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Personalities

[Page 298]


Yerucham, son of Rabbi Shabtai Hacohen, z'tz”l

by his grandson, Shabtai Kardonsky

Translated by Eti Horovitz

Reb Yerucham was an erudite person, great in the Torah, in his devotion to God, exquisite and proficient. He studied the Torah and the Jewish laws all his life, and even passed away while studying the Talmud. He was not only a great scholar, but also had a pleasant voice for singing. He was very talented in music and the reputation of his public prayers was spread throughout Dobossar and the surrounding areas. Whenever he and his sons came up to the podium for the Benediction of the Cohens, their prayers sounded like a musical group and the praying public enjoyed very much listening to it. There was a reason for that: the sons of Reb Yerucham were all gifted with pleasant voices and musical talent. They all served as cantors in big communities – one in Kishinev, one in Odessa, and the young Shlomo in the USA. The three of them are no longer alive.

I was a boy and I grew old, but until today I remember the chanting of grandfather in the Benediction of the Cohens and in Halel.

The rabbi Reb Yerucham wrote a book named “Cohen Zedek” – interpretations about the six books of the Mishna, to settle the questions of the Gaon Reb Akiva Eiger of blessed memory. He also wrote Questions & Answers “Hatishbi”, which is a big book about the four parts of the “Shulhan Aruch”. This book elucidates the laws and clarifies the abstruseness when one is corresponding and the other is contradicting. And indeed, “Hatishbi” answered the questions, clarified everything in good taste and wisdom. For this book, grandfather received approvals from many Rabbis, and he worked many years preparing for it to be published. In my youth I had seen the thick book in my grandfather's handwriting. It took a great deal of money to publish it, and unfortunately he didn't get to see it printed in his lifetime. My uncle, Reb Shlomo Hacohen of blessed memory, will be well remembered for contributing to the publishing of the book in USA.

As well, Reb Yerucham wrote other books that are not familiar to me. But I do possess his essay “Be Reish Galei” – an interpretation for the Hagadah of Passover. This small book excells in its beautiful explanations and magnificent simplicity. It also has collections of other interpretations about Torah verses and stories of Hazal (our Sages of Blessed Memory). At the end of the Hagadah there is a discourse for Shabbat, an answer with a moral. Grandfather named the book “Be Reish Galei” after the latest redemption awakening movement, and the verse “and the children of Israel are leaving fearlessness” is translated by Uncalos As “Be Reish Galei”. These letters imply the initials of the writer, Yerucham son of Rabbi Shabtai.

According to what they told my mother, of blessed memory, Fige, daughter of Reb Yerucham, it was the 10th of Adar 1908, while grandfather was studying the Talmud. His daughter Rachel suddenly heard the sound of his velvet hat falling to the floor. She went into the room to see what this noise was and she found Reb Yerucham bent over the Talmud, not breathing. He died painlessly while studying the Torah.

His wife, grandma Adila, offspring of the Baal Shem Tov, and like her husband, the offspring of the “Shach”, was a righteous woman and his right hand her entire life. May her memory be blessed as well.


[Page 302]


Rabbi Yehoshua Issachar Abel, z”l

by D. L. Granovsky

Translated by Sarah Faerman


Rabbi Abel occupied a very special and honoured place in our community. He was a Talmud scholar, a sage and a man of good deeds. In short, he was the leader of our community in every sense of the word.

He came to us from Odessa, brought to Dubossar by Reb Yechiel Tzelnik, himself a learned man and one of the most respected Jews in our town. Rabbi Abel came to us in 1907 to occupy two Rabbinic positions – that of Rabbi and head judge of Jewish law, as well as being the crown appointed Rabbi – both positions that he held until the day of his passing on Shavuot (holiday) 1925.

The period that Rabbi Abel was the spiritual leader of Dubossar was the most productive period of our communal life and his influence was felt by young and old throughout his tenure.

As mentioned, he combined scholarship with general education and a deep knowledge of the wisdom of Israel. His greatness and influence, however stemmed from his warm Jewish heart, his love of Yisroel and his love of people. Thanks to his lectures and teaching of the Talmud, Bible and the wisdom of Israel that he gave to so many study groups, Dubossar became a centre for Torah learning. He also involved himself in broader Jewish topics which were of benefit to the community.

