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[Page 112]

Melamdim and Teachers

 

[Melamed = teacher in the kheder]

Sender the Melamed

by Ami

[Ami is one of the pen-names of Akiva Ben-Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]

 

gor112.jpg
Sender the Melamed

 

When a Horodetser hears the name Sender mentioned, his earliest childhood flicks in his mind like a cinema-movie. He was then wrapped in a praying shawl and brought to Sender's kheder. Sender was a short Jew who wore a talis-ko'tn [four cornered tasseled undergarment] and its tassels got tangled in between his legs.

One picture follows another: here he sits by a long table, in front of him the Aleph-Bet. The “angel” throws sometimes a coin and sometimes a candy, honey-cake or sponge-cake. Here he is a small kheder-child playing with other children in the garden, sometimes getting lashed with the “noodles”, sometimes getting “sick” not willing to go to the kheder. It seems like only yesterday: it is winter, it is cold outside and slippery, the children don't go home to eat dinner. Sender brings their small pots with food from their home, puts them in the oven to heat, they eat the barley soup, nibble on a piece of khale or bread, and they continue their lessons: komets aleph o, domets bet bo. Towards evening, Sender himself returns the children back home. A picture fades away and another appears instead: the children begin learning the khumash [five books; Pentateuch]. The book is Vayikra [the third book]. Why Vayikra? Because it starts with sacrifices that purify. If a Jewish boy starts with sacrifices, he becomes pure as well. Then there is eating, drinking and all are joyful.

Who among the Horodtsers did not go through Sender's kheder? Sender himself was very satisfied with that, although he often said: “Dear God, let me have at least one year without being a melamed.” His wish was indeed granted. The last year before his death, he was already weak and old (he was about eighty years old when he died).

I don't know whether Sender really meant it or rather joked about his wish, because he was a joker by nature. He used witticisms and used to joke even about himself.

Sender loved small children very much. He used to say: “When die, I want to be buried among the small children.” When he was asked: “Why among the small children and not near the Rabbi?” he would answer with a smile: “Simple, I want to be able to cheat them of the Friday bandes (boolkes) [baked rolls].”

Sender used to say about melamdim: “If a melamed does not get tshekhatke (tuberculosis) after one year of teaching – he is not a melamed…” Of course, he included himself among all the melamdim. It seems that Sander was a melamed, a baal-poel [with ability to convince, affect] because if not, he would not have stayed a teacher of the youngest children in Horodets, and have twenty children to teach without an aid.

Sender was also a distinguished person in the eyes of the State, and he was bestowed the rank of “dyesyatnic” whose duty was to notify who would be on guard, to watch that no fire broke in the shtetl, God forbid. Sender cherished that role quite strictly and did not discriminate between rich and poor. All were equal in his eyes. He had a very strong sense of justice and therefore he felt a strong hatred towards the Romanov [the Russian Tsar's family] government and love for the Poles. He was a great supporter of the Poles and hoped to live to see their independence.

As mentioned, Sender was a man of justice. For example, he could not stand it when a rich person would beg for a sniff of tobacco from a poor man. For this purpose he had two boxes – one for the rich men and the other for the poor. When a poor man asked him for a sniff of tobacco, he would offer him a box full of tobacco. However, when a rich man asked him for a sniff of tobacco, he offered him an empty box…

Sender also strove to help the economy of the Horodetser Jews – in his own way. If a cow stopped producing milk, or if she was doomed, people used to come to Sender, to “talk” her out of it. Sender did it willingly and was very happy with his good deed.

When Sender became old and his beard started to be grey, he said: “It is already spring. It is blooming. My beard is also blooming.”

Because of his making jokes, many things were ascribed to Sender. Thus they said in Horodets that when thunder is heard - Sender hides in a heap, or drinks castor oil with bread. There is no limit to what was said! Who then saw it all? Let us rather say things that we, ourselves, have seen or heard from Sender, the melamed of small children in Horodets, forty years ago. May he be an intercessor on behalf of all of us. [that is, in heaven].


[Page 114]

Shmuel the Cobbler

by Ami

[Ami is one of the pen-names of Akiva Ben-Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]

In Horodets, one's importance was not based on wealth or profession but on scholarship, especially Jewish scholarship. If one was a learned man it did not matter where he came from nor what his occupation was. In other words: Importance in itself was the main thing – composed of piety, honesty and being a man of letters. Actually, what Jew in Horodets was not a man of letters? If he did not know a page of Gemara, he knew a chapter of mishnayes [collection of post biblical laws; part of the Talmud], or at least a verse in khumash [first 5 books of the bible] with Rashi's commentary. Everybody understood the meaning of the words in the prayer book, except for one Jew who was not from Horodets who mumbled his prayer.

That is why there were no separate Bote-Medro'shim [study houses where people used to pray as well] for craftsmen like in other shtetles because all people were almost equal.

That was indeed the reason why in Horodets the Rov [Orthodox Rabbi] could be a cobbler's son, or the son of a blacksmith, as long as he was a great scholar and an honest Jew.

For the same reason it was possible that a Jew who was a cobbler for many years, became later a melamed [teacher in Kheider], and that was not a drawback. One remark – he was called “cobbler” to the end of his life.

Shmuel the Cobbler was born in Pinsk. His father was a Jewish scholar and a merchant of grain. His barges sailed with grain on the Dnieper to many big towns. Once, a big storm sank his seven barges with the grain. He became poor. He ate his heart out and died. Shmuel was then still a child. As an orphan, without a father, he walked about in the town. From time to time he went into the besmedresh where the young men were sitting and studying and they let him study with them. He had a head on his shoulders and a good memory and these came in handy. When the young men learned to read the Torah, he would hold the Tikun Korim and this is how he learned how to read the Torah. [Tikun Korim is a book showing a sample of the text as it looks in the Torah Scroll, with the special font and all the traditional vocalization signs, and by its side the transliteration showing how the text should be read.]

When Shmuel became 20 years old, he figured that he should make some living and plan for his future. So, he studied to become a cobbler. After working with a cobbler for 12 weeks he soon became an independent cobbler.

 

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Shmuel the Cobbler

 

In Horodets, Shmuel had a half brother from a different father, whose name was Tankhum Ber. He found Shmuel a match - Lipshen, daughter of Mikhl the tailor. Shmuel married her and settled in Horodets as a cobbler, was in charge of some workers and made a living. However, Shmuel the cobbler was drawn to the besmedresh more than to cobbling and since his house was opposite the besmedresh, he used to drop in, every day, before prayers, to study a chapter of mishnayes. In between Minkhe [afternoon prayer] and Mayrev [evening prayer] he studied a small part of Ein-Yaakov [a compilation of all the legendary material in the Talmud, with commentaries]. When he had some free time he would drop in midday too, and take a look at a book. He knew the Bible by heart.

On Sabbath, it was a great pleasure for him to entertain a guest, a well-read Jew, have some learned discussion with him, hear from him a good word – a literal interpretation or a non-literal interpretation – and celebrate real enjoyment-of- the Sabbath. After all, regrettably, could he learn anything from the cobbler's thread?…

This is how Shmuel the cobbler did his job. He was more in the besmedresh than by the cobbler's last and he was more adept at studying than at cobbling. Younger cobblers, better craftsmen than him, sprang up and he found it difficult to make a living. These younger cobblers held Shmuel in respect and approached him with an offer to become the melamed of their children. Naturally, he accepted their offer and became a melamed. He taught the children from the Aleph-Bes to Khumesh [first 5 books of the bible] with Rashi's commentary. This is how Shmuel became a melamed. Term after term, year after year, he was teaching the children of Horodets, until the death of Yosl Pines, the shames of Horodets. It occurred to the landlords of the community that there could not be a better shames than Shmuel: a Jew who can study, read the Torah, knows how to keep books in order, can also pray at the synagogal lectern and lives exactly opposite the besmedresh. Thus, Shmuel became a shames in his old age. Here he felt at home (like a fish in water). He could actually sit and study as well.
[The dictionary defines the shames as a beadle, sexton in synagogue, Rabbi's personal assistant. His tasks are various – from knocking on the wooden windows to waking up people for prayer, to lighting the candles in the synagogue and to closing up after the last men has finished praying.]

This was the small world in which Shmuel the cobbler-melamed-shames lived until the first world war. When the besmedresh was burned down, Shmuel left for Antipolye where his two daughters were living. He died at the age of 76, 10th of Sivanתרע”ז [1917]. May he rest in Eden.


[Pages 115-117]

Chayim Itzik's

[Chayim son of Itzik]

by Ami

[Ami is one of the pen-names of Akiva Ben-Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]

[Yiddish words used in the text: melamed=teacher in Kheyder; kheyder= traditional Jewish religious school; rebe= Hasidic rabbi; balebatim=plural of Balebos=proprietor, owner, host, master, landlord. It has the connotation of a man of means.]

 

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Chayim Itzik's

 

When a child, aged 6-7, from Horodets, was asked “where do you learn?” He immediately answered: “by Chayim-Itzik”. The truth of the matter is that this melamed's name was Chayim Itzik's, which means in Yiddish: Chayim, the son of Itzik. The small children mistakenly distorted the name Chayim Itzik's into Chayim-Itzik, and this name prevailed over fifty years. Old and young knew Chayim Itzik's, the short Jew with the long reddish beard: Cheerful, lively with a heart full of warmth for children and adults.

