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[Page 187]

People We Remember

 

English Translation by Sara Mages

[Page 189]

Grandma Chane-Malke

by Yone Ron

Chane Malke was an amazing person whose lively personality could have unified Vishnevets.

At a young age, she lost her husband, Yankel-Barukh, a learned man who was associated with the rabbinate and studied Torah all his life. As his wife Chane-Malke supported him, and through her work, she assisted the needy and helped the weak. After marrying off her children, she moved in with her son, Yisrael Rozental, and her daughter in-law, Ester Di Zbarizher, and continued with her blessed activities to help those in need. She had a well-developed extra sensibility that enabled her to detect and find homes that appeared well to do on the outside but where poverty prevailed inside. When they were left without even a penny to buy bread and needed a secret gift, Chane-Malke appeared like the angel of mercy, without letting anyone know how she had found out.

 

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Grandmother Chane-Malke with Her Husband,
Yakov Barukh, a Torah Master

 

[Page 190]

I remember Thursdays and Fridays well, when grandmother wore her big, wide apron and hurried around to collect challahs from homes she knew of and deliver them to the destitute so they could observe the Sabbath commandments. She also had a contact at the town's Jewish bank, from whom she received loans. She divided the money among those who needed a dowry, assistance for the sick, and help rehabilitating themselves so they could earn their own living. To pay off bank loans, she formed a group of women donors. She visited them once a week to get their donations, and she was able to pay back her loans like clockwork.

She visited neglected sick people and always had a kind, encouraging word to say to them. In town, she was seen as an exemplary human being, and they would say that if there were 36 righteous people in the world, one of them was made in a woman's image.

When we youngsters began studying Hebrew at the Tarbut School, we spoke Hebrew among ourselves for practice. She enjoyed watching us children as we did this, and when we saw her, she didn't wait until we said good morning to her in Hebrew. She went ahead and said a broad “Shalom” to us, as if she wanted to identify with us.

She knew not only the solemnity and burden of good deeds, but also happiness and high spirits. She was the head “dancer” at weddings, and demonstrated with her body “how to dance before the bride.” We, the younger generation, paid the band generously for her dances. We enjoyed seeing her dance with grace and style even at her advanced age. She was still dancing at age 80 and beyond.

Often when we spent time together and wanted to know whom she had supported, she always answered with pleasure, “Giving in secret is giving in secret.”

She never failed, and nothing could stop her from running to do her work. In the cruel, freezing winter weather, she woke up early to go to the women's study hall so she could listen to the sacred words and fulfill the commandment of public prayer.

And that's how she caught a cold that turned into pneumonia and returned her pure soul to God. Many people attended her funeral. It was a rainy day, and it looked like the sky was identifying with our townspeople by crying over Grandma Chane-Malke's death.


[Page 191]

Azriel (Son of Moshe Aharon) Kubrik

by A. Barak

 

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Azriel Kubrik

 

Azriel Kubrik, son of Moshe Aharon and Miryam Leye (née Shatski), was born in Vishnevets in 1873, the youngest of five children. Until age four, he ran around his father's lumberyard. His father earned a respectable living by purchasing parcels of forest from local landowners and clearing, chopping down, and sawing trees.

At age four, he went to cheder, where he immediately asserted himself as a deep thinker and a quick learner, and his teachers predicted a great future for him. As a child, young Azriel was pulled as if by a magic power to the centers of education. At age 14, he journeyed to the big city of Poltava, where he joined other children his age to study at the municipal high school.

Little by little, he began visiting Jewish homes in the town, and very shortly, he was as welcome as a family member at Tsvi Shimshelevits's home and became a good friend of his son Yitschak. This same Yitschak became Israel's second president under the name Yitschak Ben-Tsvi. He was also welcomed at the Fridland family's home, which served as a cultural and Zionist center in Poltava.

Azriel, who excelled in deep analysis and proper discretion, quickly became the coordinator of Poltava's Jewish youth. During the pogroms against the town's Jews, he led the local Jewish youth defense force that guarded Jewish homes and stores. Once when he was out of town, he learned that the rioters had surrounded the Jewish quarter. Worried that the Jewish defense group wouldn't be able to operate without him, he immediately obtained Cossack clothing and a horse, broke through a group of rioters into the Jewish quarter, and led the defense.

During the Enlightenment, Kubrik became familiar with gentiles and applied to fulfill his Zionist duty through immigration. In 1905, he arrived at the port of Jaffa.

His first destination in the Land was the lower Galilee, where he worked as a farmer and laborer in a number of Baron Rothschild's cooperative settlements.

