by Chana Kagan-Sirlis
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
After a period of 55 years, it is not easy to remember the town, but neither is it easy to forget our Lubtch, a small, poor town, two-thirds of whose residents were Jews.
In particular, I remember the special, deeply rooted Yiddishkeit and piety in the town, the synagogue with the two study halls and the wooden synagogue. Yeshiva boys from every corner of the country were always sitting and studying the Law in the red study hall. Boys with short jackets and long cloaks coming from Poland, Galicia, Russia and Lithuania. The rabbi was a religious fanatic, and some of the students who had already tasted fruit of the tree of knowledge allowed themselves to dress like the German Jews and act a little more freely.
When the Yeshiva boys needed something such as shoes, a cloak, or an appointment for a meal at someone's house, they came to Yechiel the Teacher, my father of blessed memory, and he would take care of matters right away. Not, of course, with his own money, as he was more of a pauper than they, but he knew where and to whom to turn; or a few girls were sent from house to house with a white kerchief to collect alms for that purpose. The Jews of Lubtch gave charity without asking too many questions.
My father was generally a person who liked to help another in various ways: placing cups for bloodletting, measuring one's temperature, helping guests find a place to stay for the Sabbath. Friday nights, he would not leave the synagogue until he saw to it that all the guests had accommodations. He was also the permanent Torah reader in the red study hall.
I recall the dispute which broke out in town over taking on a new rabbi. One side was in favor of Rabbi Yosef-Eliahu, and the other side was for Rabbi Hirsh. Every Sabbath before the Torah reading, (when the rabbis preached a sermon based on the weekly portion) it was very merry. Finally, Lubtch had two rabbis.
Not far from the bathhouse was a well from which we used to draw water for making tea on the Sabbath. The ice house was near the red study hall. In the winter, we used to cut ice from the river and put it in the ice house where it would last until the following winter for the town's needs.
The vorok[meadow], where the town geese fed, extended from the synagogue to the river. Children used to go there to collect the feathers. On Fridays, we used to go to the river to scour the brass candlesticks and the copper fish pans.
Until this very day I can't forget the walks we took on the Sabbath along Castle Street and behind the castle, the walks in the neighboring woods and the boat rides on the river on moonlit nights, when we sang and harmonized various Yiddish songs and often, as well, illegal, strictly forbidden workers' songs.
These were the last years before the First World War. Everything was then primitive and unchanging; every new happening was greeted with joy and youthful enthusiasm. I remember how thrilling it was for the town when a few young people started a dramatics club and put on theater in the barn belonging to Esther Raizel's son, Baruch. They performed The Selling of Joseph, and whoever had a penny went to the show and shed tears at each scene illustrating a moral.
On the Sabbaths during the summer, we would joyfully run to look at the steamboats on the Neiman River, with the fancily decked out passengers. We envied them and our thoughts would carry us away to distant places and unfamiliar cities and countries.
How can I possibly recall that time without remembering my six brothers of blessed memory who were called angels by the townspeople on account of their kindness, politeness, and loyalty to one another.
Many people from Lubtch probably still remember my brother Baruch. He was a teacher and an unforgettable personality. He was the first to introduce the free thoughts of that time into our town. He was a good speaker and a talented lecturer. The young people considered him their spiritual leader and a few actually called him rabbi. When an illegal meeting took place in the woods, to which he had to be taken in a wagon due to a sore foot, a few of the boys would keep watch and, at the slightest suspicion that the police were coming, they would hide Baruch first because the police kept their eye on him in particular.
We lived in Mashinke's small house, behind his big house. Opposite our house was the tea house, where the police held up. It sometimes happened that when my five brothers and a few friends left the house together, the police would immediately pay us a visit to check whether, God forbid, there had not been an illegal meeting going on. My parents would simply become ill from fright.
Once, at eight o'clock in the morning on Passover, a few policemen came into our house to search for an illegal activist who was supposed to come to Lubtch to speak at a meeting. My brothers were still lying in bed except for Motke, who had gone to hear the cantor. When he heard in the synagogue that the police were conducting a search in our house - and there was, in fact, a lot of illegal literature in our house - he ran straight home. Instead of entering the house, he first looked in through the window. The police, certain that this was the guest they were looking for, ran outside and right to him. Motke was terribly frightened and ran off. They chased him through the streets and over to the cemetery until he managed to escape their pursuit. However, while running away, Motke lost his cap which the police found and brought the trophy to the sheriff. Burning with anger, the sheriff screamed: Who needs the cap? The head is what you should have brought!
For a few days Motke hid in the attic at the home of Asher-Zelig, the tailor. Then, all dressed up in ladies' clothes, he went away in the middle of the night to Kotlova, where my brother Zvi-Nachum was a teacher at the home of Benyamin Kotlover. From there Motke later, in fact, went away to America.
When the peasants, riled up by the pope and the Czar's agents, began to go on a rampage so that we could expect a pogrom, my brothers formed a self-defense group. They got guns which they concealed in a straw roof not far from our house. When the group met for a deliberation, my mother would keep watch and not leave the boys, who were standing on guard outside.
My brothers left the town. A couple went to America, a couple went to study at a yeshiva, and Baruch went to Baranovitch, where he became a Hebrew teacher.
