The wide road leading to the glass factory was crowded with people. Old and young walked in the direction of the horn. The contractor and builder of the factory, Shia Beilkes, a Jew in his late thirties, tall, bony, quick, with sharp facial features, happy gray eyes and a short trimmed beard walked proudly forward. He was the only carpenter in Telekhany who could read blueprints. People said that he could understand construction blueprints as well as the engineer Krutchenko, who created the entire glass factory construction plan. Under Shia Beilkes supervision several hundred tradesmen worked, a fact that filled him with enormous joy and pride on his way to the completed factory.
The glass factory promised the town prosperity, and when construction started there was no shortage of tradesmen; most of the tradesmen were brought in from the nearby communities. Even before the factory started production, Jews in town earned a living from its construction, and shopkeepers earned their living from the tradesmen and peasants who were employed in the construction.
The truth is that the factory didn't open all of a sudden, but gradually, involving one group of tradesmen and then another, section by section. However, on that morning the first signal coming from the factory was heard all over town, calling those who had already been hired to come to work. Many peasants came from the villages with their wives and children. They arrived in horse-drawn wagons and on foot. Old overworked peasants with brown faces like the brown wrinkled bark of old trees, and broad-shouldered young people from villages, full of strength in their limbs. Many of the peasants crossed themselves and expressed amazement at the new wood houses and the new roads at the huge new glass factory, which were spread out on a huge piece of land, covered since time immemorial with wild trees and tall swamp grasses.
More than anyone, Jewish mothers and their young children were pleased with the factory. All the women whose husbands were religious teachers and tradesmen took their young daughters to the factory to apply for jobs with the Jewish businessmen, the Tchernichov brothers. Shmuel Tchernichov was the younger brother, and was in charge of hiring workers. Rumor had it that the Tchernichovs only hired tall and healthy-looking girls. The younger and weaker children were sent home to eat porridge. The mothers of such children found a way around this obstacle. They dressed the children in their older sisters' dresses and high heels and went to try their luck. Maybe they would succeed, and many did. There was almost no household in town without at least one child employed or promised employment there.
On that morning, Fradel took Bailka by the hand and Chaim, dressed in a Spencer, by the other. She knew that her children were still too small to work in the factory, but she just wanted to share the big event with everyone else and revel in the new source of prosperity, in the revival that the factory was bringing to town. With tears of joy in her eyes she thought it would now be unnecessary to send children away to work as housemaids or to factories in the big cities. Pearl would come home from Pinsk where she worked in a match factory, and get a job here. Even today she would ask the Yanover wagon driver to bring her home for G-d's sake. Looking at the people around her coming along to Tchernichov's office to look for a job for themselves or their children, she felt that everything up till now was just a run up to the great event that the factory was now bringing into the life of the town.
Long before the factory opened, the town sizzled. Wherever a person stood or went, in every home, everyone was talking about the great prosperity coming to Telekhany. Boats would travel the rivers, and people would send crates of glass products to big cities, and they would even go abroad by the hundreds, and even thousands, of crates. From there they would bring back merchandise never seen before in Telekhany! Everybody would live like a king.
Even before they started working, children dreamed at night about what they would do with the money they earned. Hodel, the daughter of Avremel the bricklayer, who was just about to leave town and take a job as a maid in a big city also got a job at the glass factory. She was so overjoyed that she had to share her joy with someone. She confided to her mother that she had spent a few days thinking about what she would do with her first earnings. Her mother Zelda advised her to save it for a wardrobe. Avremel the bricklayer said that she was still too young, and that there would be plenty of time to save money for featherbeds and cushions. In the meantime, he said, they should fix the straw roof, or even remove the straw and replace it with shingles so that the Christian priest wouldn't be able to pull the straw from it for not paying him his interest on time.
