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[Page 81]

The Social and Cultural Life

 

Synagogues in Căpreşti

by Dr. Nyoka Fidelman

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

The Old Synagogue [Di Alte Shul]

One of the important concerns of the Căpreşti Jews was to provide a holy place for prayer. Since they had neither a plot of land nor money, they rented an apartment of two rooms: one for the men, the other for the women. The entrance to the women's prayer room was through the men's room. The first Shabat a great dispute broke out. The women came to shul, as usual, after they had taken care of the children and chased away the goats to pasture. And how could a woman pass through the men's prayer room, without looking up her husband and telling him news about the children and their “clever sayings”? Religious Jews, disturbed in the middle of the Mussaf Prayer, became angry and demanded not to be disturbed, asking that the women go directly to their places. Soon there was a great uproar, angry people everywhere, men and women. This repeated itself every Shabat. The same happened also when the shul received honored guests and gave them the seats of regular members, who felt offended by the fact that they had to sit elsewhere. Their angry shouting “reached the seventh skies.”

It was indeed true that the Jewish population grew in number, and the two rooms were not enough. When children played or argued and ran around from room to room it was almost impossible to conduct the prayers. One Saturday afternoon, at the Se'uda Shlishit [The third Sabbath meal] the matter was discussed and it was decided that a new synagogue must be built. First – the synagogue shall be built of stone; second – the synagogue will have two floors with two separate entrances. Between the men's section and the women's section will be two windows, so that the women could hear the cantor, and follow the prayers properly.

Well, as far as land was concerned, they met no great difficulties: the Paritz [estate owner] Demy suggested that he would be honored to provide a piece of land for the shul. But money – that was another matter: how will they obtain money? Since the land allotted for the synagogue was situated in the center of town, between the houses of Chava Beinish and Sosye Yutzis, the two neighbors decided happily to make the first donation, and promised to add money if the rest of the population will respond warmly as well.

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A new dispute broke out, however, when they began organizing the donations list. The dispute lasted for several months. The poorer part of the population argued, that the rich should cover all the expenses of building the shul… “You enjoy the Olam Haze [this world], so give money for the synagogue and you will enjoy the Olam Haba [the world to come] as well. We, the beggars, while we are living we are deep in the earth, and after we die we will certainly be there; what we are asking for is just the place to lie down…”

The rich argued, on the other hand, that rich and poor should share the donations equally. At first the arguments were calm, more or less, with jokes and sayings; however, as time passed they became harsher and more serious. But finally, after long discussions, they did agree that in the meantime, until the list was completed, they would lay the foundations of the synagogue. How could they not agree, when the good Sosye and the hearty Beinish woman brought rich food and drink, fit for a king? True, there were not fried ducklings and geese pastrami… but they got herring, sauerkraut and pickles as much as they wanted. And, most important of all – they had wine and brandy – it was not every day that the community was laying the foundations of a shul. And the truth must be said – who knows if the shul would have been finished, if it were not for the help of Avreimele Greenberg, a rich Jew from Kishinev.

R'Alter Screiber wrote to him a petition, and following that, a committee came to investigate the matter. They decided to provide 50% of the expenses, and the rest to collect from the Căpreşti wealthy Jews. Considering the fact that not all of the people who could donate really did, they had to be satisfied with a smaller shul. The inauguration of the Shul was very festive and joyful, with food and drink. Several years later, they demolished the old synagogue and built a beautiful and spacious new one, which was given the name Di Groise Shil [the Great Synagogue]…

*

The first Simchat Torah Holiday in The Great Synagogue

When Simchat Torah arrived, a delegation escorted the Gabbay, Yitzhak Bernstein, from his home to shul. Leading the delegation were Velvel Becker and his youngest son Nachum, both proudly carrying a big box, stuck on a long stick. They had filled the box with rags soaked in kerosene, and the flame lit the darkness of the night. At the head of the procession walked several Jews who carried a large bottle of wine and glasses; behind the Gabbay walked adults and children, singing and dancing, and shouting “Long live our Gabbay!” However, as they approached the Shul, the Gabbay's opposers “welcomed” him with contempt. A fight broke out between the two parties. The first to suffer were the walls of Chava Beinish's

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home. The fighters on both sides did not pay attention to poor Chava's cries: “Robbers, what has my poor little house done to you?”