Baruch got engaged to a lovely girl but, a week before the wedding, he suddenly died in Baranovitch. We were all broken up by this misfortune, but there is no limit to misfortunes and, just nineteen days later, my brother Motke also died, having come back from America to seek a cure in the woods around Lubtch for consumption, which mercilessly raged amid the poor people of the region.
After these misfortunes, my father could no longer remain in Lubtch. The pain and sorrow were too much for him to bear and we left for America.
As I recall those days of joy and sorrow, youthful dreams, hopes and disappointments, I am overcome by an unrelieved longing for my hometown, and my eyes are swelling up with tears, flowing on their own.
What has become of you, my dear, old home - Lubtch?
by Moshe Tzinovitch
Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer
He was one of the notables of Lubtch, brother of the renowned Gaon R' Eliyahu-Chaim, head of the rabbinical court in Lodz and son-in-law of the distinguished R'Ben-Tsion Shapira (Bakshter), brother of the righteous R' Shmuel Bakshter.
R' Shmuel was a respected man, like his brothers who lived in Lubtch. His house was a meeting place for Torah for all the rabbis, emissaries of institutions of charity and preachers. They made the home of this important man an inn for themselves. R' Shmuel was one of the first members of the Talmud group in the local study hall. He had the merit of having as sons-in-law two great Torah scholars and gaonim [geniuses, rabbinic title], who were at certain times dependent on him: R' Yaakov-Moshe Direktor, head of the rabbinical court in Mush and R' Matityahu Mednitsky, head of the rabbinical court in Sharshobi and Bitan (Grodno District).
Rabbi Yaakov-Moshe Direktor
Rabbi Yaakov-Moshe (5579  - 5639 ), head of the rabbinical court in Stolovitz and Mush near Baronovitch, was a great Torah authority, one of the outstanding figures of his generation. Questions and responses of his are brought down in Be'er Yitzchak, written by the Gaon R' Yitzchak-Elchanan, rabbi in Kovno and in B'veit-David by the Gaon R' David Tevli, rabbi in Minsk. R' Yaakov-Moshe is described by both of them as a great man in Torah learning and in his righteous ways. And with respect to his righteous ways, it is to be noted that many were those who came to him for a blessing from his mouth and considered him a performer of acts of salvation and a guter yid [a good Jew]. He passed away in 5639 . In a death notice that appeared in HaTsfira, issue #16, 1879, R' Yaakov-Moshe is referred to as the rabbi, the gaon, the exemplary person. However, whenever he would come to Lubtch, he would hide his prestige and didn't wish to be conspicuous save in exceptional cases.
Well- informed people used to say that when R'Yaakov-Moshe was a [married] yeshiva student in Lubtch, he learned Kabbala [mysticism], from the righteous Rabbi Yehonatan and also prayed with a prayer book composed by the Ari [Kabbalist rabbi Yitzchak Luria], but not while he would pass before the Holy Ark. His knowledge of Kabbala and his behavior as a good Jew stood R' Yaakov-Moshe in good stead and he was also admired by the Hassidim of Mush, who constituted a great central power. Likewise, the Admor [title of Hassidic rabbi] from Slonim, R' Avraham Veinberg, would also come to visit him when he was a guest of the Hassidim in Mush.
R' Yaakov-Moshe's son, the Gaon R' Yisrael-Yehoshua Yerushalimsky, attended yeshivot in Jerusalem and later the Volozhin Yeshiva. Afterwards, he became head of the rabbinical court in Orleh (Grodno District) and Ihoman (Minsk District), where he was buried in 5677 . R' Yisrael-Yehoshua also excelled in his knowledge in the field of Jewish studies and was a fine stylist in Hebrew. In his article, Did the Babylonian Talmud see the Jerusalem Talmud? , which he published in Elazar Atlas' HaKerem, he disagrees vehemently with the Sage, Rabbi Hirshenzon.
R' Yisrael-Yehoshua spent his childhood in Lubtch at the home of his grandfather, R' Shmuel Meizel in order to soak up the religious and Torah inspiration of the scholars in the small town.
Rabbi Yisrael-Yehoshua's son-in-law is the Gaon R' Yechezkel Avramsky - May his light shine! - who lives today in Jerusalem and was previously head of the rabbinical court in Smolian, Smolvitch, Slotsk and was senior head of the rabbinical court in London, England, chairman of the Ultra-Orthodox Independent Educational System in Israel and teacher of Talmud at the Slobodka Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. R' Yechezkel became famous in the Torah world with his comprehensive book Hazon Yehoshua Al Kol HaTosefta. In 5716  he was awarded the Rabbi Kook prize for this book by the city of Tel Aviv.
Rabbi Matityahu Mednitsky
R' Matityahu Mednitzky, R' Shmuel Meizel's second son-in-law, was also one of the great rabbis. His scholarly work, Matat Yado, gained wide popularity in the rabbinical world. He was head of the rabbinical court in two communities- Sharshovi and Bitan (Grodno District). He went on aliya to Eretz Yisrael toward the end of his life and died in 5676 .
Before becoming a rabbi, R' Matityahu lived in Lubtch for a number of years while he was still able to be well acquainted with R' Shmuel Bakshter. R' Bakshter transmitted to him personally and orally the ways of his own teacher and rabbi, the Gaon R' Chaim of Volozhin in matters pertaining to the rabbinate and in maintaining good relations with the members of one's congregation in the spirit of Torah. All of this served as a guiding principle for R' Matityahu in the manner in which he conducted himself with his flock in the synagogue.