Chayim Itzik's, was a Kobriner Hasid, and truly a fervent Hasid. Without the Rabbi he did not make a move. He traveled to the Rabbi for Rosh-Hashanah and Yom-Kippur and just like that - in the middle of the year.

In Chayim Itzik's kheyder the pupils had already learnt Khumesh [first 5 books of the bible]. It was also possible that they began “Lekakh Tov” [homiletic interpretation of the khumesh]. Chayim Itzik's used to teach according to the portion of the week, sometimes more and sometimes less.

In Chayim Itzik's kheyder the children used also to write. They started with the Aleph-Bet, and at the end, when a pupil had already mastered all the letters, back and forth, he wrote on a fir-ksav [practice sheet with written text] with the following text: “God willing, after Sabbath, portion 'life of Sarah' there would be a fair”. The pupils copied, tracing the written text for many weeks, until the practice sheet was torn. Afterwards, the Rabbi would write another fir-ksav similar to the first one, and again the pupils would trace the written text again and again.

Chayim Itzik's never learned pedagogy, but to a certain degree he was a pedagogue, who understood the physical and mental structure of the child. For example, he nailed a strip of wood between two legs of the table so that the children could rest their feet on it. He set the inkwells in sardine-cans and fastened them one to the other so that the children would not overturn them.

Chayim Itzik's teaching was done sweetly, with singing. (Chayim Itzik's had a beautiful voice. He was also a cantor.)

The children are sitting around a long table. There are noodles on the table. The rebe himself prepared them. A small lamp hangs over his head and Chayim Itzik's teaches the portion “vayekhi”. Here comes the verse: “And as for me, when I came from Padan” [Genesis 48;7]…where Yaakov apologizes to Joseph for having buried his mother, Rachel, in the middle of the field. The rebe's eyes become misty and in a low voice he begins: “Ve'ani” – and I, “Yaakov” – Although I bother you with my burial, I did not do the same for your mother Rachel. I did not bury her in “me'arat ha'makhpela' [cave of Machpelah], and she was not even carried to Beth-Lehem. But all this is according to God's order. When Nevuzaradan will expel and exile the Jews, they will pass along Rachel's burial place, and Rachel will rise up crying out and weeping and asking for mercy. A voice from heaven will answer: “Yesh sakhar li'fe'ulatekh” – [Jeremiah 31;15-16] thy work shall be rewarded, and thy children shall come again to their own border.” [see the musical notations at the end of the article]

At the last words the eyes of the rebe become moist and the children start crying. The childish hearts know why they are crying; They and their parents are in exile.

Upon entering the kheyder, children already knew that the Jews were in exile. It was not permitted to rejoice like non-Jews. Inside the kheyder, above the door, there was a naked part of the wall – stripped oft the wall-paper that covered the walls of the room – a dark area, a reminder of the destruction.

At every opportunity, the rebe introduced the subject of the exile, and that the Messiah son of David would come and the Jews would return to Eretz-Yisrael, and we would have again kings such as King David and his son King Solomon.

King Solomon was the symbol of wisdom, wealth and prophecy. This, the rebe explained clearly when he taught “The Song of songs” before Passover. Chayim Itzik's raised his voice and chanted:
“The Song of Songs” – that is: the song of all songs. All the songs are holy but this song is even holier. All songs are from a king. This song is from a king, son of a king, a prophet son of a prophet, a wise man son of a wise man. “Asher Li-Shlomo” [of Solomon] – that means: that shalom [peace] of the whole world belongs to him. [Solomon in Hebrew is “Shlomo” and the word “peace” in Hebrew is “Shalom”].

Chayim Itzik's loved peace like life. If someone offended him, he did not quarrel with that man. He was only cross with the offender, and did not talk to him. There were several balebatim with whom he was cross. One of them was Ephrayim Itzel. What was he sore about?

This is the story: Poor men frequent the shtetl. When you give them a groshen it is quite a big sum. However, not everybody is “a gevir” [rich-man] who can afford to give a whole groshen to every poor man. So, what is the solution? That a poor man will be given nothing?.. The old Rabbi, R' Yehoshua Yaakov, devised the following solution: He wrote on small pieces of paper “half G”P [half groshen] charity for the poor, here in Horodets”. People used to buy from the Rabbi the half groshens in order to be able to give charity to the poor. When a poor man finished begging from door to door he would come to the Rabbi with the “coins” to exchange them for real groshens. When the old Rabbi passed away, Chayim Itzik's took upon himself this “bank-business”.

[Ben-Ezra's comments: G”P (ג”פּ) means “Polish Groshen” (look up “Registry of Council of Four Lands” by Y. Halpern, p. 538; “Registry of the Land of Lita” by Shimon Dubnov p.342). One gilden equaled 30 groshens. In short: “half G”P means: half a groshen. Such half groshens were in circulation also in the neighboring shtetls such as Motele (look up R' Mordkhe'le “My shtetl Motele” registry B' p. 23). In the old times they used to give the poor a pru'te [small change coin] that was drawn on a piece of parchment or engraved on tin and its value was equal to a third of a groshen. In later years they “upgraded” it to half a groshen]

Ephrayim Itzel envied Chayim Itzik's “bank-business” and produced coins as well. This “competing” ended in their not being on speaking terms.

 

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Facsimile of Ephrayim Itzil's coin

 

Chayim Itzik's held these coins in a separate small box and this box was stored in a locked desk drawer. So, in the locked desk drawer a whole treasure was stored. The drawer contained also separate boxes: for cheap tobacco, paper for rolling cigarettes, money collected for Eretz-Israel, a few wallets with documents and a pocket knife that Chaim Itzik's used for carving pointers. Chayim Itzik's was a master producer of pointers. On the side lay a bone-pointer that he carved all by himself. This pointer was flattened almost like a knife and was used for a different assignment, quite dignified. The pupils preferred this pointer to the one that Chayim Itzik's held in his hand, because with this particular pointer the Rabbi used to scrape the halva that got stuck to the paper and give to the kids, so that it did not go to waste. It is after all Jewish money. Let a child have a taste of halva with bread…

Chayim Itzik's did not want to benefit from what belonged to others, even the light of candles. Every child, by turns, used to bring a pound of gasoline so that there would be enough light during learning in the winter nights. Right after 8 o'clock in the evening, when the children put on their clothes to go home – he would light his own lamp and put out the lamp that was filled with the gasoline that the children had brought.

Chayim Itzik's did not let the children go home alone. He used to accompany them to their homes. And, if a child happened to be sick or when the snow or mud were deep, he would come to the pupil's home and teach him so that the child would not waste Torah-learning-time, and so that Jewish money would not be wasted.

The kids learned – some more and some less –day after day, in winter from 9 o'clock in the morning till 8 o'clock in the evening and in summer from 9 in the morning until the cows returned from the pasture. Then the children were free to go home. However, on Friday, the children were free from 12 noon. They had to wash their hair and prepare for the Sabbath. Chayim Itzik's, on the other hand, did not become free even on Friday after midday. That is when his real work began. He ate a bite, changed his clothes, took his white clean sack on his shoulders and went from door to door. Everybody knew the purpose of his coming: for khalas [twist bread] for the poor. When the housewives were baking their khalas, they baked a bulke [roll] for Chayim Itzik's and Friday, after midday, they put that in his sack. He carried the rolls to whoever was in need, quietly and discreetly, somewhat like charity given in secret.

Jokers used to say that Chayim Itzik's walked with the sack because he wished to secure for himself a hesped [funeral oration] after 100 years. However destiny was such that he died in the midst of the flaming WW1, when people died like flies, without funeral orations or even an honorable funeral for such a quiet unassuming man such as Chayim Itzik's. May he rest in the Garden of Eden.


[Pages 117-118]

Yankl Kodliner

by Ami

[Ami is one of the pen-names of Akiva Ben-Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]


[kheyder =traditional Jewish religious school.
Yenuka” [from Aramaic: baby. It was the nickname given to the chief Hasids when they earned their status before 13 years of age, such as Rabbi Shlomo from Karlin.
Besmedresh =the study house, where people used to pray as well
Shtiebl = a small Hasidic prayer house
Misnogdim = opponents to the Hasidic movement
Shimenesre=18 blessings said by Jews in the three daily prayers]

Kodlin was a village not far from Horodets. A hundred years ago Jewish families settled in that village. Because of the mean gentiles who occupied the village of Kodlin, the Jews moved away from that village. Indeed, that village was known for its mean gentiles, and Jews used to steer clear of that village. They would rather lengthen their way than travel through Kodlin. So, Kodlin became devoid of Jews. Kodlin became a synonym for cruelty and hatred of Jews. Since Kodlin was devoid of Jews, people used to say of someone who was growing up an ignoramus: “He will be a Rabbi in Kodlin”.

