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Charitable and Benevolent Institutions

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

Charitable Institutions in
Ruzhany During the 19th Century

 

The Hospital

Ruzhany was ahead of all other towns of the region in the arena of communal activism and charitable institutions. A hospital already existed in 1875. As is described in “Halevanon” 1875 (8), it was burned down along with other buildings during the large fire of that year. The following is written there:

“All people who were bitter, afflicted or suffering found refuge in the hospital. There, they would be given balm, bandages and all of their requirements until they would be able to arise from their bed. The upholders of this institution are the two important men who are as prominent as crown jewels -- the wealthy, intelligent brothers whose names should be glorified from generation to generation. The first one is the Gaon Rabbi Yechiel Michel, and the second is his younger brother who helps him, Yerucham Fishel Pines. This building was also destroyed. Now, who will have mercy on the sick, take them in, and bandage their wounds?”

We do not know when the hospital in Ruzhany was rebuilt. However, the concern for the sick and suffering did not cease in the city, and in 1833, the Linat Tzedek organization was founded, as is described in “Hamelitz” issue 20 from that year:

 

Linat Tzedek

“From Ruzhany in the Grodno District, Mr. E. Y. Wallach praises the people of his city who founded the 'Linat Tzedek' Organization, to provide people to stay over at the home of any ill person, may G-d protect us, with two shifts per night. Wealthy people of the city are numbered among them, and all of them stood on their guard equally. The set-up is very honorable, and it is appropriate for such an organization to exist in every holy community.”

 

The Hospital is Rebuilt

In “Hamelitz” 1893 (43), Yitzchak Meir Gerber writes about the hospital being rebuilt in Ruzhany and also serving as an infirmary:

“The hospital in the city is built magnificently in a large building at the edge of the city. Its doors, windows and even floors are covered with lacquer and wax to give them a splendid, sparkling appearance. Two physicians, one Jewish and the other Christian, visit this hospital daily, each taking his turn. A person would support the sick person and turn him over on his sickbed. He would bring the medicine from the pharmacy, feed him and give him drink. The poor people of the city who could not afford to bring a physician to their homes would come there to ask for the advice of the physicians without having to pay a fee. They would also be given sufficient medicine at no cost. A garden was planted in the yard of this building, from which a pleasant aroma wafted through the windows, restoring the soul of the sick people. Convalescents would go there daily to enjoy the clear air from between the branches...”

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About eight years later, M. Shereshbasker writes the following in “Hatzefira” 1901 (230) about the situation of the hospital:

“The hospital is among the most effective of the benevolent institutions. It was designed with intelligence and set up for the well-being of the sick people. Its twelve rooms are large and spacious. There is a special room for storage and preparation of all types of medication. Large trees surround the building from the outside. Regular, expert physicians visit the sick people daily. The institution is supported by the donations of its regular members as well as private donations. We hope that the philanthropists of our community will donate of their money for the benefit of the institution over and above their set donations, so the directors can have the means to prevent shortages, and so that the institution can be the pride of our community.”

 

Charitable Institutions in Ruzhany
During the 20th Century

Shmuel Magli writes the following about the medical situation in the town during the subsequent years.

“I arrived in Ruzhany in 1911. The only pharmacy in the city was owned by a Christian. There were two medical professionals (“feldschers” in the vernacular): Libitshke and Eizik. There were a few medicine shops there: of Eizik Kaplinski, of Notke, and of Moshke Shamit. All of the townsfolk visited the feldschers since there was no physician[1], and they purchased medicines from the medicine shop, since the pharmacy was owned by a Christian who related to them in an inimical manner.

At that time, there was a committee for the visiting of the sick (Bikur Cholim) in the town, which provided food and medication for the sick. Shimon the shochet, Shmuel Leib, Bilais, and David-Noach Pines were members of this committee. I summoned the aforementioned committee to a meeting in the pharmacy that I purchased from the Christian, and we decided to bring a physician to the town. There was a good physician in Byten named Dr. Rozenblit. I traveled there and influenced him. He agreed to settle in our town. How splendid was his appearance as he passed through the streets of the town on a horse-drawn wagon, hastening to visit the sick in their homes or to go the hospital in order to tend to those laid up there. He spent three years in the town, and then left. Dr. Burshechivski and Dr. Gurewich followed after him. However, the First World War broke out, the physicians were drafted, and we were left without physicians. However, there was no need for such at that time, for we did not have anything to eat, and the people got better... in any case from their illnesses.”

ruz146.jpg [20 KB] - Dr. Aharon Aran  (Chwojnik)
Dr. Aharon Aran (Chwojnik)

 

Medical Activity After the First World War

In 1922, after the First World War, Dr. Aryeh Aran (Chwojnik) a Ruzhany native, came to town after completing his medical degree at the university in Geneva, Switzerland. He remained in Ruzhany for half a year and then made aliya. However, he did no small amount of work in the town during that brief period. During his time, there was no other physician in the city aside from Kamintzky, whose value as a physician was not great.