His influence was also beneficial to the youth for whom he opened new horizons in his knowledge of Man and Society. Uppermost was his knowledge of the Jewish nation, its past and its aspirations for the future. Like a good father, he was always ready to devote himself to his community and he invested much effort into influencing it toward peace and understanding.

His activities became even more time consuming and diverse after the outbreak of the Russian Revolution as he pinned his full hopes on it. He believed that the Revolution would herald in a glorious new chapter for the Jews and bitter was his disappointment when all his hopes were dashed one by one with the realities of the new regime.

In 1917, right after the outbreak of the February Revolution, he was elected as delegate to the 7th Zionist Conference that was held in Petrograd and together with Chaim Nachman Bialik, Moishe Kleinman and others, he was appointed to the Cultural Commission. When he returned home from the conference he gave a wonderful report to an audience of hundreds about the new era that was ushering in expanded, widespread possibilities for Jewish national and cultural work in Russia and of the many projects that the Zionist Conference had planned.

Unfortunately, instead of pouring his energies and talents into the cultural work that he loved so much, a short time later he was forced to involve himself in activity of a totally different character. After the October Revolution plunged Russia into a bloody Civil War, Pogroms and the slaughter of Jews proliferated, particularly in Ukraine.

Before my eyes I see the image of Rabbi Abel, flushed and disheveled, with stones in his hand, running throughout the Dubossar streets yelling at the top of his lungs: “Who is for God, Come with Me!” This was the Dubossar combat cry to summon the Dubossar Jews against the mobs heading our way to start a Pogrom. At that time, many of the Russian Army soldiers deserted the front, crossed over the Dniester River and would attack our town. The alarm that Rabbi Abel raised, saved our town from a great misfortune. In a matter of minutes hundreds of Jews gathered around him, armed with sticks and pitchforks. Some managed to lay their hands on revolvers and rifles and with great gusto and enthusiasm managed to chase off the attackers.

Some time later, Rabbi Abel once again was actively involved in rescuing the town from the Petlyurists. His fiery words gave us courage and faith and with this fortified strength we stood up against Petlyura's men and vanquished them. When the Pogromists advanced toward our town, the bells from all the churches were rung, sounding the alarm of an attack. The farmers who were in town (it was coincidentally a Market day) quickly disappeared. The Jewish Self-Defense was ready for battle.

I would like to mention here that a certain number of Christians helped in our attack against the hooligans. The Petlyurists assembled in the suburb of Lunke and from there marched into town. From their machine gun and rifle shots we knew exactly where they were. The distance between the Haydemaks (Ukrainians) and town became shorter and shorter. Suddenly the shots sounded further and further away until there was complete silence. What could have happened? Yosef Barbarash, a short, swift Jew who had once served in the Russian army, had crept quietly up to the machine gunner and with the pitchfork that he had in his hand, knocked the machine gun out of his hands, quickly grabbed it and started to shoot at the Haydemaks. Panic spread among the big “heroes” and in great fright they fled wherever their feet took them, leaving behind many dead. With great joy the Dubossar Jews celebrated their victory over the Pogromists. The joy, however, was spoiled because of the death of one of our own Self Defense heroes – Avraham – who was killed by a flying bullet.

As mentioned, our victory was due to Rabbi Abel for he had planted the seeds of courage in the Self Defense org.

During the First World War, when day by day, the numbers of Jewish refugees increased because of the Russian Government's Anti-Semitic politics, Rabbi Abel organized Refugee Committees and worked intensively to ease the burdens of the dispossessed and forlorn souls. He would extend full aid to the most needy but himself he could not help. His own sorrow, he carried silently locked away in his heart.

I will never forget his visit to our house on Simchat Torah (holiday) 1921. As was typical of him, his conversation was sprinkled with wisdom and Torah. Suddenly he stopped talking and began to sing with a sweet voice Bialik”s “Hachnisini Tachat Knafayich” (Take Me under your wings). He sang with great emotion while hot tears fell from his eyes. We were startled by the depth of his soul. We sat like stone and could not move a muscle. We felt that this time the man had revealed the sense of suffering and tragedy that he felt so deeply but had kept hidden from everyone. Such a “Hachnisini” we never heard before nor in the days to come until this present time.

All his life, Rabbi Abel had an unlimited love of Zion. He deeply longed for the opportunity to settle in Eretz Yisrael. His luck did not give him his fondest desire. In the year 1925, his sould departed when he was only 48 years old.


