who knows how Jews got to settle in Lanowitz.
The Town's Residents and Their Occupations
We have better data starting in the first half of the 19th century and its second half. Yet some contradictions surface even in these periods. Slovnik Geographichny lists the town's inhabitants as 623, of whom 46% are Jews, i.e., 274 persons. Encyclopedia Evreyiska on the other hand lists 523 Jews based on the 1847 census.
The Slovnik data has over the years shown a tendency to minimize the minority population numbers. If we consider that the Slovnik data is based on taxpayer records, whereas Ency. Eevreiska is based on census records, we can accept the latter data as the more accurate of the two sources. This data is further confirmed by the 1897 census showing the town's Jewish population to have risen to 1,174. It is reasonable to expect a two-fold increase in the population in 50 years, not a four-fold increase, as implied by the Slovnik data that was published 13 years after the 1897 census. We shall therefore accept the Ency. Evreyiska as the more accurate data.
According to the notes published by the late Mr. Averbuch, Pani Laniwitz, the governor of Lanowitz, published a flyer and sent messengers in the late 19th century to other parts of Vohlyn and Podolia to recruit settlers. In his flyer he cited the merits of settling on his land Jews responded to this publicity and came. They liked the jobs that were promised dealing with estate management and the sale of its food products.
In addition, Lanowitz was blessed with sources of mineral water, a fact mentioned in the flyers and in Averbuch's notes. This must be a reference to the seven springs that in our days were used to operate medical spas. It is assumed that the flyer's mention of mineral water sources was meant to attract persons wishing to develop them.
We arrive at the conclusion that Lanowitz Jews based their economic future on trade in produce, truck farming, lumber, warehousing, management of public baths, the production of liquor, beer and charcoal, and flour milling. In summary, Jewish light industry existed since 1583 in Lanowitz on a continuous basis.
Disturbances and Continuity of the Settlement
When studying the history of Lanowitz, we cannot pass over the Khemelintsky revolt of 1648 without wondering why the town is not mentioned in any sources dealing with this period. The villages of Kozachak and Nadovka, near Lanowitz, are mentioned in Sankiewicz's books as the launching pads for attacks against the Polish Counts. These historical sources provide accurate information about the fate of nearby towns such as Vishnivits, Vishugrod, Shumsk, Dubna, Kremenec and others. These sources detail that Tartars ruined one town, that another was destroyed by the Swedes or the Ukrainians. Inasmuch as Lanowitz is not mentioned in any of these historical accounts, suggests that its continuity was left undisturbed by these wars. The question is why.
The best explanation available is that Lanowitz belonged to the Russian Lord Yalovitsky. Local Jews were protected by him, thus saved from attacks by local insurgents. By contrast, nearby towns such as Vishnivits, Kremenec, Dubna and Jampoli belonged to Polish Counts. These towns were targeted by insurgents and its Jews decimated. The Jews of Vishnivits were attacked twice, once by Ukrainians, and later by Poles who accused them of conspiring with the insurgents. Lanowitz was saved this fate, thanks to the (political) efforts of the Yalovitsky family. This family was a black sheep among the Russian nobility due to the liberal tendencies of its members. In the political struggles that followed, their non-conformist stand and support of proposed reforms helped them survive politically. The family supported all minorities regardless of nationality or religion, hence their support of the (Polish) Kosciuski revolt, their encouragement of Jews to settle on their land, and their protection of these settlers.
Lanowitz apparently did not suffer internal community disputes under early Polish rule. The records of the Council of 4 Lands, that had the authority from the Polish king to adjudicate all Jewish internal disputes, show no judicial activity in Lanowitz.
For several centuries, Lanowitz was under a liberal administration that promoted development and public harmony. Under these conditions the town Jews lived undisturbed until the beginning of the 20th century. In this century, European nations in general and the Russian empire in particular were badly shaken. That was also the fate of Lanowitz's Jews. In the 20th century Lanowitz experienced the 1905-06 pogroms when the Russian Romanoff rulers tried to deflect the national anger at their defeat in the Russian-Japanese war onto guilty Jews. Small pogroms occurred when Cheka bands robbed and beat up local Jews.
Lanowitz also experienced the Petlura-Machno turbulence of 1916-1918 and the destruction caused by the soldiers of Polish General Heller. The resultant killing and destruction were not unique to Lanowitz; they were experienced by the Jews of the entire region.
The Town As Described in The Lanowitz Journal by Averbuch
One need look at this journal as a recording of events in our community. Our editors reviewed its emotional content comparing it with facts that were independently gathered. To this end, the journal serves as a record of recent history of our town. It describes the public and social happenings of the community in the first half of the 20th century. From it we can learn the ethno-historic image of Jewish Lanowitz.
According to the accounts in this journal, Lanowitz was a bustling town. Its inhabitants were well established in the town and had strong commercial connections with the peasants of the surrounding area. In the beginning of the 20th century and in the 1920ies some of the youths of the town reached the conclusion that the town's future is bleak. They severed family and social connections and emigrated. The emigration was not for the purpose of redemption. They immigrated to America, to Argentina, and a portion crossed the (Austrian/Russian) border illegally and settled in Austria, the land of the liberal monarchy, one tolerant to Jews. The cause of emigration were the Polish residents who instigated friction between Ukrainian and Jews before they came to power. They oppressed the Jews after they became the rulers of the province (in 1920). Living among an incited Ukrainian population raised doubts about the future whenever political turbulence occurred.
In the 1920ies, the Lanowitz youths did not emigrate to Palestine. They did not view Palestine as a place of safe refuge or as a refuge at all.
The Lanowitz community was then under the delusion that Hasidism promised: to keep the Sabbath in full and wait for the redeemer. The leaders of the community did not seek solutions to Judaism's basic problems nor look for solutions. The thought was that adequate livelihoods will remain available because of the availability of Ukrainian peasant customers; that one could somehow always deal with the Poles. If one has to lower one's head under certain circumstances, there were historical precedents for such cases in our Musar books. The prevailing attitude was to thank God for one's livelihood and not seek more.
During the 1920ies, when a Yeshiva was established under the leadership of Rabbi Motel Speisman, a noted pedagogue, the secular schools attracted most of our youths. The maintenance of this Yeshiva with all its splendor became an example of the futility of return to biblical sources. The youths that attended the Yeshiva came away disappointed. The school provided neither general learning nor a livelihood. This group of students provided the source of ferment for a Zionist solution as a practical solution for the future.
It was then that Zionism as a solution began to be accepted. We have the first organized departure to Palestine (Israel Glaser, Yizhak Kirshon, David Gurvich, Meir Rosenthal). A carpenter that was disliked in the community leaves for Palestine because they need carpenters. We suddenly find that Palestine solves both personal and global problems. The community's youths now started to make life decisions, disregarding its parent's or village wise men's opinions, whereas the town's community was still wrestling with routine issues that engaged it for generations.
Lanowitz was noted for its learned men and capable businessmen. The latter were instrumental in having the railroad line built to connect Lanowitz to larger towns. A Hassidic Rabbi's visit to the town was both a stormy attraction and a spiritual uplifting.