[Page 192]

At the same time, a decision was made to go up into the foothills of Givat Hamoreh and lay the foundations of Kibbutz Merhavia. Azriel helped found the kibbutz but couldn't fit in with that group. It appeared to him that the time wasn't right for rest and security, so he joined a commune in the famous K'han in Hadera. That group faced the challenge of conquering the labor that had to be done in the fields and Hadera's Jewish farmers' orange groves. Morning after morning, they left before sunrise, carrying their hoes, ready for hard labor in the fields so they wouldn't fall behind the Arab workers, who were used to it. Azriel came down with malaria, and after three difficult attacks, Dr. Yafe forced him to leave Hadera and move back to Jaffa, the “city.”

Azriel lived in Jaffa briefly and then moved to Atlit, where he accepted a job at Aharon Aharonson's experimental farm. That work caused a rift in the relationship between Azriel and his friends. Aharonson was considered a middle-class farmer, and Azriel, who was a Labor Zionist founder and the first to preach radical social ideas, had changed his skin, so to speak, and had become the “middle-class” Aharonson's “henchman.”

During World War I, Aharon Aharonson and his friends established Nili [1]. The matter widened the gap between the Land of Israel's laborers and their organization, the Watchman, and the established farmers in the Baron's settlements.

Azriel, who had neither a part nor a lot in the Nili organization, decided to leave Atlit. He roamed south to Rishon Letsion and Nes Tsiyona. There he hired himself out to the settlement's committee as a night watchman and worked at this job until the end of World War I. Then he moved to Jaffa, where he got a job in construction as a plasterer's helper. Later, he studied to be a glazier and worked independently on the new buildings being built in Tel Aviv, the new suburb of Jaffa.

Azriel Kubrik was a Federation delegate in Jaffa and an activist in the Labor Zionist Left organization. He carried out many duties for different committees, but he was loyal to his beliefs and decided to be a worker, not a politician.

The same year, he married Sore (Sonye), from the Fridland family in Poltava. With the help of a 400-Egyptian-pound loan, he purchased a building lot and built a three-bedroom home with a big, spacious yard. He planted trees, built a chicken coop, and planted a vegetable garden. The yard on Merkaz Ba'alei-Melakha Street in Tel Aviv became a meeting place for labor leaders. Those who came to Tel Aviv knew they could find their activists there, such as Neta Harpaz, Kitsis, Yitschak Ben-Tsvi, and many others.

After the 1921 riots, Kubrik traveled from Tel Aviv to Rishon Letsion in his horse cart. On the way, he was attacked and stabbed in the chest, and his horse and cart were stolen by the attackers. For many days, he lay wounded at Hadassah Hospital on Nachalat Binyamin Street in Tel Aviv, hovering between life and death. His weak body was ready to give up, but his strong spirit refused to listen to that judgment. He left the hospital very weak. He couldn't return to construction, so he developed a vegetable garden next to his home, extended his chicken coop, and lived in poverty.

[Page 193]

In the meantime, the 1,000-settlement plan was carried out, and Kubrik settled in the Netayim settlement near Nes Tsiyona, where he was given an orange grove and a large yard.

The years in Netayim were difficult, and the members were forced to earn their living outside the settlement, which couldn't support itself. Azriel, who was an agricultural laborer at the Gan Rave orange groves, became weaker and slowly faded. After he was bitten by a snake in one of the orchard's paths, part of his foot was amputated. The couple and their two children were forced to return to Tel Aviv. Sore Kubrik went to work at the tax office in order to help her family. Azriel looked for jobs as a building watchman and other light seasonal work.

His life in Tel Aviv was bitter and difficult. His body started to decay, and his spirit sank when he realized that his friends had deserted him in his time of trouble.

On August 22, 1945, Azriel Kubrik of Vishnevets died. He was among the first to immigrate during the Second Immigration, he fulfilled his Zionist duty, and he was a friend of his country's leaders.

May his memory be blessed among his townspeople.

 

Translator's Note:
  1. Nili was a small Jewish underground organization that helped the British army liberate Palestine from the Turks. return

 


[Page 194]

Shimon Ayzenberg

by Lipa Goldberg

 

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Shimon Ayzenberg

 

Shimon, the oldest in our group, was considered the first pioneer.

In 1920, when the echoes of the world war had subsided, slogans asking for the redemption of the world changed, and the ranks of the Zionist movement did, too. The saying that was pitched was, “During these historic days, we need to help the nation. Not by talking, but by doing.”

Shimon had already lost his father, and the duty of being the family head fell to him, as the oldest son. His father had left many thriving businesses, and Shimon, who was active in them, managed to build himself an excellent financial future, but his heart was drawn to a different lifestyle: it was full of longing for Zion and pioneering.

