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[Page 204]


Way of Life – Folklore and Legends



In the Place Where the Penitents Stand

by Yechiel Resnick z”l

Translated by Lancy Spalter


Rabbi Yechiel Resnick, a great scholar and respectable man in our town of Dubossary, wrote the following pages based on a legend known in our community about the famous “Baal Teshuvah” (Penitent) who is buried in the Old Cemetery of Dubossary. Rabbi Yechiel was born in Kalarash and he married the daughter of Rabbi Shimale Dayan, a pious man, a Torah scholar and a Kabbalist. After his marriage, he settled in our town, until he immigrated to Israel more than 50 years ago. He was among the first denizens of Tel Aviv, in which he lived and reached old age. Until the very last moments on the day of his death at the age of 93, on the 6th of Heshvan 5723 (November 3, 1962) he was lucid and kept his wits. He wrote these pages in 5714, when he was very old, getting close to 90. He engaged in writing and research and among others wrote a work titled “David beveit Shaul” (David in the House of Saul) and “Hachayim Bitkufat Hashoftim” (Life in the Age of the Judges).

He wrote the legend about the Penitent especially for this Yizkor Book.

Baruch She-hecheyanu Ve-higgiyanu (Blessed be the One who has kept us alive and brought us to reach this moment)… My soul is full of gratitude to the Compassionate God, Blessed be His Name for His benevolence to me, bringing me to this moment, to the time of the Messiah, the Beginning of Salvation, as we bless… And yet, my soul is torn and my heart is in pain for the terrible tragedy that was brought upon us, on the loss of 6 millions, brothers and sisters, holy martyrs, pious and righteous, working people and scholars, dear and shining stars whose light was forever extinguished. For all of them, my soul cries.

The Jewish people mourn heavily, even in their most joyous times. They moan and cry on their holidays for the tragic death of their martyrs and pray for the rising of their souls. We shall now weep for generations to come , in public with the Congregation of Israel and in solitude, each one for his own kinsmen and for the people of his community that were removed from the Book of the Living. At this time, I would like to deliver “a blessing of gratitude” and to thank the Compassionate God, Blessed be His Name, for giving me the strength to participate, even minimally, in the eternal memorial being built by the people of our town to the community of Dubossary, in compiling this book. I hope that these pages will satisfy the readers and will serve as one brick in the memorial being built here.

Tel Aviv, 5714, the Sixth Year since our Independence.

* * *

We were a bunch of silk youths in our town of Dubossary, engaged in Torah studies. The Beth Midrash served as a place of learning as much as a place to meet for Hassidic discussions and for a friendly chat. Twice a week for years we had the benefit of a special spiritual joy. Once: on Thursday evenings when we gathered for our lesson of Parashat Hashavua (the weekly Torah reading) with Rashi commentaries from Rabbi Aharon “Der Bobbes” (to this day I do not know whence this name originated). It was a special delight to learn the Pentateuch with Rashi from Reb Aharel; it was a joyous tutoring. His fascinating lessons will be justly remembered and his soul will illuminate with the light of eternal life. And once: on the evenings when we sat for several hours in the company of Rabbi Israel Leib Shochet z”l, the father of Rabbi Kalman Feinshel, Shochet Uvodek z”l. He used to come to our Beth Midrash and immediately after the evening prayers we would crowd around him to hear Hassidic stories from his mouth. Rabbi Israel Leib was a gifted storyteller. His audience was captivated by his words. He was a man of truth. Out of caution and fear lest he fail, God forbid, in an unchecked word or in transmitting an inaccurate fact, he would always remark in humbleness: “Children, be careful; I am not accountable for the precision of these events. I think I can remember so far the things I tell you.”

On one of the evenings dedicated to the memory of the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Israel Leib opened his story as follows: As you know, the Baal Shem Tov z-tz”l (may his sacred memory be blessed) departed three times to Eretz Israel, thus risking his own life and the life of his daughter Hudel, and each time he had to renounce. The purpose that moved the sacred Baal Shem Tov to risk his life three times to reach Eretz Israel by the tortuous ways of those times was to meet with the Great Tzadik, Rabbi Chaim Attar, who compiled “Or Ha-Chaim”. All the Tzadikim of that time believed that a meeting of the two would bring redemption. After the Baal Shem Tov had been miraculously saved three times from fatal dangers, the Tzadikim concluded that the postponement was dictated from Heaven and decided to send someone else in the Baal Shem Tov's stead. They sent his brother-in law, Rabbi Gershon from Kitov, and Rabbi Joel, author of “Maggid Meisharim” from Nemirov, an ancestor of my father-in-law, the righteous Rabbi Shimele Nachum Levi's; my father-in-law is fifth generation to Rabbi Joel. After this mission also failed, they resolved to take other measures, one of which was to place great Tzadikim in certain places. One of them was the pious Rabbi, author of “Tzafnat Pa'neach”, and the other was the pious, enlighted Rabbi Mendele, who rests in the Old Cemetery of Dubossary.