None of the happenings in Lanowitz affected communities outside its area. The public was periodically concerned with issues affecting the selection of Rabbis. There were usually two camps, but both behaved with decorum. Most members of the community remained indifferent to these quarrels.
Two personal stories need to be mentioned that became significant beyond the confines of our town and the time they occurred.
The first is the arrival of Itzi Shrulis in Lanowitz. His story includes a tragic element. We would not mention it, where it not for its social lessons. Itzi Shrulis, who married a young lady from Lanowitz, and lived there, was unusually talented in art, music, philosophy and Jewish commentary. Yet he was only employed as a local teacher of young married students. The students loved and revered him. However, he was not offered a position of Rabbi in our town.
The reluctance of the community to employ him as a local Rabbi was on the surface because his brother, equally brilliant, was involved in cases of theft and robbery in the local area. Our leaders did not want to risk nominating him as their Rabbi if the next day the police would request that he appear as a witness for an inquiry into the deeds of his brother. In truth, the reasons for their reluctance to accept him were different. This episode sheds a light on the social image of the Lanowitz community.
It appears that the Lanowitz community could not deal with a person whose knowledge exceeded that of its best scholars, nor did it want to risk its reputation by hiring a Rabbi that dabbles in philosophy, sculpture and art. Even his students, who admired him, had reservation about his candidacy.
This person, who loved his adopted town, had to look elsewhere for a rabbinical position. He became the Chief Rabbi of Bessarabia. His fame reached Lanowitz. The community could have regretted their decision, however, its leaders remained wedded to the wisdom of their decision against hiring him. The episode illustrated the small-mindedness of our community.
Dr. Israel Zinberg was saved from a fate similar to his predecessor, mentioned above, because his great talents were recognized by a much wider reading audience.
Dr. Zinberg, who had studied the Talmud, Zohar, & Halakhah sources and the accumulated Jewish literature saw danger signs that the latter may be lost. He was aware of the challenge that Hellenistic literature posed to Jewish literature in its day. He feared that Jewish literature that accumulated over the ages, since Talmud time, may ,one day, be pushed into a corner and not be accessible to researchers who wish to study it. He made it his life goal to save its record. By composing a listing of this literature and its history, he was able to catalog it, and explain its significance to his readers [in his book History of Jewish Literature – Ed].
Israel Zinberg saw Lanowitz history as a prototype of Jewish history. Its historical record raised danger flags for the (Jewish) nation's future. In the fixed ideas of its learned men, and the negative reactions to historical events, Zinberg identified a rhythmic pattern in Jewish life (periodic pogroms) that prevents the Jewish nation from advancing.
For Dr. Zinberg, Lanowitz was a laboratory of ideas. For us who are the recorders of its history, Dr. Zinberg's perspective is an important addition to our records. Lanowitz was able to give birth to a giant thinker and doer, but it could not adapt his ideas.
The town attitude remained unchanged. Its leading citizens believed that their humility, periodic ducking under pressure, pride in their heavenliness on one hand, and materialism on the other, will enable them to survive all those who want to harm them in the future.
Lanowitz was known for its high cultural level. Its youths were familiar with world problems, and skeptical regarding their proposed solutions. However, the community leadership was too certain that past solutions to problems will work again. When the Holocaust hit Poland, it ended the life of a 500-600 year old community. Its long life was partly due to its having no evil intentions against others. As an experiment in peaceful living, it was an interesting challenge to war planners.
The evil hand that ended the Lanowitz community terminated an interesting social experiment the world needs. A peaceful and creative world was lost. When towns such as Lanowitz disappeared, Europe lost islands of good intentions and good people. Our loss is greater, but mankind lost institutions that had the ability to control international crime.
Editors: Phillip Solimersky, Branislav Chalivovsky, Wadislaw Wolbesky
.. A town on the Zhirek river that flows into the Moryn river. In 1970 (?) 201 houses were registered inhabited by 623 residents of whom 46% were Israelites. (The town includes) a Polish, Russian church, a Jewish Synagogue, 5 stores and 40 workshops. . The town scheduled 3 market days per week.
The CHERKVA was built by the landowner YALOVITSKY in 1857.
The Catholic Church was built in 1860 by Bishop Borovbesky. The town was known for its curative mineral waters.
Published 1902, addendum to 1884 Edition.
A town located on the confluence of the BOHA-LOVKA and ZHIREK rivers. KREMENEC district, BIELZURKA County; mail station JAMPOLI, 40km from KREMENEC. 319 houses; 2376 inhabitants. ..In 1545 Lanovtse belonged to the KOMINASKY Count. It was later transferred to Count YALOVITSKY.
In 1583, Saveh YALOVITSKY collected taxes from 15 orchards, 15 businesses and 2 grinding wheels (owners).
Volhyn antiquities Dr. Zygmund Morwitz. Art & Antiquities Dr. Zygmund Pioterkowsky.
First edited 1913. Published 1919.
. Lanowtse, a small town given as a present by King Casimir to PASHKOV YALOVITSKY. From then until 1863, the town remained in the hands of the YALOVITSKY family. That year, Lanowtse was sold at an auction as punishment for the support YALOVITSKY provided the KOSCIEUSZKO uprising. Since the 15C, Lanowitz had a palace whose content is described in a document housed in the Polish National Museum.
. Several large lakes are located near the town. One, named Borsokowitz, is located 10km west of the town, and created by the Horyn River, 5km long and 2km wide. The lake was emptied every 5 years to catch its fish. The catch brought in 100,000 Polish gold pieces to its owner every 3 years.
Sources: Ilustrovni Poshynadnik. Po Vohlyn Dr. Michislav Orlowitz.
. In Lanowtse existed a large fortress built by PASHKOV YALOVITSKY. It remained in the possession of the family (until 1863) when it was sold by the Russian government at an auction. The town includes an Imperial KASZIUL that was built in 1857 by Theodor YALOVITSKY after the former palace burned down. In the distant past, Lanovtse was the centre of the feudal land that included six villages encompassing an area of 80sq.km.
Pinkas of The Council of Four Lands
Lanowitz a Jewish settlement in the province of Vohlyn. (From) page 530 of Evereiska Encyclopedia, published 1908, edited by Dr. Y. Katnelson and Dr. A. Harkavy.
Lanovtse a town in the province of Vohlyn, Kremenec district. According to the 1847 census, the Jewish community of Lanovtse consisted of 523 persons. According to the 189 census, Lanovtse had 2525 inhabitants of whom 1174 were Jews.
by Shalom Avital (Koitel)
Lanowitz was a typical Jewish shtetl [small town], located on the Horyn river between Yampol and Vyshynivets in the district of Volynia, Poland. These latter towns were also located on the Horyn river. This shtetl was not known for either famous people or historical events. Its charm stemmed from its residents, all warm-hearted Volynian Jews. These residents were hard-working people who maintained an orthodox way of life. Among them were tradesmen and professionals, Maskilim [free thinkers] and Zionists.