R' Matityahu Mednitsky's connection to Lubtch is also expressed in his suggestion to R' Yosef Yozel of the Horovitz family- a follower of Rabbi Salant's Musar [ethics] movement- to establish a branch of a kolel [yeshiva for married men] in Lubtch having the character of a Musar type yeshiva similar to the one he had set up in Novogrudok. R' Matityahu was close to this movement as he had studied in Kovno as part of a group of scholars and was close to R' Yisrael Salant, the spiritual mentor of the group.
While at the kolel in Lubtch, R' Matityahu became acquainted with the scholarly and famous student, R' Malkiel HaLevi Tennenbaum, who was living at that time on his father-in-law's estate near Yarmitch adjacent to Lubtch and Karelitch and would come to Lubtch to converse with the local head of the rabbinical court and with the scholars at the study hall and to exchange words of Torah with them. Subsequently, R' Malkiel became famous as a gaon [genius] and responder to questions dealing with rendering Halachic decisions, having already been head of the rabbinical court in Lomzhe and having gained fame with the publication of his well-known book, Divrei Malkiel. R' Malkiel married off his daughter to Rabbi Matityahu's son, R' Shmuel-Moshe Mednitsky, who was also a great scholar and who later settled in Tel Aviv.
In 5608  the book Galia Masechet by the Gaon R' David Bar Moshe, head of the rabbinical court in Novogrudek, was published. In the front of the book, in the list of endorsers of this book, the names of a group of endorsers from Lubtch also appear. They include the head of the town's rabbinical court (not mentioned by name), R' Eliezer Lipman, R' Yeshayahu-Zalman, R' Nahum Meizel (brother and father-in-law of the Gaon R' Eliyahu-Chaim Meizel) and also R' Chaim-Shlomo Bar Yosef, R' Moshe Segal and R' Binyamin Bar Dov.
Additions to the List of Descendants of R' Shmuel Meizel
Rabbi Yaakov-Moshe Direktor's son-in-law, head of the rabbinical court in Stolovitz and Mush, was the Gaon Yaakov-Yitzchak Varnovsky, native of Babroisk (b. 5603) . He was the son of Rabbi Aharon-Dov of the Hassidim from Lechivitch and Koidanov and was a student at the Volozhin Yeshiva during the tenure of the Netziv (Naftali Zvi Berlin) and the Gaon R' Yosef-David Soloveitchik. Rabbi Varnovsky was the head of the yeshiva in Lida for a certain period of time and in 5639  was appointed to replace his father-in-law in the new rabbinate of Mush. There he worked successfully until the day of his death on 23 Tevet 5663 .
Rabbi Varnovsky was renowned as a great authority in Torah, diligent student and exemplary religious and public leader. He went over the six Orders of the Mishna 40 times during his life! He was a great innovator of ideas and was also attached to the study of the Zohar and other books of Kabbalah. He was an expert in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud as well as in any subject of Halacha and Aggada [non-legal portions of the Talmud] and in Midrash [homiletic interpretation of Scripture]. He would rise early for morning prayers and could be found in the study hall - studying while wrapped in his prayer shawl and phylacteries - until noon. He was respectful to everyone and his conversation always reflected the purity of the holy place. He never became angry with anyone.
He founded a kibbutz [group] of young people, and a Supporters of Torah society was established to support them. He had a profound love for his pupils, to whom he was devoted with all his might. When he left this world, the Gaon R' Tsvi-Hirsh Lampert (author of Piskei HaGra) eulogized him and, in the presence of a large audience from the town and the surroundings, said that with his death, the three pillars on which the world is sustained - Torah, Worship and Charity - fell.
Rabbi Yaakov-Yitzchak Varnovsky was recommended for a position in the rabbinate in Lubtch. However, he turned down the offer because he was unwilling to give up his regular visits to the Admor [Hassidic rabbi], R' Aharon from Koidanov. This was very upsetting to the mitnagdim [opponents of Hassidism] officials in Lubtch and his appointment never became effective.
His son, Aharon-Dov Varnovsky, was secretary of the Board of Yeshivot in Vilna. While still a young man, he published his father's book Halek Yaakov, which also contains the biography of his father, of saintly and blessed memory.
R' Shmuel Meizel from Lubtch had a third daughter whom he married off to Mr. Avraham Harkavy from Novogrudek. He lived in Lubtch and was dependent on his father-in-law for a number of years. He later moved to Yekatarinaslav (Ukraine), where he was well know as someone always involved in public affairs. He published articles in the Hebrew newspaper HaMelitz dealing with the life of the Jewish community in this large city, its leaders, institutions, societies and organizations. He encouraged public figures in their activities in the field of education and original Hebrew culture as well as in organizing charity and benevolent organizations.
by Elka Yankelevitch
Translated from the Hebrew by Shirley Horwitz
Polish anti-Semitism raised its ugly head before the rise to power of the Nazis in Germany. Our area (the Pale of Settlement, or Western White Russia) began to suffer from anti-Semitism, which spread like an infectious disease.
We - the older youth - felt that the atmosphere around us was filling up with a spreading poison, and that there was no other way, but to get away before disturbances would strike us. At the same time, a mighty wave of Zionism engulfed Polish Jewry: the Jewish press preached aliya [emigration] to Eretz-Israel, by all ways and means. We began to think of aliya as an opening for being saved.
