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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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A Reading–Hall in Căpreşti

by A. U.

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Saturday, the 6th of this month, we celebrated the opening of the reading–hall Tarbut.

After a short opening speech by Shimon Heissinger, there were longer speeches by Chaim–Leib Chersonski and Mordechai Goldenberg, who emphasized: Chaim–Leib – the meaning and importance of a reading–hall, and Mordechai – the meaning of literature and the Press in general.

Dr. Yochanan Kaplivetzki warmly welcomed the opening of the Hall and wished the newly established institution a long and successful existence.

The poetry and literature readings left a very strong impression on the public: “A New Melody” [A nayer nigen] by Yitzhak Leibush Peretz and “A Poor Meal” [Orem maltzeit] by Mordechai Spector –

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read by Chaim Leib Bersonski; “The Soul” [Di neshome] (Y. L. Peretz) read by the writer Mordechai Goldenberg and at the end a poem recited by A. Margalit.

In the name of the assembly, thanks were sent to the local Council of the “Loan–and–Savings–Fund,” which gave two of its rooms for the use of the reading hall and library. Around 9 o'clock in the evening the festivity was declared closed.


The Public Library “Tarbut

by Mordechai Rishpy – Baruch Yanowitz

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

To evaluate the cultural level of the Căpreşti Jewish community, it would be enough to follow the relationship between the community and the public library.

This institution, visited by young and old, influenced not only those who were formally registered. Day by day, between 3 and 6 in the afternoon, one could see young people and adults on their way to the library, proudly carrying their books.

It was a fact: our people, at all levels, were longing for the written word; each according to his or her taste and education. I remember, for example, that we could get, from Gendil Saltzman, novels in Yiddish. Other readers obtained from Yosef Saklyar pocket books, and it was also possible to participate in a “reading circle.” Children in Cheder and of school age, were registered in the library of the Pirchei–Zion [flowers of Zion], association, situated in the back of Yosef Peck's house.

Later, the general public library relocated to the upper floor of Yakov Gerstein's house. The books were arranged by sections: Hebrew – separately for children and for adults; books in Yiddish and books in foreign languages. Every book had a number and the members paid an initial guarantee and a monthly fee. I think that the librarian, in those days, was Fanny Leiderman.

As the years passed, the Loan and Savings Bank set apart two of its rooms for the use of the library; later another room was added.

As far as I remember, during many years the managers of the library were Shimon Heissinger and Yankel Goldenberg (“Shimon–Yankel”). However, in later times, the young generation took over the management of the library. Many librarians served in the library; among them we remember: Frieda Kleiman, Motil Feierman, Fanny Hoichman.

The money for new books and for the maintenance of the library came from the fee of the registered members, and mainly from the banquets held from time to time for the benefit of the library.

When the new reading hall opened, a “Questions–and–Answers” gala evening was held, on many topics. It attracted a large public.

With the Soviet rule, the Library was closed, and what happened with the more than two thousand books – this we shall never know.

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A word from the editors

In the article titled Bet Ha'am, the following report was published, translated to Hebrew.

Unzer Tzeit,” Kishinew, 26.9.1929

 

Căpreşti

A great festivity was held in honor of placing the cornerstone for the Beit Ha'am.

On the ground where the Beit Ha'am was planned to be built, a rich buffet and lottery were prepared. Small tables were placed around, and the entrance was decorated and welcomed the public with Beruchim Haba'im [Welcome]. The lights were beautiful, there was music, etc.

Saturday afternoon, guests from the neighboring villages began to arrive. The festivities began with a splendid demonstration by the youth of the town, who marched through the streets, led by the initiator of the festivities, Dr. Yochanan Kaplivetzki. All held national flags in their hands and sang Hebrew songs. Around 6 o'clock the entire population, as well as the guests, marched toward the place of the party.