I am not familiar with when the shtetl [small town] was founded or with its history. Instead I shall cite my understanding, based on stories I have heard from community elders. The legend I heard was: The town was founded at the beginning of the 18th century. The surrounding land, where the town is located, was owned by a Polish nobleman (unnamed). He owned thousands of acres of local territory. On one occasion the nobleman went in his carriage to inspect his property. At the town's location his carriage sank in the local mud to its axles. The nobleman remarked that this location was only suitable for grazing. In Polish he called the area Lan oviatz [grazing land]. It is interesting that the residents of Lanowitz called the village entrance area Die Blote [a floodplain]. These same residents waded through the mud of their local streets for years before these were paved, yet they singled out their entrance. The nobleman's prediction as to the area's attributes was accurate. The land surrounding the town included large areas suitable only for grazing, and some agriculture.
Lanowitz's Jewish residents came originally from the surrounding villages and from Russia's interior. The Jewish population increased significantly over the decades. According to official census data, 523 Jew resided in the town in 1847. In 1897 it had 1774 Jews out of a total population of 2525. Before the Holocaust Lanowitz had over 2000 Jewish residents.
The town's appearance was similar to that of neighboring towns. The great synagogue, located on a hillside, was its distinguishing feature. It was taller than its neighboring buildings, hence could be seen from afar. To a visitor approaching the town, it was a prominent landmark. In addition to the great synagogue there was a Beyth Midrash [prayer & study house], a Kloiz [a small synagogue for artisans], several Steebles [small Hasidic houses of prayer] and its main street named Der Markt [the market]. These were the landmarks defining the Jewish part of Lanowitz.
Jewish life in Lanowitz proceeded like a steady stream. For generations some Jewish families worked as artisans, as retailers or manning market stalls. The market took place once a week and drew to it hundreds of peasants from neighboring villages. This weekly market supported the livelihood of most of the Jewish residents.
In the Beyth Midrash the day's events, including politics, were discussed by the locals between the afternoon prayer and evening prayer. Public issues were, for example, the coming election of a Rabbi or gabbai [synagogue treasurer]. Similar discussions were held in the public bathhouse. Additional topics were local quarrels and slights concerning in what order a person was honored at the synagogue [the order of calling a congregant to the Torah reading]. These were the primary issues that concerned the local residents for generations until a new generation arose that was also interested in secular issues. New ideas regarding education and literature, Zionism and the settling of Palestine slowly penetrated the dark alleys (and homes) of Lanowitz Jewry.
These new ideas were brought up by occasional visitors and itinerant tutors who came to Lanowitz from afar. The orthodox fathers naturally fought against these new ideas of the younger generation. They called these youths Sheketzim [heretics, a term usually applied to Gentiles]. The local youth fought their elders stubbornly. The youths suggested that time had come to consider new ideas and discard the old. These arguments, which formerly took place in the Beyth Midrash, now, gravitated to within the local youth groups. They argued over the nature of the future, over physical culture, spirituality, literature, Jewish renaissance, the reclaiming of Zion, and so on.
The older generation was determined to preserve the old order, as if their survival depended on it. When the author's grandfather returned to Lanowitz from America in the 1920s, he went to pray in his accustomed Beyth Midrash. He felt like an old-timer returning to his inn. Before his return to Lanowitz my grandfather managed to absorb some of the new concepts of the bigger world. Consequently, he could not acquiesce to local sanitary conditions that had existed for generations. Before the Passover holiday, he, on his own initiative, performed a daring act. He hired a woman to wash the Beyth Midrash floor in honor of the coming holiday. The act caused a storm in town. For generation there existed a tradition of sweeping the facility floor with a broom made of reeds, claimed the head of the orthodox faction Reb Yankel, a learned Jew, and here comes an American Jew and introduces Goyish [Gentile] standards.
What cannot be achieved by wisdom is sometimes facilitated by the passing of time. The general developments (i.e. cultural and political) in the life of the community also affected the older generation, especially after the 1917 Balfour declaration [statement by the then British foreign minister, stating that the Britain favors the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine]. As the idea of redemption (return to Zion) became more real, the attitude of the older generation toward Zionism changed with it. Whereas hospitality to all visitors was an important value heretofore, now the needs of Zion became the locals' chief concern. Rich and poor contributed to the national [Zionist, e.g. KKL] charities. To them it became a holy objective that they revered.
This period was the Golden Age of the younger generation. New ideas emerged into daylight. Young men were no longer regarded as heretics by their parents. Teachers were no longer persecuted for their national activities. Zionist youth movements, which once functioned secretly, now sought actively to implement the Zionist ideals. A Tarbut school was founded where boys and girls received an education in the Hebrew languague. The school had a Zionist orientation, instilling in the students a love for Hebrew literature. The school's library was one of the largest in the area. Zionist organizations, primarily Hehalutz, became rooted in the town, drawing to them the youth of the community.
While the attitude of the parents became more sympathetic towards Palestine, they remained ambivalent concerning the aliyah [immigration to Palestine] of their sons and daughters. The struggle between the generations was re-kindled. The parents wanted proud enjoyment from their offspring, that they should marry locally, and establish a family. The youth, on the other hand, absorbed the nationalist ideas to escape the Shtetl, to emigrate to Palestine, establish a home there, and have their parents join them later in their new home. Unfortunately, the Holocaust prevented a large portion of the youth from leaving the shtetl in time. In August 1942 most Lanowitz Jews perished. Only a few who escaped into Russia survived.
[His image in his Synagogue]
by Motke Roichman
Three synagogues existed in Lanowitz. They were near one another on a side street. These were obscure buildings, unlike the churches of the Gentiles. The synagogues were built as if their inner light was to be hidden from strangers. They stood on a local hillside. The main synagogue was the dominant building. It was solid and beautiful architecturally, built with reddish bricks, decorated with purple curtains. Its exterior design was thoughtful, and its interior design was exotic. The building was well aired, having dozens of windows. Light and air filled the interior. The women's section was ten meters above the men's section. It appeared hung in mid-air on the base of carved wooden posts. Its design was a work of art.
This synagogue did not serve the community's elite. It congregants were the local proletariat: the tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, etc. These artisans enjoyed the beauty of their synagogue on the Sabbath and on holidays, as compensation for the dreary life during the week.
Reb [Mr.] Simcha, the tailor, had a prominent seat at the Eastern wall. He was a tall man with an eagle nose and a white beard spread over his broad chest. Known as Der Damske Shneider [a women's tailor] he was a learned man who knew his Mishna [Bible commentary], and Ein Ya'acov [a collection of legends from the Talmud]. In his professional work he handled the cloth cutting, leaving the fitting to his daughters. It was his way of insulating himself from the attractiveness of his women clients.
Next to him sat Reb Yosef Shneider in his permanent seat. He was short. His eyes were often red from tears he shed while reading the Psalms. He kept this book near him day and night, not parting with it while he fitted the slacks of his customers. In the same row sat Reb Reuven Shneider. He was of medium height, with a black beard including a few silver colored strands. He liked to quote a saying from Pirkey Avot [Ethics of the Fathers]: Today's world is only a pathway to the world to come. One has to prepare oneself to enter the latter. To this end he requested of his sons, in his testament, that his gravestone be constructed of wood, using his heavy tailoring table. It was meant to be a testimonial that he, Reb Reuven, never benefited from the alms of strangers.