In 1921, at age 30, he severed himself from his business and family duties, uprooted himself from his economic and social roots, and immigrated.

In the Land, he decided that he could be of use by capturing the transport business from the Arabs. In his first days there, he bought a pair of mules and a cart and started to work.

His personal example inspired the people around him, and others joined the profession, which brought a romantic change of status. It was a direct leap from being sons from well- to-do families to being a horse-and- cart drivers of the lowest status.

The late Duvid Remez, who respected him greatly, provided him with dangerous transport jobs held by Arabs in the port of Jaffa. Later, he offered him a position in Jerusalem, a vulnerable point in the war to capture Arab work.

Shimon didn't hesitate for long. He turned his mules toward Jerusalem and went there.

With him were Mordekhay Goldberg from Bielozerka, Gilboa from Merhavia – and the United States – and others.

In Jerusalem, the friends organized a contractual transport business and were the destination for people looking for work.

When Solel Boneh was awarded the contract to build a fence around the cemetery for the fallen Allenby soldiers in Beer Yakov, Shimon and his friends traveled to Beersheba at D. Remez's request.

[Page 195]

For an extended period, Shimon lived there in a nearby tent among the Bedouins.

In the tent camp in Beersheba, Shimon found out that a group was planning to settle in the area. Shimon consulted with his friends, and they decided to join the project.

In 1923, on the evening after Simchat Torah, Simon hitched up his mules, and after a day-and-a-half-long journey through Wade A'ra, he arrived in the Merhavia settlement and set up a mighty tent for himself.

The writer of these lines also joined them.

During our first year in Merhavia, we lived in a different kind of collective settlement. We were inclined toward agricultural success, which gave us social success.

Shimon was in charge of the mules. He took care of them, gave instructions on how to behave with them, and sold and bought mules as needed.

When Shimon started his family and his farm, hidden talents that no one knew about were discovered in him. He was diligent and overcame difficulties. No one could have predicted that any worldly power could stop the momentum of his work, the flame of his dedication, and the extent of his stamina.

Meanwhile, his sons were born. His family grew, but his wife stumbled; the burden was too much for her. The frequent drought and the rats that followed it caused Shimon's business to fail, and he lost his endurance.

Shimon's hidden energy left him. When he was offered the job of coordinator of Hachoresh, the transportation cooperative in Bnei Brak (which he organized before he moving to the settlement), he took the offer and uprooted himself from his home.

Shimon's life in the city was dedicated to helping his friends. He supported, helped, and encouraged them, and his house was open to anyone who needed assistance.

Shimon Ayzenberg died of kidney disease in 1936, when he was 45 years old.


[Page 196]

Something about Shimon Ayzenberg

by Yitschak Kecholy
(Secretary of the Merhavia Settlement)

We remember only a little about Shimon Ayzenberg, but the general impression he left was that he was unique.

He lived with us for 10 years. He came to us with a number of friends, who accompanied him to fulfill their dream of becoming Jewish farmers.

His situation in the city was good. As a cart owner (who had brought a little money with him from abroad), his work was secure, but he wanted to live his life according to his principles and Zionist outlook.

In the settlement, he buried himself in his work and was extremely diligent. He was always willing to help others and was famous as an amazingly kindhearted person.

Conditions in our settlement were very difficult, and only a few could rise to meet them. But Shimon never complained, and he did whatever was thrown at him “with all his soul and all his might.”

Shimon was considered a loyal public figure, dedicated and honest. Therefore, he was elected to the settlement's board of directors a number of times. He was recognized not as a lofty man who was seeking honor, but as a man who was willing to take a load on his shoulders and perform any unskilled work given to him.

The friends who accompanied him were attached to him, as if he were the greatest and most important person in society, and they listened to him.

Unfortunately for us, Shimon didn't stay with us long. As a man who understood horses, he dedicated himself to the settlement's animals and neglected his own farm.

Because of his neglect, his condition worsened from day to day. When his sons were born and his wife cracked under the burden of her home and the farm, he couldn't cope with the difficulties and was forced to leave.

We were very sorry when he left.

Many left during the first days of our settlement, but Shimon Ayzenberg's departure cast a feeling of melancholy into the members' hearts. Something had been uprooted from the settlement's human foundation and landscape, and we felt the loss.


[Page 197]

Duvid Roynik

by Lipa Goldberg

Duvid was the son of the rabbi of Krasilov. When he was a child, the rabbi's family moved to Pochayev, where he grew up and became a nice, educated young Orthodox man.

One day, R' Moshe Shniribeker happened to be in Pochayev. He was a respected, well-to-do Jew who was searching through his business connections for a match for his daughter. When he came across Duvid, the rabbi's young son, he “bought” him as her bridegroom.

