After we applied, some people told us that we would not be able to have in Israel such a good house. We answered we knew, but we were going to accept a smaller house and in return we would have the joy to live in the country of the Jews and be together with our relatives. After us, some other Jewish families from Frunze also applied and they watched with interest our fight for the right to leave. After Israel's victory in the war of June 1967 there was a new mood among the Jews in Kirkizia. Many of them emigrated in Israel.
I knew the Soviet police read all the letters sent abroad, especially those written by people with relatives abroad, and this is why I wrote those letters in such a way that the authorities should understand we were not going to give up the idea of emigration. This is the letter I sent from Kirghizia to Israel to my sister Estera on December 23 1972 (the letter is kept by my sister):
My dear brothers and sisters, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, dear nephews and nieces,
Today I am crying. Tears pour on my face. But not only my eyes are crying, my heart is crying too. Since the officials have notified me that I am not allowed to come to you, to emigrate in Israel, I feel as if I am beaten. Nights on end I cannot sleep, I am at a loss. I did not expect such a blow.
I cannot describe my state, my feelings. A gentle breeze may make me fall down. My body grew weak, my brain seems weak too since it looks for an answer to the question "What should I do?" ~ am very worried, but strangers do not care for my sufferings. I am asking myself all the time: what did I do wrong, that my destiny is so cruel? Without hurting anybody, I am punished for a lifetime not to be able to see my brothers and sisters.
My life until 1940 is known to you: I was hungry, I had no clothes, I had to work from the age of 11. Then came the war. During the last 32 years I worked honestly, the officials know that. And now, here is my reward.
On December 6, when I was told my application for emigration in Israel was rejected, I felt a thunderbolt hit my head. I tried to find out an explanation for the rejection -- but that was impossible for me to find. I was rejected with no reason. I had hardly enough strength to get home, thinking all the time: Whom should I address now? I decided to complain to all the big authorities, that is to the president of the Supreme Soviet of the Kirghizian Republic, the first secretary of the Communist Party in the Republic, the president of the Ministers' Council, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Next day I already sent applications to have my situation reexamined.
After a few days, I received answers: all of them notified me that my application was sent to be resolved in Moscow, at OVIR, at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union. But on December 14 1 was called at each Kirghizian institution I had written to. All of them told me my application was rejected. At the Ministry of Internal Affairs I succeeded to talk a little more with a colonel, but he told me he was not able to change the decision they took in Moscow. He phoned to OVIR and then told me they would discuss again my case next year, if I was going to apply again.
I said I understood that, but I would like to know what I did wrong, why was their answer negative. What did I do wrong against the Soviet Union? I never complained to anybody of my standard of life, I never said I was discontented. Then why all that?
In the end the colonel answered The commission that approves or rejects the applications considers that three brothers and two sisters are not the same degree of kinship with the parents and children. They approve the emigration of parents and children who want to be together.
I went out very sad from the colonel 's office. I remained on the hall for a while, I thought the matter over and over and after a few minutes I knocked again at the door and entered his office again. I apologized and I said I was not satisfied with the answer he gave me. He told me to come back on December 20, to talk again about the situation
You can imagine how I waited for that date. I came to him, but he was very busy and told me to come again the next day. That is this very morning. He received me, asked me to take a seat and told met -- Listen, I learned the reason you did not receive the approval. Your brothers and sisters have their own families and you have your own family. They should live there, you should live here. Call for them to pay you a visit.
I said. I have already called them. But they answered they are old and a journey is expensive, they have no means to undertake such a journey. And there is another problem too: I have very many relatives in Israel -- brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces of different degrees, friends. They are about 200 in all. How should they come, all of them?
The colonel thought a little and then he said: -- There is another problem. You see, you have two big sons, born and bred here. Why should we give them the authorization to leave? Your sons are the nails of our walls. They are born here, they grew up and learned here, how should we accept their leaving?
I understood: that was the point! They refused us because of the sons. But I was prepared for such an argument. I asked the colonel -- Did you -read the five letters I sent the officials of the republic?
He shook his head, meaning he did not read them. I took out from my pocket the copies of those letters and I gave him to read. I took out from my bag a pile of letters I received from my relatives and some of their old photos. I explained to him who those relatives were, I told him about our lives and our hard times in the past. I tried to make the conversation more personal, more humane.
In the end, he told me on December 29 or 30 he would tell me the exact date in January 1973 when I may be received by the Minister of Internal Affairs or the 'Zrice Minister. He advised me to make a clear copy of my application to handle to the person that is going to receive me.
My dears, now I am looking forward to the day when I will be received by the minister. But until then I am going to prepare a medical certificate attesting that our children are ill and cannot serve in the army here and neither in Israel (if good God wants us to be together). Nevertheless, I do not have great expectations that meeting the minister would solve our application in a favorable way. But I have nothing to lose. I will listen to what he says and if his answer is NO I will address the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. Maybe I will leave to Moscow to try to obtain an audience to the president of the Supreme Soviet or the Union Minister of Internal Affairs. Maybe they will answer more heartily, I am going to address them in a very kind way, asking for help. Who knows if we are going to meet again in this life.