Reb Israel Leib mentioned the name of Reb Mendele by the way, as an introduction to his story. But I was especially interested in him and wanted to hear more details about the life and work of this Tzadik, and sought an opportunity to talk with my father-in-law, Reb Shimele z”l. I succeeded and one day my father-in-law, may his soul rest in Paradise, told me this story:

The question of who was Reb Mendele, his ancestry and whence he came remains a mystery till this day. Many years later it became known that the Baal Shem Tov and his group, the Tzadikim of the Kloiz of Brody, headed by the preacher from Polonne, assigned him to settle in Dubossary. Nothing else is known. There must have been a reason.

In time, there was a mysterious event which was later elucidated thanks to Reb Mendele. And this is the story.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, during the Kol Nidrei prayer, when the crowd that filled the synagogue was entranced by Reb Mendele's prayer, a stranger sneaked into the synagogue. He was tall and ruddy, a typical “Muscovite”. With furtive steps, so as not to be heard, he sidled into a corner and he broke out in bitter crying. Bewildered, the praying Jews asked each other: “What is a powerful Gentile doing in the synagogue on Yom Kippur eve?” During the first recess, someone approached Reb Mendele and told him about the peculiar occurrence. The Tzadik gestured with his hand so as to say “there is nothing to it”.

After Kol Nidrei the crowd started to disperse. Only a few stayed behind for the Psalms, as is the custom, and by midnight they, too, retired , each to his home for the night's rest. Nobody approached the stranger and the last to go left him where he stood. The next morning they found him standing in the same corner and he remained there all day. From time to time, heartbreaking sobs came out of his mouth and his eyes were filled with tears.

The closing prayer was over and the sound of the Shofar echoed in the air. People wished each other a good year, a year of forgiveness and acquittal. The crowd and the Rabbi went out to the synagogue's yard to bless the moon. The stranger joined them and pushed his way to come close to the Rabbi. His sobs did not cease during the moon blessing, as if the source of his tears were endless. At the end of the ritual, Reb Mendele turned around to look for the stranger and gestured to him to approach. There was a spark of joy in the eyes of the stranger. Reb Mendele invited him over to his home.

When the meal was over, many Hassidim came to the Rabbi's home, as usual, to listen to his teachings. They were all eager to hear from Reb Mendele the explanation of the mystery of the stranger in the synagogue on Yom Kippur. After a few moments of silence, the Rabbi lifted his eyes and told the stranger: “Well, tell us the story of your life”. And the man began his narrative.

“My father was a “Sibiriak” (a prisoner sentenced to exile in Siberia). I never learned what was his crime and why he was exiled. After he ran his sentence, he never returned to European Russia and he settled in Siberia. He married a woman and for many years did not beget children. I was born when he was almost an old man. He always reminded me that I am a Jew and when I was born he brought a Mohel surgeon from far away to introduce me to the Pact of our Father Abraham, which had cost him a large amount of money. One day he took out a book, pointed at it and said: “Look son, this book is called a Siddur”. It is a book of prayer. He taught me the alphabet. At first it impressed me, but in the course of time it vanished from me.

My father had a fabrics store and once a year he travelled to Moscow to buy merchandise directly from the manufacturers. When I turned thirteen, I joined my father at the store and, before long, I showed a talent for trade. I learned about the quality of the fabrics, became acquainted with the customers and very involved in the business. My mother died a few years later and my father, who loved her very much, turned suddenly old, lost his vitality, and did not have the strength to travel to Moscow, a long and tiring journey that lasted several weeks. For lack of alternative, it was decided that I should travel in his stead. My first journey was a success. I bought good and nice fabrics at a reasonable price and the manufacturers and tradesmen of the capital treated me with warmth and appreciation. One large manufacturer named Timoshenko became especially fond of me. On my next journey, Timoshenko invited me to be his guest for the length of my stay.

