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[Page 166]

The Mathematicians…

by Gershon Jankelowitz

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

Velvel had a son-in-law, Yisrael, who was his partner in business. Neither of them could read or write.

After a day of business, they would both make an account which consisted of making little notches on the chimney of the baking oven.

It would often happen that Gittel, Velvel's wife, would come and ask:

— Velvel, give me a little money to buy food for tomorrow.

Velvel, deeply engrossed in doing his “arithmetic”, would lose his patience and scream:

“I'll soon give you a smack, you'll have a little money. You spoiled our arithmetic.”

And back to the beginning and new little markings on the chimney.


[Pages 167-169]

The Trial

by T. Shimshoni

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky

lyu167.jpg
T. Shimshoni

 

The event described below really did happen. I was a witness to the goings-on, and I remember it as if it just now happened.

It was on a Sabbath morning. I was a child and I slept late, while all the Jews of Lubtch were in the synagogue. When I looked out the window towards the market square, I saw workers bringing a wagon filled with wood and boards which they started to unload in the market opposite our house and immediately began building a kiosk. Afterwards it turned out that the kiosk was erected by a Polish merchant named Roman, who owned a shop selling strong drinks and spirits (It was the only shop in the town belonging to a Pole; all the others were owned by Jews). Roman intended to put up a kiosk in the market square and to sell sweets. Because he knew that the Jews in the town would oppose it, as it was in a public area open to all, he built the structure secretly in one of the courtyards on the Street of the Gentiles. He chose to erect it exactly on the Sabbath day, so that by the time the Jews in the town, who were in the synagogue, realized what was going on, it would be already completed.

The matter was found out by the members of the congregation, who came out to see what was going on, wrapped in their prayer shawls. Very quickly many Jews gathered around the workers, and an argument burst out between the Jews and the gentile workers, who did not understand why the Jews were so angry, and who were not really a side to the dispute, but had just been hired by Roman to do the work for him. Several hotheads amongst the Jews would not let the work go on and started to dismantle the walls. Roman arrived at the place with a number of policemen, and it seems that they had anticipated this development. The Jews dispersed to their houses, the work was stopped, and a police guard was left to make sure there was no more dismantling of the kiosk or interruption of its building.

The next day Roman brought photographers and journalists from Novogrudek, the largest town in the district, to take pictures of the wreckage. The Novogrudek newspapers published articles of anti-Semitic nature, accompanied by photos of the destroyed kiosk, in which they protested against the Jews of Lubtch preventing a Pole from building a kiosk.

A few days later, a policeman appeared at our house, showing an arrest warrant for my father, together with two other Jews, and they were accused of causing damage and worse, of racial incitement - an accusation that was extremely serious. The accused were taken under guard to the regional prison in Novogrudek.

The rumors of the arrest came to the attention of the city leaders in Novogrudek, who leapt into action. They appealed to the authorities and after much effort, managed to free the prisoners on bail. At first they agreed only to free my father, but he refused to leave until the others who were arrested with him were freed too. In the end, they were released together and managed to return home in the evening, as the holiday was beginning. I remember that all the people in the town waited for their release with bated breath.

The suspects were served with an indictment, as they wanted to turn the trial into a showcase. Behind Roman stood his brother, head of the Novogrudek Criminal Investigations Department. The Jews were accused of a serious crime and if found guilty, a heavy punishment awaited them- years of imprisonment. The trial caused my father much blood and money: he hired a famous lawyer from Vilna, whose name was Petrosvitz, a Christian, a professor of law at the university, to supervise the defense. A Jewish lawyer from Novogrudek, Zladovitz, was also hired to prepare the defense. All of the financial load fell on my father's shoulders, as the other two were poor and had no means to help with the defense expenses.

The day of the trial arrived. Many Jews from Lubtch traveled to Novogrudek to be present at the trial.

