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[Page 77]

Father was to us also Like a Mother

by Frida Khasid

Translated by Yosi and Svetlana Shneider and Hadassa Goldsmith

Edited by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 38: Uncaptioned. Meir Tzoref.}

{Drawing page 77: Uncaptioned. A tailor at his work.}

I was the youngest daughter of Rabbi Yisrael Yakov the teacher. We were two daughters and one son. Our mother died after the deportation from Janova [at the beginning of World War I]. Our best of the best father was also like a mother to us. He watched over us, and did not let us get sad. When our mother died, our father said at the open grave, "Chaya, I pass to your merit half of my Torah (learning), because without you, my precious wife, I would not have been able to devote so much time to my studies."

When he lectured at the synagogue, there were many young people among his students and they were always full of happiness. In the days of Simchas Torah, his students came to take him to the synagogue. On the return, they carried him on their shoulders with candles in their hands and songs on their lips. In the house the tables were covered with white tablecloths and were prepared with honor. Father would sit at the head of the table and say words of Torah. Afterwards there would be songs, and eating and drinking till late in the night.

In the winter and on Shabbos, Father would get up early and learn Torah. He would have a lot of conversations with us, and taught us Torah with derech eretz (means the proper way to behave in this world).

He was a very bright man, he honored all human beings. He was devoted to everyone, and was very humble. There are no words to describe fully the goodness of his heart, and the gentleness of his soul.

My brother Alter was a teacher in the school called Yavneh. He was a bright man, and had a lot of common sense. He particularly excelled as an artist and sculptor. My sister was a good and modest woman.

Father became sick with paralysis. He lay in bed for three years. I took care of him day and night. When he passed away, they carried his casket from one synagogue to another, in which he had disseminated Torah publicly. Many people accompanied him on his final journey and said that he was a good-hearted man and a scholar, with not many like him.

My sister was married to the son of Rabbi Shimon the teacher. They had four sons, knowledgeable in Torah.

My brother Alter was married to the woman Liba Chana, the daughter of Reb Shmuel Stern. They had twins - two beautiful and successful daughters.

All of them were killed by the Reshaim (wicked ones).


[Page 78]

Your Wife is Like a Fruitful Vine…,
Your Children are Like Olive Shoots…

by David Rubin (Bnei Brak)[1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 78: David Rubin}

Grandfather RebYonah David Gordon, the teacher, was searching for a Yeshiva student as a husband for his daughter Fruma. The student should continue to study after the wedding, so what about his livelihood? He who sustains the entire world will also sustain the children. The realities prove that the request of Grandfather was accepted On High.

Reb Nachum, the Yeshiva student, married the daughter of the teacher, and luck shined its face upon the Rubin couple. The family grew to nine children. Grandfather rented a dwelling with a store in the Lomianski house on Kovno Street. Mother opened up a textile store, and the livelihood was sufficient to sustain her large family, which was blessed with Torah and greatness, and was not lacking in anything – a rare situation in the towns of Lithuania.

Our mother ran the business with great wisdom, and gained many customers, primarily gentile. When they would see that the “Rabin” was in her store on the market day, they honored her greatly. Nobody left without purchasing something. The gentiles called Mother “Fanny Nachumova.” It was considered a great honor amongst the Russians to be called by the name of the husband.

On Wednesday, the market day, the store was very crowded. When father caught somebody shoplifting, he did not shout at him or publicly embarrass him, but rather spoke to him calmly…

We, the sons, were not in the store that much, because we were in cheder all day. When we returned home from our studies, everything, including food, was prepared, for Mother was a woman of valor.

Everyone admitted that success penetrated the Rubin home through the windows and doors.

When we returned from the synagogue on Friday night, Father would bless each of us individually. He would place his hands on the head of each person, give us a kiss, and seat us around the long table in order of age. Father would recite the Kiddush over wine, and we would listen with awe and respect to every word that emanated from his mouth. Father looked into Mother's eyes and whispered silently, as if he was saying:

“Your wife is like a fruitful vine in the bosom of your home, your children are like olive shoots surrounding your table.”

The fare was delicacies of a king. Even the guests that Father had brought from the synagogue would leave satiated and full of enjoyment. Father would say that one who brings home guests brings blessing into the home.