After haggling for a long time, her parents arrived at a compromise, i.e. when Hodel brought home her earnings, they would then decide what to do with it. When Hodel came home with her first three rubles and placed them on the table, the family rejoiced, and her little brothers and sisters attacked the table and looked at the shiny silver rubles with yearning eyes, not daring to touch them. Avremel also approached the table. Zelda, his wife, followed him. Her small gray eyes gray eyes looked at the coins, and her wrinkled face, surrounded by a white kerchief, shone. She too was scared to touch the coins. Avremel picked up one silver ruble, examined it carefully and bit it with his strong yellow teeth. He did the same with the other two coins. He bit them all around and suddenly dropped them on the table. When he heard the fine sharp sound they made, he smiled, and was now convinced that they weren't counterfeit, but real silver rubles. Then he raised his eyes to the ceiling and started counting as if he were deliberating with someone. "Three rubles, fourteen hours a day, for six days, how much does it come to for one hour?" He wrinkled his forehead and scarcely moved his lips. It was obvious that his mind was working hard. After a few minutes of calculating, he said: "It comes to about 3-4 kopeks an hour."
Avremel the bricklayer was a tall wide-shouldered Jew with a hard diffuse beard, the color of mature dry straw. He was very poor and burdened with many children. He calculated figures on paper, but he was excellent in his head. Whoever had some calculation problem in town came to Avremel the bricklayer. He would raise his eyes to the ceiling, rub his straw beard and start thinking. When he found the right result, his clay-spattered face gave a smile. He clapped his calloused hands and said: "That's it." He was always exact to the cent. Now, as always, he was satisfied with his result. He played a little with the three silver rubles, then handed them to Zelda and said, "Here, put it away so she can make herself a new dress for the holidays." Selde took the coins, went to the dresser, opened a drawer, found a white handkerchief, wrapped the rubles in it and hid it in a drawer under the white holiday tablecloth. She said: "With good health, it will come in handy." Hodel took note of where her mother hid the money.
The next day after work, she ran to Arieh Leib the moneylender, gave him the three rubles and got back her mother's pawned candlesticks. The next Friday night Zelda kindled the Sabbath candles in her brass candlesticks, not in the scooped turnips.
When the factory opened, life in town started moving faster. Every morning children hurried to work. They returned home late and exhausted. Many girls complained of aches and pains in arms, necks and spines. The mothers didn't make a fuss of it, the children rested, forgot about their pain and continued working. Life for mothers became easier. Debts were paid off, pawned pillows, blankets or small pieces of jewelry pawned off to the moneylender since people were married were bought back. Barefooted girls got stockings, shoes and new dresses. Fathers and mothers were happy and thanked God for the income provided by the glass factory. Everything was going fine, girls saved for dowries, started wardrobes, and began to dream of marriage.
It shouldn't be said that everyone was pleased with the glass factory. Jews of the old generation complaining, What a stir, what a commotion! Children working, becoming breadwinners! Giving advice! Girls coming in contact with boys and getting spoiled. Young people going to work in a glass factory. The yeshiva in Vilna will become empty. This is how Moshe's brother-in-law, Aharon Shia, talked. He had a long gray beard all the way down to his belt.
Beilka's grandfather Moshe was the most pious Jew in town. He never spoke on the Sabbath, and if he ever had to, he did so with just a few words and in Hebrew. On weekdays he said: "Well, what a world! Such strange habits people have! He and made a gesture as if he wanted to give up on the whole world. Later, when he heard that the Tchernichovs declared bankruptcy, he fumed and raved, and shook his head saying "Nothing good can come from such behavior.
The 20th Century came in raging and stormy, disturbing the peace of the great
The factory workers became restless as well. They weren't just awed children any more the way they were when the factory opened, but grown adults with rheumatism. The work was hard on the girls, and all the factory workers complained about their pains, about long hours and low pay.
The owners felt the oncoming crisis among the workers. In addition there was the issues of large competition from other glass manufacturers, and poor business management. One autumn day the office ordered work stopped and the furnaces put out. A note on the doors announced that the owners had declared bankruptcy. Worry about earning a living again affected the town. Workers were unemployed and had no means of support. The town lived through a long hard winter.
