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[Page 72]

The Tailors' Synagogue

[Shtibl – a small house of prayer]

by Shimeon Yosifun

Translated from Yiddish by Minia Lipkies and Oskar Delatycki

Why have a tailors' shtibl? Are there not many other shtibls and synagogues in town? The answer is that there are, but the Tailors' was quite special.

The tailors' shtibl, or, as it was called in the old days, “afun shtibl” [at the shtibl], has a very special history. If a young man was asked “where do you pray”? or “where do you study”? [referring to religious studies] it was a matter of pride to reply “at the shtibl”. I like to remember particularly the shtibl, which was the cradle of my childhood and youth. In that small shtibl grew up and lived generations of personalities and rare types of people. I will not describe everyone who attended the shtibl. I will write about the congregation as a whole.

It happens quite frequently, when I stroll in the evenings along the streets of Tel-Aviv, and my eyes are filled with images of the large, well lit up shop windows, with cars rushing one way and the other way, crowds of young people walking leisurely, numerous languages spoken by the many newcomers to this country. In the new suburbs, from the new houses with the large balconies one can hear singing and music of radio stations from the entire world.

And in this babble of noises I close my eyes and in my memory come up pictures of the past, of my small town and the small shtibl and I see before me images of a Friday night. It is winter and the streets are covered in snow. It is 2 o'clock in the early morning. All is still. Only one person, an elderly Jew, is fighting his way through the deep snow. Rapt in his fur coat and boots, the old tailor Avrom Yedida is singing in his thin, squeaky voice. The street is empty. His voice is heard on and on. It penetrates into the Jewish homes and Jewish hearts and soles. Little children wake up and rouse their parents. “Father, mother-listen, the old man is singing. Get up, get up to worship the creator.” My father rinses his hands in a finger bowl, dresses me warmly and takes me to the shtibl for the psalms. On Friday night, Jankl, the verger, had heated well the damaged blue oven with the long brick flue which served as a bench on the western wall. By the time we arrived in the shtibl the flue was already filled. In front sat old Berl Notkes, a man in his nineties with red eyes, no eyebrows, staring into his prayer book without glasses. Next to him Tevie the tailor, Heshl, Hershl, Shimen and others. On the flue sat Jankl Yosl the verger with his two sones: the older Ichke and the younger Meishke with twisted fingers. Next to them sat Tritl the scribe with his three sons: Tevie, Leibe and Aron. All were chatting quietly. Shortly the shtibl was packed solid with people. The lanterns were smoking, there was no seat left, but who was worried about such details? Aron Motke the furrier banged on the podium and Berle Kefkes, a man in his mid thirties, short with a thick black beard, approached the podium and recited by rote, with heart and sole, the beginning of psalms. The large crowd recited with him, paragraph after paragraph, with ecstasy, one endeavouring to shout louder than his neighbour. And this went on, one paragraph after another, chapter after chapter, with many mistakes and omissions as long as the intentions were good. But when it came to chapter seventeen, we, the young ones, had to smile at Berl's rendition of the paragragh. When I asked my father: why does Berl say the prayer by rote and not by reading it from the book, father answered that he makes fewer mistakes when he does not read the book. But, anyway, Berl is a fine fellow so let him pray as he likes. And that was the way we prayed every Friday night from Ashrei ha ish to Kol ha nishomo tehalel ya [from the beginning to the end of the psalms]. Afterwards we would walk home and drink tea with milk covered with a thick skin and then back to the stibl for more prayers.

This time the shtibl seemed to be different. Seats were still not available, but the lanterns were not bellowing smoke and the crowding was not as dense. They still stand in front of my memory – the praying people, the dear Jews from the small shtibl. The eastern wall was fully occupied. Here is Reb Shepsl Zeliks, a man of the Book, slightly megushmedicer [worldly], broad boned with long hair on his eyebrows – they nearly covered his eyes. I remember that after the prayers my father would invite Reb Shepsl to share a drink (kiddish). Father would open a bottle of vodka and pour in half a glass of pepper into the bottle. That's how he liked it. Reb Shepsl would praise highly my mother's kichl [brittle pancake shaped biscuit] and tzimes [diced cooked carrots]. Mother used to repeat the same phrase each time after he left “I had the biggest honour when he sat at our table”.