Yankl Kodliner was born in Kodlin when Jews sere still living there. However, he lived most of his life in Horodets. Since he came from Kodlin, he was called Yankl Kodlinder. However, the name Yankl Kodliner was mentioned with respect. Both Hasidim and Misnogdim had high regard for Yankl Kodliner. He knew how to study a page of Gemore [part of the Talmud]. He was blessed with a beautiful voice and was a man about town. In addition, he was good looking. He was tall, chubby, with a silvery-white beard, had a pair of clever eyes and a smile on his lips.

However, in kheyder his smile was gone. There he was completely serious. He sat at the head of the long table and on his two sides sat ten children. On the table there was a long polke [shelf] to enable him to reach to the far end of the table as well. He taught children-khumesh [first 5 books of the bible] and also other books of the Bible, such as Joshua and Judges. He also taught how to write “azbuke” [Russian Alphabet], write down a Russian address, and a letter in Yiddish. Yankl Kodliner was considered a strict melamed [teacher in Kheyder] but good and successful.

Having finished teaching, he became a different man – a sweet, loving man. He liked to coin a phrase, tell a story about the old Stoliner Rabbi, the “young Rabbis” and sometimes about the “yenuka”. When Yankl Kodliner finished his work at the kheyder, he took his cane and walked slowly along “The Street” and thus, strolling, he reached and entered the besmedresh and sat down to study.

Yankl Kodliner was a distinguished person in the Stoliner shtiebl. He was the reader of the Torah and often was the reader of the extension of the morning prayer [Musef] on Sabbath or Holidays, but not on the High Holidays. On the High Holidays he used to read the extension prayer in the besmedresh and in the synagogue of the Misnogdim. In truth, he was not so fond of praying with the “crowd” as they did not blow the shofar during the silent shimenesre and they lacked the Stoliner enthusiasm. However, what doesn't one do to make a living? The few rubles will be useful.

Yankl Kodliner's Misnogdim-like conduct was not to the liking of the Stoliner Hasids. However, it is not allowed to speak ill of a Jew. He probably needed it. Who would dig into somebody else's pocket?

Indeed, the Misnogdim derived pleasure from the fact that Yankl Kodliner prayed with them on the High Holidays and they had a taste of his “ke'vakarat” [from the prayer of “Netaneh Tokef”, eve of Yom Kippur] or “l'el orekh din” [from a hymn on Rosh Hashanah], etc.

When Yankl Kodliner started chanting during prayers in the Misnogdim's besmedresh, he used to jump a bit, instinctively, like a Stoliner Hasid. The congregation really liked it. Not just one of them came home and told his wife: “How did you like Yankl Kodliner's “Ha'okhez b'yad” [hymn on High Holidays]?

Others tried to imitate Yankl Kodliner's gestures, bounce, and hand-swing. Mostly, he impressed the children who used to pray in the besmedresh and they imitated him quite well.

 

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Yankl Kodliner

 

When a child returned home from the besmedresh, he would take a handkerchief, cover with it his head, like a praying shawl and “pray” like Yankl Kodliner. His parents would watch him melting with delight: “He is growing to be a Yankl Kodliner”.

Yankl Kodliner's name is indeed engraved in the memory of many Horodetsers. May he put in a good word for us.


[Pages 119-120]

A Melamed-Merchant

[melamed=teacher in Kheyder]

by Ami

[Ami is one of the pen-names of Akiva Ben-Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]

[Besmedresh =the study house, where people used to pray as well
Ein Yaakov =a compilation of all the legendary material in the Talmud together with commentaries
kheyder =traditional Jewish religious school.
Misnogdim = opponents to the Hasidic movement
Shtiebl = a small Hasidic prayer house
Shimenesre=18 blessings said by Jews in the three daily prayers
Yenuka” =from Aramaic: baby. It was the nickname given to the chief Hasids when they earned their status before 13 years of age, such as Rabbi Shlomo from Karlin.]

In the shtetl he was called Alter Shefe's. [son of Shefe]. Old and Young knew him as Alter Shefe's. Not only Jews associated with him. Even gentiles of Horodets and the surroundings had dealings with him.

First of all he was a melamed. Not just a melamed of small children, but rather of Gemore [part of Talmud]. What child did not at one time or another come to be Alter Shefe's' pupil?

It should not be forgotten that the page of Gemore had to be mastered by Friday. Really, who can forget such an event?

And what about the portion of the week [in the Bible], with two portions of Rashi? All in all, they all knew Alter Shefe's the melamed.

And who did not know about Alter Shefe's' kvass? They called it “khlyevene”, but it was not produced from bread. Eight ingredients went into the production of the kvass. (what ingridients? That was Alter Shefe's' secret). Owners of taverns as well as inhabitants used to buy this kvass, and gentiles also came on Sundays or during fairs to revel with Alter's kvass. It was dirt-cheap – only two kopeks for the bottle. And who did not taste Alter's kvass during his lifetime?

Alter Shefe's was not satisfied with merely producing a cheap drink. He produced also a quite classy drink, a drink proper for Kiddesh [benediction over the wine] and for Havdole [ceremony at the close of the Sabbath]. This drink he made from raisins. Business was at peak before Passover. That is when he brought into his house the wine that he had made in other people's houses, so that he would not be caught. There were three types of wine: 80 kopeks for cheap wine, a ruble and 20 kopeks for medium grade wine, and a ruble and 50 kopeks for the selected wine. There was much noise, fuss and commotion in the house and storehouse: tasting the wine, passing criticism or judgment, bargaining, collecting 'bunkes' [Russian: banka = jar] bottles, paying some money, registering the rest in the log book, and business goes on.

 

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R' Alter Shefe's (Elman)

 

However, Alter Shefe's did not become rich from all these sources of income. He had a wife who endowed him every two years with a boy or a girl, and he needed money. What should he do?

He opened a small grocery store: a little lime, brushes, salt, herring, and a roll with kvass – all the items that a gentile cannot do without.

However, where does one get the gentile customer, when every other house has one or two grocery stores?

A Jew always manages: more fairs should be held in Horodets. The two fairs – one before Shavuot and one in the middle of summer are not enough. A fair should be held once a month so that the gentiles would come to Horodets from the surrounding villages and it would be possible on this occasion to charge some money. Alter and Shmuel Chayim hit on an idea, got a signed document that they must have fairs, got a loan from the Karovke [from the Polish word for a cow, a tax on meat] (never to return) to give the ispravnik [police officer] of Kobryn, the pristaw [police commissioner in Czarist Russia] of Antipolye, and the uriadnik [police constable] of Horodets. A fair was held. Indeed, every “perve” [first of the month], and Horodets came to life a little bit.

In truth, before the fairs were established, people clamored: 'It will be worse, they will be in charge of footwear, tailoring, etc., and the local craftsmen will be affected”. However, Alter Shefe's was right. The fairs were sources of income to the shtetl.

Despite that, there were not yet enough livelihoods: one must have clothes, a child grows up and must be sent to the bigger town to learn some trade. Alter searched for an additional income. Admittedly this income was not a daily income, but it brought in a few rubles, and even though it was once a year, it was clean, neat, and truly Jewish – handling of esrogs [citron over which blessings are said during the Sukkoth holiday].

Alter Shefe's already had a “monopole” [exclusive control] over the citrons. The whole shtetl knew that Alter had the citrons, the Lulav [palm branch] and a variety of myrtle branches.

The business of the citrons was a blessing for Alter Shefe's pupils. It was not unusual for some pupils to want to study with Alter Shefe's just because of the citrons. Right after Yom Kippur, Alter Shefe's travelled to Kobryn and stayed there until the eve of Sukkoth. All this time they were exempted from studying. Anything goes: they could go wherever they liked, they could do whatever they felt like doing, and had the time of their life.

It can be said that even in the middle of the year it was also not so bad to be Alter Shefe's' pupils. He was not a strict teacher, he did not beat them like other teachers and discipline was not so intense. From time to time the rebe goes out for a few minutes to take down something from the shelf to hand to his wife Dvoyre, or help her in the grocery store. All of a sudden he is told that the collector of tax on spirits is around, and the wine must be cleared away, and the children are having fun.

Alter Shefe's prayed in the Karliner shtiebl, but it cannot be said that he was a devout Karliner Hasid. Well, he honored the Rabbi but he was far from traveling to Stolin.

Was he just estranged from Hasidism or simply did not have the time or money for the travel to Stolin? Possibly – both… He was always occupied, never had the time. He barely made it to the shtiebl for the evening prayer. It was quite dim when he hastened into the shtiebl and his mind was whirling*. It is not a trivial thing. A wife, children, a cow, a kheyder, a shop, kvass, rolls and so on. Here he must go to the kheyder to study with Kive'le [Akiva Ben Ezra, probably] mishnayes, Ein Yaakov and here this “only son”, Kive, desires to study Daniel with interpretation of the Melbim [acronym of R' Meir Leibush son of Michal – a great interpreter of the Bible]. He has this urge because the Melbim discloses the end of the exile, the coming of the messiah and Kive craves for the end of exile. He wants already to know when the Temple will be rebuilt. Browsing the Melbim must be a prerequisite before sitting with Kive to study. Kive is likely to raise questions and he must be prepared to answer them.

