Translated by Jerrold Landau
A Memorial light to my brother Yitzchak, who died in Lyuban in his prime.
The medic in our town did not know that the child's stomach should have been pumped. He writhed in difficult suffering all night, and died in the morning in his mother's arms, just as she arrived in Slutsk to seek help from our relative Dr. Schildkraut, in an attempt to save him.
Dr. Schildkraut looked at the mother with her dead child and spoke harshly. He was shocked at the stupidity of the medic in our town.
This tragic event left a terrible shadow on our small, bereaved family, and many days passed until we slowly began to recover.
I do not remember my father, Ber Feigenberg. From my childhood, only his many books remain in my memory. These were large and heavy, finely bound with brown covers, with decorations and white letters on the spine. My mother was widowed in her prime. She then sold her husband's books to a wealthy Jew from Slutsk in order to be able to open a store in our house from the money she received in exchange. From this, she sustained her young children.
However, it was as if the books of father remained in our house even after my weeping mother packed them up in sacks and sent them to the wealthy Jew of Slutsk. She would always tell usme and my younger brother Yitzchak, the story of our father's books. She also had a share in these, for they were purchased with her dowry money. She deprived herself of her bread and paid the bookbinder for the fine bindings. She had further plans for these books in the future. The rich Jew who purchased them promised her in his righteousness that when her children would come of age and have the ability to redeem the books of their father, he would ensure that they would be able to do so.
My father was certainly not a Lyubanite, for he was always involved in teaching outside the town.
My father's father, my grandfather Rabbi Yaakov Feigenberg, appeared very strange and foreign to me during my childhood. He served as the rabbi of the community for more than thirty years, yet he did not strike roots in the community until the day of his death. He did not look at all like a rabbi, but rather like a villager. He loved to sail in a boat on the river in order to catch carp for the Sabbath. He often traveled to the city, for his origins were from well-to-do and honorable stock in Slutsk. Some of his relatives were large scale merchants who were fluent in the language of the country, and who would travel on business to Gomel or even to the large city of Kiev.
Perhaps he was fleeing from the poverty in his house. Even his two wives did not strike roots in the town because of the severe poverty in the house of the rabbi. The first, who was the daughter of well-to-do people from the village, died quietly just as she had suffered quietly throughout her life. Her relatives from the village, who were the leaseholders of estates and ponds in the area, certainly helped her to feed her hungry children. His second wife, the rebbetzin of Lyuban, was from the city, and she enjoyed dressing herself up and reading love stories. She despised the poverty in the home of her husband, the rabbi of Lyuban, and she would spend months on end pampering herself in the home of her rich daughter from her first marriage, Chana Pesha Zinda, until her husband would come to request that she return home. When his request was fulfilled and his rebbetzin returned home, only a brief time would pass, about two weeks, until she would again travel to Slutsk to enjoy the pampering in the lovely home of her daughter.
Uncle Yehoshua, my father's brother, also had an impact on me. It was as if he was in Lyuban by accident, by force, even though he was a local native. He was always seeking out news from outside the town. Every day and every hour, he would search out new people with whom to discuss politics. He was always looking for a newspaper in the language of the country so that he could find out what was going on in the capital of Petersburg. At times, it appeared to me as if he were a prisoner in the hands of his wife Nechama, the daughter of Reb Chaim Zelig, a veteran Lyubanite. She was proud of the scholarship and intelligence of her late husband. It was due to the haughtiness of her and her sister that they were given the nickname The readers in the town. In Lyuban, people did not like relationships that imposed themselves upon the community, for there was no differentiation in status among the residents of our town. The level of living of the well-to-do was not that much higher than that of the poor.
My Aunt Nechama, who tried to assert her status due to her pedigree, which was not in accordance with the local custom, was indeed one of the well-rooted Lyubanites of my mother's family. She was a member of our faithful family.
There were already those who had broken boundaries in our family. The first to break the boundaries was my maternal grandfather Nachum Epstein. He was the one who had left the town in his youth due to his illusory plans to build mills. After many difficulties, he reached the large city of Odessa. He brought his family there as well.
My mother, Sara Feigenberg, nee Epstein, passed up on the riches of the city of Odessa. After the death of my father, her brothers advised her to come to them along with her children, and they would help her to sustain and educate them. However she decided not to leave our home in Lyuban. She decided not to seek her livelihood from her good brothers, but rather from the hand of G-d.
Grandmother especially expressed her dedication to the town. Even when she was in Odessa, on account of her actions, Odessa seemed to us so close, as if Lyuban was one of its suburbs.