Next to the aforementioned sat Reb Selig, the tailor. His beard was thin, and his face lined as a result of his many worries. He mourned his bitter fate continuously. His only consolation in this world was his pride in his only son Abraham. The latter was nicknamed Abraham the teacher. The son was short, modest and spoke softly. In his youth he befriended the sons of the local wealthy families. When he matured, and started to help support his family, his friendship with them dissolved. He tutored many of the town's children, sharing his knowledge with them. He taught them good handwriting and the basic four algebra operations. Like his father, he dreamed of a better world order as described by revolutionary writers in their brochures.
Reb Ber Avraham Moishehes sat, together with his sons, on the other side of a pillar, next to the same Eastern wall. Ber Furman (his nickname) was a horse dealer, also one who frightened those who met him. He was tall, muscular and broad shouldered. His arms could bear-hug anyone in his midst; his looks could kill. Horror stories circulated about him. One such story concerned an ambush he set for thieves who came to steal horses from his barn. He ambushed these thieves armed with an ax. The bodies of two Ukrainian terrorists ended at the bottom of the local river. After that he slept better at night.
The authorities ignored the above act, fearing Reb Ber's wrath. Another story concerned a violent Cossack who was in the habit of sleeping in Reb Ber's barn with his horse and load. When time came to pay for the service, he disregarded his financial obligation. This Cossack paid with his life. No one knows where he is buried. It was said of Reb Ber that whoever bothers him plays with fire. I remember an episode several days before his passing. He was already old, resting on his thick cane. Reb Ber was suffering from damaged lungs that made breathing difficult. His eyes protruded from their sockets. Realizing his terminal condition he insisted on going out to see his beautiful surroundings for the last time. He wanted to see the world that in the past had bent to his wishes, how it looked at the end of his life. He walked with difficulty. The town's children, watching him walk, laughed at his infirmity. These town Lilliputians angered their Gulliver. He reacted to their taunts by striking the ground with his cane with such force that it broke into many pieces. He meant to tell them: I am still strong and able; you children better take heed of this fact.
Next to Reb Ber sat his eldest son, David Hirsh. David inherited his father's steel demeanor. He was a small copy of his giant father, but just as tough. His gaze projected authority. When he was angry he stammered. His second son Yerukham was more restrained. He had an athletic body and a short mustache decorating his lips when he smiled. He socialized with the town's elite, careful not to demonstrate his physical strength. He used his strength only rarely, but when he did, his victims suffered.
Once, in the 1920s, he demonstrated his strength in an altercation with Gentiles. That day a rumor spread in town that Gentiles were fencing the area known as Die Blote [a floodplain between two parallel rivers] to use it as grazing area for their cattle. This meadow had a thick green cover. Die Blote was bordered by two rivers that defined the space between the Jewish part of town and a nearby Gentile settlement. Lanowitz Jews took advantage of this no-man's-land, regarding it as a gift for their children. Their children wandered the meadow, or played there after Heder [primary religious school] study hours. The Gentiles wanted to use the meadow to graze their animals. The peasants of the murderous village of Novosilky were certain that it would be possible to scare the Lanowitz Jews so that they would give up use of Die Blote. The village of Novosilky had a number of murderers. One of them murdered my friend Monish, on the road between Vyshhorodok and Lanowitz. He ambushed Monish, pretending to be his friend and murdered him in cold blood. The man was acquitted for lack of evidence. I trailed him for years, once striking up a conversation with him while he was drunk. He almost admitted his crime, but in the last moment bolted and escaped. During the 1942 liquidation of Lanowitz Ghetto Jews, the Novosilky peasants participated in their murders. Let their cursed name be remembered for eternity.
I have many fond memories of playing in Die Blote. At the time we attended Heder, after school hours we children sometimes entered the gardens of Novosilky homes, picked their tobacco leaves and rolled ourselves cigarettes. As scouts we once lined up on the meadow's sport field, each group under its flag, to welcome the local Polish bishop who was to arrive in Lanowitz from his seat in Kremenets. We waited for him all day. He arrived late that night, ignoring both us and our town elders, who welcomed him with the traditional bread and salt.
On moonlit nights we walked in the meadow, singing songs about the beauty of Canaan. Die Blote was our heritage. The Gentiles wanted to block access to it. We were determined to defend it by all means. Of all the participants in this altercation I remember Avraham Weitzman, a short but muscular youth. With a wooden board in his hand, he smashed the heads of several young Gentiles. I especially remember the aforementioned Ber's Yerukham wandering through the melee unobtrusively, his knuckles in his pockets. He hit those Gentiles where it hurts, their rib and kidney areas. He leveled scores of them with his fist. The Gentiles retreated from the fight. Since then no attempt was made to fence off Die Blote.
After some time passed, the Gentile shoemaker Merker complained to me that since that fight he had been spitting blood. He cursed all the Russian Orthodox people for involving him in this fight. Merker grew up in the home of Leiser, the Jewish shoemaker, learned his trade there, spoke Yiddish and was familiar with Jewish customs. He felt as if Satan had lured him to participate in this fight. Someone hit his left rib. Since then, life had not been worth living.
My grandfather, Reb Zalman, had a permanent seat at the synagogue's eastern wall, though he rarely occupied his seat. Instead he prayed at the Kloiz [a small synagogue frequented by artisans] of Rabbi Ahareli. Reb Zalman was born in Shumsk (northeast of Lanowitz). His parents were grain and flax traders. After he settled in Lanowitz he opened a butcher shop to support his family. He used a saying that originated with Reb Mordechai Shumsker [after whom I was named] to explain his trade choice: This way I can enjoy the weekly market without depending on its customers. My grandfather was an admirer of Rabbi Ahareli. He told us children of his great feats. One story concerned one of his daughters who suffered from strange belching attacks. Various doctors were consulted, including the specialist Andreyevsky from Yampol. None were able to help her. Only the Rabbi, through his prayers, brought about her recuperation. Since that event, Reb Zalman adored the Rabbi, stayed at his home, and shared the Sabbath meal with him.
My grandfather, Reb Zalman Shumsker, was a tall man. He had broad, sturdy, calloused hands. He was well built, and had a blemish on his lower cheek that was hidden by his beard. His wife Khaya was, in contrast to him, a small woman, with light skin and a delicate face. She rose with him each morning. On winter mornings she rose before him to light the furnace. Each morning she prepared his favorite breakfast: breadcrumbs dipped in salted boiling water. After finishing his morning prayer he would wash his hands and sit at a cloth covered table. While eating he lamented the past that is no longer: when his breadcrumbs were dipped in liqueur, and his bowl full. After he said his blessings he would put on his sheep-skin coat, fasten his belt, and go on his way. At times he returned in the early morning hours from a nearby village. One time he carried a thin animal, which could not navigate the deep snow, on his shoulders. He wore heavy boots supported by horse-shoe-like plates. He was 70 at the time.