The first witness was Roman himself, who proudly mounted the witness stand. He gave evidence confidently and brazenly, even though he himself had not been present during the dispute. He described my father as head of the inciters and as one of the heads of the community to whom all listened, and that he was to blame for the destruction. Afterwards the workers appeared. In their testimony to the court, they reneged from their statements at the police station and claimed that my father did not participate in the argument, but arrived on the scene later. They did not identify any of the accused, and couldn't indicate who caused the damage. When the prosecutor asked why they were now saying the opposite of what they had said in the police station, they answered that they were told by Roman what to say, but now, since they had vowed to tell the truth, they were telling the truth, as their fear of God was greater than their fear of man.

The last witness that the prosecutor called to the stand was a Pole, a known drunk who determined the direction of the trial. On the witness stand, he started describing how the Jews attacked the structure and wrecked it. In his speech, he enlarged on the part my father played in this action, saying that he saw Yehoshua Shimshilevitz walking, wrapped in a prayer shawl, shouting, “Mi shul ari”, and the Jews immediately began the destruction. This witness was the last of the witnesses for the prosecution.

When it came time for the defense to give its arguments, the lawyer Petrosvitz stood up and declared that he would not bring any witnesses for the defense because, in his opinion, there was no basis for the accusations, since one could not believe the last prosecution witness because, in his opinion, the witness's words were blatant lies. He explained to the court that the meaning of the words, which were not, “Mi shul ari”, but rather, “In shul arein” (“Time to go into the synagogue”), a call to enter the synagogue, which was a sign of the approaching holiday or Sabbath. Then he explained that it is a custom of the Jews that the “shamash” (beadle) walks through the streets of the city crying out “In shul arein” - a sign that the time has come to close the shops, light candles in the homes and come to the synagogue to pray. They are also called to the synagogue when a “hazan” [cantor] or “maggid” [orator], has arrived in the town, and the Jews are called to come and listen the “hazan” or listen to the “maggid's” sermon. As already mentioned, this calling out is done by the beadle, who is usually a poor Jew. The calling was done on weekdays, and never on the Sabbath or holy days, and it was therefore impossible, continued the lawyer, that an eminent and respectable person like the accused, Yehoshua Shimshilevitz, who was a well-to-do businessman, head of a bank, would go out and call out “In shul arein”, especially not on the Sabbath.

Since the prosecution's case was based mainly on the testimony of the last witness, as he was an “eyewitness” and his testimony had been shown to be false, the lawyer requested that the accused be cleared of any blame or suspicion.

The accused were found not guilty and released to Roman's great sorrow and to the happiness and joy of the Jews of the town, who succeeded in overcoming Esau's plotting against them.


[Pages 170-171]

Episodes from the Town

by Eliyahu Sampson

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky

A train in the town was a source of income and prosperity. The clerks of the Russian government, who knew that the towns wanted trains, would receive bribes from the Jews, in exchange for empty promises. One day a Russian clerk came to Lubtch, representing himself as a commissar with the rank of General. He summoned representatives of the Jewish community, showed them plans of a railroad which would connect Lubtch to the surrounding towns. The Jewish representatives requested that a railroad station be built in their town. The General claimed that it would not be easy, but for a fair sum of money, it could be arranged.

The matter was brought to the knowledge of the inhabitants, and the Jews of Lubtch agreed to pay. Every household contributed according to their means; the General accepted the money, promised that the station would be built in Lubtch, made his farewells to the community and went on his way. Since then, no one has seen either him or the station.

*

One day a handsome Jew with a majestic appearance came to the town. His beard was carefully tended and he spoke a little Hebrew and fluent Yiddish. The Jew lodged in a hotel for several days, and all the Jewish townspeople wondered what his business was here. In the synagogue, he was honored by being called up to the Torah and the important people in the congregation saw it as an honor to invite him to their homes. The guest promised donations to charity foundations, was shown around the town, found out its deficiencies, and promised to help in fixing them. The Jews of Lubtch were very happy, as it seemed that their town had gained a new Moses Montefiore. They tried to make the guest's stay as pleasant as possible. He lived a sumptuous life for several weeks, then left-and with him, all the promises flew away.