He got along well with his fellow man. He dedicated his free time to the study of Gemara, but he did not make his Torah into a means of earning a livelihood. He was a modest, unpretentious man, careful in his speech to his fellow man, fulfilling

[Page 79]

both the easy and the difficult commandments, practicing what he preached, and instilling peace in his fellow man. He was a good friend of Rabbis Silman and Ginzberg, of holy blessed memory. If anyone was seeking advice regarding the founding of a vital communal or religious institution, Father would take upon himself the yoke of its maintenance.

He taught the sons Torah over and above what they learned in school. The education of the daughters was Mother's task. His words were pleasant, fulfilling the adage that the words of the wise are heard calmly.

Father was a lover of Zion. His desire to make aliya to the Land of Israel was very great. He desired to settle the Land and work the holy soil. In 1928, he purchased a plot of land near Balfouria through the agency of Agudas Yisroel. In 1938, he sent our brother Zusman as a pioneer, and a good beginning to the realization of his aspiration.

However, bitter fate had something else in mind. Our parents, brothers and sister perished along with the rest of the Holocaust victims.

{Photo page 79. Uncaptioned. The Rubin family.}

Two years before the bitter end and the outbreak of the war, we moved to live in Kovno. We were imprisoned in the Slobodka Ghetto at the time of the Nazi occupation. We worked at various backbreaking tasks. We all lived in one room. Hunger afflicted us day and night.

Our brother Nissan was amongst the first group captured. The group was murdered in the Seventh Fortress near Kovno.

Father, our brothers Chanoch and Yehoshua-Izak, and our sister Rasha, were sent to death camps in Estonia.

Our mother perished in the childrens' aktion in the Shantsy Camp near Kovno. Our brother Berl was murdered by the Nazis in the Dabali Camp.

Today, our brother Zusman is an emissary in the United States. Our sister Sara Minda lives in Tel Aviv, and our sister Yenta lives in Givatayim.
Our dear ones, whose souls are on high! We will never know your final words, and where your bones are buried. Our ears did not hear your cries during your final agony. You passed through the seven fires of hell before you perished. We are pained by your terrible end, and will mourn for you throughout our lives.

We will remember you forever.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. From Psalms 128:3. Return


[Page 80]

With Torah, Service and Good Deeds

Translated by Jerrold Landau

There was a lane in the center of town whose original name was Samargon. It led to the two large synagogues and continued to the bathhouse. Next to it was a well of cold, clear water, from which not only men, women and children drew sweet, living water. The horses of Reb David Elia, the owner of the wagons, also enjoyed the water. When he returned from a trip to Kovno, he would bring the horses to the well to quench their thirst.

The Bronznik family lived in a wooden house in that place. The head of the family, Reb Henoch Gelgiser, was a scholarly, G-d fearing man who was involved in communal affairs. He was a working man who earned his livelihood through the toil of his hands. He inherited this lifestyle from his father Reb Moshe, who worked during the day and occupied himself with Torah at night.

He would frequently leave his work to involve himself with communal affairs. He frequented the home of Rabbi Chaim Silman of blessed memory.

During his youth, Reb Henoch was among the regular participants of the Torah classes in the home of Grandfather Reb Shimon. This was started by the Vorzhblower Maggid of blessed memory, who would preach fiery sermons from the synagogue pulpits in the town almost every evening. His pleasant, interesting words attracted every heart, and the synagogues were filled to the brim. The Maggid took upon himself the task of disseminating Torah in public, and bringing the working youth near to Judaism, so that they would set times for Torah study. His aim was to eliminate boorishness and ignorance, and instill them with knowledge of Torah and the ways of the world, so that they could be Jews and proper human beings, toward their fellow man and toward Heaven. Thanks to him, the town was blessed with an exalted spirit rather than an empty, materialistic life.

One of the centers of Torah study, which were founded in various places in the city, was the home of Grandfather Reb Shimon the teacher. The youth Henoch Bronznik, who was one of the participants in the lessons, found his favor due to his diligence, desire for Torah, knowledge and understanding, so he chose him as the husband for his daughter Paia (Puah) of blessed memory, who was graced with fine traits. Thus did Henoch continue his life in Torah, service and good deeds.

We arrived in Ukraine during the year of the deportation, 1915. There, mother Paia died in her prime, leaving behind two sons who had been educated in the sprit of a Torah home. When they returned from Ukraine, they first studied in the Yeshiva in Kovno, and later in the Yeshiva of Telz.