Greetings and congratulation speeches were given by: Dr. Yochanan Kaplivetzki, Efraim Yutzkis (from “Hamitzpe”), Mordechai Goldenberg, principal of the “Elementary School,” Avraham Bronstein, Nyoke Feldman and Landman (from Mărculeşti). Greetings telegrams were received from various Youth Organizations, as well as from private persons from abroad. Only after the first cornerstones were sold, the real party began.

The net income from the event was a total of 18,000 Lei.


“Let us build a Bet Ha'am!”

by Mordechai Rishpi (Feierman)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

The idea came up during one of the conversations between Dr. Yochanan Kaplivetzki and I. Why do we need a Bet Ha'am? [The People's House] The answer was quite clear: We need in Căpreşti a building for the cultural institutions, with a spacious hall for lectures, study courses, etc. There was no argument about the fact that such a place was needed indeed; the question was: how do we realize that important idea?

After we discussed the matter several times, we reached the next stage, the stage of “if”: if someone, from Căpreşti or elsewhere, left a legacy of several thousands for the erection of an institution to honor his name… Next was the stage of “letters” – since former residents of the town were dispersed all over the wide world, nothing would be more natural than to ask them to send donations, each according to his means, for the important purpose of erecting a Bet Ha'am in Căpreşti.

[Page 99]

It was said and done. We collected addresses of former Căpreşti residents and spent several days writing the letters. The day after I sent out the letters I went to see Yochantzi and found him in a bad mood. What had been the matter? Very well – he argued – we sent for donations to the people overseas, but what will we tell them when they ask: And you, Căpreşti people, who will be the ones to fully enjoy the Bet Ha'am, what is your contribution to this operation? We decided then: we shall go to the Jews in town, explain the importance of the Bet Ha'am and ask for a weekly contribution, each according to his or her initial pledge.

These were the steps of our operation: first, publicity: three lectures the first week and then a lecture a week. From then on, until the building was completed Yochantzi and I went every week from house to house to collect money for the enterprise.

To this day I cannot understand how we succeeded in this endeavor, which also included bitter and nerve–racking arguments, most often with the well–to–do, who not only were reluctant to donate, but would ask questions – relevant and irrelevant ones – with the clear purpose of aggravating us and reprimanding us for any error or mishap. In contrast, the “simple folk” demonstrated sympathy and trust toward the active workers, and this was really what encouraged us to go on working, in spite of everything.

In time, our activity extended to the villages around Căpreşti. I remember one day Chana Rabinowitz and I traveled on a carriage to one of the villages. We had to cross a dense forest. The carriage broke, and when it was repaired it was already dark, the forest full of long and menacing shadows. Suddenly a group of peasants attacked us, armed with pitchforks, demanding “Your money or your life!” Luckily, a group of gendarmes on horses passed by and the attackers ran. The gendarmes accompanied us to town, and when we reported what had happened, we received donations in sums that we never dreamed of.

For the length of a year Yochantzi and I met almost daily. In the left wing of the house of his father–in–law, Zisya Katz, Yochantzi opened a “Modern Cheder” where I taught part–time, until I went to Czernowitz to study. During recess and after school, we would make our plans; from there we went every day to collect the weekly donations for the building, and return in the evening to count our daily sum.

One day, at the time of recess, I met Yochantzi and his face was shining with happiness: Listen, Motl – he said – we already have half of the building. He received information about a plot of land, near the well in back of the Katz house; the plot belonged to a childless couple, R'Yakov Stopthcak and his wife. “After school we shall go see the land, which the Stopthcak couple donated for the Bet Ha'am.” Yochantzi told me how much effort it took to convince the couple. “It was hard labor”! – he said. We had to sign a note that a proper poster would be erected, saying that the land was donated by R'Yakov Stopthcak and his wife. The note was given to the Rabbi for safekeeping.

On the 6th of September 1929 the cornerstone was laid, with great ceremony. I had been already studying in Czernowitz, in the Teachers College. The ceremony is reported in detail in an article by A. Y. (Avraham Yutzis) in the newspaper “Unzer Zeit” of 29.9. 1929.