I loved him dearly. It was he who taught me how to ride a horse, and how to hold the reins when driving a wagon. Chaos spread through the town after World War I broke out. Children no longer attended their school. That summer I traveled with my grandfather to visit nearby villages. I would hold the horse's reins, while my grandfather sat next to me dozing off from time to time. He remarked how beautiful God's world is. It is bad people who are spoiling it by killing one another.
I remember a bad experience on one of our excursions. We landed at an inn that also served as a dormitory for workers who laid new rail lines. These opened our area to the world at large. The Russian Czar assembled these work teams from various nationalities, allowing their transports and families to be near the work site. The work crews included Cossack, Tartar and Kirgis men. The men wore wide burlap slacks. Some had Taras-Bulba [Ukrainian nationalist] like mustaches, and a large ring in one ear. They usually chewed strong tobacco that they occasionally spit out. These men accosted my grandfather, plucking his beard. In his anger he fetched a wooden board and beat up his assailants. I, a little boy, bit one of them. On the return journey, while I was still angry and in tears, seeing my grandfather's face-scratches, he patted me on the head and said, Do not worry my child. In each generation men try to liquidate us [as in the Passover passage], yet we survive while our enemies rot in their graves. My grandfather was a simple man, one who loved to quote from the Psalms.
Some of the water-carriers sat along the western wall, behind the Bimah [pulpit]. One of them, Avraham Iser, was a short man with a wispy beard that reached to his shoulders. His shoulders were indented, the result of wearing a yoke to support two water buckets for years. On weekdays he used the main synagogue's well, to earn his living. Supplying clean cold water to the community was his livelihood. He came to this well rain or shine. In the summer the well water was cold and clear. In the winter, on the other hand, one could observe a warm mist rising from its depth. Avraham-Iser maintained this well. He regularly oiled its chain and greased its wheel. This well formed part of his existence. Even his deep voice resembled a sound emanating from a well. The well was his life. It fired his imagination and sustained him. He tended to drift into deep thoughts about matters from another world.
One story of his musing dealt with an episode that allegedly occurred on a snowy winter night. As Avraham-Iser filled his buckets at dawn one day, he felt as if someone was licking his ear. Fearful, he closed his eyes, thought of the unknown and said to himself: I knew that this would happen someday. Then he saw images: dead persons, wrapped in white cloth, floating downwards from the synagogue's women's section towards his back.
Another story concerned Gedalya, his son-in-law, given to stammering and of limited intelligence. Gedalya collected the small change he earned inside a dirty rag, then gave it to his wife. She was of small stature, yet prolific. In this manner she accumulated 50 rubles. Gedalya felt that something had to be done with so much money. The couple put on their holiday attire and went to the house of Mendel, the village headman. They asked Mendel to keep the money for them and give them a receipt. Gedalya told Mendel that he understood this custodial service was not gratis. He promised to pay for the service by delivering water to him without charge.
Opposite the eastern wall along Die Spiegel Wand [the mirror wall] sat Reb Michael the blacksmith, a short heavyset man. He suffered from a chronic kidney ailment, yet his hands were powerful. He tamed and shoed wild horses with ease, was good hearted, and had a ready smile. His two daughters from his second wife, Zisel and Odil, received a Hebrew education and were members of a Zionist youth movement. The parents were proud of their two daughters. The latter were readily accepted in the youth movement by daughters of more prominent families.
Along Die Spiegel Wand, next to Michael the blacksmith sat Reb Yisrael Racheles, the tailor. He resembled a tree trunk, had no hips. His gaze was hard, somewhat frightening. His house was located next to the Russian Orthodox Church. The rowdy Gentiles that congregated near the church feared him. The church was surrounded by birch trees and a stone wall. His misfortune was to live next door and regularly see its Jew-hating parishioners going in to pray. Inside the church one could smell the congregant's sweat as they kneeled in front of their Lord. The church's bells, spire, and cross were gold plated, giving prominence to this edifice. We children would whisper naughty words as we passed the church, spitting three times. Living next to the church bothered Reb Yisrael constantly.
Reb Yisrael was, by nature, a quiet person. Praying in the synagogue, he occasionally uttered a demand for silence, accompanied by a pounding of his shtender [a compartment in front of his seat that served to hold prayer books and a prayer shawl]. His voice had an aura of authority. Teenagers, accustomed to playing pranks on each other, feared him, hence sought a place to hide when they heard his pounding.
Reb Hayim-Yisrael, the krupedernik [barley miller] provided this service to Gentiles of the surrounding area. The mill was built entirely of wood. When it turned, it shrieked, sounding like an old tree that refused to split apart. The mill was turned by a mare wearing blinders. This mare had to exert a pull that sometimes exceeded her ability. She did her task while wading through her own excrement, working from dawn until dusk. Sometimes the mare tired, lowered her head and stood in place. Reb Hayim-Yisrael would utter a curdling shout. The mare would awaken and start her rounds anew. She applied her remaining strength to provide Reb Hayim-Yisrael's livelihood. On one occasion his shouts failed him. It happened in 1918. Ukrainian bandits led by Batko, a leading anti-Semite, shelled the town for unknown reasons from their position at the railway station. The first shell hit Reb Hayim-Yisrael's house, killing his mare.
While covered with flour on weekdays, Reb Hayim-Yisrael's appearance was radically different on the Sabbath. Washed and combed, with his black beard and humped nose his image was typically Jewish. He too insisted on complete silence during prayers. More than once during the repetition of the Amidah [silent prayer] or the Torah reading, chatter was heard from the women's section. They would discuss family matters, exchange recipes, what spices to use. On such occasions Reb Hayim-Yisrael would raise his head and shout: Quiet down, you ducks. He was addressing our dear mothers, grandmothers and aunts. Their attendance in the synagogue was for them a relaxation, an opportunity to chat with one another. They yearned for the holidays, to see others and be seen. The women dressed in their finery, their heads covered with a colorful silk scarf. These scarves were of superior quality. They were passed down from one generation to the next, representing a great tradition. Carefully wrapped and placed in a chest, these scarves were passed on from mother to daughter or daughter-in-law. We children sensed the humiliation our mothers felt, being insulted in this way by Reb Hayim-Yisrael.
Most of the women attended only on holidays; hence their familiarity with the content and sequence of prayers was limited. They listened attentively to a Zagerin [woman prayer announcer] who guided them through the prayers. Familiar with the prayer book's content and prayer sequence, the Zagerin brought tears to the eyes of the women with her low-voice nigun [sing-song].
Among these listeners was my late mother. Our daughter is named after her. My mother was a city girl. She grew up in Kishinev [capital of Moldova], where she witnessed its pogrom. This experience influenced her mood for many years. She was a loner, keeping a secret that none around her would understand. I recall winter Friday nights. Our town was dark, suggesting it was rest-time. No traffic or noise was heard outside. Our oil lamp extinguished itself a while ago. At such times I would sit by my mother, next to the house stove, listening to her recollection of the Kishinev pogrom [April1903]. That week, she recalled, Russian Orthodox priests organized a religious procession. Leading the procession were young men dressed in white, shaking their bells repeatedly. Behind them marched the long-bearded priests. They wore high hats, and walked holding copper-clad staffs. These staffs were topped with silver ornaments to impress the viewing crowd. The priests lined up by rank, in a manner similar to how a cannibal tribe procession is described in children's books. Icons and crosses were carried by men following the priests. Behind them followed an ignorant mob. Each person carried a candle. The smell of incense filled the air. Church bells rang, reminding one of the auto-da-fee [Spanish inquisition]. In the procession's aftermath were Jewish dead and wounded and burned homes. The pogrom was carried out in the name of the messiah who is reputed to have counseled forgiveness. To this day no one knows who crucified him. Because of him, much Jewish blood has been shed for generations. These processions sowed fear in hearts of local Jews.