Such was the nature and naivety of the Jews of Lubtch.

*

A story about a young Jew who emigrated to America. He remained there a year, two years and returned to Lubtch with a few dollars in his pockets. This same young man came to the synagogue dressed grandly: a nice coat, a top-hat, a bright white shirt, and a handsome tie. All the girls in the town ran after him and the matchmakers knocked on his door. On the Sabbath he came to the synagogue, sat by the eastern wall, took a “tallit” [prayer shawl] out of a bag and wrapped himself in it. When he was called to the Torah, and the “hazan” recited a prayer for health for his father and mother and was about to say a similar prayer for his wife, the youth said he was not married. If so, where is the “tallit” from? There was a tumult in the town: he has a wife in America and here he is seen with maidens.

The youth was invited by the rabbi to explain the matter. He swore that he had no wife and that he had never been married; and that in America everyone puts on a “tallit” during prayers. There was an exchange of letters from the rabbi of Lubtch and the rabbis of New York in order to find out if he was a bachelor or not, but the young man had disappeared from the town.

lyu171.jpg
Planting a grove on Mt. Hazon by the Jews of Dublin in the name of Eliyahu Sampson - from the businessmen of Irish Jewry. E. Sampson appears in the photo

 

*

A story of a Jew named Tuvia. When he was asked what a Jew lives from, he would answer: “What does that mean? From poverty, of course!”


[Page 172]

The Request is Heard…

by Chaim Yankelevitch

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

News reached the town that the Governor, in person, was coming on a visit. The community leaders meet and consider how to greet the important guest. Bread with salt would be brought to him, as is the custom, but they must also use the opportunity to put forth requests. And there is no lack of things to ask for: the Jews in Lubtch live in their houses without having property rights and must therefore pay the Polish landlord taxes. It is a heavy yoke to bear and they can be ordered to leave their homes for any reason whatsoever. But who has the courage to make such a request of the high authority?

Congratulations! The Governor has arrived. The Jews, dressed in their Sabbath attire, welcome him with great honor. A delegation of town leaders goes over to meet him, carrying bread with salt. They stand there submissively, with their hats in their hands, and put forth their request: “The cemetery has become too small. The dead are being buried right up to the fence. Therefore, we are asking that His Honor allow us to enlarge the cemetery a few feet on every side and may he be blessed for his goodness!”

The Governor listens to our request very seriously. After all, since it concerns a place to bury Jews, the authorities must, in fact, show the little Jews that they are relating to them in a fatherly way, and that their request has fallen on sympathetic ears:

“Fine”, answers the Governor, and a graceful smile spreads across his lips.

The Governor and his attendants have left. The Jews of Lubtch can't stop talking about the great act of kindness which he bestowed upon them and, in their eyes the Governor has grown in stature into one of the “Righteous Gentile”.


[Pages 173-174]

Only the Memories are Left…

by Sara Avrahami

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky

lyu173.jpg
Sara Avrahami

 

I grew up in a traditional, warm Jewish home whose door was open to all. My parents taught me to love and help all and, by their actions, they were an example to their children.

My mother - Golda - was a quiet, modest woman, looking after the ways of her household with worry and dedication, helping the needy and often giving charity secretly.

My father - Yehoshua Shimshilevitch - was a diligent, energetic man, involved with people and loved by them. He made a living by trading in flax. He also found time to work and be active for the benefit of the public. He was one of the founders of the bank in Lubtch, and directed it for many years. The bank helped many of the population and gave a lot for the development of trade and craftsmanship in the area.