[Page 305]


Rabbi Yehoshua Issachar Abel, z”l

by Yosef Visoky (Ram)

Translated by Sarah Faerman


Rabbi Abel was a refined, aristocratic person and greatly respected. He embodied love for people, for his folk and had great enthusiasm for our national resurgence.

With his honesty, gentle nature and interesting manner of conversation, Rabbi Abel was much loved and won over everyone's heart.

His extraordinary depth of knowledge in both the old and the new Hebrew literature, as well as in the world's general literature and his exceptional ability to include in his lectures the appropriate expression of our nationalist strivings, placed him in the same league as the great orators and activists of the Zionist movement.

Rabbi Abel came from Odessa to occupy the double positions of Rabbi and Crown appointed clergy. From his first day in Dubossar, he did not restrict himself exclusively to the Halacha (Jewish law) but also devoted himself energetically to instill in the youth and the community a nationalist, Zionist consciousness. His lectures and talks that he gave always drew massive audiences.

He was a proud and courageous Jew. As a member of the city council he would fight energetically against any expression of Anti-Semitism and discrimination against the Jewish community. With his powers of persuasion and the strength of his arguments, he usually was able to squelch projects and actions that ran counter to the interests of the Jewish community.

As a member of the city council, he always defended the interests of the poor and the working class.

Rabbi Abel was a true spiritual leader of his people. Until the very last day of his life, he did not lower the flag that he unfurled on the first day of arrival in matters of holiness to serve in the Jewish community of Dubossar.


[Page 307]


A. Y. Golani (Yogalnitzer, z”l)

by Yishayahu Kantor

Translated by Sarah Faerman

In memory of our teacher and leader whose last post in the diaspora
was in Dubossar before he made Aliya to Eretz Yisrael.


1906. One year after the defeat of Czarist Russia at the hands of Japan and after the oppression of the 1905 Revolution. At that time, we and six other Jewish families lived in a Moldavian village four kilometers from Dubossar. I was a little boy then and I remember how every evening we would leave our house and go to sleep at one of our Christian friends' homes while my father and a few other gentiles would stand guard over our house.

One sunny morning we found out that the night before, Pogromists had atttacked one of the Jewish houses in the village and brutally beaten the head of the household. At noontime we noticed a commotion in the town. The gentiles were running, frightened – a sign that something had happened. Soon the source of their panic became clear. A special emissary of the mayor of our town came to my father and told him that Mendele Patron of Dubossar had arrived at the mayor's house demanding the extradition of the hooligans that had attacked his uncle.

Within minutes this news spread throughout the village and a special delegation was sent to beg pardon of Mendele. He, however, did not want to hear of it: “Give me the criminals and I will teach them something.” Finally, finally, he was convinced that it would benefit all sides if this was handled in a milder fashion. Wine poured that day like a river and in the evening he was escorted home to Dubossar to the accompaniment of drum -beats. Soon after that episode, we moved to Dubossar.

Great was my joy at the prospect of living in Dubossar and having the opportunity to become acquainted with the famous Jewish heroes of Dubossar, including Mendele, who were feared by the gentiles of all the surrounding villages. I, however, was in for a great disappointment. Instead of showing me these great heroes, my father directed me to the “best” Talmud Torah (Hebrew school). We arrived at recess time. All of the children were playing or engaged in games and activities in various groups. In the midst of one group, an adult stood out. He had a moustache and was dressed in black pants and a white shirt. The children chased him and he ran away. They “shot” a ball at him, which he caught and he “shot” it back at them. I asked father why a grown man was playing with the children and he explained that this man was no less than the teacher and director of the school… and not only that, he was also the head of all those heroes that I had been so eager to see.

Great was my chagrin at seeing this leader of the heroes. In my fantasy, I had imagined the heroes to be giants and their leader at least a head taller than all of them and here suddenly, was this very ordinary person, playing with children my own age – not particularly tall, not especially broad shouldered. Here he was – dressed in a white shirt with a tie… not even with a special hat… and they didn't call him 'Idl Katarzhan' and not 'Laybl Dishovke' but by a strange name that was hard to pronounce – 'Yagolnitzer'.

Slowly I became accustomed to this “strange” teacher and along with all of the other students I started to love him. During our lessons, he was the most beloved teacher; during recess he was the most devoted friend and during the vacations and holidays he was a conscientious guide.

