The auditorium served as the cultural center of town, be it for Russian or Jewish intellectuals. There were numerous lectures and theatre productions. I recall the excitement when famous performers appeared. They were Mormatzov, Feydotova, Vialtzova, Samrin, Yarmdova and others of their stature. I particularly remember the performance of Tchesovitz from Davideyev* who sang classic, popular and operatic songs. These were unforgettable experiences as were the lectures by the Priest Petrov- a popular Russian lecturer on philosophy. He was an important thinker and I never tired of listening to him.
There was once a heated debate between him and Misha Pustan during a lecture about the Belgian poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck in the auditorium. We should not forget the parties and masquerade balls on Christmas and New Year's.
I once appeared on stage, by accident, during the celebration of the three hundredth anniversary of the House of Romanov in 1913. I was assigned by the school the recitation of the poem Who Is He? by Apollon Nikolayevich Maykov. Afterwards, our Russian literature teacher, Fyodor Nikolayevich Vlikov, approached me, kissed my forehead and awarded me a book by Pushkin. I was so proud, since I was the only Jew, that I was the one won a prize for reciting a poem by one of the greatest Russian poets.
The auditorium stage was used in winter only. In the summer months the Balanovy theatre was used for various cultural events. Famous circuses such as the Dorov and others were frequent visitors in Bendery. They found the location ideal. In addition, Jewish troupes such as those of Avraham Fishezon and Peppi Litman performed in Yiddish. They brought operas by Goldfaden, Hassia the Orphan and King Lear. We considered ourselves theatre aficionados and were quite impressed by Adler's group. We performed in amateur productions directed by the Ashkenazy brothers (M. And V.). We also presented Russian plays to the students and other theatre lovers Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov and plays by Ostrovsky.
This is the most beautiful season in a person's life since it makes one enjoy the awakening of nature and the renewal of life. In Bessarabia, as in all other parts of southern Russia, spring begins in the month of Adar. We felt the saying When Adar enters, happiness increases was especially true of this season. When spring began we came out of the end of winter and escaped the frigid air and the mud. It was already possible to open windows to air the house. It was as if the sun smiled and caressed us gently. Icicles melted from rooftops and dripped down. The sidewalks and the edges of the road where there were no sidewalks were covered with spongy earth since the mud was covered with a dry layer. Tree buds were visible and swallows were flying in the air announcing the coming of spring. It felt like an awakening from deep slumber. The Song of Songs was recited in Heder accompanied by a special tune.
The signs of spring were also evident in the preparation for the holidays. Purim followed by Passover. On Purim eve all Jewish businesses closed early and craftsmen put down their tools. Jews rushed to synagogues to hear the reading of the Megillah. On the following day stores were closed at noon. Everyday attire was replaced by holiday clothes and preparations were begun for the Purim meal to be eaten at dusk. The housewives were excitedly busy preparing fluden (a concoction of nuts and honey), and Hammentashen for their family and for the Mishloah Manot sent to friends and family. Every housewife worked hard to outdo her friends with her Mishloah Manot.
During the day people hurried carrying trays covered with white linen napkins. The trays had bottles of wine, fluden, and Hammentashen. The meal was rich with different dishes particular to the holiday.
The members of the household sat around tables together with all other members of the family. The head of the household sat at the top of the table that was laden with food and drink. There was joy and happiness in every Jewish home.
As soon as Purim was over, preparations for Passover would begin. Matzos were baked and borsht (beet soup) was prepared weeks in advance. This is how the borsht was prepared: the beets were placed in special pots to sour. A room was cleansed of all hametz and no one was allowed to enter it wearing non-Passover clothes after the pots were put there. The house was whitewashed and the books were dusted. The house was turned upside down.
The Matzos were baked in the only Jewish bakery specially prepared for this task. It was owned by Pinny Beker (Dubossarsky). Every housewife booked a day with him so she could supervise the baking of Matzos for her family. After they were baked, the Matzos were wrapped in white sheets and hung on a stick to be carried home by two porters. The Matzos were also placed in the special room to await the Seder.
