« Previous Page Table of Contents

[Page 169]

Amdur Craftsmen

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

There were a great many workers from various trades in Amdur: shoemakers, tailors, cabinetmakers, carpenters, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, bricklayers, boiler or kettle makers, bakers, capmakers, watchmakers, winemakers and still others. Perhaps there were too many in proportion to the number of residents in the city. All of the trades were in Jewish hands. There were almost no Christian tradesmen (with a few exceptions). Most of the shoemakers and tailors would work for the Christian population of the

[Page 170]

city and surrounding villages. Many of the tailors would leave for the villages on foot very early on Sunday, carrying their sewing machines, irons and other tools, etc., on their backs. They would only return home on Friday during the day for Shabbos [Sabbath]. They would exist on baked potatoes for the entire week – the only food that a Jew was permitted to eat at a Christian's. Dear, sincere Jewish toilers! How much they toiled to earn their poor wages and, still, they did not give up their Yidishkeit [Jewishness]. They made no compromises with their religious consciousness.

* *
*

Amdur Shoemakers – there were several good shoemakers in Amdur, good craftsmen, but there was also no lack of shoe repairers, whom I will mention here:

One was named Leibe Motshe, son of the watchman. As I remember, he had a cataract on his eye. He lived in a small room with an earthen floor. The furniture he possessed consisted of nothing more than a half-broken bed, a broken, little bookcase, and a low work table, the small shoemaker's bench – and that is all. He was a widower, crushed by poverty, a true, pure proletarian, and a pious and quiet Jew. He never failed to run to the Study House, to pray with a group twice a day, in the morning for Shakharis [daily morning prayer] and at night for Minkhah-Maariv [daily afternoon and evening prayers]. He also never missed saying the daily Psalms. While sitting at his work table and pulling the shoemaker's thread, he would always quietly sing sections of the liturgical poems from the Days of Awe [Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur], such as Hineh Khakhomer B'yad Ha-Yotzer [“We are as clay in the hand of the potter”] and V'ha'Kohanim v'ha'Am [“And the Kohanim [priests] and the people”] and others, which he had often heard from the cantors.

[Page 171]

The second shoe repairer whom I will speak about here was named Monye, with the nickname, “Konifole [rosin],” the origin of which we do not know. Monye was a small Jew, truly a midget, but he was agile and lively. He had a thin, small voice, a little sing-song. He had the habit when speaking of using the words “oy, what” or “nu [so], this” after each phrase and it seemed to me that his sense of hearing was not completely in order. I remember his dialogue with one of the Amdur Jewish women, which I happened to hear. The woman came to him with a pair of shoes in her hand; Monye immediately responded with his sayings; “Oy, what? What are you going to say?” The woman said: “Reb Monye, I want you to repair the shoes for me.” Said Monye: “Nu, this? Put on new soles?” – The woman answered: “No, Reb Monye, darling, not new soles, only put on a patch.” Monye again said: “Oy, what? Not soles, then what, heels?” – “Reb Monye, my dear, do not make fun of me, do not draw blood from me…,” the woman spoke beseechingly, but also with anger, and she wanted to speak further. But Monye interrupted her with his sing-song little voice: “Nu, this? This will be heels and soles.” The woman, hearing his last words, completely lost her temper and shouted: 'Ugly Konifole,' you're a bandit! I asked him to place a patch on the shoes and he responded with new soles and heels and with a horseshoe besides… The treasures of Korakh [See Numbers 16; Sanhedrin 110a] would not be enough for this rude man, the bandit…” And thus cursing and swearing, she left as a ghost…

And this Amdur Jewish “bandit” would twice a

[Page 172]

day run to the Study House, recite Psalms, and he understood the interpretations. Lozer, the rabbi's son, said of him: “If he were not so small, he would be a great shoemaker”…

The shoemakers had a separate society. All of the craftsmen from all of the trades were members of one large society named the Khevre Torah [Torah Society] or as we would call it, Khevre P. Tomed [roughly translated, there was always action – drinks – in the society]. Almost all of the members would not have a dislike for the bitter drops [whiskey]. As the shoemakers had to buy materials for their use: wooden pegs, iron pins, cobbler's thread, wax, glue and so on (hetsoes [expenses] in their language) – they would have a written agreement with a certain merchant, that they would only buy the shoemaker's needs from them and as a result the Society received 50 rubles a year, which went mostly to make l'khaims [drinking toasts; i.e., spent for liquor]…

