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[Page 72]

The Kortchek River

Shoshana Rabinowitz (Shochen)

Translated by Sara Mages

Our city Korets was named after the Kortchek River. The river wrapped around the city and with its twists cut it into sections. The place where the five tanneries stood was called “below the tanneries”, the place where the flour mills stood was called “below the mills” and the area where the earthenware factory stood was called – “Crockery”

A number of bridges crossed the river. Across from the main bridge lay “below the mills” and on the other side of Orenstein's bridge lay the “New City,” which was built after the great fire that broke out at the end of the 19th century.

The river overflowed in the spring, swept fertilizers and foodstuffs, and fertilized the fields and the gardens on its shores. The gardens bloomed and flowered, and covered the city with a carpet of greenery. And then, Korets looked like a blooming garden. The lawns and meadows on the riverbank were called “flowery banks“. From here we left for boat excursions on the river.

The river had a special magic in each season of the year, and enticed the residents, mostly the youth. And when the river froze, and the ice thickened – sleds loaded with firewood and wheat traveled on it, and in this manner shortened the way from one part of the city to another.

Groups of boys and girls went down to the river with joy and exultation to skate on the ice. We climbed on the hills with small sleds, and sled down to the frozen river with a youthful whim.

In the winter, the water drawers broke holes in the ice, and draw the drinking water for all the members of the city. Dozens of families earned their living from that. The washerwomen went down to these “holes,” and beat the laundry in the cold water until they looked like frozen boards.

As spring approached, the city was shaken by the sound of loud explosions: “The icebergs are coming.” The ice broke, and huge chunks floated in the strong wind. And then, the Kortchek became a vast river. The bridges were destroyed more than once, and not just one tree has fallen victim to the malicious icebergs. It was a magnificent sight to see how this small river “achieved greatness” and raged in a youthful vigor. But, nothing lasts forever. The icebergs melted, the river returned to its natural borders, and the
“water abated.”

[Page 73]

The Kortchek River by the bridge

 

When the earth was swampy and the legs sunk in the mud, we, the children, spread out along the river to welcome the first “guest” - the green leaf, and with it the small flower that we haven't seen during the months of the angry and difficult Ukrainian winter. Summer came when the sun shone in the sky, and the air warmed. During this period we spent most of our days and nights by the river. At daybreak, the diligent woke up early and went to the river to immerse their bodies for the early morning dip. In those days, it wasn't yet known in Korets that there was something in the world called a “bathing suit”. We bathed in our Mother Chava “suit” [naked]. Of course, we bathed in white shirts, but we tied them on both sides, turned them to “balloons,” and lay on them as lying on a swimming-pillow. This way we practiced and leaned the art of swimming. Obviously, women bathed separately and men bathed separately. The sounds and screams rose to the midst of heaven when a man made a “mistake” and found himself in the women's section. And when a naughty boy tried to get closer to us, we taught him “Parashat Balak” [taught him a lesson] and he “lost a tooth and an eye” [suffered a great loss].

Great was the commotion by the river on Friday. Clear the way and give respect! The pot-bellied “samovar” is “walking” to immerse itself in the water and smarten up for the Sabbath, and all the other kitchen utensils are “marching” behind it.

[Page 74]

The amazing sand, which was used to brush and scrub, was only found on the riverbank, and the “samovars” and the skillets shone and dazzled the eyes. This work, which lasted from sunrise to late at night, was accompanied by singing and laughter, and merged with the singing of the Ukrainian washerwomen.

At night, especially on Friday night, old and young went down to the river bank equipped with blankets. They spread on the lawns, enjoyed the cool air, the fragrant of the flowers and the singing of the nightingale which spilled into space and filled the air with its magic sound.

The playgrounds and the athletics fields were also located on the riverbank, but they weren't the most advanced. The boys played soccer there, and we put up tents and built camps there. But our parents drove us away from there, because they saw in it a desecration of the Sabbath. In particular, they had many complains against the sailing, what, even on the Sabbath! Once, when we didn't have enough oars, we took shovels to sail the boats with. This matter caused a great storm, because the pious of our city suspected that we left for work on the Sabbath…

And when autumn approached and with it the “High Holidays,” we spread along the riverbank and searched for braches with thin leaves for “Hoshanot.” And when the day of “Tashlich” arrived, not a living soul was left in our city Korets. Everyone streamed to the riverbank, some on the bridges and some on the shore. Old and young prayed by the water, emptied their pockets and threw all their sins and crimes to the Kortchek's flowing water.


[Page 75]

This was my home

Zahava Riess (Goldman)

Translated by Sara Mages

It may seem odd, that one day, when you reminisce about the distant past, you remember the pleasant and dear, and forget the sad and shocking. Perhaps, subconsciously, a person is trying to forget the unpleasant, and for that reason he's drawn to the pink and the heartwarming memories.

Here's “Synagogue Street” with its unattractive one-storey houses, but how beautiful and fascinating they were on the Sabbath and on the holidays. Great light penetrated from the windows of the little houses with their white curtains. The synagogues shone brightly. Our parents became princes, filled the houses of worship and the nearby streets by the hundreds, and a delightful sound came out of them.

And here's the praised “Yeshiva,” the house of learning for the majority of Korets' sons and all of Wolyn. It left its mark not only on the religious life, but also inspired an atmosphere of study and research throughout Korets. Sons gave up their comfortable life at home, and spent several years in the “Yeshiva,” to draw from the springs of our ancient civilization.

