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[Page 180 - Hebrew] [Page 181 - Yiddish]

Our Town

by Z. Shtziglik, Kiryat Motzkin

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

 

A.

All of us, all those who were born and grew up in our town Bricheva, are united by the basic natural closeness that emanated from the very ground, ambience, geographical structure, the people, waters, culture and social affairs of our town.

Bricheva was surrounded by broad fruit orchards; the scent that was exuded by the blooms made the air fresh and healthy for us to breath. We all walked around, snuck into the gardens and ate many fruits – both ripe and unripe. We all plodded through the deep mud that filled the streets in the spring and autumn; we all slid on the snow and rode on sleds on sloping Gizditi Street. We all took walks to the Riut valley and the river that flowed to the west of the town. We all walked and swam in the lake on the road to Tirnova; we all looked with trepidation at the cemetery when we passed by at night. We all absorbed into our souls and bodies the warm and friendly ambience that prevailed in our town. We all visited, some more others less, the synagogues on holidays, and especially on Tisha B'Av (the ninth of month of Av) to hear the lamentations and afterward we threw thorns at each other; we all learned Hebrew and absorbed Judaism and nationalism. We all grew up in our small town.

These pages cannot contain all that unites us. Yes, these things also unite biological brothers and sisters, and we really do view each other, in a way, as brothers and sisters.

From time immemorial, even from the days of our first forefather, Abraham, people put up a memorial, that would remain

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for following generations as a reminder and memorial to those who once lived. However, the “modern” Jew-haters wanted to obliterate the memory of our nation from the world and to erase their remembrance forever.

Also in our town, as we later heard, houses were destroyed and cemeteries ruined. The new residents, neighbors of our town, even took the gravestones, rubbed out the writing and used them for their private needs. Thus the names of all our dear ones, who died in their own homes and were buried in a Jewish cemetery, were obliterated. But all the others – weren't even granted this.

This tablet, that we are uncovering in the Holocaust basement among many other tablets of similar Jewish settlements in Europe that were destroyed and liquidated, will be for each of us a monument, as if under it lay the bones of his/her father, mother, brothers, sisters and all those dear to each one and to all of us. Those who were not fortunate to die in our town but were murdered, liquidated and died in the paths of their exile, who died of starvation and sickness, were thrown by the wayside and were devoured by animals and vultures. This will be a memorial to the people of our town who had the spirit of the Hashmonaim and the Maccabees and knew how to defend our town from the violence of the World War I and thereafter (as the members of the Hagana in Eretz Yisrael and the fighters in the ghettos). May this symbolic monument be preserved forever for the coming generations as a memorial of our small town that was once full of life, a healthy spirit of goodwill, culture, nationalism, heroism and dignity.

B.

A small town, quiet and warmhearted, such was our town Bricheva. I dare to say that this small town encompassed within it many healthy and beautiful qualities, which even today are a symbol of culture and social comity of the Jewish people.

The general appearance of the town: about three main streets and a few lanes, surrounded by a wide border of fruit trees and gardens that spread across large areas and gave clear, healthy air to the whole town. Despite its small size, the town was able to organize and administer social and cultural institutions that provided its residents with help, care, peace and friendship. Among them were libraries, amateur groups, theater, schools and heders, a bank for loans and savings, a benevolent society, a society for visiting the sick, mutual aid, Pesach fund, synagogues, a large well-kept bathhouse, a hall for performances, etc. These institutions gave the residents a feeling of love of the town, calm and serenity, camaraderie and friendship.

The town was composed of three parallel streets: The upper street, “die fuchtova,” on the west side, and behind it a strip of gardens that spread until the slope and the river,

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where the townspeople strolled, especially the youth, to watch the soccer games and slide down the hill reaching the stream. There was also a flourmill belonging to the Shpielberg family and factories for brick making which were used by the residents for decorating the facades of their homes.

In general, most of the homes were built from clay that came from the black earth; it was mixed with straw and thatch, then stuck between the columns and slats and finally was plastered with clay and lime. The roofs were sloped, made of wooden slats, and above them stood chimneys that spouted smoke and soot from the ovens that heated the homes in the winter months; these worked on wood and dry sunflowers that were bought from the oil factories. Most of the houses had wooden front porches and steps. Later, most of the homes had yards with milk cows, goats, chickens coups and dovecotes. At the edge of the yard were storehouses to store produce that most people bought from the farmers in the area. These were acquired in various ways: partnership with the farmer where the merchants gave to the farmer seeds, tools and money to tend the crops; also purchase of the farmers' crops, mainly grains, sunflowers, fruits and the like, that were later sold by the merchants to agents of the large companies in the country. These companies stored the produce in the train station and from there sent it to its final destination. Behind the storehouses was a strip of gardens.

