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[Page 85]

The Social and Cultural Life

 

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

[Page 86]

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,

[Page 87]

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


[Page 88]

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…

[Page 89]

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

 

[Page 90]

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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