Timoshenko had a single daughter, a good-looking young girl of about my age, and we became friendly, much to her father's joy. He urged us to go out and seek entertainment every time I was in Moscow. Thus, a few years elapsed. Frequently, when I arrived in Moscow, I went directly to the Timoshenko residence, where I was received with happiness and affection. One day Timoshenko summoned me to his study, made me sit in front of him and told me: I am sick and getting old. As you know, I have many assets and only one daughter. My anxiety for the fate of my daughter after my death grows with each passing day. My friends and relatives are waiting for me to close my eyes, to give Natasha's hand to one of her many hollow suitors. They are superficial and gamblers and I shiver at the thought of my only daughter falling in the hands of one of them, whereas I liked you since the first time I set eyes on you, and I wish you would take Natasha for a wife. All that is mine will become yours while I am still alive, because I am convinced that Natasha will find happiness only with you.

Timoshenko's words made me feel good; indeed he had many assets, and I also liked Natasha. Nevertheless, I evaded giving him a positive answer. “The future wil tell” was my reply.

I returned home and told my father nothing about Timoshenko's offer. However, in the solitude of my bed, I spent many a sleepless night pondering…Soon after, my father became incurably ill; I felt his end was close. I nursed him day and night but his condition worsened from day to day. For days he lay unconscious. One day, when I was standing by his bed, he suddenly opened his eyes and there was a flash of recognition in them. He glanced imploringly and it tore my heart. For a long time he stared at me and two big, burning tears rolled down his sunken cheeks. In a barely audible voice, he whispered: “My one and only son, be a Jew”. Those were his last words. He closed his eyes, never to open them again.

For many days I mourned my father's death. I was left alone and forlorn in the world, without a friend or a relative. My soul cried in solitude and I could not find consolation. The days passed and time, that cures all ailments, eased my sorrow. I departed for Moscow to buy merchandise. My stay at the Timoshenkos in the company of Natasha, who did her utmost to comfort me and to make me forget my father's death, alleviated my grief and I recovered completely. On my next visit to Moscow, I married Natasha.

I closed the shop in Siberia. Before I left the town where I was born forever, I went to the cemetery to part from the graves of my parents. Standing by my father's grave, I was seized by guilt feelings and regret for not having fulfilled his last wish and for having married a Gentile. And yet, when I reached Moscow, the crowded and boisterous city, and took over the management of my father-in-law's business, I soon forgot my father and my past. Business prospered and my assets grew year by year. My wife bore me two sons and shortly after the birth of my second son, my father-in-law passed away.

To expand my business further, I decided not to wait for the merchants to come to Moscow for the fabrics but rather to take large quantities of merchandise to the large rural towns. I organized a convoy of tens of carts loaded with merchandise and set out with them for Odessa. The venture succeeded, the merchandise was practically snatched from my hands, and several months later I arranged for a second convoy”.

On reaching this point of his story, the stranger's voice trembled, his throat choked and tears came out of his eyes. After he calmed down, he continued: “and yesterday.. when I was passing by the synagogue with the convoy, my ears detected the sounds of the Kol Nidrei prayer coming from the Rabbi's mouth… I felt as if a string of my heart snapped… I got off the dray, ordered the convoy to continue and came into the synagogue…”He choked once again, burning tears rolled down his cheeks and he sobbed for a long time. The Rabbi put a hand on his shoulder and the man calmed down.

“And now, what do you intend to do?” the Rabbi asked softly.

“ I want to be a Jew. All day I have been seeing my father's eyes begging me to go back to my sources. Today, on this holy day for the Jewish people, I have separated myself from the Gentile world in which I lived for so many years. Holy Rabbi, please help me return to the bosom of Judaism!” And my father-in-law z-t z”l ended his story: “He became a Penitent, and who can measure up to a Penitent? And his end, indeed, attests to his greatness.”

One icy winter morning, the sun appeared to warm the Mikve and found the Penitent sitting on the stepstones, inert. In the cold of the night, he had breathed his saintly last.

The following day, the funeral was performed and the entire town participated. Reb Mendele himself, the Tzadik, chose the burial spot and ordered: “When my day comes, please bury me next to the Penitent's grave”.

In the Old Cemetery of Dubossary you can still see the two Tzadikim's graves side by side, Rabbi Mendele's and the Penitent's. May their merits in Heaven protect us and the People of Israel. Amen.