I adored my town in that season. I loved to roam the streets and to enjoy its beauty and the smell of spring. The town was covered in green. There were acacia trees on both sides of the sidewalk dressed in green. This was especially evident on Pushkinskaya and Nikolayevskaya streets. They both led to the Boulevard. Bundles of branches hung from the trees emitting their fresh sweet scent. This scent, as well as that of the lilacs, is still in my nostrils.
The residents used to take walks on the old Boulevard to take fresh air. The Jews came every Shabbat afternoon and the others on Sundays. The change from winter to spring and the summer that followed was really felt there. The grass even felt renewed. The icicles floated down the Dniester. We, the children, spent hours watching them and never tired of this experience.
However, the good never comes without the bad. The month of May, at the height of spring, is also a month of dreading. The student body had to pass exams in order to continue to the next grade. In those days, it was not sufficient to know the material which had been taught all year in the grade. It was also necessary to pass exams. This took place during such a beautiful season when everything in nature was inviting and caressing. Students had to stand in front of a group of teachers and unsmiling inspectors.
An atmosphere of gloom and embarrassment was prevalent until the students succeeded in their exams. Only then did their spirits lift and they could enjoy the summer vacation beginning in May.
This season also had its own charm. The town and its suburbs had many vineyards, fruit orchards and vegetable fields. The area farmers (from Frakan to Gisska) would bring into town fresh red radishes, green scallions and cucumbers, and fresh tomatoes. They were coveted by urban residents after the long harsh winter. The Antoneyev apples and plums were still covered with dew. Who could resist these goodies!
The bathing season in the swimming huts on the river began. Bathing in the river was one of the pleasures in town. Many guests would come from the surrounding towns- even from Kishinev. They wanted to escape the noise and the dust of the city in the hot summer. They found peace and enjoyment bathing in the Dniester and the clean air of the suburb of Borisovka. They rented rooms in houses which stood between the fields and near the Borisovka forest. This forest was the pride of our town. It served as a site for summer trips for the youth as well as for illegal meetings of the young Zionists. We met for political discussions and sing-songs of popular and Hebrew tunes. Our leader was the Hebrew teacher, Prozhansky, who was a member of Poalei Zion. It was so pleasant to enjoy nature and it left us with wonderful memories. As previously mentioned, the Boulevard held an important place in the hearts of the residents of town, especially the youth. It was a place for boys and girls to meet.
City Hall authorities did their utmost to allow the residents to enjoy themselves on the Boulevard. On Saturdays and early Sunday evenings an army band of wind instruments played there. They played marches, waltzes, and Russian compositions, classical and popular tunes. Unfortunately, the Jewish children always had clashes with the local youths. They would come on purpose on Saturday afternoons to fight Jewish children and to prevent them from enjoying Shabbat walks on the Boulevard. There were intense battles using stones, sticks and ropes. The Jews always arrived in groups since no Jewish child would dare walk there alone.
The leading citizens of town wealthy merchants and army officers- established their own club in the Boulevard. It had a cafeteria and a games room. It must be noted that some of the wealthy Jews and the aristocrats were also part of this Christian crowd. Our Golden youths did not give up on joining this club. They usually played cards or billiards. In the summer, they brought in female gypsy singers.
The first movie house was also built in the Boulevard. Called Science and Life, it was erected in 1907. In a wooden hut I saw- for the first time in my life a silent movie. For the price of ten kopeks we saw The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas Sr. In addition there was also a film by Max Linder, a popular comedian of the times.