In our home, the following groups held their annual dinners: “Morning Psalm Chanters”, “Learners of Talmud Between “Mincha” and “Ma'ariv” Services”, and the “Burial Society”. The preparations for the meals were many - Shayna the cook and her daughter were invited to oversee the work. To their aid came the gabbays' [sextons'] wives: Beyla Tchatchkes, Shifra Rabinovitch (Payes), Chayka and Rivka, and all of them took the trouble to prepare the festive meal. All the town honorables participated in the meal, which continued until the early morning hours. The time passed in eating and drinking, and in particular in discussion, arguments and speeches on current events.

When we moved to the center of the town, our home became a meeting place for important townspeople, especially during Elul after the “Ma'ariv” prayers, on Saturday night after reciting “Havdalah”. In the middle of the room was a large table where the guests would be seated, next to steamy cups of tea which my mother prepared from a boiling samovar. Next to the table one would hear Sabbath songs, arguments and discussions about town matters. Sometimes one would hear a complaint, spoken in good temper. They were especially annoyed that my father, Chaim Bruk, and Chaim-Issar Kavak had traveled to welcome a young rabbi who was accepted for a position in our town, but part of the townspeople were not happy with him.

There was also resentment about the many expenses and that the community fund was empty. “Nu?” - said someone - “if Meir Pisuk from Rovna would come this year to be “gathered unto his fathers”, it would be possible to repair the fence of the cemetery”.

Trade was carried on mainly after the festival of Sukkot, during the winter months. Mainly agricultural produce was traded, both animals and plants, of which the area was aplenty: flax, linseed, grains, hog bristles and produce of the chicken coops and dairy sheds. Trading took place mainly on market day, which was every Tuesday, in the town. The Jews bought agricultural products from the farmers, and the farmers bought their necessities from the shops of the Jews. There were merchants who went out on horse-driven carts to trade with the farmers in the villages.

In the summer there was not too much work for the merchants. In their spare time, they would sit on the thresholds of their shops, telling stories and jokes. I remember till this day a story they would often tell, to the laughter of the listeners.

In the corner of Binyamin (Yaakov Shimon's son) Yedidovitz's shop, stood a large barrel of sunflower seeds. Every time that Leibe (Shaya's son) Nochimovsky, entered the shop, he would take a fistful of seeds and hand them out to all the idle people in the shop. What did they do? They played a prank on him: Binyamin exchanged the barrel of sunflower seeds for a barrel of sweet, thick, sticky syrup. When Leibe Nochimovsky put his hand into the barrel, he found it hard to pull out, and all those around laughed heartily.

Many years have passed, but how cruel is the fact that from our town only a few memories remain.


[Pages 175-178]

Educational and Cultural Institutions in Lubtch

by Chanan Boldo

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky

In 1910, on the initiative of Ben-Tzion Shimshilevitch it was decided to build a library in the town. Since there were no means for purchasing books, it was also decided to start up an amateur group, whose income would go towards purchasing books.

The first two shows (“Goliath the Philistine” and “Dar Yeshiva Bocher”) funded the purchase of some of the Yiddish and Russian books. In this way, the basis for the library was built. The first librarian was Ben Tzion Shimshilevitch, and I was chosen to be the secretary.

From 1914-1920, I was away from the town. When I returned, I leased the dairy for producing hard cheeses, for 2 years. At the end of this period, I bought a flour mill on Delatitch Street, and my income was ordinary.

Now, when I could get away from the worries of an income, I started to act for the good of the public: The first priority was a school and indeed we received from the community a plot of land next to the synagogue (Shulhoif). With the initiative and endeavor of Mr Osherovsky, the money for the building for the school was raised: an attractive building with 7 classrooms, a teachers' room, a library and a hall, where adult and children's shows could be put on.

In 1924, the school was inaugurated, and represented a spiritual centre to the community, until the 2nd World War broke out. The teacher Mr Reiss was appointed headmaster, and amongst his pupils, I remember Mr Goldschmid (from the town of Bakshet) and Mr Chaim Persky.

Under the leadership of Mr Idel Kesmayevitch, and after him Mr Berkovitch, a voluntary fire brigade was formed. With the help of donations and the governmental participation, a large building was built next to the market, with the equipment needed for extinguishing fires.