For several years, my father, may he rest in peace, held this podrad [the contract to sell them these materials] which also gave him the concession to teach [Society members], from Minkhah to Maariv [from the afternoon to the evening prayers], Khumish [Five Books of Moses] with Rashi's commentary, or the Kitzur Shulkhan Orach [summary compilation of Jewish law]. There were several among them who very much liked to have the Tractate Sotah [Talmudic treatise regarding a wife's infidelity, referencing the drinking of alcohol], or as the Amdur proprietors would say, Mayim hamarrim [from: Numbers 5:12-31, referencing the drinking of bitter water] and often they were intoxicated, but the majority of them were honest Jews and “lovers of the Torah.” They were students of Rashi, Kitzur Shulkhan Orach and Mishnayos [the Mishnah].

Their anteroom – a large anteroom in the large Study House – would be full of listeners on Shabbos after eating the cholent [a stew-like dish placed in an oven on Friday afternoon, cooked overnight, and eaten on Shabbos]. Moshe Burak, their shamas [sexton], would go to bring the “rabbi,” Leizer Shaul's, and when he, Leizer, would enter the room, Moshe Burak would shout out: “Der rabbi geyt [The rabbi is coming]!” And everyone would stand up. Leizer Shaul's would use the word, “actually” with each translation from Hebrew to Yiddish. While teaching the Parshe Vayetze [one of the weekly Torah portion, beginning with “Yakov went out…” Genesis 28:10], he would be speculating, and add: “Actually, there is a question, how is it that Yakov, an inexperienced person, the

[Page 173]

tzadik [righteous person], set out to go to Labanke, the crook? [Laban was the Patriarch Yakov's future father-in-law, who tricked Yakov into marrying his older daughter, Leah, when Yakov wished to marry Rachel, the younger one.] 'Ein barukh misdabek b'orur' [A blessing does not become entangled with a curse]; how does Yakov become an equal to that 'Kishenik' [pickpocket]? Actually, how is it befitting for Yakov, the scholar from the beis-haMedrash of Shem and Ever to deal with the crook Labanke, son of Bethuel? And, actually, all of the Midroshim [legends based on the Torah] complain about this…” And after he had used another half dozen “actuallys,” he came to his conclusion that Yakov wanted to rescue Rachel from the paws of Esau, who had long ago had his eye on her. And if, God forbid, this had happened, then there would not have been all 12 tribes and while “Shivtei Hashem l'Yisroel eidus” – God's tribes are a witness for Israel – Yakov did not intend anything other than to rescue Rachel.

In short, Laban and Esau received their portion; the “rabbi” made ash and dust out of them, equal to mud. Labanke, the scoundrel, Esau, the good for nothing boy… And the group left satisfied that both were buried nine cubits in the ground.

After Minkhah, when the Study House was already dark, members would sit and recite “Ashrei t'mime Derekh [“Praiseworthy are those whose way is perfect…” Psalms 119:1]… Ordinary businessmen sat at the head of the table and talked about worldly events, about the new nabor [army recruitment], about “exemptions,” red, blue and white tickets, about young men who abused their bodies in order to lose weight so that they would be rejected by the voysk (military service), also about young nowobrantses [recruits], who demanded money from the meat tax for their traveling expenses and had already interrupted the reading of the Torah on two Shabbosim to call attention to a grievance. Again, in separate corners of the Study House, several of the middle class young men stood and mocked… And there – from the long table, at which several of the members of the Torah Society would sit – sometimes Yakov-Moshe the tailor would be heard calling out, accompanied by a truly heartfelt Jewish groan: “This

[Page 174]

is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word has revived me,” [Psalms 119:50] and Asher the shoemaker, who sat at another place, would answer him with a groan” – “Oy, God in heaven! Mi Khamokha Yisroel [Who is like you Israel]”… But – the Shamas Rafael's bang on the table was heard and Efraim Elihu the malamed [teacher] would begin a sad melody: “Vehu Rakhum Yekhaper Ovon” [“And He, the Merciful One, forgives iniquity”].