In the year 5686 (1926), the younger son Tovia Ben-Pazi (his current name) made aliya to the Land of Israel, with a certificate as a laborer. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he continued his studies in the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, named for Rabbi Kook. He became involved in business after his marriage, and in the later years, he worked in the office of education and culture of the Jerusalem city hall. He worked in the branch of Torah culture, and directed and centralized initiatives and Torah classes.

His elder brother Reb Yitzchak left for the United States before the ascent of Hitler, may his name be blotted out. He served as a shochet (ritual slaughter), mohel (circumcisor) and cantor for approximately 40 years. He then made aliya to Israel, and also settled in Jerusalem.

Our younger brother Nachum Meir from our father's second wife Shifra of blessed memory arrived in the United States during his youth. He studied in Yeshiva University, and served as a rabbi in Brooklyn and a lecturer at the Yeshiva.

Our brothers Moshe and Yonah, and our sisters Shoshana and Yetta perished along with the entire family on the bitter, accursed day, may G-d avenge their blood.

Brought to publication by T[ovia]. B[en Pazi].


[Page 82]

Links in the Chain of Generations *

by Avshalom Tzoref (Goldschmidt) of Kibbuz Ginosar, Israel

Translated by Daniella Thompson

…Avraham, the youngest brother in the Tzoref family,
Was the fifth born…

He was born the fifth–and four came after him,
And the eldest, Malka–the comely and black.[1]
Five were annihilated in the Shoah–with Ma and Pa.
He remained the youngest–and I the eldest.

As the family elder at Dalia's wedding
I have the honor of presenting our family tree.
To present their figures to the shushbinim[2] and entourage,
And to call their memory to our family's mind.

First to honor–Mother and Father.
In life as in death, united by fate.
In their memory, both yad and shem were erected here,
A family grew secure and without fear.

Mother Sara–her beauty unmarred by her burden of care.
A Yiddishe Mame, as if copied from the song;
How she bore and raised a brood of nine children
With Shir Ha'Ma'alot[3] pasted on the wall.

Reading and writing she did not know,
But she kept the Mitzvot like a learned woman;
Tzenah Ur'enah[4] had to be read to her;
She was purer and more upright than any rabbi's wife.

Chaim–Shimon, our father, son of Avraham the potter–
An honest and upright man,
Worships his God to his utmost with honor;
Earned his bread in the sweat of his brow.

[Page 83]

Photo with caption: The Goldshmid[5] family:
The parents, Chaim–Shimon and Sara,
the eldest son Avshalom (of Kibbutz Ginosar), the daughter Malka

Honest laborer, working with bricks and mortar,
Builds stoves, a construction tradesman.
He kept the 613 mitzvot scrupulously,
Was free of all sin–and of all possessions.

(In my childhood I didn't grow up in my parents' lap,
I left home before having reached the age of mitzvot.
Of all my teachers, from whom I have learned,
My parents appear as my models of virtue.)

Grandmother Feiga, industrious woman,
Watches over her household and is all–powerful.
She toils from dawn and labors till night;
I don't recall that she ever fell ill.

She raised her grandsons as a mother would her offspring;
A face lined with the care of rearing and a wrinkle of contentment.
My palate still guards the taste of her delicacies–
Barrels of pickles, Passover wine, and jars of preserves.

“Yosse der Schneider”–Grandpa Yosef the tailor
Sews furs and garments for the villages' peasants;
A poor and modest Jew who's content with but little,
Equally unschooled in letters and books.

Tall of stature, solid, with golden hands;
He pours out his wrath over God and Man.
Sews his grandchildren's clothes with concealed affection,
Cultivates his garden as a peasant does his soil.

Simple mind, healthy reasoning–and wonderfully wise;
Talks to himself as if Grandma had asked.
He would lecture aloud while sewing and mending,
And his words still resonate like kohelet[6] translated.

And with them, a gallery of figures whose names I omitted;
They are bundled below, in words and in phrases;
Big ones and smaller ones that I haven't known–
May the living be singled out for a long life.

A Jewish family in a typical township–
Like pictures in a painting and figures in books;
Under the yoke of kingdoms–Lithuanian and Russian–
It expanded and yearned for freedom from oppression.

