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[Page 109]

The Sacred Community

(Kehilat HaKodesh)

 

Synagogues

by Mordechai Zaytshik

Translated by Sara Mages

The Old Synagogue

The old synagogue was built in 1870 in place of another house of worship, a smaller one, where they continued to pray until the construction of the synagogue above it was completed (only then, they dismantled the walls of the smaller synagogue).

The old synagogue was built from the finest wood that they received at a discounted price from Count Wittgenstein, the forests' owner. The town's governor of those days, R' Mordechai son of R' Mendel Ziklik, paid for most of the expenses. There were many seats around the three walls, in the middle, and also around the Bimah[1]. Aron HaKodesh[2] was decorated with beautiful wood carvings. The women's gallery was on the second floor. Inside the synagogue was a small room that was used by the Minyanim [3], and by the worshipers who arrived late. The town's senior residents prayed there. Most of them were poor craftsmen and simple folks. The Rabbi and the Cantor had a permanent place in the southeastern corner.

The building was spacious and was built on an area of 400 square meters. During the last years, it was necessary to support the ceiling with strong wooden pillars.

The synagogue, besides being used for prayers, was also the location where all sorts of disagreements and personal conflicts, which sometimes ended in a “fist fight”, were decided. Official parties in honor of the country's national holidays, first of Russia and then Poland, also took place there. The “preachers”, who happened to be in our town, also carried their talks there.

A Jew, who wanted to pour his heart before his Creator, chose to do it in the old synagogue without interruption or hesitation. There, it was always possible to meet someone sitting wrapped in a Tallit and Tefillin, studying the Gemara or another book

The New Synagogue

The new synagogue was built in the years 1900-1904, at the beginning of Podlipia Street, on the left side. It was much smaller than the old synagogue, but more beautiful. Its walls were painted with beautiful colors, and Aron HaKodesh was decorated with beautiful artistic carvings of various lifelike fruits and vines. The wealthy residents, the intelligentsia and the proprietors' sons-in-law, who recently came to town, prayed there. Only a few of the town's veterans prayed there.

The atmosphere in the new synagogue was freer. The small room next to the synagogue was used for talks and political debates on current affairs.

In the winter, during the long Sabbath nights, when it was cold outside and pleasantly warm inside, it was customary to come after the Sabbath meal to hear the weekly Torah portion from the Rabbi.

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Simple Jews and Torah scholars crowded around the tables, the study was interesting and included interpretations, legends and sayings of the generation's sages, and brought great pleasure to the listeners.

The new generation also found its place in the synagogue. Boys ages 14-15, sat tight on the benches and listened to the fascinating stories of their older friends. About robbers, jokers and thieves, the heroes of ancient Russian fairy tales like Ilya Murametz, Alyosha Popovich and others.

They also came to the synagogue to beg God for help in time of trouble. In the case of someone's mortal illness or disaster, the women came to beg for mercy and for the patient's recovery and salvation.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Bimah - A platform in the synagogue on which stands the desk from which the Torah is read. Return
  2. Aron HaKodesh – The Torah Ark. Return
  3. Minyan (pl. Minyanim) – Quorum of ten men required for certain religious obligations. Return

[Page 110]

Cantors and Ritual Slaughterers

by Avner Golob (Yonai) and Avraham-Yitzhak Slutzky

Translated by Janine Sherr

A

The first “shochet”- ritual slaughterer- in the town, as recalled by R' Avner Golob, was Reb Herschel Hershkovitz. Reb Mordechai Ziklig and the famous wood merchant, Zeldovich, brought the “chazzan-shochet”- cantor and ritual slaughterer, Reb Yisrael Chaim HaCohen, to our town. Immediately, a dispute broke out.

Those who supported Hershkovitz refused to eat from the meat of Reb Yisrael Chaim; even the local rabbi would not eat from his meat.

After several days the matter was resolved; the first shochet was allocated a monthly salary and, in the meantime, R' Yisrael Chaim, the cantor-ritual slaughterer, who was a clever, cheerful, energetic, and sociable man, managed to win over the people of the town.