Our grandmother Feiga Beila Epstein, nee Shapira, was not a native of Lyuban. She came from the city of Bobruisk to the forlorn town that was filled with mud. It was not for naught that her young brothers mocked her before her wedding, saying to her that in Lyuban people wear wooden shoes like the non-Jews, and that in the town there is only one pair of shoes that stand near the door of the synagogue. Anyone who has to approach the Holy Ark would put them on. She wept greatly when she heard this.
However, after her wedding when she arrived in Lyuban, she immediately adopted the way of life of the town, and became a merchant among the gentile population, as was the custom of the astute local women. She tried to teach her three daughters reading and writing. She taught them the reading the siddur (prayer book), the ability to write letters in Yiddish, and also the first fundamentals of the Russian language, so that they would be able to write their address in the vernacular.
My grandmother knew poverty and want in our town. She worked very hard with her own two hands, for she was forced to sustain the family herself. This was because her husband was always wandering afar, and experiencing endless setbacks. She remained rooted in the town. Even in Odessa, she only became acclimatized as a temporary resident. Her home remained virtually in Lyuban.
She married off her second daughter in Lyuban as well, after the youngest one was already in Odessa for four years. There, in the bustling port city that attracted a mixed multitude of immigrants, she saw no possibility of marrying off her daughter without lowering the Jewish spiritual level of the family.
She married her to Zalman, our relative from the village of Yaminsk. He was a villager from birth, but he knew his books. She set up her home in the nearby village of Troychani, an isolated village in the vicinity of Lyuban. Their home was the only Jewish home there.
Now, her soul was bound to Lyuban through two daughters, and she enjoyed her visits to our town.
Grandmother arrived. Grandmother arrived from Odessa. Her large, stuffed suitcase stood in a corner. This large, locked bag attracted everyone's eyes, and we children caressed it with love, and tried to move it from its place with great caution. We already knew that it was full of gifts that were sent by our aunt from Odessa. Grandmother told us news from the far-off big city to which she had immigrated. It was the eve of the Sabbath, and people were coming and going. One came as the other left. Men, women, and children were making noise.
At the onset of the Sabbath, the door of the house was closed to the curious crowd. Mother and grandmother made the blessing on the candles, recited the Lecha Dodi prayer with the traditional melody, and we all sat around the table for the evening meal. Before we finished eating, our many relatives from the town came to visit. My grandparents came, as well as my mother's aunts and uncles with their children and grandchildren. Grandmother continued with her stories, and spoke at length about that wondrous city called Odessa.
The candles had already gone out in the four copper candlesticks that were on the table. The visitors left one by one. The room was enveloped in shadows, as the light in the kerosene lamp dwindled. My younger brother Yitzchak was sleeping sitting down on the sofa with his head resting against the windowsill. He did not want to go to sleep. He wanted to listen to grandmother's stories until the end. I was sitting on the hassock next to the bed, still listening. Grandmother and mother were still talking, and I was making an effort to not miss even one word that was spoken between them. However, sleep overcame me. My eyes closed. I dozed off for a moment, and one moment later I was asleep.
When I awoke I found myself sleeping in bed. The house was full of light, and the sun was shining outside. Children were playing outside behind the window, and among them I heard the voice of my young brother Yitzchak. Mother and grandmother sat next to the table and drank coffee and milk. They continued talking, but this time they talked about family matters. Grandmother told about her two children. The oldest son, Zalman, had become a writer (he was the writer Zalman Epstein of blessed memory). He wrote in the newspaper in Hebrew. His younger brother Yitzchak was a farmer in the Land of Israel. This was not what she had hoped for. They had sharp minds, were very diligent at their studies, and astounded their teachers. She had hoped to see her two sons become rabbis, but G-d did not have this in mind for her. It was said that despite this, they were important men.
My mother sighed:
Yes, they are important people, the entire town mocks me. Everyone knows that they eat bareheaded. Each gossipy woman throws her scorn about my brothers in my face. They say that they no longer say their prayers.Grandmother dried her eyes. Her tears fell upon her wrinkled hand, but her voice was clear as usual:
We did everything for them. I gave up everything in my life for my sons. You of course know that Father of blessed memory sent Zalman to Volozhin. Later, both of them studied in the Odessa Beis Midrash for three consecutive years. I watched over Yitzchak as the apple of my eye, even though he was already studying in the Gymnasia. Father of blessed memory interceded on his behalf so that he should be accepted as a member of the choir of the Great Synagogue, and thereby be exempted by the Gymnasia from studies on the Sabbath. I baked oil cakes for him so that he would not have to wash his hands in the Gymnasia. However they jumped out of their skins. This is my lot, G-d did not grant this to me.My grandmother burst out weeping. However she quickly regained her composure and said:
Let us not violate the enjoyment of the Sabbath. It is time to go to the synagogue. My mother was very emotional.