When R' Moshe got tired of the gentile environment, he decided to spend his old age among Jews and moved himself and his businesses to Vishnevets. He handed the management of his possessions to Duvid Roynik and his brother-in-law.

The two young married men weren't successful in the old man's place, and the business declined more and more. At that time, Roynik was able to convince his old father-in-law to sell his holdings. He liquidated everything and immigrated to the Land.

At the beginning of 1914, the two men left for the Land of Israel. They bought two building lots in Rehovot and 300 dunams for a vineyard in the Menucha Venachala Company, which was managed by Ayzenberg, who later became an activist in the farmer's union.

They stayed in the Land for three months, and in April 1941, they returned to Vishnevets to liquidate their business and immigrate to Israel. Just then, the war broke out.

All the money they had made lost its value. The old man died, and the family was destitute.

At the end of the war, Duvid left his family and immigrated to the Land to settle there and bring his family over.

According to his calculations, his property in the Land was enough for him and his father in-law's extensive family to settle on with respect and prosperity. But when he came to claim his property, his trustee “proved” to him that he'd sold all of his land to pay the taxes on the property.

Duvid left his office almost convinced of the man's veracity, but he was told that the man had sold the land to him and “settled” the price with him. But one plot of land was left, and he was able to claim it for himself. And so that the man wouldn't object, he paid him 400 Israel pounds and forced him to sign a document stating that he didn't have any claims or complaints against him.

Duvid returned to Tel Aviv. There he met Kubrik, one of the first immigrants to the Land from Vishnevets, who was active in the labor union there, and he joined Kubrik's construction company.

People respected him from the start, but Roynik couldn't adapt to the style of work and the workers who made the sign of the cross as part of their prayers, so he left the construction business. He bought cows and established a cow business on Neve Shanan Street in Tel Aviv. He also built a wooden bungalow for his family.

In 1922, his family arrived, and it looked as if Duvid Roynik had reached a state of peace and security.

His bungalow became a community center for immigrants from Vohlin, who came there to take part in “togetherness,” share their troubles, and find comfort during difficult times. In time, Zelde, Roynik's wife, became the Vishnevetsers' mother. Between milking her cows and delivering the milk, she always found time to sew a button on a negligent pioneer's shirt or wash his underwear. At his home, they always received a cup of tea with a little “something,” and little Tel Aviv recognized the Royniks' home as the Vohlin emigrants' home in Israel.

In 1923, Duvid Roynik decided to be a real farmer. He went to Merhavia with Shimon Ayzenberg and settled there.

[Page 198]

Duvid always made his decisions his own way, without exaggeration or personal promotion. With his calm personality, he always searched inside the issue and saw things that weren't visible. People wondered about his approach; with his income secure, why did he leave it all and move his family to an experimental settlement, following somebody else's idea? Duvid never explained his doings, but he knew in his heart that immigration isn't complete unless a man ascends, settles, and works on his own land.

Duvid stood firm in Merhavia for seven years, but the difficult drought and frequent agricultural plagues exhausted him, and he returned to his former business in Ramat Gan.

After his loyal wife's death, he moved in with his sons in the village of Kfar Yehoshua.

Duvid died in 1953 in Kfar Yehoshua. The whole village cried for the loss of his noble soul, which was crowned with grace and superior manners. He was a distinguished man who was faithful to his own principles.

 

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Duvid Roynik as a Fruit Picker

 


[Page 199]

The Spirit of Nachum Beren

by Sore Or (Afula)

He was a close friend who sought the best for others. He was respected by many in Vishnevets because of his dedication to and care for his fellow man. Also, the way he looked after his extensive family was evidence of the best in him.

The teenagers in our town who began to mature after World War I, at the beginning of the 1920s, when the world's rebirth brought out the human and Jewish conscience in them, saw Nachum as an active leader who searched for direction and lived a hopeful and tasteful public life.

Nachum, who was a man of fundamentals, started from the bottom. He understood the need to establish the Tarbut School as a foundation for a deep-rooted Jewish culture. He organized it, named it, taught in it, and maintained it until his last day.

He was the first teacher in Vishnevets to teach spoken Hebrew with the Sephardic pronunciation, and he saw it as a spoken language and a communication tool for the forming nation.

Nachum directed the town's teenagers to seek their vision and fulfill their destination without resignation. He was the first to direct his students and his friends toward pioneer training and immigration, and his teachings at the school prepared them for life in Israel.