All in all, Alter Shefe's is very busy. He was always in a hurry as if in a race, until WW1 outraced him and he was left without a livelihood. He barely pulled through during the years of the war and came with his family to America. Here he continued teaching for his living, and had more time to study a page of Gemore.

We wish him that he will live many more years in health and derive pleasure from his children and pupils.

*[The Yiddish idiom used in this context was: “Oon der Kazirak iz fardreit” = and the eye-shade of the hat was turned the other way”

I found only one man, 90 years old, who remembers this idiom from his youth in Belarus. The word Kaziriok in Russian means the eye-shade part of a hat (casquette) and it was pronounced in Yiddish as Kazirak. The old man told me that when someone mixed things up, or acted in a confused way, they said that he wore his hat with the Kaziriok turned the other way, to the back…]


[Page 120-122]

R' Shimon Izik

by Ami

[Ami is one of the pen-names of Akiva Ben-Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]

gor121.jpg
R' Shimon Izik

 

Shimon Izik was famous. When one said: “he is a pupil of Shimon Izik” it meant that the pupil learned also writing, Hebrew and grammar. He was the only melamed in shtetl who taught “Pakod Pakadti” [Exodus 3;16] and translation into Hebrew. This was program for each day: 9 o'clock in the morning the pupils - around 10 or 12 - sit down around the long table. R' Shimon Izik sat at the head of the table with the pupils on both sides. Along the length of the table lay the long “falke” (stick). They started studying khumesh [5 first books of Bible]. In Izik's kheyder they learn it in the regular order, and with a melody that pervaded all organs. It simply made the pupils crave to learn and learn. R' Shimon Izik had a separate melody for the Bible and a special one for Isaiah. Whoever once learned Isaiah at Shimon Izik's kheyder - possibly had forgotten the words, but the sweet lovely Isaiah-melody he never forgot. It became dear to the heart and to the soul and it accompanied him wherever he wandered or migrated to new lands.

After having studied a few hours khumesh, singularly or in pairs or the whole class together - they went to have lunch. This also took an hour. The pupils went to their homes and so did the Rabbi. The Rabbi walked slowly, watching how the pupils walked, or perhaps ran. Running is not a Jewish trait, and especially when you go out of a kheyder because it may seem as if you run away from the Torah. This is not showing respect.

When the pupils had already finished their lunch, they returned soon to the kheyder. However, the Rabbi was not back yet. R' Shimon Izik was not in a hurry. The hour was not over yet. Meanwhile, he chatted with Motye Karlinsky on the latter's porch. Sometimes another man was there on the porch, and they chatted about politics.

Shimon Izik was wholly politic-oriented. He reads the “bleter” [= newspaper]. Politics was his life. Here he expressed his knowledge and experience. He presented facts from the far and near past and especially from Perekrest. First and foremost - Perekrest. Perekrest here and Perekrest there. “In Perekrest they said so and so”, in Perekrest this and that is doomed”. One might think that Perekrest was a large city, somewhat like Warsaw or Paris. The truth, however, was that Perekrest was just a farm near the river, a few miles away from Horodets and Shimon Izik was a melamed over there for a few years, and over there he had acquired “the seven wisdoms” from the various merchants who used to come to trade.

After having talked about this farm for half an hour on the porch, R' Shimon Izik returned to his “rascals” (that is how he nicknamed his pupils). When the pupils heard that the Rabbi was approaching, they sat down around the table as usual, pretending that they had been rehearsing diligently. Truly, they had been turning the room upside down before the arrival of the Rabbi, or had been playing with sticks or another game in the alley next to the kheyder. One of the children was on guard, turned the eyeshade of his hat to the back and lying down stealthily by the entrance to the alley, could hear whether the Rabbi was approaching. The moment he saw from far off that the Rabbi was approaching the alley, he ran back as swiftly as an arrow. That was the signal that the Rabbi was coming and the pupils must appear disciplined.

Afternoon was the time for writing. Shimon Izik had two classes - a bigger and a smaller one. When one class was learning, the other class was writing, and vice versa. Here the Rabbi taught how to write Hebrew. He held in his hand the “Translator” by Inditzki, and said in Yiddish: “The horses stand in their stall” and one of the boys translated it into Hebrew. Then the Rabbi said in Yiddish: “My brother is big and your brother is small” and another pupil, next in row, translated it into Hebrew. All the pupils of this class wrote in their notebooks the translated sentences.

Leaving one class to write, the Rabbi turned to the second class to teach them from a Hebrew book. Shimon Izik was not a big picker of books. All books were fine as long as one knew how to use them for teaching and learning. Sometimes he used “A Living Language” and other times he used “Talking Hebrew” by Krinsky, or the “Hebrew School” by Grazovski. Every story or poem the children had to learn by heart, word by word, or else they might get a smack. Shimon Izik was not one of the melamdim who hit children. However, one could not get off cheaply. What for was the long stick lying there on the table? It was not there for decoration. And for what purpose did God give the melamed a pair of hands? - Hopefully not for actual use. Shimon Izik had another kind of a punishment (to avoid hitting them). It could not be called a slap and it was not a smack with the stick. It was dealing with the boys “in a calm” way. However, whoever was lucky to “get it” from the Rabbi, and especially those who sat near the Rabbi, felt the taste of it. In plain language, they called it a poke. Shimon Izik's poke had a taste of its own. Here is the reason:

When Shimon had to enlist, he had himself maimed. They removed/dislocated part of the middle finger of his right hand so that this finger - usually longer than the rest - became the same length as the fingers on both sides. When Shimon Izik used to close his right hand, the middle part of the middle finger protruded above the other fingers. With this he poked the children.

Still, they loved being in R' Shimon Izik kheyder because it was organized. Every unit of studies lasted one hour. The best hour was when they learned Isaiah. Shimon Izik had a special love for Isaiah and he transferred this love to his pupils. This “highlight” they learned in summer in the early evening and in winter evenings until 9 o'clock. When God helped and the watch was slow, they went home around half past nine without any word of complaint. Between the first of the month of Kheshvan up to first of the month of Adar [approximately between October and February] learning took place in the evenings except during Christmas and Hanukkah. During Hanukkah the Rabbi was not very strict. He used to play Chinese checkers with the children, “goats and a wolf”, and pretended he did not see when someone made his dreidl spin. However, on other days they learned, exercised and rehearsed or practiced writing. In winter there were almost no days off, except half a day on Ta'anit Ester [Fast of Esther and on Purim eve] and Purim. Therefore, in summer the pupils got a few days off that other pupils in other kheyders did not have such as: 15th Sivan - the joyful jubilation of the old Karlins [the Hassids of Karlin], the 15th of Av - the joyful celebration of the younger Rabbis when the Hassidim of Stollin were throwing their banquets. Shimon Izik was very honored at such celebrations. First of all he was a Hassid of Stollin and what Stolliner would not attend the banquet? Second, Shimon Izik was a drummer. Stollin-Hassidim were not content with just eating and drinking and telling stories about their Rabbi. They sing and at the same time dance. How could a dance take place without a musical instrument? And if no other instrument was available, a drum was also good enough. Shimon Izik had a claim to the drum at every Stolliner celebration such as: Saturday night after havdole [ceremony at the close of the Sabbath], after the prayer for the “renewal” of the moon, at the close of a Holiday, a jubilation, etc.

When Shimon Izik held the drum in his hand, he forgot everything: his sick wife, his daughter who should already get married, his “rascals”, the world politics and even Perekrest. He hit the drum with concentration performing a composition by Mendelssohn.

I don't know if Shimon Izik knew about the composer Mendelssohn, but he did know a lot about the composer's grandfather - Moshe Mendelssohn - the father of the Enlightment movement. In the kheyder, in a corner near the door, stood a cantor's desk. Below, under the topmost books lay Isaiah and Jeremiah with commentary. One could find there also “The Study of the Hebrew Language” by Ben-Ze'ev, a Hebrew-Yiddish dictionary and a few annual publications of “Small World” that he had brought along from his pupil in Perekrest. Besides the cantor's desk and the long table with the benches on both sides, there was nothing else in the room. As a matter of fact, it was the women's section of the Stolliner Shtibl [a small Hasidic prayer house] that was separated from the Shtibl by a small screen between the stove and the window. This screen did not reach the ceiling so that the voice of the cantor would be heard by the women. Across the length, in the middle, another screen enclosed an apartment for the shames [attendant]. There, in the narrow kheyder Shimon Izik taught his “rascals” who grew up to be fine and proud men who remembered with respect the name of their Rabbi Shimon Izik.


[Page 122]

R' Asher

by Ami

[Ami is one of the pen-names of Akiva Ben-Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]

[In this article, in particular, the author often moves from the past tense to the present tense. I follow his way of writing]

It can be said about Asher that he was a born melamed [teacher in Kheyder]. When he was quite young, twelve years old, he was already a melamed in a village. He was the only small kid to study together with grown up youth, twice as big as he was. He was still a student and yet had to continue learning, but he was already a melamed. Who was to blame for that? Not his father, R' Avraham-Yosl, and not his mother, Shifra, a descendent of melamdim, but the bitter economic circumstances.

