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[Page 125]

Personalities and Events


One of the Dear Ones of Jonava

by Yitzchak Ben-David

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 125: Uncaptioned. Apparently Moshe Ivensky.}

Moshe Ivensky was born in 1897 in the village of Geguzine near Vilna, 14 kilometers east of Jonava, into a traditional Jewish family. His father Reb David, known as David the miller, was a simple villager, straightforward in his ways, fearing Heaven, with fine character traits. His mother was a cultured woman who read a great deal in Yiddish and German. She believed that she would earn her reward in the world of truth in reward for her good deeds in this world.

Childhood Landscape

This family owned a flourmill driven by water and machines for working wool. The farmers of the region would come to them, and all of them honored Reb David and his wife. Livelihood was found in abundance.

David had two children, Moshe and Shlomo. David attempted to bring teachers in for his children and the other Jewish children of the village. When the children got older, Reb David sent them to Vilna in order to obtain education in modern cheders. They also attended the Russian school.

Moshe was graced with great abilities. He studied diligently and constantly read Hebrew and Russian literature. He displayed a tendency toward communal work already from his youth. He would gather the children around him, and tell them legends and stories from reading or from the imagination. He would organize various games, and was considered as the leader of the children. In the calm village, surrounded by the landscape of forests, meadows, ponds and the Vylia, and under the influence of his honest parents, a refined, dreamy soul developed in him from his youth.

During the Expulsion

The family wandered to Vilna as a result of the decree of expulsion during the First World War. As the front approached, the family decided that Reb David would remain in Vilna until the danger passed, while the mother and the two sons would continue their journey with the stream of refugees to central Russia. Reb David returned to his native village after the Germans conquered Vilna. There, in Geguzine, he reactivated the flourmill and the wool working machines. Business flourished. There was no news from the family. Contact with Russia was severed due to the revolution and civil war.

During the years 1916-1919, a great famine pervaded in Vilna and its environs. Many Jews dispersed to the towns and villages in search of food and work. David the miller housed refugee families in his home. His home was open to every passerby and guest, and many people ate at his table. He fed and clothed all of them, and also gave them money and provisions for the journey.

His wife and two children returned in 1919 and found the house filled with all good things. The boys had grown up in the interim. In Russia they had studied in a Russian school, and they also had not forsaken their studies of Hebrew, Bible and literature.

Mother Struggles with her Share in the World To Come

After thee return of Reb David's wife, the women and men praised her husband to her ears, and told her of his many charitable deeds. After she absorbed these stories, jealousy took root within her. How? From the knowledge that her husband had amassed so many good deeds, and she was not a partner to all this?! Her husband was to be forced to divide his reward for his good deeds, which made him eligible for the World to Come, equally with her. These thoughts gave her no rest. One day, she turned to her husband and said:

“David, I want you to declare in the synagogue in front of the community that you are prepared to share with me your reward for your good deeds that you performed in my absence so that I can also enjoy them in the World of Righteousness.”

Reb David was stubborn, and he was not willing to share. The peace in the home was disrupted. One Sabbath, when the Torah reader approached for the reading of the Torah, his wife girded herself with brazenness and interrupted the reading. She declared her claim with a loud voice and demanded the fulfillment of her demand. A long and tiresome discussion ensued. With the influence of the other householders, Reb David agreed to share, and to proclaim this in public. The Torah reading resumed, and the peace of the household returned.

Settling in Jonava and Immersion in Communal Affairs

Moshe Ivensky found the place too constricting, so he moved to Jonava in order to find work and communal activities. There, he had the opportunity to develop his talents and to broaden his knowledge by reading books and self study. He had the opportunity to sharpen his talents as an orator and public speaker. He had already demonstrated this talent in exile in Russia during the revolution. The young socialist was taken by the idea of the revolution, and he proclaimed his thoughts publicly with the enthusiasm of youth. The motto that he frequently stated with respect to those days was: “They wore a cloak for two weeks, but something was taking place.” Despair came quickly. The Yevsektsia[1] became despicable to him. They fought against nationalist tradition and the Hebrew language and literature.

In Jonava, he was hired as an official in the public bank. When he arrived, he joined Tzeirei-Zion – Hitachdut, which at the time numbered approximately 100 active members and many other supporters. After a brief time he was elected as the chairman. He took interest in the sporting activities of Maccabee, and he was elected to the cultural committee. He was one of the important orators, and the youth was swept along with his fascinating words. He was elected to the community council, which in those days of the flourishing of Jewish autonomy in Lithuania, fulfilled an important role in social life. He was active on the committees of the national funds and lectured often at all Zionist organizations about the building of the Land and Zionism. He even preached fiery speeches about current events on Sabbaths from the synagogue pulpit. He would often debate with his Yiddishist and Communist rivals.

Moshe Establishes a Family

His mother's health weakened during the first years of his activities. His father came to Jonava to search for a Jewish woman who would take care of her. Along with the stream of refugees from places afflicted by famine came a young maiden from Mejszago³a, Mina Abramovitch. Since she was alone, his acquaintances recommended to him to take her to Geguzine. She agreed.

At first, Moshe traveled to visit his parents almost every Sabbath. There, Moshe met the beautiful girl Mina and fell in love with her. After a brief period, he became engaged to her, and then married her. The wedding took place in Jonava with great splendor. All of his friends and admirers participated in it. The members of the couple were not equivalent in the cultural and intellectual sense, but he admired her for her straightforwardness and dedication, and she was proud of the man, who was considered number one in Jonava, who chose her. They had two sons and a daughter – Yeshayahu, Reuven and Nechama.

