ONLINE NEWSLETTER (No. 1/2012–April, 2012)

This article is about the life of Israel Sender Goldberg

This article is copyrighted by Debra Wolraich

With many thanks to Robert Cole, Muriel Merlin and Gilbert Small,
grandchildren of Israel Sander Goldberg, who preserved their grandfather's diary,
translated it for their family and agreed to share it with Belarus SIG

Reprinting or copying of this article is not allowed
without prior permission from the copyrightholders


Diary of a Yeshiva bocher in 19th century Belarus

by Debra Wolraich

In 1895, Israel Sender Goldberg decided to keep a diary of his experiences in life. Instead of beginning with the present, he began by “briefly” describing his life from his birth in Russia to the time just before his betrothal. What is remarkable about Israel Sender’s story and what is so valuable to Jewish genealogists are the names of the people—those of his family members, of the people he meets, and of the people he works for, as well as the names of his students and colleagues.

Israel Sender was a real “yeshiva bocher.” He wrote in Hebrew script and his entries are listed by the Hebrew date and year, the holiday, and frequently the weekly Torah parshah. He traveled from town to town wherever he could find students to teach—often just for a “term” of about 6 months or less. (There were two terms each year.) Sometimes he was paid well, but more often he was not. Sometimes he stayed with relatives, sometimes “kest” or boarding was arranged. Always, he observed the holidays.
Eventually, two of Israel Sender’s brothers traveled to England and settled in the city of Leeds. When Israel Sender felt he had no other options, he moved to Leeds as well; his wife joined him shortly thereafter. In 1903 Israel Sender suddenly wrote that he had arrived in the United States. The diary continues, but that portion of his life will need to be described in another paper.

Israel Sender’s descendants have put together a book with a translation of the original Hebrew manuscript for their own family history. The object of this paper is to share the wonderful details with descendants of people from the same towns and perhaps of the same families that Israel Sender mentions. It is a summary of Israel Sender’s manuscript but, hopefully, will give readers a sense of the struggle of a scholar to learn, to teach, and to earn enough money to keep himself and his family fed and clothed. Please note that the page numbers refer to pages in the book, The Goldberg Family Diaries, self-published by descendants of Israel Sender.

The Early Years

According to his diary, Israel Sender was born in the village of Solowitz on the second day of Adar 5635, on a Wednesday {p.1}. The date corresponds to the early spring of 1875. Israel Sender was taught by his father and for one term by a teacher named Nissan. However, in 1885, when Israel Sender was eleven, he traveled with his mother, Batya-Chana, to the home of her father, “an established and revered gentleman” {p.2} by the name of Yechiel-Michel.

Israel Sender stayed either with his grandfather or at the home of his uncle, Shimon Stolovitsky, to attend Hebrew school where his first teacher was Reb Baruch, the son of Pesha-Chanah of Muzitz. His second teacher was Reb Joseph of Belitze who taught him Gemara (Bava Metzia, a Talmudic tractate), rabbinic commentary, and bible. Later, Israel Sender studied one term “with the famous Rabbi Aaron-Zev of Slonim,” who also taught my uncle Shimon’s sons” {p. 2}. Lastly, he studied with Abraham-Moshe, the son of Reb Shlomo Stein of Muzitz, who came to the house and taught him the Talmudic tractate, Kedushim.

Sometime later, after a problem at his uncle’s house caused by his uncle’s daughter Golda, Israel Sender traveled to Zhetel to study with Reb Abraham Astrinsky. When his aunt arrived in Zhetel, Israel Sender hurriedly moved to Noworodek. When he finally returned to his uncle’s home, where he had left his “made to measure” shoes, he found that things had calmed down and he was able to stay and study with Isaac Kaplan who had been hired to teach him for one term. At that time, Israel Sender’s grandmother, Mira-Chaya died.

In 1888 Israel Sender returned to Zhetel where an uncle named Aaron-Zelig helped him obtain “kest” (board) with strangers. He studied in Zhetel for 3 terms. Then, in 1890, Israel Sender again moved to Noworodek to study with Reb Zelig, but had to leave when police came looking for young men without passports.

After Pesach, Israel Sender went to Slonim to study Gemara with Reb Isaac and felt he accomplished a lot while he was there. At the end of the term, he returned to “my father’s house in Dukreve,” {p. 4} where his father had been living for three years. Because Israel Sender did not have any money or clothes, he did not want to live in Slonim. He moved to Plizheve “where I found a position with Reb Mordecai Greiffer” but did not stay because he was asked to pasture the cows {p. 4}. On the “advice of my brother Aaron-Aryeh of Slonim,” {p. 4-5} Israel Sender returned to Slonim where he studied Gemara—Baba Kama with Reb Isaac. Unfortunately, Israel Sender then became ill with typhus; interestingly, he wrote that at the hospital he had to pretend he came from Muzitz because he could not pay for his care.