Glossary:  
Beth Midrash Place of Judaic learning
Hassidic Belonging to the Jewish current of Hassidism
Kol Nidrei Prayer sang on the eve of Yom Kippur
Mikve Ritual bath
Mohel Ritual surgeon who performs circumcisions
Pact of our Father Abraham the circumcision
Rashi Abbreviated name for Rabbi Shlomo ben Itzhak, commentator of the holy books
Shochet Uvodek Ritual slaughterer and overseer of compliance with precepts, who served as religious leader in small communities, in the absence of a Rabbi
Shofar Ritual horn blown on High Holidays
Tzadik (plural Tzadikim) Pious and devout Jew
z”l (Zichrono Livrachah) Blessed be his memory


[Page 220]


The beginnings of theater in Dubossary

by Isaac Horvitz

Translated by Sarah Faerman


A

The year was 1901.Yiddish (Jewish language) stage performances in those days were basically readings from books.Yiddish theater was associated with the name “Goldfadden” who would come from time to time to Dubossar. They say that his acts were usually selections aboutcomic and ludicrous characterslike: “The Two Kuni Leml” – two pathetic characters – or “Babba Yachna” who performs magic, cooks kettles of pitch and tar, crawls on rooftops searching for days gone by, and so on. Upstanding, respectable Jews did not deign to attend these silly comedy spoofs and Goldfadden was practically chased out of town after a few weeksbarelyscraping together a few coins to buy food for the “actors” and toward their travelling expenses.

That was the extent of Jewish theater in those days when there was no library in town andno thought yet of a cultural centre.Even a Yiddish or Hebrew newspaper would come to the very few. Preachers and lecturers would appear from time to time to expound on ethics or on “Love of Zion”.Then notices would go up in the synagogues and schools announcing that this one or that one would be lecturing Saturday night in the old synagogue and everyone was invited to attend. However, staged performances aimed at the broader public were not yet heard of or even desired.

The Jewish folk was devout and God fearing, totally opposed to the modern, progressive speakers.Whatever was associated with the theater would be greeted with the complaint: ”What do these “actors” want? Painted faces! with the Talis Kotn (tassled undergarment worn by Orthodox Jewish men) on the left side! brazen women showing naked legs with… with…!!! May God watch over them and protect them… Who are they? Trayfinyakes (not kosher)! licentious men and women; depraved clowns that besmirch our Jewish name and blacken our reputation! who lead our Jewish little children to strange ideas and to blasphemy; May God save us!”

To this backward, small-town atmosphere, chance brought the young man, Kalman Baylis who came to Dubossar to visit his brother, Israel Mayer Melamed. Kalman had already had a great deal of experience in theater in his city Horodek where he had been both actor and director. We immediately recognized in him someone who was capable of pushing forward our stagnant, provincial, staid young boys and girls. After a few meetings with Kalman Baylis it was clear to us that we had to initiate something in Dubossar.

With Kalman's initiative and help we assembled a theatrical troupe of approximately ten people to perform the play: “The Song Of Bread” by M. M Varshavsky. Kalman, together with Velvl Kazatzker – a singer with a fine baritone voice and very talented in music – began to rehearse us for the performance. Dressed in white shirts andwith pitch forks in our hands, we sang with elevated spirits and in greatecstasy this lusty song of celebration:

Mighty God, We are singing songs
You alone are our help.
Brothers gather the sheaves
Until the sun has set.

On the stage, lit with special lighting, we were like silhouettes against a magical horizon; twilight shadows moving like spirits from a far off strange world. We rhymically swayed and whispered:

May the sun bake and burn us
It lightens our way to happiness.
See – the bread is plentiful
Youth, never retreat.

The scene electrified the audience; the singing enchanted them; the mysterious light seemed to fog their minds and from hundreds who sat with warmed hearts, wide open-eyes and mouths agape, came the murmuring: “ May the sun bake and burn us,children. Never retreat!!”

Hershl Chaikl's hall suddenly was transformed into a temple of art and paeans of praise along with tears of joy fell on the heads of the “dear Jewish children that have brought such joy to our heavy hearts.”

This first sprout of Yiddish theater, like a planted kernel in a ploughed field, flowered and heralded the beginning of theater in Dubossar. With that first perfomance, the foundation was laid.



