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{Pages 409-416}

Slutskers in America

by Israel Shwaidelson, New York

Translated by Hershl Hartman

The writer of this review was born in Hrozova in 1889, studied in Slutsk in 1901, and came to New York in 1904. He joined the Slutsker landsmanshaftn [hometown associations] in 1907 and
was elected recording secretary in 1909. Since then he has been continually active in all group endeavors and positions, up to the present day. He was also among the main initiators and organizers of
all the [war] relief efforts among Slutskers in America.

With his help the “Beit Slutsk” [Slutsk House] was built in Israel near the Migdial colony.

Editorial Board

The United Slutsker Relief Committee

The beginning of the relief campaign

Organized relief work by Slutskers in America for the Jews in their home town of Slutsk began in 1905, following the Russo-Japanese war, with the onset of the pogroms [anti-Jewish riots] in Russia. Fear that Slutsk might suffer the same hooligan outbreaks as in other towns electrified Slutskers in New York, where landslayt [fellow townsmen] were concentrated. An attempt was made to gather funds for the purchase of arms for self-defense.[1] No significant success was achieved at that time, because the economic level of Slutskers in America was not high. The majority were recent immigrants, each of whom had to struggle for his own existence and send money home to his family. There were as yet no well-established immigrants, with only a few exceptions.

The Slutsker organizations then in existence were quite young: The Slutsker shul [synagogue] — about five years old; “Independent Slutskers” — three years; and the “Progressive Slutskers” — all of one year old.

Only a few hundred dollars were gathered then, and it is not known whether the money was even sent. Fortunately, Slutsk by then had active youth groups and parties, such as Zionists, the [Socialist] Bund, Labor Zionists, Territorialists, and some others. Though as party members they disputed, fought against each other, quite often leading to bloody confrontations, they were nevertheless united when it came to facing the common foe. It is a known fact that Slutsk was protected thanks to the young men and women of the self-defense. The police severely oppressed the revolutionary activism of the proletarian parties. To assist them the police brought in Kulak, the constable of Hrozova, well-known as a bloody murderer and die-hard anti-Semite. The [Jewish self-defense] bunch didn't “keep him waiting” and the next day they “finished him off.”

Somewhat more was accomplished after the First World War, when there were more Slutskers in America, since a large stream of more educated youth had arrived in the wake of the unsuccessful Russian revolution [of 1905] and the pogroms. The early arrivals brought over their families and became settled. The economic situation improved after 1910, when the Jewish trade unions were established, bringing a spiritual and moral uplift to the Jewish masses. At the outbreak of the First World War there were three Slutsker organizations in existence that were of help to their members and to other charitable Jewish institutions. The Slutsker shul had acquired its own building for religious services, and there older landslayt found an atmosphere reminiscent of the old country.

[Photo caption, p. 410:
The Relief Committee sends collected clothing to Slutsk (summer, 1946).
Israel Shwaidelson hands a sack of clothing to Mrs. Sarah Lefrak.
Her husband Harry stands alongside.]

The “Progressive Slutsker Young Men,” around which the younger and more secularized elements from Slutsk and its surroundings were concentrated, had grown very large. Their clubrooms had, since 1906, become the gathering center for anyone who wanted to spend his free time in a friendly atmosphere. “The Independent Slutskers,” which consisted of middle-aged landslayt, had also grown, and devoted itself mostly to aiding its members and the families of recently-arrived landslayt.

During that time another Slutsker organization came on the scene. In 1913 a branch of the large fraternal organization, the Arbeter Ring [Workmen's Circle], known as “Slutsk Branch 500, A. R.” was formed, around which were grouped mostly the young people who had been members of the Bund back home.

When the war broke out in the summer of 1914, the Jewish masses in America were thunderstruck. Many Slutskers still had their wives and children, parents and relatives, in the old country, to whom they would regularly send money. Suddenly, everything was interrupted. The Slutsker landslayt were even more affected, since the familiar “Max Cabra [?] Bank,” with which they were financially connected, went into bankruptcy.

To the Slutsk landslayt, this bank had been more than a financial institution for savings and fund transfers, or for buying steamship tickets on behalf of relatives. For most, it was the address at which they received letters from home. It was also the place to which they came for advice on bringing over their families and relatives, and on various other matters.