Reb Meier Tsires, a learned and clever man, my late father, Reb Asher Kopls, my dear teacher Reb Yosif Kaldfine, who was known as Yosl Leibke Wagers, Reb Sholim Chaim Berls, Reb Meilach Skakun, Hershl the tinsmith, Shier the dyer, Heshl Avrom Iches, Iche Purkuls with his sons Avrom Ber and Akiva, Yoshe Kirshner and the permanent cantors: Wisel for the morning prayers, Mashe Chananies for the evening preyers, the permanent gabay Aron Motke the furrier and the permanent opposer Moishe Yankl Kirshner and other memorable Jews who prayed with a will. Who would look at the young shnekes – Dovid Shmerkovich, Yehuda Litvin, Yudl Eliyahu Vilenski or the younger still generation Shmerl Kisner, Alter Yosl Chananies, Dov Malchacki and I, the author of this article.

I enumerate many names of the prayer group for another reason: they were not only participants in the tomchey yedidim [supportive friends] which existed for 50 or 60 years. I doubt if the majority of the people of Novogrudok ever knew that such a circle existed. The duty of the circle was to help unobtrusively worthy people in need with small donations. I will not say much more about this circle and will only mention that they had a regular annual meeting on a specified day when the weekly portion of the Torah “beshalach” was read. The members of the circle looked forward with anticipation to the meetings. Four weeks prior to the meeting Shneer the dyer would exclaim “thanks God we are approaching the portion of the Torah “beshalach”. As the expected Shabes beshalach came around, all the members of the circle had to pray in the shtibl. Each of them was called up to the Torah. When the turn of Yoshe Kirshner would come, he would stumble over the blessing and all the boys would burst out laughing. Quite often I was given a smack by my father for laughing at an old man because he had made a mistake

For years, after the prayers, there was a Kiddush at our house for the members of the circle. There were big slabs of honey cake. We were given the cake twice a year; once at tomche yedidim, when the portion of beshalach was read, the second one at Sholem Yoine which was read by Aron Motke of the group of psalmist, when the portion of the Torah was nesa. The actual general meeting took place on Saturday night. Yankl Yosl the verger would organise the provisions which included a package of Istanbul tobacco and a bundle of cigarette paper and everyone could roll thick cigarettes and smoke to his hearts content. There were baskets of apples and there was tea for one and all.

The permanent secretary, bookkeeper and reporter was Tritl the scribe. He would read out the list of income and expenses, but the recipients of the assistance were not named. That was the secret of the committee. The committee was elected for a year. They were opposed by the troika Moshe Yankl Kirshner, Chonon Leibovich and Yehoshua the boot maker. The troika was always arguing the same thing – they wanted the secretary to read out the names of the people who received assistance – but that was never done, unless the opposition would be elected to the committee, which never happened. The argument continued till midnight when a compromise was reached and everyone departed expressing a wish that next year the money in the treasury would remain untouched, because nobody would need support.

The circle was dissolved probably during the world war [i.e. the first world war]. I don't know where the books and the archive of the circle are. I believe that only Dovid Shmerkovich and Yudl Eliyahu Vilenski would know that.

In the noise and whirl of the new life on the shores of the Mediterranean sea emerge memories of long ago, of times that will never return, of events that existed in the far away land of Novogrudok, where the vanished generations of our parents and grandparents lived. They had their worries and their happiness. They prayed and sang in the distant past.


[Page 74]

The Seder night that was disrupted

by Yischok Gurwitz

Translated by Oskar Delatycki

The story I want to tell you happened in the recent past – about 35 years ago in the year Tof Rez Samach [1900], when the pupils at the Reb Yioyzl's Yeshiva were the best students from Kovno and Slobodka, genuine talmid chochims [clever students]. Among them, many became famous scholars. Their voices could be heard emanating from the big synagogue through the nights.

The population of Novogrudok was treating the students with great friendliness and respect and especially by the women, who fed the young people with the very best. If a student could not come on the appointed day, the food was taken to his lodging. I remember one student named Reb Yosef. He was a young man from Galicja. He was tall with a round friendly face and a short black beard. He was pleasant and was good at his studies and had a thorough understanding of the subjects he studied. He knew thoroughly three books of Gemora, was clever and a hard worker. It was a pleasure to converse with him. His depth of understanding and sharp mind had beguiled me. I first met him in my father-in-law's house where he was stationed. He was fed by 'days' by the neighbours. My mother used to bring her pot on Sundays, my mother-in-law on Mondays, and Tzivie, daughter of Isroel from Vilno, on Tuesdays. When Tzivie would bring her pot and put it in the oven to keep the food warm, a sweet smell would permeate the house. On a certain Tuesday I came for a chat with Reb Yosef. I found him sitting at the table, eating his food. 'Good appetite' I said 'how do you like the food'. 'Very good' said he 'all is in good order'. 'This is so tasty' said I 'because a good looking woman cooked it'. The expression on the young man's face changed, it was obvious that he was angry. He said “I don't know her, I don't know who brings me the food'. 'That is the problem' I answered 'if you knew who brought the food you would have even more pleasure from it'. The young man's face darkened, he looked at me angrily, but it was obvious that he would not dare to rebuke me for my indiscretion and he changed our conversation in another direction.