Asher was thirsty for learning. He wished to become a scholar like his brother, R' Chayim-Mendl, who was well known as a great scholar and a Stoliner-Hasid and who, because of his great Hasidism did not accept a rabbinate-position. If he could not be like his older brother, he wished to be at least like his other brother, Ezra, who taught Gemara to the Rozenblatts, the manufacturers of Lodz.

What did Asher do? He tied a rooster to his bed and early in the morning, when the rooster crowed, he sprang off his bed and started studying. Asher devoured all that fell into his hands, from a portion in the Bible with Rashi's commentary to a page of Gemara - all by himself. When he did not fully understand a certain issue, he used to re-read it and go over it several times.

Year after year, village after village, good and bad pupils, Asher studied by himself and with others until he was completely familiar with the whole Bible, could learn quite well all by himself a page of Gemara with tosfos [collective summation Rabbis elucidation of issues in the Talmud] and commentaries by the Maharsha [מהרש”א] and won a name for himself as a good melamed, not fooling around or letting his pupils fool around. [that is, treating his teaching very seriously].

 

gor123.jpg
R' Asher

 

Asher got married, his wife opened a grocery and Asher became a shop-keeper. However, Asher could not stay a shop-keeper. He was a descendent of scholars and not shop-keepers. So, he became a melamed in Horodets. He got ten or twelve children, rented a “kheyder” in Itsik's house - quite a large house - and started teaching. However, Asher is not like other melamdim. First of all, he drops the name Rebe and calls himself Reb Asher. ['Reb' means 'Mr.' while 'Rebe' is the title of a Hasidic Rabbi]. This is the way they address all Jewish men in Horodets. He thought that he had eliminate the distance between him and his pupils and not frighten them. Second, there was no “palke” [whip, lash] in his kheyder customarily used by melamdim. Third, there was no fear of Thursday like by other melamdim who taught one thing the whole week and Thursday every pupil had to know the lesson or else – alack! At Asher's kheyder it was possible to start studying a new matter each day provided they mastered the previous one. The pupils had to master their learning material forwards and backwards. And how can they master the material so well? Very simple. They repeat it so long until they know it. Repetition is considered by Asher to be the foundation of acquiring knowledge. Asher does not mean repetition in pairs or by the whole class together. Asher hardly had a class. Each pupil was a distinct class.

When a child was early in arriving at the kheyder Asher would tell him: “Sit down and memorize”. The boy would sit down, Asher besides him, and they would repeat the text. Another boy arrived – Asher would tell him to sit down and memorize.

When a boy knows his lesson as he should, he may go out to the courtyard and play. It does no harm. A child learns better after such an invigoration and his love for learning is even stronger. Asher knew this from practice. One should not overburden a child. A child remains a child. He needs to play. And not only playing helps learning but also singing and dancing.

It should not be forgotten that Asher was a Stoliner Hasid, with zeal and zest. A Stoliner Hasid serves God with joy. Teaching children God's Torah is serving God. And how does a Stoliner Hasid serve the Almighty above? –with dance and song. When Asher sees that the day of teaching is about to end and the children's learning has been blessed, he joins hands with his pupils and starts dancing with them. Asher believes that in this way he plants in his pupils his own Jewishness. It is not a trifle: a Stoliner melody and a Hasidic dance.

Asher planted love of God and his Torah by an additional means –teaching Proverbs. Proverbs is the book that Asher loves best. It is full of wisdom and moral code. If a child knows Proverbs by heart Asher is sure that he would be a good person and devoted to his mother and father.

Besides Proverbs, Asher taught Job as well. True, Job is quite difficult, but through studying the book of Job one becomes an educated Jew by drawing the

moral of the story of Job and his suffering. Quite often he used to study with the children Trey-Asar [the 12 Prophets besides Jesaia, Jeremiah and Ezekiel]. True, the “sfarbe” (twenty four)] nigun- did not fit the translation of the words [of Trey-Asar] but they still remained engraved in their hearts, as is written in Proverbs.

[The last sentence merits some clarification.
  1. “sfarbe”=twenty four relates to the 24 books of the bible: Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, First Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel (2 parts), Kings (2 parts), Last prophets: Jesaia, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Trey-Asar (12 prophet), then: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra & Nehemiah, Chronicles (two parts)]
  2. nigun=[usually Hasidic melody/song, with or without words. Here it is the melodious-intonation that accompanies reading in the Bible]
  3. Is written in Proberbs: Proverbs ch.3;3 “Write them upon the table of thine heart” ]
Asher was not satisfied with the commentaries of Rashi or “metzudat”. Before teaching a new chapter, he used to consult the “מלבי”ם” [well known commentator] as well, and here and there offered his own interpretation, according to the understanding of the pupil.

Asher did the same before he went to teach Gemara. He studied the issue on his own with all the commentators and afterwards taught it to his pupils. He used to teach certain tractates. His favorite tractate was Kidushin. He would not proceed to the next page before the pupils mastered the previous page. He taught the same page over and over so many times until the page became worn out. One page was mastered!

The pupils learned at Asher's but did not learn to write. Writing was learnt from a teacher. That involved an extra expenditure and not every father in Horodets had the means to pay separately for a melamed and a teacher. This is one of the reasons why Asher's kheyder became smaller and smaller. In the end he was forced to leave for America.

In America, too, in the land of opportunities, he became a melamed. His pupils include many sons of Rabbis, with whom he studies the Bible and Gemara.

We wish Asher, not a youngster anymore, many healthy years to produce many good pupils and serve God in the real Stoliner way.


[Page 124]

Yudl the Melamed

by Ami

[Ami is one of the pen-names of Akiva Ben-Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]
Melamed = teacher in kheyder. Besmedresh = house of study and prayer

 

gor124.jpg
Yudl the Melamed

 

Just looking at Yudl, one would say that “melamed” was not an appropriate title for him. Here comes a dignified and tidy Jew, walking slowly, deep in thought - like a philosopher. Who would guess he was a melamed?

Still, this is Yudl the melamed of Gemara: a slim man of medium-height with a small blond beard, wearing a short overcoat on his shoulders. He is on his way to eat lunch. He has finished teaching the boys a page of Gemara with tosfos [collective summation of Rabbis elucidation of issues in the Talmud], is tired and somewhat hungry, and he is walking from his “kheyder” located in “The Street”, to his house in the market place, to his Sure Bayle and his children.

Yudl the melamed was known as an interpreter who used logic and reason. He could tackle a difficult Ibn-Ezra [scholar in the Middle Ages excelling in philosophy, astronomy/astrology, mathematics, poetry, linguistics, and exegesis] and explain a geometric or algebraic problem. When one was burdened with an entangled business, one would approach Yudl for an advice. Yudl was also invited to serve as an arbitrator. In the besmedresh he had the last word. In the shtetl nothing was carried out without Yudl.

As a melamed, Yudl was a discipliner through and through. He established a strict discipline in his kheyder. The children were scared to death by him.

After lunch, Yudl returned to the kheyder. The children had already been sitting around a long table and he used to lie down for a while. The children would sit and write. A complete silence reigned in the kheyder - the Rabbi is asleep.

Those who attended Yudl's kheyder had a head for Gemara. He would not accept just any child. He was picky and his kheyder contained 8-10 pupils. The tuition fee that he charged was higher than was charged by other teachers. It was not a trifle teaching Gemara.

Yudl was not only a teacher of small children but also of grown-ups. On the wintery Friday nights he used to teach mishnayes [collection of post biblical laws; part of the Talmud] in the besmedresh to quite a large audience. Over there, sitting around a table, were balebatim [house-owners] who could learn a chapter of mishnayes. Craftsmen who could understand what was being taught, used to sit at the table as well, especially when Yudl eloquently expounded, using analogies from present and past. He started with the portion of the week, incorporating in it events of the week, and gradually approached the mishna that he finished teaching the previous week, and then the one he was preparing to teach. The listeners devoured every word that came out of Yudl's mouth. Sometimes Yudl would tell a story from the big city of New York, where he lived for about a year, and the listeners kept their mouth and ears open with full attention to all the details.

Once, Yudl let himself be persuaded by his family in New York, and traveled to America. He left his Sure Bayle to her dressmaking for women, left his children and went to the far America. However, he could not live there. That country was foreign to him and so was the way of living there, especially the boorish Jewish customs and the way they taught Kadish [prayer over the dead] and Kiddesh [benediction over the wine]. Little by little he peddled with wine and whisky and once in a while with a “tzetl” [lottery ticket] but he did not make a good living. He longed for Horodets, for his wife, children, pupils and Horodets community matters. So, Yudl returned to Horodets. True, he was only a short time in America, but he had much to tell about that “golden” country where even the stones were “treif” [non-kosher] and a genuine Jew should stay away from it. On every occasion, Yudl used to tell about America and its peculiar Jews.

Such was Yudl's life until WW1 broke out. That is when his pride and dignity were shattered. His house was burnt down and Yudl and his family went into exile. After the war he could not set up a kheyder and in his old age he turned up in a village as a melamed. His children grew up, some of them died, some departed for Argentina and Yudl with Sure Bayle were left poor and wretched. Who knows how they ended their life. May they rest in peace.


