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[Page 26]

The Synagogues

Translated by Haya Newman

Edited by Rachel Mines and Aviva Tirosh

Funded by a research grant from Langara College, Vancouver Canada

 

The Old Synagogue

The Old Synagogue in Shkud was famous all over Lithuania. It was one of the three oldest synagogues in the country, built of wood, and approximately 15 metres tall. The Ark was very ornate with wooden carvings. Hundreds of guests came on special trips to see this Ark. In the Old Synagogue, people prayed only from Pesach until after Sukkot. Because of its height, it was impossible to install a chimney for a heating stove, and because of the cold, people were forced to pray in the study house next to the synagogue. The Ark's artistic carvings reached all the way to the arched ceiling. On both sides of the Ark were delicate wooden carvings that were especially beautiful: lions, deer, doves, apples, pears, and flowering trees of all kinds. A priestly crown and a kingly crown and the two tablets, together with all the shapely contours – all created a wonderful wholeness and beautiful harmony.

Most of the New Town's important people had their regular seats in the Old Town's synagogue. And on the second day of holidays, they used to come and listen to the cantor's singing and prayers. According to agreement, the cantor used to pray on the second day of holidays in the Old Synagogue.

The community of Libau sent a delegation of important people to the Old Town's council to negotiate buying the Ark for their synagogue. However, the Ark remained till the destruction of Shkud. This proves that Shkud's council knew how to appreciate this valuable asset.

In the Old Town there was a house of study where people prayed throughout the year.

In the New Town there was one synagogue and two prayer houses. One of the prayer houses was used as a cheder where children studied Torah and Mishna during the week, and instruction took place there after regular school was over. In that prayer house, people studied Gemara and Mishna under the guidance of Rabbi Terushkin, hy”d. In the evening hours, the group “Gemara” studied their page under the guidance of Dov-Ber Zusya Peres z”l and Kaplanski hy”d.

 

The Cemetery

At the edge of the old town was the old cemetery. Cemetery maintenance and funerals were in the hands of the Burial Society, whose members did not do their tasks for payment. They also kept the cemetery clean and in good shape. Amongst the treasurers of the Burial Society were Aharon Bloch z”l, Leib Baskind hy”d, Yaakov Segal hy”d, Hersh Reichkind z”l, and Y. Yudelman z”l.

 

sku027.jpg
Banner: the 7th of Kislev 1936

In memory of the member Reb Moishe Taitz. The Khevre Germara
in Shkud says farewell upon his going up [aliya] to our Holy Land

Seated from right to left: Pin, M. Sh.; Chatzkel, N; Taitz, Moshe; Kaplanski, Y; Natanson, Y. H'Rav Dafa; Shnshvaski, A; Melamed, Y; Yoselovich, Ts; Faktor, A; Hupsha, A; Grinker, L. Valert, A; Epstein, A; Piktur, A. D.; Urdang, A. B.; Minks, M.; Yankelovich, Y.

 

[Page 28]

Learning and Educational Institutions

Translated by Haya Newman

Edited by Rachel Mines and Aviva Tirosh

 

Schools

In 1910, twelve of the town's leaders helped to establish a Russian school in the town, which included four sections. The school was situated in the area of the Tsarkeva, the Russian house of worship. Some of the children from the Old and New Towns attended this school and acquired from it their general knowledge. When they came back home, the children continued to study in the cheders of Aharon Nachum Grinberg hy”d, Aharon Shereshevki z”l, who was called the Drubianer Melamed, Vainberg z”l, Girzon z”l, Chaim Aharon Hovsha z”l, and Yisrael Shaf z”l. In the cheders, the students studied the Bible, Chumash, and Rashi until 8:00 in the evening, and they returned home by the light of lamps with candles burning inside. Every student was equipped with such a lamp.