I heard my father say that in the evenings, Yagolnitzer taught the youth how to use weapons. One day, I plucked up my courage and asked our teacher if he could tell us about some of those activities. He indulged us and told us about the Jewish heroes of our time and of our town. He particularly emphasized the heroic exploits of Idl Katarzhan, Nachum Chaim Isser's, Mendele Patron, Laybele Dishovke and others. True they were simple men and not literate in Hebrew but they were proud Jews with straight backs; upright individuals prepared to risk their lives for Jewish honour. He would also tell us a great deal about Eretz Yisrael and he planted in our childish hearts the seeds of a warm love for our land. During one summer vacation, word went around that in the coming school year we would have a new teacher because Yagolnitzer was leaving for Eretz Yisrael.

1937. At this time I was already a Vatik (long timer) in the land (since 1923). On a certain day, riding in a bus to Ramat Gan, I glanced at an elderly passenger who appeared very familiar to me. I wasn't shy and approached him, saying: “aren't you Yagolnitzer?” In the Jewish manner, he answered with a question: “Aren't you from Dubossar” If I am not mistaken, your father was a tall, blond man. First your family lived in a village and if I am not mistaken, your name is Kantor.” He immediately began to describe to the friends who were with him in the bus, all about Dubossar and the town heroes of whom he had been so fond.

When the dreadful revelations became known, of the the great destruction of European Jewery and the Jewish community of Dubossar at the hands of the Romanian and German murderers, the seventy-five year old Golani was the first to urge the landsmen (fellow townspeople) from Dubossar in Israel to honour the memory of the Dubossar martyrs by planting a forest in their name in the “Martyr's Forest” of the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund).

Ten years after the destruction of our community, during the high holidays of 1953, the Dubossar landsmen in Israel held a special evening to mourn their annihilated brethren and to proclaim the plans to commemorate Dubossar. Golani was the chairman and after the Cantor chanted the “El Mole Rachamim” (prayer for the dead), he rose, with a voice choked with tears and said the 'Kaddish' (mourner's prayer). When we parted we did not know that this was to be our last meeting with our beloved teacher and devoted friend, A.Y.Golani.


[Page 312]


Moshe Feldman, z”l

by D. L. Granovsky

Translated by Sarah Faerman


A sorrow engulfs us whenever one of our circle of friends is no more. Greater yet is the pain and much deeper the grief when the one torn away from us was the lion of the group… whose life was dedicated to the well-being of our community… who devoted himself totally, with love, to those in need.

Like thunder on a bright day, we received the bitter news. We never imagined that so soon would the light of our dear friend, Moshe Feldman, be extinguished. He was full of life, energy and thirsty for action. Throughout all of his years he always found time for communal involvement. Apparently, his father Reb Yakov Feldman the sage – an enlightened and upright individual who faithfully served his people – passed this admirable trait on to his son.

In spite of the fact that Moshe emigrated to America in his youth, his heart always yearned for Eretz Yisrael and during World War 1, he joined up with the Jewish Legion. Although he tried his best to settle in Eretz Yisrael, there were extenuating circumstances that forced him to return to America. In spite of this, he kept up a life-long close connection to Israel and participated in many projects for the land.

His crowning accomplishment was the establishment of the Dubossar Landsleit (Association of the people from the same town) in the United States and throughout all of his years he was the main force behind it. Thanks to his initiative, a similar group was established in Argentina and he did much to organize the Dubossar Landsleit chapter in Israel.

Between the two World Wars, Moshe was active in organizing parcels of food and clothing to our impoverished brethren in Dubossar and also for many in Eretz Yisrael who found themselves in dire straits. After World War 11, he was also involved with organizing help and support for those of our town that had survived the Holocaust. Moshe also invested great efforts into the creation of the forest in the Jerusalem Hills that would be our Memorial to the Dubossar Martyrs. In the beginning, he was the only one who battled against those who opposed this plan. He carried on his campaign with energy and courage until he succeeded in winning over all who were hesitant. The forest was planted, largely through the contributions of our Landsleit in America but also because of the immense efforts that Moshe Feldman invested in this holy project.

When we began to prepare the materials and content for this Yizkor (memorial) book, Moshe Feldman was very caught up with the idea and together with his friends in America – our Landsleit – tirelessly helped to raise the funds for the book. While we eagerly awaited his article with his recollections of our town for the Yizkor book, we received the sad news of his illness which would confine him to his bed until his last day. Moshe Feldman was not destined to live in the land he loved, nor to see this Yizkor book, his last labour of love where he poured out his very last efforts.