On the Sabbath, Reb Yosef ate at the house of Reb Hirshl Shimon Israelit, the richest man in town. Reb Yosef would say after he retuned home 'It would seem that Reb Hirshl Shimon is an ordinary person, he can be very friendly to his fellow men. I feel that I am welcome in his house. I don't deserve the respect that he shows me'.

Reb Yosef had one blemish however – he was too pious. His extreme devotion could lead to untamed excesses. I would like to tell you about one such incident. The time was a couple of weeks before Passover and in those days the preparations for the holiday were quite advanced in every Novogrudok household. The tables, the chairs, the kitchens and the dishes were thoroughly scrubbed and washed. The women were up to their necks in work. In the last week before Passover we were walking on sawdust, straw and matting in my mother-in-law's house. The benches and tables were put out in the house. We were eating in a corner. My father-in-law was walking around discontented muttering and complaining. My mother-in-law was very pious, even her name was Frume [pious] and despite her husband's discontent everything was scrubbed tenfold.

When the time came to cleanse the oven, Reb Yosef appeared. He asked my mother-in-law to allow him to cleanse the chimney. Even my mother-in-law had never reached the level of piety which involved cleaning the chimney. She was very interested to observe how a chimney is prepared for Passover. Reb Yosef did it quite simply: he brought in a large handful of straw, pushed it well into the oven, lit it and almost burned down the house. But the chimney was thoroughly prepared for the festival. When father-in-law heard about it he was most upset. He blamed Reb Yosef and kept asking: where did he learn about the law to cleanse chimneys? 'One day you are going to be a rabbi of a town which will be devastated if it follows such laws'. Reb Yosef said nothing. He was just smiling forlornly as if to say: the deed is done and we can do nothing about it.

Between Purim and Passover the house of Hershl Shimon was a beehive of uninterrupted activity. The 8 hour working day did not exist in those days. Normally the girls worked till midnight and Sorre Ester made sure that they worked fast. But between Purim and Passover they worked the whole night through without interruption. Sorre Ester had two duties: to watch the girls in the workroom to make sure that nobody fell asleep and to prepare for Passover at home. The servant, a Jewish girl, had a hard task because Passover in the house of Hershl Shimon had to be prepared in grand style.

On the eve of Passover Reb Yosef made preparations, he went to the bath house and had barely eaten; it was neither every day fare nor Passover food. It felt as if he was overlooked. My mother-in-law brought a plate of mashed potatoes with mushrooms. Reb Yosef ate it without appetite. He said to me pondering 'I find Passover eve tedious'.

When the evening came we all went to the synagogue and the atmosphere improved. Having come back with Hershl Shimon to start the Seder, Reb Yosef was in a good mood. The big table was splendidly arranged with the big chandelier and big candle sticks. With panache and according to tradition all sat around the table and listened to the blessing of the wine by the host. The youngest son asked the traditional Passover questions, but when Reb Yosef started reading the Haggadah – just the first few sentences starting with 'avodim hoinu' [we were slaves] – Hershel Shimon and Sorre Ester both fell asleep. Reb Yosef, who was engrossed in reading the Haggadah, did not notice it initially, but when he heard the snoring of his overworked hosts, who for weeks did not have enough sleep, he felt compassion for them. He started to read the Haggadah loudly to see if that would wake them. But the louder and with more feeling he read the Haggadah the deeper his hosts slept. The children also fell asleep. Reb Yosef finished reading the Haggadah and sat there not knowing what to do next. Reb Yosef started pacing the house. He began thinking of his home, his wife and child and tears ran down his face. He was thinking: this was the way of the Torah. He put on his overcoat, got out from the warm house, closed the door and went away - where to? He found himself at the house of my father-in-law where I was invited to the first Seder. We just started eating. We asked him 'What is the matter Reb Yosef, did you finish so early?' He told us the whole story and he sounded deeply disturbed. I, wanting to cheer him up, asked him 'could you not get your food from the servants?' He answered to my jest in all seriousness 'in the kitchen lay the kitchen maid with, if you will excuse me, her bottom up and was snoring like an ox, next to her lay the serving girl crouched, her hair tossed about, their snoring reminded me of a wild tune, I ran from the kitchen.' 'Sit down at the table' my father-in-law said 'I forgave you the cleansing of the chimney.' Reb Yosef shed his overcoat, sat down at the table and we had a festive meal and conversation. Reb Yosef told us stories from Galicja, I spoke of Saratov and so on till midnight.