In 1919 a new school was established under the leadership of Dr. Karshtat. This public figure was popular, beloved, and accepted by everyone of all social levels in the town. All his energy was devoted to public affairs, and he always helped people in need. Very often he provided medical help to poor people free of charge. He did so with love, modesty, and dedication. He was amongst the first in the town to take upon himself the duty of organizing cultural activities for all the town's Jews. He especially cared for the youth, and he didn't spare his energies or time to attract them to lessons.

The school he opened in Shkud brought new spirit to the youth, who were thirsty for studies and education. Dr. Karshtat used to pay the teachers' salaries from his own pocket when the tuition fees paid by parents was not sufficient. He laboured to organize banquets on behalf of the students, and the profits were dedicated to maintaining the institution.

The school's language of instruction was Russian, and it was attended by most of the local youth and also those from nearby towns. The main teachers were Yudel Mark, Cherniovski, Viener, Shimen Band, and teachers from outside the town.

As a man of the people, he was drawn to the poor, and he dedicated himself to the problems of people who were afflicted with misfortune and various sicknesses.

However, because of his socialistic leanings, the authorities forced him to leave Shkud.

In the time of German rule during the first World War, the Russian school near the Russian church became a German public school under the guidance of the teacher Hindel Helman. Amongst the teachers were Mrs. Shalmines (the wife of Avram Moshe Urdang) and Mrs. Feinstein.

[Page 29]

Even before the war, the cheders of Reb Aharon Hovsha, Shaf, and Vainberg united, because it was forbidden to conduct separate cheders, and they were moved to the hall of the school in the Old Town.

in 1921, after Dr. Karshtat was deported from Lithuania, the school administration was passed into the hands of Michal Fogelman hy”d, and from that time, the language of instruction was Yiddish. The language of the country, Lithuanian, was compulsory. The school's educational principles were based on Jewish foundations.

Amongst the teachers was the writer Yisrael Shaf z”l. The school was named the Yiddish Pre-Gymnasium.

In 1921 in the New Town, the cornerstone was laid for a new building for a religious folk-school, “Yavne.” Celebrating the building's opening was an experience in the life of Shkud's Jews. In this well-attended event, the school children performed songs, Hebrew recitations, and a play. The celebration was organized by Yudel Vainberg and Leah Zundelevitz.

Finances to establish the school building were provided by people who had left Shkud for Africa and America. In America, they had a big ball for this purpose, the “Shkudder Ball” with the initiative of Hertzl and Motel Lang. The two brothers even visited Shkud afterwards, and a special ball was arranged in their honour.

The families Friedman from Africa sent big donations to the school fund and also the local foundation “Ezra” dedicated significant sums to the completion of the building.

In 1922, the Hebrew pre-Gymnasium was established in the new building, with four sections. It had a liberal slant, and belonged to the Tarbut (Culture) network. The teachers of Dr. Karshtat's school were transferred to this pre-Gymnasium, and those without command of Hebrew had to study to improve their knowledge, so they could continue to teach there.

After a while, some excellent teachers were invited to the school, who planted in the hearts of their students love and dedication to Israel. Two more classes were added, and then a fifth and sixth auxiliary class. At the end of their studies, there was an exam sent from Kovno, and the students who passed the exam received certificates. Not a few continued their studies in Kovno, Shavli, and Rasein.

The teachers of the folk-school and the pre-Gymnasium were Yisrael Shaf z”l, Chaim Aharon Hovsha z”l, Tzvi Rosenzweig hy”d, Bar-Sheva Pin, Yisrael Fish, Shimon Vainberg, Potashnik, Fine, Kalmaikov, Rizin, Rier, Shlomo Vainer hy”d, Moshe Heshel Cohen hy”d, and those people who are with us now in Israel: Frida Aliash-Friedman, Haya Shpitz-Rabinovitz, Haya Sneg-Vermil, Dovid Rudner, and Dovid Reznik.

When the debts of the pre-Gymnasium increased, the parents' committee conducted balls, and the income was dedicated to cover the debts.

[Page 30]

 

Kindergarten

In the year 1927, a kindergarten was established. From a young age, the children received a national education in the Hebrew language. Mrs. Marcus (now in Israel) worked as a teacher and educator.

