by Aharon Shohet (Arthur Schechter)
My father, Meir, Elye Velvl Khaves was my grandfather Elye's only son. He had more modern traits, he was more practical. I was more closely nurtured by my grandfather in my childhood than by my father.
I got to know my father better in America. He came in 1921 and died in 1945. I remember my father more as the one who supported his family, his wife and seven or eight children, a very difficult task in those years. I was the oldest son, to whom one could express the burdens of life of that time. For example: Who are your friends, what will become of you, you are already eleven years old and you are not studying hard, your friends are not of your class, unless you want to become, God forbid, an artisan.
These warnings did not frighten me. I had a weakness for artisans, tailors and especially seamstresses. I would often go to help them write letters to their fathers, and possibly boyfriends, in America. I would stay for hours and hear them sing their sad songs which we did not hear in middle-class homes. [He is referring here to a whole genre of songs about love betrayed.] I would sometimes spend whole days there. Naturally, I would get my reward for this from my father. The worst problems, however, were on Tuesdays, the day of the famous Stavisht fair. I was drawn to the fair as if by magnets, to the panorama of people: peasants with their sons and daughters, dressed in brightly embroidered clothing, with their horses, oxen, and sheep to sell. The colorful stands with the cakes on display and especially the beggars with their lyres, singing doleful songs in a minor key which touched my heart.
Who could sit in a classroom and look at a careworn teacher on such a day? I imagined that he, too, would have preferred to do business in the market and get rid of his class full of reluctant students for a few hours.
After I was twelve years old, my father decided that he would no longer pay tuition for me, possibly because he could not afford to. There were six younger children for whom he had to provide.
I would recall here a story about our rabbi, Rabbi Yaakov-Yosef: he had two
sons about my age, Hershl and Moti. Hershl was a very good student. Moti was a
dreamer, like me, and not a good student, and since he also did not go to
heder, we decided to study together in his house. One day the rabbi came in and
found Moti and me sitting at the table with a book. He asked me: What are
you doing here, my lad? I answered, I am studying with Moti.
He smiled and said, No you are not studying. If you really wanted to
learn something, you would study with Hershl.
|Meir and Hanna Shohet|
I want to mention my uncle whose name is in the list of those killed in the Stavisht pogroms. His name was Shalom, he was called Shalom Denis in Stavisht. His home was near Gedalkes Lake, among the gentiles. Jews hid there until my uncle became very ill. Most of the Jews had fled but he remained because he was so sick. A small gang of bandits came in and cut off his head. May his soul be bound up in the bonds of eternal life. He had no children, but he loved all children, especially his nephews. We brought his wife, Aunt Sheyndl, to America and she died in Boston in the thirties.
I should also like to mention my father's cousin, Simha Shohet. He resembled my
father as much as if he were his brother, although his character was very
different. His daughter, Ita Shohet-Vaysman, died in Tel Aviv about four years
ago. I met her in 1949, after forty years, and she inspired me with her wit and
wisdom. I was also inspired by her husband, writer A. Vaysman, editor of this
book, and their lovely children.
by Hava Goldman
This happened when I was a very young girl, almost fifty years ago. My brother Moshe, Professor Moshe Haysinski of the Madam Curie Laboratory in Paris, was brought up in Stavisht at the home of my grandfather, Rabbi Yitshak Avraham Gaysinski.
I used to go from my hometown of Tarashcha to my grandparents every holiday. I used to go with Yona the waggoner in an open carriage, with his three good horses. Once, on a holiday eve, just as we left Tarashcha, a cold rain began to fall and became stronger and stronger, almost a flood. The horses kept stopping, not wanting to continue, and Yona did not spare the whip. The carriage had to stop. The horses could no longer find their way because of the rain.
The journey that ordinarily took three hours lasted five and when we finally arrived in Stavisht it was dark. The holiday candles shone from every home. All the households were in the synagogues and Yona had a problem. How can he bring his carriage to the Sokolovka synagogue and how can I, the grandchild of a rabbi, appear with my valise on a holiday? In those days no one would dare travel in town with a horse and carriage on Sabbath or holidays. Yona remembered that a friend of mine, Devora Sigal, lived not far from the outskirts of town, so he left me off at her house. When I knocked on her door, I was taken in and received warmly. They took off my wet clothing and sat me up over the oven, dressed me in dry clothing and gave me a holiday meal. There was no telephone in town in those days and only on the morrow when Devora's brother, I think his name was Motl, went to the synagogue, he said that I had spent the night at his home and someone came to take me to my grandparents.
