For years the relationship between the Jews and the priest was pretty good and he used to rent the hall of the convent for the theater shows. In the later years, with the death of dictator Pilsudoksi, the situation worsened. The anti-Semitism found its way also to Sopotkin. They could not rent anymore the hall in the convent. The town's council allowed them to use the hall which joined the public bath.
They put up the shows: "Hertsl the Aristocrat", "Reyzele the daughter of the Shochet" (religious slaughterer), "Joseph is Sold". Samuel, the Tailor, used to wear a dress and played the role of Potifar's wife and Esther, the queen. Achashveyroshe's hat was made from gold paper, and Mordechai, the righteous, had a beard made from lamb's skin. The tryouts took place in the long winter evenings and filled up the life of the youth.
The entire town was waiting for the big event: the theater performance.
Several days before the performance volunteers gathered chairs from
private houses, because in the convent hall were no chairs or benches
to sit on. There was not any heat in the hall, they were very cold,
but the spirit warmed them up.
|Dramatic Society of Sopotkin|
|Standing in the first row (from right to left):
1. Faytl Doktorski, 2. Golda Berkovski, 3. Zlatke Friedman, 4. Batyah Lipski,
5. Rachel Berkovski, 6. Todl Dulski
Sitting second row (from right to left):
1. Samuel Ayzik Levine, 2. Yehuda Leyb Idinski, 3. Reyzl Ivashkovski,
4. Toybe Friedman, 5. Aba Shadzunksi, 6. Tsivyah Dulski
Sitting third row (from right to left):
1. Yekusiel Gezes,, 2. Ben-Zion Zavl Shadzunski, 3. Chaim Ozer Poret
Winter time the presentation finished after midnight and the crowd walked home in the deep snow about 2 kilometers from the convent to the town.
Later on, when different Zionists movements came to being, the shows were more frequent and more modern.
The decorator and the man who did make up (cosmetics) was Mr. Poret. He was the artist, the painter and the photographer in town. The best actor and stage manager was Ben Zion Zard Shadzunski. From his young age he had artistic talents. When he grew up, he organized a dramatic club of members his age and later on he became an instructor and trainer of young people who had the ability to perform on stage. And so he became a central pillar of the dramatic society in Sopotkin. Thanks to him, every month a new play was put on.
He was very talented, had a strong dramatic power which he could not develop. The town did not have any source of development. He could be one of the great stars in dramatics if possibility would be given to him.
He distinguished himself not only as an actor, he was a fine speaker having
a nice sweet voice.
The main boss at the weddings was the sexton (shamesh) of the new synagogue Yosl Aharon, a learned man, a quarrelsome person and a little absent-minded. His helper was Ben David Lipa, a little retarded person.
Yosl Aharon was the emissary for all kinds of celebrations. He used to bring the equipment needed for the chupa (canopy) and with his hoarse voice called out: "Make way for the groom!"
The orchestra was composed of gentiles and the leader was the Pole, Rifka. He played the fiddle and he knew all the Yiddish wedding songs: "Sorele", "Bride and groom -mazel-tov", spoke Yiddish and of course had much pleasure eating "gefilte fish."
The weddings were arranged on Fridays mostly before sunset. In spite that Friday was market day, almost the entire town was gathered in synagogue square.
The Jews used to come to welcome the bride and groom very neatly dressed and clean after using the public bath.
All of them arranged themselves in long lines with color candles in their hands.
Rifka and his orchestra entertained the people with happy songs waiting
for the groom. After the bride swallowed from the cup of wine, which
Yosl Aharon gave her, she began approaching her house at the sound of
trumpets and drums. At the entrance of her home stood her relatives
and friends with color candles in their hands. At the door a big brides
cake was waiting for her high above the gathered guests.
But before she could enter, some professional jesters took hold on the cake, cut it in pieces and in one short time, the cake was gone. The jesters could be seen at every wedding in town.
On Shabbat all the relatives by marriage were honored with "Aliyot"
coming up to the Torah and to say blessings over the Torah and at the same
time pledge some money for charity ("Tsedaka"). After the services
on Shabbat the guests were gathered in the brides home for light
refreshments. At the conclusion of Shabbat a big party was arranged in the
The days of "Selichot" (prayers said during the days preceding the High Holidays and on fast days) were the days of the big common help. On those days many poor Jews with their families used to arrive in Sopotkin because they knew that somebody would surely care for them. Avraham, the Carpenter, put up a whole house to the disposition of the unfortunate poor Jews. Some of them expressed their appreciation and thanks to his righteous wife who supplied them with oil for Passover which she prepared, or all kinds of medicine which she made ready for her fellow Jews. They thanked her saying: "May we never have to use it." Her drugs were: spirillum (bacterium) for perspiration and black berries as a measure against constipation, etc.
It was a special custom of receiving poor people into everyones house. Every Jew in town who respected himself used to invite a poor Jew for the Shabbat meal.
With this beautiful custom distinguished himself the Jew, Liptchak. He was compared to our father Abraham who was well known as "Machis Orchim" (the one who always invites guests). At his table sat a number of poor Jews. In order to feed them all, many pots of food had to be prepared.
The atmosphere of the High Holidays was not only of common help, it was
also introspection and spiritual stocktaking. The holiday atmosphere reached
its climax on Yom Kippur in the time of "Neila Service" (closing
service). Thrill went through the hearts during the hearty prayers of the
Rabbi in the new synagogue. This was a hearty, wonderful prayer. Everyone
felt that the gates of heaven opened for the prayers and supplications.
Who could stand against the supplications of the Rabbi, which came out
from heart and entered the heart of every Jew.