 

Talmud Torah

In 1921 a Talmud Torah was established. Mr. Avrahm Shefkind (z”l) was chosen as cashier. As treasurer Nathanson (may he live a long life) was chosen. The Jews of South Africa contributed to the institute's maintenance.

 

Library

About 1000 books were in the library, and every new edition enriched it. The library served all the Jewish inhabitants of Shkud. For a monthly fee, books could be exchanged twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays. The librarians from amongst the youth worked voluntarily. The library was the property of the United Zionist Youth (Tze'irei Tzion).

 

Evening classes

In the evening classes for adults, people learned the following languages: Hebrew, English, and German. There were also evening classes for beginners, and the attendance was very good, especially in the winter months.

 

Drama Society

A number of amateurs amongst the young people of Shkud established this group. Twice a year members performed plays for the public. Amongst the plays were “Selling of Joseph,” “Mirele Ephros,” “The Darfsyung,” “King Lear,” “Yoske the Musician,” and “The Big Winnings.” Members of the group performed recitations and readings in Hebrew. Profits were donated to educational and social activities. Amongst the directors, Fievel Neyman (hy”d) should be noted.

 

Choir

The choir rehearsed a number of times per week. The choir performed before the Shkudder public. The pharmacist Silberstein (hy”d) was the last choir conductor.

 

Cinema

In 1926 the cinema started to function in the new elementary school building, under the management of Ben Tzion Fogelman (hy”d). This cultural project brought a lot of life to the shtetl.


[Pages 31]

The Way of Life in Shkud

Translated by Haya Newman

Edited by Rachel Mines and Aviva Tirosh

 

Shabbes in the Shtetl

On Thursday afternoon in the shtetl, you could already feel the approach of the Shabbes Queen. Flustered housewives prepared challahs and baked goods, and from the ovens came waves of heat and smells that enticed the appetite. The traffic in the meat-shops and near the fish displays was brisk. On Friday, the children and working people were already eating fresh and fragrant buns, the work of their mothers and wives.

On Friday, preparing the home for receiving Shabbes was the main task. Everybody washed, cut their hair, and polished their shoes with great care. The signal to close the stores for the entrance of Shabbes into the shtetl was given by the shtetl council's official town crier, Berka, the synagogue caller.

After the announcement “in shul arain,” everyday life stopped, and the Shabbes in its soft and honoured cloak enwrapped the town and its inhabitants. Fathers and sons went to shul, and on their return, with or without a guest, sat at the already-laid tables just like kings' sons. The Jewish houses in the shtetl were flooded with electrical lights, and Shabbes candles were lit, glittering in the dark night with happiness and joy.

Songs and music were raised in the night, which added to the special charm that spread over the shtetl during those Shabbeses. Shabbes was recognized in all corners of the shtetl; and in the morning the shtetl looked especially calm and quiet.

The people praying in the Old Shul in the Old Town came early for the morning prayer, whereas in the new Town prayers took longer. After the cholent, it became very quiet in the shtetl, and the flavour of Shabbes rest was pleasant to the Jews of Shkud.

The youth spent the day of rest, from the beginning of Friday evening, in various cultural activities in clubs, most of which were in the school building. They also walked in the town's vicinity. The Shabbes ruled everything.

The Gentiles knew they needed to make their own preparations before Friday evening, because during Shabbes they could not buy anything.

 

Fire in the Shtetl

In Shkud there was a regiment of firefighters made up of both Lithuanians and Jews. The first commander of the regiment was the German customs clerk Shtultzenberg. He used to drill with his people in the late hours of the night. On his knightly horse, he would ride down the street in a Napoleonic pose, wearing a special uniform and blowing a trumpet. Worry and fear, panic and alarm fell on the inhabitants of Shkud when they heard the blast of Shtultzenberg's horn.

The people of the regiment would quickly run to the drilling area, and their German commander would stand with his watch in his hand, pompously checking to see how long it took from the horn's blowing until they arrived.