Moshe Feldman was a faithful leader of his Landsleit. His whole life was devoted to others and least of all for himself. He did not build a house for himself, nor did he establish a family. He died alone because his whole life was dedicated to the community.

The last letter we received from Moshe was written on his death bed and was full of longing for Israel. He knew that his end was near and that the Yizkor book of the Jewish community of Dubossar would be like his will to all of his friends.

With great sorrow and pain, we remember the dear friend Moshe Feldman who was too soon torn away from our midst.


[Page 313]


Moshe Feldman, z”l

by Baruch Bassin

Translated by Sarah Faerman


Moshe Feldman was born in Dubossar, the son of Reb Yakov Feldman – a known Talmud scholar, a follower of the Enlightenment movement and a community activist. When still a youth, he made his way to America. During the first World War, he voluntarily joined the Jewish Legion. I did not personally know him in Dubossar and met him for the first time in Tel Aviv after World War 1. After the war, when he was discharged from the military, he wanted to settle in Eretz Yisrael in the village that was to be established by his friends from the Jewish Legion but for various reasons he was forced to give up these plans and he returned to New York. Some time later, when the Moshav (co-operative village) Avichail was founded by his comrades, Feldman remained one of their greatest friends in America.

During his whole life he strove to settle in Eretz Yisrael. He was however a proud man, intent on being independent but his material resources were not sufficient to allow him to establish an independent life in the land. Thus he postponed the move until such time as he would be able to afford the move. Another factor that held up his Aliya (emigration), was his self-imposed mission to care for the Jews still in Dubossar between the two world wars. He organized the Dubossar Landsleit ( fellow townspeople) in America, founded a “relief” organization and made certain that the neediest would receive assistance from their American brethren.

With the outbreak of World War 2 and the destruction it wrought upon European Jewry, Feldman threw himself heart and soul into this relief work. He neglected his own affairs and devoted himself to the needs of the Dubossar Survivors of the Holocaust. He and his friends, Harry Scheer and Leibish Levine – long may they live – took up the initiative to provide a fence around the new cemetery in Dubossar (where the thousands of Martyrs, murdered by the Nazis, lay buried). They also provided for additional needs of the Survivors as well as others of our community.

Feldman was the instigator and driving force in this undertaking, urging others to involve themselves as well. He worked tirelessly not only in New York, but in the other cities as well where Dubossar landsleit lived – in Chicago and other American cities and he also travelled to Argentina to motivate others to throw themselves into the rescue work.

Twelve years ago in Israel, the idea was born to memorialize the Martyrs of Dubossar and the Surrounding Areas by planting a forest on Keren Kayemet land (Jewish National Fund). I wrote to my friend, Moshe Feldman about this plan. He immediately jumped in with all of his enthusiasm and zeal, expending every last drop of his energy into the actualization of this proposal. He interested his friends in this and together they undertook the raising of funds to establish a forest of 10,000 trees in the name of Dubossar and Surrounding Areas which would be part of the Keren Kayemet Forest Of Martyrs'.

In 1961, Moshe Feldman because seriously ill and, confined to his bed for almost half a year, fought his battle against death. Even then, he did not cease to interest himself in everything associated with commemorating the name of our Dubossar community. Two weeks before his death, he wrote to us asking for details about the Yizkor book we were compiling. He wanted so much to take part in preparing the book and in distributing it.

Moshe Feldman was an esteemed and valuable man – a symbol of self-sacrifice. May his shining memory be a solace to all who knew and loved him.


[Page 317]


Yosef Ram (Visoky), z”l

by D. L. Granovsky

Translated by Sarah Faerman


Among the influential people in our town, Yosef Ram (Visoky) held a special place as businessman and Zionist leader. He was one of the founders of the organization “Hatchiya” (The Revival) and together with Chaim Greenberg and A.Y.Golani developed the first “Tzeirei Tzion” (Young Zion movement) ideological platform known widely as “The Dubossar Program”. There was no Zionist education in Dubossar that Visoky did not have a hand in shaping and executing. As an articulate and compelling orator, he spoke at both small Zionist gatherings and mass meetings. If a noted lecturer or businessman arrived in Dubossar, the first address he would visit would be that of Yosef Visoky. At his initiative, Rabbi Abel was sent as a delegate of the Dubossar Zionists to the Seventh Zionist Conference in Petrograd, summer of 1917.