One spring day, when the snow just began to melt, a wagon brought a chubby, handsome, Jew with a trimmed beard to town. A coachman was driving a reddish brown horse, and soon the good news spread around that Leib Turek was taking over the glass factory. He also contracted to build locks over the river and a steam mill to make flour.
Joy returned to town, and when the factory horn sounded again, people all over town went around with smiling faces since most people were workers, and they felt secure again, like people who knew where they were going and what they wanted. There were now young Polish glass blowers, specialists, molders and mechanics. Peasant workers returned from the villages, and the town came back to life. Not only was the factory working, but now there were sounds of carpenters' hammers building the mill and locks on the Oginsky Canal. Mothers again took their daughters to apply for jobs, and again children complained of aches and pains, and of long hours and low wages. And again the unrest among the workers began to increase.
I cannot accurately remember how old I was when I, like other children, began going to kheder ; it must have been at about four or five years of age. I just remember, however, that in the year prior to the outbreak of the first World War, my father Jacob, who was very concerned that children should study worldly subjects, hired Sonja Boaz's to teach me, the youngest child, and the oldest of my brothers, Joshua, Russian and mathematics in the evening after we came home from kheder . All of these and dozens of other childhood memories, already virtually obscured in my memory, used to fill my thoughts and how they would lead from one to the other to be perpetuated in my memory.
I have to admit that I myself used to push aside all of these thoughts because I feared touching them lest, God forbid, because of my poor ability to describe lives and events, I minimize and obscure their brightness. However, all the following events served as an impetus, and forced me to record and describe some of my memories about our town of Telekhany: the aforementioned letter from the memorial committee; my last visit as a delegate from the Brazilian Jewish delegation to the International Congress for Disarmament and Peace in Moscow in July, 1962, where I had a chance to meet my cousin's brothers Motel, Aharon and Shlomo Shlachman, as well as with the old politician Yossel Mashiach's, who currently serves in the important position of director of a textile factory near Moscow; my visit in Warsaw, Poland, with the brothers Ephraim and Leibel Davids Klitenick, two friends in work and battle; my subsequent visit to Israel when I participated in a memorial meeting held by the Committee on August 13, 1962 in Tel Aviv. The last encouraging letter I received from Esther Miller, a member of the Yizkor Book Committee, with whom I met in Telekhany in 1933 when I returned after spending four years in prison. All of this impelled, demanded and insisted that I record and take note of some of my recollections about our town of Telekhany.
I bring to this task my entire being and power of imagination to produce before my eyes the image of our Telekhany. I can now start to see the town's wood houses lined up together, creating a fire hazard; Telekhany's streets and wooden sidewalks, bringing its residents back to life just as I had left them the last time in 1936, when I was being persecuted for political reasons and had to leave for Brazil. I recall the economic and political situation of those days when the young people set off into the big world. Many became pioneers in Palestine. I remember the unemployment and the political and economic slavery. Fascism had already dominated Germany, and was poisoning and encouraging the growth of Polish fascism.
During my brief revolutionary activity in Telekhany in those days, from 1925-1936, I had undergone all of the torturous experiences of the Polish defense movement, including spending four hard years in prison, working on renewing the first concentration camp in Poland, Kartuz-Bereza.
Telekhany, that little town in Polesia in western White Russia had already distinguished itself with quite a few political criminals listed in the police archives. These were young people who had lost the fear of police torture, imprisonment and Kartuz-Bereza. The Mordechai Mariankellers, the Shammes Landmans, Yisrael David Kagan, Yisrael Feigel Bernstein, Ephraim and Leibel Klitenick, the Minas, Grunyas, Ethels and Devorah Dinas are recorded with dignity and pride in the revolutionary history of our destroyed town of Telekhany. With their courage and faith, battle and endurance, they showed that they remained faithful heirs of the fearless rebels and fighters, the Sisters and Brothers of 1905, who put our town of Telekhany on the map of revolutionary history in those days.