His words were like an electric stream that hit all gathered in the house of worship. Their eyes were covered with tears and a silent cry went up, up to heaven.
The rich people, who owned their homes, built their succah when the foundation of the house was put up. They built the house with a part of the roof which could be opened when Succot came. It was only the problem to get some branches from the woods and cover the top of the succah. The rest was the children's job to decorate the walls of the succah with all kinds of pictures.
Happiness and joy came into every Jewish home with the arrival of the
Holiday of Succot. It was a very happy festival.
Every Friday he used to go from house to house to collect donations and
to get back the loans which he gave before. He used to give loans
after he got a deposit or security like a watch, a chain, etc.
With the end of World War I, Rabbis Meir's "Cheder" (school) was the best in town. He was a man with much knowledge in "Talmud" and most of his time he devoted in teaching "Gemarah". In addition, he taught Hebrew and "Tanach" (Prophets).
He had his own teaching methods and special pedagogue means to make his teaching profession more successful. He knew very well how to tell fables and stories and his students gave the utmost attention to him.
He became famous among his pupils, thanks to his story about the "Tevat
Hadibur Box of Speech". And here is the essence of the story:
In every person there is a "Box of Speech" an he must watch
over the box all the time. He has to try hard not to squander and not to
spend the treasures of the speech hidden in his box. If the person made the
box empty before time, the person would become dumb. The children
believed every word which came from their beloved teacher, Reb Meir.
As soon as he approached the cemetery, he felt he was in his own home. He knew
and recognized every corner and every lot ("Karka") in the
cemetery. Despite the fact that everything was covered with snow and ice he
could find the resting place of every deceased Jew.
And this is how he used to do his job as gravedigger: First of all he removed the snow and ice, dug four feet in the ground and prepared the grave. When his work was done, he used to take out from his pocket a bottle of whisky or spirit and drank, but he never was drunk.
As he finished his work at night, winter or summer, in a rain or snow, he entered the grave and waited there until morning. According to the customs, it is forbidden to leave an empty grave.
Nobody from the burial society ("Chevra Kaddisha") could compete or take his place. Todres was the only one in his profession.
Todres fulfilled the "Mitzvah" (commandment): "Sleeping on
Shabbat is a pleasure". He did not sleep at home but in a room
of the old synagogue. The room was call "Kloyz" (sort of a
chapel) where the Jews prayed during the weekdays. There were kept all
the burial articles. As a blanket he used the cover which
was used to cover up the deceased before the funeral. He folded it and
used it as pillow. And this way Todres fulfilled the "Mitzvah"
of sleeping on
His work was limited to supply drinking water, lighting a fire in
the stoves winter time, and washing the floor. He kept the very old
synagogue very clean, much cleaner than the other two synagogues. He
carried out his function as the helper and deputy of Moshe, the Shamesh
(sexton) with love and devotion.
The old Shamesh, Moshe, was just the complete opposite of Todres. He knew how to use and to get knowledge from books. He also served as a tutor ("Melamed") of little children. He was known for his beautiful handwriting. Most of the women, who did not know how to write well, came to Moshe the sexton with a request to write letters to their relatives who immigrated to different foreign countries. The style of the letters was almost identical. In every letter he presented a sad story, how poor they are here, how much they suffer, how hard it is to make a living here, and how miserable they are. And every letter had the same song at the end: "May we all hear the same thing from your mouth" (Yiddish: "Dos zelbe fun ayeh tsu hern.")
The town could not restrain itself because of the shame and Moshe, the Shamesh, was forced to resign from his position as the main sexton. Todres inherited his place and despite a large opposition of some worshipers of the old synagogue, he got the job and served the synagogue with all his might very faithfully.
Despite the fact that he became the main Shamesh, he continued to do the dirty work with the same devotion as before. He used to get up early in the morning, before one can distinguish between blue and white, filled the washbasin with water, kindled the ovens in winter and together with all this, he had time to wake up the worshipers on the High Holidays for the first "minyan" (early service).
He did not have to knock on the window shutters. The Jews who were used to praying at the early "minyan" woke themselves at the sound of Todres' boots.
He remained in the synagogue very late, waiting until every one left the
house of worship, those who came to learn and those who came late to
warm their bodies at the warm oven.
One of this kind of people was Yankl-Pinye the "Cantonist". He always had a lot of stories to tell from the past days of the czar of Russia, and about the Russia-Japan war. He told stories about the faraway East and about the many miracles and wonders that happened to him in the time of his wandering as a soldier in the czar's army.
He was snatched in Sopotkin at his very young age together with Aryey, the Smith's father, and they both served in the czar's army for twenty-five years.
Todres never had the audacity to chase out Yankl-Pinye from the synagogue as he often did the other late sitters.
At last when Yankl-Pinye finished telling this story in order to tell more of his adventures the next evening and the following days, Todres gave out a loud sigh and with one exhalation he blew out the synagogal lectern. He respected and honored very much the Torah Scrolls and behaved toward them like a mother behaved to her infant. He was always very careful not to hold the Torah too close to his chest with his strong arms.
He had a fantastic memory. Just as he remembered the burial place of each and everyone for three generations, the same way he remembered the memorial day ("Yortzeit") of everyone in the town. He always reminded every family of the "Yortzeit" in advance, and lit a memorial candle in the synagogue.
Among others, his duty was to wind up the big clock which was hanging
high up near the ceiling in the old synagogue. Something was very
common between Todres and the clock. The clock, just like Todres, never
stood still, never was too fast and never too slow, always on time. He
always operated with hours and not with seconds. For example, if somebody
asked Todres the time, Todres answered, "A little bit to six or "a
little bit after six."
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