A house poor and crowded–the lowest in the quarter,
A dirt floor and a ceiling that touches the head;
But the sh'chinah dwelt there and stood high and mighty,
There they waited for the mashiach, waited in vain.

Cord braiders, blacksmiths, bricklayers,
Tailors bent over their sewing machines,
Orthodox Jews–and revolutionary fanatics,
Taliths and flags–faith and heresy.

Honest laborers in a productive family,
Rabbis and moguls–none of them for show.
This I'll tell my sons objectively–
It's a healthy root and a source of pride.

Geographically remote are these figures,
In substance and bonds they're as far as the stars.
Therefore I sketched here only a lifeline
That stretches like a bridge between generations.

A linking bridge, like the one from roots to canopy,
Unseen veins that nourish the fruit on the branch;
A bridge of connections like links in a chain–
Links that are sons, grandsons, and great–grandsons.

* From the congratulatory address of Avshalom Tzoref to Dalia, the daughter of his brother, Avraham Tzoref, formerly Goldschmidt, on the day of her marriage to her intended, Shmulik Gringold. It was recited at the wedding celebration in Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta'ot [Ghetto Fighters Kibbutz], where they were born.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. “Comely and black” is a reference to Shir Ha'shirim (Song of Songs), stanza 5: “I am black but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem! Like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.” Return
  2. Best men. Return
  3. Psalm 126. Return
  4. A Torah–based Yiddish book, written for women by Yaacov ben Yitzchak Ashkenazi in 1616. Return
  5. The Hebrew caption spells the name Goldshmid, although Avshalom Tzoref consistently spells the family name Goldschmidt. Return
  6. Ecclesiastes. Return


[Page 84]

In my Parents' Home

by Dr. Shimon Zak

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Of my mother's parents, I only remember Grandfather Chaikl, (incidentally, his mother died in 1914 at the age of 96). Grandfather Chaikl was observant of the commandments; however, like most of the Jews of Lithuania, he was not a zealot. His grocery store in the market square was always organized with exactness and good taste. Among other things, he sold all types of spices and medical herbs. The farmers of the region believed in their effectiveness more than medicine from the pharmacy.

I knew my father's parents well. Grandfather Avraham was a native of the city of nearby Shaty and the son of its rabbi. He had a splendid face and solid body. He was a scholar as well as a Maskil. He spoke calmly and intelligently, and his conversation was spiced with humor. I was his oldest grandson, and most connected to him. He would explain to me things that he had reading a book or newspaper. He would take me to the synagogue on the weekdays when Father did not worship, and, to differentiate, also to the bathhouse.

Grandmother Riva-Yehudit was popular and loved by all members of the family. Her world was built upon fear of Heaven and good deeds. She would come early to the synagogue services on weekdays, just as on festivals. What she missed in her prayers, she would make up at home or even in the store. Her pockets were always filled with sweets, which she would distribute among her grandchildren or other children in the area. Through the goodness of her heart, she also fulfilled the commandments of giving charity discreetly and visiting the sick. She was expert at her prayers, blessings and customs. Her expertise was recognized among those who came to the women's gallery.

Father and Mother were born and raised in Jonava. The families lived in close proximity to each other. The children grew up, played and studied together. They fell deeply in love at a young age, and with the passage of time, they proudly expressed their tokens of love. Father – on the embroidered Tefilin bag that he received from Mother at his Bar Mitzvah, and Mother with the gold ring that Father bought her as a present with the first money he earned.

Mother was a pretty woman, filled with the wisdom of life, natural refinement and insight. Like most of the Jewish women of Lithuania, she was a woman of valor who always assisted Father at his work. However, along with this she found time to be a dedicated and loving Mother. We children revered her. I was always wondering from whence flowed the wellsprings of her wisdom, since she never studied in an organized school and all of her wisdom came to her from private teachers who were not among the best in the town.

As I explained, Father was a talented and well-educated from his youth. He was noted for his excellent memory. Despite the economic straits that prevailed in his family of many children, he was able to learn with the best teachers in town. He also studied in the Yeshiva of Slobodka for a period of time, and he remembered pages of Gemara by heart throughout the years. He read a great deal from his youth, and was an avid reader throughout his entire life. He mastered the fundamentals of the Hebrew Language, and also composed humorous poems as well as love poems. He studied Russian and German through his own powers and searched for a way out from the poor life of the town. For a period of time, he worked as a clerk on the estate of his grandfather's sister, Miriam Kamber in the region of Raseiniai. After some time, he lived for a time in Warsaw with his relative and friend Yosef Lichtenstein of Gelvonai. When they returned to Lithuania after both had started their families, they opened fancy good stores (galentaria) in partnership, one in Jonava and the second in Kedainiai.