My mother was one of several daughters born to my grandfather Reb David. He was a learned man, and his clothing was always spotless. He usually wore a Kotolok [type of hat], a white shirt and bow-tie. He was the Starosta [village headman] of Bialorotky, a village near Shiputovky. Subsequently, he was called upon to manage the Jewish welfare organization of Kishinev, where he was employed for many years. In his later years he moved to Lanowitz to be with his daughter, my mother. His resting place is in Lanowitz.
My mother was a modest, quiet person, careful in her relations with others not to bring out their weaknesses. This she learned from the events leading to the Kishinev pogrom. My mother, a frail person, maintained her fine facial features in her old age. It was said she was a beauty in her earlier years. She was proud of her hair, the color of honey. Days before her passing, she combed and stroked it, as if to reminisce a pleasant past.
Next to my mother sat my aunt Feige, the wife of Reb Hirsh Roichman. She was from the village of Merinik, near Shumsk. One day we traveled to her village in a carriage drawn by four horses. With us was a bridegroom about to wed a girl from her village. The event occurred when I was a small child, yet the lively wedding celebration remains engraved in my memory because it differed from ones customary among Jews. The villagers received us with dancing and music. Young villagers, including the bride's brother, competed in a horse race and other sports. It was their way of demonstrating their beauty and skill to the bride and her guests. The bride, Feige's sister, radiated charm, health and energy, yet was restrained in her behavior. Her solid chin and bright, laughing eyes suggested a person who enjoyed life, and was able to meet its challenges. Her sons inherited her image and qualities. The family lived in this village for generations. They earned their living from agriculture, orchards and cattle trading. The father, Reb Yeheskiel Meriniker, was a tall, handsome man. He was the village's unofficial judge. He dealt with all manner of local Gentile conflicts, such as land border disputes, theft of goods or animals. His decisions in these cases were locally accepted as if they were the law. He was assertive with locals and they respected him. His sons dealt with their neighbors similarly. On the wedding evening, when their young sister Sonia wed Yankel Perchis, the brothers scared the villagers when they shot a few bullets skyward from their pistols.
My aunt Feige was the main breadwinner of the family. My uncle and aunt were a perfect couple. Their relation was devoid of friction or arguments. Their life had its ups and downs, including hunger and suffering. Yet they shared a mutual understanding and affection throughout their lives. She was always generous to the downtrodden and needy. My aunt was able to immigrate to Palestine with her sons, settling in the town of Hadera (between Haifa and Tel Aviv). She found Hadera to be a blend between her original village and Lanowitz, where she lived while married. Her new home in Hadera was always open to guests, especially those from Lanowitz. She was like a mother to them. I remember how delighted she was to visit us in Jerusalem. After all, she would say: In the synagogue we always prayed to be in Jerusalem one day.
Her happiness came to an abrupt end. One tragedy followed another. Her husband, Reb Hirsh was murdered. Shortly thereafter her eldest son died as a result of a road accident. He was a talented businessman who could have made a career in Poland, yet the pull to immigrate to Zion was strong. Arriving in Palestine shortly before World War II, he applied his customary energy and became the family's bread-winner, while consoling his widowed mother. When he died shortly before his scheduled wedding day, she lost all hope, and died shortly thereafter.
Among the women who sat near the Zagerin was my aunt Hannah, my father's sister. She was known as Die Kropnitsky, the wheat miller. Hannah was a heavy-set woman with a serious appearance. Widowed for several decades, she developed a masculine-like character. She managed her household with determination, raised her children, Ephrayim, Michael and daughter Miriam, to respect work and show good manners. Due to her guidance, all her children became hard and honest workers. They worked hard at the mill, starting as children, helping their mother with the sale of flour to the town's women. The latter were accustomed to doing their own baking. Aunt Hannah had a good-heart but was quick to anger. When provoked she did not hesitate to use her fists aimed at the stupid faces of her Gentile customers.
The women who attended services every Sabbath, the regulars, sat on the side facing east. These women were familiar with the order of prayer and its rituals. Each one sat in a permanent seat with a shtender [shelf] in front of her, holding the Korban Minchah prayer book. It was a thick, leather-bound book. Attached to the book's binding was a copper clasp to keep it closed. These regulars were not content with reading the Sabbath order of prayers. While other women followed the prayer ritual, the regulars busied themselves with additional readings from the Torah and other Bible sources.
My mother-in-law, Elka Yisrael-Ashers, was among those who attended this synagogue. She was tall, tanned, her eyes brown. Her face radiated happiness. She smiled when with friends or with strangers, hiding the tragedy of her fate. She experienced only three happy years while married to Reb Khanoch Henich, a yeshivah [seminary] student from the town of Potshayiv. He was the son of a famous butcher family. After their wedding the couple mapped out their future. They decided that the husband should travel to America, save some money and establish his academic standing, then return one day to Lanowitz to be a leader in preserving Jewish traditions locally. He never made it back. He was killed in road accident. His wife, widowed with two small children, was left with memories of a short, happy, life.
Sometimes she would reminisce about that short past, while tears filled her brown eyes. She would recall how much he loved his eldest daughter, Rachel. This sweet child had the same brown eyes. He would call her my angel and she reciprocated showing her love for her father. This daughter, my wife, can no longer recall her father's features, nor how he looked. Elka's son, Ozer, never got to see his father. The latter ironed man's slacks in a New York shop at the time of his son's birth. Elka, a slim woman, would walk miles to the village of Kiskivits, where she was born. She knew everyone, and all knew her, enabling her to make a living trading with the villagers. Elka worked from dawn until dusk to support herself and her children on weekdays. Friday and Saturday were her holy days. Her small house was spotless by Friday noon. The delicious aroma of the food filled the home. On Friday evening her five year old son recited the blessing over the wine. She would lower her head while tears of joy rolled down her cheeks. After the meal the family walked over to uncle Yudel's home. His home was joyful due to his many children and learned guests. Elka would put on an apron, serve food to the attending guests at his table, thereby sharing the beautiful and holy atmosphere of uncle Yudel's home.
Elka's father, Reb Yisael-Asher was a learned man. He left his village shortly after his marriage. His academic interests clashed with the simple lifestyle of his village. He moved to Lanowitz, supporting himself teaching Gemarah [Bible commentary]. Many of the town's students were tutored by him. He shared his daughter's sorrow and felt empathy for her plight, but in the end he parted from her. As a widow, her father's departure only increased her loneliness.