B

After the overwhelmingly positive reception of our first offering, our courage soared and so as not to lose momentum in our aspirations, we decided to immediately plan for our next show. This time we named our troupe “Lyubiteles” (Theater Lovers).

Kalman proposed that our next theatrical undertaking should be the musical melodrama “Zerubavel” – a play by L. L. Lilienblum – based on the exile in Babylon and the return to Zion. Kalman had played the role of “Zerubavel” in his town of Horodok and it had been very well received. After giving us a reading of the eight act play, we decided that we wanted to present this as our next production. Three troupe members were chosen to assign the roles and to take responsibility for the preparations. The three members were: Velvl Kazatzker, Kalman Baylis and the author of these lines.

I only remember the names of several of the participants of this endeavour: Kalman, Velvl and his brother Nachman Kazatzker, Joseph Faynshil, Jacob Imas, Berele Molyer, Yankl Nissenboim, and Yankl (or maybe a different name) Shayke Glazer's. Kalman gave me three roles to play, and like the obediant horse that pulls a heavy load, I acted in roles that were distributed throughout the first, second, fourth and fifth acts. Aside from these three roles, I was also the cashier, the ticket printer (by hand with a rubber stamp as there was no printing shop in Dubossar), announcement writer and distributor of flyers in the synagogues. I also, together with Velve and Kalman created the costumes, beards, makeup and all the other incidentals that are associated with mounting a play.

I must mention another two people who, although not directly part of our theater troupe, were of great help to us: Moishe Tzelnik who donated all of the necessary makeup from his apothecary shop and Shmuel Guzman who simply loved the atmosphere of the theater and would help us whenever we needed something.

This same Shmulik Guzman did actually solve a difficult problem for us. We had to put a sacrifice on the stage and fire from “above” was supposed to descend and burn it. This was a difficult situation for us as we could not figure out how to execute this. Shmuel filled his mouth with kerosene and got up on a table behind the set. In one hand he held a burning candle and through a big crack in the scenery, he spit out the kerosene in a big 'swhooosh' . It passed through the candle and onto the stage. The 'sacrifice' burst into flames and dense smoke covered the whole stage. The audience, in great fright, began to run to the doors. And that is how in Dubossar theater, we burnt sacrifices. And now back to the main story.

We applied ourselves diligently to our theater although there were some lazy ones that had to be dragged to rehearsals. We were unable to entice any women to take two female roles in our play so we had no alternative but to use Berele Molyer in the role of Shulamis and Shayke Glazer's boy in the role of the mother.

The week after Sukkot we began to rehearse two or three evenings a week in the cheder (small Hebrew school) of Israel Mayer Melamed. As everything that we were attempting was new and strange to us, we had great difficulties in equipping ourselves with the necessary costumes, props,etc. We wanted to create the best of effects and this cost us a lot both in time and in money. We bought material and conscripted our closest girl friends to sew the costumes in the style and fashion of the historical period we were depicting as written by the playwright and as instructed by Kalman. We also had to make our own wigs and beards and these were painstakingly created by Paike, Nachman's daughter and her sister who were by profession wigmakers. In our courtyard, In Kayle Chaim Mordecai's little shul (synagogue) we stored all of our costumes in the women's section and each time a new item was completed, it was brought right over and stored there.

Around the end of November, we decided to rent the “Gorodskay Theater” for a day in December when it was not being used. On December 11th we obtained the theater for five ruble per night. Now we encountered another difficult problem. We had to have a permit to perform in the theater otherwise we could not get the hall.

We started to run here and there, hunting for a way or a person who could help us to obtain the permit. I was given this heavy assignment. To my great luck, a very good friend of mine, Shmelke Melamed, came to my assistance. It turned out that he was close to the authorities, an acquaintance of the Police Commissioner. Shmelke agreed to approach the Commissioner but only if I would accompany him.

We both set out one morning taking with us, at Shmelke's suggestion, the book “Zerubavel” and three rubles that Shmelke placed between the cover and the first page. To put us at ease, he joked that that was a lucky place to put the money as there was a stamp on the page indicating that the book was “Permitted by the Censor”. When we arrived at the office, Shmelke asked to see the Commissioner and we were told to go into the reception area where he quickly explained to the chief our request. At the same time, he handed over the book saying:”Here is the book with the permit from the censor.” The Commissioner opened the book, skillfully rolled the money into his hand and with an officious expression said: “Yes, yes, the necessary permit is here.” He also advised us to send a telegram to the chief of police in Tyraspol stating:”I request permission for the Jewish-German play to commence without a fee” and to sign his name to it. He said that when he received a reply, he would inform us.