[Page 100]

“A great and festive party was held in honor of laying the cornerstone for our Bet Ha'am. On the plot of land, the donation of old R'Stopthcak, tents were erected with a rich buffet and lottery. Tables were placed all over the area, loaded with sweets and drinks. At the entrance, a beautiful gate was erected, with the inscription “Welcome to all.” A large gas lamp threw light over the entire area, the orchestra played, etc. In the late afternoon, people began to gather, including folks from the neighboring villages, who came to take part in the festivities.

It began with a huge demonstration by the young people, marching through the streets of the town, led by the initiator of the festivities Dr. Yochanan Kaplivetzki – all carrying national flags and singing. At six in the evening the entire population, as well as guests from the neighborhood gathered in the large square.

Speeches and greetings were given by: Dr. Yochanan Kaplivetzki, Efraim Yutzis (Hamitzpe), Mordechai Goldenberg, the elementary school principal Mr. Velasi, the town secretary Prodan, Avraham Bronstein, Nachum Fidelman and Yechiel Langman (from Mărculeşti). Telegrams were received from several youth organizations and private people. After the first cornerstones were sold, the real festivities began. The total net income that evening was 18,000 Lei.

When I came to town on vacation, I would visit the building site and follow the progress, until the walls stood two meters tall. It was meant to be a large and spacious hall, with room for bookshelves and assemblies. Unfortunately for all of us, the work was interrupted – for lack of funds as well as for lack of driving force: Yochantzi was invited to Paris and I went back to teach at the Teachers College.

 

cap100.jpg
 
Dear Sir
We have the honor to invite you to participate
In the ceremony of laying the cornerstone to the
Căpreşti Beit Ha'am
Which will take place Sunday, 10 Elul (15.9.1929)
On the site of
“H A M I T Z P E”

Dr. Yochanan Kaplivetzki
President of the initiating committee

 


[Page 101]

Rabbis and Gute-Yiden [“Good Jews”]

by Dr. N. Fidelman

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

From time to time a rabbi, or a “Good Jew” [a gutter Yid] would come to Căpreşti. They would stay, usually, at Sosye Goldtein's place or, in later years, in Yosl Peck's house. The days that the rabbi was in the shtetl were days of joy and celebration. “Jews, Lechayim!” – was heard all over, every time from another corner. “The Rabbi, may he live a long life”! – “Redemption for all Jews!” – “Next year in Jerusalem!” Fat broiled ducklings and sumptuous “kugel” would be served, with drinks of brandy or wine; the “finale” would often be a Chassidic little dance, led by the rabbi's Gaba'im [attendants, synagogue treasurers].

Saturday afternoon, all would assemble to honor the rabbi: the people would gather in the “pulish” [the hall, or anteroom] of the shul where the rabbi would teach Torah [lit. “would say Torah words”] and sing Hassidic songs until after “the Third Meal” of Shabat.

During weekdays people would go to “spend time” with the rabbi (be with the rabbi), starting from early evening until late at night. The sick would come to ask for a full recovery, the merchants for good business deals; childless men and women hoped to be blessed by the rabbi with pregnancy, carry the child in good health and have an easy delivery.

Understandably, one could not come to the rabbi without a pidyon [a “present” for the rabbi, usually money]; and in order to gain entrance to the rabbi one must have a “ticket” [kvitel] from the gabay. People would leave the rabbi's house lighthearted and happy, playing with the idea that it would be worthwhile to travel to the rabbi's “court” in his town, and receive another blessing – double is stronger!

After these visits of the rabbi, for many months people would tell and retell stories about his miracles – when they met in the synagogue, or in the bathhouse, or simply during an ordinary evening, while sitting on the porch.