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Medical assistance was given at that time to the local sick people who were poor through the Magen David Adom, which was set up instead of Linat Tzedek. Dr. Aran came and founded the Taz, which gave legitimate medicine to those in need. Through his effort, a physician named Dr. Yatom was brought to the city. The hospital was reopened, and its successful activities were renewed.

ruz147.jpg [20 KB] - A movie day for the Magen David Adom
A movie day for the Magen David Adom

First row, standing right to left: Aharon Lanzbitsky, Leibel Ziskind, Yosef Abramovich, Heshel Gezbah, Sonia Leviatan, Zeidel Rushkin, Yoshka Shipiatzky, Chwojnik, Moshka Guldis.
Second row: Ahuva Leviatan, Ahuva Chwojnik, Zeev Ziskind, Simcha Rozenschein, Shipiatzky, Duba Chwojnik-Ziskind

 

The Summer Camps for Children

The natives of Ruzhany did a great deal in the area of medical institutions, but the crowning achievements of the aforementioned activities were the summer camps for children that were set up in the town after the First World War for every child who was in need of convalescence after an illness, due to bodily weakness, due to low body weight, etc. In the camp that was conducted in rented houses that were located in the forests a few kilometers from Ruzhany, the children in need of convalescence enjoyed the fresh air, plentiful food, and spending their free time at pleasant activities. Various group games were organized, plays were prepared, etc. Of course, they were under expert supervision the entire time.

Wealthy parents provided the money required for this, and the Taz organization covered a portion of the budget. A special annual movie day brought in donations for this cause. Finally, the dramatic circle would organize parties, the income of which was dedicated to the setting up of camps, so that no child lacking the means for convalescence would be unable to attend the camp. These camps were open primarily during the long annual vacation each year until 1939, the year of the outbreak of the Second World War. In the latter years before that war, a special building was put up for those camps instead of the rented houses that had been used until that time. This new building was erected in the Bliznawi Forest. Its equipment was new and of the finest quality. This building served as an example for all, and was a topic of conversation in all of the neighboring towns.

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ruz148.jpg [20 KB] - Activists of the hospital in Ruzhany
Activists of the hospital in Ruzhany

First row, standing right to left: Yaakov Kaplan, Turn, --, Feigel Shapira, Roza Pines, the wife of Yaakov Asher Epshteyn.
Second row: Necha Shemshinowich, the wife of Shmuel Mogilevsky, -- Aharon Gamerman, Leibel Chwojnik.
Third row: Mordechai Karpelewich, Shimon the shochet, Dr. Yatom, Dr. Aryeh Chwojnik, Avigdor Michel Goldberg, Shmuel Leib the shoemaker.
Lying: Epshteyn, Simcha Rozenschein

 

Other Institutions

It was not only medical and social institutions that were founded and conducted in Ruzhany. There were also many other charitable and mutual assistance organizations there. There was a charitable fund, a committee for bread for the poor, and the large people's bank that earned an honorable place in the bank center in Warsaw, all significantly helped the townsfolk to maintain their stand during the years of economic depression and government attacks on their commercial status, etc.

 

Those Who Faithfully Occupy Themselves in Communal Affairs

Naftali Kantorowich tells that all of the aforementioned institutions were run by people who occupied themselves faithfully in communal affairs. “Many of the aforementioned communal activists were from among the workers and tradesmen. In many cases, the dedication of these communal activists

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transcended all bounds, and their deeds are etched in the memory forever. It is appropriate to mention here not only Yona the shoemaker about whom we have written above, but about another 'Rabbi Yochanan Sandlar'[2], who was Yaakov Michel Lev, an active member of the leadership of most of the institutions. It is appopriate to tell here about one of his deeds, about which he often retold:

It was the days of the major vacation. The children were convalescing in the camp in the forest. Yaakov Michel Lev was working at his shoemaker's table. Through the window in his room, he saw that the skies were darkening. He left his work implements, removed his apron, quietly left his house and set out for the camp. The man walked five kilometers by foot in order to be sure that the children had gone into the houses.

Such were the dedicated activists that we had in our town, and such people stood at the helm of our communal and cultural institutions in our old home of Ruzhany[3]. These activists are no longer alive. The Holocaust overtook them all and killed them. However, their spirit remains alive within us forever. Upon us, the survivors, rests the holy obligation to tell our young children about their important work, so that they will be educated in the light of their deeds. Honor to their memories.”

By Meir Sokolovsky

 



Translator's Footnotes
  1. A feldscher is not a licensed physician, but rather an “old time barber-surgeon”, according to the Weinreich dictionary.This is likely “Shemot Rabba” -- a Midrashic exegetical work on the book of Exodus. return
  2. A Talmudic sage whose name means 'shoemaker'. return
  3. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: This sincere communal activity also influenced the younger generation, and many of the girls of our town, including my wife who is a Ruzhany native would go around from door to door every Friday to collect challas for the poor of the town. Of course, the director of this activity was Yaakov Michel Lev the shoemaker. return



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