When he was well again, Israel Sender traveled back to Slonim “for the second term where I stayed in my father’s house.” He studied Talmud—Baba Batra, Pesachim, and Baba Kama. He found work as a teacher with Lipmann Epstein in Lippewe “where I taught the Epstein’s children, Israel and Raphael by name, as well as the sons of Reb Tadrus Abramavsky, Aba and Betzalel by name; I also taught Miss Chayah, his (Rabbi Lipmann Epstein’s) daughter, and her older sister Minke, who at that time became engaged to Menachem.” {p. 5-6}

“The second term I managed to get myself a position in Ivankowitz with Joshua Pincus, the smith….I taught six children there; two sons of Joshua Pincus who were Shlomo and Abraham, and his daughter Zisse, the son of Reb Isaac the carpenter whose name was Joseph-Haim, and a son of the Bar Haim family, the boy Mordecai, and a daughter of Reb Yirachmiel Gantas, whose name was Chana Beylah.” {p. 6}

In 1892 in the middle of Sukkot, Israel Sender traveled to Baranowitz, but could not study there. He moved on to Mosh “where I found a place in the Bet Midrash of Reb Haim Slonim. There I managed to line up ‘kest’” {p. 6}. He did not remain long and returned to his home where two weeks before Chanukah, “farmers brought their cattle to pasture on Reb Shmuel Shuletsky’s fields. We didn’t want to permit it” {p. 7}. As he was planning to return to Mosh “and while I was at Reb Shmuel’s house, came the tidings that the shepherds had entered his fields…Shmuel’s daughter Edel asked me to accompany her to chase the interlopers off their land and to bring their own animals back from the pasture” {p. 7}.  Israel Sender was badly beaten by the peasants. There were court hearings until the late spring in Haradrishch. After recuperating, Israel Sender went to Perchowitz to work for Reb Abraham Turetzky.

By the second term, Israel Sender was “in Ivankowitz with Reb Joshua Pincus. He died and I was unable to finish the term” {p. 9}. Israel Sender then wrote that he had “leased Herr Shirmansky’s fruit garden” where he “installed my brother Nachman and I got work at Reb David’s in Skorzhinitz” which was also called “Mach” {p. 9}.

While in Mach, Sender went to Reb Lipmann’s {Epstein?} where he met Reb Lipmann’s brother, Reb Moshe, who asked Sender to teach his sons during the second term. In 1893 Israel Sender was in Zadefitz where he wrote that he was very happy. By 1894 Israel Sender was working at Reb Judah-Haim’s in Fuzewitz for two terms. During that time, the daughter of Reb Baruch of Vashlewitz upset him. One of Israel Sender’s brothers who had moved to England invited Israel Sender to join him, but Israel Sender “wouldn’t hear of it” {p. 10}.

In the spring of 1895 {2nd of Iyar in the year 5655}, Israel Sender arrived in the village of Satkovchina to teach Chanah (age 15), Chaim-Zvi {(age 13), Eliezer (age 10), and Leah {(age 5), the children of Reb Shlomo Kaplansky and his wife Chaya-Feigele. Several young women visited while he was there teaching. The first was Tziril, daughter of Reb Zelig Kaplansky, “from the rabbinic court of Rahatenka.” Next was “a neighbor’s daughter, the youngest daughter of Reb Pincus-Mendel of Satkovchina. Israel Sender also met her oldest sister named Sarah, the second sister named Chanah and twin younger sisters named Leah and Gedeikah” {p. 20-21}.

In the late spring, “I travelled to my father’s home together with Aryah Lipmann of Lippewe” {p. 21}. When Sender returned to Satkovchina “on Sunday morning the 3rd of the month of Sivan,” his “employer’s wife gave birth to a daughter” and Sender went to Rahetna to give thanks for the birth. All day I spent at Reb Pincus-Mendel’s in Satkovchina” {p. 21}.

Israel Sender traveled briefly to Slonim and “spent the whole of Shavuot…with my brother Aryah in Kopenitz.” {p. 22}. He also received a letter from his brother Nachman in England which mentioned another brother, Abraham-Zvi. At that time, Israel Sender’s father apparently suggested that Israel Sender go to Argentina, which Israel Sender refused.

Israel Sender was having some frustration with his students and apparently went often to visit in Rahatenka—the location of the rabbinic court and the home of Tziril, daughter of Reb Zelig Kaplansky. It may have been Reb Zelig who was the “friend named Zelig” who urged him not to quit his job” {p. 23}.