Our Slutsker landslayt felt very much at home there, because they had a great friend in the person of the late Slutsker landsman Isaac Nayburg, a longtime major employee in whom the landslayt had the greatest trust and respect. The bank was also the gathering place where every Saturday evening people would assemble to exchange news from home, and to meet new arrivals who had brought greetings from relatives.

The closure of the “Max Cabra Bank” and several other banks left many landslayt in dire poverty. They lost their meager hard-earned savings as well as paid-up steamer tickets and transfer funds. Many had lost relatives. It was a disaster, yet the habit of coming to the bank remained. They would come and stare at the locked doors, like children visiting their forebears' graves.

At the end of the war the four organizations joined forces in an aid committee to help war victims in Slutsk. The chairman was Morris Osofsky; treasurer, the late Moyshe Kulak; secretary, Harry Marcus.

Several meetings were held at the Slutsker shul with the participation of the then-rabbi, ha-rav Yakov Eskolsky, and the famous Slutsk landsman, the preacher Tsvi Hirsh Maslansky, of blessed memory. A significant sum of money was raised. When it came to transmitting the aid, it became apparent that this would be practically impossible due to the chaos in Russia—first with the collapse of the Czarist regime, and later with the establishment of the Bolshevik government—so that aid from America was lost.

This was how things proceeded for a number of years. Representatives who had been sent to the various towns and villages [from the U.S.] with funds were unable to accomplish anything since the exchange rate was in constant flux and American dollars became almost worthless.

Around 1918 the noted Slutsker landslayt Max Tsurkof and Isaac Nayburg decided to travel to Slutsk to visit their relatives. Many Slutskers gave them money for their own families. The Aid Committee gave them the funds it had collected and named them its representatives. They were instructed to establish a committee in Slutsk that would distribute the funds in an honorable manner.

Upon their arrival in Slutsk they found an already-existing committee, of which Dr. Shildkroyt was the chairman. After only two days there was another overthrow of government[2] and they had to flee in great haste. They had to leave the earmarked money in the hands of Dr. Shildkroyt, relying on the committee's sense of judgment to deal with it as best they understood.

Following the final victory of the Bolsheviks it was totally impossible to have any communication with the committee in Slutsk because its members were oppressed both by the government and by their own Yevsekes [Jewish Section of the Bolshevik party]. A short time later the committee in America fell apart.

The renewed aid effort

The current committee, known as “United Slutsker Relief,” was formed in November, 1944, before the Nazi armies had retreated. The chairman of the “Progressive Slutskers” conferred with the leaders of the other Slutsker associations about the formation of an aid committee for the survivors of the khurbn [Holocaust] in Slutsk and its environs.

On Thursday, November 20, the first meeting was held under the chairmanship of Israel Shwaidelson, chairman of the Progressive Slutskers. The following organizations participated: the Slutsker shul, “Independent Slutskers,” “Progressive Slutskers,” Slutsker Branch of the Arbeter Ring [Workmen's Circle] and “Progressive Slutsker Women's Club,” (founded in 1930). All were prepared to do whatever might be necessary to help the survivors. At that time, no one was aware of the depth of the khurbn.

The second meeting was held December 16, 1944, for the election of officers.

But the meeting was gripped by the mourning spirit of Tishe b'ov[3]. That same day, the New York Herald-Tribune had published a report by the famous Slutsk landsman Maurice Hindus on his visit to Slutsk. It became clear that the khurbn was more horrible than had been imagined. Slutsk had been simply erased. Of its thousands of Jews, he found only 29.

Officers were then elected: as chairman, the honorable landsman Rabbi Dr.Tsadok Kapner, of blessed memory; treasurer—the noted businessman Harry Lefrak; financial secretary—Louis Temtshin; recording secretary—Sylvia Berg; vice-chairmen—Morris Osofsky of the Slutsker shul, Louis Bassin of the Independent Slutskers, Sam Cahn of the Slutsk Branch of Arbeter Ring, Sarah Lefrak of the Women's Club. Israel Shwaidelson of the Progressive Slutskers was chosen as executive vice-chairman.

Meanwhile, Maurice Hindus returned to New York. His verbal report was even more horrible. He promised to speak at an open meeting.

[Photo caption, p. 412:
At the signing of the contract between the Relief Committee and the Histadrut [Israel Labor Federation] for the construction of a “Beit Slutsk” [Slutsk House] in Migdial, Israel.
From right to left, seated: Morris Osofsky, Israel Shwaidelson, Isaac Hemlin, Harry Lefrak, Dr. Abraham L. Bunin, and Gershon Levinson of Israel.
Standing: Cohen, Sylvia Berg, Sam Travin, Sarah Lefrak, Sam Tshesnin—and Mordechai Tshoyna.]