 


The Căpreşti Community

by Dr. N. Fidelman

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Every town had several ritual slaughterers [shohatim], their number proportional to the size of the local population. During the first few years of the existence of Căpreşti, the town had only one slaughterer, Yosl Grinberg. One day, R'Itzik-Leib Sofer (brother-in-law of R'Aharon Liebstug) arrived in town. He assembled the people and asked a question: “Do you need a Shohet – yes or no? If you say that you do not need one, you will have to manage in the future without me. It is true that I am a shohet and I need to make a living, but if your reply is negative, I will stop practicing this profession!”

The reply was indeed: “Well, who needs you?” but R'Itzik-Leib did not despair: “I donate 100 Rubles to the town, if you clearly and openly sign a declaration that you do not need a shohet!” The answer came right away: “If so – we can talk!”

[Page 102]

R'Itzik-Leib gave them 50 Rubles in cash, promising to add the rest at a later time; he submitted a detailed proposal how to change slaughtering into a profitable business for the community: the first step would be to obtain from the authorities a permit to sell “slaughtering tickets” – 3 or 4 cents per chicken. A trusted person will sell the tickets, and he will also pay the salary of the slaughterer and the necessary taxes to the government.

The proposal was accepted unanimously, and R'Yosl Heissiner was elected the first “tax-man” in shtetl. He obtained a permit to sell slaughtering tickets, and in addition he collected a special tax from every wagon that came to the weekly fair in town. In the tax collection from the farmers he was helped by Binyamin Nudelman (Sotaski) as a representative of the Police, and others. The sale of the tickets was at the rabbi's house, and the slaughtering was performed only when the slaughterer received the appropriate ticket from the client. Sometimes the rabbi and the slaughterers, with the approval of the “tax-man,” raised the price of the ticket and divided the income among them – and no one would raise a voice of protest.

Actually, all matters of the town were conducted by the rabbi's people and the tax-man. This function was later reassigned from R'Yosl Heissiner to R'Zusya Katz. The income from the sale of the tickets was used for the salary of the rabbi and the slaughterers, the upkeep of the synagogue and the government taxes.

This system continued for many years. The government was not interested to make changes, because it was an important source of income; the “clerics” – the rabbi and his helpers – were interested to keep the situation as it was, because they had control over the tax; and the population did not realize the true nature of the tax and the way it was managed. They needed someone from outside who would explain to the community that its fate should not be controlled only by the rabbi's people, but by the community itself, based on the income from the “tax.”

 

The Community

A Community existed in Bucharest for many years. The general secretary of this community was Horia Karp, who was experienced in this area of work. He raised the question: why not establish communities in other localities as well, and relieve private people from managing the “tax”? They addressed the Romanian Ministry of Interior in this matter. Dr. Filderman was, at that time, the chairman of the existing communities in Romania, and a member of the Liberal Party, which was at the head of the government. He obtained a permit to establish communities in Bessarabia as well.

The aim was to give the community a formal, democratic character: it was decided that its income will not rely on slaughtering tickets alone, but that it will be allowed to impose general taxes on its members. It was also decided that the Committee that would represent the community will be duly elected by the local population. This was the decision, but in fact the Liberal representative of the Soroca County was bribed and he appointed the Committee without elections.

[Page 103]

As this came to my attention, I went to Bucharest and informed Horia Karp and Dr. Filderman about this situation of the communities. They promised to send memos to the various shtetls, demanding them to organize free and democratic elections.

However, several weeks passed and no memo reached Căpreşti. I went to Bucharest a second time, and I was informed that the Minister of the Interior instructed MP Michail to manage the elections in Căpreşti and establish a community. During his visit it came to my attention that Aharon Ivtcher tried to convince MP Michail that no elections were needed, but the latter firmly declared that he will carry out the instructions of the Ministry of the Interior.

All this resulted in a feeling of relief in town: the people felt that they have defeated the “rich tax people”. However, there were no parties in town; only the members of the clergy and the craftsmen were organized; the others – each represented himself only.