When are you going to celebrate Simionel's wedding? Let it be with good luck, let our family grow and multiply!
I think citizens living in some other countries might find it hard to believe such a situation: to be denied the right to see and join brothers and sisters, brothers-in-law and sisters in-law, a lot of nephews and nieces. What a tragedy that is, not to be able to attend the wedding of your own nephew or niece! Our destiny is really cruel.
Tomorrow, December 24 (let us not forget this date, my dear siblings!) I will go to the synagogue to say kaddish for my poor parents and for Clara -- this is the 32nd year since they lie in the earth and never had the opportunity to see anything good in their life. They worked in poverty, they suffered during their life, God bless their memory. The last time I saw my poor mother was in April 2940 when I came in Radautzi from Siret. I entered the house and she asked me: Do you have four lei to buy a black bread from those soldiers who occupied a part of our parents' house in Radautzi? I bought it and ate if with great appetite, as we were hungry and thought it was sweet... Now I have fresh white bread on my table and I cannot eat it, it seems bitter to me, as anything else I put in my mouth. Each day I take pills, I receive injections but I continue to be nervous and sad.
Before ending this letter, I want you to know I suffered a great change: I will never be the same as I was before applying for emigration in Israel. I entered this game, I am under observation, I know I am at risk but I have no other choice. I am going to do everything that depends on me to be able to emigrate, I am going to write letters, to go to Moscow and make any possible efforts to be received in audiences by one of the great chiefs of the state.
I hope you will not remain indifferent to my problems. I hope Golditza will not be offended by my words. She took my letter to a brother. She had to find somebody who knew Russian and do as I asked. It might have been different now. You know what happens there, I live here and now better what is going on here. Many people receive calls from abroad from aunts, brothers and other relatives. I had a call from my sister, but her name after marriage is not Lebel any more. If that call were from Lebel to Lebel, the officials would have look at my application in a different way. But my dear brothers did not answer and never wrote to me. It is only you, Ester, that answered me.
Dear Ester, it is on your address that I am going to send this letter, I know you are devoted and sincere to me like a mother. You rocked me in your arms when I was a baby, you saw me making my first step. You know the saying: "Beat the iron while it is still hot". I am writing this way because Lilia is pregnant. You remember, in 1958 I was denied a trip to Romania. I wrote applications, you wrote too, and we succeeded. This time too, there are clever, educated people who know how and to whom it is advisable to write. I think, if I were in your place, 1. would write to Vilner, the general secretary of the Israeli Communist Party. After all, all of you are workers, you are not factory owners, millionaires; you could address him and beseech him to write to Moscow to the supreme president and you could write to the minister of internal affairs and to other high officials. Please write kindly, on a beseeching tone. Let your request be signed by all of you, show your addresses too, your professions, let the nephews and nieces sign too. You may take advice from Izu, Golditza's husband -- he is a man with open brain and eyes. You may talk with him and write to other places at the same time, make everything possible to bring us together with you! Do not postpone it! We have to succeed together, if I fight from here and you fight from there.
I am ending this letter with a kiss for all of you... Your brother, brother-in-law, uncle, Zisu
Once, after reaching Israel, while visiting my sister Golditza, I had a pleasant surprise. I found a greeting card I sent to the family in Israel during the time I was waiting for the authorization to emigrate. I chose a card on which a bird was drawn and at the end of my message I wrote how much I envied those that had wings and could fly over frontiers without permission. My ending words were: "I hope the time will come when man will be free to leave to wherever he wants" And thanks God, those times have come!
At last we arrived in Israel on August 16, 1973 after more than a month on the way. I was happy and I could hardly believe I finally reached the Ben Gurion airport. But the joy we had when we got down for the first time on the ground of our land was marred by unexpected pieces of news. The brother who came to welcome us (accompanied by his sons) was unshaved since he was in mourning, his wife had died a week before our arrival. At the same time I also learned that our brother Iancu had died a little earlier in the year. He was only 65 at the time he passed away. Iancu immigrated to Israel in 1950 and the last time I saw him was in 1936.
We spent the integration period at Kfar lona. The ulpan manager was Mr. Berger, from the Berger family in Chernovitz. I became very close to him. From that period, I remember the Yom Kippur day of 1973. I was in the synagogue. Suddenly, in the middle of a prayer, I saw a few soldiers entering the temple. They were busy, they did not come to pray. I gave a start and all sorts of ideas came into my mind. In a few moments, I saw a few young men leaving the synagogue calmly. Our horrible suspicion was true: the war began. You know how difficult it was and the size of our losses until our country overcame its enemies.
During the ulpan period, I met Dr. Rosenzweig, a lady that worked for the Sohnut (Jewish agency) and took care of newcomers. At the time, the only new immigrants were from Russia, Romania and Gruzia, which, with a few exceptions, spoke only the languages of their countries of origin. Dr. Rosenzweig knew only Hebrew and German. She was very happy when she found out that I was speaking German and began to use me as a translator. Afterwards, she helped me many times when I was looking for a job. With her help I could choose to work in a hospital in Raanana or Jerusalem. But I preferred the roentgen section in the Rambam hospital in Haifa, since my son Alex was working in Haifa and my other son, Michael, was studying at the Haifa University.
