The Sources are Buried
A long river flows. It carries
its waters from far, far away to some other very distant place. Time and
place. The Jewish people have left the world arena. When and where? Let
historians figure it out. Somewhere behind the Egyptian pyramids, somewhere
before the Sumero-Arcadian cultures, our people spread over the world, heeding
Leykh Likho. And the Jewish people goancient Israelhoary, gray Israel. Let
Chagall paint a Jew in the air carrying a bundle, floating over cold, snowy,
isolated worlds. Let Pilichowsky paint the Jew's passage in exile. Let other
folk people recount the legends of the Wandering Jew, the Ahasver [a legendary
figure of the eternal Wandering Jew (A.H.)]but he's walking! The
nations that used to persecute him are no more. There is not even a vestige
left of them. All of them have been buried in the sand. Only he pushes
forward. A world of enemies surround him; the lime ovens of the past and the
crematoria of the presentthe world is making progress, the river is
flowing, everything moves forward. Why doesn't the river dry up? Why are we
the only living exception to all the other petrified peoples?
Throughout the whole duration
of its long history, it was revitalized by fresh sources of living waters.
These waters pour their thin streams on the river bed, and the river doesn't
dry up. For the last thousand years, and perhaps even longer, the springs that
kept Judaism alive were the small, impoverished towns of Eastern Europe. This
means the Svintsyans, the Haydutsishoks, the Vidzes, the Lingmians, the
Dugelishoks, and our Kasrilevke, in general. In these small towns, Judaism
grew; and from them it flowed into the cities. The great river is big because
the small streams and springs carry their waters to it. This is how Vilna
merited the title Jerusalem of Lithuania; all around it were towns
which produced creative Jews. These towns were the vineyards, the fruitful
fields; and the cities were the silos, the storehouses, the wine presses. The
cream of the crop from the towns and villages gathered in the cities.
The river flows its course
quietly and serenely, smoothly, without strain. When it comes to a rocky
place, the river exerts the force of its pressure . . .
In this manner, Jewish life
flowed for centuries, softly, slowly. The small towns were happy to take their
contribution to the cities, where there were granaries. Every town, with its
own rabbis, prodigies, its own accomplishments, and its individual marvels. In
this way, the treasure of Jewish culture grew unhurriedly, until the time that
certain impediments disturbed the life of the shtetl, and the small towns began
to roar, to storm, and noisily carried their cultural contribution into the
cities. That's how a rich and tumultuous Judaism developed. New names began
to be heard, new, creative fields. Our culture grew up to be strong and
mighty, and it spread out and made itself heard . . .
This is how it was until a
ruthless tempest arose, a primitive force of hatred and [seemingly] civilized
evil. The springs were covered over, our villages burned. The lime furnace
into which Abraham, the first Jew, was thrown blazed up in a thousand flames.
It burned throughout the whole dark night across the world. Remnants of our
people hid themselves in woods, in ditches. The source cities, however, are
dead. Kasrilevke is no more, and gone also is the
sturm un drang of the culture. The springs are waterless; the river is dry. If there are
no more Jewish villages, the Jerusalem of Lithuania is also no more. If there
is no vineyard, why should there be a wine press?
There are Jews, the last
remaining embers, standing all over the world and saying
yizkor, whole books of memorial prayers, hundreds of books of prayers for the dead.
And in my heart there is a
question. Books will remain, but will those for whom the books were written
also remain? Gentiles burned Jews, a whole nation of Jews burned, and there
has come the time when Jews are burning their own Judaism.
But we are a people who are
used to miracles, and a miracle happened: When the sun of Jerusalem was
extinguished, the sun of Babylon arose is what the Gemara said, and when
the sun of Babylon was extinguished, the sun of Jerusalem once more began to
shine. In time, the towns of Lithuania began to build sister cities in Zion,
cities with names from the Torah but with builders and activists from
Kasrilevke, with Kasrilevke's heritage, with presidents from Motele and
Stoybts, with the inheritance of Svintsyan and of Haydutsishok and of all of
our beloved towns that were destroyed.
So the divine presence of the
Jewish people, its wings severely wounded, remains a bloodied shadow which
cries over the scorched roofs of those small towns of yesteryear. May it
remain forever and from Jerusalem in the land of Israel; may it send its burnt
parchments and blooming letters from all of the little Jerusalems of the
Diaspora back to a world-class Jewish nation. Amen!
Exalted and hallowed Jewish
towns. It is because of your blood that I live!