[Pages 125-127]

R' Asher David

by Ami

[Ami is one of the pen-names of Akiva Ben-Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]

R' Asher David was a lively man. He was a ritual slaughterer [shoykhet], a circumciser [moyel], a teacher in kheyder [melamed] and a cantor (the first two jobs – to make a living and the two others – because he loved them and considered them a mitzvah). Despite his two honorable jobs he was “almost” a poor man and lived sparingly. It is said: “almost a poor man” because the Jews in Horodets, especially the “sheyne” Jews, [the word means beautiful but it relates to their personality, distinction], used to smooth and cover up their poverty.

In addition, R' Asher David was a Stoliner Hasid, and with the small amount of money that he saved he used to travel to get to the Rabbi in Stolin on the second day of Succoth.

He was small in stature but he compensated for that with his energy. He did not walk. He ran with petite steps, fast, fast, as if he was afraid of being late for something… He would thus ran to the butcher shop to slaughter and from the butcher shop back to his kheyder and again start the overly chewed studying with the kids. With the same fast trotting he used to run to the shtiebl to pray, and Sabbath at dawn – to and from the cold ritual pool where he immersed himself before praying.

His kheyder consisted of Gemara boys who, as such, were more independent. It happened, not once, that he was called by a butcher to slaughter something. On such occasions the children studied by themselves or conducted a “reading”.

The number of pupils was small, about eighteen children, usually sons of Hasidic parents. They used to study the same page the whole week, and by Thursday they were supposed to know their lesson. And if not – Don't ask… That is why children who could not take a beating did not attend R' Asher David's kheyder.

Besides Gemara they studied also the portions of the week [section assigned for a week's reading in the bible], with Rashi's commentary. That was already easier as they were more familiar with the subject and also with the traditional elementary reading of Hebrew. When they studied the portions dealing with the building the Tabernacle, they actually caught their breath. R' Asher David exhibited his mastery of architecture and the pupils drew a great deal of pleasure. First, the Rabbi was not so strict and second, he was occupied with making the doorsteps and curtains of the Tabernacle. He used to take a few kerchiefs, spread them like the curtains mentioned in the Bible, and let the children hold them. He made the doorsteps from potatoes that were cut and fitted with all the details.

 

gor126.jpg
R' Asher David the Shoykhet
[the ritual slaughterer]
Drawn by the deceased well-known
painter Eliyes M. Grossman

 

When they learned how the camps were moved in the desert, he exhibited his knowledge once more. The children forgot that they were sitting in R' Asher David's kheyder and were carried by their imagination far away in the desert with the banners, and only the pillar of fire was missing or a cloud above their heads. R' Asher David did not devote himself to teaching hand-writing. In the beginning of the year he wrote a fir-ksav [practice sheet with written text] and the pupils had to write over it again and again until the sheet was torn. I still remember the first rows of that fir-ksav as follows:

“To my master, father, the Rabbinical nobleman, I hope, with God's help, that my studying will not be a parched rock”. It is doubtful that each father was a Rabbi or a nobleman, or that every pupil realized this hope. Generally, Asher David's pupils kept on studying, some - more than others.

As was mentioned, R' Asher David was a ritual slaughterer. When he was offered to perform the ritual, he became jolly and studied with the kids with great enthusiasm. However, when, God forbid, after working for some hours on the lungs, the Rabbi found some flaw in the ritual to declare the meat treyf [non-kosher], he was sad. Then he taught with no zest and was mournful as if he lost something… He mourned the butcher's loss and felt that he was to blame for it, even though the flaw was Heaven's will.

Although he was very busy, he found time to study a page of Gemara every day, and also a chapter of mishnayes [collection of post biblical laws; part of the Talmud] in between the afternoon and evening prayers. He liked to pray next to the cantor's desk as a leader in prayer - mainly the extensions of the morning prayers on Rosh-Hashanah and Yom-Kippur – and it was a cause for the outbreak of disputes in the Karliner shtiebl. He poured so much heart and soul into his prayer that it was a mystery how such an overwhelming enthusiasm and energy emerged from such a small body. He pronounced each word sharp and clear, so that even the ignorant could understand. During the prayer of 'shimenesre' [18 –main prayer on weekdays during the 3 daily prayers, said quietly, standing up with legs fastened together] he stood on his feet longer than others. He moved heaven and earth especially during the circular procession with the Torah on Simkhes To'yre [joy of finishing the year's reading cycle of the Torah]. When he danced, the floor under his feet was blazing, and he swept others with his enthusiasm. It seemed as if Asher David wished, through his transcendence, to be carried to Stolin for the circular procession, close to the “Yenuka” [from Aramaic: “baby”. It was the nickname given to their chief Hasids when they earned their status before 13 years of age, such as Rabbi Shlomo from Kalin].

R' Asher David was a real “Stoliner” Hasid. He was a “Stoliner” to the core. Even his family name was Stolinsky because this is what he wished for: “A Stoliner Hasid should call himself Stolinsky”.

He was a strict and meticulous Jew. He was fastidious about not touching what belonged to others as well as about others not touching what belonged to him. He was really fastidious…

Every thing he did was with fire and devoutness. It happened quite often that out of his great devoutness he said the blessing “Al Hash'khita” [ritual slaughtering] at a circumcision ceremony.

They used to say in the shtetl that R' Asher David could sometimes make a mistake, and say the blessing over circumcision at a ritual slaughtering instead of “Al Hash'khita”…

In his old age, R' Asher David dream was to spend the rest of his life in Eretz-Israel, and he fulfilled his dream. He saved all the coins he could spare and stuck them in the beams of the ceiling. When he was asked several times if he was not afraid of fire or thieves – he used to answer that such coins people did not steal, and a fire could not harm them…

Around 1930 he traveled with his wife to Eretz-Israel and stayed in an old-age home in Jerusalem, where he and his wife had a room for themselves. He passed away before the second world war, when he was about 100 years old. He lived and died the way he wished and earned. May he rest in peace in the earth of Eretz-Israel.


[Page 127]

An Improved Kheyder

[kheyder = a room; traditional Jewish religious school in a one room setting]

by Ami

[Ami is one of the pen-names of Akiva Ben-Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]

 

In Horodets they knew little of an “improved kheyder” where Hebrew is taught in the modern method. Admittedly, Horodets is not far from Pinsk - the leader for “improved kheyders” - but from the beginning Horodets did not believe in having “schools”. They taught in the kheyders around a long table from early morning till late in the evening, the way it was the custom of our fathers and grandfathers. When a child grew up he started having a glimpse of Hebrew and a taste of a grammar book. Only Shimon Izik included learning of Hebrew in his curriculum. However, nobody dreamt of having the learning of Hebrew as the main subject of learning.

The melamdim [teachers in the kheyders] taught their pupils the way they had been taught. To pronounce the letter with the vowel, the prayer book, psalms, Khumesh [first part of the Bible] in accordance with the week's portion or chapter after chapter, Gemore, various parts from the Bible, Rashi, a bit of writing and that was all.

Suddenly, in 1907 there is a rumor that in Horodets they are going to have an “improved kheyder” like in other towns. And who will the teacher be? - Eliya Zavil's son.

Who is this Eliya? People start recalling that he is the son of Zavil, the ritual-slaughterer. He is still very young. He became a melamed in a village and got his training in the villages where he was a melamed. In other words: Eliya is an autodidact - what he knows he has accumulated on his own. They say that he has a great deal of knowledge, and he teaches the children using a modern method, indeed from books.

And who says so? - Those few landlords who share an interest that Eliya should establish a kheyder.

Here a piece of information should be presented: two or three landlords who are blessed with two or three children each, the fate of a melamed lies in their hands: At their will they can raise him or ruin him. They just take their children away from him and he is no more a melamed.

So, a few such landlords could afford hiring Eliya and he became the melamed of their children. Thus a “improved kheyder” came into existence in Horodets.

What does a “improved kheyder” mean in Horodets? First of all, Eliya rented a separate apartment for the kheyder. It was in the “shtibl” of Khayim Hirsh. We say “shtibl” when in effect it was a narrow half dark room. There were “skamykes” in the room - plain long wooden desks and next to them - long benches. Eliya sat on a platform, and near the wall there was a chamber pot, exactly like in a “school”- to make a distinction…

From what book did Eliya teach? That was a “school” [name of a book] by Sneider, where before the pupil starts studying the few abridged verses from the khumesh [first 5 books of the bible] he has to translate the new words to Yiddish, drill them, and so on. This “school” was the main topic of the curriculum in Eliya's kheyder. However, Eliya did not divert entirely from the old kheyder. He taught Khumesh, Rishonim, and before Passover he taught the “Hagadah” - like in all kheyders.

Then, also, Eliya's kheyder differed from the other kheyders in that the children did not learn in the winter evening and during the day on Sabbath.

All those merits attracted the boys of Horodets to Eliya's kheyder, but the parents had reservations about Eliya's kheyder and preferred the old kheyder. Also, those fathers who established Eliya's kheyder realized that their sons were not doing much in there. So they took their sons away from Eliya and gave them to the other melamdim. Eliya's kheyder was abolished. All in all, it existed a few years.

Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that Horodets had an “improved kheyder” after its own fashion.


[Page 128]

Hershel, the Teacher

by Ami

[Ami is one of the pen-names of Akiva Ben-Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]

 

gor128.jpg
Hershel the teacher

 

For many years boys of Horodets were taught by melamdim [teachers in kheyder] and girls were taught by teachers/tutors. The boys studied Khumesh [Pentateuch, Torah] some of the other parts of the 24 books of the Bible and Gemore [the part of Talmud that comments on the Mishna]. Girls learned how to pray as well as to read and write Yiddish. When the inspector came to Horodets, the kheyders were “abolished” for the moment and boys and girls were seen learning together, pretending that this was the usual custom…

Hershel, the teacher, introduced into Horodets other innovations.

Who was Hershel the teacher? Where did he come from? Who were his parents? Where did he acquire his education?

When Hershel was asked all these questions, he found it complicated to answer because “the whole earth is full of his glory”. He had been everywhere, every shtetl and village had had a share in him, or he had a share in them, because he “nibbled” [learned something] from every place he spent time in, and brought the collected “nibble” [acquired knowledge] to Horodets in 1909.

Hershel was a good-looking young man. He had a wonderful memory and a sharp tongue and he clearly put the words into his pupils' mouth. In addition, he could sing nicely (he was once a singer besides the cantors), could actually read notes and in addition he played the violin. He was tall, dark skinned, with a black mustache. He wore a cloak and held a black stick with a silvery handle in his hand, as if saying: “Look at me, this is I, Hershel the teacher?!”

Everybody indeed looked, and looked again and each used to pose another question:

Fathers used to ask: “Where is he going?”

Mothers used to ask: “To whom is he going?”

Girls used to ask: “With whom is he going?”

Really, how did he come to Horodets? This is separate story as he himself once reported in the “daily newspaper” under the title: “The Swapped Brides” [such a title was included in a published collection in Warsaw in 1901-2 and Hershel probably used such a title for his piece. There is a hint at the biblical story of swapping Lea for Rachel].

Hershel was lucky to marry the youngest daughter of Khayim-son-of-Itzik. [her name was Miriam-Maryem and she was the sister of my grandfather Moshe-Elkana. HK]

Horodets was lucky to have Hershel so that the boys and girls would learn Hebrew, Russian and arithmetic as was the case in the big towns.

Hershel got a house from Khayim [full name: Abraham-Khayim. HK] as a dowry. He turned it into a classroom. Indeed, it was a real classroom, and Khayim had to rent another place for a “kheyder”. In the classroom there were pupils' chairs and desks with books both in Hebrew and Russian, and several notebooks for calculations. On the wall there was a certificate/permit. There was also a blackboard with chalk in the room.

Hershel's handwriting was beautiful. All Jewish children should be blessed with such handwriting. The children indeed started moving to Hershel's class. It evoked turmoil in shtetl: Hershel robs the livelihood of the melamdim! If parents did not take a child from a melamed to move him to Hershel's class, they at least hired Hershel as a private tutor in their house. Poor parents used to gather 2 or three children to be tutored together by Hershel.

What did Hershel teach? First, he used to start teaching from a small book in which every word had a meaning. This in itself was something new. Second, he taught a higher class Hebrew from a selection. Hershel was not content with the story alone. He also taught grammar from a booklet. When the children understood what they were reading, he ordered “The Friend” or “The flowers” from Lugansk. Third, he taught real Russian. When they finished the first part, he taught the second and even the third part from the same Russian book. In addition to all these, he taught grammar, arithmetic and geography.

Hershel taught an abridged Khumesh [first five books of the Bible]. However, he taught the Bible with “Mikra Meforash” [commentary] by Trivaush and Natek and here Hershel found the opportunity to display his knowledge of the Bible and grammar in which he excelled. He knew almost the whole Bible by heart.

When Hershel noticed a talented boy or girl, he was not content with the time that he spent teaching in the classroom, and he became a frequent visitor in their house, carrying a conversation with them, thereby sneaking in either a translation of the Bible or a grammatical rule. The parents were very satisfied. Hershel had turned their children into accomplished scholars.

Hershel was not content with dull teaching. He brought into his teaching his knowledge of music, sang songs with his pupils and organized recitals, etc.

Hershel took pains to prepare a real Hanukah production. The children rehearsed for quite some time. The parents wished to draw pleasure and pride and the shtetl as a whole was thirsty for something new. Everything was ready, even Shakhno, the police constable… Hershel rented a big house for this purpose, from Khayim-Nissel. He built a stage with a curtain, a real theatre. The house was full of pupils, parents and guests from other shtetles. Everybody was waiting impatiently for the curtain to rise, and all of a sudden a policeman came in and asked for a formal permit. Hershel almost fainted, he assumed that cooperating with Shakhno, the constable, was enough, but not by a far shot. He tried bargaining but the policeman did not let words of persuasion get to him nor did he let the pupils say anything. The people had to leave the hall with deep sorrow, and Hershel had to drop the idea of organizing any production as long as the Tsar Nikolai II was still alive.

[The editor of this book commented that the incidence was recorded in the newspaper “Heint” (=today) of 1911.]

* *
*

Hershel was the teacher (underline “the”) of Horodets until WW1. People ran away, the Russians burned down a large part of the shtetl, the Germans invaded with their organization, and Hershel remained without a class. What can a Jew do when he has to provide for a wife and 4 daughters who need food, dresses and shoes? He had to work in the field even though he was a teacher. He toiled in the field: plowing, sowing, reaping, etc., and when the Germans opened a public school, he became a teacher there, teaching German and other subjects.

However, Hershel did not derive satisfaction from the public school. He longed for the Hebrew school. The Germans left Horodets and the Poles invaded and brought in their sadistic hatred for the Jews – tearing beards from Jews in the middle of the street, executing Jews without any reason. Hershel and Tevye the hump-backed were caught by the Poles to be shot. Polish riders, racing a horse, goaded the two to Kobryn to be executed. Pleas and weeping do not help. The Poles screamed: “Communist Jews”, and Hershel and Tevye were marked as “communists” and they had to be shot.

[Martha, Hershel's daughter, told me that in her father's room/classroom hung some maps that bore a trace of the Russian revolution. She also told me that the two were accused of treason and on the way to Kobryn they were ordered to run ahead of the horses and call out: “Left-right, left right”. Hershel was imprisoned in a food-closet. HK].

Hardly alive and breathless, Hershel and Tevye reached Kobryn. The community of Kobryn was scared. Every person was afraid that he would be the next innocent victim. However some courageous Jews approached the Poles with a plea saying that these two accused persons were absolutely innocent, that they were honest, quiet people. The Polish priest of Kobryn interceded too for the two accused persons. After a lot of effort the two half-dead people were freed. [Martha told me that one of the intercessors was my grandfather Moshe Elkana, probably using some bribes, and that the priest probably knew Hershel from Horodets as the translator for any of the invading armies. HK]

After the sorrowful incidence, Hershel concluded that Horodets was not for him anymore, and that he had to flee from the blood-thirsty Poles to the free America. Just before Passover, 1921, Hershel arrived in America.

Hershel, even though he does not know English well, nor the customs of America, immediately gets himself a position of a teacher in the “Talmud Torah” of Springfield, and Pomerantz (that is his family name by which he is addressed) is treated with love by his pupils and their parents, and is also respected by the board of directors of that “Talmud Torah”.

Pomerantz's name becomes well-known in the neighborhood thanks to his method of teaching and to his arranging of performances. He also becomes active in communal affairs. When the Hebrew association “Ben-Yehuda” is established in Springfield in 1923, Pomerantz is one of its active members and one of the founders of the Hebrew library over there. Although he derives satisfaction from living in Springfield, in a sense, he is drawn to the big New-York. He moves to New York and settles in Flatbush where he becomes a teacher in a private school, American style. He joins a synagogue, holds his teaching position and wants to take on some activity but it seems impossible. It is not Horodets and not even Springfield! Sometimes he attempts to organize a concert but it does not turn out well. The former Hershel-the- teacher and now the American “Rabbi” Pomerantz is broken physically and spiritually, walking like a shadow. He talks about his past accomplishments, recalls his past success and activity and like an impoverished man speaks of his past riches. This is how Hershel keeps talking of his good and splendid years when he was respected by old and young. He keeps talking like that until the 9th of April 1943, when he swoons and on the way to the hospital he departs this life. May his memory be blessed.


[Pages 130-131]

Moshe son of Khaya-Dvorah

by Ami

[Ami is one of the pen-names of Akiva Ben-Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]

 

gor130.jpg
Moshe son of Khaya-Dvorah

 

Years ago, Khaya-Dvorah's house was a kind of domestic club in Horodets. Khaya-Dvorah was the daughter of Shalom Kostrinsky. She was a modern and enlightened woman. She was the first woman in Horodets to take off her wig. In this spirit she raised her three daughters: Ester, Makhle, Tzivia and her youngest, only son, Moshe. Khaya-Dvorah's house was open for the young and old. When one wanted to hear a wise word - one went to Khaya-Dvorah, because she was a very wise woman. Also when one felt the desire to sing or dance - one went to her house, because in there youth used to get together; boys and girls. They used to spend time and have fun. They also talked about the land of Israel and sang Hebrew songs.