The same process would occur in all of the synagogues, where the Amdur Jewish craftsmen would come at Minhah time to rest after their daily work, to spend a few hours away from the boredom of earning a living- - -

It is worthwhile mentioning that at that time almost all Jewish workers and craftsmen, who for the most part were not very skilled in Hebrew, knew the entire “Ashrei Temimei Dorekh” [“Happy are those whose way is perfect…”] by heart.

So what other people can boast of such a phenomenon, that simple, common toilers would know how to recite an entire philosophical poem by heart? Jewish craftsmen did not only recite the Psalms, but our common Jews from the past also knew entire chapters from the Mishnah and Zohar [book of the Kabalah] by heart. In the cities and towns of Lithuania, Jewish craftsmen – it is known about the businessmen – knew the chapter Ba-Meh Madlikin [from the Mishnah – “With what may one kindle [the Shabbos lamp…?”]]. The same in Ukraine and Bessarabia – each [would sing] the Ke'Gavna [passage recited at the arrival of the Shabbos] of the Zohar with its usual melody and intonation. So, dear Jewish workers of the past! How little you are celebrated in song; and how much character you possessed! How many poets, writers and thinkers came from your ranks! Yes, naturally, the exclamation Mi khamokha Yisroel [“Who is like you, Israel] comes to the lips.

Amdur Tailors. It would take a great deal of space to

[Page 175]

list the entire gallery of all of the Amdur craftsmen, because each one of them had their characteristic peculiarities. However, I will still describe several of them: Aizik's son, Leyzer Itshe was the scholar among the craftsmen. The tailors would boast about him. He was really good at studying Mishnays and Ein-Yakov [compilation of the non-legal aspects of the Talmud] and would even sometimes take part in the lessons of the Talmud Society. Physically, he was stout, burly, built like a barrel. He traveled to Odessa to bathe in the thermal waters. Jews would say that he had traveled there to “bleed fat.” He came back weighing a little less, but always remained corpulent. He was a true tradesman, a good and elegant tailor. Only the rich or landowners, among whom he was renowned, would have things sewn by him.

Yoal Titnik, on the contrary, was a tailor on a different level. He was childless. He carried himself in the manner of a businessman. Magidim [itinerant preachers] or respected, prominent visiting clergy would stay with him. The Kelmer Magid would stay there when he would come to Amdur. It was thought that the mitzvah of hospitality would help his childlessness [Sarah had her first child after she and Abraham showed hospitality], but it did not help…

I will describe several Jewish tailors who would sew for the non-Jews:

Itshe the Tailor to the Landowners – that is what he was called, but no landowners ever came to him. He was a tall Jew with a pock-marked face and very lively. When he wanted to convince his non-Jewish clients that the coat of coarse material or the fur would come out well and regal, he would spread out the “goods” on the table; he himself would go to the door, close an eye and say to the non-Jew: “Vidish, yak lezhit tut na stole, tak samo budet lezhat na tebe” (See, the way it lays

[Page 176]

on the table, it will lie on you the same way). And Itshe the Tailor to the Landowners did not cheat; the way it lay on the table, it lay on the non-Jew… He had an only son and he wanted him to study Gemara [rabbinical commentaries on the Mishnah]. He was named Pesakh. He entered the Amdur yeshiva after great effort. His father would always admonish his son: 'Pesakh, remember, if you do not study, you will be a tailor to the landowners with me.' Pesakh studied in the yeshiva for one year in total. He was not a bad student, but his father's prophesies were fulfilled…

Noakh the deaf one – an efficient person at sewing shrouds [burial clothes] or coarse cloth coats for non-Jews. He was a little crazy. He was a Levi [Levite; descendant of the tribe of Levi] … He would always complain that he had been wronged and not called up to the Torah. More than once, he made a racket in the Study House on Shabbos at the afternoon prayers because of the injustice that had been done to him. Amdur jokesters seized on this and would [facetiously] call him to the Torah in the middle of the street: “Yamod [stand up] Reb Noakh B'Reb Yehoshua haLevi [Noah, son of Joshua the Levi]…” with the entire melody as it should be. So there would be an entire battle and stones would fly from all sides.