The turmoil grew, when the wives began looking in the darkness for their husbands, calling them by their names: Moishe, Berl, Yankel, where are you?? They all fought, scattered on the ground, until the older members of the Shul came out with lit candles and shouted: “This is a desecration of the Holy Name! The first Simchat Torah in our new Shul – and you make a mockery out of it!” Then the entire crowd entered the synagogue – and the wives could finally see their men, beaten, bleeding, their clothes torn, like after a pogrom. The noise reached the sky.

Here the gabbay, a strong, proud, rich Jew, hit the table with his fist and shouted: “Silence! It is time for the Hakafot [ritual rounds with the Torah Scrolls]! A new argument erupted: some wanted the gabbay to lead the hakafot, others were against it. The older people suggested a compromise: the gabbay, who by occupation was a tavern owner, shall bring plenty of wine – keyad Hamelech [fit for a king] – for all the people in the shul; while drinking lechayim [to life!] everybody will make peace, and the Hakafot will wait for later!

It was said and done. Wine was placed on the tables, also herring and other delicacies. After the customary hearty lechayim, those who just a few hours ago quarreled and fought bitterly were now standing with their glasses in their hands, happy and friendly as if nothing had happened in front of the Beinish woman's house. They were talking, joking, laughing, like good friends do. The wives, who a short while ago were ready to pull at each other's hair, were standing and talking friendly, accusing the men (and the wine) of the entire affair. In short, the Căpreşti Jews spent a joyful night, singing, dancing, pressing the Torah Scrolls to their hearts and shouting “How sweet is our Torah!!”

*

“Mayorke”

Near Căpreşti was a village by the name of Prodaneşti. The population was Ukrainian, but we used to call them “the Polish goyim. They heard that the Jews had a Tzadik Rabbi Meir Ba'al Hanes [rabbi Meir the miracle worker], who performed great miracles. The peasants called him “Mayorke.” If one of them lost a horse, a cow or a goat, he would spend some money on “Mayorke” –

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and soon there was a miracle: the dead, or stolen, animal came back home. How did the peasant pay for Mayorke's miracle? he came to the shul to the shames [attendant] Reb Shmuel, the shames opened the lid of the “amud” [the cantor's stand] and the peasant would throw in some coin, at least a Rubal. The rich would throw in more than that.

All started from the case of the dog. One of the peasant's dogs was stolen. So he ran to R'Shmuel and threw a coin into the box. As it often happens, a dog knows how to find its way back to its owner – and two weeks later this dog returned to the peasant's house. The story spread quickly in the village and the neighboring villages, and the Shames was crowned with the name “Mayorke.”

*

The Great Shul and other synagogues

Considering, that the Great Synagogue was built with modest means and far from sturdy materials, it was no wonder that the roof and one wall simply gave way and collapsed. The fact, that it happened in the middle of the night and no one was hurt, was explained as a great miracle. A meeting was called, and it was decided to build a new shul. With this occasion, two groups formed: the intelligentsia, who built for themselves “The Germanic Kloiz” and the Hassidim, who called their special shul “The Hassidic Shul.”

The craftsmen and small businessmen would never have had a synagogue of their own, if not for the constant, devoted activity of Rabbi Meir Kuperstein. He originated from the shtetl Vad-Rashkov, where he was a blacksmith. When he came to Căpreşti he became a grain merchant, became rich and was active in social matters. He became a Torah scholar and after work he would sit in the Bet Midrash together with other Jews, and learn a page or two of Gemara with Tosfot [Talmud with Tossafists]. Reb Meir was the only one who supported the building of the new shul and helped with money and time. According to his suggestion, they addressed Avreime'le Grinberg from Kishinev and Baron Ginsburg from Petersburg. After a meticulous investigation by the two, which lasted several years, they sent support for building the shul. Thanks to them, and to the warm help of the worshippers, the shul was erected during 6 years.