Sunday, February 11, 1945. The chairman then was Morris Osofsky; the main speakers—Rabbi Dr. Tsadok Kapner and Professor Natan Klotz. The [fund-raising] appeal brought in about five thousand dollars. Regrettably,Maurice Hindus was unable to attend, but his telegraphic report devastated everyone.

In personal conversations, Maurice Hindus reported that while in Slutsk he had spoken with the chief commissar of the town, who informed him that the town needed most of all medications and surgical instruments because the Nazis had looted all the hospitals. Many were returning from hiding sick, broken, wounded, and medical aid was lacking. Maurice Hindus believed that priority must be given to sending this medical assistance, and that everyone should be helped without exception, Jews and non-Jews.

At the second mass gathering, April 2, 1945, the speakers were Prof. Natan Klotz, Rabbi Tsadok Kapner, Morris Osofsky, Israel Shwaidelson and Maurice Hindus. The appeal raised over eight thousand dollars.

The Committee, under the chairmanship of the noted landsman Dr. Abraham Bunin, proceeded to obtain the needed medicines. A sum of over two thousand dollars was expended. By mid-summer [the supplies] were sent to Slutsk, addressed to “Russian War Relief.”

Early in 1946, a letter from Slutsk informed us that the final slaughter of Jews in Slutsk had occurred on February 8, 1943, [Hebrew calendar date] Adar 3, 5703. On that day the German murderers drove the remaining Jews into the shul courtyard, some eight thousand men, women and children, and burned them alive.

The Committee immediately called a yortsayt [commemoration of death] assembly. The devastation was marked by tears and sorrow and outcries of pain. That date has remained our yortsayt for an annual remembrance gathering.

When Rabbi Dr. Tsadok Kapner, of blessed memory, retired as chairman, Israel Shwaidelson became his replacement, inasmuch as Shwaidelson had actually been already directing all activities along with Dr. Abraham Bunin as vice-chairman.

A request was received from the Russian relief agency for used clothing and shoes for the Slutsk population. The Committee quickly began a campaign and within a few months it had gathered some five thousand pounds of clothes and shoes of all kinds which were turned over to the Russian aid committee for transport to Slutsk.

After a year had passed we had still not received acknowledgment of the medicines that had been shipped.

During that time, letters were being received from Jews returning to Slutsk from their evacuation to distant areas [of Russia], by their American relatives. The returnees had no inkling about what had been shipped there.

The Committee chair corresponded with a surviving relative in Slutsk and proposed that a committee be formed in Slutsk to remain in contact with the American Committee. The response was that this was absolutely impossible, and furthermore the letter did not contain a single word about the aid that had been shipped. Subsequent letters from America received no replies.

At the advice of Maurice Hindus, a telegram was sent to the Slutsk commissar whom he had interviewed, inquiring about the shipped materials and asking what else he might need. No reply was ever received. The Committee decided that, lacking a response, nothing else was to be sent.

In contrast, letters arrived from landslayt in refugee camps. They requested aid and help in locating relatives in America. The Committee immediately responded with money and food packages and sought out local relatives. Over 100 letters arrived from various countries: Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Austria, France, Germany. We responded to all with letters, food packages, clothes and money.

We helped some landslayt to come to America. A certain number were helped in making aliyah [emigrating] to the [pre-State] Land of Israel. Among the letters [from there] the chairman received one from a fellow-townsman from Hrozova, Shimshon Nachmani, about locating a relative.

The Slutsker Relief assigned five thousand dollars for the “United Appeal,” “HIAS,” Histadrut campaign. The winter that the U.N. approved the creation of the State of Israel [on Nov. 29, 1947], a special meeting was called by the Progressive Slutskers. Various opinions were expressed: several held that the funds raised and held in the treasury should be donated for general relief purposes and the Committee be disbanded. However, the majority of the Committee held that its activities should be continued and devoted to helping the Jews in Israel in their battle with the Arabs. When, in late 1948, Dr. Abraham Bunin traveled to Israel, he was authorized to meet with the above-named Sh. Nachmani and other Slutsk landslayt in Israel, to determine how best to honor the memory of the martyrs of Slutsk and its surrounding communities.