He had a strong musical background and was skilled at conducting a choir. He also composed his own melodies that were soon adopted by the community. In fact, many of his tunes were sung in the factories by the tailors, seamstresses, and other workers. On the High Holidays, he would lead the prayers, accompanied by a large choir, which he had trained over the summer months. Yitzhak Slutzky writes that the melodies composed by Cantor Yisrael Chaim continued to be popular even in the United States, where they were often sung by former residents of our town during community celebrations.

R' Yisrael Chaim's joyful spirit animated all the religious celebrations in our town, including weddings, circumcisions, and ceremonies for the Redeeming of the Firstborn Son. R' Yisrael Chaim spread happiness wherever he went.

He made a decent living as a shochet; his home was lovely and spacious. He was blessed with three sons and five daughters.

Even in old age, he maintained his sense of humour. It is reported that on his deathbed, he told the doctor who had come to visit him: “Esteemed doctor, I am fully aware of my condition. I think I am about to die because I ate too much of the afikoman!”

B

Mordechai Zeichik:

As mentioned previously, R' Avner Golob (Yonai), our community elder, claimed that he could not remember any cantor-ritual slaughterer in our town before R' Herschel Hershkovitz. But Mordechai Zeicik remarked: I heard from my father that the first “chazzan shochet” was actually a man named Leibke Zeichik, who came from Minsk. R' Herschel Hershkovitz only arrived later in the town.

After the passing of R' Yisrael Chaim, the town remained without a chazzan for many years, since their shochet (ritual slaughterer), Eliyahu Aaron, was not a trained cantor.

However, the town was not left empty-handed. They still had several outstanding prayer leaders (who had pleasant voices, even though they were not trained cantors): there was R' Chaim-Berel Migdalovich of the Old Synagogue, and Avraham-Yitzhak Chinitz and Mordcha-le Steinbok of the New Synagogue.

For a brief period of time, R' Yaakov Shmuel, the son-in-law of R' Yisrael Chaim, served as the community “chazzan-shochet”. He was a handsome man, courteous, and of fine character, and was beloved by the entire community. His excellent reputation was known far and wide, and he was soon offered a position in a city seven times the size of our town. Our community was very distressed when this dear man departed from our small town. Unfortunately, we could not compete with the big city, which was able to offer him a higher salary and better living conditions.


[Page 111]

Cantors, Sextons

by Mordechai Zaytshik

Translated by Sara Mages

Since the population of our town was small, the cantor also had to be the ritual slaughterer and the Mohel, but the emphasis was placed on cantillation. If the cantor didn't excel with a pleasant voice, he should, at least, know how to play a musical instrument. It was important that he knew how to pray accompanied by a choir, and that his prayers would please the worshipers.

The choir had to accompany him in the High Holidays prayers, and also with the reciting of “Selichot[1]. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah he prayed in the old synagogue, and on the next day – in the new synagogue. On Yom Kippur he prayed “Kol Nidre” and “Ma'ariv”[2] in the new synagogue, and on the next day – all day in the old synagogue.

Every year something was changed in the prayers' melody, for fear that the previous melodies won't arouse the heart …

Therefore, it is understood, why the town's residents couldn't imagine how cantors in other towns prayed unaccompanied by a choir!

The cantor received a special payment for praying with a choir during the holidays and the High Holidays, and he also organized it every year. In addition, the choir supported and helped the cantor:

[Page 112]

He was able rest while they sang, and on Yom Kippur, during the “Avodah[3], the two senior singers raised him from “Keriah” [kneeling down].

Most of the worshipers, who liked the cantor and his music, belonged to the old synagogue. It was customary that the worshipers of the old synagogue came to the new synagogue on Yom Kippur, to hear the same songs that they heard the day before.

Lenin's first cantor and ritual slaughter was R' Leibke. He was followed by R' Herschel Hershkovitz, who also served as a Melamed [teacher], because he couldn't make a living as a cantor and a slaughterer alone.