A few days later, Israel Sender received a letter from his brother Isaac-Matityahu Goldberg, who invited Israel Sender to spend the winter with him. After writing in his diary that “Zev-Wolfe is very eager for his daughter to marry me” {p. 23}, Israel Sender wrote Isaac-Matityahu to arrange for a passport for Israel Sender to visit him. Israel Sender noted that he had also written to his “brothers in Leeds.”

Israel Sender then described his writing of a letter “for the bridegroom Moshe Garsky, the son of Jacob-Israel of Perchovitz, because when he was angry, his bride kicked him out. The bride’s name was Leah, the daughter of Reb Zvi Hershowitz.” Israel Sender wrote Moshe that he had experienced Moshe’s irrational anger three times and that Moshe should learn to control his temper.

Israel Sender next traveled to Slonim, but reported that his brother Aryeh had gone to Warsaw for a medical cure. Back home, Israel Sender received a letter from his brother Abraham-Zvi in Leeds, who complained about the other brother, Nachman.

Israel Sender stopped in Ranzhlishchina “to see the results of a revolution that took place in the square the 3rd day of the month of Ab” {p. 26-27}. Apparently, there had been much destruction of houses and cattle. Israel Sender mentioned “the defeat of that rotter Herr Farbowitz who was an enemy of Israel” and a farmer named Herr Plavska who had been wounded. He also mentioned that “Reb Pinhas Pesaker’s grain that had only today been brought to the village square was carried away by the wind. And the murderer Ulan who was involved in the revolt came out alive” {p. 27}.

Israel Sender’s landlady, Chaya-Feigel, was in Biaver on Sunday and reported that Zev-Wolfe’s wife had asked her to speak to Israel Sender about an arrangement with their elder daughter, Zlata. Israel Sender mentioned that although he “had wanted to go to the bridegroom, Isaac Ben Israel,” {p. 28} to reclaim his umbrella, he decided to go to Biaver to speak with Reb Zev-Wolfe and to tell him the marriage would not be the “best for me or for him” {p. 28}.

After that episode, Israel Sender wrote that he was pleased his father “is living in a fine residence that he rented from the non-Jew Martin in Perchowitz” {p. 28}. Then, in late summer, Israel Sender visited his uncle Reb Az, but Reb Az was away visiting Israel Sender’s sick grandfather. Israel Sender then traveled to his aunt Mina-Leah who shortly afterward also went to see “her sick father” and came back to report that the grandfather was near death. Israel Sender’s grandfather later died, and Israel Sender noted that he wrote the news to his brother Isaac-Matityahu Goldberg {p. 28}.

In 1895 Israel Sender spent Rosh Hashanah with his brother Aaron-Aryeh and then Yom Kippur and Succot with his father {p. 28-29}. He then began teaching in Halinka. He taught “five local boys: Eliyahu Ben Shimson, Meir-Yonah Ben Cappel, Naphtali-Jacob Ben Nahum, Baruch-Aaron Ben Matityahu, and Shmaryahu Ben Chaim” {p. 29}.

Israel Sender Marries Leah

By early winter, Israel Sender reported that Reb Michel “approached me to marry his daughter, and he invited me to his home for the Sabbath. On the eve of the holy Sabbath I spoke to Leah and her manner stole my heart.” A day later, Leah “revealed her heart to me and told me that she is ready to give me her hand and soul in marriage” {p. 29}. (Note: Sender mentioned that he had been in Slonim and had brought Reb Michel a letter from his son named Israel.)

In the summer, Israel Sender was “in Grodno near Yacomewitz at Reb Joseph’s, the son of Samuel-Eliezer Gordon. There I taught his sons Chanan and David and his dark-eyed daughter Freyda-Leah as well as the young man, Israel, son of Shimshon Berkowwitz of Halbertin” {p. 32}. In the winter of 1896-1897, Israel Sender stayed “in Malawid at Reb Meir bar Zvi Fodelishewsky’s. There I taught his sons Judah and Mordecai and their sister Golda and also Miriam, Meir Epstein’s daughter” {p. 32}.

In late autumn of 1897, Israel Sender was in Slonim where he saw his parents. His sisters were about to travel to Leeds to visit Abraham-Zvi and Nachman. Sender also decided to go to Leeds, although his future in-laws were very upset about his going there.

Back in Slonim, Israel Sender “found a position in Durevne with Reb Abraham Sokoloff and I moved to Durevne that very day” {p. 33}. In early winter, he was in Slonim to help his sisters who were traveling to Leeds. They traveled “with the son of Reb Isaac Shpock, and Reb Isaac himself accompanied them as far as Wilno” {p.33}. The sisters traveled by train, but a week later they were “stuck” in Libowend/Letland and needed eight rubles which were sent to them by their brother Abraham-Zvi.