We were born in one of these houses. Most of the furniture passed from one generation to another, and weren't replaced as it is customary these days. But, they didn't smell of mold, only of pleasant memories of past generation.

A general view of the city

 

[Page 76]

Indeed, new spirits blew in every house, at least in most of them, but they were related to the far distant past, when the nation of Israel sat on its land. They integrated into the vision of the future that seemed far but tangible.

I remember the stories about the Land of Israel in which we will be farmers, and I was given the role of a shepherded. These stories were accompanied by pictures that my mother of blessed memory found in one of the Russian geography books. It told of the different races and nations, including an Arab with a cruel face and grinding teeth. A shiver ran through my body, and I barely got over the fear that attacked me when I thought that I'd meet him at my work in Israel, and how could I defend myself?

The Hebrew School completed the picture of the distant past, explained it, enlarged its scope and made the future more tangible. To this day I remember the teacher Gilman of blessed memory, who dramatized the story of Bat Yiftach, and we were so close to the same glorious past. Every important event in the Zionist movement was celebrated grandly. So it was during the opening of the university on Mount Scopus, and so it was during other Zionist celebrations

A youth movement was added, and made the heroes and the kings of the Jewish nation more daring and venerable. We started to see the present as a passageway to something more beautiful. Then, we saw the poverty of our homes. We felt that there was no point in our present life, and therefore, we had to prepare ourselves for the future. The youth of Korets, which was part of the youth of Wolyn, constituted the natural reserve of manpower and creativity, and the revival movement was built from it.

The heart is hurting and grieving that such a rich Jewish source was destroyed and diluted. We will fight the minister of forgetfulness to the end of our days, so we won't forget our parents, our brothers and sisters, who were our flesh and blood.


[Page 97]

The great fire in Korets
(From the memories of the elderly woman Hinda Kligerman)

Translated by Sara Mages

The elderly woman Hinda Kligerman
(Hinda Zlata Dubas)

 

The fire broke out 77 years ago. I was a little girl then, about 13. On Rosh Chodesh Tamuz 1881, I stood in the store, and suddenly I heard people shouting: Jews, fire! What's burning? – The Mitichica is burning! The Mitichi building stood far from the city, next to the cemetery. The straw roof started to burn, and immediately the fire spread all over the city.

Yehusua Bublick's store, which sold gunpowder and explosives, stood on “Shasiene? Street.” The fire reached the store, and in an instant, a terrible smoke burst out of it and covered the city's sky. Although it was 10 o'clock in the morning, it seemed to us that the sun had set. Many people suffocated from the smoke. Those who could – fled to the river, but the fire was so great, and its sparks reached the riverbank. I remember very well, that in a moment, the city turned into a huge blazing fire. A sea of flames raged all day, and tongues of fire protruded from the windows of the meager houses, which disappeared from the face of the earth one after the other. It seemed, as if the sky was burning, the clouds were red, gripped with fire.

About 20 Jews were burnt alive. David Mekler's two daughters, the “girl brides,” who had grooms and were about to get married – burnt, and not a trace remained of them. Only the remains of their dresses were found. Pesia Rivka's was also burnt, and also many other Jews whose names I don't remember.

All Batei Hamidrash were burnt in this fire. The “Great Synagogue,” “Brezner Synagogue,” “Chernobler Synagogue,” “Shuster Synagogue,” and “Schneider Synagogue,” went up in flames. From the whole city only Commissaria Street and “below the mills” Street remained. A few buildings remained in Monstriska Street, but all the synagogues in it were burnt. Hirshel Solomianik and Shmuel Kleinfeld tanneries were located in “below the mills” Street. These buildings, and also the homes of Weinstock and Broder, were saved from the fire.

There wasn't a fire brigade. There was a wagon with a barrel of water on it, and it was harnessed to the “Messiah horse.” A wheel broke by the time the horse moved, and everyone grabbed a bucket of water

[Page 98]

to put out the fire, and of course, it helped, “like cupping-glasses for a dead man” [it was a wasted effort]. Go and put out such a calamity that all the water in the Kortchek couldn't put out.

A well stood in the middle of the market. We threw inside it the scorched Torah Scrolls, scraps of clothing, and tools that were saved from the fire. But, it was pointless. The Gentiles from the surrounding area descended on the booty, and looted and robbed all that was left from the Jews' property.

The Jews, who were left homeless, fled to Zvhil, Rovne and Slovita. We fled to Ostroh.

The fire cast a lot of noise all over Wolyn. The very next day helped arrived with food and clothing from cities and villages far and near.

Slowly, the city was rebuilt. Batei Hamidrash were built, and streets started to emerge as if by magic. The city grew and expanded and erased the memory of the terrible fire, which even today is attacking me with terror when I remember it.

In “Ha-Meliz” [Hebrew newspaper in Russia], from 1881 (No. 25), we find the following report about the fire: “On 2 Tamuz, 17 June, a fire broke out in a small house at the edge of town, and one hour later, a great storm raged and carried flaming torches in every direction and corner. In three hours almost the whole city went up in flames.

All the shops and their merchandise, and all the delightful treasures were burnt, consumed by fire. Several hundred families were left naked and destitute. The flames ate all the synagogues – thirteen in number, including the ancient synagogue. Also, about 20 people were burnt, including two sisters and one little boy.

The notable masters from here, the brothers Wineshtock, infused a lot of money to ease the fate of the fire victims.”

 

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