That night we had shmire, we did not sleep. Every 2-3 hours we would check if all was well at the house of Hershl Shimon. In the morning we went into his house. As we opened the door the following sight greeted us: the big lamp was still shedding a low light, the setting on the big table with the candelabra, the cups still filled to the brim with wine were still untouched, Hershl Shimon dressed in a frockcoat and sash, with a broad, wild beard, scull cap on his head seating in his chair at the head of the table fast asleep. He looked like the head priest in his priestly attire. Sorre Ester was also asleep, with her left arm resting on the table and the right hand supporting her chin.

When we woke them up with words: 'the time had come to say the morning prayer', they were very confused, they asked our pardon and begged us to keep the matter secret. I promised to do so. But, you be the judges, how long can one keep a secret?

I think that 35 years is long enough.


[Page 76]

Dr. Benjamin Einhorn

by Yaakov Gershovski

Translated from Yiddish by Oskar Delatycki

Novogrudok, though a uyezd [sub-district] of the Minsk gubernia [district], was at the time an isolated backwards corner. A Byelorussian small town with a substantial Jewish majority, Novogrudok did not have a train connection either to the capital of the gubernia Minsk, with which it was bound administratively, or to Wilno, the centre of the Haskola movement and of commerce, where the township's shopkeepers were buying their supplies. The means of communication consisted of large horse drawn carts in the summer and sleighs in the winter. The vehicles belonged to Rafael the commissioner. He was conveying to Wilno young men to study in the yeshivas and other educational institutions, or any young man in search of a tachles (essence). He took back various goods, according to the lists that the shopkeepers gave him.

The two Jews in town with degrees: Dr. Lubchanski and the pharmacist Shtrik, had an attitude of alienation towards the Jews, which was characteristic of the intelligentsia of that time, because they tried to distance themselves from the masses. If they came to the synagogue for half an hour on the New Year or Yom Kippur it was a veritable event, and was being discussed as something extraordinary. Children and others would gather around them and observe their every movement, every step. They looked on them as if they came from another planet. However they were well known the whole year around. What an event! The doctor and the pharmacist in the synagogue!

Now, can you imagine the sensation in town and the effect it had on one and all when in the early 80's of the last (i.e. XIX) century a middle aged Jewish doctor settled in town, and not just an ordinary doctor but a military one with the rank of Colonel. And that's not all, because the military doctor Benjamin Einhorn came to the synagogue for the prayers draped in a woollen talles (prayer wrap) and big tfilim (phylacteries). He also came to pray at Mincha (afternoon service) and Maariv (prayer at night, after sunset). He prayed piously, with inspiration. After prayers he would sit down and study 'a page of Gomorrah' with great perseverance. The excitement in town was extraordinary: a military doctor with the rank of Colonel was wearing a beard and sideboards and behaves like a most observant Jew! The Jews were most impressed. In no time the event became known to the police officer. I don't remember the name of that police officer stationed at the time in Novogrudok, but the Jews in town called him among themselves Haman (enemy of the Jews, see the Book of Esther). He was a great persecutor of the Jews, the difference between him and his namesake from the days of Achashverosh was that the historical Haman had no respect from Mordechai and was prepared to spend money to get rid of Mordechai and his Jews, whereas the Novogrudok Haman had lots of respect from the Jews of Novogrudok, if he was seen at a distance they would hastily take off their hats and bow reverently, and they were prepared to give him money – if only he would accept it - 3,5 or even 10 rubbles, and gifts like heads of sugar, geese and so forth. And if he did not want to accept the bribe himself, thus indicating that the alleged breach of law was so great that even a bribe would not erase the guilt, on those occasions money was offered to Haman's wife. She never refused. She would make extensive purchases in Jewish shops and put the bill on her husband's account.