If any of the Sigals read these lines, I want them to know that I am thankful for their friendship.
For some days the memory of my trip in the rain was frightening, but since it was Sukkot the joy of the holiday soon erased the frightening memory. Every morning, Yosl the beadle would bring the etrog [citron] and lulav [palm leaves bound with willow and myrtle branches] for us to say the blessing. We ate in the sukkah [booth] all week long. On Simhat Torah we went to the Sokolovka Kloyz, prayed, walked around with the Torah scrolls, sang and danced. On Simhat Torah in the daytime, all the householders of the Sokolovka Kloyz, came to my grandfather's, made Kiddush [blessing on wine], then ate the holiday goodies provided by my grandmother. They sang and danced without cease.
I remember some of my grandfather's friends: Yekl Hirsh Reuvens, Mekhl Elushes, the Alanovskis, and many more, whose names I no longer remember. I remember the old cantor, Ya'akov-Yisrael, as soon as he started to sing he would begin to cough. It would take him a long time to recover from his coughing spell and continue singing.
When I recall those days I feel as if a great part of Jewish life and tradition
is gone. It will take a long time before American Jewry returns to the old time
Yidishkayt. Let us hope that they will return, because without Yidishkayt,
without Jewish rejoicing, life is bleak.
by Yisrael Rubin
Mordekhai Tetievski had a brother-in-law, Fayvel Polyak, who lived in a nearby house. When Nisan Ayzenshteyn, Fayvel Polyak and my brother Fayvel were called to serve in the military, they all decided not to go.
It was a dangerous time. The majority of those who went to war did not return. Only a small minority returned, sick and crippled. Therefore, the three of them decided to hide out for as long as they could. They dug a hole under the building and made a room with an entrance from everyone's window and when there was a search out for them in town they would go into the hole and hide there until the search was over and then they would return home. My brother Fayvel stayed with me.
The searches were carried on quite frequently. Special agents would come from
the district capital in Tarashcha to search for recruits and every time they
would find 40-50 young men and they would also arrest the people who had hidden
them. They used to come to our home, too, but fortunately never found anyone.
This lasted for 18 months. The Russian Revolution occurred in August 1917. On
that Simhat Torah, there was a great fright because the official came from
Tarashcha with over 100 officers to carry out a house-to-house search. That
night they found and arrested 75-80 people. The whole time they were in town
there was great fear. No one would step out of his house until they left.
Yosef Rubin (Rabtshanski) with his family, below in middle:
Yehosua and his wife Iziye; top right: Avraham; top left: Binyamin;
below right: Shelomo; below left: Moshe. [We assume that the top
center photo of the man with the beard is Yosef Rubin, although it is
not in the text.] Yosef Rubtshanski and his wife Batya were killed
by the Zelianevtsi band of murderers in 1920.
[Translators note: the variant spellings of the name Rabtshanski and Rubtshanski appear in the same caption!]
This lasted for almost two years with not one day of peace and quiet. One fine day our family decided to leave everything behind, business, houses, property, and to go to Shvarts Timeh [black uncleanliness, the Yiddish nickname for Belaya Tserkov, white church, also called in Hebrew Sede Lavan, white field.] I, my parents, and the children were there for a short time. I left for Kiev where I lived on Bolshoi Podvalnye and worked as a pharmacist in a Bolshevik apothecary in Lukianovski prison for almost a year. When I received a few days leave I went to Shvarts Timeh to see my parents. We had a long discussion and decided to leave for America. This was May 1919.
Four families left, my parents with their children, two uncles with their families, and my family. It took a lot longer than it takes to tell. First I went back to Kiev. We decided that when they would be prepared to leave, they would let me know and we would go together to the Romanian border.