In case of fire, Shkudders would go into the street to see if the fire was far from their house, or close. If the fire was close, they and their neighbours would pack up their belongings and run for their lives to a place of safety. The commander would stand close to the fire and instruct his men how to fight it.

The danger was very great during the summer when kindling could set fire to the wooden houses. Shkudders would climb to the rooftops with water buckets in their hands and diligently guard their homes and property.

There was a joke amongst the shtetl's Jews: when a fire started in the Old Town, the Jews of the New Town would say, “Don't worry, the fire is in the Old Town.” And this is also what the people of the Old Town would say when a fire broke out in the New Town.

Among the biggest fires in memory were those in the Lithuanian dairy on a hot summer afternoon and in Elert's windmill in the middle of the night, which endangered the town so that the townspeople didn't go to sleep for fear that the fire would spread to the New Town.

On summer nights guards were set, and the Shkudders were obliged to take a turn of duty. A legend circulated that during one big fire, a tzaddik blessed the townspeople so that fire and water would not come their way, and the blessing was fulfilled. While other towns in the area were completely burned, Shkud remained.

 

Postal Arrangements

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, the post would arrive in Shkud after it went through the Seven Circles of Hell. Post came by train to Prekuln (Priekule); from there it was delivered by buggy to Salant (Salantai) (24 km. from Shkud). From Salant it was transferred to Shkud. In this way, the post office distributed letters twice a week.

The man in charge of Shkud's postal arrangements was a Russian general whose permanent position was in Vilna. He used to come to Shkud every year, for six days before the year's end. On one of his visits, Ester Nathanson (z”l) took drastic action to change things, and after she put 180 rubles into his hands, Shkud in 1903/4 won a post office of its own.

 

The Slaughterhouse in Shkud

After the town leaders succeeded in building a bathhouse and a mikveh, they enthusiastically started to build a proper slaughterhouse. Before and after World War I, poultry and cattle were slaughtered in the yard of the shochet, Hirsh Shmeres, in the Old Town. Afterwards, a big slaughterhouse was built at the end of the rabbi's lane, which faces the road leading to Maisyad (Mosedis). In the slaughterhouse were built special cubicles for the slaughter of poultry and cattle.

 

The Visit to Shkud of President Anantes Smetana

In 1926, Anantes Smetana, the representative of the Christian Democrats, came to power in Lithuania. In his travels through the towns of Lithuania to study at first-hand the conditions of the citizens, he visited Shkud. He was a liberal man, and he was attracted to the common people.

Jewish Shkud welcomed him in the New Town's synagogue with respect and splendour. The houses and the shul were decorated with great taste, and carpets were laid down before the shul's entrance. Flowerpots and bouquets decorated the Presidential stage, and the town's most respected people received him at the shul's entrance with bread and salt. In the shul, the President was greeted in the name of Jewish Shkud by Rabbi Kaplanski (hy”d) in excellent Lithuanian, who brought forward the inhabitants' request for improvements in the social conditions in town.

 

The Town's Marketplace

The town's market, in its square shape, was used as a meeting place. Most inhabitants of the shtetl used to go for walks in their free time around the square. In the middle of the square was a nice garden and near it, there was an artesian well that supplied water to the town. Also, the public buildings, such as the firehall, the post office, the customs hall, the police station, the local municipal hall, and the Jewish bank were in the centre of the square.

 

Rebels and Revolutionaries in Shkud

In 1905, when all of Russia was in competition for leadership of the country, unrest penetrated into the alleys of the Jewish Shkud. As a sign of resistance to the government's oppression, the young men of the town, (Statchkinikes and Bundtubshstkises) organized a political demonstration, and they took out their anger on the alcohol bottles in Helman's “Fibna” tavern. The rebels took the bottles from behind the bar, and after the head of the group made some fiery speeches, they broke the bottles on the street's cobblestones, shouting “Liberty and freedom” and “down with liquor.”

 

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