I stayed in the Ulpan until the beginning of 1974, when we moved to Haifa. My wife and me could not work in our professions before we attended specialization courses and passed the exams. We decided I ought to work a job in another specialty of mine (roentgen technician) and while she would be the first to attend the course. I found a job as a technician at the roentgen section of the Rambam hospital where I worked for two years. When Raenka received her first job as a dental surgeon, in 1975, I could enlist to the course too. The courses we attended taught the medical organization of the country as well as the new technologies that we did not encounter in the Soviet Union. At the same time, the courses helped us learn a better Hebrew. Those courses were organized by the dental surgery section of the Rambam Hospital, and among other teachers who taught there I remember: Prof. Dov Laufer, Prof. Malberger, Dr. Rina Tailor, Dr. Saikovitch, Dr. Maer, Dr. Nemzov.
In 1978, our son Michael left for Germany to attend specialization courses in dental surgery. He graduated with success and received a license to work in Germany. He also got German citizenship. He worked there for a few years and then he came back in Israel.
In 1978, we joined to Michael in Germany, and between 1979 - 1980 we attended there a course in new techniques in dental surgery and another course in surgery and implantology. The latter, which we attended in Bremen, was followed by a period of practice at the stomatology section at the Lariboisiere hospital in Paris. My wife and I also got German citizenship and the right to work in Germany. In 1980 we came back in Israel, after declining an offer to work there.
I worked at the dental surgery centers of the Agriculture Schools "Shfeia" and "Alonei ltzhak" near Zihron Yakov, where I had to take care of the teeth of 900 children. I worked there until 1982, while I opened a private medical center in Haifa too, on Ahad Haam Street no. 14, then I moved on Hertzl Str. and Nordau Str. In 1993, I had a heart attack and I retired.
At the beginning, I lived the usual life for a retired man: walks, reading, TV, chats, visits to my son's medical center. Until Mr. Shlomo David suggested to me to write an article for his book, dedicated to the history of Judaism in the Dorohoi district. After that, and after talking with my grandchildren, I began to write my memories, to talk about the Mihaileni of my childhood, about my family, friends and acquaintances, things I saw and experienced during the second world war, my life in the Soviet Union and my fight to emigrate in Israel. I wrote in Russian, because for many decades, in Kirghizia, I did not speak, write or read Romanian. Then I translated everything in Romanian. The Russian and the Romanian versions of the texts are recorded on tape recorder and I sent the cassettes to all the people in my family, in Israel and America. Many of them were moved. For the young ones, it was a shock to learn what Holocaust meant for their family; they knew only general things about the Holocaust. I began to make up the genealogical tree of our family. Some relatives that smiled with some indulgence at the beginning of my work, are not ironic any more and now they help me too. I began to use the Internet too, in my investigations.
After moving to Haifa, I tried to find out acquaintances from Mihaileni and other towns of Romania. Twice I met Nathan Bernstein, whom I used to call Natziu. His brother Hershola was my schoolmate, and we were also some kind of distant relatives. He remembered my mother's name and told me a sad story concerning her. Once, my mother was washing a shirt and did not notice that there was a needle stuck in it. During the washing, the needle broke and its tip remained in my mother's palm. At that time, people did not use to go to the physician for anything that happened to them. My mother suffered in silence for a long time, although her palm got swollen. I was impressed that a stranger could remember that story. When I last saw him, Natziu was working for the Sohnut. I wonder, where could he be now?
In Haifa I also met the dentist Isac Stir. I paid him a visit, he and his wife received me with pleasure. We spent hours telling each other stories about our lives during the last decades of our lives. Isac had a mute brother in Mihaileni, who was called Mihaileanu. I asked about him, and they only told me he did not accompany them to Israel. I also asked him about the times when the Cuza government came to power. Isac Stir confirmed that indeed what Stefan Botez told me about helping Jews was true -- which means that even at that time there were decent people who helped the oppressed Jews.
They also told me about the difficult times they encountered after coming to Israel. They did not find a job, did not have enough money for food, and during that difficult time they were helped very much by Basia Grinberg. He brought them eggs that became their main food. Basia did not ask for money for the eggs, he said they would pay when they worked and earned money. Somebody gave them the idea to improvise a dental center near the Sohnut. They made a sort of a hut, similar to the sentinel's hut, part of it was open and part of it was closed. There were four pillows, partly surrounded with cloth, with a sheet above. They had a bag with instruments (tongs, pincers, cotton wool and other things) and the dental center was ready. Isac was skillful in pulling out teeth and they immediately had a lot of clients. At their present cabinet I met Mr. ltzhak Artzi, former member of the Knesset and former deputy mayor of Tel-Aviv.