In my time, old Jews would provide themselves with shrouds. “God grant that we not need them”… the old Jews would say very earnestly. The fear of dying without one's shrouds was very great. It was told in Amdur that Moshe Daniel, an old businessman, came to Noakh to order a “complete set” of shrouds. The deaf tailor asked him for three gildn for the work. Moshe Daniel offered only two gildn, arguing that Shimeon the tailor did not ask for more. “So, go to him in health, but I am telling you in advance that in two weeks you will go [i.e., die] with torn pants… Do as you understand, Reb Moshe Daniel”…

Amdur Blacksmiths. There were such in Amdur

[Page 177]

and not in small numbers, but I will mention here only two and namely: Karpl the blacksmith, who had a forge near the end of Grodner Street. He was very pious and a bit of a learned man. He did not want to endure any secular speech during Shabbos, only Hebrew, the holy language, which at that time in Amdur meant being quiet for an entire 24 hours. There is an anecdote about Karpl speaking Hebrew in the shtetl: Once on Shabbos at the eating of the cholent, the cat in Karpl's room approached the pot and began to pull out the meat from it. Karpl called [in Hebrew] to his wife from afar: “Ishti, Ishti, ketz kol bosor!”… - that is, my wife, my wife, the cat will eat up all the meat. Karpl's wife, who was also probably accustomed to speaking the holy language, answered him [in Hebrew]: “Nu, nu, Katzti b'hayai” – that is, my cat also has to live… [Note: This humorous play on words uses two Biblical phrases with the Hebrew word katz, which means “cat” in Yiddish, but not in Hebrew. Ketz kol bosor (Genesis 6:13] really means “the end of all flesh,” and katzti b'hayai (Genesis 27:46) really means “I am weary of my life.”]

The second, whom I think is worthy to remember, is Nakhum the blacksmith. He was a Jew, a very poor man, a pauper – as it is said – very poor…. But he was far from ignorant. Just the opposite, he was a good student. Since he almost never had enough work, he would spend his free time in the Study House and tell of miracles and wonders by the rabbis, righteous men and lamed-vovnikes [legendary 36 righteous persons]. I once heard him speak about the dispute between Rashi and his grandson, the Rabbi Tam, because of his position on the Parshes [weekly Torah portions] and the prayers, a controversy over whether in fact Moshe Rabenu [Biblical Moses] himself was troubled when making a decision and he had naturally decided according to Rashi. One had to see how during his description, Nakhum the blacksmith had imitated Rabbi Tam, that the rabbi thumped his foot and cried out: “Moshe Teyt!” (Reb Moshe, you made a mistake). Nakhum's mimicry showed how he would have

[Page 178]

acted, the grandfather and the grandson arguing in the presence of Moshe Rabenu; how he would have seen that Rabbi Tam had really thumped his foot and decided against the leader of all the prophets. One of the listeners, Motye Pesha Wigdor's, a Jew, an old man and half-witted, called out: “Oy oy oy! You are placing yourself against Moshe Rabenu; Jews in the past could decide, oy oy oy!”…

Nakhum the blacksmith was also a Torah reader with the Torah Society. And he had a fault of spitting all of the time. He would spit at every pause and at the end of each verse so that it would come out, for example, as: “And Yakov went out of Beersheba” – Tfoo [spitting sound]… “and went toward Haran” – Tfoo… (at the end of a verse he would give tfoo a heavy intonation). In Amdur it would be said of him: Nakhum the blacksmith spits with trop [musical accents used when reciting from the Torah]…

He had a very good son, who entered the yeshiva.

Poor Nakhum! Poor blacksmith! Starved himself – truly starved and he sacrificed to let his child study Torah.

Amdur Bakers. Amdur was certainly fed by a dozen Jewish bakers. Several of them baked only rye bread and their ovens served their poor neighbors as a central place to seal the cholent for Shabbos in their ovens. The others baked soft bread, cakes, rolls and challah for Shabbos and the holidays.

It is a fact that each of the Jews in the craft trades in my former residence had their own level and category, according to which their cultural achievement could be evaluated – as

[Page 179]

in the past: boilermakers were higher than shoemakers, and higher than tailors and the most advanced of them all were watchmakers and jewelers and even more advanced were the barbers, and, over all, the photographers; also among them were many well advanced among the leather workers, and on a much higher cultural level stood the typographers, in general, and the so-called typesetters in particular. Again, the bakers, for the most part, had a much higher cultural level in the realm of business.