After a short while they let me know that they were ready to leave on a certain day. I got a month's vacation, and prepared to leave. We immediately went to Zegivke, a small town near the border of Bessarabia, then part of Romania. We were unable to cross the border all together. Each family crossed separately; first, the younger children, then the older folk. We were in Kishinev, Bessarabia, for eight months.
We tried to get money and papers from America. We managed to settle in nicely in Kishinev, each family in its own profession and we made a good living. The first three months we were there I worked in the Ukrainian committee, then I worked as an apothecary for a year and then as a cashier and bookkeeper in a large haberdashery store for 15 months. We spent 2 ˝ years in Romania, the last three months in Bucharest waiting for the visas and money.
We did not go to America all together. Whoever received a visa left
immediately. In four months time all the families had arrived in America. My
parents came later, after 1923 when the quota for Russian immigrants was
closed. We settled in well in America, and we all make a living and we thank
God who inspired us to leave the Bolshevik claws and the damned Russian
murderers behind the iron curtain.
by M. Galant
One could be enchanted by the air, and the beauty of the castles, gardens with tree-lined streets and flowers. Under the trees there were benches. The residents used to promenade there on Sabbaths and holidays and in the summer evenings, breathing the fresh air. The town itself was dirty. There were no street cleaners, and the wind carried the dust aloft. The rains would clean the narrow streets and the large empty places somewhat.
Stavisht had many merchants, few artisans, and many waggoners, for it was far from a train station and from the district capital of Tarashcha and 18-20 viorst from the sugar factory of Zhashkov, with which it was commercially connected. We also had plenty of idlers, with little sticks in their hands, looking for a way to earn money as agents.
Stavisht was the headquarters of Count Branicki's estates and there were many of his Polish officials there who were good customers in the Jewish shops. However, in the last years, the Count's estate had set up a large cooperative store and the Jewish shopkeepers suffered.
But Stavisht Jews were not pessimists. Far from rich, but always lively and merry. Stavisht was famous for its cracklings. Stavishter grivn' were known in all of the villages in the area. [Cracklings, non-kosher, are roast pork skin. Kosher cracklings are fried chicken skin, chicken fat, and onions. Can also be goose or duck.]
Stavisht did not have a place in Jewish cultural life. Its people were pious to the point of fanaticism, and the children were raised in that spirit. The heder [one room school] played an important role, first on the elementary level and then, after two or three years, with a teacher of higher learning. But the heder of Shemuel Krentsel, Shemuel the Melamed was different. He was not Orthodox. He taught in a modern style. Everyday a teacher would come in for 2-3 hours to teach Russian studies. For a while it was Sigal, or the writer of these lines.
There were two well-known modern teachers in Stavisht: Yisrael Tsinis (now in Israel) and Lozer Yarmolinski. Their students were 12-13 years old, had already acquired some knowledge and had a different outlook at the world.
As I remember on the highest hill, the Vitrak, on the way to Zhashkov, there was a Russian School with four classes of gymnasium (but no foreign languages) which Jewish children were forbidden to attend. In 1909 Jewish children were allowed to take the examination. I prepared nine children of whom eight passed the exam, and from that time Jewish students were allowed in with the numerous clauses [quota for Jews]. At Reuven Yagovski's there was a little bank, which a group of merchants had founded to help needy people with loans. Later the government gave permission to open a legal credit union, under the direction of Efrayim Mazur whom everybody in town respected.
I still remember when there was no post or telegraph office in Stavisht. Old Mendl the Lame would sometimes bring someone a letter. Somewhat later a post and telegraph office was opened in Aharon Duaduak's house. Then it was transferred to a larger house, that of Mordekhai Sukanik. Stavisht flourished. A mailman appeared in the streets, stopped bypassers and asked them where various people lived. People began subscribing to journals and our town was involved in correspondence.
When the Zionist movement began in Russia our townspeople became quite worldly. I don't remember who founded the Zionist organization in Stavisht, builders of the Zionist Kloyz.
The Jews of Stavisht were always peaceful and friendly and constantly hoped that better times would come. Came the Russian Revolution and we rejoiced. But the joy did not last very long. All over Ukraine, pogroms against Jews broke out and the wild bands did not overlook our town. Jewish blood was spilled. Old and young were murdered. We were robbed of our possessions. The Jews of Stavisht, like the Jews of all of the small towns, fled to all ends of the earth.