Father did well at business due to his business acumen, uprightness, decency and good name. He also received the sole agency for the districts of Kovno, Vilna, Suwalki and Grodno from a German firm that manufactured dyes for textiles.

My three sisters and I were raised in an atmosphere of love and mutual understanding. We received a liberal free education. I began to study in the modern cheder that had been opened at that time in Jonava under the direction of the teacher Shaul Keidianski. My two older sisters studied in the Jewish-Russian school. My younger sister Mina, who perished in the Holocaust, was not yet of school age at that time. Our parents were immersed in their business, but they always found time to dedicate time to our education and to care for us.

In the homes and families there were often Jewish maids who came for the most part from the villages and towns in the region. The relationship to them was patriarchal, and they were like members of the family. I remember several of them positively.

[Page 85]

They spent most of their time with us. From their mouths we heard legends, stories and songs, and they drew us close to the popular folklore and the lives of the masses of workers.

With the expulsion of the Jews in the year 1915, the family traveled to the city of Aleksandrovsk (today Zaporozha) in Ukraine. Mother had an uncle there. We got used to the new conditions with the passage of time.

Father started to conduct business and was successful, as usual. Mother helped him. We studied in Russian schools. Father ensured that my elder sister Sara (today in Moscow) and I continue with our Hebrew studies that we had already started in Lithuania. He also made sure that we obtained an advanced general education, as well as progressive Zionist education.

At the end of 1921, we returned from starving Russia to the bountiful land of independent Lithuania. In the meantime, my two older sisters had gotten married to Jews from Russia, and remained there.

We were happy to meet our friends and relatives once again. In Lithuania, a golden era prevailed on the Jewish street: national-cultural autonomy with schools and organized communities. Father once again became involved in business, and succeeded this time as well. I began to study in the Hebrew Real Gymnasium of Kovno. I drew close to the Zionist workers' movement while I was still a student at the gymnasium. I studied for two years in the faculty of medicine at the Lithuanian university.

I continued my studies in France. I returned to Lithuania in 1932 after concluding my studies in Strasbourg. I prepared to make aliya to the Land. In Jonava, as in every place in Lithuania, wide-branched Zionist activity took place. Chapters of all of the parties existed there. Sports and literary groups existed, as well as schools of all streams. Wide-branched communal and cultural activity took place, which attracted hundreds of male and female youths. I took part in all of these activities. I lectured, studied Hebrew in the chapter of Hechalutz and Haoved, and participated in conventions. Before I made aliya, I was sent by the Hechalutz center to set up a small hospital in Siauliai, and I was appointed as a traveling consulting physician for the Hachshara locations in the region. I made aliya in 1934.

News of Holocaust and the annihilation reached me as I was serving as a physician in the British Army in Sudan. The British did not believe this news and thought that it was wartime propaganda against the enemy. For some time, I too refused to believe what was taking place, until believable and verifiable information reached me from the Land.

Everything that happened to European Jewry, including the Jews of our town Jonava, will remain with each of us as an indelible memory. With deep agony, we bear the pain that can never be expressed.

May the memory of the pure, dear martyrs be blessed. May the remembrance of their suffering, as well as their deaths and circumstances of their deaths, remain with us forever!

{Photo page 85: Moshe and Feiga Zak.}


[Page 86]

Grandfather is also
Remembered for the Good

by Tikva Katz, Givataim

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Reb Alter Mottel lay sick on his bed…
He lay down and read the ledgers of the names of the children
Whom he had circumcised.

Sh. Y. Agnon from “Tmol Shilshom” (Yesterday and Before)

My grandfather, Moshe Yitzchak Stern, was a mohel (ritual circumciser) in Jonava. He was famous for his work. People invited him to all the towns of the area. These travels took much time from him. He did everything, of course, without intention of receiving recompense. He related to this calling of his with awe and diligence. His instruments were modern and shiny, and the odor of formulin wafted from the case in which they were stored. After every activity, he would take apart the case, and clean and polish the utensils. His young granddaughter (the writer of these lines) stood next to him and watched him with an open mouth.