So, of our former Amdur bakers, I will recall several here: Borukh the baker, who had his own house in the middle of Grodner Street; this house was built of bricks. All of his sons – I remember only the names of two, Chaim and Kasriel – were also bakers; all carried themselves well as businessmen. Chaim, Borukh's son, was an influential businessman; he possessed a few thousand rubles; such a sum was an enormous treasure in Amdur at that time. During the last years, Chaim Borukh's – that is how we referred to him – recited the Shakharis [morning prayers] during the Days of Awe in the Great Synagogue, which not all men were worthy of in those times. Besides, at the time of my departure from Amdur, in addition to his treasures, Chaim Borukh's also had his first dozen children, about whom the Amdur jokesters would say that his rolls were the cause of his wife, Khaskhe, being pregnant year-in, year-out and often with twins… One of his sons, who was named Shmuel, with the nickname Bulke [roll], studied in the yeshiva. He is now in Lisbon, Portugal.

Mordekhai the baker was a bit of an original type. It would be better to say almost “deranged,” that is, a person with

[Page 180]

madness. He was, as is said, a krumer lamdn [an unbalanced scholar]; he studied a great deal but was not highly skilled. His craziness was his preventing any new clothing to be made for him for the holidays. His wife, Kheyke, would come to my father, may he rest in peace, about measuring her husband for a kapote [long coat] or a few pants and it did not help, no matter how much they pleaded with Mordekhai to allow them to take his measurements.

“We do not need a new suit, we can bake bagels and study Gemora with commentaries in old clothes, too,” he would argue. And thus, he went around his entire life in a pair of old linen pants and barefooted. Every morning in the same clothes, he would drive two cows with their calves to the field, speaking gently to them, the way a devoted father speaks to his children, and he would beam, seeing that the cows were grazing on the blote [marsh]. (That is what a low grazing field was called in Amdur.) The verse in the Khumesh [Five Books of Moses], Va'sir'eh'nah ba-ahu [They grazed in the reeds. Genesis 41:2], was translated by my rabbi as “and they grazed on the blote”). Mordekhai the baker would say: “If we had Munye's blote we would not need Eretz-Yisroel [the Land of Israel]”… Munye was the owner of the Amdur estate and its meadows…

Let us here remember Mordekhai's son, Yisroel, a Jew, a scholar, a real Torah scholar with a good position; he was the finest bal-tefiloh [person who recites the prayers in the synagogue] in Amdur. His Musofim [prayers following the Shabbos morning service] and Neilos [the concluding prayer recited on Yom Kippur] were accompanied by all of the well-known melodies.

Amdur Peddlers. This is to remember several of these small merchants, who would draw their income from traveling through the villages and buying village products from non-Jews – hog hair, wool, weasel pelts, sheep and other things. They would leave Sunday early in the morning or drive to

[Page 181]

a village and come back on Friday. There were a few families who were called “the Woljakes,” a name that probably comes from the word wol [wool] because they would buy wool. I remember two of them: Gershon and Shmuel, the latter a teacher and also a bit of a magid [itinerant preacher]; he would deal with scraps (rags).

One of the peddlers, he was called Itshe Pukhovnik, particularly needs to be mentioned. I knew him when he was already an old man. He was the official Psalm reader during the day for Rosh-Hashanah at the Great Synagogue. At night on Hoshana Raba [the seventh day of Sukkos, The Feast of Booths], the old rabbi, Reb Avraham-Ezra, of blessed memory, recited the Psalms with him from one Book of Psalms. Old and asthmatic, he would recite the khatzos [prayers for the restoration of the Temple said at midnight] all night. I remember once during the day, during the “Three Weeks,” [the three weeks preceding the holiday Tisha b'Av] my brother, Shevah, of blessed memory, and I heard a strong voice in the synagogue courtyard that came from the synagogue. We entered and we saw how old Itshe Pukhovnik was sitting on the ground and reciting Tikun Leah [prayers mourning the exile of the Divine Presence and the destruction of the Temple]. He shouted in a bass voice: “Noa tanua eretz kashikor v'hisnodedah kahmlunah” – “…the land will totter like a drunkard, and sway like a shack…” [Isaiah 24:20] And immediately after this he recited, in a moving tone, the chapter “Beshlosha mekomos hakohanim shomrim,from the Tractate Tamid, on sacrifices, which speaks about the three places where the Kohanim stand guard in the former Beis-haMikhdosh [Holy Temple]. The old rabbi called him 'der eved' – God's servant.