As you know, Stavisht belonged to Count Branicki. All the Jewish homes were on his property. We paid rent. If anybody wanted to build an outhouse, for hygienic reasons, he could not because it was not in the contract. We Jews did not have much pleasure from the Count. He had no Jewish officials. At one time Leyzer Rubtshinski had served as an official and a family named Shkod, an old man and two sons, had supervised the distillery where liquor was produced, but then they were all fired. Only two Jews remained on the Count's estate: Aizik Landa and Shemuel Postrelke, a bookbinder.
You know the old saying: If you need the thief, you take him off the gallows. For a short time the Count's estate provided a little stove in the women's gallery of the Bet Hamidrash and every Sabbath a gentile would come and light it so that we had fresh tea but it lasted only a few months.
Who does not remember Mendl-Ber and his kapelye [orchestra], who made merry for
our weddings? In the summertime the weddings were held in the wooden hut. The
members of the wedding used to dance on the sand. But Mendl-Ber left Stavisht.
The kapelye was divided. One part had a famous fiddle player from Skvira,
Gadzenke, and they got the upper hand. There were clashes between the two
groups every time they met. I remember once, Hanukka time, my mother reminded
me to say my prayers and not forget al hanisim' [said on the holiday].
After I finished I went out. I heard terrible cries. I ran toward the sounds
and what did I see? The two parts of this band who used to play together so
merrily, were exchanging blows with sticks. Their playing was no longer so
merry. The police arrested them all, but it seems that our jail was too
crowded, so they were all set free.
There was a sensational event in Stavisht when Nehama Kleynman, the daughter of a lawyer, a graceful and beautiful girl, fell in love with a musician. Her parents were opposed to the match, and Nehama suffered, but one fine morning she and her lover eloped. They were pursued, but not found. They went to his parents, got married, and left for America.
The second sensation was caused by my close friend, xxx [name blacked out in book after it was printed.] It seems he could not find a pretty girl to love, so he had an affair with a married woman, the mother of two. When the husband discovered the goings on he came to a compromise with xxx. He gave him the woman and a son, xxx's, and he took his own two children.
Moshe was the waggoner who took passengers to Tarashcha. His nickname was
Gehenna [hell]. The waggoner who went to Zhashkov was Avraham'ke,
nicknamed The world to come. Among the many waggoners who went to
Belaya Tserkov (Shvarts Timeh) there was one called Moshe
Kishke[guts]. There was only one without a nickname, but everybody in
Stavisht, young and old, knew him. That was Yankl (Ya'akov) Dantsis. As soon as
he came to the station square you could hear his resounding voice. Everyone
knew Yankl Dantsis' voice. As Sholem Aleichem [might have] said, There
was only one Yankl Dantsis. No one in town had ever heard about his good
deeds. He would often be escorted by a convoy from Stavisht to Tarashcha. His
escorts would be relieved in the village of Yasinovke, where my in-laws lived.
They would give him something to eat so that he would have the strength to
continue on the next lap of his journey.
Leyb Trembitski was a famous medical professor. In America people are accustomed to using the familiar form du [you, singular] rather than the polite ir [you, plural]. Trembitski always said we. It seems that he had a lot of doctors in his pocket. Once, two doctors, Garakh and Milevski, complained to him that they were not well. He replied, Search for health in the bowl.
There was a woman named Batya Rasis, who had a general store where you could find everything. Her husband, Ya'akov Rabinovitsh spent more time in the synagogue than in the store. She ruled the roost, was the leading woman in town, and everyone loved her. She was clever and could tell stories, and when Wolf the tailor, who had one blind eye, came in, then you would really hear some storytelling…
Pitsie Sheynes was always smartly dressed, even Count Branicki could not vie with him. He had big beautiful shoes that were really outstanding. If you asked how much his shoes cost, he would only tell you how much one shoe cost.
There was also Shelomo the tailor, a quiet upstanding man. His son Yokl (Jack)
was very kind to me when I came to America. I don't know if the most pious man
in Stavisht would have done as much to help someone.
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