He was always in good spirits after he circumcised a child. There were delicacies in his pockets that he had taken from the tables for his grandchildren. I stood next to my tall, thin grandfather, full of reverence. His face was broad, with a well groomed, long beard. His brown eyes exuded warmth and wisdom. In my eyes, he was a pillar of physical and spiritual strength. Every Sabbath morning, I ran to the great synagogue where my grandfather worshipped. I would hasten to the Women's gallery, from where I would look at my grandfather, enwrapped in his talis and worshiping with devotion. He stood in the “highest plane” to his grandchildren. I did not move or remove my eyes from him until the end of the service. My grandfather did not return home after services. He was involved in the Chevrat Shas (Talmud Study Group). All the members of the group would gather together for a light meal. My grandfather sat at the head of the table, surrounded by elderly Jews with holy books next to them. They would raise their cups in honor of the Torah, and partake of cakes and desserts. Nobody paid attention to the young girl who was wandering around at their feet, absorbing this spirit (which supported me greatly during all periods of my life).

My grandfather was always surrounded by a group. The elders sat around the table studying a page of Gemara in the Chevrat Shas in the synagogue, and especially in my grandfather's home.

These were days of splendor in the town. It was the calm era prior to the terrible wars that took place later. During that era, it was not only the elders who spent their time with a page of Talmud, but some members of the younger generation would frequent the nearby famous Yeshiva.

My grandfather's son Shmaryahu Stern was a personality in his own right. He was the force behind the construction of the splendid Talmud Torah building. He founded the school and taught the children Gemara. My uncle did not imagine that next to the open window stood the young daughter of his sister, feasting her eyes and ears attentively on everything that took place in the class.

This uncle of mine was the great enthusiastic Zionist of the town. My father, Yonah Pesach Katz, was a prominent Zionist activist. I still have the mandate that my father received as he participated in the congress of all Russian Zionists in Petrograd in 1917.

My uncle had three children: Eliezer (may he live), Aryeh may G-d avenge his blood, and the youngest who was the poet Noach Stern of blessed memory. My cousin Liba Chana was the wife of the artist Alter Kagan. I was bound to all of them with bonds of love and understanding, but my grandfather was to me a symbol and example. I always wished to be like him, to be religious, to occupy myself in mitzvot, etc.

Aside from his honorable image in Torah, and aside from being the renowned mohel of the entire region, my grandfather was also a working man. He invented the secret of preparation of light black beer (malt beer). I see the man wearing simple clothing, bending over a machine, cooking and mixing the beer into small containers.

My grandmother Sheina Chaya sold this beer in her tavern. Her tavern was not similar to the other taverns in the town. Only the old, solid farmers who did not use liquor entered, drank my grandfather's beer and ate the food that my grandmother prepared. The atmosphere was always calm and cordial there. The customers were all friends. At that time, we felt that we had friends among the gentiles.

The well-to-do Jewish women would come every Thursday, with a fine pitcher in each hand. My grandfather would pour his beer for them. It was the custom in Jonava that at the third Sabbath meal (Seuda Shlishit), people would drink the dark beer blended with cream. Everyone loved the drink that was prepared through the blessed and good hands of my grandfather.

One day ill fortunate overtook us. My dear grandfather took ill. He was very ill, at first in his legs, and later in his esophagus. Grandfather was lying in bed, unable to swallow, and talking with difficulty. He lay on his clean bed, with his son Shmaryahu and daughter Ethel tending to him. Ethel neglected her children and did not move from the bed of her father day and night. The young granddaughter ran after her, circled around the bed, and nobody sensed her. All the members of the Talmud study organization visited my ill grandfather. The pages of Gemara rustled, and the debate was in full strength. Grandfather did not speak, but he still remained as the living spirit of the group.

The bitter day arrived when my grandfather sensed that his end was near. He donned his white kittel and prepared himself to recite the confessional prayer. His son and daughter were weeping silently beside him. The young granddaughter was slinking in a corner. The final sunrays of the day were streaming through the open windows. All the members of the Talmud study group stood around…

After Moshe Yitzchak Stern passed away, the evil days began. The First World War broke out. After one year, all of the Jews of the Kovno region were expelled in shame.