Sometimes later, Hatzkelevitch moved the cinema to his yard on Haruzina Street. Over the years, two additional cinemas were opened- Record and Dakdenas. Pictures were accompanied on the piano by Haim Shakhnovski, the son-in-law of Cantor Tuvia and also by Mrs. Bon-Miller
If Passover announces spring then Succoth is the time for our rejoicing, especially when it includes Simchat Torah a very happy holiday. On the eve of Simchat Torah the synagogues were filled with men, women, boys and girls. Everyone stood together. It was the only time in the year the audience was mixed. Women and girls came to kiss the Torah and to bless those who circled the synagogue saying: May you live to do it again next year. The reply was you too!
Long before the hour for circling with the Torah, boys and girls occupied the benches in the synagogue. The boys raised their flags topped by an apple and a lit candle.
Cantor Tzalel began with You have been shown to know... . The leaders of the community were honoured by the first Hakafot, followed by those who sat by the Eastern wall. The rest of the crowd came after them each according to his social status.
The real celebration began on the following day when the congregants accompanied each Gabbai to his own synagogue. The entire town was dancing. (Even our Christian neighbours behaved well towards the dancers.) The Gabbai was surrounded on all sides by the crowd, slightly drunk, dancing around him holding wine bottles and accompanying him with pomp and circumstance. The streets were filled with celebrants, each synagogue with its own chief Gabbai. The true Jew could thus be discovered. Why should he worry about exile, earning a living, the authorities? The Jew is happy with his Torah, his belief in G-d and the totality of the Jewish people. This is how the Diaspora Jew could celebrate his people and his G-d.
Every season has its magic. In Southern Russia the differences in seasons are deeply felt. Only people indifferent to nature or lacking inspiration could not sense these changes.
The fall in Bendery would sometimes cause us to shiver. On rainy days the dampness touched our bones. Fall also brought with it to the city dwellers the need for special preparations for winter.
The signs announcing fall were the falling leaves and shorter days. There were also some light breezes.
During our walks in the fall on our Old Boulevard, I loved to look at the bare trees and to listen to their whispers.
We must remember the special sadness in Jewish hearts that comes with the fall season. In addition to the worries it brought, the mood also matched the look of nature.
According to the poet Al Harizi, the month of Heshvan is good and beautiful, fertile and wet. However, the skies were cloudy, dark, and gray and the Jews had their worries. This was the time for conscription. We remember well the groaning of the Jews during conversations on the streets and in the synagogues.
The order to serve in the army frightened parents of sons all year, but as the date for reporting for duty neared they could not sleep at night. Anything was worthy in avoiding the trouble of serving in the army. They would search for places where the Provincial ministers and military doctors were good or known to be kind. They could then be persuaded to help. Fathers would travel for weeks, far away from their families to obtain a special document to free their sons from active military service. (They would remain in the reserves). Sometimes they searched for a location where they could inscribe their son as an only child. They would then receive a white ticket. This was a great accomplishment and they would have a celebration worthy of a wedding. If all else failed they would pretend the son had an illness that could free him from military service. Sadly, there were incidents where the results were maiming and sometimes death ensued.
The villagers would congregate in Bendery for that purpose. Since Bendery was a District capital, it served as a center for reporting to the army. The boys, nicknamed Beasts, would petrify the Jews. They were drunk, screamed and rioted in the streets. Jewish parents were afraid to allow their daughters to go out on those fall evenings.
Winter arrived in its fill bloom after the muddy ground froze. The mud of Bendery was well-known in the area. It had a special charm in winter and to this day it brings back pleasant memories of frost and snow.
This was a time for school vacation since it was Christmas. It was fun to go on sleds and to ice skate in every canal. On our way home we had fun in the canals, especially the largest one. In the summer the local drunks would fall asleep on their banks. We used them in winter to have a good time.
In winter the Auditorium was used for balls starting at Christmas. There were also lectures and performances by top talent existing in Russia at the time. Our province was not forgotten because there was a cultured audience that appreciated good artists. In this way the Auditorium had a great influence on the local intelligentsia and the student body who sought cultural experiences.
*He was a rabbi's son and had converted when he was accepted at the Tsarist Opera in Petersburg. Shalom Aleichem remembers him as a friend in From the Market. Return
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