Having found out about Dr. Einhorn from the Jews, who wanted to show off that they had among them a Jewish doctor who was a Colonel, Haman decided that something was wrong, that the doctor must be a swindler or a major criminal, or possibly a meshumed (convert), possibly even a doctor who managed to prosper because he converted to Christianity and now he wants to return to Judaism. And because this is forbidden he is hiding out in the township in a synagogue. He was triumphant in advance assuming that he would cause troubles to the Jews, by making them responsible for hiding a felon. On the following Saturday morning when the Jews were going to the synagogue, Haman took with him four armed policemen and went with them to the guest house where Dr.Einhorn was staying. On the way he stopped a few Jews who were on the way to the synagogue and took them with him to serve as witnesses. At that stage several curious Jewish onlookers joined the throng. They were eager to know what was happening and where Haman was going with the armed policemen. Having entered the guest house, Haman stationed two policemen at the door to be certain that no one could escape and with the other two and the witnesses he went in to the room to investigate. Einhorn was dressed for the Sabbath and was about to leave for the synagogue. Having seen in front of him a Jew with a beard and with a talles in his hand, Haman became courageous. He looked at Einhorn from top to bottom and he shouted at him 'who are you, where are your documents'. Einhorn showed no concern. He took out the documents from the wardrobe and gave them to Haman, who started examining the documents, first with disdain and later he started flipping through them. He noticed that they were authorised with state seals. The colour of his face started to change, he became paler and paler, his hands shook. He put down the documents and started sliding out of the room. However Einhorn stopped him and said to him in a strong voice: 'How dare you treat me like this? Do you know who you are dealing with and what my rank is?' He took out from the wardrobe a handful of medals from the Turkish war and he spoke to him firmly 'Do you see how the State honoured me for my endeavours during the war. According to my rank you must salute me, and not treat me with such brutality and gall'. Haman remained standing for some minutes as if frozen, after which he stretched ridged, saluted and in a low and depressed voice answered 'My fault, your highness, I was given wrong information by the Jews'. Einhorn was furious 'Be quite', he shouted, 'get out of here or I will report you to your superiors. How dare you blame the Jews'? Haman disappeared in a hurry, worried, with a bent head. He was so distraught that he forgot to call off the policemen who he had put at the door. He also forgot to disperse the onlookers, who in the meantime gathered in numbers and blocked the entrance to the guest house and half the street. And instead of unsettling the Jews on the Sabbath and do them ill, Haman was defeated (Haman's mapole).

It was thanks to this story that Dr Einhorn became popular. His practice increased. His popularity also increased because he was not greedy. He treated poor patients without payment. He was also not concerned how much rich patients paid him. He became known as a specialist in eye diseases. He cured patients who could previously not be healed by radical treatments such as spring water 'reines art' [I am puzzled by this, the English expression 'spring water' is sometimes translated into German as 'reines Wasser ', this is the best I can do] or even water that was used to cleanse a corps.

Though he now had a busier practice he did not neglect the synagogue. He studied with great perseverance. On Sabbath he would not write prescriptions. If it was urgent he would go to the pharmacy and order the prescription. Despite of this, his success was not long lasting. His practice shrank and did not provide him with a livelihood.

The attitude of Jews towards him had become more indifferent and lacked respect. The richer patients took advantage of the fact that he never bargained and never counted the proffered fees. The patients would pay him using low denomination copper coins instead of silver money. The potential patients decided that his mode of living and his pious behaviour were interfering with his professional duties. Some even suggested that his head was not functioning well. Some thought that he could not be trusted with patients. His practice continued to diminish. He was short of money and he moved to Korelich. There was no doctor in Korelich. In Korelich Dr Einhorn did not change his way of life. He sent his children to the cheder and yeshiva. His son Dovid (the renowned poet Dovid Einhorn born in Korelich) was sent as a boy to study in the Ramal yeshiva in Wilno.

It is worth mentioning a characteristic of his life. For most of the year Dr Einhorn kept to himself, and that included his behaviour at the synagogue when he studied. He shunned company. He behaved like a hermit. He seemed worried, apprehensive. He appeared to be hard-pressed. But when Simchas Torah came he seemed to 'put on a new skin' as the saying goes. He was of a sudden full of joy and most active. He danced and sang in a circle, whilst holding on to a scroll. It made no difference if he was among young or old, rich or poor. And yet, though he was the only doctor in Korelich, [apart from him there was only a medical assistant (feltcher) and a nurse], he could not earn enough to live on. Here too did his patients take advantage of him, they cheated him. Again, copper coins instead of silver, wrapped in paper would be given to him. They took advantage of the habit that payment was given to a doctor wrapped in a piece of paper.

Not being able to survive in Korelich, Dr Einhorn moved to another township. But again the story repeated itself. In the end he gave up his profession and moved to Wilno. There he did not work as a doctor. He studied in the synagogue of the chasid Goyen. He lived off charity from his relatives. During the First World War he was cut off from his family. He survived for a short time, lonely and in great poverty. He died in the autumn of 1914. He was given an honourable place of burial in the cemetery.