And our mothers? What honest, illustrious figures they were! They followed their children's involvement in unkosher things with tremendous devotion and motherly concern. They remained silent and consented to it, knowing how much mortal danger this involved. These mothers suffered tremendous pain and human dignity whenever a child was imprisoned or confined to a camp for his revolutionary activity. Many of them maintained intermittent illegal contacts after their sons were captured, and with their straight and pure thinking they understood that this was their child's life, and that his future and freedom was inexorably linked to it.
Many a year my dear, warm mother Rachel spent with the police's constant night searches with their electric lamps! She was white as chalk, shaking from fear as if she had a fever. My mother would ask me nervously, My son, you thief, do you have any of your papers with you? Give them to me and I'll hide them. My poor devoted mother! She could not imagine that her son would soon be sent away after being proven not to have any papers.
It makes you shiver and shudder when you think about how all the gruesome and awful experiences were a mere trifle compared to what the Nazi beasts were thinking about how to murder and slaughter our loved ones. Is there a way to measure the deep pain and suffering of those who were murdered, raped and shot at the gravesite? Is there a comparable punishment that these murderers and rapists should pay for everything that was dear, holy and beloved to us? Is there any consolation for the few survivors who remained outside the mass graves?
If we who were not there were unable to help save their lives from the gruesome death, at least now we should feel our obligation and promise not to ever allow the memory of our heroes and martyrs to be forgotten. Material should be collected, and memories should be eternalized in a yizkor book about our town of Telekhany, both about those who lived long ago and about the bloody pages of history of our town. This should be a symbol of our resolve to do everything possible so that the world and the Jewish People never again know about ghettos and genocide. May our pain never disappear until we use our collective strength to do everything to liberate mankind from the horrible danger of war that in the Atomic Age is a mortal threat for all mankind, including the Jewish People.
For many years, my grandfather, Nisan Gurstel, was treasurer of the free loan society, and worked in it joyfully and devotedly for many years. By providing interest free loans to poor artisans and shopkeepers repayable in small amounts, many poor people were assisted and helped back on their feet. My grandfather was so devoted to his work and to those receiving loans that he would go around collecting the weekly repayments so that the recipients didn't lose time bringing the money to the committee.
I was very familiar with the work, and knew about the situations people who received the loans were in since my grandfather made me his secretary and bookkeeper for both funds the free loans society and the food bank. I remember when Gershon Gurstal came to Telekhany, and we, the free loan staff, welcomed him as a great guest, and prepared a special meeting in his honor.
When I was preparing to leave Telekhany, the administration together with our Rabbi Glick made a banquet for me to thank me for my devoted work. I was also assured that my work would also be appreciated in the United States. They kept their word. They wrote the Telekhany émigrés in the United States that I was coming, enumerated my services, and told them that I would bring greetings from Telekhany. Before I arrived, a meeting where I was to speak was already announced.
My report to the Telekhany émigrés did a lot to broaden the assistance provided by the American émigrés. Even those people who were not that interested and who did not send much money decided to start becoming involved with people in Telekhany following my report.
I told them not only about the needs in town, but also how the organizations function; I told them about the help that we received from the Telekhany association and the Joint Distribution Committee; I told them that we went to a conference that the Joint Committee in Warsaw had organized for the representatives of the towns that received assistance from the Warsaw committee. The president of the Free Loan Society, Michael Ziss, and I traveled as delegates from Telekhany to the conference. We had to take along our books to be able to provide a full report about the money we received.
My report made an impression, and this initiated significant assistance. I was also pleased by the fact that I could also be helpful here in the United States to my brethren in need. I was very proud of my work and the assistance that I was able to provide to our poor brethren and follow in the footsteps of my parents and grandparents whose primary concern was to help those in need. My grandfather and grandmother and my parents always had an open home, and were always inviting guests. There was nowhere to sleep, so people would sleep on the oven, or on doors that were removed and placed on chairs. I was also pleased to meet members of my family. They were extremely helpful to our hometown, and they also sent funds to Palestine.
My father, Israel David, was a teacher. His pupils were the poorest of children in town. Of course, people did not have the money to pay him, so his income was not enough to feed our family a piece of bread. Our mother became the breadwinner, and between the two of them, we scarcely had enough to get by.