Mr. Artzi was born in Siret, I remember his grand father who had a white beautiful beard. Mr. Artzi asked me whom else I remembered from Siret and I asked him if he remembered the Berger family. He said half of Siret was called Berger. He knew Poli Berger, they had been school mates. Poli was my cousin, his father was Iosi Berger, my uncle. Poli died and his two sons live in Tel-Aviv, one is a lawyer and the other one is a physician. When I talked with Mr. Artzi I also mentioned lziu Berger, the son of Israel (my mother's brother) who was my good friend in my childhood and who lived for many years in Rechovot. There was another interesting thing I learned from Mr. Artzi: although he lived in Tel- Aviv, when he had a dental problem he came to his old friend Isac and paid him a visit in Haifa! Meanwhile, I learned with great sadness that Isac and his wife passed away.
In Haifa I also met Tzili Rachmut. We were schoolmates in the primary school and I remember what she looked like when she was a girl of 7-11 with braids. I was told I could find her in her shop on Yafo Street. I entered the shop and said "Shalom!" -- a little longer "Shalom". I immediately recognized her, after four decades! I asked her if she was Tzili Rachmut from Mihaileni and she confirmed wondering who I was. I told her who I am and that I was glad to see her. You are Zisu! she exclaimed. Both of us were a little excited. We began to talk about the 40 years that had passed. She told me once Nutza Shaier wanted to beat her and she did not know why. I asked her about Silvia Steiner, she answered she was in Canada. We also talked about Huna Hertzanu, I learned Sali Margulies lived in Ramat Gan, she married a physician and had two sons. Sixty years have passed since I have last seen see Sali and even now I often remember her, whenever my thoughts carry me back to the years of my childhood.
After reaching Siberia and then the Asian republics, I did not talk Romanian. I had nobody to talk with. There, I could only talk Russian, seldom I found somebody to talk Yiddish with, but no Romanian speakers. And as the years passed, without realizing it, I became less and less familiar with the Romanian language. With my wife I spoke only Russian, when the children were born I spoke with them Russian and from time to time, very seldom, I spoke Yiddish with my mother-in-law. ". Thus, Russian became the language in which I spoke, I read and wrote, I learned at school and at the faculty.
On my visiting Mihaileni, after an absence of 20 years, in 1958, I returned to "the environment of the Romanian language After that visit, I wrote letters to my relatives in Romania and Israel, but I had no opportunity to speak it. It was only after emigrating in Israel, when I was learning Hebrew in ulpan, that I began to speak Romanian frequently and words and sayings I had not used for a few decades (33 years, to be more precise) began to come back to me.
But I am not the only one in this situation. I learned that among the immigrants that came in Israel in 1995 there was a man of over 80, who was born and educated in Romania and happened to be in Russia at the time the war began. He then spent almost 50 years in different towns in Siberia. During all that time, he never spoke Romanian until he came to an ulpan in Haifa. It was only there that he met immigrants from Romania and again started to speak the language he had not heard for half a century. As about me, I am writing these notes both in Romanian and Russian and after finishing each chapter I read the text in both languages and record it on tape. Sometimes I have some problems to find a word or a saying, but I feel that my language is improoving and I am glad for it.
As I said, in the Soviet Union there were periods when people needed authorizations to travel from one town to another or from one village to other. I encountered difficulties to obtain permission to visit Romania in 1958, and faced even greater hardship when I solicited the permission to emigrate to Israel. After I left the Soviet Union, traveling abroad was easy. I spent one year in the United States, with my son and his family. I also spent some time in Germany, where I studied to improve my profession. I went several times to Romania to the Felix Spa for medical treatment. I also visited France, Austria, Yugoslavia and Hungary -- an opportunity to see beautiful interesting places and also to refresh my German, which I had not spoken during the years of the war and after the war. It is a good feeling to have the liberty and the right to travel wherever and whenever you want!
In 1997, while in the United States I celebrated my birthday. The family organized a party for me and a grand daughter of about eight sang to me: "Ahat, shtaim, shalosh, arba, vine banda din Ahshara, ea vine la olarie cu gandul la farfurie, smol bi smola..."
The following year, in 1998, I also celebrated my birthday on May 16. We called it "multiple celebration" because it was the same date when I met my wife 53 years earlier -- so it is both my day and her day; and we also celebrated the victory against the Nazis, on May 9, 1945. We had 25 guests at the party, members of our family. My wife prepared a rich meal that included different salads, fish liver, gefilte fish, special cold delicacies, chicken wings with different spicy sauces, Uzbekian rice and other meals from the former Asian republics of the USSR. Of the sweet things I should mention the fluden, strudel, the feast cake from coconut flour and the chocolate feast cake. Some of the guests asked my wife for the recipes of some of the dishes. And of course there were wines, vodka, cognac, different fruit juices.
In 1958, when the Soviet authorities allowed me to visit Romania, I also went to Bacau where I saw again my former teacher Shmae Wasserman (now living in Rechovot). I learned he was working at the I.C. Frimu factory and looked for him there. He did not recognize me. Only after I told him who I was, he remembered I was his pupil during my childhood. I told him that I lived in the Soviet Union and that I came back as a tourist. He immediately arranged for permission to live his office and invited me to his home. On the way home, he bought a newspaper in Yiddish, which was a very special thing for me, since I had not seen the Hebrew alphabet for two decades.