Why did Dr Einhorn, a military doctor and a Colonel, suddenly become strictly religious? Various stories about it circulated. Dr Einhorn was a son of very pious parents from the small town Ivie. Naturally, he was given an orthodox upbringing. Whilst at the yeshiva he was influenced by the Haskola movement. He gave up his studies at the yeshiva and took up a conventional education. In time he achieved a university education and later studied in the military academy. In the time of the Turkish-Russian war he was promoted to the rank of a Colonel. His pious parents were quite unhappy about this. At that time Dr Einhorn persuaded his younger brother to drop his yeshiva education. This caused further anxiety to his parents. Einhorn promised his parents that he would do all he could to bring back his brother to religion. His brother, however, having finished his studies, converted to Christianity. His parents were shattered. They could not face the shame and shortly after died. The death of his parents shattered Dr Einhorn. He suffered for a time a mental collapse. He left the army and moved to small towns, where he lived remote from the world and followed the dictates of religion.


[Page 78]

'Without a hammer, shears and a saw'

by Menashe Unger, US

Translated from Yiddish by Oskar Delatycki

Josef Bruksman from Brooklyn describes a Chevre Kadishe for living orphans which was established in Novogrudok 82 years ago.

In 1872 in the big city synagogue a large meeting of presidents and members of all the synagogues took place. It was decided to form an organisation which would provide better living conditions for abandoned orphans, for homeless and poor children and the poor who walked the streets. The accepted resolution at that meeting was signed by 88 persons present. The first among them was Gershon Harkavy.

The resolutions were written in Hebrew and consisted of 18 points. The most important points were: the society, which will be known as 'Chevre Kadishe Shokday Melocho' will look firstly after total orphans, next after half orphans. Care will also be extended to children whose parents beg in the streets. The society will hire teachers for the above mentioned three categories of children, will study with them, particularly on the Sabbath and holidays the Torah or Chai Adam (the life of man) and other religious works suitable for children. The children should be also given an elementary secular education. In addition, the children should receive instructions in acquiring trades. Every child should learn a trade to be able to build in the future an independent life and not require the help of strangers. Anyone could be a member of the Chevra Kadisha by making a contribution of two kopeks a week. Women have the full right to be members of the Chevre Kadishe, have the right to vote and be elected, to have a say regarding the activities. They must belong, however to a separate group and have their own books. On Saturday, after the festival of Shavuot the annual meeting must take place. The accountants must have two meetings per year: between the holy days of Pesach and between the holy days of Sukot. The minutes of the meetings must be displayed in all synagogues. The emblem of the original organization will be 'a hammer, a shear and a saw'. The 'Chevre Kadishe Shogdei Melocho” had grown well over the years and influenced other Jewish centres to create such organizations in Lida and Zetl.


[Page 79]

Alexander Harkavy

by Prof. Nosun Ziskind, US

Translated by Oskar Delatycki

The Jewish nation is 'am ha seifer' [the people of the book]. We created the 'seifer ha sforim [the book of books] the Tanach, which is the greatest and the best.

We are in the position to appraise, therefore, Alexander Harkavy and place him in his due place among our great teachers. He took part in many activities. Alexander was born in 1863 into a family which could claim among its forebears a long line of rabbis, scholars, maskilim [members of the Haskala (knowledge) movement], modern scientists, researchers and the renowned publishers Ram of Vilno, which supplied prayer books and literature to the Jewish world. He continued in the family tradition. He participated in new intellectual developments with the best minds of his generation. He was a pleasant young man, a maskil, a member of the intelligentsia who was thirsting for knowledge, determined to find the truth, was intent on improving himself and the world. And though he was orthodox, he had achieved the highest level of education and learning. As they say in English: a self-educated, self-made scholar. As he was an idealist he joined 'Am olam' [the nation and the world] and joined a group of young men from Vilno, who were planning to create a utopian colony in the new world, so as to improve themselves and the society. In the end, however, he worked his way from a labourer to being a leader and a communal worker, he assisted the emigrants through HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), was a lecturer with the Board of Education, an adviser on education to the city of New York, an activist in the Jewish school movement, an actor in the theatre, a translator and popularizer of books, a philologist, a writer, an editor of newspapers and books. But, as well as all that, Harkavy was foremost our rabbi (teacher). For about fifty years he was teaching the Jews of the United States his Torah shebal-pe (by word of mouth). To this day his teaching of the Torah bi ktav (written) influences his generation.