Forgive me, Mother, that I have caused you pain.
I forgive you, my daughter.
One day, there was joy again in our home. A package came to us from my mother's far off family. It was before Passover. The wagon drivers returned from Bobruisk with a sealed crate, nicely bound. It was received in the post office there in my mother's name, and was sent from the Land of Israel by her brother Yitzchak Epstein.
The personal and social status of this Yitzchak Epstein grew among the people of Lyuban of that time so much that they forgot about his sins of eating with an uncovered head and neglecting his prayers, just like his brother, the Hebrew writer Zalman Epstein. For at that time, the new spirit of Chibat Zion had already reached isolated Lyuban, as well as the wondrous stories of the Biluim who went to the Land of Israel to be farmers there. Yitzchak of Lyuban followed in their path.
In the town and the region, people were very enthusiastic to read his letters from the Land of Israel that he wrote in Yiddish to his mother and sisters. Everyone discussed at length the letter that he wrote, describing his marriage to the daughter of farmers from Rosh Pina.
Everyone was particularly astounded about the fact that he did not receive a dowry, as our forefathers always had. They toiled in backbreaking labor for the wives that they married. Of course Yitzchak was happy that they did not require back breaking labor of him for their daughter that they married to him.
On occasion, his letter would make the rounds from hand to hand, through the city and neighboring villages, until it was in tatters, and the writing completely faded.
However, it was impossible to prevent the residents of the area from reading these letters. Now, they found out that he also sent a heavy present for the Passover festival.
Of course, people gathered together for that important occasion. The curious neighbors left their work of house cleaning and preparing for the festival. They congregated around the door of our house. The children of the town were scampering noisily around them. The package was opened in front of them all. Inside there was another package of glittering tin. When it was opened, it was filled with bottles of Kosher for Passover wine by the name of Carmelwine from the Land of Israel.
The crowd was astonished and curious. They looked at the sealed bottles and read their labels. The labels were in Hebrew, with the insignia of the Carmel companyand they carried it on a pole with two people, a reference that everyone recognized.
Everyone became excited. These were indeed the same grape clusters that the spies had brought to Moses. These were actual bottles of wine. Wine from the grapes of the Land of Israel. Almost everyone was certain that this wine came from the vineyards of Yitzchak Epstein. At first he was a tiller of the soil, and now he already owned an estate, or he was a partner with an owner of a vineyard and winery, and now he was sending to his sister a gift from the fruits of his estate Nice, very nice.
This particularly made an impression on the young school children. They were enchanted, moved, and enthusiastic. They ran home and brought their Chumashim. They leafed through them and found the Torah portion that tells about the pole with the cluster of grapes. They all read this aloud joyously, each one as if he had found a treasure in his Chumash. They pointed to the writing with their little fingers and stared at the bottles of wine with the drawn labels on their sides, enchanted labels straight from the Chumash.
My emotional mother counted the bottles in the meantime. There were twelve, and there, in front of everyone, she made an accounting as to how to split up the wine, how many she should sent to her sister in the village, how many she would need for the four cups of wine along with her children, and how many she would divide up with her local relatives. Of course, she would send one bottle to her father-in-law the rabbi of the town, and another one must be given to Reb Yedidya, the teacher of her children, who was also sitting in our house. According to her accounting, she would require eight bottles of wine, and she would keep the other four for Passover of the following year.
At that moment, there was a fierce protest to her allotment.
David, the cantor, who was also among the curious crowd who looked into our house to see the wine, complained. He spoke harshly, as was his manner.
Sarahke, it is not just to keep the Israeli wine in the cellar until next Passover, and not to let the Jews of the town taste it. If this wine was indeed sent here from the Holy Land, we should at least be able to taste a drop of it, at least, for the first Seder. Sell the rest, everyone will pay you honorably.
My mother laughed, The four bottles of wine that remain will suffice for the first Seder of all of the Jews of the town? Besides, I do not want to sell my brother's gift.
Whatever is missing from the Kiddush cup  will be made up with raisin wine as usual in order to fulfill the commandment, but at least, we will be able to recite Kiddush on the wine of the Land of Israel.
Mother agreed to this recommendation. She agreed to sell the rest of the wine cup by cup on the condition that the money received in payment will be given to the poor of the town, each in accordance with his wishes.