Among my father's pupils was his youngest child, Shmulik, who was just ten years old. Shmulik was very talented and whatever father taught him, he learned by heart. His oldest sister Chana, who worked for fifty hours a week at the glass factory, used to send him the "Self Teacher" from Pinsk, which inspired Shmulik even more to learn and write.
When our family moved to Warsaw, Shmuel was just fourteen years old, and went off to work in a steel factory. He would study in the evening, and aspired to become a writer. His writing skills soon became recognized, and he came to be considered one of the outstanding writers in Jewish literature. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, Shmuel joined other Jewish writers in the forest as partisans to fight the Nazi barbarians, who wanted to dominate the world, and who killed six million Jews, including the Jews of our dear town of Telekhany. Shmuel was killed as a partisan in battle in 1942.
We, his two sisters Esther and Chana, established a reading club in his memory here in Los Angeles. It is called the Shmuel Godiner Reading Circle. Let this be another page in the Telekhany memorial book.
Dear friends committee of the Telekhany Yizkor Book!
We apologize for the delay in responding to you. It was hard for us to write given our feelings and knowledge about what happened to our dear and beloved town of Telekhany its beautiful river, the bridges, the alley, and more than anything else, the dear people who were killed by the Nazi-German murderers. We should never forget it, and it is our obligation to immortalize their memory in a Yizkor Book.
We will of course make also a monetary contribution to help finance it, but we don't have any photos.
Since we left Telekhany so long ago, it is difficult to return to the days of our youth and remember the significant episodes of a life that was so mercilessly destroyed. However after thinking about it for a long time, various events and images from the distant past return to mind.
We remember when the peasants could no longer tolerate the oppression of the landlords, and rose up and burned the landlord's buildings. It happened that my uncle Mendel Nissen the butcher was searching for a lost cow, holding a lantern in his hand. The police accused him for having burned the buildings, arrested him and sent him to Siberia. Despite extensive lawsuits in court, it was not possible to get him released. There was a distinguished Jew in town, a Chasid and a scholar, Shmuel Chaim Segalovich, who had an influential friend in high society in Moscow. My uncle went to his friend, and after some petitions and payoffs to the Czar, my uncle was finally freed on the condition he change his name from Eisenberg to Bronstein. I, Mendel, still remember how on high holidays the fine Jews in their chassidic fur hats called "streimels" would gather in the synagogues on the holidays, make a Lechaim [toast], and sing three times in Russian: "Abraham, why aren't you pleading God for us?" Our mothers at home would say the following rhyme on the Sabbath night in the dark: "When the Messiah arrives on horseback, there will be good years ahead, if he arrives on a wagon, there will be good times."
Now let me begin discussing the time when the movement began. I was then working in Pinsk. When the first strike at the match factory took place, my friend Hershel Zvodner and I got assigned to find out which of the strikers and leaders the police were about to arrest. We spent a long time investigating this until both Hershel and I were arrested ourselves. We got our first taste of jail and beatings during the week we were incarcerated. We came home for Passover.
We brought home new songs like: "You plough and you sow," "New Times", etc. We also brought back from Pinsk a book by Mendele Moikher Sforim called "The Jade". We met together in our house and read it. My mother liked it very much. She then hid it with the songs in the attic under the straw roof.
We could perhaps remember many other episodes from our teenage years, episodes that were serious and mischievous, happy and sad, since no matter how hard life was, we became accustomed to it. We also had acceptable moments when we got together parents in their style, and we in ours. This is how life was until the German destroyer, Hitler, may his named be erased, and his wild German cannibals destroyed our life.
May this be our modest contribution to the Yizkor Book, and may our people and the whole world never more experience such a catastrophe.
Grandmother Sheina Sarah had women assistants who would collect contributions from the wealthy to give to the poor. When Chaim Reuven had his fifth child, a fifth girl, Grandma went out of the room and said to Chaim, "Well, Chaim Reuven, a baby girl is just like carrot pudding [tsimmis] which costs money." At the same time there were Treina Aharon Mushkas and Tsifra Bezes, and Grandma winked at them for them to remain. She realized that she would get what she needed faster with women than men, and what she needed was a burial shroud for Chaim Yossel and a dowry for Beilka Shmerls.