In the 1920's a group of chalutzim [pioneers] from our time made aliya. In 1927, however, due to the crisis in Eretz-Yisrael (lack of work and famine), some of them returned to Lubtch. And we, what would we do there? We lacked life experience and had not yet acquired a trade or profession. We were all dependent on our parents. How could we go out into the wide world?
One day is engraved upon my memory (during the days of the riots in Eretz-Israel) in 1929. It was a cold winter's day, with a snowstorm raging outside, covering the sun. On that same day, we bid farewell to Itka Shmuelevitz, who was making aliya, prepared for all the hardships and experiences that lay in front of her.
In 1931 better news began to arrive from Eretz Israel. The riots had ceased. Large-scale building had begun and preparations were beginning for the 1932 Maccabia games [sports event for Jewish athletes]. A group of young people began to organize to make aliya to Eretz Israel, under the guise of tourists visiting the Maccabia games. The problem was how to stay in the country. It was pretty hard for the men who had to disappear and stay there anonymously. On the other hand, a solution was found for the girls: fictitious marriages to citizens of the country.
I began to think of making aliya this way. The decision was not easy, but in my imagination I already saw myself packing my bags and going. I spent many sleepless nights in which I pondered how to tell my parents, my brothers and sisters of my decision. Although we were a large family, there was not a spare person in the house. As I expected, my decision created a furor and met with heavy opposition. My decision was received with shock and there was great opposition. The first person I told was a close friend of the family, Shmuel Shapiro, of blessed memory. He was furious. Really? Where will she go? A young girl with no experience? To the halputzim [derogatory term for chalutzim- pioneers]?! Everyone is fleeing from there! If it were up to me, I would not let her go.
He turned my parents against me. Everyone was against me. Have you gone crazy? What will you do there? You will starve. At least if you had a profession, all right! But thus, you will just waste money and will flee from there in disgrace. The arguments with my parents did not stop; threats and pleas also did not help. Because I didn't give up and fought back, my parents came to terms with my decision and preparations began. On a snowy winter's day in March 1932, I parted from my parents, my grandmother, my sisters, my brother, from relatives, girlfriends, boyfriends, neighbors and from my home, Lubtch. It was a difficult farewell, laden with tears and sorrow, as if we sensed it was an eternal departure.
My beloved family! How dear you are to me. As the years pass, I value your special and dear qualities even more.
My father of blessed memory, for whom no effort was too much to provide a livelihood for his family, worked in a trade and in a bakery. He worked all week, but when the Sabbath came, he would radiate happiness. On Friday night, he would bring home a Sabbath guest from the synagogue, bless the wine and sing Sabbath table hymns.
My mother of blessed memory raised her children and cherished the family. She would get up before dawn for her daily chores and found time and strength to help my father in the bakery.
My grandmother of blessed memory, the typical Jewish mother for whom the good of her children and grandchildren was her main concern. In spite of being weak and sickly, she was full of energy and initiative in all that concerned her grandchildren. On the cold wintry days, she would travel to the school to bring hot food to the children.
On Fridays she would collect challot for the Sabbath from homes and put them in a basket near the doors of the needy in order not to embarrass the receiver. She worked hard for needy brides to get them a wedding dress and gave much anonymously.
My dear sisters, Shayna and Ashkala (Esther), my beloved brother -Yosef. You have remained in my memory as at the hour of our farewell - young, beautiful and filled with dreams of the future, which you were unable to fulfill.
by T. Shimshoni
Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky
In Lubtch there was an amateur dramatics club, which put on plays; this club was called in Yiddish Amataran Farayn, and talented people of all ages belonged to it, not only the youth. Among the members were: Shmuel Shapira, Nachum Shlimovitch, Kusha Shlimovitch, Berel Kabak, Alter Shmulevitch, Zeltka Feivoshevitch, and others. The club was headed by a committee made up of several members (not only actors). Their role was to choose the plays to be presented - mainly those of Golfaden. The committee was divided into 2 subcommittees - artistic and administrative.
The job of the artistic committee was to choose the roles, to suit them to the actors and to produce the play.
The job of the administrative committee was to organize the technical side of the play; to find a hall, to get a license from the authorities, to organize the backdrops, to advertise the play and to sell the tickets.
Most of the plays were directed by Shmuel Shapira, who was at one stage an aid to one of the directors in Moscow and had an inborn talent for directing and acting. He himself took part as an actor (usually as a matchmaker or a shlumiel [good-for-nothing] Jew). When he stopped participating in the plays, other members of the troupe began to direct.
Because there was no suitable hall for plays, a stage was set up in one of the rooms of the elementary school. Afterwards, when a permanent structure was built for the voluntary firemen, a permanent stage was set up on the side of the building, where the plays were performed. The Fire Brigade Building was in the middle of the Market Square, and various items of equipment such as pumps, barrels of water on two wheels, ladders and sledge-hammers were kept there. On the day of a performance, the equipment was taken out of the hall and instead, benches for the audience were placed there.
Usually the performances took place on Saturday nights. The play would begin at a very late hour, almost midnight, because it would start only when the hall had filled up.