***

I remember the days after the revolution, when we soaked up the great spirit of freedom for men and nations. The push for education increased to the point where it required us to risk our lives. We journeyed to Kremenets to get a high school education and to Odessa and Kiev. Our parents' finances were extremely limited. We were forced to buy common knowledge with great pain. We traveled in carts in the mud, rain, and storms every Sunday before dawn. Sometimes we got stuck in the mud in the valleys between Vishnevets and Kremenets, with no way to move forward. And so we continued hour after hour, week after week, all to be ready for the great days that were knocking on the world's and the town's doors.

We accepted our suffering with love, as our generation's duty, one that we couldn't escape.

We said that this was our fate, and we were lucky to live through it. But when we came home, entirely home, complete with knowledge and education, we found that our town was behind its time, narrow-minded and weak in substance. It was sunk in a culture that was insufficient to quench our thirst and unable to renew, better, and repair itself.

Dreariness spread. Our present life was boring and tiresome, and our future was covered with fog or quite nonexistent. We were full of worry; we absorbed the misleading lights of a revolution in the life of nations and in people's souls, and the shadow of generations was around us.

We needed a great push to overpower that worry and turn it into a powerful push that would change and organize our Jewish life's order and values.

The worry increased between the two regimes, and the dream of a revolution evaporated.

[Page 200]

Our thoughts began to turn toward Zionism. In it, we wanted to find a solution to all the problems that bothered us as fellow citizens, the current generation, and the future nation. But the road to Zionism led to desolation and an unrealistic destination. It was blocked by hidden idealism of the highest degree. So far, the Zionist movement wasn't organized enough to answer our problems and free us.

There was great dismay in our camp: disappointment in the movement to reform the world let down the Jewishness nesting deep in our souls, and enthusiasm for Zion didn't warm our hearts.

That's when Nachum appeared as a redeemer who removed all the obstacles from our souls. He organized us, creating reading, study, conversation, and discussion groups. With him, we established a library and increased our need to read and study. Instead of a life of idleness and worry, we began to live a full, active life. Our clubs were busy with campaigns for the Foundation Fund and Jewish National Fund, and we did a great deal for workers in the Land of Israel. The town's Freedom branch was resurrected, and Nachum breathed life and activity into it. We felt that our daily life had been healed and that our future was set and getting closer.

With Nachum's initiative, an actual Pioneer group was established. That group saw the need for physical and professional training before immigration to Israel. We leased a large field at the edge of the town, and 20 young men and women went to work there to be trained in agricultural work, and from this physical labor, we left for jobs in the city.

Today, these matters aren't so shocking, but then, we had to have great willpower and fervor to stand up to the objections of our parents, who saw these doings as a deviation from tradition and a lowering of our status, pedigree, and livelihood. Nachum was blessed with this willpower. We sustained ourselves with it, and it gave us the ability to withstand the test of the conflict between fathers and sons.

Thanks to the Pioneer movement's initiative, many people immigrated. Many received the push to immigrate from Nachum, directly and indirectly. But he couldn't immigrate. His weak body was full of energy but eaten up by feebleness. He was afraid that if he immigrated and his body gave out on him, he would be a public burden. He decided to stay behind and didn't immigrate, even though he felt the Holocaust coming more than anyone else did.

***

During the Soviet regime in Vishnevets, vandals of various stripes were permitted to exist. Degenerate young people whose entire dream was to enjoy someone else's labor and who were consumed with hatred for the town's people and Jewish founders of Zionism, came to power and discovered a rare opportunity to fulfill their desires. One of Nachum's students, who had achieved success by flattering the ruling gentiles, allowed himself to denounce the Zionist leaders. He informed the authorities that Nachum was the leader of the Zionist center in town and that he'd led a number of young men toward nationalism. Nachum was put on trial. His student testified against him, saying that Nachum had disgraced Stalin and called him “servant of the nations.” Nachum was sentenced to exile.

[Page 201]

Because of the accusation of his former student, who betrayed his teacher, Nachum was exiled to an unknown location, where his pure life ended; his burial place is unknown.

Nachum left a wife, two sons, and many admiring friends who will always carry his blessed name with them.

Nachum was a vessel of strength and blessing for his town, and his many activities motivated that generation.


[Page 202]

In Memory of My Beloved Parents and My Best Friend,
Avraham Bisker, of Blessed Memory

by Eliezer Tsinberg (Tel Amal)

 

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Avraham Bisker

 

I have tried many times to write down my memories of my life with my parents and my friendship with my friend Avraham in Vishnevets, and each time my hand pulls back. I left town long before the horrible Holocaust, and even today, I can't get used to the thought that the busy life in which I also took part no longer exists and will never return.

I lived in Vishnevets for a number of years before immigrating to the Land. My father, a doctor, was director of a hospital in the town of Lanovits and was transferred to Vishnevets to be the district hospital director there. The entire family moved with him to live in a… palace in town.