How much Jewish feeling and noble, communal sensibility lay in Itshe Pukhovnik's Tikun Khatzos day and night! He would always sing a little: “For the destruction of the Temple, I shall weep...”

Amdur Wagon Drivers. Amdur did not have a railroad and, at my leaving Lithuania, also no highway. Its entire

[Page 182]

trade was with the capital, Grodno, 14 miles from each other. The shtetl Kuznice, 11 miles away, had a train station, but wagon drivers rarely drove there. In later years there would be great movement between Amdur and Bialystok, a distance of 37 miles, but Grodno remained Grodno. [The author's distances: three, two and seven miles, respectively, have been corrected to reflect actual distances] Amdur belonged to the Grodno ujezd [district] administratively and was under its police jurisdiction. Jews knew that for an address in Amdur, it was necessary to write: Miasteczko [municipality] Indura [the Russian, Belarusian and Polish name for Amdur], Grodnienskoj Gubernia [Grodno province] i Ujezda [district]. The roads would be very bad during the winter, during the heavy snow and blizzards, and particularly at Passover, when the snow would begin to melt. Amdur also had a good number of wagon drivers, or draymen [drivers of flatbed wagons], as they were usually called. I will provide a place in my Amdur memories for this trade and record several types.

Hershl Shuliak was a responsible wagon driver. He had the best horses. Amdur storekeepers who would send money to Grodno for bringing back goods, would say: “Hershl, an iron strongbox.” He had an iron foot [crutch]. It was said that he received the iron gift through a curse by Reb Avraham-Ezra, of blessed memory, because he had not followed the rabbi's ban and had carried beams to the church on Khol Hamoed [the intervening days between holidays, during which only certain categories of work were permitted]. The rabbi had sent him a warning that he should not do this. “He who scorns the holidays” [see Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 118a] he had commented to him, but Hershl pretended not to hear. Reb Avraham-Ezra then cried out (it was said in Amdur): “He will soon be taken care of.” And in the morning it happened that he broke his foot with a beam. From then on he carried an iron foot. One does not play with any trifle – old Amdur Jews would repeat. When he would go to the market, he would always strike the tip of the iron crutch on

[Page 183]

the feet of the barefoot non-Jews and would yell: “They are everywhere, one cannot get rid of them”…

One could not be sure of all of the wagon drivers when money was sent with them; the goods were either stolen from them or they would be lost… and the money. Often a lawsuit against them would be heard in a rabbinical court, the laws regarding one who is temporarily entrusted with goods would be aired, and almost always the storekeepers would lose… One was sure with Hershl Shuliak. Leizer, the rabbi's son, would say: “Hershl stands firm, with an iron foot.”

The last years he would go to Bialystok twice a week. He had three “eagles” harnessed to a covered wagon. In Bialystok this was called “the iron stagecoach.” I will end with Hershl and his “seraphim” [angels, see Isaiah 6:1-3]. When I left Amdur he was in full fervor, despite his advanced age. Hershl Shuliak was a renowned person as a wagon driver in Amdur, Grodno and Bialystok.

Meir Guzshik, a wagon driver, was a poor man, crushed by poverty. He had one horse – skin and bones, and Meir Guzshik had to draw his livelihood from him. On the bad roads, Meir would harness himself to his wagon and pull the wagon with his sivak [grey horse]. He toiled as a donkey. Leizer, the son of the rabbi, would say that when Meir pulled the wagon with his horse, it was a transgression against kilaim [Torah prohibition against mixing different plants or beasts of burden]a horse and a donkey… [Deuteronomy 22:10]

Shabbos morning he would come to pray in the Study House – the only day on which he was free. Exhausted and rundown from the entire week of heavy labor, he would sleep through the entire praying, snoring. Once, at the opening of the ark, when the congregation says, “Vayhi Binsoa Ha'aron [Whenever the Ark was set out],” Meir Guzshik suddenly

[Page 184]

cried out, “Enough! Enough!,” certainly dreaming of his horse. Naturally, the congregation laughed. But who can appreciate the poverty of this sort of Jewish laborer who earned his living through his hard work! I would also paraphrase the Berdichever's [Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, the Berdichever Rebbe] words: He even prays at his horse and wagon.