The simple Jews of Căpreşti were proud of their shul and bragged that their shul was twice as big as the other synagogues. The assemblies concerning various affairs, the speeches and sermons of the Darshanim [preachers, speakers] – religious, social or Zionist – all took place in the Great Shul, where

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the worshippers were “simple Jews,” craftsmen and workers of the land. The old people would tell, that the greatest pleasure – their parents' and theirs – was to go to the shul, not only to pray, but also to enjoy being in the place, especially in the large Pulish [anteroom], where they would sit for hours and talk, remembering how much toil and effort it has taken to build the shul.

The worshippers of the Great Shul appreciated very much Meir Kuperstein's efforts for the shul, and elected him Gabbay. But some opposed him, in particular those who had not participated in the efforts to build the synagogue. They caused him a great deal of suffering. All 3 synagogues were built in the same neighborhood, from Motel Torban's pharmacy to the place behind Moshe Kharsonski's home. The fourth shul, named “The Tehilim [Psalms] little shul” was situated behind the New Street, not far from Pini Shoichet [slaughterer] and Shmuel Leiberfarb. This shul was built by the Tehilim Zogers [Psalms-reciters] Circle.


 

The lively cultural life in Căpreşti

by Att. Baruch Yanowitz

Translated by Sara Mages

The Jewish settlement in Capresti was young, and for most of the years of its existence it was in a difficult process of striking roots. This fact left its mark on the spiritual life of this Jewry, and on its educational institutions.

By the end of the eighties, of the last century, the Jews of Capresti, as all the Jews of Bessarabia, were totally immersed in everyday life. The possibilities in all the branches of industry, trade and agricultural settlement, which appeared before them when they arrived to the place, demanded a complete devotion to their pursuits, and didn't leave free time for other activities. Not only that they devoted themselves, with all their might, to establish their material existence, they also recruited their wives and children. After several years of study in the “Heder,” the teenagers worked together with their parents, at home and in the field, and anything above that was foreign to them.

This situation bred generations of na?ve Jews with a warm Jewish heart and true to their faith, but they were limited culturally and were uninspired in their aspirations. The Jewry of Bessarabia looked like a primitive nest alongside the culturally vibrant Jewry of Russia, the scholarly Jewry of Lita, and the warm and sentimental Jewry of Poland. This saying was popular in those days: “The Lithuanian Jewry is the head, the Polish - the heart, and the Bessarabian - the arms.”

Capresti's Jews were mostly tall and burly, but their hearts didnít follow the innovations that have occurred in the big world. They kept the tradition of their ancestors religiously, prayed

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every morning and evening, and observed the Sabbath and the holidays. However, their secular life shifted their spiritual life to a siding and turned them over to a religion of rote. They drew their main spiritual inspiration from the visits of the Admorim [1] (the “good Jews” in their language). The Admorim stayed, for a week or two, with one of the community leaders, and not just the Hassidim flocked to their table but also the masses. The highlight of these visits was the Sabbath meal, when the rabbi, who sat at the head of the table, uttered words of the Torah while the listeners drank his words with thirst. To grab “leftovers” from the rabbi's table was an experience that nourished them until the rabbi's next visit to the town. In their eyes, the Admor was a representative of God on earth. They presented their worries before him by way of a “Kvitel,” [2] which was written by the rabbi's Gabbai who received “redemption” (a gift for the rabbi) from them. They believed the rabbi with all their hearts, and were grateful that he saved them and their daily income in time of trouble.

In addition to the visits of the Admorim, Capresti's Jews also enjoyed the sermons of the Megidim [preachers] from the Yeshivot in Lita, who lectured them from the synagogue's stage and aroused them for repentance.

In those years, the primary educators of the young generation were the Melamdim, the teachers of the small children. Usually, they didnít excel in extensive knowledge, their methods were primitive, and they didnít shy away from physical punishment by using a “Kanzik” (a stick with thin leather straps on both ends) on the bare buttocks of the student. Somehow, they managed to instill the first knowledge in Judaism to their students - the “order” of the prayers, the weekly Torah portion and some Mishnayoth. Most of the parents were satisfied with that. They didnít aspire that their sons will be rabbis or Torah scholars, and immediately after they finished their studies in the “Heder” they sent them to work as apprentices in a workshop or as helpers in a shop. Only a few parents that their sons were talented (with “a good head” in their language) and also those who were financially secure, allowed their children to continue their studies with a Gemara and Tosafot teacher. These Melamdim bestowed the knowledge in the Talmud, especially in the Masechtot - Bava Metzia, Baba Kama and Baba Batra, taught them the weekly Torah portions with Rashi's commentary, the first book of the Prophets and chapters from Tehillim. There were also gifted Yeshiva students who continued their studies in Batei Midrash, alone or in a team, from early morning to late at night.