[Photo caption, p. 413:
Mr. and Mrs. Lefrak present the first check to Slutsker
Relief to Mr. Israel Shwaidelson (Feb. 1945).]

At one meeting of Slutsker landslayt with Dr. Abraham Bunin in Tel Aviv, there was discussion on the question of building a children's home or a hospital wing in Israel as a monument to Slutsk. A committee was elected to remain in contact with the Slutsker Relief in New York. Upon Dr. Bunin's return, it was decided to endorse the plan the Israel committee had developed.

In May, 1949, the Relief Committee celebrated this writer's 60th birthday. In honor of his activities, it announced the “Campaign” project. Two months later, the largest contributors to the Relief, its treasurer Harry Lefrak and his wife, Sarah, traveled to Israel. In conjunction with the committee there, they closely examined several projects and focused on the proposal of the kupat kholim [National Health Care Service] to build a facility to be named Beit Slutsk at the Beit Levinstein Tuberculosis Hospital. Upon their return the plan was adopted. A contract was signed with the representative of kupat kholim and the first installment of ten thousand dollars was paid. The cornerstone of Beit Slutsk was laid on March 21, 1950. Many Slutsker landslayt living in Israel were present, as well as some from America, who just happened to be in Israel at the time.

[Photo caption, p. 414:
At the placement of the cornerstone of Beit Slutsk in Israel
Seated from right to left: Ben Eliyahu,(unknown), Pesye Shapiro, Bukhbinder, Bunin, Rabbi
Tsvi Yehuda Meltzer, Sh. Nachmani, Dr. I. Kot, Sholem Shpilkin, Eliyahu Dagani.
7
Standing from right to left: Sonia Nachmani, Nekhame Biler, Mrs. Epstein
and Leybl Epstein, Yehuda Mayzl, Shmuel Toker, Mutye Melamed, Abraham
Tshernikhov, Y. L. Grozovski, Nachum Chinitz, A. Shapiro.]

The project in Israel produced great enthusiasm among the landslayt in America. The Slutsk Relief was the first landsmanshaft [hometown association] to undertake memorializing its martyrs.

Harry and Sarah Lefrak supported the project very generously; Dr. Bunin and his wife, Marusha, were very active in the project. The required sum of money was raised in the course of 18 months.

The committee in Israel proposed that the chairman of the Relief Committee, under whose aegis the project was successfully completed, should come to Israel and participate in the dedication. After much negotiation, Israel Shwaidelson was invited to Israel for the dedication.

Harry and Sarah Lefrak made another trip to Israel, both to participate in the dedication of Beit Slutsk and simultaneously to deal with their own project of establishing a building in memory of their tragically deceased son-in-law.

A movement began in 1954 in the Committee to undertake another project in Israel. David Levin, a personal friend and longtime comrade of the chairman and an activist in the Relief Committee, visited Israel around Passover of 1955. He was authorized to consider the proposed projects, to confer with the Israeli committee and, upon his return, to express his opinion.

In April, 1956, the Committee made an agreement with the Histadrut for a project to build a children's home in Givat Hayim. This was an idea that David Levin, of blessed memory, conveyed in his letters from Israel to the chairman. Again, thanks to these two active groupings in the Relief Committee, the “Progressive Slutskers” and especially, the “Progressive Slutsker Women's Club,” which devoted virtually their entire energies toward raising the required
funds, the goal was achieved.

[Photo caption, p. 415:
A clinic named for W. B. Lampert in Israel
Standing from right to left: Nachum Chinitz, Esther Chinitz, Mrs. Toker and
Shmuel Toker, Sonia Nachmani, Sh. Nachmani, Ariye Shapiro, Pesye Shapiro,
Back row, center: Harry and Sarah Lefrak.]

“Progressive Slutsker Young Men's Benevolent Association”

The “Progressive Slutsker Y.M.B.A.” was formed in 1904 by about a dozen Slutsker fellows who felt uncomfortable in the Slutsker shul and among the “Independent Slutskers.” Their worldview was influenced by the Socialist enlightenment. In their first year they already numbered more than 100 members, and by the end of 1905 they opened the clubrooms that they maintain until the present day.

The members wanted to retain the youthful character of the organization, so it was determined that membership would be restricted to individuals under 30 and unmarried. In time the “Progressive Slutskers” grew so popular that many people joined who had originated from other regions and countries, such as Galicia, Romania, and so on.

Slutskers were in the front ranks in the organization of the Jewish labor unions.