He taught the Jewish masses, the poor migrants, sweatshop workers and labourers, peddlers and shopkeepers and the radical intelligentsia. First and foremost he taught them the language of the land – English: speaking, reading and writing, so as to integrate them into the society. He followed this with teaching the history of the United States, its Constitution, the laws of citizenship and more, much more. To educate the masses, Harkavy published text books. He started with the traditional letter writing texts in Yiddish and English. He published a book in English – 'The teacher of English'. He continued to improve his books with each new edition. This was followed with English-Yiddish text books and English spellers. Then he wrote books on basic mathematics, advanced bookkeeping and geography, Tanach, history of the world, Jewish history, world literature, and aesthetics. And even a cookbook in Yiddish. His journalistic and publicist activities, his creating and editing of newspapers, journals and calendars was in totality mass education in the best meaning of that word. But his most popular creations remain his dictionaries, which ran into 30 editions.

To assess fully the influence of Harkavy, or, to put it more succinctly, his part in the education and development of Jewish immigrants, it is impossible and probably useless to gauge how much more difficult it would have been without Harkavy's help for immigrants to assimilate in their new home, to adjust and to Americanise and to widen their horizons of their general education. I made an attempt to establish, even approximately, the print run of all his teaching books, but I was not able to establish it to date. Some of his editions don't exist anymore. The most important publisher of his works, who is still printing his books, Hebrew Publishing Co. of New York gave me a great deal of information, but the figures we were looking for were not available, not the overall number of books published nor the number of copies of individual books or the number of editions of the individual books. We only obtained the dates of the latest editions of every book. Through Ms Edna Kagan, secretary of the Novogrudok Relief Committee, we found out that Harkavy's wife used to complain that he allowed his publisher to enrich himself from his books and did not see to it that he obtained enough income for his needs. Having taken stock of the numbers of his books which are kept in the various libraries, I came to the conclusion that Mrs Harkavy was right. I estimated that hundreds of thousands of his books have been sold. It is certain that there is hardly a Jew who at one time did not consult one of his teaching books. The majority of his Jewish readers were those who read his “citizen” books, which were manuals to prepare them for the examination prior to obtaining their American citizenship. It would be no exaggeration to state that almost all Jewish immigrants had gained knowledge from his books, from the ordinary common Jews to the intelligentsia.

All investigations undertaken to date are showing that the first generation of Jewish migrants learned English from Hakavy's teaching books. I can serve as an example. My parents arrived in the States in 1912. They had to leave behind their children. In 1914 the First World War started and the children joined them in 1921. I was 15 years old at that time. I found in my parent's home Harkavy's books 'Learning at home' and the dictionary. My parents were learning English in government public evening classes. They must have considered it insufficient and were studying at home using Harkavy's teaching books. I was enrolled into the Yeshiva of Rabbi Itchok Alchanan and there I learned English for 4 hours a day. But for a long time I also studied at home using Harkavy's books. I think that it will not be an exaggeration to state that we, Jews of America, were all students of Harkavy. The fact that Harkavy was the foremost teacher of English of the Jewish immigrant generation in America would be a sufficiently big achievement.

Actually an English text book was published before Harkavy's in the 1870's. The book was written with Yiddish characters but the language was German, not 'deichmerish' [a germanised version of Yiddish], but simply German, which was meant for German Jews. With the appearance of Harkavy's works, this book disappeared for good.