One of the important tasks was that of the prompter (the author filled this role several times). The prompter had to follow the speech of the actors, making sure they were familiar with the text, or, God forbid, deviating from the script and then it was necessary to help them get back on the right track by whispering the forgotten words. The hall was not built for such acoustics, sometimes the words of the actors did not reach the ears of the audience sitting on the back benches, but the prompter's voice certainly did! The prompter caused embarrassment to the actors, because his place was under the floor of the stage and his head bobbed up above the boards, hidden by a little roof opening to the inside of the stage, so that the audience would not see him. The actresses - modest daughters of Israel, were shy to walk by the prompter's box, lest his detective eyes
Sometimes a professional troupe of actors would come to the town, presenting themselves as an offshoot of the Vilna-Troupa (the Vilna group). When they didn't have enough actors, they would be helped by the members of the Lubtch dramatics club, especially for secondary characters. We willingly helped them also in organizing the play, for we learnt from them the art of acting and when our fate improved, they guided us in directing the play on which our club was presently working.
The presentation of a theatrical production required a license from the government. In order to get it, it was necessary to translate the play into the Polish language and send the translation to the government offices of the Novogrudek District. Generally, we didn't come across any difficulties in getting the license, since we presented productions from the life of the Jews, and these had nothing which could be interpreted as criticism of the government. I remember one case when the license did not arrive in time because of a mistake, which caused us a lot of bother and sorrow.
This happened on Shabbat when the play was to be presented on Saturday evening. Advertisements had been placed in the streets, all the tickets had been sold, all the preparations had been done and for some reason the license didn't arrive. We phoned the licensing clerk and asked him about the delay. He answered that the license was ready, but by mistake had not been sent to us on Friday, and promised that he would send it on the train due to arrive in the town in the evening.
On the same Shabbat, in the morning, a policeman came to our house and asked me to come to the police station. I didn't know why I had been summoned, but was not worried, as all the policemen were my friends thanks to my father, who in his daily work was close to the authorities, as he was director of the local bank and a well to do merchant.
When I came to the police station, I was told that they were forbidding us to put on the play that evening, as we did not have the license and I, as responsible for the organization, must be judged because we had advertised the time of the play without having the license in our hands. I said to the policemen that we had contacted the District authorities and they had promised that the license would be sent the same evening, before the play started. The policemen didn't even want to listen. I thought that nothing bad would happen to me, since each of the policemen received "presents" from my father every Jewish holiday, and I allowed myself to raise my voice; I berated them about the difficulties they were causing us, for which we were not to blame. To my amazement, they immediately threw me into a cell, where I was imprisoned for more that two hours. My friends knew that I had gone to the police station, and when I didn't return, they came to see what had happened to me. When they found out that I had been arrested, they called my father, who extricated me from the imprisonment, while promising that he would punish me for my cheek. The license arrived in the evening, as promised, and the play was put on at the right time.
The profits from these plays were dedicated to purchasing books for the library, and for helping needy friends who were about to immigrate to Eretz-Israel and who lacked money for the journey. More than one of the people from Lubtch living in Israel made aliyah with the help of this amateur club.
Thus the dramatics club contributed to the inhabitants of the town, serving as a source of pleasure and from which they also derived knowledge about the sources of culture of our people. Indirectly, the club also contributed to the important building of Eretz-Israel.
by Avigdor Shmukler
Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer
A small town there
A few houses
As for amusement
The children built it.
I am quickly inundated by memories of my town, and the words of the poem, which are so suited to my small town, echo in my ears.
Here is the lovely study hall, from which the voices of those learning Gemara and Mishnayot break through and are carried aloft. In its shadow, the ignorant often visit, intently reading psalms with much devotion. Between its walls, the Jews poured out their hearts in conversation before their Father Who is in Heaven, asking that He open the gates of His mercy. Inside the study hall, the worshippers danced with ever-growing enthusiasm on Simchat Torah, carrying the Torah scrolls and joyfully striking Haman the Wicked with their noisemakers on the Purim holiday.
Sabbath Eve: The town is already at rest while it is still day. Jews are returning from the bathhouse, clean and purified from the vexations of the weekdays and directing their hearts to receive the holy day.
The town is dressed up for the festive day: wearing their finest Sabbath apparel, they go to the synagogue with measured steps, each person greeting the other with Shabbat Shalom. The sound of prayers rises and is carried aloft from the study hall - the Jews are welcoming the Sabbath Queen.
At home, there is a glistening white tablecloth on the table. The candles are burning with a holy flame. We sing table hymns and welcome the Sabbath angels, angels of peace, and make a blessing over a cup of red wine and over the braided challot [Sabbath bread] on the table. We eat the Sabbath meal: peppery gefilte fish dipped in horse radish, the delicious smell of which is carried far and wide, noodle soup and carrot tzimmes [stew].
Fatigue gains mastery over us and we begin to get drowsy. We say the grace after meals and retire for a restful night.
Sabbath day: Jews go to the synagogue for the prayer service. He who is lucky gets called up to the podium to recite blessings at the reading of the Torah, or purchases the opportunity at a cheap price to chant the Haftarah [excerpt from the Prophets].
The tcholent [Sabbath meat stew kept warm from Friday], which the housewife troubled to prepare from the day before, awaits the husband. Its fragrance rises from the homes. We sit down at the table to have our meal. We sing Sabbath table hymns, say grace and we then grab some sleep. Families take a walk through the streets of the town to get some fresh air and to digest the heavy Sabbath meal.