The clubrooms boiled over with all kinds of activity, entertainment, lectures and concerts. Classes in English were held in the reading room. The Slutsker balls, held four times each year, were famous.

With the outbreak of World War I and America's entry into it, more than a hundred members were drafted into the army. But the group's activity did not cease. After the war they were the first to help in establishing the “Slutsker Relief.”

The Bolshevik revolution in Russia, which caused splits among Jewish workers and general progressive organizations, did not affect the “Progressive Slutskers.” There were actually some Communists in its ranks, but that did not get out of hand. The organization's unity was maintained.

In time the “Progressive Slutskers” reached a membership of almost 500 members, and it grew financially strong. It maintained its Socialist tradition yet became more Jewish than it had been before.

Upon the entry of America into World War II, the “P. S.” became active in the sale of War Bonds among its members: over a million dollars' worth was sold by them. The government gave them various awards and, in their honor—a warplane was named “Spirit of Slutsk.” The “P. S.” became the “breath of life” of the “United Slutsker Relief.” Its headquarters were in the P.S. clubrooms. Their main officers held the same posts in the Relief. Upon the establishment of the State of Israel, the P. S. led the action by the Relief to honor the memory of the Slutsk martyrs with a monument in Israel. They also continued their activities on behalf of general relief agencies and Jewish charitable institutions in American Jewish life.

Now, when the “Progressive Slutskers” is over fifty-five years old, it still numbers around 400 members, though without the caché of its past. Yet it is still the largest and most active organization of Slutsk landslayt in America.

Progressive Slutsker Women's Club”

The “Progressive Women's Club” was founded in January, 1930, with the goal of creating closer comradeship among the women. It did not take long before they became involved in the general social activity of American Jewish life. At the beginning the women aided the P. S. in all its undertakings as well as in other communal activities, especially in the financial crisis of the nineteen-thirties, when unusual aid was required for members and charitable institutions.

The women were very active in the United Slutsker Relief in raising funds for Slutsk survivors. Upon the creation of the State of Israel, the small Slutsker women's organization did much to preserve the memory of Slutsk.

Through the years of their existence they proved that their group was a vibrant one, possessed of an intelligent membership. The “Progressive Slutsker Women's Club” is the pride of the Slutsk landsmanshaftn in America.

[Photo caption, p. 416:
Slutsker visit Beit Slutsk in Israel
From right to left: Mutye Melamed, Ruven Gross, Eliyahu Degani of the kupat
kholim
, Ariye Shapiro, Israel Shwaidelson, Sarah Lefrak, Harry Lefrak, Sh.
Nachmani, N. Chinitz, Sh. Toker.]


Footnote

  1. Led by Jewish revolutionaries, the self-defense movement during the 1905 pogrom wave was a previously unheard
    of form of resistance. Often, the mere rumor that Jews were armed dissuaded government- and church-inspired
    rioters. Return
  2. During the years-long post-revolutionary civil war, many areas of Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Belarus changed
    hands between the pro-Czarist White and the Bolshevik Red Armies. Return
  3. 9th of Av: Traditional commemoration of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temples. Return


{Pages 417-419}

Slutskers in America 54 Years Ago [1908]

Translated by Hershl Hartman

The Family of I. D. Berkovitsh[1], Brownsville, N.Y., 1908

My father, Ezriel Zelig (5620-5694) [1860-1934], was known in Slutsk, especially on Vigoda Street, as “Zelig Tshipelayer,” because his family came from the village of Tshipelay, near Starobin. His grandfather, Eliezer Lipe, who supplied dairy products to the landowner of Tshipelay village, had been expelled from the Starobin region in the wake of decrees by [Czar] Nicholai I against village Jews. Ezriel Zelig was also called “Tall Zelig” because of his stature. In addition, he acquired the nickname “Zelig The Orphans” (not “The Orphan,” in the singular, but specifically “The Orphans”), because while he was still young, after the early death of his father, Berl Tshipelayer, he remained the sole provider for his younger siblings. (His eldest brother, Avrom-Itsi, a melamed [religious teacher of young children] in the nearby shtetl Lyuban, was unable to fulfill the role.)

As a young man he left for America, learned a craft, returned, then later emigrated once again to America, this time with his entire family (except for his eldest son, I. D. B. [the author of this article], who remained in Europe. He settled in Brownsville [part of Brooklyn, N.Y.] where he opened a small business for washing, dying and ironing clothes. In his later years, he bought himself a house in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where he conducted a kheyder [elementary religious school], teaching American children Bible along with Rashi's commentaries, and preparing
them for bar mitzvah.