The community was very satisfied.
On the eve of Passover, they brought cups to mother's house, and she filled them from the four sealed bottles that she had given over to the community. Everyone received their share from my mother.
We children, me and my little brother Yitzchak, sat next to her and held onto the plate in which the coins for the poor clanged.
The three of us were happy with the job that we merited in performing.
This division of the Israeli wine for the festival of Passover in Lyuban had important results for the benefit of the community. My mother always chased after a mitzvah, but she was too bashful to start something new. Here, she had succeeded in dividing up the wine for the benefit of the poor of the town. This fortified her so much so that she founded herself, and with her own money, a charitable fund in the town. She did this with wisdom and good judgment.
She purchased the merchandise for her store from nearby Slutsk. Each week, the wagon drivers of our town would bring all types of merchandise to the store, in accordance with what she had ordered for the city. Twice a year, prior to Passover and prior to the High Holy Days, my mother herself would travel to Slutsk in order to arrange for her large scale purchases, and to settle her accounting with the wholesalers.
Each half year, she would give over money from the store to the community to be used for the charitable fund, on the condition that one week before her trip to Slutsk, the loan would be returned to her
This condition remained holy for several years.
This private charitable fund of my mother's existed in Lyuban until she was stricken with influenza, and succumbed to it in her thirty eighth year of life.
I was also obligated to be the tutor of my young brother Yitzchak.
With regards to the store, grandmother gave me ordinances upon ordinances. She especially warned me about dishonesty in weights and measures. Then she warned me with particular severity about my behavior with the gentile customers. If I were to be dishonest over weights and measures with a Jewish customer, he would say that I was an improper person; however a gentile would say that, just as the weights and measures of the Jews are false, so is their faith also false. Therefore, dishonesty towards a gentile is a desecration of G-d's name. Therefore, you should be wary, my daughter.
I listened to the honest words of my grandmother, and I attempted to remember them well in order to fulfill them.
About a year later, grandmother again came from Odessa, and she was disappointed. She did not recognize our beautiful store. The store that sustained our family in an honorable fashion for years had become impoverished and diminished under my hand. They laughed about this in the town. They told her that I divided up the store the poor of the town.
This was a bitter mistake. I would not have been so brazen as to divide up the store that was placed under my control by the family in order to support me and my younger brother. It was only out of fear of grandmother's admonitions regarding the sin of dishonest weights and measures that I always overdid the measures, and for poor people, I overdid them doubly. The gentile customers particularly benefited from my exaggerated measures, so that they would not be so brazen as to say that the dishonest weights and measures of the Jews are an example of their religion.
Grandmother realized that I would not be an appropriate storekeeper, so she liquidated the store. She decided, for family reasons, to take me to Odessa. With regard to my brother Yitzchak, there was the oral last will of my late mother. Her last will was that the lad not be moved to Odessa before he acquired his Jewish religious education in one of the important Lithuanian Yeshivas.
She fulfilled this wish of her daughter, who had been cut off in her prime, to the best of her ability. She chose the Mir Yeshiva. She traveled there with him, and arranged everything on her account, so that he would not feel any pressure with regards to his living conditions, his food, and clothing. She also arranged that he would have ready cash in his pocket, so that he could be dedicated to his studies. Everything would be provided for him from Odessa.
However, about a half a year later, my brother returned ill from the Mir Yeshiva to Lyuban ill. The doctors could not diagnose his illness. He simply wasted away. He was always a delicate child, and was not strong enough to handle all of the great changes that took place during his short life.
Odessa reacted to this with vigorous activity. The family asked my Aunt Chaya from the village of Troychani to take the lad to her home and take care of him until he would recover in the fresh village air.
However, my brother did not wish to live in the home of his aunt among the gentiles. He pined for Lyuban, where all of his cheder friends were. He particularly longed for his Rebbe, the teacher Berel, who would always discuss divine matters with him.
My brother Yitzchak died in Lyuban at the age of fifteen. My little Itchke. His memory always lives in my memory.
He died without an illness; he simply weakened and expired for lack of energy. He was, as it were, the most rooted Lyubanite from our entire family.
I also did not acculturate quickly in the city of Odessa. I longed for Lyuban so much that I wrote a book about it at the age of sixteen. This was my first book, and it was called Childhood Years.
(Photo page 223 left: Sara Feigenberg, nee Epstein.)}
The father of the family was born in Lyuban and died in Odessa. He was the first person to leave the town for the wide world.