While Dubossar was flooded with waves of refugees during World War 1, Visoky threw himself heart and soul into the necessary relief work to provide for their most elemental requirements - such as food and roofs over their heads. Later when Besarabia was occupied by Romania, he worked tirelessly to help them cross over to the other side of the Dniester. True, in these important humanitarian activities, Visoky had many helpers but he was the leader and instigator.

During the “honeymoon period” of the Russian Revolution, when all the various Russian populations, particularly the Jews, viewed the revolution as the “coming of the Messiah”, Visoky, as the main speaker at a huge rally of thousands boldly stated that in spite of his belief in the new winds of change in this giant land, the Jewish salvation lay in only one direction – Zionism.

In that turbulent period, he was also elected to the Dubossar city council where together with Rabbi Abel, he represented the Jewish community. Yosef Visoky was by nature good hearted and always willing to lend a helping hand to those in need.

When the Communist regime reigned over Russia and the Yevsektzye (Jewish Communist Ministry) that ruled over the Jewish street began to persecute Zionists and Zionism, Visoky realized increasingly, day by day, that he had no reason to remain in this land under this regime. To deprive Visoky of his Zionist work was to deprive of him of his purpose in life. He began to seek a way to escape from the Soviet Union. He fled to Besarabia and after a lengthy struggle managed to make Aliya ( emigrate) to Eretz Yisrael, settling in Jerusalem where he immediately obtained employment as head of one of the important Zionist offices.

When the Dubossarites in Israel organized for the purpose of memorializing the Dubossar Martyrs of the Holocaust by planting a forest in their name in the Martyrs' Cemetery in the Jerusalem Hills, Yosef Visoky took an active part in carrying out this project. He was also one of the initiators in preparing this Yizkor book. Unfortunately, he died a few years before the book was published.

Yosef Ram (Visoky) died the tenth of Tamuz, 1960.

May his memory be honoured.


[Page 320]


Our Esteemed Teacher – Gad Layb Rakov, z”l

by Fruma Granovsky

Translated by Sarah Faerman


Gad Layb Rakov, a gentle, pure man, lived in our little shtetl Yagorlik (near Dubossar). Throughout his life he studied with fervor and a thirst for knowledge and this he imparted to others as a teacher. His lessons of the Bible and Jewish History not only enriched our treasury of knowledge but also planted a great love in our hearts for the Hebrew language, our folk and our land.

A town where the entire youth spoke Hebrew and even thought in Hebrew was by no means a typical occurrence some fifty years ago. That awesome achievement can be attributed to one person – our honoured teacher, Gad Layb Rakov who taught us Torah for its own sake and not for any prize or reward. Not only was he a wonderful speaker, but he was also a doer. The Zionist 'Torah' that he taught us was carried out first of all by him. At the beginning of the Second Aliya (immigration to Eretz Yisrael) in 1906, he left everything behind and settled in Eretz Yisrael. With that move, he became a role model for many of his students.

Today, remembering him, I feel as if he lives once again amongst us, his students and his books that he so dearly loved. With deep feelings of gratitude and respect, we, his students, honour his dear memory.


[Page 321]


Nachum Matenko, z”l

by Moshe Bick

Translated by Sarah Faerman


Nachum Matenko was a legend and in a legendary manner he disappeared – not even making an appearance in biographies or novels. With other folk, personalities of his caliber are retrieved from their obscurity so that they will not be forgotten. With us, however, they vanish like extinguished stars.

Nachum Matenko did not discover a new planet in any of the numerous skies; he did not produce any “never before spoken words”; he did not introduce any new methods to our way of thinking or in the existing art. He did however raise himself from the Dubossar surroundings and traveled far off into the world – all the way to Moscow where he enthralled all who heard his magnificent voice, his own homegrown talent.

The small town environment where he was born and raised, lacked the resources to nurture his unusual talent which was apparent while he was still a child. He was taken on as a choirboy by the Dubossar Cantor, Reb Motel and he awed the worshippers with the sweetness of his voice and the warmth of his singing. He was the blessing that young mothers prayed for… His father was Reb Shmuel Yosef, or, as we called him – “Yossi the Gabai” (trustee) because he was one of the intimate circle of Rabbi Dovid'l Talner, of righteous and blessed memory, and also for a period of time, one of his trustees. He was very active in Chasidic circles and his mother, as the old folks in town told us, was busy with charitable work. Both she and Reb Yossi were well known for their melodious singing of Chasidic melodies, folksongs and lullabies. Nachum's singing talent had its roots in his family . It was a known fact that in the evening, people walking in the street would stand by the house of his sister Tzirl in order to hear her sing lullabies to her child Nachum Peck, who now lives in Argentina.