At Shmae's home I met found Rene, his wife. She had been a schoolmate and friend of my sister Ester. She offered me beilic fishola, a meal I had not eaten since I left home. I drank red wine, from a bottle Rene got from her brother and kept for special occasions. Of course, for me, that was a special occasion, I was reliving the dear moments of my childhood and I remembered the family I had been parted of for so long. In the end, we parted. They took me in a carriage to the center of the town, and from there I left to the railway station.
I met again Shmae only 36 years later. That was in 1994, in the old cemetery of Haifa, at the memorial monument dedicated to the Jews of the Dorohoi district who died during the Holocaust period (the pogrom in Dorohoi and Transnistria). At the yearly memorial ceremony, attended by hundreds of persons from different Israeli towns, Shmae came too. I knew he would come and I brought with me his picture, taken at the time he was a student. I do not know how I happened to have this picture. Dudl Haiches' son and Schwartz Hershl were present at my meeting with Shmae. At a certain moment, a person came to join our group and I was introduced to him: he was Shlomo David, the president of the Organization of the Jews Born in the Dorohoi District. He invited me to collaborate to the books he was editing, dedicated to the Judaism of Dorohoi.
From Prof. Gutman, the chief of the stomatology section of the Rambam hospital, I got significant help to begin to exercise my profession in Israel. While I was working at the roentgen section of the Rambam Prof. Gutman urged me to begin as soon as possible the specialization course in stomatology, on Hagefen Str. 26. There I passed 16 theoretical tests and one practical test and I obtained the long expected license from the Ministery of Health. After that, Prof. Gutman helped me establish the dental cabinet near "Mehes". I often think of him and I wish him good health and happiness to the age of 120.
One of the moments I enjoy remembering from the period I was "oleh hadash" (newcomer) is the moment I received my first wage in Israel. More than 25 years passed, but I still remember that joy. I had a reason to be very happy but at the same time there was something that made me sad. Why? Because, according to my calculation, I should have received 800 lira more. But it does not matter now. At that time I organized a party. I bought peanuts, cakes, juices and snacks and invited all my colleagues at the roentgenology section. Everybody ate and at a certain moment I got a fragment of conversation in which somebody said that although I was working like a "hamor" (donkey) and I was responsible for two rooms of the section, I received only 1300 lira instead of 2100 lira like everyone else did. The same person appreciated the fact that in spite of it, I was spending money to treat everybody else.
The person who said all those things was my boss, Lili, born in England. I told her that what was important for me on that day was that it is the day on which I got my first wage as an Israeli citizen, an important step in my efforts to integrate, which meant a great joy. Moreover, I asked her to chose her words more carefully when she spoke to me because I also chose my words carefully when I spoke with other people. She did not like that, but what could I do? Some other people tried to tease me too at that time. They appeared to be annoyed that I got a job in that section at the age of 52, while other newcomers were given manual labor in the harbor. One lady used to try to make jokes about me and some of the things she told me appeared to be arrogant. She asked me in which suburb I was living and to my response that I was living in Sprintzak, she replied in a reproachful tone, that the well-to-do people live in French Carmel. She was very proud of her father's had wonderful achievements. I asked her what was her father doing. She said that he had a shop selling furniture. I asked her how can one measure the degree of somebody's social achievement. Intelligence means richness, her father earned a lot of money, she said in a cock sure tone. What could I answer her?
At that party, the chief of the section told me that his father was a road worker when he came in Israel, from 1936 until 1940. I knew he was speaking German and answered him in German. He was surprised that a newcomer from the Soviet Union spoke German, he talked a lot with me and we became friends. When I began to work as a stomatologist again, he became my patient. While I worked in the roentgen section in Rambam, I also found a job as a physician at the Abramovici stomatological center, where I used to work in the afternoons until late in the evening. Dr. Abramovici was a qualified physician, he obtained his diploma in a hospital in Bucharest and he was very proud of it. When he saw how I treated the root of the tooth clothing it in a coferdam, he was very interested in that technique which was new to him. He also observed how I made an apectomy -- extracting the tooth, shortening the apex at the root and resetting the treated jaw. The result was that he hired me to work with his instruments and his chair, offering to pay me 40% of the benefit, while he would receive 60%. At the end, the proportion was the other way round!
I also brought in new patients, most of them from the Rambam Hospital. Among them, was Mr. Paizer, chief of the roentgenology service with his wife, his son and his daughter-in-law, both of them dental surgeons in Jerusalem; as well as Mrs. Rappaport, the secretary of the roentgenology section of the hospital, who then brought more members of her family. Among my patients, I there were the members of the family of a man who had been a prison director. Somebody in his family took care of our granddaughter when we moved from Kfar Iona to Haifa. We liked the way she took care of the child and we became friends, we paid each other visits and after we opened our medical center they came to us wherever they had dental problems. Among our first patients there were the members of the Nahtomi family, their son Roni is working now at the Lin clinic in Haifa.