It was strange to live in a palace that had belonged to a royal prince of Vishnevets.

My father dedicated his heart to his work. It's only from the perspective of time and distance that I can now appreciate my father's work as a doctor. He worked day and night. Many nights, he was awakened to help a sick person in town or a faraway village. More than once, he returned home frozen from being on the road. I remember well when a difficult dysentery epidemic broke out and the whole area was quarantined. We lived next door to the hospital, and the high risk of catching the disease hovered over us. My father worked nonstop without even changing his clothes (he also drafted us to help him). A committee from Warsaw was full of admiration for his work and gave him a medal.

My beloved mother always helped us and managed our home with skill. She dedicated her free time to public works and Zionism. I remember how she helped organize charitable Purim and Chanukah parties for the Jewish National Fund.

My father was also connected to Zionist ideology and donated generously to all Zionist activities. A large number of Pioneers, who did their pioneer training in Vishnevets under difficult conditions, remember my father's help and dedication with kindness. Therefore, I was also able to be active and dedicated myself to my work for the movement.

[Page 203]

I remember that when I decided to leave for a long period of agricultural training, my parents didn't object and helped me with everything, even though they secretly wanted me to continue my studies at the university. They also knew very well that I'd join a kibbutz when I immigrated to the Land.

***

While at the high school in Kremenets, I met Avraham Bisker, who became my best and most loyal friend. We were like twins. It was no surprise that we established a Zionist Youth chapter in town together. We dedicated ourselves to our work with all our young energy, and our work flourished. The chapter grew and gave us a lot of satisfaction, and we lived an active life. We worked together for the Jewish National Fund through the national Pioneer chapter and performed other Zionist and public activities to prove that young people's lives in the Diaspora had substance.

We were helped by two wonderful people: Mr. Y. Shapiro and Mr. Brik, of blessed memory, who immigrated to the Land and built their homes there. I won't forget their dedication to Zionist work, from small, everyday matters to major ones.

Avraham and I dreamed about immigrating, and in our hearts we meant to do so. I knew that Avraham would have trouble with his family, which would hold him back. I immigrated first. I left my friends in the chapter and my friend Avraham, with the hope that we'd meet again in the Land.

I waited for him impatiently.

The war broke out, and the horrifying news began to arrive – destruction, murder, my loved ones among them, my mother and father, and many other family members and friends. My kindhearted father, who had only done good for others, was one of the first to receive payment from the Ukrainian killers that he'd helped more than once; my mother also went after him…

I didn't receive any news about my friend Avraham. I waited for him for a very long time. Maybe he'd arrive the way many others had arrived, but I waited in vain. All I have left is a picture he gave me before I left, with a dedication written on it: “To my beloved brother, from the faithful days we spent together in a warm atmosphere. Very soon, we'll be together in our homeland, the land of our thoughts and longings – be strong. Avraham.”

Even today, the image of my town – full of life and activities – remains in my soul. And as in a filmstrip, the images of my loved ones pass before my eyes, and my heart can't comprehend…


[Page 204]

Something about Dad,
of Blessed Memory

by Tsvi Katz

 

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Avraham Yehuda Katz

 

My father, Avraham Yehuda Katz, was one of the most outstanding people in our town. He was loyal and dedicated to his civic work and always in a hurry to help his fellow man. He had an inner balance, he was brave and fearless, and his honorable acts captured the hearts of many. In community life, he came across homeowners who didn't sense the gray future of Polish Jewry, while he was anxious to act on behalf of Zionist ideals.

After World War I, he was among the first to organize the depressed Ukrainian Jews' economic and social life. He served on the City Council in the Kremenets district Jewish community. He acted on behalf of the laborers of our town who lacked work and income. Thanks to his pleading, he was able to get public jobs for Jewish workers in the town from the authorities. He established a carpentry workshop in the Jewish community yard and built furniture for the area government schools. He was also able to get restoration work in the palace. Although the enterprise didn't make money, he was satisfied to be able to provide jobs to the town's Jewish carpenters.

He had a special talent for working with his hands and was a founder of the district's first trade school. He sent his two sons there, and, with difficulty, managed to convince two other teenagers, Mendel Korenfeld and Yehuda Rozin, to attend the school. Nevertheless, the Jews boycotted the trade school. There were only 4 Jewish students among the 300 Christian students. The authorities teased father and showed him how Jews detested manual labor.

He was took part in all Zionist and public fundraisers as a collector and donor.

***

Here are a number of episodes in father's life:

The work ethic was close to father's heart, and he saw in it the terms of the Jewish nation's existence in the Diaspora and the future Jewish homeland.