She had a nice life and was always thinking of how to help the needy. She carried all of the problems in town in the pockets of her apron, but never needed anything for herself. She only cared about others. Everyone in town loved her and respected her.
When she died she was over hundred years old, and when her many Telekhany children and grandchildren would ask her, Granny, how old are you? she would answer, What difference does it make to you? A hundred and one is all the same. When she died all the storekeepers closed their businesses, and even children went along to the cemetery. The gown she was wearing when she passed away was cut up by elderly ladies and distributed among themselves as a good omen for a long life.
Since they lived on money sent from the United States, each person asked for the addresses of relatives. There were no bakers in Telekhany because they had to pay high taxes, and there were no customers for bread either. The people had no money to buy baked goods.
We were in Telekhany for four weeks, but didn't enjoy it too much. There was the poverty, the struggles and insecurity about what tomorrow would bring. For the Sabbath they would slaughter a single calf for the entire town. The few new houses and the Lubesh synagogue were built with money from the United States. The power of the American dollar was very great. There was once an auction for aliyahs [being called to make a blessing on the Torah reading], and I bought all of the aliyahs with my American dollars. Before leaving Telekhany, I arranged that all of the aliyah honors should be distributed among my relatives.
We departed Telekhany broken-hearted as we watched young people feeling abysmally lost and in a state of hopelessness. They weren't allowed into the United States, and no other country was willing to accept them. Some were confined in Kartuz-Bereza, and the only other hope and aspiration was to go to Palestine and work on the kibbutzim and in other trades. Indeed, a large number of young people ended up in Palestine, and they were very useful in the country. They would work the fields, haul water and dig wells with a gun in their hand.
We saw their accomplishments with our own eyes when we traveled to Israel in 1959. They were proud Jews, and had achieved what Jews had dreamed about for two thousand years!
The two brothers found their parents well when they got to their home. At the same time a peasant entered the store to buy something and asked for change of 10 rubles, but this request was merely a provocation. In those days the anti-semites were planting horrible libels against the Jews, and one of them was that the Jews had shipped off their money, gold and silver to the Germans. The peasant asked for change of 10 rubles, and their father said that he had no change. This then supposedly confirmed that the Jews had sent all their gold and silver to the Germans, and the peasant began hitting their father with a cane, screaming that the Jews had shipped their money to the Germans. Their father told the peasant he could have the bit of merchandise for free, but even this didn't help. Finally their mother Elka managed to appease the peasant by giving him a few other items for free.
The brothers were standing on the street wondering what was going on, and heard the drunken singing of some Russian officers in Rimmer's orchard across the street. The drunken officers soon came out onto the street and started chasing Jewish women. One officer noticed Ezriel and Chaim and their wives, and started harassing Ezriel's wife, Minka. He also slapped Ezriel across the face, and Ezriel fell to the ground. Ezriel stood up and started hitting the officer. His brother Chaim and the women tried to stop Ezriel, but then other officers ran over and arrested Ezriel and Chaim, and took them over to their parents' home, where they tied the two men up by their feet and hands as the officers decided what to do with them. Soldiers armed with swords were standing in and around the house, and wouldn't allow anyone enter or leave.
In the meantime the German army was approaching Telekhany, and the Russians had to escape as quickly as possible. However, they didn't forget to take the two brothers along. As they were fleeing, the wild officers gave Ezriel fifteen lashes, and Chaim ten lashes. Ezriel lost consciousness from the lashes, and soon died. Chaim tolerated them and survived. He and his wife Ahava now have a beautiful family and live in Hadera, Israel.
The fate of the Eisenberg family in Israel during the construction of Israel and the War of Liberation was very difficult. This is what the family reported: The first victim was Yaakov, the son of Chaim and Lieba Eisenberg. Details about his struggle and death can be found in a separate article in Hebrew in the Yizkor Book.