Twenty-five more years passed. The face of the city changed, until the great destruction arrived.


[Page 87]

I Loved to go to Grandmother

by Chaya Grabersky (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

There was a wooden house on the street that descended to the Vylia. As you would go up a few stairs, you would enter a small grocery store. This was the store of Grandmother Leah. Grandmother loved to conduct business, despite the fact that Grandfather Moshe Shapira had a large carpentry shop in the same house, in which many employees worked.

The large family of 12 people was not short of livelihood. Grandmother also had cows and fowl. There was an abundance of milk and dairy products. Grandmother had her own “Tnuva” dairy[1]. She made cheeses and put them into heart shaped cloths. They were hung in the kitchen until they dried out. Then she would carefully remove them in one piece – many heart shaped cheeses. I would come to help her with the cream. I was then a seven year old girl. Grandmother would give me a wooden stick that was placed into a wooden churn. I would beat the cream with the stick until it turned into butter. There was a vegetable garden in the yard behind the barn.

I loved to go to my grandmother, for I always had something with which to occupy myself there. When we made aliya to the Land in 1925, I missed the place very much, for there I had spent the pleasant early years of my life.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Tnuva is the name of the Israeli dairy conglomerate, so I expect that the name here is meant to be descriptive rather than the actual name. Return

[Page 88]

My Grandfather Reb Mashel

by Baruch Lin (Jalinovich or Ilinevits) [Ramat Gan]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 88: Baruch Lin.}

Mashel was known as an unusual man. He was prone to anger and wrath, and he would enter into judgments with his neighbors. This stemmed from his strong character and his inability to tolerate injustice and wrongdoing. In such cases, he would not withhold his sharp tongue from anyone, even if he was important and honorable.

In accordance with the situation in the town, there were many such injustices which we would now look upon with a forgiving smile. For example, with regard to an aliya to the Torah, someone who received the fourth aliya may have felt slighted as he felt that he deserved the third aliya. In the hakafot of Simchat Torah, some worshippers would feel insulted if they were honored with the hakafa of “ Ozer Dalim[1]

As is known, Jonava was burnt down twice. The city elders knew how to count years from the times of the fires. After each fire, the Jews of Jonava built better and finer houses. The new construction caused border disputes between neighbors. Surveys of the lots did not exist yet. Everything was determined by memory and confirmed by witnesses.

My grandfather was engaged in a legal dispute with two of his neighbors: Reb Avraham Yitzchak the shochet, his neighbor on the right side; and Reb Henech Bronznik, his neighbor on the other side. The border adjudications lasted for years. The claims were peculiar. They would dispute and recall childhood caprices of each person. My grandfather nicknamed Henech “Strajkenik”, meaning the striker, for he had participated in strikes and demonstrations against the Czar in 1905.

My grandfather was involved in the wheat business. He was a simple Jew, knowing only how to read the Siddur [prayer book]. In the general thought of the householders of his era, he felt that a proper Jew must be a merchant, since the tradesmen had no status in his eyes at all. He took pride in the fact that there were no tradesmen in his family. He had eight brothers - merchants, scholars, and communal activists. None of them served in the army. They either bribed the officials of the Czar or changed their family nanes. Thus, he had family members in Jonava by the name of Goldschmid and Gold, even though he himself was called Shlomovitz. His younger son studied in Yeshivas, received his rabbinical ordination, and was appointed to the rabbinate in a town in the district of Bialystok. His daughter, my mother Taiba of blessed memory, married a Yeshiva student who was ordained for the rabbinate in the Yeshiva of Volozhin, and who was given a fine dowry by my grandfather. He is my father, Reb Moshe of blessed memory.

The Jews of Jonava took pride in special places. They were proud of their town. A person from outside who settled there was considered an outsider for the rest of his life. My father, a native of Poland, was also considered an outsider, and my family considered its lineage from Mother's side. Therefore, I was called Baruch

{Unnumbered Photo page between 88-89}

{Photo on right: The Shapira family: Feivka, Feiga, Shimon, and - may they live - Surka and Minaka - who are in Vilna; Yosa Meir Itzkovich, Sheina, Leah and Moshe, Beila and Binyamin Shapira; the children: Chaya, and may he live - Yaakov; Tzvi and Shraga of blessed memory; Chava - may she live long - who lives in Kibbutz Maoz Chaim.}

{Drawing on left: Grandmother churning butter.}

[Page 89]

{Photo page 89 top right: Uncaptioned. Seemingly Mashel and another man sitting on steps.}

{Drawing bottom right: Uncaptioned. Seemingly Mashel. The drawing has the same appearance and pose as the elderly man on the steps.}

Taiba Mashel Nechemia's[2]. In contrast with the custom of those days, my grandfather engaged special tutors to teach his daughters to read and write in Yiddish and Russian.