[Page 205]

He was active among young people in Vishnevets and tried to urge them to change the value of their lives and immigrate to the Land. At a meeting, someone asked father, "Why don't you personally set an example for us?" At that moment, father decided that the young man was right and immigrated to the Land with his four young children.

When the district administrator in Kremenets found out that father was planning to immigrate, he tried to prevent father from taking that step in different ways, saying, “Poland needs Jews like you.” Father asked the district administrator in return, “Are there any Jews that Poland doesn't need?”

When the district administrator affirmed his question, Father told him, “This is the reason for my immigration. I'm afraid that sooner or later, it'll be my turn.”

We needed to come up with a sum of money, whose amount I can't remember now. The matter was urgent, and father asked the drama club for help. The people agreed under the condition that father take the lead role in the show. They were afraid that, as a respected community leader, he'd be afraid to put his reputation on the line. But father realized the importance of the matter, and took the lead role in the show. He didn't tell my mother and the townspeople about his decision to appear in the show until the last moment, but when the show ended, father was rewarded with extended applause.

When Father reached the Land, he changed his lifestyle, and consistent with his pioneer consciousness, he was one of the first to take on work in the Dead Sea project. He worked there for 17 years. During the War of Independence, he was one of the last employees to be evacuated from Sdom.

By nature, he loved people and saw only the best in them. His home was full of warmth and was always open to those in need.

He was an encouraging figure for young people who worked at the Dead Sea. He was able to overcome his personal and ideological crisis and was always loyal to the party's needs.

My father sacrificed one of his own for the sake of freedom. His dear son, Yosef, was murdered by Arabs in the1936 riots. He mourned him all his life, but he didn't break and was comforted among the mourners of Zion.

The Federation recognized his virtues and allowed him to continue with his fruitful work.


[Page 206]

In Memory of Mr. Avraham Vitels,
of Blessed Memory

by Y. N-S

I would like to mention a citizen of our town who wasn't a public figure but whose deeds for his fellow man deserve recognition. I'm talking about Vitels, the lawyer, of blessed memory.

It's true that he didn't study at the university but on his own (according to his daughter, Rachel, who is with us in the Land, he had to hide in a barrel to be able to study). He reached the rank of legal adviser, meaning that he wasn't a certified lawyer.

The area's farmers used his help to settle their boundary arguments.

The Jews also asked his advice, but here he acted according to this principle: a trial can mean a prison sentence for one of the parties, and it's better to postpone it.

Jews asked Mr. Vitels for help in different situations: the Czar's regime hurt a lot of Jews, and legal advice was needed to survive the tyrannical clerks. And this is where Mr. Vitels, of blessed memory, came in.

I remember one incident during World War I. Commander Gomen was acting madly in our town. Many were the Jews that he flogged. I remember that my father, of blessed memory, was one of the candidates for flogging. With Mr. Vitels' intercession, the decree was canceled, and my late father was able to come out of his hiding place. There were many incidents of that order. Mr. Vitels acted quietly, not receiving a reward for his deeds.

May his memory be blessed.


[Page 207]

R' Mordekhay Kechum

by Y. Ron (Shike der Geler)

One of the best-known and best-loved characters in Vishnevets was R' Mordekhay, who limped on one leg and possessed a sharp wisdom. It was said that he had one crooked leg and a straight head. R' Mordekhay was famous for his sharp sayings, and here I'll give a few that I heard him say. By the way, I'll also provide the circumstances in which I heard them.

At that time, we were staying at the home of “Sore Di Osterer,” a woman with a personality in which nobility and wealth coexisted. At the end of her, life she willed her store, which stood in the town center, to the synagogue, which was named after her.

Jews went to Sore's home to enjoy the splendor of her homemaking. Mordekhay was one of them. In the evening, he used to come and sit by the big table, where the samovar was ready, and I, a permanent guest in her home, listened to the stories and jokes he told while drinking one cup of tea after another. R' Mordekhay was an expert tea drinker. With no exaggeration, he could drink a dozen cups of tea in one evening. He used to take a piece of sugar, dissect it into 16 miniature grains, suck, and drink tea endlessly.

***

After World War I, it was difficult to find material for suits. One evening, R' Mordekhay walked in, beaming with happiness, and said, “You see, Sore! I'm dressed in royal garments,” and he was dressed only in a shirt and coarse, dark khaki pants. We wondered, what's the connection here to royalty? And he explained, “I stitched all that for myself out of a military tent that is the kingdom's property. Therefore, I'm dressed in royal garments.”

