Translated by Sara Mages
My dear P.
It's been a very long time since I heard or seen you. When the mailman delivered your postcard I stood with my mouth open, is it true? A postcard from P.? Why did he send it? And why didn't I do it first? A flood of memories, of different periods of my life, flooded me; youth movements in the city, the pioneer farmhouse (Kalinka), the immigration to Israel, the first settlement
What am I going to write about? The memories from Bobrka are gloomy; I was uprooted from my birthplace at the age of ten. In my memory, the uprooting is mixed with the death of my mother who left behind her 12 orphans. I did not know much about my older brothers and sisters. When I reached the age when I started to recognize things around me, they already left our parents' home, covered themselves with Talith and a Streimel [black velvet coat]. They were fathers to children and held a place in the synagogue's eastern wall. I was a weak child and my mother of blessed memory liked me the most because (as he members of the family and our neighbors said) I was the only one that she nursed. I was not nursed by a gentile woman like the rest of her children. During her last days, she made sure that I drank a glass of milk, every day, directly from the udders of our gentile neighbor's cow. And for goodness sake, in great secret, and G-d forbid, no one in the family should find out. I drank the last glass of milk in our neighbor's cow shed on the day of her death. This glass of milk is carved in my memory, even today, because on that day I became an orphan.
During the days of mourning people started to convince my father of blessed memory, to replace his Rabbinate chair in Kriptesh, my birthplace, with a Rabbinate chair in a larger city - in Bobrka. I remember the letters that arrived from Bobrka. I did not know their contents but I remember the names of the people who sent them even today; David Holnder, Yankele' Akholz and Ahron David Kaminker.
Days later, after we moved to Bobrka I discovered the duty of each one of them in the chapter that is called Rabbinate. The first was the community leader, the second was a friend of my father who became close to him after he heard his first sermon in the synagogue, and the third was just a Jew, a middleman who received the broker's fees from my father for the Rabbinate transaction.
of blessed memory, Bobrka's Rabbi
My trip to Bobrka was long. I can't remember how long it took. First we traveled by a horse driven carriage, later on by train,
and ended the trip in a wagon pulled by horses. My soul revolted and did not want to move from my home town. My heart did not want to follow, the heart of a small Jewish boy predicted, but it did not know what it was predicting. I fell into a new world. The accent in Bobrka was different from the one in my home town. The boys in Bobrka ridiculed me and laughed at the way I was talking. The melody of the prayers in the synagogue was different, people also dressed differently in Bobrka, and the style of living was different than the one I was exposed to in my short life. The prayers in Bobrka were dry, without vitality and melody. We were used to accompany our prayers with singing. When my father walked by the reader's desk he started to sing, the way we were used to, and we his sons followed him, singing the verses with him. Many, from the nearby synagogues, came to hear the singing and the praying, some were curios and some out of admiration. And there were those who expressed their disgust to the new way that they were not used to. At times, I was caught by one of the older religious school students who forced me to sing some of the prayers. No matter how hard I begged and cried, I was forced to singe the Sabbath and holiday hymns in a style that was still foreign to them.
If my life in Bobrka was different, the Heder that I was registered to study the Torah in was not different from the one in my birthplace. The same Rabbi, the same Heder, the same way of teaching, the same discrimination between the poor student and the rich one , and all the more so - the Rabbi's son.
One of the Rabbis, that I remember with respect and admiration, was Rabbi Yechazkeli the Heder teacher who gave his lessens in the Hassidic synagogue, the one that was called Shulle' which was located next to the big and cold synagogue. Rabbi Yechazkeli had a light brown hair and was a great scholar. His level of studies was high and he taught without screaming, threatening and without punishing us the way other teachers did. It was my Bar-Mitzvah year and my last year of study. If there was something left in my memory from the words of the ancients, I absorbed it during that year.
