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[Pages 261-263]

I Feel at Home

By Dovid-Leib Silberstein

Translated by Judy Grossman

Sara Weiss (Slep): On the phone I asked Lily Levite, Dovid-Leib's daughter, what the name Dusiat means to her and she replied: “The most beautiful stories that I heard from my parents were about that shtetl. They always sounded like a beautiful fairy tale to me.”

The following day, at eight in the morning, I received a surprise. A tall, upright and tanned man who immediately identified himself was standing at my door. “I am Dovid-Leib Silberstein.” While I stared at him in amazement, he jokingly said: “I've already reached maturity ('gevurot') – 80! ”

Concerts in the Shtetl …

My late parents, Avraham-Moshe from Rakishok (Rokiskis) and Chaya-Leah (nee Goland) from Dusiat, moved from Rakishok to Dusiat in 1907 when I was five years old.

I was born after two girls, Bela and Liba, and my mother was delighted. My brother Gershon-Motel was born after me. Our house was located in Unter-Dem-Brik (Beyond the Bridge). Have they already told you about the river that divided our yard? When the river overflowed its banks, it would flood the yard, and the house stood like an island in the middle of the sea.

Yitzchak Orez: As children we loved to cross that river, against the wishes of Chaya-Leah. When she caught us across the fence, we would make excuses, and say in a shaky voice: “But Chaya-Leah, we really didn't cross there.” And she would say: “I saw you with my own eyes.” Chaya-Leah was shortsighted, and we were amazed how she could see. That sentence “I saw you with my own eyes”, became part of our folklore…

My father was a flax merchant. He would go to Rakishok to bring merchandise, and my mother would sell it. My mother worked hard, and she was the life and soul of the house and was obeyed implicitly. She was a very observant woman, and later on, in South Africa, she was very strict about lighting the Shabbath candles.

Our father erected a small synagogue in our yard, and there were two Torah scrolls in the Holy Ark. When our father immigrated to South Africa (at that time Dusiat began to empty out of its Jewish inhabitants and the number of people at prayers diminished), he took one of the Torah Scrolls from there, and it remains in the Muizenburg synagogue to this day.[1]

I still remember the concerts that took place in the yard of the fire station. I played the violin, and Ida Yoffe, the miller's daughter, did too. I recall that when I said goodbye to my friends on my way to South Africa, Ida gave me a watch as a present. We exchanged letters for a long time, some of which I still have to this day, letters in Hebrew and love poems in Russian, which I remember…

I have a photograph with my good friends Yosl (the son of Chaya-Tzipe Slep), Kehoth Kagan and others, holding a large Star of David that was given to me after a concert.

L-R, standing: Yosef Slep, Dovid-Leib Silberstein, (-)

Seated: Issar Levitt, Zuske Levitt, Kehoth Kagan

 

I used to accompany my friends [on the violin], who would sit in two long rows on benches and sing Hebrew songs. I recall a song “What's in the box, my good little boy?” (Sarah W-S.: Dovid-Leib really had a very nice voice).

I learned Hebrew at Avraham-Moshe's cheder, and even now I can read and understand every word, even though I no longer have anyone with whom to speak that language.

When I turned twelve, with the encouragement of my mother I left for Dvinsk (Daugavpils) and studied in the Horowitz Yeshiva, on Karislava Street. I lived there at the home of my aunt Chaya-Itel, my mother's sister. When I turned thirteen I was still at the yeshiva, and I remember putting on phylacteries and reading from the Torah. That was my bar-mitzvah celebration

In 1915 I suddenly received a letter to return home. When the Germans entered the shtetl, the men were sent to all kinds of labor, and I was with them. I already knew German and served as an interpreter. I don't remember being hungry then, as the Germans provided us with food.

I Saved Every Penny

In 1918, perhaps even before then, I sent my uncle in South Africa a photograph of myself dressed as a horseman, and apparently impressed him as being a big, strong boy, and he sent for me to come to South Africa. I started working in a remote place, where there was a copper mine. I worked in the shop, preparing items for sale and overseeing. I think that there were three shops there to provide produce to the workers. There was also a miserable post office there, where the paymaster sat. I earned money and didn't have anything to spend it on, and so I managed to save a respectable sum.