***

As we know, he had a grocery store. Once a policeman came and wrote him up for a real offense. R' Mordekhay turned to him and said, “Write, write, all this is going to fall on your head.” After the policeman folded the report, he took off his hat, which the policemen used as briefcases, put the report in it, put the hat back on his head, and was ready to leave. R' Mordekhay approached him and said, “Wasn't I right when I said that everything you write is going to be on your head?” The policeman, who understood the hint, started to laugh, removed his hat, took the report out, and tore it to pieces.

***

Once during a conversation, R' Mordekhay turned to Sore and asked her, “Tell me, Sore (he was the only one who addressed her, the honorable former rich woman, by her first name), why does almost every woman with a doubtful reputation donate a Torah scroll to the synagogue when she gets old?”

[Page 208]

“I don't know,” Sore answered.

R' Mordekhay continued, “It's very simple. She wants everything she did in her youth to be counted as if it had been done before the giving of the law, when she was allowed to do what she wanted.”

***

In our time, when Gershon Sirota was one of the greatest cantors in the world and Rozumny was one of the greatest Torah readers, Kopel Zinger was the cantor in Sore Di Osterer's synagogue. He was a handsome Jew who knew how to sing but wasn't rewarded with great wisdom. To Sore, who was related to Kopel, R' Mordekhay said, “Your Kopel is a sirota (orphan in Russian), but rozumny (wise in Russian) he'll never be.”

***

When R' Mordekhay argued with someone, he would be the first to attack his opponent, saying, “I have nothing to say to you, since you're a cripple.”

By doing so, he used the other person's weapon against him.

***

When we remember Vishnevets, which was full of Jewish hardship and suffering, we remember R' Mordekhay Kechum as our “Hershele Ostropoler [1],” and his image added an interesting color to the bouquet of special people in our town. He was a man who asked for little, overcame his troubles, and turned them into a source of humor.

 

Translator's Note:
  1. Hershel of Ostropol is a prominent figure in Jewish humor. He is based on a historic figure in Ukraine during the late 18th or early 19th century. return

 


[Page 209]

Gdalye “Gedoyle”

by Y. Ron

R' Gdalye was a simple Jew. He earned his living from tailoring and lived in poverty all his life. As a tailor, he wasn't one the best. He didn't sew clothes or uniforms; all his work was in mending. His job didn't pay well, and each day he had to work many hours to earn his bread from mending.

Like most people in our town, he had a nickname. I don't know why he was nicknamed Gedoyle; maybe it was because of the wordplay between that and Gdalye, or maybe it was because he emphasized the greatness of the Holy One in his prayers by emphasizing the words “great” and “greatness” in the text and purposely reading in the customary Ashkenazi way. [1]

Among the characters in our town, he was imbued with love and great charm. As a simple and poor man, he saw the spiritual need to do something of his own, bring redemption to the Jewish nation, and increase the Lord's glory through his hard labor.

R' Gdalye-Gedoyle was not a scholar. He found the paths of the prayers in his prayer book not through the correct meaning of the words, but through many years of routine and the arrangement of his prayer book, which had come to him as an inheritance and didn't leave his side for many years.

How could a Jew like R' Gdalye bring complete redemption when his recourses were few? He woke up early on the Sabbath, before the Creator of the world rose, washed his hands, got dressed, and went out into the street to wake the Jews up to worship God. The early morning hour of the Sabbath is an hour of sleep, and as it is known, "It is a joy to sleep on the Sabbath.” But it's not a time to sleep when you live in the Diaspora, and Jews should know that, and they'd better wake up and go pray. The Sabbath should be used for something substantial, a redeemer will come to Zion, and we will say amen.

In the stillness of the night, once every seven days, Gdalye's pleasant voice echoed with his extended melody, a melody that was full of sadness about the state of the nation, begging the nation to take its fate in its hands: “Yisrael, Yisrael, holy nation, please get up, please wake up to worship God; you were created for this.”

Where did he get the words? Where was the melody from? Nobody knew. But he always used the same version of the same melody. And his voice became stronger and was heard throughout the town streets as he walked around rousing people. And a miracle happened. A number of Jews woke up to the sound of his pleasant melody, listened to Gdalye's begging, came out into the street, and from there went to the synagogue on time.

Suddenly, as if according to a hidden arrangement, doors opened and shadows were seen, starting to make their way to the synagogue, ready for orders.

When Gdalye saw that everyone was awake, he also went into the synagogue. He sat in his corner as they did, because he also complied with his plea and the melody's demand. He “recited” Psalms, chattering “prayers before other prayers” and enjoying the atmosphere this created.

Maybe because of his great confidence in the nation of Israel's deliverance, or maybe because of his great innocence in believing that this was the way to draw it near and that a man must act according to his belief, maybe because of all that, R' Gdalye was great soul, and his nickname came from that.

 

Translator's Note:
  1. Gedoyle means great. return

 

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