In 1897, on the 4th of Nisan, 5657, Israel Sender and Leah were married in the village of Bartashi near Slonim. The next day they returned to Holinka where Leah was ill for 15 days. Israel Sender went to Ozernitze to talk to Reb Meir about Leah’s “foot condition.”

Israel Sender traveled from Slonim “to Mikortzes, past Deredhin,” to lease a fruit orchard, but he was unsuccessful. Later, Israel Sender traveled to Baranowitz and then to Harshewitz for the same purpose. He was very disappointed that there did not seem to be any way for him to earn a living. That was when he decided he would have to leave Russia. Of course, he still had to have some money with which to live so he decided he would learn to be a “shochet-mohel,” a ritual slaughterer and a circumciser. Because learning from the experienced men was too expensive, Israel Sender studied books—Ohel-Yitzhak and Ateret-Chen—to learn how to be a “shochet-mohel.” Before he had a chance to practice his new trade, however, he met his uncle Abraham-Zvi Astrinsky who suggested that Israel Sender talk to the merchant Moshe-Gershon Polansky about working in his uncle’s place. Israel Sender spoke to Moche-Gershon’s son Alter and, in early summer, “Reb Saul of Tartachak arrived with the news that Alter Polansky and his father Moshe-Gershon suggested that I should come to Tartachak and from there to the factory they are building in Pinsk” {p. 37}.

A horse with an injured foot prevented Israel Sender from going to Pinsk to take the job, and it seemed he would not get to the factory at all. However, in mid-summer, Reb Moshe Gershon brought Israel Sender’s suitcase back to him and left a message for Israel Sender with Reb Moshe Yekutieli that Israel Sender would be needed after Succot when the building of the factory would be completed.

Israel Sender noted that in mid-summer {the 25th day of Tamuz, 5657/1897}, he heard from his uncle Reb Isaac Litowsky who was staying in Slonim at the home of Reb Yeshayahu. Reb Yeshayahu gave Israel Sender the address of Reb Moshe-Lazer, Rishe’s son, who lived in the town of Kashtuzno and might help him find a job in the iron works.

In the meantime, Sender reported that in mid-summer, “the stricture against Jews owning taverns was lifted. The ordinance was proclaimed in the name of Czar Nickolai Alexandrowitz who is known as Nickolas II. At the same time the land was divided up into Gubernias [Provinces] – Grodno, Wilno, Minsk, etc.” {p. 39} and, “On Tuesday the 1st of July, 1897, Jews opened businesses for the sale of Shnaps” {p. 40}.

On October 25, 1897, the military draft board “arrived in Zhetel” {p. 40}. Israel Sender was called up and then discharged (He noted that his number was 290.) He was “embittered” so he went to Grodno where he visited his Aunt Basha. He noted that “they were very poor” {p. 40}.

Israel Sender decided to find out how much it cost to travel to Leeds. At this point he wrote that “I am in the 27th year of my life, I am overcome with fear.” Israel Sender mentioned that his brother-in-law Israel Hankowsky was also discharged from the draft and had returned to Slonim.

Israel Sender Emigrates to England and Then to the United States

On November 26, 1897, Israel Sender left Holinka with his wife, Leah, and “went through Bortashi in order to say goodbye to Uncles Moshe and Mordecai, although Yitzhak and his wife we didn’t find at home. We also visited Parecho and Vashilewitz to say goodbye to everyone.” He stayed in Slonim until after the Sabbath and then “was escorted by my wife, my brother, my sister and brother-in-law, and also my sister Shayna-Golda and her son, Baruch Mordecai, and my wife’s uncle, Ezer, to the train. I paid six rubles for the ticket. I traveled with Reb Moshe Bar Yehudah Schleifer to Barabowitz. There we waited three hours. There I met the daughter of Reb Lezer Drucker of Muzitz. I sent regards through her to the folks back home. From Barabowitz we travelled to Wilno. There we waited eleven hours on the platform. On Monday morning we arrived in Libowe, where we waited thirteen days. During this period I had a passport made in the name of Moshe. The document came from Riga” {p. 41-42}.