The decision whether to have elections or not was to be taken at the assembly of each synagogue. As I began to organize the election campaign, I chose from every synagogue a talented man, among them Mordechai Koparov – an intelligent person and a good speaker. In another synagogue (the “Kloiz”) I had Shmuel Bernstein at my side; he was not so much a great supporter of the elections, as he strongly opposed Aharon Ivtcher.

In the Great Synagogue, where the craftsmen prayed, the effort to convince the members was not great. I asked them: Do you prefer in the Community Council craftsmen, or 'simple-folk' who are not craftsmen? Their answer was clear. The same happened in the “Psalms-Reciters” synagogue [Thilim-Kleizl]. Berl Salzberg, chairman of the Mizrahi Branch in Căpreşti, organized an assembly, and asked: “What do you want – to build a synagogue or a church? If you want to build a synagogue, you should elect religious members, not ignorant people. Could Nyoke build a synagogue, while he never crosses its threshold and never prays and probably forgot how to put on his Tefilin”? Berl Salzberg was one of Aharon Ivtcher's men.

After Berl Salzberg's speech, I asked permission to speak and said: “You have probably heard about me, and about all my sins; but I think that what we need is not only Kosher meat, but also kosher bread: people who earn their daily bread through hard work and honesty.” At the end of the discussions it was decided to have elections.

I compiled a list of people who supported me: Dr. Goldenberg, Itzik Liebestug, Avraham Silberman, Avraimel Fidelman, Yehoshua Salzman, Baruch Yutzis, Yasha Schlein and others – about 15 or 16 people. Every Saturday I spoke in the various synagogues, campaigned for my list and explained why these people, and not others, should be the members of the Council. In two synagogues I was not allowed to speak: The Old Synagogue [Di Alte Kloiz] and The German Kloiz [Di Deitche Kloiz]. Following that, I decided to be accompanied by several of my people, in case violence would break out.

Our ballot received 80% of the votes and the following people were elected to the first Community Council in Căpreşti: Chairman Dr. Nachum Fidelman, Rabbi David Kaplivetzki,

[Page 104]

Avraham Silberman, Dr. Goldenberg, Yehoshua Salzman, Itzik Liebestug, Avraimel Fidelman, Dr. Levinson, Aharon Ivtcher, Mordechai Weiner, Lyova Mittelman, Yechiel Gutwarg, Yasha Schlein and Baruch Yutzis.

At this stage, a new chapter began. Every proposition was opposed by Aharon Ivtcher. At the first meeting (1935), I proposed to elect a chairman. That was not easy, but finally I was elected chairman. We began organizing the various departments – and concerning the department “Help for the Poor” I proposed to exclude the needy and the beggars from other towns; it was finally decided that a needy person from a neighboring town or village could ask the committee for help, and if his request will be approved he will receive a certain sum of money.

To the “Help for the Poor” department were elected: Yitzhak Liebestug, Yehoshua Salzman, Avraimel Fidelman and Yasha Schlein.

The Talmud Torah department decided to pay tuition for the poor, according to the economic situation of the families; part of the money will be collected from the better-situated parents. The Talmud Torah budget was easier to prepare, since the number of pupils was known in advance.

Next on the agenda was the Hevra Kadisha [burial Society]. We decided that the family of the deceased will not pay them any fee, but a committee will fix the sum according to established criteria and pay it directly to the Society. In this committee served: Mordechai Weiner, Yechiel Gutwarg and Lyova Mittelman.

The administration department of the community was located in Yankel Mar's house, on the “New Street.” We employed a servant for cleaning the place. Aharon Froimtchuk was the tax collector of the community, since he was an intelligent and learned man. He collected the money according to a list compiled by the presidency: Chairman Dr. Fidelman, honorary chairman Rabbi David Kaplivetzki and vice-presidents Dr. Levinson and Dr. Goldenberg. We set a minimum and maximum for the community tax; at first the tax was 4 Lei a week, and in time it was raised to 5 Lei a week. The maximum reached 50 Lei a week – proportional to the economic situation of the taxpayer.