During the period I worked in the roentgenology section at Rambam I had the opportunity to compare the activity in that field with the medical network in the former Soviet Union. There was a huge difference between the two. I could write tens of pages about those differences. Many Israelis do not realize how special are the medical services they have. Although I am retired, I can see every day the improvements of the dental practices in Israel. Once in a few days I pay a visit to my son Michael who opened a dental center with several rooms on Nordau Street no. 28 in Haifa. This way I keep up to date with everything new in the field of dental facilities, treatments, the prosthetic technology, medicines. The improvement is continuous.
Once, while I was traveling in a bus in Haifa, two women took a seat next to me and began to talk Romanian and Yiddish. I began to talk with them. I told them the Yiddish they were speaking was very familiar to me, from my childhood, and asked them where they were from. One of them told me she was from Faltitcheni. Immediately I remembered something and exclaimed: "You are Rozica!" She was dumb struck. In 1936 we worked together in a shop. Rozica recognized me too, and told me my name was Zisu. We were both very happy to meet again.
Here I am at the end of my memoirs. Remembering Mihaileni of six decades ago, I realize once more that our little Jewish community was a hardworking population, with active, dynamic people that sustained the Jewish traditions and contribute to the development of the town. I remembered with emotion the years of my childhood, my relatives, my friends and colleagues. Many of them were killed in the Transnistria camps. Many of them are living happily with their families in Israel. Some of them are still in Romania and some of them in other countries all over the world. I do not know them all. Of course, I could not evoke and list the name of all the inhabitants of Mihaileni. Moreover, after so many years, I may have misspelt the names or maybe confused some of the people. I ask the reader to forgive me for all these inadvertent mistakes. Let me hear from you and I will be happy to make the necessary corrections.
If you read my memories to the end and found them interesting; if you were born in a shtetl and, for a moment, they brought back moving scenes from your youth or adolescence, or images of Jewish or Romanian friends of whom you did not think for decades; if they evoked similar events from your own families; if they stirred a thought of gratitude and a little admiration for our shtetl and our efforts to preserve the memory its Jews and their doings; then I am happy and my work was not in vain.
Let me end my memoirs about Mihaileni with the words of an Yiddish song: "In main klein shein shteitola... die kleine shtibolah, du de shil, dort die mil, du der mark, dort der park, is ghevein a shteitola, far zich and fur alle". In translation: "In my beautiful little town, the houses were small, here the synagogue, there the mill, here the market, there the park. There was a little town for one and for all".
The calligraphy and the signature on those letters startled me and threw me back 70 years to the times my grandfather, Iosif Lebel - Jempale, thought me to read and write the ABC. These letters were penned by my grandfather.
The story started a few years ago. The parents of my friend, Dr. Artur Hecht - a senior scientist at the Israel Ocenographic and Limnological Research in Haifa, stem from Mihaileni. I remembered his grandfather, Moise Shteiner, and many of his uncles and aunts and I used to tell him about them together with other stories about our ancestral town. He listened attentively an read my notes with great interest. We also worked together in trying to map the population of the shtetl.
Fortuitously, in the, now unfortunately defunct, ROM-SIG NEWS bulletins, he came across an article by Shelley Lantheaume describing the life of her grandfather, Morris Cohen (ROM-SIG NEWS vol. 2 No. 2. p. 7, also available at the ROM-SIG site on the Internet). The story, which mentions Morris' Cohen sojourn in Mihaileni and his family there, looked very familiar to him, and indeed when he showed it to me I recognized it as a description of part of my family.
Morris Cohen met his future wife, Sophie Lebel, in Bucharest, where she worked for him as a seamstress. They eventually fell in love and when Sophie decided to return to Mihaileni, Morris followed her. There he was immediately adopted into her family as a son in, what he describes, as the warm and wonderful Lebel family. Morris sets up shop in Mihaileni and eventually gets married to Sophie. He describes their great engagement party versus their brief and hasty marriage on the eve of their departure for Canada. It all had to be done in great haste since Morris was called up to enlist in the Romanian Army - a harsh and difficult proposition for a Jew - and something which Morris did not feel he owes to Romania, which did not recognize him as a citizen. As Mihaileni was a border town, they just walked across the border and from there by horse carriage, train and ship on their almost three weeks trek to Canada. There they settled and brought up a large wonderful and successful family.
Upon checking it farther, Artur found out that Shelly Lantheaume is searching for her ancestors in Mihaileni, and in particular the Lebel and the Berish families (the two families were related since Berish was the brother of Gitla, my grandmother). I got in touch with Shelly and to my great delight, it turned out that indeed she was a part of my family of whom I lost track. Shelly was the granddaughter of my aunt Sophie, the sister of my father that emigrated to Canada.
At the end of August 1998, my wife and myself paid a visit to dr. Alexander Lebel, one of our sons living in the United States. There, we tried to phone Shelly, but we found out that, unfortunately, she has passed away. We obtained the address of her father Matt Cowan and sent him the English version of my book about Mihaileni. Matt sent us some family photos and we promised to keep in touch.
It turned out that Matt Cowan was the possessor of a family heirloom, a sheaf of letters written by my grandfather Iosif Lebel to Matt's mother, the far away daughter Sophie,. Matt does not know either Idish, German, Romanian, or Hebrew and could not read the letters , but he kept them reverently hopping that one day he will be able to translate them. Now, Matt sent me copies of this treasure trove asking me to translate the letters for him.