In 1929, an order came from the officer of the Novogrudek Region (Strosta), to choose a community committee that would organize the management of the Jewish institutions in Lubtch. Their job was to appoint religious officials - a ritual slaughterer, cantor and rabbi, to care for people in need and to be recognized representatives of the Lubtch Jews - the towns of Delatitch, Karelitz, and Nagnivitza-Niechtet also belonged to this committee from the point of view of administration and representation to the authorities.

The community committee was appointed for 4 years. The inhabitants were taxed to cover the debts - expenses of the committee, and for various services that they received.

lyu176.jpg
The Fire Brigade Band

 

Among the first town officials were: Chaim Bruk (chairman), Yisrael Soloducha and others.

The second committee included:
Elchanan Boldo, Yitzhak Berkovitz, Dov Gissin, Reuven Bortzky, Rabbi Yitzhak Weiss, Rabbi Werner from Karelitz, and Mr Kaplan from Karelitz.

On the initiative of Yehoshua Shimshilevitch, in 1925 the Jewish Cooperative Amami Bank was established in Lubtch. Its directors were: Chaim Bruk, Moshe Tunik, Itche Notta Yedidovitch and Elchanan Boldo. From the Institution for Aiding Injured for the 1st World War (“Yakapa”) in Vilna, basic capital was received, a total of 5000 zloty as well as bank shares.

The bank gradually developed, and had an influential effect on the commercial and financial life of the town. Bank loans were given (for 2 months, the inhabitants were careful to pay their debts, worrying that the banks might suffer.) and it was never necessary to open court proceedings. A way was always found in order to help those who had difficulty in paying back their debts.

lyu177.jpg
Chanan Boldo

 

The bank thrived, until World War II broke out in 1939; one must remember the important contribution that the book-keeper, Mr Moshe Persky (May the Lord avenge his blood), made to the development of the bank.

With the Soviet invasion in 1939, private businesses were nationalized. My flour mill was nationalized also, and I was requested to sign a document declaring that I forgo the mill on my own free will. During the German invasion, I and my family left Lubtch for Novogrudek.

When we were put into the ghetto, I was put in charge of fencing in the ghetto. While making the fence, I left a breach which could be easily opened. When hair-raising rumors that the Germans were annihilating all the Jews began to reach our ears, I started to cultivate ideas of escape; a letter that was sent to me, wherein I was warned about the dangers of annihilation - fell into the hands of the “Judenraat” and a guard was put on my house day and night. On the advice of my wife, we started cultivating a garden by our house. When the Judenraat saw that, they thought that I did not intend to run away, and took away their guard.

One rainy night we ran away (I, my wife and children) through the breach in the fence. That same night we arrived at the house of a farmer, in the area of the village Hota; he was a peasant who loved people, and who with self-sacrifice, hid us until the long-awaited day of liberation.


[Page 178]

Wealth…

by Gershon Jankelowitz

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

There was a man in the village, a horse dealer, Binyamin the Redhead, with his wife, Merke. He was neither a very rich man nor a beggar and just managed to make a living.

One fine day, Merke's uncle came on a visit from America. Hearing that her uncle was already on his way to their house, Merke shouts to her husband:

– Binyamin, take the horse and cow out of the stable. My uncle will notice them and will see how rich we are and won't leave us any dollars.


[Page 179]

lyu179.jpg
The community committee of Lubtch-Karelitz in 1934 (5695)

Sitting from right to left: G. Yellin and P. Kaplan (Korelitz), R' Yitzchak Aharonovsky (ritual slaughterer and inspector), the Rabbi Yitzchak Weiss, the Chazan Tobolsky and R' Tuvia Shimshilevitch.
Standing from right to left: The first is unknown, B. Bossel and L. Prevlozky (from Karelitz). Berel-Hirschel Gishen, Yitzchak Berkovitz, Avraham-Chaim

 

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