It was boiling hot there in the summer. From noon to four p.m. we would rest, and would return for a second shift. The water was brackish and hard to drink. We ate only canned goods and I lost a lot of weight. I worked there for over two years and managed to save four hundred dollars.

Dovid-Leib Silberstein with his father Avraham-Moshe

“We had our picture taken in Kovno (Kaunas) on the eve of my departure for South Africa.”

 

One day my uncle informed me that there was an opportunity to buy a shop in a place near Cape Town, and I accepted his suggestion. It was a small grocery store, but was enough to support me, and I saved every penny in order to bring over my family. And so I sent for my brother and helped him open a shop too. Four years later I also sent for my older sister and her husband, and then I was free to marry. I married in 1936, and after my marriage I sent for my parents, and they also came to South Africa.

Not Separated in Life or Death

My parents lived in a small apartment not far from me, and reached old age together. My father was a healthy man for most of his life and when he suddenly fell ill and was hospitalized, medical treatment was unknown to him. My mother then remained alone at home, and on Sukkoth, when I went in to visit her on my way back from the synagogue, I found her feeling unwell. I called the doctor, and right after his departure my mother suddenly passed away. We didn't tell my father about her death. When we transferred him to an old-aged home, he imagined that it was a hotel, where, we explained, he would continue to receive medical treatment. We came to visit him every day. A month later my father told us that he knew that our mother had died. How? One of the residents had invited my father to go say kaddish with him. Our father cried in our presence, and said that he then felt as though a part of his body had been cut off. A few days later father also passed away.

Although they reached a ripe old age, and the consolation is that we all lived near each other, it is hard for me to overcome my sorrow at their death. I occasionally recall their sayings, which always gave me strength. My mother liked to say: “Things will be better tomorrow”, “Good that that's all that happened”, or “It could be worse”, the same words that I heard from her on the day of her death. My father would repeat to us: “Be happy with your lot!”

Here I Feel at Home

We have two daughters. I have four grandchildren from my daughter Bella, who lives with her family in Johannesburg. We have three grandchildren from my daughter Lily, and twin great-grandsons. May they increase!

My daughter Lily had studied Hebrew in Johannesburg with the teacher Alter Levite (from Ritova [Rietavas], Lithuania), who was able to immigrate to Israel. She met his son Israel and they were married.

They immigrated to Israel eighteen years ago, and Lily looks as though she was born here. It seems to me that she and her family are satisfied and happy here.

Although I think that life in South Africa is easier than here, I think that life here is meaningful, and I wish that my daughter Bella would immigrate with her family. Then my wife and I would also immigrate to Israel.

Why didn't I immigrate to Eretz Yisrael but to South Africa? I had no contact with anyone in Eretz Yisrael. Perhaps, if someone had initiated my immigration to Eretz Yisrael at that time, I would have made aliya. I got to South Africa because I was sent for from there.

To tell the truth, every time I come to Israel, I feel that I have come home. Here I feel at home.

Natan Pogrund and Beile,
daughter of Avraham-Moshe Silberstein

 

 
Three friends in Dusiat

Left to right: Dovid-Leib Silberstein, Yehuda (son of Chaya-Tzipe Slep), and Yitzchak Yoffe (the miller's son)

 

Travelling Torah [2]

... From Muizenberg Synagogue it was transferred to the Shul in Yeoville (Johannesburg), and in February 2008 emotions ran high when members of the Silberstein families – including now the fifth generation – attended the ceremony of the Hachnasat Torah to the Yeshiva Or L'Yesharim in Bet Shemesh, Israel.

“This Sefer Torah is a survivor of the Holy Community Dusiat …” [3]

 

Rabbi Shraga (Phillip) Slasky, son of Bella (Silberstein) and Eli, holding the Torah Alon Levite, son of Lily (Silberstein) and Israel, dancing with the Torah

 


Footnotes

  1. After Dovid-Leib passed away, the Torah was brought to Jerusalem. The scroll is in need of restoration. Return

  2. Levite (Silberstein), Lily. Travelling Torah, Telfed, The Voice of the Southern African Community in Israel, June 2008, Vol. 34 No. 2. Return

  3. Arie Avraham Slasky, named after his great-grandfather R' Avraham-Moshe Silberstein, sponsored the delicate repair work. Return

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