If one looks deeper into the books of Harkavy, it becomes clear why he had such a great influence. Harkavy was obsessed with the desire to help and improve his fellow men. To teach, to educate was for him a melocho hakodesh [holy duty]. More than his genius and his ability as a populariser shines through his ethic, his desire to improve and humanise the world around him, and in particular to better his brethren. This was the secret of the unique success of his blessed activities, the continued love of his task. Though we don't know as yet the number of books Harkavy published, we know that whilst Harkavy endeavoured to earn a living from his work, his main aim was to publish regardless of his income. For example, he published by himself in 1925 his dictionary in three languages: Yiddish-English-Hebrew. When the book turned out to be successful, the Hebrew Publishing Company took over the publication of his books. Professor A.R. Heshl characterised in a lecture our goens and he said that in every period they understood what their generation was in urgent need of and undertook to satisfy those needs. This could be said about the works of Harkavy. He too had recognized what his brethren required and he created that which was needed or he made certain that others did so. This is why he went to the trouble of translating a cookbook to make it easier for a Jewish housewife, who only knew Yiddish, not to be disadvantaged compared to her non-Jewish neighbour and to have the same chance to excel in cooking. For that reason he also translated the then popular book by Prof. Brown. Another example was the absence on the market of a good quality translation into English of the Tanach for the English speaking Jews. The translation by Lazar was too unwieldy, the translations by non-Jews were not kosher with inserted erroneous Christian ideas. He could not undertake to translate anew the whole of the Tanach (because even 25 years later the Jewish Publishing Society was forced to engage a whole assembly of learned specialists to compose a new English version of the Tanach for Jews, based on the King James version). But there was a need at that time for a kosher Tanach in English. Harkavy, by removing the rejects from the modern “Revised Version”, obtained an acceptable kosher translation for Jews. The same impulse to serve the spiritual needs of the Jews motivated Harkavy to collaborate on a Spanish language phrase book for Jews (1929) and to compile a Hebrew-English dictionary for the holy books for the English speaking Jews. But Harkavy the maskil had not neglected his first love – Hebrew. As early as 1894 he published an English-Hebrew vocabulary “Torah language in English” for the talmid chochim (clever scholar), which satisfied his desire of making accessible Hebrew books. Characteristic was also the change in the spirit of the time when in 1900 appeared the last edition of the Hebrew – English language tuition book. The Yiddish tuition book is still in existence (last edition 1956). Because of the demand in Israel, he had produced for Yiddish speakers in America the three language dictionary English -Yiddish – Hebrew. This enabled the Yiddish speaker to converse or correspond with both his English speaking children in America and with his Hebrew speaking brothers in Israel. It is significant that Harkavy started learning English with the Jewish migrants and finished by teaching their grandchildren Yiddish. In 1921 his practical lessons of English were still printed in Forward for Yiddish speakers. In 1932 he was publishing lessons of Yiddish for English speakers in the Morning Journal. As we said, he was our universal teacher.

It is most interesting to note that in the Hebrew Tribune Harkavy proclaimed, even at that time, the importance of Yiddish. He declared his readiness to forgo all his previous efforts and to create a complete universal grammar of all Yiddish dialects. His early articles and books are polemic writings to show that Yiddish is a language equal to all others. It is possible to follow the development of Yiddish in the last 70 years by following the development of Harkawy's Yiddish style. Clearly, he was advancing from simplified Yiddish, putting in the effort to liberate Yiddish from imitation and copying from German. He endeavoured to make Yiddish independent and to make it shine with its native beauty instead of dressing it up in the dead feathers of German. When he started writing Yiddish the German migration was at its peak. The rule prevailed: the more 'deichmerish' the better, the nicer, the more elegant and the more intelligent. Even Harkawy called one of his early works “Handwoerter buch der Englischer sprache with the translation of the English words”. In three consecutive editions the book was called:

Firstly: Yiddish-English dictionary (1898)

Followed by: English-Yiddish dictionary (1900)

And finally: Yiddish-English-Hebrew dictionary (1925)

In the newspaper Forward (1921) his article was called Englisch Lektionen [German for the English lessons] but in the Morning Journal of 1932 it was called Englische Lekcies [Yiddish for English lessons, 'lekcies' is actually from Polish 'lekcje' OD], and his last book 'A werterbichl fun kreivishe werter' [A wordbook of related words].

In the end: Harkavy's book closest to his heart was his 'Peoples dictionary of the Yiddish language'. In the first volume, 'IVO papers' (1931), is a Yiddish dictionary where everything is explained in Yiddish without the help of any other tongue. Alas, Harkavy did not live to finish his work. But even the part that he did finish was lost by the publishers (I was given by the 'Committee for the Big Yiddish Dictionary' the mission of find the manuscript, but the publisher could not find it).

His most important works still remain: his multi-language special dictionaries, his 'Yiddish-English-Hebrew dictionary”, which is still the largest compilation of translated Yiddish words. Harkavy must have been a saint, because work was for him everything, to which the young 25 year old Harkavy wanted to dedicate his whole life. Shtuchko has given us the full treasure of the Yiddish language and created now the instrument which is compiling the 'Big Yiddish Dictionary' (it would have been worthwhile for the editors of the dictionary to review his methods of phonetic transcription and his inventions of the terminology of grammatical terms. We can not enter here into a discussion of technical matters, but Harkavy was in that field innovative and created things which are worthwhile and useful to emulate.)

The next task is to realize Harkavy's dream. Maks Winrich, who is working assiduously on the history of the Yiddish language, Yochevet Yaffe, who created a method to study Yiddish dialects and Ariel Winrich, who collects and records perfectly prepared samples of Yiddish dialects from the whole world. Be happy, sage Harkavy, glow and shine in our sky among the shiny stars, be exultant about our nation, among our heroes are the rabbis: from Moshe Rabanu to Ezram, Hilel, Rashi, Rambam – to the eternity.

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