Israel Sender traveled on a ship called the Cracow. He wrote that “She looked like a jail” {p. 42}. In England he managed to miss his brother at the railway platform, but he eventually arrived at Nachman’s house. “Two hours later Nachman and his wife Sarah, Chasha and Abraham-Gershon [Silverman], and Reb Joseph Gordon arrived.” {p. 43} Israel Sender later mentioned that his sister-in-law, Chaya-Devorah, came to ask about her father who had been ill. Israel Sender got a job with Reb Haim Rakozen, who was a matzo baker. At that time, which Israel Sender recorded as the “16th of the month of Tevet, 5659” {p. 44}, he also received a letter from his wife telling him that she had miscarried. In mid-summer {24th of Ab}, Israel Sender rented a flat from Mr. Max Yashkowitz at 25 Duftan’s Yard. A few days later, he gave Reb Isaac-Joseph Landau forty pounds to bring Leah to England.

Leah began her journey to England, but at the Russian-German border in the town of Kovart, Leah was arrested and jailed for 10 days. She was finally released with the aid of Reb Ezekiel Shimensky of Volkowisk who had also brought food to her every day while she was in jail. Leah “surreptitiously crossed the border and she arrived in Eidkonim, where she stayed until after Yom Kippur” {p. 45}. “From Eidkonim she went to Hamburg …and arrived in Leeds on the day before the holy Sabbath Hoshanah-Raba” {p. 46}.

There were some legal concerns over their baggage and the transactions with Reb Isaac-Joseph Landau. Israel Sender mentioned that he “brought as witnesses Reb Moshe Goodman and Reb Eliyahu-Mordecai Bar Aryeh” {p. 46}. Finally Sender reported that he received their baggage and “all ended peacefully and well” {p. 46}.

Israel Sender became a children’s teacher at the “old Bet Midrash” and then on the 12th of Ab, 1899, Leah gave birth to a daughter, who they named Sarah after Leah’s mother. The small family was living at 3 Bridge Court. Later, Israel Sender and Leah moved to 9 Templar Street. He continued to teach at the Bet Midrash, but he was concerned that his salary was very low. In May, he began doing some peddling in the suburbs of Leeds—Pudsey, Batley, Farsley and Horsforth—to increase his income, but he did not do very well. In addition, he learned from letters that his sister Shayna-Golda and his brother-in-law Israel Hankowsky had died.

Israel Sender continued peddling and teaching; he also became the sexton of the synagogue. Meanwhile, Israel Sender’s sister, Sarah-Leah, had become engaged to Jacob Stein, the son of Bezalel-Zvi of Kazloyshchina. Then, on March 9, 1901, Leah gave birth to another daughter, who they named Shayna-Chaya.

Due to some disputes, Israel Sender left his position as sexton and then suffered some major financial problems. Jacob-David Cohen got him a job examining matzot during the baking process. After Passover, Israel Sender opened a Hebrew school on Templar Street which he later moved to Myrtle Street where Abraham-Yitzhak, the son of Gershon Wolinsky, had had a school. In early winter, Leah’s sister, Zissel, came to visit. She was planning to be married to Reb Shmuel Wagenheim, but Israel Sender intervened and prevented the engagement. He asked Reb Aaron Grauefsky to arrange a match for Zissel with Mr. Zvi-Hirsh Greenberg of Litmanowitz.

Israel Sender and Leah were doing fairly well and enlarged the Hebrew school with the help of Jacob-David Cohen who lent Israel Sender money. Israel Sender then hired Reb Israel Semiatitsky to act as a teaching assistant, and the family was able to move to 15 Saint Street in the summer of 1902. Later, Israel Sender became Secretary of the Jewish Community for which he received a salary. He noted that Moshe-David Fried became his assistant at the Hebrew school.

In 1903, the 29th of Shevat, 5663, Leah’s father, Yechiel-Michel died. On Purim of 1903, Leah gave birth to a daughter who was named Michal after Yechiel-Michel. Later, Sender wrote vividly about what he had heard and read about the Kishinev pogroms of April 6–7.

With no explanation—though perhaps as a result of the devastating carnage to the Jewish community of Kishinev—Israel Sender wrote that he arrived in America on September 15, 1903, on the Carpathia of the Cunard Line.

He stayed with his uncle, Baruch-Aaron at first and then advertised for a job in the Tageblatt. He started teaching in mid-autumn in Providence and later was asked to teach in Allentown, Pennsylvania. By mid-winter, Leah and the children had arrived at Ellis Island. Sender went to meet them, and they stayed with Sender’s uncle, Baruch-Aaron at 147 Glenmore Avenue in Brooklyn. While Sender returned to Allentown, Leah rented an apartment at 145 Glenmore Avenue. Unfortunately, the Talmud Torah in Allentown closed, and, when Sender returned to Brooklyn, the apartment Leah had rented was destroyed by fire and by a flood from broken water pipes. The family moved to 65 Christopher Avenue, and Sender began teaching in one of the rooms.


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