Ezriel Zelig was a hearty prayer-leader. At the pulpit of the Vigoder Shul he led the Musaf [supplementary] prayers on the mornings of Sabbath and holy days, and led the [main] morning prayers on Yom Kippur. In Brownsville, together with compatriots from Slutsk and Pogost, he founded a congregation, “Adas Isroel”, which went on to build itself a shul, and he organized a Talmud study group where the Slutsker rabbi, Tomashov, would teach.

[Photo caption, p. 417:]
Seated from right to left: Isser; my father Ezriel Zelig; Borekh; my mother Dvosye; Elkhonen.
Standing from right to left: Basye; Yitskhok Dov; Reuven Leyb; Feygl.
Descriptions follow below.

My mother, Dvosye (5619-5698) [1859-1938]—was known on Vigoda as a rare homemaker—tidy, wise and honest—who supported her husband in a variety of occupations, so as to provide their children with a good education, and who planted gardens on Vigoda as well as in her home-village of Bikoy.

Basye (5643-5698) [1883-1938]—wrote stories and poems, including descriptions of Slutsk, published (under the pen-name “Basye Lvovitsh”) in the New York weekly, Di Fraye Arbeter Shtime [Voice of Free Labor], and in the daily, Di Tsayt [The Time], edited by Dovid Pinski[2]

Yitzkhok Dov (I. D. Berkovitsh) [see Footnote 1]—at the time [of this family portrait] was visiting from Switzerland.

Feygl (now lives with her husband and the Dorinson family in Chicago)—as a young girl she was active with the Zionist youth in Slutsk.

Reuven Leyb—came to America with his parents after having completed Jewish studies at the religious schools in Slutsk, as well as studies at the Russian government school there. He mastered Hebrew and English. Was a Hebrew teacher his entire life. Now in Philadelphia.

Elkhonen (5654-5705) [1894-1945]—studied in Slutsk until the age of 14, in elementary and advanced religious schools [yeshivas]; grew up with Hebrew literature. In America, by virtue of his diligence and sharp mind, he became an outstanding scholar, graduating Cornell University, where he became an assistant professor. In 1924 he was appointed professor of Spanish literature at University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he taught for over 20 years as one of the best, most beloved, teachers. Received the Pulitzer and Guggenheim awards for literary works. Visited Spain twice (during the period of the Republic), where he was invited to lecture at the University of Madrid. Among other works, published a treatise on the Hebrew translation by Kh. N.Bialik[3] of Don Quixote, comparing Bialik's Hebrew text with the Spanish original (see Bialik's letter to him in Collected Works of Kh. N. Bialik, Vol. Three, Col. 204). The University of Wisconsin posthumously published his substantial book (in 1948) on the classic Spanish author, Pérez Gald?s[4]

Israel Isser [or simply, Isser]—graduated City College of New York, was a public school teacher for a short period, went into business, lives in New York.

Borukh—brought to America as a child, studied at New York University. Works in business. Lives in New York.

Khayim Zeydes / Slutskers in New York

Jews began to emigrate from Slutsk to America approximately 75 years ago [mid-1880s]. In those days, it was the poorest people who came. There were no Jewish organizations or unions at the time. Those who had skills managed to earn whatever they could in the sweatshops, where the workday was 14-15 hours. Those who lacked skills suffered terribly for a long time until they were able to find a shop that would take them in. Though everyone lived from hand to mouth, they still needed to send as much money as possible to their wives and children, and to pay back those who had helped them buy ocean passage to the Golden Land.

But every Jew is blessed with the quality of stubbornness — regardless of how hard and bitter it may be for them. And so, a handful of Slutsk Jews got together and established a shul, “Anshey Slutsk” [Men of Slutsk, or Congregation of Slutsk]. Each of the immigrants from Slutsk and its outskirts appealed to their [“more established”] landslayt [compatriots], even though the earlier arrivals were themselves in dire straits. Everyone was worried about their uncertain income. Yet, despite the fact that he himself might lack the money to pay his own rent, every [“experienced”] landsman would encourage the newcomers, and do what he could to find them jobs in a shop, or advise them on where to seek help. Before long a second Slutsk shul was opened, with a large number of congregants. A few years before the Russo-Japanese war [of 1905], the Slutsk religious judge, Rabbi Naymark, visited his children in New York. He was given a warm reception by the [community of former] Slutskers.