Her father lost his wife when shrapnel from a Ukrainian bomb killed her. He emigrated to America, taking on the task of educating his grandchildren, the children of his son Yosef, who died at an early age. He taught them our Bible and instilled in them a love for Judaism. One of his grandsons, Ozer Halperin, is prominent in Los Angeles. An orthodox person, he is active in the affairs of the Jewish community. His wife Sarah shares in his activism. She also speaks and writes Hebrew fluently. A whole generation of observant and dedicated Jews exists in California, due to the teaching activities of Reb Yisrael-Asher, a valued Lanowitzer. My mother-in-law, his daughter, did not make it to Palestine. She perished with the other locals in the Holocaust.
The entrance to the synagogue included a large lobby. It was called Der Polish. At the right of the lobby was a small prayer hall called Das Shulechel. Horse traders, tanners and wagoners prayed in this hall. These men were a tribe of unique characters who developed their own behavioral standards and social environment. Each one had a nickname. These men were a mixed racial lot. Some were as blond as their Gentile neighbors; others were of dark complexion like the Gypsies. Their prayer book was printed in large letters. Their ability to read small print was limited. One noticed their black fingernails and tanned hands as they turned the book's pages. These men were a muscular and tough lot. They were hot-tempered and hard to control. The only one who exercised control over these congregants was the synagogue's Gabbai, Reb Hertsi the blacksmith. He was a tall, red-bearded man, with a pale complexion, a high brow, and huge blackened hands. It was his task to honor members of this special group of congregants periodically with an Aliyah LaTorah [being called up to participate in the Torah reading]. When necessary he hit those who refused, forcing them to accept the offered honor.
On high holidays the small prayer hall was empty. Its congregants found space in the main sanctuary, in order to hear the singing of Reb Yankel the cantor. Reb Yankel was a tall, masculine looking man, but as quiet as a baby. Aside from his cantorial job, he worked as a sofer [writer of Mezusoth parchment and Torah scrolls]. He was poor but known for his honesty. Many stories circulated about his honesty, leading to a strong feeling of sympathy for the cantor. One story dealt with Itzi Zabarer, a horse dealer. Itzi purchased a pair of Tefilin [phylacteries] at a New York estate market. Upon his return he asked Reb Yankel to inspect them, to assure their Kashruth [that the parchment writing and form were in accordance with the law]. Reb Yankel returned the Tefilin to Itzi together with $2000. It turned out that someone had hidden his savings within the Tefilin parchment. These Tefilin ended up in the estate market. When Reb Yankel found the money, he returned it to Itzi the horse dealer to let him benefit from the unclaimed find.
Reb Yankel had a rich bass voice, reminiscent of the singer Chaliapin. He emphasized parts of the prayer dealing with God speaking to us with his powerful voice. When he reached the prayer ..with trumpets and shofar voice, the cantor switched to a florid coloratura singing of these phrases. Fear of Judgment and awe of the heavens filled the sanctuary. The congregants, who normally feared nothing, were in awe of the coming Judgment. When Reb Yankel reached ne'ilah, [the closing prayer], they all feared God's decision. Their souls had been pounded by the cantor's dramatic rendition of the netaney tokef prayer earlier in the day.
No one wore a hat in the main synagogue. All wore typical Volynian caps. These caps, called hastelka, were round with a thin steel rod inside, to shape them, and a visor. The congregants wore these caps all year long. Before the holiday they brushed their hats with water to renew their looks. The congregants wore high boots made of leather, which they sealed using resin. The only special attire was that worn by Rabbi Ahareli. He had his own synagogue, but he honored the community by presiding over the services of the main synagogue on high holidays, and calling the shofar blowing sequences. He had an established claim on this honored function. In honor of the high holidays the Rabbi wore a heavy silk coat and a streimel [fur hat] of high quality. He walked into the sanctuary in small, measured, steps, as if he was gliding over the sinful people of this world. He took his honored place while the congregants looked on with deep respect for their spiritual leader.
These were the customs on Sabbath and holidays. On weekdays the main synagogue served as an assembly hall for the community. Khupah [canopy for a Jewish wedding] poles were kept in the entrance hall. Weddings had been celebrated here for generations. A festive atmosphere permeated the synagogue and surrounding houses on the eve of a wedding. The synagogue's extra-bright lamps were lit. Candles were placed on its window sills. A klezmer band from a neighboring village would play in the hall. Elazar Bass played a wind instrument and Shiky the fiddler, wearing a bow-tie, plucked on his violin, while winking at unmarried female guests. Those female guests were yearning for the day they would stand under the wedding canopy. Meanwhile they would giggle, shoving each other as they moved about. The last of the players was the drummer, Berl, a short, thin man whose hat covered a birthmark. The wedding-pair's parents each held a candle, their faces radiating happiness. The entire community came out to the festivity. The daring among them would climb the hall's wall brackets to get a better view of the newly-weds. The following day they would gossip about the merits of the newly-weds. Outside the hall, altercations between uninvited guests occurred at times. It was sometimes an act of retribution for wrongs done to them in the past. These altercations happened among horse-traders and wagoners who held grudges and were quick to raise their fists. On such occasions the wedding-couple's parents would come over, beseeching the warring parties not to spoil the happy occasion for which they had yearned for years. When calm was restored, the ceremony continued and a feeling of peace returned to the young couple and their guests.
The main synagogue sanctuary also served as an auditorium for our Zionist movement. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was read from its pulpit by Mr. Brick, a resident of Rovno and son-in-law of Reb Yankel Alters, the owner of a fabric store. Jews, declared the speaker, this is our time of redemption. The messiah will come later.
In 1925, in this same sanctuary, our community celebrated the consecration of the Hebrew University on Jerusalem's Mount Scopus, thousands of miles from Lanowitz. One of the speakers on that occasion declared, The people of the book gave the world a great gift, the Bible. We were paid back for this gift with persecutions and murders. Now we will prove to the world that Torah will emanate from Zion again. Wild dancing, by both common folks and the town's prominent members, followed the speeches. In the same sanctuary we conducted an annual memorial service for the founder of the Zionist movement, Dr. Theodore Herzl. Young and old participated in this service.
We, the young generation, were recruited to organize this annual memorial event under the leadership of two men, both named Itzik. The first, Itzik Buchstein, was a short, stocky man who always smiled. He was the son of Reb Pinny Buchstein, a warm-hearted Jew. The second, Itzik Zingel, was of average height, with a black birthmark on his face. He was brought up and educated by his grandfather, Reb Aharon Michlis. Attracted to Zionism, he became very active in its promotion. It was he who founded the library for the local youth. He sold shekalim which entitled buyers to vote in the election of delegates to forthcoming Zionist Congress. He also distributed Jewish National Fund Blue boxes, to be mounted on the wall of one's home, and organized exhibits illustrating the Zionist redemption process. He was an activist despite his poor health. These two men named Itzik were the Zionist veterans in the eyes of our community. On the evening of the aforementioned service, while the blue and white flag fluttered above, scores of candles were lit to commemorate the founder's anniversary. Our speakers spoke with fervor, describing the greatness of the author of Der Judenstaat, Dr. Theodore Herzl.