The second street, the middle one was the commercial street. The plots of land were smaller here than in the other two main streets. At the front of almost all the houses on this street were stores, craftsmen's workshops (shoemakers, carpenters, tailors, etc.) and food and drink establishments. Also, most of the synagogues were located on this street. Behind the storefronts were living quarters and dining rooms while at the back were to be found kitchens and storerooms for merchandise, heating materials, etc.

This street was full of people on Wednesdays (market day), Sundays and on the holidays of the farmers of the area. Crowds of people came from all the villages, bringing their produce for sale, and after their sales, and grinding the grains they brought, they settled their accounts with the merchants. They spread out between the stores and craft shops and bought and ordered various goods, mainly cloth, utensils, shoes, sweets, toys, work tools and also brought for repair utensils and clothes. After this, they met with others from the other villages and spent a good part of their income in the food and drink establishments.

The third street, the lower one, whose west side was high and the east side was lower, sloping towards the stream which ran along the eastern edge and there the water flowed from well located on the road to Tirnova. Therefore, the mud was less on this street, because

[Page 186 - Hebrew] [Page 187 - Yiddish]

bri186.jpg
Notta Hanina's (Shpaier)

 

the water flowed into a ditch and the sun shining from the east dried the street which was very wide with a few houses scattered on both sides. Also on this street most of the residents had connections with villages and farmers with whom they did business. At the southern end, were located the bathhouse, the cemetery and the flourmill of the Shpaier brothers.

In the north-west corner of our town there was a road that led to the village of Prasina and from there to the town of Yedinitz. A few of the early settlers of our town came from Yedinitz, among them Hanina Shpaier, the owner of the flourmill. At first, the mill was near the Riut River where they ground the grains in a mill that was powered by the flow of water. Later they changed to a windmill and after this to a motor powered mill in the southeast edge of town. That mill was run by Notta Shpaier and later also his sons Yosef and Meshulam ( Meshulam was expelled to Siberia along with Aharon Tzinsman and Leib Tendler, Matat Gutman and others).

The windmill stood alone reaching a great height, its “sails” not moving, and thousands of pigeons made their nests between the beams and wheels of the mill. The children of the area would come by, climb up and chase away the birds that multiplied quickly and flew all around. A small hut remained near the mill and there lived one of the mill's workers.

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My father, z”l, who owned the land, used a plot of land in front of the hut where many blocks of ice were stored in the winter in a deep ditch covered with straw, and on it a roof and an opening. In the summer, ice was distributed free to the needy, since the cost was high when buying from Haya-Rahel.

In the 1920s a large building was built on that plot of land and used as an assembly hall. The hall was set up for theatrical performances and behind the stage was built a large community oven for baking matzot, which took up one third of the area. The front two thirds were used for the audience. Later the Tarbut Hebrew elementary school was housed there; the teachers were Notta from “Harigat” and his wife who were very nice people, Pini Golirgant, Zeev Ranski, Zeev Shtziglit (the writer of this article) who cultivated in the children an affinity for Hebrew along with the state mandated studies. Henya Gelman worked as a secretary for a time. All this land was given to the community by my father. After the passing of R' Notta his sons received the mill, my father paid the daughters their share and he donated the land to the community.

C.

Much fresh water pooled at the bottom of the hills east of the town, which enriched the east side of the town and supplied water to the oil factories that were on the north side of the road that led to the train station in Tiranova. The water also reached the lakes surrounded by forests, where the town's youth walked and traveled to bathe in the waters during the hot summer days. During the rainy season the water flowed down the slope on the south side reaching behind the middle street and thus fertilized the valley under the bridge going east towards the village of Gizdita. From there the water flowed south and passed the area of the bathhouse, the flourmill and the cemetery, which was located on the eastern hill. Near the northern road that led to the factory and the train station, stood a tall, huge pillar with a long pole that reached down to the well and brought up buckets of water to fill the barrels of the water carriers. The boys from town liked to walk around the area of the well and to sit on the large rocks that protruded from the mud and the water around the mouth of the well. Here they dreamed their dreams of the future, made friends, enjoyed the air of camaraderie or just came to spend some time in a pleasant quiet spot.