How did Nachum Matenko manage to leave his close knit family and small town and secure one of the most coveted positions of that time in the choir of the famous Cantor and composer-director, Reb Nisi Belzer in Berdichev? Did that happen with the approval of his parents, relatives and fans or did he have to fight to be able to pursue the development of his talent? The cantorial literature, memoirs and biographies shed no light on this. There is a paragraph in “My Life Story” by the famous artist, Boris Tomashevsky that describes how, when he joined Nisi Belzer's choir as a young child, Nachum was already there:

“Within the choir there were certain gifted individuals. One of them was Nachum Matenko. He had a very rare bass-baritone voice. He was a very handsome man and he wore modern clothes with a top hat. His long hair, artistic brow and graceful deportment elicited great respect and admiration. Looking at Nachum, one could assume that he was an artist of the Kaiser's Opera rather than a chorister in Reb Nisi Belzer's choir. When Nachum left Reb Nisi, he was appointed Cantor of the Great Odessa Synagogue in the place of the renowned Cantor Bochman. The Moscow millionaire, Poliakov, heard Nachman's voice in the Odessa Shul and was so impressed by his talent and personality that he built a synagogue in his courtyard and installed Nachum as Cantor, giving him a life-long contract.”

This particular vignette perhaps misses the most important aspect of his struggles as he perfected and honed his abilities in cantorial music. From his clothes alone, one could surmise that he made an effort to elevate himself from his surroundings, saw himself as one who “would become” and apparently dreamt of becoming an opera singer. In order to conceive of wearing a top hat, modern clothing, long hair and to present oneself with a graceful carriage reflected his inner feelings of self worth and dedication.

The fact that he succeeded Bachman indicates that his confidence in himself was not a form of arrogance but rather the sign of a true artistic talent. This was also the impression he made on those who “The Great Odessa Shul” because after Bachman, the search for a replacement was not only for a talented cantor but also one who was an intellectual and a personality as was Bachman. As well, the millionaire Poliakov could afford the best and most gifted cantor for his shul in Moscow. Apparently Nachum satisfied all the above criteria, not only for Poliakov but also for the Muscovites – for the Jewish community and also the gentile intellectual circles.

This growth of Nachum and his outgrowing of his roots would make an interesting psychological study as well as a cultural illumination of our people. I would like to believe that somewhere in the archives of the Poliakov family or in the dusty cellars of other prominent people of those times; somewhere lie the undiscovered memoirs of singers, artists, community activists, who were in close contact with Nachum Mateno and contain details and insights into the various facets of his personality – the singer, the cantor, the intellectual.

It is interesting that even Eliyahu Zolodkovsky, the writer of the worthy book:

“Culture Carriers of the Jewish Liturgy”, (America 1930), was not aware of the above paragraph of Boris Tomashevsky and was satisfied with the following three sentences about Nachum Matenko: “Nisi's famous bass, Nachum Matenko, who later was the cantor of the Poliakov Shul in Moscow, had a phenomenal bass, was a great hero and an exceptionally fine personality. He died in 1894”. (page 209). In 1924, “The History of Cantorial Music” was published in conjuction with the 30th anniversary of “The Association of Cantors of America and Canada”. There was a picture with the following caption – “Nachum Matenko, the celebrated bass-baritone of Nisi Belzer's choir. Later Moscow Cantor. Died under tragic Circumstances” – and that was all!

From those very brief words, however, one can ferret out two details that are very consistent with the Nachum Matenko legend: “He was a great hero” and “died under tragic circumstances”. These two revelations add to our understanding of this individual. Matenko's surviving relatives (Nachum Peck – Argentina and David Layb Granovsky – Israel) relate that a princess of the Russian royal family became enamored, not only with his voice but with his manly good looks. Wherever he went, she would follow him. With a wink from the ' ruling authorities' he was banished from Moscow and he returned to Odessa. It is a mystery to the family however, as to who the person was that slipped poison into Matenko's food. As a result of the poisoning, he became paralyzed. Hero that he was, he slowly overcame his illness and once again sang with all the octaves of his talent… Once again a stealthy hand poisoned his body.

His old mother took him from one doctor to another until finally, in Italy, the soul of Nachum Matenko, kissed by all the muses, departed his body.