The first speaker, Shlomo Berman, was the Hercules of Lanowitz. His head was small compared to his 2 meter height. His private life was complex, consisting of occasional crises, yet his strong spirit masked these events. This tall man lifted the hearts of his listeners with his engaging words when he spoke. The next speaker was his brother-in-law Pesach (Pessy) Buchstein. This family has lived in Lanowitz for generations. They owned retail stores selling various products. Pessy was the sole child of Shmuel Buchstein, owner of a metals store. He was nicknamed Pessiniu. His mother, Tzipy, was always unwell, afflicted with various strange diseases. His father, Reb Shmuel, was a man of solid appearance, with a smear of iron-rust on his nose. Pessy was fat, with thick lips. His expressive lips were able to readily reflect his various moods. He dressed in a sloppy manner and never wore a tie. His buttoned, short coat was of a style worn at the turn of the century. He wore boots both in summer and in winter. Pessy stored in his mind a rich collection of Jewish folklore. He had jokes for all occasions. These were mainly a way of laughing at himself. One story dealt with the medicines his mother gave him to cure him of various imagined diseases. Another concerned a Ukrainian soldier whom he had to carry on his shoulders during his military training. The story endings were always funny and entertaining. Despite his outward sloppy appearance, he was well connected with the local authorities. He used these contacts to help members of the community, rather than to his own advantage. Anyone with a local problem would seek Pessy's advice. An ardent Zionist, he was a member of the General Zionist organizations, a party that eschewed class distinctions. While on the speakers' platform during a memorial service, he sometimes expressed doubt with his lip movements during speeches by members of the Labor party. The last speaker was Uziel Reichman. The only child of his parents, he was of average height with a short convex nose. Uziel typically started his speech in a low voice. He slowly built up his delivery to a crescendo, weaving into his speech polished Greek and Latin phrases that his audience was generally not acquainted with. This was his way of explaining to us Hertzl's solution to the Jewish problem.
A stirring debate took place in the main synagogue between two Zionist factions named on guard' and time to build. The issue under debate was who should be the builders of Zion. Should immigration be limited to pioneers, an elite that would create something akin to a priestly kingdom, or is now the time to build the country quickly, eliminate selection, and thereby bring over as many Jews as possible? The entire community was stirred by this issue. Many participated personally in the debate or alternatively joined circles debating related issues. It was the primary issue of the day.
One summer evening the main synagogue was lit up, unusual for a weekday. Jews left their work places that day to participate in the afternoon prayer. That evening a battle of words took place. The two Zionist factions engaged their best speakers for this debate. The on guard faction recruited a heavy cannon, a famous speaker from the nearby town of Kremenets. This trick angered the time to build faction, increasing the tension felt within the sanctuary. The synagogue was packed, its lamps illuminating the large audience. The debates continued for hours, with the guest speaker arriving at midnight. Neither side budged from their ideological positions, while the debate continued until dawn.
One Sabbath one of our friends, a young man our age, spoke to the congregants. It was an event we all remembered for a long time. It was the young man's first public speech, given at a time when the synagogue's podium was dominated by its elders. The speaker, Shaike Rabin, of the Rabinovich family, was our soul mate and friend. His father, Reb Uziel, was a solidly built man with green eyes and a beard similar to that of Czar Nicholas III. He was ambitious and his life had its ups and downs. One day he was the owner of large properties, the next day he lost them. He behaved like an engine running at top speed. In his religious beliefs he was, however, steadfast. Almost fanatical in his admiration for Rabbi Mordechai Shumsker, the descendant of Rabbi Michaeli of Zlochow, he became a key supporter of Rabbi Ahareli of Lanowitz. The Rabbi's followers were primarily simple Jews, hence Reb Uziel stood out among them.
I was interested in Reb Uziel because of his stature among our town's residents. One day I had the opportunity to meet with him, and a bond formed between us. The meeting occurred several months before my immigration to Palestine. Both of us were idle; I, while waiting for my certificat [entry visa], and he because of his financial crisis. We would often meet at the Beyth Midrash at noon time, sometimes alone. We discussed many issues. I found him to be well informed and a man of lofty qualities. He loved his children and expected a great deal from them. His oldest daughter, Manya, had her father's features and charm. As an adult she was the leading lady in several plays we put on. His youngest son, Zony [Ozriel], was a sweet boy. His middle son, Mony [Hayim], had a sharp mind. Mony rebelled against conventional ideas, often able to disprove them and defend his point of view. He would dissect ideas and analyze them. It was hard to fool him. His utterances were a mixture of sarcasm and sentimentality. With his curly hair and dark skin he resembled his mother, Dina.
Dina was born in Shumsk, the daughter of Reb Kupka, of a prominent local family. Well proportioned, with shapely legs, Dina walked the local wooden sidewalks proudly, like a matron. Her household was run based on her progressive ideas. She was considerate and friendly to all. Her son Shaike was a wonderful, intelligent young man whose knowledge of the world resembled that of a city youngster. He was the center of our social circle. Like his younger brother, Shaike was able to think analytically but was less temperamental. That Sabbath day Shaike stood at the synagogue podium, dressed in a light well-cut suit and red tie, wearing spectacles. He looked distinguished. The audience longed to hear his maiden speech. At first, nervous and sweaty, Shaike could not utter a word. Slowly he recovered, delivering a well crafted speech in polished Yiddish. When he finished his delivery, we carried him out on our shoulders; proud of his accomplishment we kissed him.
We, his friends, all received the same education. As children we studied in a Heder, as youngsters we studied with Rabbi Motil, the brilliant student of the great Rabbi from Poltava. We had the opportunity to meet the great Rabbi once when he visited his student in Lanowitz. He was short, with a big head typical of famous men. Because of his frailty he leaned on the shoulders of two of our students, gazing with pride at the new generation. We were astounded at the frailty of this great man, yet we revered him. Our yeshiva was established accidentally, but once in place it was our reality. Its creation was due to the efforts of its dean, Reb Motel Speisman, a man we all remember fondly. One day Reb Aharon Mashiles, our kloiz gabbai [treasurer], visited another yeshiva. At the recommendation of its dean, the gabbai returned with Rabbi Motil. The latter was an unusual teacher, quite different from the normal Lanowitz teachers we studied with. Each student received individual attention. We were captivated by Rabbi Motil's personality. He was the first to show us how to wade into the sea of Talmud and study its plain meaning logically. When we students bade our good-bye to him, prior to our immigration to Palestine, he begged us not to forget him and to help him follow us. He was childless. None of his students continued in his footsteps to teach Torah. They were all swept away by the revolutionary spirit of those times.
In parallel with our yeshiva attendance we also studied in a Hebrew school, headed by Mr. Sepharim, the son of teachers in the town of Shumsk who taught Hebrew locally since the turn of the century. Raphael Sepharim was a short man with blond hair. He dedicated his life to study, preserve, and teach our ancient language. Living in the west, his heart was in the east. He passed on to us his values, telling us your place is not in Lanowitz, it is in Israel where almond trees bloom.
It is understandable that we, who received a combined Hebrew and traditional education, viewed the main synagogue as an auditorium, a forum that permitted us to express our reality and our feelings. Our synagogue will be inscribed in golden letters in the history book of Jewish Volynia.
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