Observant parents did not permit their children to go to Khaya-Dvorah's house, because the boys sat there without a cap and allowed themselves all kinds of small liberties.

Moshe was raised in that house, and received, as was the custom, traditional education as well. He was taught by melamdim, went to pray, and the like. However, when he grew up, Khaya-Dvorah looked for a different occupation for Moshe than the ones chosen by the youth of the shtetl. She decided that her Moshe with his brains was not meant to be a craftsman, a shopkeeper and not even a melamed. So what then? - Moshe must learn Russian and get a general education. He was meant to be an educated person so that the world would be open for him.

So, what can be done about it? Moshe went away to Warsaw and studied there in the gymnasium, excelling with distinction. He returned to Horodets for Holidays and vacations, and all saw that he was a Gymnasium student as he was wearing his formal apparel. However, Moshe was very quiet, modest and unassuming.

After having studied some time in Warsaw, Moshe went away to Vilna, studied there in an institute and was one of the best students. When he returned to Horodets, the whole shtetl was in turmoil; and people would ask one another: “Have you already seen Moshe, son of Khaya-Dvorah? How do you like his uniform?”

The last question worried Khaya-Dvorah mostly. What is going to happen next? What is there in being idle? True, Moshe had already evaded being conscripted [to the Tsar's army]. But will he end up like all the other youth - get married?

All those questions bore into Dvorah's mind. In the meanwhile, to make a long story short, Moshe became a teacher in shtetl, giving lessons by the hour. Whoever wished his son or daughter to have general education - had Moshe teach them. Moshe taught them Russian, mathematics, geography and also German.

More than all, Moshe loved teaching mathematics. In teaching this subject he came alive. The other subjects that he taught were just secondary, to get rid of quickly. When he got to algebra or geometry he was revived. Otherwise, Moshe spoke very little and was dreamy.

What did Moshe dream about? - About a different garment/uniform without brass buttons and without worn sleeves? Maybe he was dreaming about a girl? Or maybe he was pondering about a better occupation than just giving lessons?

No, these were not the issues that occupied his small world. Moshe contented himself with little: he had a cigarette - he was already satisfied. Actually, he did not have a match because he had forgotten it in his pupil's home - but he was not worried. He would eventually get a match for his half-cigarette. What else did Moshe need? - In winter to go sliding on the river. He did not have any “kankes” [ice-skates]? - He would somehow get them. He would borrow them. People were not bad. How about summer? - He bathed in the river. One did not have to pay for that, for sure, and one did not have to ask for favors. The river was good for all, if only they could swim. Moshe son of Khaya-Dvorah, a Horodetser young man, could indeed swim, like all Horodetser young men.

Still, what was Moshe thinking about? Why did he speak so very little? Why did he keep so quiet? What was he dreaming about?

We knew that Moshe was full of thoughts to judge by his handwriting. When he took the pen in his hand - one letter was warped with the other, and mainly blotted, as if his thoughts aimed to pour all at once. Moshe went on writing. What was he writing about? Was he writing poems or stories or actually articles in Russian?

That was a secret. Only those who were very close to him knew what he was writing about. He was writing a book about mathematics. He wrote a whole book, and had negotiated with a publishing house to print it.

Suddenly, the First World War broke out. Businesses were ruined, printing shops were burnt down and people were running away where their eyes directed them. Among the drifting people were also Moshe and his closest family, who settled in Russia. Moshe started teaching again - new pupils in a new state. Were Moshe's thoughts new? Did his dreams get new wings? Was he influenced by the spirits of revolution in Russia? How did they affect Moshe's ideals? Did he think of the problems of the world?

Who Knows? Moshe stayed the same man of few words, a dreamer. He again delved in complicated mathematical problems and in the ways to solve them. When he had only a bit of free time, it did not matter that he had or did not have what to eat - he was sitting and thinking out his reckonings. One day, this dreamy Moshe disappeared like a dream. Until this very day nobody knows what had become of him.

Did he die a natural death? Did he die of hunger? Or, was he killed. Nobody knows.

May his name be inscribed in our book, and his memory stay with all Horodetsers.


[Page 132]

Kheyders for Girls

by Ami

[Ami is one of the pen-names of Akiva Ben-Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]

This question was raised many times: “Where did our learned mothers and grandmothers learn to pray, to read the tietch khumesh [a Yiddish version of the Torah mostly for women], to write a letter in Yiddish, and (some of them) even to write down an address in Russian? Who were their teachers who enabled some of them to understand more or less the contents of their prayer?”

Actually, in Horodets they did not teach the girls khumesh, [Torah] but they did read every Sabbath the “tsena ure'ena” [a Yiddish translation of the Torah enriched with illustrative stories intended traditionally for women], and if grandmother did not finish the week's portion on Sabbath, she finished it during the week. And, which mother did not go to the Besmedresh [the study house, where people used to pray as well] to pray on Sabbath? And if she could not pray so well or was confused as to where they were reading in the prayer book, she would stay close to another woman who knew, who told her what part they were reading. Who infused the religious feeling in the hearts of these Jewish women?

Where did our grandmothers get that religious spark that made them pray even Minkhe [Jewish afternoon prayer] and Mayrev [evening prayer]? And where from did many of the elderly women draw the holy respect that made them stand up during the entire prayer on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and never sit down?

We must admit that the spiritual religious atmosphere created the circumstances that raised such grandmothers and mothers, but the re'betzns [Rabbis' wives] contributed quite a lot by teaching them. Those female teachers were very pious and observant Jewish women and they indeed molded future Jewish mothers.

The re'betzn differed from the melamed. Most of the melamdim taught all year long for many years until they died. On the other hand, the re'betzn taught on a temporary basis. Teaching was for them a sideline, for a short while, and often it was as a “helper” to their husband.

A hundred years ago, Miriam the re'betzn lived in Horodets. She was Yirmiyahu Zerakh's wife. Yirmiyahu Zerakh was a shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] and a melamed and his wife taught the girls. The girls used to come to her house to learn.

She was considered a very educated woman. What did she teach her girls? She taught them prayers, to read the teitch-Khumesh and how to write a letter to their future bridegroom. Their mothers taught them all the rest: How to make the meat kosher, and other rules that girls should know.

When Vishke, Izik's wife became a widow, she opened a “kheyder” in her own house and started teaching the girls of Horodets the same things that Miriam, the re'betzn taught her.

It seems that the above mentioned education did not satisfy the new generation; “new birds - new songs”, and people started demanding that girls, too, should be expected to write down a Russian address. Here a man was needed - a man who knew a little Russian and who was more modern. Vishke could not fulfill these functions.

Then Avraham Moshe showed up, the son of Itshe Silke's, a young man who had already tasted the secular and was half-intellectual. He came to the girls to their homes, and taught them there. He brought with him a letter writing exercise booklet and taught the girls how to write a letter to a bridegroom, a father-in-law etc.

Almost every girl in Horodes got such an education. The daughters were satisfied and the parents were pleased too. They spent their money well, and the girls grew up to be Jewish daughters.

However, progress does not halt in one place. New winds started blowing and settled in Horodets. People were not content with the letter exercise booklet and a Russian address. They already wanted the girls to know how to read Russian books and other girls had the desire to learn Hebrew. Those requests were fulfilled through a young man of Horodets called Shanshen, son of Alter Visotzki. Shanshen came from the very aristocratic descent - the Mazurski family. He himself was aristocratic: good looking, knew Hebrew and Russian and was skilled in calculations.

Shamshen established a kheyder for girls. He taught them to write Yiddish and Russian and also calculus. That was an achievement. However Shamshen's kheyder did not last too long. As we said before, the girls' kheyder was a temporary way of making a living until something better came along. Shamshen went away to Vilna and became an accountant.

What is to be done now for the girls of Horodets who are “thirsty” for education?

The opportunity was seized by Yudel, Khaya-Miriam's son. He was a young man who earned it by right of his ancestry but also by his own right. He stemmed from the second aristocratic family - the Kostrinsky family. He was a very well educated young man. Yudel followed Shamshen's example and continued his way of teaching. This, too, did not last for long because Yudel died at an early age.

God did not forsake Horodets. A girls' kheyder was opened in the main street and the teacher was a melamed's son - Khana, son of Tzadok. Khana taught the girls the beginning of Khumesh [Torah], writing of letters, the right Russian pronunciation, and when they did not understand the German words that sneaked into the Yiddish in the guide to letter-writing, it did not matter. The girls came out quite “knowledgeable”.

Khana's kheyder, too, did not last for long. A stranger appeared all of a sudden and with him a new epoch started in the Horodetser education. The stranger was Hershel Pomerantz. As a result Khana's kheyder declined until Khana himself left Horodets and settled in America.

* *
*

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then and we look back and say: Thank you pious honest Re'betzns and melamdim who taught our mothers and grandmothers. May accumulated merits be credited to you.

 

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