My grandfather was 72 at the time, he loved his daughter very much and he realized that he will never be able to see his daughter again. The separation from her caused him great sorrow and he was trying diminish the distance by keeping Sophie involved in the affairs of the shtetl and the family life there. On May 2 1926, for instance, he wrote about a thief breaking into their house in March. It happened while he was away to have his hair cut and his wife Gitla was out in the garden. The thief stole a fox fur coat and some other clothes from a trunk. The damage was estimated at 9000 lei, a lot of money at that time. My grandfather wondered how was that possible in the middle of the day and he assumes that it was because the house is on the low street, where very few people walk by. He also wondered if it was worth moving to another place. He did not ask Sophie for money, all he wanted was an opinion.
My grandfather describes Ishaiahu's (my father) problems. His boss, a very good person, has passed away and the new one was not willing to keep all the former employees. Ishaiahu still had debts on his house, which was beautifully painted and furnished. My grandfather wrote that he helped Ishaiahu to open a carpentry workshop and after Purim put in an order for three cupboards, two beds, a wardrobe with two big mirrors, a large table and a writing desk. It was all made from white wood and, since he wanted them before Pesach, had to be ready within two weeks at a cost of 11000 lei.
"I am still busy in my shop, in which there are still some clothes and shoes and some lamps", he writes. "A merchant offers me 20000 lei for everything. And there is a worker who is offering me 25000 - 30000 lei for my house. I also have 12 pupils that I teach. All this may enable me to help Ishaiahu pay his debts.
Around the issue of selling the house there seem to have been some family disagreements. He talked it over with Hana (his daughter in Mihaileni) and Burah Brier (Hana's husband). The son-in-law was against selling, saying that it ought to remain for the grandchildren.
Apparently Burah had some problems with his ears (his hearing was poor). My grandfather gathered 14000 lei for a doctor in Galatz who could help his son-in-law. My grandfather also mentioned that Iancala Safier, a young man from Mihaileni, had left for America. Iancala was once a pupil in my grandfather's heider and he described his former pupil as a good man. In the same letter he also stresses the need for a good education, to enable the children to achieve their goals in life.
In a letter dated 10 May 1928, my grandfather writes that Ishaiahu works now with a half partner and they have received an order for furniture for 50000 lei from the very rich Moishe Steiner. As my grandfather puts it now they have more work than any other carpenter in the world. To put things in perspective, 50000 lei was indeed a large sum of money - since, as described above, my grandfather's house was worth about 30000 lei. By the way, Moishe Steiner was Dr. Artur Hecht's grandfather.
Another letter begins with a blessing: "I, Iosef Leibel, aged 80, am writing these blessings in Hebrew. On the same occasion I convey you your mother's good wishes". As one can see these letters continued over a long period. Unfortunately Sophie's letters to my grandfather did not survive.
Review by PAUL SCHWEIGERViata Noastra 25 September 1998.
A whole world is about to disappear; the old ones are passing away, as it is natural, and the younger ones are less and less seeing themselves as descendants of those places. And after fifty or one hundred years the grandchildren and grand-grandchildren will begin to ask themselves where did they come from, to settle on these new places; who were their grand parents and grand-grandparents; what were they dealing with, what were their concerns. And nobody will be there to tell them about that long chain of people who have created both material goods and spirituality, keeping alive the light of some traditions and customs, speaking some languages and dialects that have changed and altered in time. Maybe only the scholars will be able to re-construct their life.
Unfortunately, we are in front of an unavoidable reality, that defines many human groups compelled by history to move periodically from place to place. How many of us know where our grandparents and grand-grandparents came from to settle on the Romanian land, which calamities made them move to that place? How many of us ask themselves where had their ancestors been before, when greedy princes threw them out of Galitia and Ukraine trying to take away from them the harvest of their honest work?
Dr. Zisu Lebel's book is trying to be a modest dam against this dangerous forgetfulness (as all sorts of people hating our nation continue to consider us aliens everywhere and keep asking how long have we stayed in some places, keep questioning our "roots").
Even before having a look at this book, I knew that no matter what its content, I was dealing with a VERY USEFUL work and I regretted that I did not receive such a work at least once in three months -- works that represent old people's memories, people that know to express themselves in writing and have indeed something to say about the old times, about places that hardly keep any traces of our passing through (except perhaps the cemeteries, too often devastated by non-humans or little by little transformed in agricultural fields). The author writes: "I have many grand children here in Israel and in America and sometimes they ask me all sorts of questions about my life. Sometimes they ask me what was my life like during the second world war, which, for them, is only a chapter in a history book. They ask about the places where I spent my childhood, about the life I was living, they ask me to describe the shtetl of Mihaileni and that of Dorohoi. They ask many questions that show how much they are interested in the old life". But, unfortunately, there are still a lot of people that have no such interest yet and somebody has to arise it!