1. This is the name of the 3rd Torah reading. Leykh Likho means “get thee out.” It is God talking to Abraham telling him to leave the land of his birth. Trans. Back
2. Kasrilivke refers to the fictionalized city of Sholom Aleichem's stories. Trans.
3. He uses the name of one of Sholom Aleichem's fictional towns, the quintessential shtetl. Trans. Back
4. In German, this literally means “storm and stress,” but the meaning here seems to be “storm and exaltation.” Trans. Back
He Who Stands to Receive the Blessing
I think that the words
thank you and congratulations alone are insufficient to
express our admiration for the enormous work that went into the writing of this
book, which involved the collecting of information and coordinating a
tremendous number of details. It involved also encouraging others to write,
gathering their collective work, getting them to provide pictures and myriad
other details involved in publishing this book. And everyone who holds this
book containing such a great quantity of information will be blessed by the
fact, one that all of us appreciate, that he has found a friend; his name is
Yehoshua Heshl Gurvitz, may his light continue to shine. Thanks and blessings
to him for taking on this holy task and completing it.
As one of those who helped only
a little in the publishing of this book, I am able to give testimony to what
went on, even though it is really impossible to describe how much work, how
much devotion, how much spiritual and physical effort went into this on burning
hot summer days and on freezing winter nights. The physical work also involved
preparing the work for publication and conferring with all of the contributors
to the book. He could not rest until all of these things were done.
Because of his great love for
the people of Israel, he worried constantly about everything that happened to
us, and it gave Heshl no peace until the work was completed and he approached
the time that he could say a blessing over the finished product
with the publication of this book.
I know my dear friend, Heshl
Gurvitz, like a brother, from my youth. I met him while I was still a student
in school in New Svintsyan at the time of World
War I. I didn't know exactly who he was, a parent, a teacher, a community
because he had a hand in everything, in the reconstruction of the school in
those years, in the holy work of
in serving white rolls and cups of cocoa to the children of the school every
morning, when this was very difficult to obtain.
From the time that they came to
Israel, their house was open to all; and Heshl and his wife, Nechama, were like
a father and mother to all of the pioneers in the area of Svintsyan.
With the coming of the
Holocaust upon the Jewish people and with the settling in Israel of the first
survivors, Heshl began to organize a committee of people from the area of
Svintsyan to help the refugees. He established an active committee in Tel Aviv
and wrote to every address that he could get. He called every person who came
from our area and had settled in richer countries, to help in the mission
mentioned above. And, indeed, it is possible to say that he was very
successful. With the help of a few close friends and business acquaintances,
he established an interest-free fund, so that he and his friends could give
financial assistance to all individuals who needed it and to small businesses
that needed it. In this way, they were also able to set an example as faithful
and honest political leaders, since they received nothing in return.
Heshl Gurvitz was naturally
endowed with an amazing memory, the power of acute observation, and the talents
of drawing and describing things in writing. All of these find their way into
this book by way of remembering places, events, and people, starting with
Poligon through to his eulogy of friends and acquaintances who are
no more, who didn't live to share this day with us.
In the last years, he took it
upon himself to publish this book. This was a tremendous undertaking in all
aspects. However, he felt that if he didn't do it now, the time would pass.
It did not give him any peace until he did it.
For the erecting of this
eternal memorial for the thousands of Jews who were killed in the area of
Svintsyan, we owe a great debt of gratitude primarily to our dear friend Heshl
Shakhne Akhyasaf (Tsepelovitz)
* The blessing referred to appears to be the shehekhianu prayer, which thanks God that we have reached this time, whatever the propitious occasion might be. Trans. Back
** A food pantry for the needy. Trans. Back
Illustration with Name of Shtetl in Yiddish
and in Hebrew - Alexander Bogen
Jews of Svintsyan
Svintsyan was not blessed with
any hidden treasures of nature. The earth was modest here, just like the
people. Field and forest, river and lakepensive but light. Soft,
sincere, and smart, not only with the mind, but clever with the heart, with
deeply felt wisdom which comes from keen senses. This was always the
characteristic specific to the Jews of Svintsyan, who never had the
opportunities to put their energies to use in a large industrialized
undertaking, or far-reaching branches of business, and therefore they were also
very far from being coldly calculating and brutal. The Jews of Svintsyan took
part in all sorts of trades which catered to their needs and to the needs of
the Christian population, whether in the town or in the rural areas. They were
the tailors and the blacksmiths, the shoemakers and the painters, the bakers
and the glaziers, the porters and the wagon drivers, the miller and the forest
workers. The shopkeepers didn't work any less hard than the craftsmen, and all
were characterized by respect and a love for the Torah scholar and the Jewish
spiritual leaders, for the rabbi and the yeshiva student, for the sermon of the
itinerant preacher to the speech of the Yiddishist and the Zionist who brought
them the generations-old dreams and visions of new worlds. The heart of the
Jew of Svintsyan beat with the most refined simplicity. The scholar distanced
himself from the minutia of hair-splitting arguments. With his sharp
straight-line logic he plumbed the depths of every matter; and at the same time
he listened to the song of his own heart, which was filled with deep longing,
and aimed at great distances. The wine, which was not made in Svintsyan,
bubbled with their holiday joy. The wine of their intense goodness poured from
their smiles. Their strength was their faith, which was deeper than any well
and clearer than the deepest mortal wisdom: their faith in the worthwhile and
long-lasting ideal of righteousness.
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