In order to prepare the budget properly, a special committee was created: Dr. Fidelman, Rabbi Kaplivetzki and a third man from the community council. This committee visited each taxpayer in his home, and decided together with him the weekly sum that he will pay to the community – according to the economic situation of the family. The procedure was not always easy.

The treasurer was at first Yasha Schlein and later Baruch Yutzis. The secretary was Dr. Goldenberg and later Avraham Silberman. The accountants were Fishel Felitzian and Buma Potik.

[Page 105]

We did not have many institutions; however, we had many plans. We planned to create a Talmud Tora with excellent teachers, who would inspire love for Eretz Israel, beside the regular religious subjects, and we saved money for that purpose.

From time to time we supported the Library, the “Visiting the Sick” institutions, “Help for the Poor” etc. Some of the people with illnesses were entirely supported by the community, some would pay the doctor half of his fee and the rest was paid by the community. More than once, Dr. Levinson waived his fee for the benefit of the community.

In fact, there was no resident entirely dependent on the help of the community; most were receiving partial support. Chaia-Sara, the slaughterer Pinchas Pinkovski's wife and the slaughterer Aharon Liebestug would go from house to house collecting donations to help marry a poor bride. This was done with the approval of the community, on the condition that they report how much they had collected and how the money was used. Chaia-Sara, who for years acted without supervision, opposed the new system.

Every Thursday we paid the rabbi, the slaughterers and the synagogue attendants [shamashim] their weekly salary. The salary was fair, enabling them even to send their children to study in other towns. It is worthwhile to note, that in none of the places in the neighborhood of Căpreşti did the religious officers receive such a high salary.

We supported the bathhouse as well. The attendant would sometimes accept his friends without payment, so we decided that entrance to the steam-bath will be free, and for bathing twice a week the needy will receive a free ticket from the community.

Members of the community who needed ice for relieving high fever during sickness, for example, could obtain it in the cooling-cellars owned by private people. Berl Leibson was one of them, but he sold his ice mainly to kiosks where soda-water was sold. Therefore the community decided to build a large cooling-cellar for the needs of its members.

The community would buy a horse for the wagon of the water carrier, in case his horse died or was too old to work. This horse was the property of the community and was under its supervision and control. One day, when it was found that the water carrier was not taking care properly of his horse, he was immediately fired and his water-wagon was given to a gypsy from a neighboring village.

The community would intervene in cases of dispute between members, since trial at the rabbi's religious court involved a fee. Baruch Yutzis or the chairman served as arbitrators; they enjoyed full confidence from the members.

[Page 106]

An important source of income for the community was from selling matza for Passover. Before the Community was formally established, Nachum Schneidman would bake the matzot; however, he would sometimes raise the price and the needy were not able to afford them. The community decided to buy a baking machine and provide the matzot for the members; it was installed in Shlomo Schelfman's (Seinwals) house. We requested the bakers to submit proposals in sealed envelopes, and the winner of the tender was Chaim Schneidman, whose proposal was the cheapest. Meir Verzov was appointed by the community to supervise the quality of the matzot, and during his time the quality of the matzot indeed improved.

We had plans to establish a Hebrew high-school (in 1918 such a high-school was opened, but it lasted only one year). We bought a plot of land from Asher Sofer; but in 1938, with the rise of the Cuza-Goga regime, the plan was abandoned.

When Dr. Goldenberg left, his place in the community council was given to the next on the election list, Leib Mar.

In 1938, when the Goga-Cuza government ordered to inspect and revise the Jews' citizenship rights, the community took upon itself the very important and difficult project – preparation of the documents to be submitted to the court of justice. This saved many Jews from great trouble.

In 1940, with the Russian occupation of Bessarabia, the activity of the Jewish community of Căpreşti sadly came to an end.

 

cap106.jpg
Statues by Israel Barnea

 

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