Hershel, the son of Ezriel the son of the mute and his wife Minka, was killed after falling from a broken veranda while he was working on a building. Chaim's eight year-old daughter Chayaleh, who had brought him some food at the same moment, was wounded and became an invalid.
A second son, Mordechai Yitzchak, a heroic young fellow, joined the Haganah when he was fourteen years old, and four years later, when he was 18, he joined the Jewish army as an experienced soldier. He was assigned to search for landmines that had been placed by the Arabs on the roads where Jews traveled. One year later he was sent to the Negev. Upon his return he was riding in a tank with other soldiers when the tank overturned. Two soldiers were killed and Mordechai Yitzchak was wounded in the head, causing him to now be an invalid.
Chaim's son Moshe left the Haganah in 1941 and joined the Jewish brigade under the British. He suffered for being a Jew, and the brigade was sent to the Italian front. Moshe was wounded, and when the war ended, he returned to Palestine and was sent directly to Yesod Hamaleh to fight the Arabs.
Motka, the third of Chaim's sons, and a young man of 17, joined the British army. In 1944 he was sent on a patrol on the Italian front. He was wounded there and spent six months in the hospital. In 1946 he returned, and was sent to the Sea of Galilee to organize a local defense brigade. He met his wife, married her and now lives as an official in the State of Israel.
Ezriel's wife Minka arrived in Palestine with two sons, Mordechai Yitzchak and Hershel, but left behind her daughter Zippora together with Zippora's husband and two children in Telekhany. They were all killed by Hitler's Germans, may their names be obliterated. Minka also left behind a son, Leibel, who fled from the Nazi murderers, and made his way through the forests of Russia, until he got to Tashkent. He worked very hard there, and even spent time in prison because of an informant who reported falsely that he had spoken against the Soviet regime. Along the way he met up with fine Jewish family, and married their daughter Golda. After the war they returned to Poland and from there they headed for Israel, stopping off along the way in Germany.
One week before they were supposed to go to Israel there was a football game that Leibel and many others went to watch. Along the way their truck overturned, and Leibel was killed. His wife, Golda, and their small daughter Zippora, were left alone to travel on to Israel, where Leibel's family and his mother Minka lived.
My grandfather was the treasurer of the Chevra Kadisha [Burial Society], and my grandmother Beilka would bake cookies. Grandfather would prepare small glasses of vodka to give out at the cemetery to the Jews who came to visit the graves of their ancestors. My grandfather would take me along to the cemetery, and I would love to watch people walk around the graves reciting verses and then go inside the small structures over the graves and drink some vodka.
These scenes made me wonder about certain things. I wondered whether when the Messiah came, the dead would roll underground to the Holy Land. Wouldn't it be better to travel alive to the Holy Land and when the Messiah comes, be resurrected and enjoy eating everything with the Leviathan?
Coming home from the cemetery we would prepare for the pre-fast dinner. After dinner, grandfather put on his white robe and we, his grandchildren, would gather around him for his blessing. He put his hands on each of our heads and blessed us individually.
After the blessing, I felt assured that I and all other Jews would have a good year.
The Sabbath when we start reading from the beginning of the Torah, known as Sabbath Bereishit, follows Simchat Torah. The Chasidim enjoyed themselves during the entire nine days of Sukkot. They would get together in the evenings in the Lyubesh synagogue to dance and sing and drink a little vodka. When Simchat Torah arrived, there was no limit to the rejoicing and dancing. They wanted to forget the approaching autumn with its rain and cold. They had to have boots for themselves and the children. Firewood had to be stocked up for the cold winter. The roof was leaking and there wasn't any money to fix it. They wanted to forget all their problems, and hoped that G-d would help somehow. It was very hard to plunge back into the rough reality of every day life after the holidays.
But there is a great G-d in the world, so he prepared a Sabbath Bereishit for his children, the Jewish People. It's no big deal for him! We now started to read from the beginning of the Torah again, and we again have a new holiday of Simchat Torah. People got together again on Friday night in the Lyubesh synagogue to dance and to sing the Rebbe's melodies. The principal singers were Yossel the ritual slaughterer and Alter the carpenter, who didn't read from music sheets. As soon as they heard a tune, they started singing along.