Two pictures hung in his house - of the Vilna Gaon and of Moses Montefiore. He purchased the latter in a special sale, the proceeds of which went to charity.

My grandfather worked hard as a wheat merchant. He would run around a great deal, usually on foot. He would sell seeds to the farmers on credit. After the harvest, he would hurry to the villages to collect the debts. Therefore, he was known as a fast walker, and nicknamed “Mashel the Kanke” (pony). The symbol of speed in those days was the wagon hitched to a horse that would travel on rails in the outskirts of Kovno. At that time there was a joke that Mashel would say to his wife, “Put the soup on table, and before it gets cold, I will go to Rimkes (a distance of about four kilometers).

This was a village of Strobars, of the old religion, who fled from Russia due to the Czarist persecutions and settled in the vicinity of the town. Every Wednesday, during the winter market days, young members of this sect would come from near and far, walk through the streets, travel in winter wagons, and choose their mates. This was called the Bulbar. One of their young women worked in our house as a maid. Mother would lend her furs to her so that she too could go to the Bulbar.

Like the majority of the Jews of Jonava who were known as manly, Father was also a healthy man. When he was over 80, he still was engaged in the wheat business and dragged sacks like a young man.

He was indifferent to Zionism. He did not understand pioneering. He could not tolerate boys and girls going out to work like gentiles. During a business debate with Reb Yona Katz, who was also a wheat merchant and a relative, he uttered sharply: “I did not send my daughter to weed the gardens.” He was referring to Tikva, who made aliya to the Land and was active there. However, when I made aliya to the Land, he bade me farewell in a heartfelt fashion and blessed me.

He died in 1933.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Lots of religious nuances here. An aliya to the Torah is the honor of being called up to the reading of the public reading of the Torah. The hakafot (circuits) on Simchat Torah are the seven circuits made around the synagogue in the evening and again during the day. Different groups of worshippers are honored with carrying the Torah scrolls during the hakafot. The hymn for the sixth hakafa starts with “ Ozer Dalim hoshia na” (He who helps the poor, please save), and some people may have felt that being honored with this hakafa may imply that they are considered to be poor. Return
  2. A common form of nickname, with the person being called by the name of his mother, and in this case the grandfather as well, in the possessive form. Return


[Page 90]

But…

by Dina Rikless (nee Perlstein)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 90: Chaim and Batya Perlstein}

Our home was traditional and very Zionist. Father was about to make aliya to the Land more than 80 years ago, when he was only 17 years old, along with his uncle, who made aliya at that time. But… on account of the opposition of his parents, he remained in Lithuania and established his household in Jonava.

When the Fund for Jewish Settlement was set up, my parents purchased shares in 1901. These remain in our hands to this day as a souvenir. It was natural that their children learned Hebrew and dreamed from an early age of aliya to the Land along with their parents. But the parents did not have sufficient energy to take this step. My brother Shlomo made aliya in 1932, as I did with my husband in 1934. Our parents reached us in 1935; but my father got very sick here, and returned alone to Jonava in 1937 with the intention of regaining his strength there and returning to us. But, the borders were closed due to the accursed war, and my dear father remained there and perished in Jonava along with most of its Jewish residents and a large portion of our family. May their memories be a blessing.

My mother Batya Perlstein, of the Tartak family, who was with us, died at the age of 90 in Tel Aviv. But, she was also a victim of the Nazi executioners, for she was not able to forget for one moment the bitter end of her dear ones – her husband Chaim, daughter Hinda, and two grandchildren Eta-Rivkale and Yosef-Hershele, along with the rest of the families.

A poem (see in the section To Hell and Back[1] will testify to her great suffering. Peace to her remains.

Dina Rickliss-Perlstein


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Page 372 Return
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