During its first years as a settlement, and later as a town, Capresti existed without a Chief Rabbi. Its first rabbi, R' Yona Kaplivatski zt”l, started to serve as the town's rabbi at the end of the last century, and after his death, his son, R' Duvid Kaplivatski zt”l, rose to the rabbinate chair.

The portrayal of Capresti's Jews as people, who were immersed in everyday life, wouldnít be completed if we donít add that they valued the study of the Torah and the scholars. We saw it in their relationship to the Admorim and the Megidim, but they saw themselves as if they werenít fit for that, and the few who devoted themselves to the spiritual life were honored.

The cultural revival of Bessarabia's Jewry accrued at the end of the First World War, and after the annexation of Bessarabia to Romania in 1918. Russian refugees, who arrived to Capresti and settled in it, contributed to it. Among the refugees were poets and writers, teachers and public figures, who found a fertile ground for cultural and social activities within this healthy Jewish community.

One of the first contributions was the establishment of a “Heder Metukan” [improved or reformed Heder], where they studied Hebrew in Hebrew, and modern teaching methods were used. Great teachers taught in the “Heder Metukan.” From them I still remember Leib Gorman, Nachman Polichuk, Mordechai Goldenberg and others,

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who revitalized the spiritual life of the town. The town's Jews expressed their understanding and enthusiasm to the change - and gave their sons to the modern teachers. In a relatively short period of time a new Jewish generation grew in Capresti. It sought knowledge, was proud of its national culture, and was aware of its future national duties. At the same time, a library was founded in the town, and many of the town's residents took a deep interest in it and supported it.

The breakthrough in the town's spiritual life was also reflected in other areas. Various parties and youth movement were established. In 1920, a chapter of “HeHalutz” [pioneer] movement was established in Capresti, and the town's youth flocked to it. The pioneers worked in agricultural, in the brick factory, etc. Among them were also several young people who were born in the town. Capresti excelled in its extensive Zionist activity, especially in the area of fund raising for the various funds. For example, we find that in 1928 our town took the 11th place out of 138 localities in Bessarabia who contributed to “Keren Ha'Kayemet Le'Israel” [Jewish National Fund]. In addition, Capresti took the 23rd place out of 66 localities, who in 5687 [1926/27], contributed during “HeHalutz week.” A fine activity for the Zionist funds was done by the women's association WIZO, who organized dances and bazaars. The association was headed by Suska Skoliar and Esfira Khayes.

It's worth noting the changes that occurred in the town's entertainment. The music education was developed in Capresti, mainly thanks to the talented cantor Duvid Zilberman and his son Avraham, who organized a boys' choir. The townspeople flocked in masses to the synagogue where the choir performed, and the choir's songs were sung by all, even on weekdays.

The Cantor, Duvid Zilberman also traveled with his choir for performances in the nearby towns. In addition, guest cantors appeared in evenings of Cantorial music and folk songs. Each evening was an artistic event, which left an impression and also aroused arguments about the nature of the singing.

Each wedding also provided amusement to the town's residents. The musicians were usually Gypsies from the village of Capresti, and the band was headed by the violinist Lionash. A wedding in town was an event for all the residents, big and small, and not just those who were included in it. The guests were inside the hall, while the spectators- whose number exceeded the guests - crowded for long hours next to the windows and the doors.

Capresti's Jews were known as enthusiastic theatre fans, and when a Jewish theatre troupe came to town it was a holiday for all. The troupes presented plays by Abraham Goldfaden, Jacob Gordin and others. The plays that the public liked the most were: “Shulamit,” “Bar Kokhba”, “The Jewish spark,” “The witch,” “Two Kuni Lemel” and others. After the visit of each troupe, the songs from the play were sung in every Jewish home in town.