[Page 326]


Yechiel Tselnik, z”l

by Baruch Bassin

Translated by Sarah Faerman


People approach holidays and week-days in their own unique way. Some people embrace the holidays, not only by changing their clothes but by putting on a festive face as well. On the other hand, there are those that even on a holiday do not have the strength to set aside their bitterness and to shrug off the everyday burdens of life. Finally, there is a third type of person, blessed with a very special quality, who on Sabbath and holidays – but also during the week – radiates a tranquil soul – not only in moments of joy but also, God forbid, in times of sorrow. These are the dreamers who observe the world through rose coloured glasses and their natural optimism lightens their suffering and gives them strength to overcome with a smile the most difficult adversities.

Our fellow townsman, Yechiel Tselfnik, z”l, belonged to this third category of optimists. In Dubossar he was a wealthy merchant, the father of a large family (he had ten sons and daughters) and was a fervent Zionist. Even before the first World War, he sent one of his sons to study at the Herzlia Gymnasia who also was one of the founders of Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim. In his later years, he realized his goal of settling in Eretz Yisrael where he worked and lived the life of a pioneer. Arriving in the land with his wife, he first lived in a dwelling put together with rags that he himself sewed up. Later, with his own hands, he built himself a small house in the Montefiore district of Tel Aviv. He earned a living first of all by going into partnership in a grocery store and later by building wooden huts.

Before my eyes, I can see Yechiel Tselnik running with two baskets from Tel Nordau to the Shuk Hacarmel (market) and returning with them full and heavy. His face is red and prespiring from the great effort but his eyes are shining and on his face is a blissful smile. Yechiel Tselnik was a good man and in his modest house in the Montefiore district, he took in as a tenant, someone who had arrived on the boat with him, and charged him one groschen rent.

Yechiel Tselnik loved cantorial music. I will never forget how he sat by my father's bed, when he was near the end, and sang many cantorial melodies for my father in order to distract him from his pain. Yechiel was a dear man.

May his memory be honoured.


[Page 327]


Yechiel Tselnik z”l

by Y. Dunayevsky, z”l

Translated by Sarah Faerman


In our town, I had a bosom buddy, Yechiel Tselnik. He was the owner of the biggest business in Dubossar. His family was large – God blessed him with many sons and daughters. He was a traditional Jew and a devoted Zionist. He loved song and was always humming cantorial music. He particularly worshiped the famous Cantor, Pinchas Minkovsky and every time he returned from a business trip in Odessa, he would bring back a new Cantorial melody.

One bright morning, he confided in me that he was sending one of his sons to Eretz Yisrael: ”This will be a good beginning”, he said. “After him, the others will follow.” That son was one of the founders of Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim and he lives there to this day. Tselnik's hopes were realized. In time, he and his other sons settled in Eretz Yisrael.

On his arrival to the land, he bought a small house in the Montefiore district of Tel Aviv. My friend hoped to live out his years in serenity in our own land. Unfortunately he did not live long in his country. Before his death he requested that he be buried in Kiryat Anavim. His request was granted and there he came for his eternal rest together with his wife. May the earth of Eretz Yisrael be sweet for them both.


[Page 328]


Pinchas And Leah Bassin, z”l

by Yosef Ram (Visoky) z”l

Translated by Sarah Faerman


They were both refined and spiritual aristocrats, faithful Zionists and enlightened people. Leah and Pinchas Bassin established a wonderful Jewish and Zionistic home in Dubossar. In this spirit they raised their children (one son and two daughters) from early childhood. They transformed their home into a meeting place for Zionists and intellectuals. Often the local Zionist leaders would gather there to discuss Zionist issues or to celebrate National (Jewish) events. Rarely did a guest speaker or celebrity visit Dubossar without being welcomed with full honour into the Bassin home.

We, the young Zionist activists, were additionally grateful to Leah and Pinchas Bassin for permitting us to spend a few hours with our national poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik. He was traveling to Kishinev in connection with the Pogrom that broke out there against the Jews in 1903 and he stopped in at the Bassin's home for a few hours on the way. It was a joyous and inspiring experience for us to sit together with our great poet and to thirstily drink in his wise words that flowed from him as from a fountain.

Leah Bassin was also active in various Zionist and community programs and campaigns for the local intitutions.

They settled in Eretz Yisrael in 1926.

May these lines serve as a crown of flowers on their grave.


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