The house owners sit at the entrance to their homes and talk idle talk about secular matters. Young people, walking arm-in- arm, prattle cheerfully.
Horses graze in the meadow outside the town and also enjoy their Sabbath rest, instead of having to carry heavy loads over the dirt roads between the towns.
Evening is approaching. The study hall again fills up completely with worshippers asking for a good week of health and livelihood. They greet each other with Have a good week! and return to their homes where they recite blessings over wine, spices and fire, thanking God for making a separation between the holy and profane, for making a distinction between a day when everything is good (Sabbath) and the six days of worrying and trouble due to making a living.
I remember my mother singing in a pleasant voice with the departure of the Sabbath: The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, behold the Sabbath that You have given us in your great kindness is now ending, the week- day is approaching. May it be Your will that the coming week also be a week of blessing, health and good livelihood.
A wedding in the town: The whole town dresses up festively. Everyone is invited, rich and poor, young and old. They wear holiday clothes and come to rejoice over the happiness of the young couple. The musicians sing and play their instruments. There is also someone who composes songs and rhymes in honor of the occasion. Others go out to dance.
The cheder [elementary school]: a small, narrow room and in the corner was a chamber pot. The tumult of little children playing pranks fills the room despite the punishments the rebbi would mete out to us without ever checking to see who was to blame. Whenever the rebbi would spank us, he didn't distinguish between the righteous and the wicked- all the children were guilty before him. And here is a true incident: Once, the rebbi dozed off during the lesson, and the children in the room stuck his beard to the table with wax, and when he woke up, he couldn't free his beard from the table. Of course, there was a collective punishment, and each of us was given a spanking.
On summer days we ran to the river. On the way, we impatiently removed our clothes. Naked, we made a lot of noise between the cool ripples and forgot the world and its fullness.
Sometimes we engaged in wars with the children of the Gentiles. The war was fought mainly with stones. Although Esau nearly always had the upper hand, we didn't stop our mischief.
Only a handful of Jews lived in Delatitch among a foreign environment. Although relations between Gentiles and Jews were normal, both with regard to trading and craftwork, quarrels and scuffles sometimes broke out. An incident occurred with our neighbor, Chaim-Leib the Fisherman and his wife when drunken Gentiles came to smash the windowpanes of their house. Chaim-Leib grabbed a rake, and his wife didn't lose her presence of mind either and grabbed a hoe. They both hit the Gentiles with strong blows until they chased them away - they didn't come back again.
The road to Lubtch passed through our town. When the Gentiles went to Lubtch on their holidays and to fairs, it was possible to do business with them. However, the squire suddenly decided that the road annoyed him, as it passed by his estate and that it should be moved outside the town. When his servants began demolishing the bridge near the flour mill on the road leading to Lubtch, all the town's residents came out in opposition to the project. The demonstration turned violent. Some people were seriously injured, but it was to no avail. Even after they set fire to the squire's barn, he refused to back off. The conflict reached the courts, and the town won the case. The road remained in its place to the great sorrow of the squire and to the delight of the Jews.
I remember the Neiman, on whose clear waters we spent time boating and fishing. An elevated plain covered with grass and old trees with thick tops and branches spreads out near the river. I liked to be by myself in the shade of these trees and weave dreams for the days that would come. The place served as a meeting place for teenagers. In the shade of the tree tops, they could even hug and kiss without having to worry that they might be seen.
Refreshingly cool forests surrounded the town. On hot days, we spent our time resting among the trees or gathering mushrooms or picking berries and nuts. In the grove half way between Lubtch and Delatitch, joint meeting took place between the youth of both towns. Every meeting was an unforgettable experience for us, and the time passed in song and games. I still remember that I lost a game of forfeits and had to recite some of Bialik's poems.
I went back to Delatitch after the First World War as refugee who had wandered numerous times. The town was totally destroyed, only a few houses suitable for occupancy. There was ruin and destruction everywhere. Pits and foxholes and deserted places. Even the Neiman - Heaven's gift to the town - was blocked by an electric security bridge in the Biblical sense of: From far off you will see it, but you won't approach it. I stayed at home about two months and again took my wandering stick in hand.
I never saw my town - the cradle of my childhood- again. I didn't manage to see the good Jews again, God-fearing people who served their Creator with perfect faith, as the German destroyer also fell upon them. They were annihilated, together with all of European Jewry, in the terrible Holocaust that decimated our people. May they rest in peace!
by Yona Degani (Litchitzky)
Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky
Every year we celebrate the victory over Nazi Germany, the monster that exterminated 6 million Jews, burnt and destroyed cities and towns.
Notwithstanding the happiness of the victory, sadness and sorrow overwhelm it, since the cradle of my childhood was destroyed, my little town with its ties to my childhood memories.
Lubtch was located in East Poland, a typical Jewish town, like those found in the stories of Mendeleh Mocher Sfarim, Shalom Aleichem and other writers. But the bells of change were also heard there. The Hebrew school and the Youth Movements filled young hearts with a longing to return to Zion, the desire to come to Eretz Israel and to conquer the wilderness with hard work.
Any family who had a relation in Eretz Israel, saw itself as a source of pride for this reason. When I was already in Eretz Israel, I received a letter from my 15 year old sister where she wrote how happy she is because her sister is in Eretz Israel, and sad that she herself is not with me here. My brother too, a child aged 12, asks me to write very very much about Eretz Israel.