What did they do after the singing and dancing? The chassidim had their own custom of going from house to house and sneak out kugels from the ovens. The women were already prepared, and had already cooked two kugels for Sabbath Bereishit. The question was how to sneak into a house on the Sabbath. Alter the carpenter knew how to open a door or a window, or through the attic. Yossel the blacksmith would have to go along because he was needed to open the hot oven since he had hardened, heat resistant hands. They knew that a hot oven shouldn't be opened too early, but a fresh kugel, dripping with oil and there for the taking, plus a noodle kugel, were worth the risk.
They once wanted to enter a house that was locked shut, and they couldn't manage to get in, and wondered what kind of chassidim these people were here. So Alter the carpenter became a ladder, and Yosef the blacksmith climbed up on him and crawled in through the attic. He climbed down into the house using a ladder and was about to get the kugel. However, Yosef Abba the blacksmith was groping around in the dark, tripped and fell as he tried to go down the ladder. Yosef Abba didn't get confused. He managed to get into the house anyway, opened the oven and grabbed both kugels to get back at the owners of the house. When he returned back, his friends laughed at his find the two kugels and at Yosef's appearance.
Shortly thereafter, my grandfather Meir Yankel suffered from a hernia just like Yechiel the painter. The doctor was out of town, as was the country surgeon. Alter soon heard about the problem and came at once while other chassidim were running to synagogue to recite psalms. He performed the entire procedure that the doctor had done to Yechiel the painter, and helped my grandfather. The town found out about what Alter the carpenter had done for my grandfather, and from then on, he did the same thing for other Jews. They started calling Alter the carpenter instead of the doctor.
Once on a Sabbath morning, during the prayer service in the Lyubesh synagogue, the congregants were in the middle of the Torah reading when a peasant entered the synagogue asking for Alter the carpenter. The congregation was startled to find a gentile suddenly coming to the synagogue on the Sabbath to look for Alter the carpenter. Alter asked the peasant what he wanted. The peasant responded, Dear doctor, a man in our village of Klitenyu got sick and the doctor and country surgeon are nowhere to be found. However we heard about you. Please come and save the man's life.
Alter got scared. After all, it was the Sabbath in the middle of services during the Torah reading. What should he do? He went straight to the rabbi for guidance. The Rabbi said: Go home, Alter, eat your Sabbath meal and go with the man, a human's life is more important than the Sabbath. The congregation then watched Alter the carpenter get on a wagon on the Sabbath to save a peasant on the Sabbath. From then on he was known as doctor.
The Stolin synagogue followed the customs of the Rebbe of Stolin, who had illustrious ancestry. He was a rebbe of businessmen, and rarely came to Telekhany. Whenever he did come to visit, it was only for a couple of days. The businessmen would consult him about their businesses and rewarded him well. The rebbe himself conducted himself in a royal manner. He would travel with a train of horses. He would always change the horses for better ones. He loved horses. When he came to the synagogue on Friday night for the prayer services, the chassidim would have to wait until the end to receive wishes for a good Sabbath from the rebbe. However, he would converse with the wagon drivers until he came to synagogue; he loved talking with them about horses.
The Yanova synagogue. Since the Yanova Rebbe was a rebbe of the poor Jewish masses, the synagogue was not for the wealthy. In fact, a tailor named Hillel the Tailor had provided the funds to build the synagogue. Nevertheless, the chassidim greatly respected their rebbe.
The non-chassidic synagogue. The wealthiest Jews in town belonged to the non-chassidic synagogue. It was a beautiful synagogue, and the wealthiest man in town, who happened to be a Lyubesh chassid, attended the non-chassidic synagogue as well. We children would often sneak into the synagogue to warm up because it was the only synagogue in town that had a coal oven. However, we didn't like the Jews of the non-chassidic synagogue. We used to call them dry Jews. The chassidim were a happier and friendlier group.
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Updated 13 Aug 2003 by LA