The Spiritual Leader of the Youth

Concerns of livelihood, care of children, and spending time with his wife forced him to cut back on some of his communal work. However he rejoiced at every opportunity to appear on the stage, to do battle with his combatants, and to see the larger community who thirsted for his words and would take in the stream of his orations. For 15 years, he was the spiritual leader of most of the Jonava youth who were sheltered under the banner of Tzeirei-Zion – Hitachdut, Gordonia, Hechalutz, Maccabee, Tz. S., Beitar and Mizrachi. He did not know of compromise. He did not vacillate. He correctly evaluated the hidden threat of Nazism to the physical existence of the Jewish people, and fought against this impurity to the best of his ability.

Throughout the 1930s, the Jews of Lithuania declared a boycott against products of Nazi Germany. He was tirelessly bound to this endeavor. He was the chief of the spokesmen and the supporters.

When the Soviets entered Jonava, he “folded up” completely and waited for better days.

Like the Lot of Many Others

With the Nazi invasion, he decided to escape to Russia along with his family. Somewhere along the way, they were caught up in an air raid. The family dispersed in the confusion of the bombardment. We do not know of his fate, and that of his wife and his daughter. The two sons continued to flee in the direction of the Russian border. Only the eldest Yeshayahu was miraculously saved from the satanic talons. Today he is in America, and he describes everything that happened to him in his memoirs that are published in the book.

An Exemplary Image

The image of Moshe Ivensky floats before my eyes again and again. I see him sitting next to the counter in the public bank of Jonava, with a long, reddish-brown beard. His black hair with a part on the right side was slightly unkempt. The outline of his face was straight, good and refined. I always compared his visage to that of Herzl. I see him chatting with a customer or engaged in a fiery debate with a disputant. He was not at all concerned about his external appearance. His white cloak was without a collar, open, one sleeve was rolled up and the other moved with every motion of his hand.

He was a modest man in his life. In his opinion, concern about externals was superfluous. The most important thing which he stressed was matters of the spirit. I worked at his side in the party for many years. We operated the Maccabee and the Hebrew library together. He was always an example to me.

I will never forget him and we will never forget him.

These impressions from the father's house were recorded from the mouth of Frank Sirek, United States.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The Yevsektsia was the Jewish section of the Soviet Communist party, which wanted to eradicate the Bund and Zionist parties. See the following wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yevsektsiya Return

[Page 127]

I Learned a Great Deal from Him:
More on Ivensky

by Sara Burstein

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In my first meeting with him, I was surprised and astounded at his external appearance and personal charm. He was still young, but he nevertheless had a flowing beard. He had black, disheveled locks of hair, a penetrating gaze, and refined, sculpted wrinkles on his face.

His entire body was in perpetual motion, especially his hands, which he moved to emphasize his words.

I was astounded that his physical appearance was so similar to Herzl.

The second and strongest impression came when he opened his mouth to speak and debate. I was enchanted and silenced by his words. At times, I had the impression that I was listening to the words of a prophet of yore, reproving and preaching in the gate, delivering his words with emphasis and logic.

He lectured on various topics - literature, arts, culture, and politics. He was intelligent and inspired. Everything was clear to him, even though he was an autodidact. His bountiful knowledge was gleaned from a great deal of reading, which he absorbed and digested thanks to his blessed talents. He was modest and upright to the point of innocence. He never wavered from his path, the path paved and forged with a good heart, dedication, faithfulness and diligence.

When I got to know him better and he used to visit our house, he once came to me with the recommendation that I take on the task of the accounting for the funds. He brought two large ledgers, once for the Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] and the other for the Keren Hayesod, which had recently been founded. He also brought cards with the names of “householders” who were willing to donate

[Page 128]

with monthly payments. At the end, he recommended sincerely that I myself deal with the small expenditures, such as paper, ink, pens, and sponges [1]. Of course, I agreed.

His words rang in my ears like the words of the living G-d. My awe and respect for him continually grew.

He led his private life discreetly. His low salary from the public bank was barely sufficient to meet his expenses. His wife was sickly, and his three children also had their requirements. He could have easily earned additional money outside his work hours, but his fruitful volunteer work for the land of Israel, that swallowed every free moment, prevented this. He did not want to turn this activity into a means of livelihood [2].

We would once again meet on occasion during my second winter in Jonava, during the vacation between study semesters in the Diaspora. One day, he appeared with a request, apparently in the name of the parents' committee, that I agree to give evening courses in English for the grade five students of the Tarbut School. I did not have the power to refuse, even though I was not a teacher or the daughter of a teacher.

I began as a “volunteer” teacher, and inexperienced teacher, who entered the classroom for the first time with trembling knees. However, Ivensky encouraged me and even offered me complements that I was successful, and that all my students were doing well…

Thanks to this, I benefited from my teaching experience when I came to the land. As a member of WIZO [3] in Kovno, I also joined WIZO and became a volunteer Hebrew teacher for new female immigrants. I did this for a few years until the Ulpan (school for new immigrants) stole my “livelihood.”

At times, when the memory of Ivensky comes before me, I offer a blessing in my heart that I knew him. I learned a great deal from him.

I have a small picture of him as a memento. He wrote something on it, and it served as a symbol to me for everything sublime in the world.

{Photo page 128: Ivensky in the center. The Gordonia Youth Organization in Jonava.}

{Unnumbered page following 128}

{3 Photos on unnumbered page following 128: Images: Menashe Weiner, chemist; Aryeh Stern, lawyer; Shimon Zak, physician, in British Army fatigues.}

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Used for old fashioned pens. Return
  2. Literally, “Into a spade for digging”, a rabbinical adage referring to using a spiritual position to earn a livelihood. Return
  3. Women's International Zionist Organization. Return

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