On market days, people who played a special music instrument called “Katerinka” [barrel organ] appeared in the town. A trained bird (a parrot or a pigeon) stood on the instrument and pulled lucky notes with its beak. These notes promised the winner good news and consolation.

Lastly, we can't forget the trips, the bathing in the Răut River, the skating and the snow games in the winter.


Translators' Footnotes:

  1. Admor pl. Admorim - a title of a Hasidic spiritual leader. The word is an acronym formed from the Hebrew phrase AD(onenu) MO(renu) (ve) R(abenu) - 'our master, teacher and rabbi.' return
  2. Kvitel” - “little note” - refers to a practice developed by Hasidic Judaism, in which a Hasid writes a note with a petitionary prayer, and gives it to a Rabbi in order to receive his blessing. return


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Drama groups in Căpreşti

by Zev Skaldman

Translated by Sara Mages

In 1919/20, when Ukraine was ruled by the people of Petliura, Denikin and other hooligans, who carried out pogroms in Jewish communities, there was a mass escape from there. Of the Jews, who managed to cross the Dniester River to Bessarabia, many arrived to Căpreşti. They stayed until they managed to contact their relatives in Bessarabia, or cross secretly to Chişinău. From there they were sent to a safe place.

Among the Ukrainian Jews who arrived to Căpreşti, was a man named Zakharov who was probably a professional actor. He was the first to present the play, “ Die Kishufmacherin” [“The Witch”] by Avraham Goldfaden, in the town. Presumably, there wasnít a person in Căpreşti who didn't see this play. Children sang the songs from the play in the streets - “ Hotsmekh iz a blinder,vu zent ir ale kinder? ot zaynen mir ale do!” [Hotsmakh is blind, where are you my son? Here I am my father!], and also “ Yehudim rachmu, rachemu” [“Oh, good Jews, have mercy, mercy” [.

In 1922, after the success of the “The Witch,” Avraham Zilberman organized an amateur theatre group and presented the play “ Dos Pintele Yid” [“The Jewish spark”] by Boris Thomashefsky. Among the members of the group were: Tosha Zilberman, Isaac Okshteyn and I - Zev Skaldman. The play was performed with great success, so Shimon Yutzis presented the play, “Die Fir Agentn” [“The Four Agents”] by Sholem Aleichem, together with the amateur group. For Căpreşti, it was a surprising event. Căpreşti's residents play in the theatre? Is it easy for them? So, young and old flocked to the shows. Was there another place for recreation in the town?

When they realized that there were those who jumped on this merchandise, a new star appeared in the stage's sky in the image of Velvel Ziglboim who staged the play, “Der Dorfs-Yung” [“The Village Youth” by Leon Kabrin], with great success. Excelled - Gitel Haysiner in the role Natasha, and Arlichman in the role of Prokof, Natash's father. It can be said, to Velvel Ziglboim's credit, that in addition to his talent as an actor and director, he also had an inertial force when directed the amateur theatre group until he immigrated to the countries of South America.

Those who founded the drama group, a few years before the revolution, were: Nyoka Fidelman, Dr. Barshak, Hinda Ayvcher, Rosa Faynboym and others. Under the guidance of the teacher, Maganyezin, they presented the play “Di shkhite” [“The Slaughter”] by Yakov Gordin.

After the departure of Velvel Ziglboim from the town, an empty void remained in the activities of the amateur theater group. At that time I was asked to reorganize the group, which was directed and guided by me for ten years. At first I presented the plays “Der fremder” [“The Foreigner”] by Yakov Gorodin, and also “Matti - King of the Carpenters.” When the experience was crowned with success, we presented - “Tsezeyt un tseshpreyt” [“Scattered Far and Wide”], and “Dos groyse gevins” [“The Big Lottery”] by Sholem Aleichem.