Reb Leybe Naymark was a giant of Torah knowledge and a scholar among scholars, as well as an imposing speaker. His address served to unite the two congregations into one large shul that existed for about half a century on Pike Street in New York. If anyone wanted to locate a Slutsk landsman he would get accurate information at the shul.

The shul eventually purchased land for a cemetery. Much good work was done by Morris Osofsky and his parents. The onetime Slutsk rabbi, Reb Yankef Dovid [Yaakov Dovid Willowsky, 1845-1913], known as “The Ridvaz” [or “The Ridbaz”; acronym of his full Hebrew name], who was known [throughout the Jewish world], passed away in Erets Yisroyl [Land of Israel, then Palestine]. Eulogies were delivered by prominent rabbis at the Pike Street shul. On the advice of Rabbi Yehuda Leyb Lazerov a proposal was put forth to establish a talmud-toyre [supplemental afternoon religious school] in New York, named for The Ridvaz. The proposal was adopted and the Ridvaz Talmud-Toyre was established in honor of their much beloved rabbi of Slutsk.

The Ridvaz Talmud-Toyre is a child of the Slutsk shul, and in recent years Slutskers have lived to see a grandchild: a yeshiva [school of advanced religious studies] has been established, named for Rabbi Yosef Kanovits, son-in-law of the gaon [rabbinical sage] Reb Yankef Dovid, rabbi of Slutsk.

Rabbi Dov Yehuda Daina

Rabbi Daina was born in Slutsk, where his grandfather Reb Zundl Salant was chief judge over religious matters [for the local Jewish community]. Zundl Salant was a cousin of Reb Yosif Zundl Salant of Jerusalem, who was in turn the teacher of [the famous] Reb Yisroyl Salanter[5] When his grandfather passed away, Dov Yehuda Daina replaced him as judge and religious authority. He was raised in Slutsk during the first eleven years of his life and in fact began studying at the Slutsk yeshiva [unusual for a boy so young].

In 1917 this judge and religious authority of Slutsk left for Harbin, Manchuria, where he remained until 1925. From his arrival in America until his death in 1945 he lived in Canarsie [Brooklyn, N.Y.]. Rabbi Daina also brought his young son Mordkhe to Harbin, where the latter learned the Russian language fluently, at a gimnazye [government high school]. In 1925 he and his father came to America, where the son entered Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan [rabbinical seminary now part of Yeshiva University].

The young Rabbi Daina, upon ordination, became a rabbi in Syracuse, later in Brooklyn, until becoming a military chaplain in 1944.

Due to his knowledge of the Russian language, he was sent to Shanghai [a city of refuge for escapees from the Nazi invasion of Russia and of Eastern Europe in general]. There he was among the first American Jews to meet survivors from the European yeshivas.

[Photo captions, p. 419:]
Rabbi Leyb Naymark (Slutsk religious judge and famous preacher) [in top hat]
Rabbi Mordkhe Daina [in uniform]
Rabbi Dov Yehuda, Slutsk religious judge [heavy graying beard]

(Credit for the official photos of Rabbi Mordkhe Daina and his father belongs legally to the U.S. Army.)


Footnote

  1. I. D. Berkovitsh is famous as the son-in-law and chronicler of Sholem Aleichem, translator of the latter's works intoHebrew, as well as a writer in his own right. Return
  2. Dovid Pinski, famous Yiddish playwright, novelist, writer and editor, disciple of I. L. Peretz. His play The Treasure was staged by Max Reinhardt in Berlin in 1910 even before reaching Yiddish audiences. Return
  3. Khayim Nakhman Bialik (1873-1934) is regarded as the founding poet of modern Hebrew literature. He also wrote in Yiddish. Return
  4. Benito Pérez Gald?s (1843-1920), a radical, anti-clerical realist novelist, is considered second only to Cervantes in Spanish literature. Return
  5. From Wikipedia: Rabbi Yisroel Lipkin, better known as "Yisroel Salanter" or "Israel Salanter" (November 3, 1810, Zhagory – February 2, 1883, Königsberg), was the father of the Musar Movement [non-Hassidic movement of ethical/spiritual life-goals] in Orthodox Judaism…The epithet Salanter was added to his name since most of his schooling took place in Salant (now the Lithuanian town of Salantai), where he came under the influence of Rabbi Yosef Zundel of Salant. Return

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