I did as he commanded and on the third day, a policeman came to summon me to the Commissioner's office. I went to get Shmelke and we repeated the same steps as before – the book, the three rubles – and off we went to see the gentelman. And he, the gentelman, seeing the book in hand, became very cheerful and told us that the permission had been granted. Shmelke handed over the book and Commissioner, while swiftly extracting the money, read aloud the reply: “Notify Isaac Gurevitch that I authorize the production of the Jewish-German play – to be performed free” (meaning without tickets).

December 11, 1901. Evening. A rush; shoving and pushing at the entrance to the theater. Most of the tickets had already been sold. Many were waiting to be let in but there were no more seats available. We had worried about just such an eventuality and were prepared with a plan. We had gathered together a pile of rocks and quickly assembled a “gallery” behind the benches, near the entrance. “Come people, and if you like, you can watch Yiddish theater standing on the rocks”. Needless to say, there were many willing takers for our “gallery”.

The hall was so packed that not even a pin could be squeezed in. The ushers were prespiring, yelling and working hard to maintain order. Eight o'clock. The kerosene lamp was extinguished. Everyone held their breath with great anticipation. The curtain slowly rose and Dubossar was privilaged to see, for the first time in its history, her own children acting in the theater, acting in the Yiddish theater. (The gentiles had already been involved in theater for a long time).

Around midnight, when the production came to an end, a thunderous applause poured forth from the enchanted audience. “Bravo!” they shouted and stayed as if glued to their seats. They applauded loudly and even wildly, drawing out their great appreciation of the actors. Much later, outside on the street, groups of exhilarated people were still exclaiming: “How they acted!!!” “They were so talented!!” “How did they learn to do this? Where did they learn to act like this?” “I would forfeit a great meal and the best glasses of wine to be able once again to view such wonderful theate!!!” These and similar words of praise were heaped upon us and we, the “actors” behind the scenes, who had struggled and grappled with all the myriad details involved in mounting the production both before and during the play, finally, finally also had some “naches” in listening to the compliments of our enraptured audience.

Our theater group, acting for the first time and being neither trained nor disciplined, had made many mistakes. In one case, we threw away one actor's total costume; in another case, a beard wouldn't stay on; In yet another instance, everything was in order but one half of a moustache refused to stay in place and hung down like a second beard. It wiggled, it moved and made everyone around the actor nervous. What to do? He was due to step out immediately onto the stage. His partner was pacing impatiently; the unruly moustache was waving to and fro until with more clay patted onto his cheek, he finally was able to go onto the stage.

Others, perhaps twenty individuals – among them children – were positively underfoot and getting in our way. This along with the clamor and commotion back stage was disturbing , disappointing and painful and we were worried sick. In spite of all this, the play was a great success. Each scene and then the finale were executed with great finesse. Our collaboration and efforts paid off. We all stepped down from the stage after the last act deeply satisfied with ourselves in the knowledge that we had inaugerated a good beginning. We had laid the foundation for the Yiddish theater in Dubossar.

After the performance, the entire ensemble as well as several backers and helpers were invited to a banquet in our honour at the home of my sister and brother-in-law Reuben and Pearl Bartniker. We celebrated all night until dawn. It was here, around the table laden with tasty dishes and glasses of wine that we decided that all of the proceeds from the sale of tickets for the play would be used to create a library and a reading room. The Bartnikers immediately offered the use of their house for the library and reading room. Reuben Bartniker volunteered to be the first librarian. This was the origin of the Yiddish Theater and the Culture Centre in Dubossar.



[Page 228]


Reb Isaac Shargaradsky
The Dubossar Klezmer

by Harry Scheer

Translated by Sarah Faerman


As with most Klezmer (musicians) in the Jewish towns and cities of long ago Russian and Poland, my father, Isaac Shargaradsky did not have a formal musical education. Although self taught, he was not merely one more of the many who played instruments; he was an artist, a vituoso. Had he the opportunity of a musical education and had he lived in different circumstances, who knows the heights he might have achieved.