Still there is a certain modesty that has to guide our paces when we start building such a monument to the memory of our forerunners. Dr. Label says: "I confess that from the beginning I had some reticence. I was thinking: Who am I? Just a Jew from Mihaileni..... So I decided to write the following lines for my grandchildren but not only for them, in order to save for future generations fragments of real life"
Even if something or somebody would have prevented me from continue the reading of Dr. Zisu Lebel's book, I would still have words of praise for the text: a man that has such a strong conscience of the historical necessity of his work and on the other hand displays such modesty deserves all the praises of the people he represents and the people he addresses !
Even if Dr. Lebel's book is an autobiography (it seems to be very authentic and precise, with only a few little jokes added) this book is a brick for the building of a real history of the Jewish community in those places and all over Romania (and, although I know there would be many, too many people willing to contradict me, I still want to say that such a book contributes to a better understanding of the situation of Romania at that time: no matter what some people would like or not, the Jewish community was a part of Romania for a few centuries, even if the forerunners of the anti-Jewish people in today's Romania did their very best to prevent our ancestors to be a part of everything that was taking place there).
The author of this book has a prodigious memory and describes the places and the people of his native town with great ease and spontaneity. Nevertheless, nothing is artificial or false in this text written many decades after the events took place -- smaller or bigger events, described with so much warmth by dr. Zisu Lebel. It takes a lot of sincerity to be able to speak so naturally about people you met and knew during a distant childhood, blending the autobiography with the biography of a whole community, each line of the book is a significant proof of this. Events that were important for everybody or events that were important only for some people and their family are put down by the author with the accuracy of a historian and when you read about them you cannot avoid a smile or a tear... It is not a history book, yet, what you find in its pages, is HISTORY.
The history of Dr. Zisu Lebel's life contains many windings that are interesting in themselves, even if they do not speak about Mihaileni or the surroundings of that town. Those windings, that are complicated and sometimes painful, describe the Jewish life in Eastern Europe during the second world war and after it. It would be too long for me to present all those chapters and the only thing I can do here is to recommend warmly the reading of the original text .
We are impressed by the fact that the author -- though he is not a professional writer -- succeeds everywhere (and especially in the final chapter of the book, where he describes the life he began in Israel at an older age) to avoid a false useless atmosphere of idyllic celebration.
The small shortcomings in the language, or the shortcomings in the transcription of some Russian names of places does not matter for the reader who would try to rebuild a moment of history and a place in geography. Maybe such a reader can expect he or she would frequently sigh with nostalgia or would feel like crying.
Review by CAROL ISACUltima Ora 9 October 1998.
There is a book that has appeared in Haifa, that might have become a best-seller were it published by a famous publishing house. I read it as such, and the reading was exciting from the first page to the last one. The title of the book is "Mihaileni, My Dear Shtetl", the author is Dr. Zisu Lebel, a dental surgeon well known to the inhabitants of Haifa and it appeared in the collection "The Bank of Memory" of the Organization of the Jews Born in the Dorohoi District.
On the last page we learn that our collaborator Uli Friedberg-Valureanu helped with the publication of this book. The book is written with the sincerity and the talent of a story teller and the graphic presentation is very good. Mr. Shlomo David, president of the above mentioned organization, writes in his preface that the author is "a nostalgic Jew with a fantastic memory", that brings to life the little town of Mihaileni, where 2000 Jews were living before the war (most of them died in the Transnistria camps and on the Transnistria roads).
Usually, there are monographs written about such human communities. But Dr. Zisu Lebel only tells us what his emotional memory retains from the past life of that shtetl and he succeeds not only to rebuild with words the place the way it was (and of which very little remains today) but his descriptions define interesting destinies and happenings.
The author confesses that he wrote the book in order to answer the curious questions of the youngsters of his family, questions concerning his former life in a distant place of Romania, belonging to the kind of places where "nothing ever happens". That saying, belonging to writers who took their inspiration from the life of small towns, is contradicted by Dr. Lebel. The people of the town, though not significant from the point of view of their social statue carry in themselves (each in his or her own biography) a small novel that the author "re-publishes" briefly, but in an exciting manner. And the little town is full of happenings, the important thing is to know how to see them. Dr. Lebel saw them and recorded them in his memory, a memory which (sorry to contradict the author of the preface) I do not find uncommon but only very receptive and able to select the significant things. I am sure the book might have had additional tens of pages if the author would have been only a story teller, but he is also a man of good taste and an attentive historian of his time. One thousand meters long was the "center" inhabited by the Jews of the little town, but in that place and in the surrounding streets a whole world was throbbing...
A great part of the pages of
the book also belong to the history of the Jewish community in Romania, a rich
and exciting history which for the most part has not surpassed yet the
statistics and the exact annotation, There is an intimacy of the Romanian Jew,
so well preserved in northern Moldavia, which only a book like Dr. Lebel's book
is able to disclose in all its splendor. Maybe this is the reason so many great
spirits in Jewish culture came from that part of Romania: it is from Mihaileni
that Jacob Groper and Leon Bertish came, and it is there that Idov Cohen was
born too. That unique flow of a real shtetl life is rebuilt with fidelity and
especially with talent.
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