There was no court in town. Disputes and conflicts were solved by a few of the town dignitaries who would arbitrate the matter; the sides pled

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Children who studied Russian with Yosel Landau.
One of them, Yehoshua Gruzman, didn't order a picture,
therefore the photographer removed his face
and replaced it with a decoration

 

their arguments and received a decision from the arbiters. Among the arbiters were some who were very strict as in the ancient school of Shammai and others who were lenient like the school of Hillel.
In general the children studied in a heder. The teachers (melamdim), taught

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the Hebrew alphabet (aleph-bet), beginner's reading, that is combining vowels and letters, and fluent reading. All of this was done with the siddur (prayer book) and after they knew how to read well they advanced to the Torah and Prophets. Most made do with just these basics. The children also learned to write the letters of the alphabet, sentences and form letters. Later, they went to work, to help at home, to business, etc.

In the last years of the 19th century, groups of children were formed and were taught by tutors. These teachers instructed them in reading, literature, history, etc. This was the period of the “improved heder.” Some families wanted their sons and daughters to learn Russian and they organized into small groups and hired a Russian teacher.

The teachers came from among the town's residents and others who had come from other areas and towns and knew Russian. One group was organized by Avraham Blank, Azriel Golirgant and Yitzhak Shtziglik: the course in Russian was taught by the student Yosel Landau who was available during the summers.

D.

I will write now about some of the people in Bricheva.

Yosel Master (Schreiber) was a smart and clever Jew; he taught boys and girls according to a special practical plan. The studies were taught in Yiddish and Hebrew. The pupils were organized not according to classes but rather by levels. The first level was, of course, learning the Hebrew alphabet; after this came writing words in a line. The next level was writing form letters following various samples; the pupils learned from the examples and the forms, and it seemed that most of the letters written by them were very similar in content, form and order. They also learned the arithmetic, and importantly, they had to learn how to calculate weights since the Russians didn't use the decimal system and it was important to know how to convert currency from the Russian pud to the funt, and from the funt to the lot, and reverse.

Yosel's wife was called Sonia, the midwife. I think that 90% of the births in Bricheva were supervised by her and the first care of the infant was guided by her. She was quiet and gentle; tenderness and softness infused all her actions. She was the second wife of Yosel Master; she had no children of her own yet her maternal feelings radiated to all the children of the town.

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In the alleyway called “the basement,” the house of R' Menahem Hashu”b stood next to the house of Motel Bonder. He was the cantor in the synagogue across the street from his house and he was an outstanding vocalist. I think that if they had had records and recordings in our town in those far-off days, his singing would have been preserved and would have been the pride of Jewish emotional expression. All the sections of prayer that he sang to his own melodies were like a varied web that expressed the glory and the yearning for the redemption of all the Jews in exile. Many hundreds of people from the town thronged to the synagogue on the Holy Days to hear his melodies and the expression of his soul that left a deep impression on his audience.

Leib Tendler, who for many years served as the head (“premier”) of our town, was known also by the nickname Leibele. He was among those who were outstanding in their national and human pride. I remember the days of the revolution and riots when there were robberies and murders in many settlements in our area but in little Bricheva a self-defense organization was established that prevented such violence. I was just a boy but the sights are engraved in my memory - the scene of tens of our people riding on horses with rifles on their shoulders and pistols at their hips as they passed through our streets. Among the commanders were Leib Tendler, Hirsh Shichman, the brothers Meshulam and Yosef Shpaier, Nahman Roizenblit, Feivel Itzik-Lemels (Gelman) and others. Because of this, the gentiles didn't dare to touch our town.

Before he became head of the town and also afterward Leib Tendler's occupation was working the land, and I remember how he would go about with his horses and gallop in the surrounding fields. He was a naturally happy person and wherever he went he brought joy of life. He was not a reader of books but he had a natural affinity to life and the Jews. And especially, he had courage and energy and due to them he was able to withstand the difficulties in distant Siberia and to return many years later and even make aliya to Israel.

He would host in his home the Rebbes who came to town and would sometimes travel to them for advice. I remember once, before the elections, he went to one of the Rebbes to receive a blessing from him for success in the elections. When he returned he said that the Rebbe wished him success but added: It is important to try to get votes…

He behaved as a man with dignity also when he was in Eretz Yisrael. He didn't want to join the “Malban” which he considered a place for idlers. He wanted to work and achieve, however his physical strength wasn't sufficient at that time of his life. There is no doubt that he had several attributes that characterized our people who returned to good lives in their country – an affinity for working the land, dignity and courage.

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Zev Shtziglik near the well on the road to Tirnova

 

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Students in the 1930s: The one wearing eyeglasses is Liova Tzinman who was killed in Spain

 

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