I have no doubt that my father was not even aware that a couple of hundred years previously, there lived a master craftsman – Stradivarius – who crafted such superb violins that they far outlived him and to this day they enchant and enthrall whosoever hears their magnificant resonance and tone. I also don't know if my father was aware of the prestige of his own fiddle. Of course, the exquisite sounds that he would coax out of his violin were an authentic reflection of his own unique individuality. When he would take the violin in hand, the music would flow like a river on a calm summer day. Suddenly there would be a winter storm howling through the forest with a soaring to the highest octaves; a wailing would be heard, of one, forlorn and homeless in the frozen, snowbound winter. From the violin would emanate the haunting lament of sorrow and longing; then again there was the rapture and joy of celebration. His virtuosity and artistry elevated him above all the other musicians and he was the focal point of his Klezmer Kapeleye (band). His playing was like the blessing while the rest of the band were like those who say “amen”; he was the bright light and they, the butterflies that warmed themselves in its glow.

There is a folk saying “A Klezmer has a happy profession, but makes a very poor living”. The Jewish calendar is full with days of sorrow and weeks of sorrow; with days of misfortunes and difficult times when one is forbidden to celebrate weddings and other festivities. On these days, Klezmer have nothing to do. Even in the permitted days, the earnings were small, insignificant unless it was a wealthy wedding (and how many wealthy people were there in a small town?) There were weddings where the musicians would receive money in the hand for the dance and the amounts given were not uniform. The rich gave more; the poor gave less. When it comes right down to it, the Klezmer's income was that of a pauper and meager was the Klezmer's table. And – when the Klezmer Kapelye ventured forth to the surrounding towns seeking “engagements” – then their families were indeed left with very little.

Therefore, when my father's two brothers-in-law, my uncles from my mother's side – Mordecai and Hershl – wrote to him from America, telling him that Klezmer there have opportunities to perform, not only at weddings but in the Yiddish theater, my father acted upon their suggestion and left for America at the turn of the century. He went alone with the hope of soon bringing over the family and he was soon successfully performing in the Yiddish theater. He was unable to remain long as my mother became ill with consumption, an illness that was a frequent guest among the Jewish poor. When grandmother Menya wrote to him that in God's name he must return to save his wife, the mother of his children, he wasted no time and returned.

He did leave America, but he could not save mother. The illness advanced mercilessly and in the year 1903, my mother – Fayge, “The Klezmerke” (Klezmer's wife) – passed away. Isaac Shargaradsky once again became Dubossar's 'star' Kapelye musician – a live legend on both sides of the River Dniester wherever there were to be found Jewish folk.

* * *

I have no doubt that my father was also gifted as a composer. In spite of the primitive resources at hand, he composed melodies and songs, particularly of the “folklore” genre. One who personally witnessed this is our friend Moishe Bick, himself a composer and also born in Dubossar. Just recently, in 1964, the Museum of Music in Haifa presented a musical folkore concert featuring one of his compositions: “A Jewish Wedding”. Among the various dances and wedding songs were also several melodies that were composed by my father.

How or from whom did my father learn to read musical notes? I do not have a clue. I doubt if there were special sheets of paper for musical notations in those days in Dubossar or even regular sheets of paper. And if yes, surely that would have been too expensive for him to purchase. I do remember seeing him take regular white paper and with a ruler, pencil in the lines and the notes. Then he would teach his newly composed dance melodies to his Kapelye. These melodies were soon absorbed within the repertoire of folk music that was sung at family gatherings around the table, at celebrations and at parties in the homes where the young men and women would gather at the end of the Sabbath, after Havdala, to socialize and to dance. These melodies were picked up by other Kapelyes and soon spread out to the surrounding towns and cities.

It would be a pity not to take this opportunity to mention the names of the musicians in my father's Kapelye in the order of their position in the ensemble:

First violin: He himself
Second violin Yossl Shual's
Third violin Vassily Plinzhi (in Moldavian, plinzhi means “The one who cries”.
  He was called that because his eyes were always running.
Flute and Clarinet Matye-Mordecai
Clarinet Timashke
Trumpets Shaya and his son Abraham
Bass Shual
Trombones Arke from Krivilan and Godl the Blind
Tuba Israel “Everything Holy” (nickname)
Drums big Israel and small Yossl

Among the students that learned to play violin from my father, I remember: Moishe Fagis, son of the Shoichet; Solomon Fishgold's two children – Marusya and Grisha; Vishnivetsky's youngest son; the two sons of Mordechai the Zhelyeznik (metal worker) and Lipa Siratzky's little daughter.


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