In Amdur, there were many wagon drivers, but they lacked Meir Guzshik's honesty; several of them were fighters and even thieves.

Amdur Butchers. The residents of Amdur did not eat too much of any kind of meat: during the summer times, from Shabbos to Shabbos – a little piece of meat; in wintertime the rich would salt an entire side of meat from a sheep. The poor would do the same thing, but would only permit themselves to eat a small piece of meat from Shabbos to Shabbos. In the anteroom of the synagogue, where Jews would carry on conversations about timely matters, there would be complaints about the seasonal scarcity of meat. I remember such a conversation when Mendl the shoemaker, a quiet, virtuous Jew (his son Leibke was a good Gemora [commentary on the Mishnah] teacher) spoke up: “Why do we need so much meat?! Are we wolves? Do we need to sit al sir habosor [on a pot of meat, Exodus16:3] the entire week? A pound of meat on Shabbos is more than enough…” Perhaps this is why at that time in Amdur we did not suffer from ulcers, high blood pressure, appendicitis and still other modern illnesses that are so widespread in our civilized world and are possibly the result of an abundance of food, which today characterizes our tables.

Yet, my city had a significant number of butchers, large and small, rich and poor. All of the butcher shops were concentrated on one street – between the market and the Great Synagogue. Among them, I remember two:

Matess the Butcher. His large room was in the market. He was a

[Page 185]

respected businessman. There was a large minyan [group of at least 10 men required for prayer] at his room for Shabbos and holidays. Jews would want to sing, something not all of those seeking the cantor's lectern were able to do in the synagogue or Study House. For that reason, there were many minyans. Matess the butcher had the honor of reciting the Shakharis prayers during the Days of Awe in the Great Synagogue, a function that bestowed esteem and prestige at that time. During the prayer Yareisi biftzosi siakh l'haskhil [I am in awe as I open my mouth to speak,” an 11th century liturgical poem] Matess would cry… Matess died a very old man and his death was mourned by the entire town.

Berl Cossack. In his youth, he was a butcher, and later a trader of oxen and horses. A good businessman, he ran a fine shop, lived in his own beautiful house and was well dressed. He gave his several daughters – he had many children – educations. Let us present a short biography of Berl's family. His father was named Matshe Cossack. When he was intoxicated and would shout in the street, Matek the butcher would call him “Matshe Cossack.” He was a Hasid. Avraham Shlomo Tsinne's once said: “It is fortunate that Matshe is a Hasid and therefore it is said that he is intoxicated. If not, it would be said that he is a drunk.” He had six sons, all tall, handsome and healthy: Berl, Elie-Yankl, Melakh, Gedalia, Fishl and Shmuel. Elie-Yankl, a wagon driver, had a fine son attending a yeshiva. He died young. Melakh – a superior musician in the Grodner Muzikantstkaya komanda [marching band]; one of the first of the Aleksandersky soldiers; he became completely estranged from his origins. The remaining sons were all butchers.

Yankl Farfl's: There was a family with many branches in Amdur with the family name or nickname “Farfl.” They were all butchers. They were involved with cattle or with hides. They led a middle class life. Yankl Farfl's was the richest of them.

[Page 186]

He built the first and largest brick house, after the great fire [June 1882], right in the middle of Grodner Street. He would love to take a goblet and with a midoh nekhonoh – the proper amount. I was once present when he came to the rabbi with a question about a czepczuche [the second stomach of a ruminant animal]. The rabbi was not at home and Yankl, who was in a jolly mood, sat down. The rabbi came and Yankl did not stand up from his spot. Reb Borukh Ben-Zion Mishkowski, the rabbi, later said: if “he did not get up and did not even see me,” surely that is a sign that “he was apparently loaded”…

Yet, Yankl Farfl's was a respectable businessman in Amdur. Before my departure [1896], he married off his daughter to a well-known young man, absolutely first-class. I think that his family name was Poliatschek. The [other] property owners were envious of his good son-in-law.

« Previous Page Table of Contents


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Indura, Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max Heffler

Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 17 Jul 2009 by LA