As far as I remember, the following members participated in the plays: Avraham Zilberman, Nyoni Keyserman, Moshe Broytman, Avraham Burstein, Sara Ziglboim, Elka Sofer and Sara Verzub. Mina Kharkaver excelled as a comedian. I should also mention Buma Yutzis, who was an excellent “prompter” (Shimon Bolshteyn - filled the role before him). With the immigration of Buma to Israel, we werenít able to find a prompter like him, so the actors had to learn their roles by heart…

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The rumor, that there's an eager theatre audience in Căpreşti has spread, so touring theatre troupes visited the town every summer. The places, in which the amateurs and the troupes presented their plays, weren't the most suitable for this purpose. For example, Grebman's warehouse served for a long time as a place for the shows. However, when we learned that the Zigler's troupe plays in the town of Teleneşt, with Söyle Paster and Arna Zigler in the leading roles, our group decided that Mina Kharkaver and I will travel to invite them to perform in Căpreşti. Since a very respectable troupe was going to appear, it was necessary build a proper stage, better than the one in Grebman's warehouse. Well, the two of us, Velvel Ziglboim and I, have mobilized for the operation of building a stage in another hall. It was decided to build it in Meir Verzub's hostel. The local farmers, who came to Căpreşti for market days on Sunday and Thursday, stayed there.

In the nights before the days of the fair, the hostel was abuzz with the neigh of horses, the clanking of wheels and the sounds of the drunks. The work wasnít easy. After we cleaned the floor and the walls, without leaving a trace of the previous guests, we approached the construction of the stage with great energy. We built a proper stage with partitions, windows, doors, and also a makeshift screen. But, we werenít able to fix the roof. Therefore, we werenít surprised, that in the midst of a pleasant summer evening, when Thomashefsky appeared on the stage, a strong rain fell and the audience was forced to watch the play as raindrops dripped on him. Before each performance, an announcer walked through the streets announcing: “We inform the public, that today, at nine o'clock in the evening, the troupe will present the play at Meir Verzub's warehouse. Tickets are sold on the spot. Come all, men, women and children.”

This “hall” was visited by famous Jewish theater troupes like: Moshe Lipman and Heni Litton, Boris Thomashefsky, Solo Prizant with Gizi Haydn, Sidi Tulll and more. It should be noted, that not all of them were lucky. Some of them were stuck in the town's swamps for the winter,

 

cap089.jpg
The drama group in Căpreşti - 1927
Sitting: Yossel Birstein, Itzel Moshkovich, Lipa Kharkaver
Standing: Moshe Broytman, Zev Skladman, Buma Yutzis, Sara Ziglboim, Sara Verzub

 

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without money for travel expenses. Not once, we, the theater fans, collected money to enable them to continue with their journey to the nearby town…

The plays that I directed were of the drama and melodrama type. From 1933 onwards, Buria Yanovich brought a new kind of a theater which included segments of singing and music, Buria presented a number of very successful plays like: “The Cart Driver, ” “The Conductor,” “The Hassid”, “The Conscription,” “When the Messiah Comes”, “The Newspaper Seller,” and “Dunia the Dog.” He also dramatized “Beside the Dying” by Isaac Leib Peretz, and “The Shirt” by Eliezer Steinberg. Acted with great success: Buria Yanovich, Leib Froymchuk, Shunya Skilar, Dora Akerman, Bela Libstog and Buma Yutzis who also added songs from the life of the town. Avraham Zilberman and Rosenfeld participated in the musical portion. Buria Yanovich's plays were influenced by the small art theatre, which was organized in Romania by Yakov Sternberg. The revenues from the performances were allocated to support students without means, and for the expansion of the library. The last performances - “People” and “Tevye the Milkman” by Sholem Aleichem - were presented by 1940, until the Soviets entered Bessarabia.

 

cap090.jpg
Gitli Haysiner,
a veteran member of the drama group

 

A word from the editors

Among all the plays that were brought to the stage in Căpreşti, the popular folk song, “The balegule” [cart driver], managed to endear itself to the public, so they sang it at every opportunity - at work, trips, etc.

This play was presented in the summer of 1934 by Buria Yanovich according to the style of the well known director Yakov Sternberg.

Appeared in this play: Buria Yanovich, Shunya Skliar, Dora Akerman, Bela Libstog, Sara Ziglboim, Buma Yutzis, and Leib Froymchuk.

Musical accompaniment: Avraham Zilberman and the Rosenfeld brothers.

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