When I lived in the town, two women would pass every day by my house, several months before I made aliyah, and sometimes we would talk; one talked about her three daughters who were in Eretz Israel and her deep longings for them; the other - she had been left with her small children without support or help, as her 4 older children had also already gone there; but no word of complaint was heard from her, despite her bitter fate. Every morning she would get up early to go to work - to sieve flaxseed - in order to make a livelihood and not need to accept presents; on the contrary, in her eyes one saw the pride from the merit that had fallen on her, that children from her loins were now in Eretz Israel, where they would hear the bells of redemption. This thought straightened her back and helped her bear the burden of the difficulties in making a living.
In front of my eyes pass a long row of personalities from the town, Jews busy with different crafts, small merchants, artisans, working hard to make a livelihood, but even the poorest, those who did not know to read or write, their hearts were open to what was going on in the world and in Eretz Israel in particular.
I cannot forget Avraham-Itshe Shkallot, the shoemaker, bent over his work, using his awl, putting a patch on the shoe, his hammer jumping in his hands and he is praying to his Father in Heaven, that his income will be sufficient, but in his heart he is yearning to know what is happening in the wide world. Since his knowledge of reading is not enough to understand the small letters, and he doesn't have money to buy a newspaper, he runs every day to Luba the tailor, to hear the news that was read out aloud from the daily newspaper.
Yaakov the cart-owner - in the summer he would drive in a large cart and in the winter, he drove a wide sled. When it was still dark outside he would get up to work, in drizzling rain, in heavy snow and in the cold of 30 degrees below zero, in order to support his family with honor. His exhausting work did not take away his sense of humor, quite the opposite, an additional side of his personality was his sharp wit, added to sarcasm, which was aimed at laughing at the high society. Young and old alike loved to spend time with him, in the long evenings of the winter, to hear his stories, spiced with juicy sayings, about his adventures along the way he had traveled, about the First World War and what was going on in the outside world.
Sometimes, when the shoemaker and the cart-owner were together, they would stand and argue with each other over politika, about the events in both general and Jewish history. They would express their opinions and prophesized the future with great respect and enthusiasm.
Itshe Tobias - my dear good uncle, who would always help us when we needed it, took it upon himself to act as father to his family after his father died, and thanks to him they did not feel the sorrows of orphans.
Sarah Atshe - my modest and devout mother, whose God-fearing and good hearted qualities, her simple and modest ways, had a healthy outlook on life. With common sense, talent and natural intelligence she was able to overcome the tribulations of life, to raise her children and teach them Torah and knowledge, to promote in their hearts love for one's fellow-man, to create an atmosphere of happiness the whole year around and especially on Holy Days. Many of the townspeople considered her as a support, because despite all her troubles, she found time to help others.
Rivkah - all the people of the town knew her and honored her; her back bent over from old age, yet despite the burden of the years, she would go around the town collecting penny by penny for the needy; she knew who needed her and her work, and did not stop until she managed to gather an amount which could be used to help others.
Dear townspeople - who, in a town surrounded by goyim, had the sense to build a Hebrew school, which taught Torah, knowledge and Hebrew and National culture. Poor Jews, who worked together to build the school, with enthusiasm, with their very own hands, saving from their meager earnings in order to pay for tuition for their children and doing this with happiness and willingness.
The school teachers - who educated many generations of pupils: Chaim Persky - who was never daunted by any difficulties and continued to work diligently, the teachers Shalom Sonenzon, Yaakov Shmulevitch and others.
The amateur drama club - Shmuel Shapiro, Kalman (Shimshons) and Zeltka Feivoshevitz, who, with talent and charm, knew how to bring to the public what was going on in the Jewish society, in the Bet Midrash, in various committees, but did not fear to expose in public the failings of the life of the people. The drama club added an important contribution to the experience of the culture lovers of the town.
Alter Leibovitch - was 3 years on Hachsharah (at the training farm), but he was asked to be a leader in the group and thus was not allowed to make aliyah. Kayleh Shmulevitch - with her personal charm and ways, knew how to educate, to lead and to discipline. I remember the summer camp where she invested much personal initiative in setting it up and making it a success:
Summer camp: members of the group, young and old, would go back to nature, to be together and get used to being on the training farm in preparation for the kibbutz in Eretz Israel.
The departure back to nature and the cooperative life, gave an atmosphere of unity and closeness. The days went by with happiness and joy, until the late hours of the night, we would spend time around the flames of the burning bonfire, with dances and songs.
The camp was a really special event. Many of the townspeople came to see it, how the youth were living outside their parents' houses.
Avremeleh Kalmanovitch - a prominent and respected figure, despite being in the young age group, was one of the pillars of the group. He was very talented, quick to understand, sharp-witted and well versed in the Torah. Many of the elders of the town were very sad that Avrameleh did not turn to Torah studies at the yeshiva. They tried to entice him to continue with the heritage of his Fathers and made him many promises, but Avremeleh was stuck on Zionism and believed in it. He worked towards revival of the Jewish culture; in the newspaper that he put out for the group, he wrote articles full of youthful enthusiasm, wisdom and ideas about the world, Judaism, Zionism and Eretz Israel.
It is difficult for me to think that that the spirited Avrameleh, full of energy and so jolly, is no longer. His wick of life was cut off because of the cruelty of the Nazi monster.