Later came R' Yisrael-Chaim. For a certain period of time there wasn't a special cantor, so, there were local readers like R' Chaim Berel Migdalovitch. The cantor Yakov Shmuel, who was considered to be a Lenin man, prayed a number of times and his prayers were very pleasant. His music to the prayer “Ki Hem Chayenu” (from the prayer “Ahavat Olam” [eternal love] that is recited during Ma'ariv) was sung for many years even by other cantors.

The cantor Leibel Gershon made a huge impression with his method. He came to our town accompanied by a large choir, among them, a baritone, alto, and a soloist who always wraps a muffler around his neck. The cantor and the choir sang according to notes (just like in the city). The townspeople liked him and he was accepted as a cantor and a ritual slaughterer. Out of the choir he only kept the alto.

This cantor, who had a beautiful tenor voice, was a healthy chubby Jew with a yellowish beard (his strength excelled in particularly when he laid a bull for slaughtering in one pull). He came to our town from Minsk at the beginning of the First World War, and stayed with us for 5-6 years. His rendition to the prayers, “Kawokores Rohe Edro” [like a Shepherd] and “Va-y'hi b'yom hashlishi” [on the third day], is worth noting.

When he left Lenin, R' Feibel Chinitz, who originated from Starobin-Slutsk, was accepted by the town.

He was a handsome Jew with a thick black beard, a Torah scholar who was familiar with musical notes. Although his voice was not developed, his prayers warmed the hearts. He also prayed accompanied by a choir. His cheerful melody to “Yitgaddal veyitqaddash shmeh rabba” [May His great name be exalted and sanctified] after the Ne'ila [locking] prayer was the town's favorite. It felt like he refreshed the people after a day of fasting and serious prayers. The whole community sang with him.

R' Moshe Novick served as a cantor after him. He arrived to us from the small town of Snov near Baranavichy-Klyetsk. He served as a cantor and ritual slaughterer until the German invasion. He was imprisoned, together with others, in the labor camp in Hantsavichy. He escaped from there, joined the partisans, and now lives in Israel.

The Sextons and their helpers

The salary of a Shamash [sexton] in Lenin's synagogues was very small. In order to support a family – wife and children – he had to work in side jobs like teaching the Gemara to older children, and also a little in… butchery. In addition, he had seasonal jobs like: lashes on Yom-Kippur eve, and so on. But of course, all of them were not enough to make him rich….

All sorts of sextons passed through our town, and we will tell here about the most interesting:

[Page 113]

In the old synagogue there was a sexton assistant by the name of Talya Kanik, who always swept the synagogue's floor, brought water or chopped wood for heating. He was short, and came to us as at young age. His speech wasn't clear and fragmented, and we barely understood him. But over time, when we became used to him – we understood him. According to him, this defect came to him when he served as a soldier in the army, and was wounded in the war.

During the winter, when it was extremely cold, he sawed thick pine trunks with many nodes that were difficult to split. The children watched with curiosity as he carried the wood to the cellar where the furnace, that heated the whole synagogue, was located. Generally, he was quiet by nature, but when the children annoyed him too much – his strike was bad.

His “helpmate” was a very short fat woman, shorter than him by a head, and her face was black and shiny…

It was interesting to watch this unique couple, when they sat at the threshold of their house near the synagogue, and talked.

The woman, among her other virtues, was completely deaf, but it was possible to hear her two streets away…

Their most serious conversations took place on Fridays, and their contents were on current affairs: The holy Sabbath is approaching and we still don't have fish and meat ...

Once, in the winter, the Shamashit [female sexton] Alte, went to the well near the synagogue. She slipped on the ice on top of the well - and rolled into the well which was about ten meters deep. By miracle she wasn't seriously hurt. She got stuck in the well, sitting in the icy water, because the well was exactly the size of her body … somehow they pull her out of there.

In his last years Talya complained of earaches and headaches, and he passed away a few years later.

[Page 114]

Len114.jpg [23 KB] - Jewish National Fund troop in Lenin
Jewish National Fund troop in Lenin


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Selichot - special prayers for forgiveness. They are usually said on fast days and also during the period preceding Yom Kippur. Return
  2. Ma'ariv – a prayer service held in the evening. Return
  3. Avodah – service - liturgy for the Musaph [additional] prayer on Yom Kippur. Return

 

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