Feiga Beila Epstein, nee Lieberman, the mother of the family, was born in Bobruysk. She lived in Lyuban for most of her life, and she died in Rosh Pina.
Sara Feigenberg, nee Epstein, was the oldest daughter of the family. She was born in Lyuban and died there in her prime.
He was a writer from the year 1879. He was born on the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5621 (1860) in Lyuban, the son of Nachum (merchant, owner of a mill, and also a teacher). He was educated in cheder and in the Yeshiva of Volozhin from 1875. He was a bookkeeper in Odessa from 18781904. He was one of the founders of Bnei Moshe. From 1890-1900, he was the bookkeeper and the secretary of the Odessa committee. He was in Petersburg from 1904-1914 and 1916-1919, where he was active in Hebrew education and chusha . He was a member of the communal council in 1918. He was a representative of the 11th Zionist Congress.
He was in Israel from 1925. He died in 1937 in Tel Aviv. He participated in newspapers, most steadily in Haaretz. From 1879, he published articles, literature, portraits, and memoirs in Hakol, Hamelitz, Hatzefirah, Hashiloach, and others. From 1881, he was a veteran journalist in the newspapers of Chovevei Zion and others. (On occasion, he also wrote in Yiddish and he wrote eulogies.) He published an anthology of letters in 1905, the Memoirs of Yitzchak in 1927, and a monograph on Lilienblum in 1934.
He graduated from the University of Lausanne in 1905. He received a doctorate in literature in 1915. He was a writer, linguist, pedagogue, psychologist, and one of the first teachers of the new settlement. He taught in a teacher's seminary. He often lectured on the Hebrew Language on the radio in the Land of Israel. He was born in Kislev 5623 (1863) in Lyuban. He was the son of Nachum, and the brother of Zalman Epstein. He was educated in cheder, in the Real School of Odessa, and from 1902-1905 in the University of Lausanne. He was in the Land of Israel from 1886. (He was one of the six who were sent by Chovevei Zion to the Land of Israel to study agriculture.) Until 1891 he was a student, gardener, and land surveyor in Rosh Pina and Metula. He pioneered the Ivrit BeIvrit teaching style.
He was in Switzerland from 1902-1915. He was the principal of a school in Salonika from 1915-1919. He was the principal of the seminary for teachers and pre-school teachers in Tel Aviv from 1919-1923. From then on, he taught in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He was one of the first to deal with the question of the status of our relations with the Arabs, and earning their friendship. (His article on this question, from Hashiloach in 1905, has disappeared.) He was one of the founders of Brit Shalom. He was active in the development of the proper Hebrew accent (he lectured and served as advisor in various theatrical studios in the Land of Israel). He was concerned with exactitude and nuances in language. He invented new words, particularly in pedagogy and psychology. He published research in education, language, and psychology, as well as many articles in the daily newspapers on practical issues of Hebrew. He published the book Ivrit beIvrit (Hebrew in Hebrew) in 1901; Higyonei Lashon (Studies in Language) 5707; Investigations of the Psychology of the Hebrew Language, Jerusalem 5700 (1940); Thought and the Plethora of Languages (in French), 1915. He translated Nefesh Hachinuch (The Soul of Education) by William Stern. He died in Jerusalem in the year 1943, 5703.
The writer Rachel Feigenberg (Omry) was the third generation of the Epstein family on her mother's side. She was the daughter of Sara. She was born in Lyuban in 1885 and left the town at the age of 14. She made aliya to the Land of Israel in 1924 along with her husband G. Shapira of blessed memory and their son Yisrael. She is currently resides in Tel Aviv. The photograph was from the age of 25.
She is a popular writer in Yiddish and Hebrew. She wrote stores of the events of the Jews of Poland. She looks after the Hameasef library. She translated the following works from Yiddish: Megilat Dobova (A description of the destruction of Dubova, Ukraine); Na VeNad (Wanderings), Biyemey Zaam (In the Days of Wrath) by Mordechai Necher; On the Banks of the Dniester; and For Two Years. She wrote: A Romance Without Love (on life in the land), The Final Era (of Jewish Life in Poland); articles on topical events and youth, the Jewish woman, and the building of the land; In the Confusion of Days; Between the Barbed Wire Fence, and others. She edited: The Nation in its Land, 5708-5709 (1948-1949). She translated the writings of the Jewish Russian writer Semion Yoshkovich into Yiddish.
Gruna Iskolski, nee Micheikin, was the wife of Reb Yaakov Iskolski of blessed memory of New York. She was born in Lyuban and died in New York. The photograph from her youth is from the family archives of the Epstein-Feigenberg family.
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