Many years have passed since the victory over the Nazi beast, but the wounds have still not healed. The memory of our dear ones and the pure blood that was spilt, cry out to us and command: Remember and do not forget!!!
by Shalom Rabinovitch
Brought for printing: Moshe Tsinovitch
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
Dos Vort No. 211, Vilna,
28 Tishrei, 5688 (1928)
Storage in the Synagogue of Torn and Abused Torah Scrolls and Other Holy Books in Lubtch
A few weeks ago our town performed a remarkable eulogy. Many Torah scrolls and books were torn and otherwise abused during the war. Concerned citizens of the town, however, under fire of guns and artillery, risked their lives and ran and saved the holy articles where they have been lying until now, gathered together in one place. They have finally been eulogized and given a proper burial.
The eulogy which the rabbi gave was very moving. Particularly heart-rending was when the rabbi mentioned the 13 martyrs of Lubtch who fell in those terrible days. With heads bowed, the townspeople followed the bier to its final resting place. Everyone felt crushed by the effect of the eulogy.
A Celebration of a Torah Scroll
A week later we already celebrated a happy event. A Torah scroll and two sets of the Talmud were carried into the study hall of the synagogue. The Torah scroll was donated by Mrs. Shifra Rabinovitch. The celebration took place with much pomp. A band played. The canopy under which the Torah scroll was carried was decorated with a golden crown. Step by step, the townspeople took turns holding the Torah scroll under the canopy. Each person was thus honored until they reached the door of the synagogue. And then the real celebration first began. Our rabbi gave a solemn sermon in which he explained the significance of the day, lacing his talk with sayings of our sages of blessed memory. He connected that sad day when the damaged scrolls and books were buried with the day when the community was cheerfully bringing in and dedicating a Torah scroll and holy books.
The community then went directly from the synagogue, accompanied by the band, to get the sets of the Talmud. It was a joyful day. The band played till late at night in the presence of all the townspeople.
In a few days, another celebration will take place here with the bringing in and dedication of an additional Torah scroll presented by the Society of Psalm Reciters.
The author of the abovementioned correspondent's report, Shalom Rabinovitch, was a good friend of mine from the time we studied together at the famous Mir Yeshiva. He was called Shalom Zhetler at the yeshiva because he came from the town of Zhetel, where his parents lived during the First World War and for a certain time after the war. We became friends and shared a subscription to the Warsaw Moment.
He was a good-looking, charming, young man, blond, with good manners, well educated, with a lovely smile on his bright face. I think he was musically gifted as well. His father had already passed away, but his mother was a true woman of valor and she is apparently the Shifra Rabinovitch who donated the Torah scroll for the synagogue in Lubtch.
As I recall, Shalom Rabinovtich was well-read as a youth and had a fairly good knowledge of Hebrew and Yiddish literature. He was strictly religious but not after the fashion of the followers of the Musar (strict ethical behavior) movement whose philosophy then dominated the Mir Yeshiva. Rather, he considered himself part of the smaller, that is to say, more liberal group at the yeshiva.
Shalom had a weakness for writing. He used this talent in later years, already being in Lubtch, as a correspondent, writing local news reports for the Orthodox weekly, Dos Vort, which was published in Vilna. This periodical was the organ of the Board of Yeshivot in Vilna, which was half influenced by the Aguda organization, but writers with leanings towards Mizrachi also contributed to it.
Bringing a couple of Shalom Rabinovitch's reports about Lubtch to the press, I remembered this fine, quietly noble Shalom Zhetler and I considered it my duty to add a couple of lines of my own about him, May God avenge his blood!
by Shalom Rabinovitch
Brought for printing: Moshe Tsinovitch
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
Dos Vort, No. 178, Vilna
Friday, weekly portion, Ki Tissa,
On the Sabbath of the weekly Torah portion, Terumah, the esteemed rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Markovitch from Torretz, paid our town a visit. He preached a brilliant sermon in the synagogue. All the congregants, both old and young, were deeply moved by the inspiring words of this talented orator. In his speech, the rabbi explained the obligation of contributing a terumat hashekel [monetary donation] to the yeshivot at all times and especially now. All those present warmly responded to the rabbi's appeal and a large gathering took place on Saturday night after the Sabbath.
New strength was co-opted for the existing board and the following morning the new board, together with the Rabbi from Torretz, came to collect the donations. According to the figures from the last collections, we will see to what extent the financial situation of the Board of Yeshivot has improved thanks to the efforts undertaken in our town.
As for the future, it has been decided to divide the town into four sections which the board members have solemnly obligated to carry out the raising and collection of money, and the local rabbi, Rabbi Yitzchak Weiss - May no harm befall him! - has volunteered to make a monthly appeal in the synagogue for this purpose.
Serving on the Lubtch branch of the Board of Yeshivot: Town Rabbi, Chairman, Rabbi Zvi Ziversky, Treasurer, Shalom Rabinovitch, Secretary, Yitzchak Aronosky, Ritual Slaughterer and Kashrut Inspector, Leib Sokolovsky, Yitzchak Baksht, Avraham Rabinovitch, Yisrael-Yosef Levin, Avraham -Yosef Novomishsky, Avraham-Yisrael Mishkin, Yisrael Cohen and Reuven Kantorovitch.
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