I was the youngest student in Yechazkeli class. The age of most of the students was 16-17, and one of them had a gold watch and a chain, a gift from his future father in-law. I was their pet child; during break, they embarrassed me with questions that caused my face to turn red from embarrassment. There was a good relationship between Rabbi Yechazkeli and his student, who never bothered him the way other Heder students bothered their Rabbis. And no wonder! Whoever saw Rabbi Yechazkeli praying was able to see his holiness and his greatness. I have never seen him praying in public, his prayer was done in private. When he prepared himself, every eye was able to see that he was departing from the secular world, climbing higher and higher to the world above, and separating himself from the secular world below. Rabbi Yechazkeli was a sick man and he was sad all of his days. During prayer his face beamed, I have never seen a face beaming the way his face was. He dedicated his soul to his prayers the way a young man dedicate himself to his bride. He used to whisper his prayers, whispering and holding to the same word, like he was not able leave his beloved. His belief was na´ve, beautiful and complete. His innocent belief attracted me, the innocent 13 years old. It was the only short period of time in my life that I satisfied my belief in prayers, and thanked the master of the world for all the good has given me; I stretched my arm towards him and called him at time of need. And I was answered.
Here is a tale about a young blonde man, who arrived in Bobrka and moved to a house next to my father's house. No one knew where he came from, no one knew the reason he came. He was a wood carver by trade, and his carving attracted my heart. I used to spend any free time I had from Rabbi Yechazkeli's classes in his wookshop. I enjoyed his craft and his company. He was simple, ignorant, and knew very little about Judaism. Since he lived in our neighborhood, he started to come after dark on Sabbath for the third meal, when two or three Jewish Minyans gather at the home my father, my teacher of blessed memory. Not many days passed and the young carver clings to our home and to Judaism and there was no one more religious than him in Bobrka. He loved me and my soul clanged to his.
And one day, I was informed in the middle of a class, that the carver, my best friend, was arrested. With one sweep I solved the mystery why he came to Bobrka under a false name; he escaped the draft of His Majesty the Emperor Franz Josef, and now he was taken shackled with chains to the recruiting office.
I left my class, entered the great synagogue, wrapped my brand new Tefillin the hand phylactery and the head Phylactery, and prayed alone in the synagogue for many hours. I did not let go of the edge of the Porocheth [curtain of the Ark of the Law] until I received the news that the carver was released. He was declared unfit by the doctors.
It only happened thanks to my pure prayer, because the young man was healthy and fit. I did not tell my best friend the reason why he was let go, he himself did not understand the reason for the miracle. Since then, he increased his faith and was dedicated to it. The next day he started to grow a beard and side locks, and changed his short cloths to black long clothes. The gossipers said that he was trying to win my sister, the Rabbi's daughter, and that was the reason why he changed his ways, and the reason to his strange behavior. I, who knew him the best, saw the matters in a different light, because this was the period of my great innocent belief that was sparked from the belief of Rabbi Yechazkeli, my Rabbi.
But this period did not last long. The First World War broke with a big blast and drums. Austrian soldiers marched in our streets, troop after troop. Day and night they moved towards Russia. And we the young men shouted from joy and curiosity. We were sure, that our soldiers will beat the Poni soldiers and smite them hip to thigh. But the fate was different. One morning a panic broke: the Cossacks were approaching the city and they were robbing killing men, women, old and young. All the people in the city escaped. Each person carried a bundle containing all of his possessions on his back. It was a horrible sight, and as a boy with a pure belief, a patriot of the king, the
merciful Franz Joseph the First, I was bitterly disappointed. How? - I cried upwards with a bitter heart - did you desert our army, the people of our city, Rabbi Yechazkeli, and my carver.
My heart cried for the people of our city, who in one day, became creatures without little human semblance, a herd without a shepherd, lost people whose appearance changed in one day. And I looked at their bundles, and what inside them, and I realized that the one item that they all had, was the Sabbath candle sticks, G-d master of the World, where did all those Sabbath candles disappear to?
On the same Sunday eve, in one of the dark forests, at the beginning of our wandering, the first doubts started to poke my heart. During the next three and a half years, until the end of the war, my innocent belief completely broke. I returned to Bobrka at the age of 18, an atheist, and also this time, I did not stay long in the city.
I saw the city in its destruction and its young people searching for new lives. I joined Hashomer Hatzair [Zionist youth] movement of those days, that Arye Alvail established and led. We went to a pioneer training center, and in 1920 we arrived in Israel.
Here it is my friend. I sat down to give you a negative answer. It was clear to me that I had too many pretexts and reasons why I could not write about our town, and here, a long hour later, I found myself still writing.
Now that I am done, I deposit my words in your hands. If you want - it can be a private letter between you and me, and if you want you can print all of it or any part that you like, but only in the memory of Rabbi Yechazkeli the Heder teacher, and my wood carver, of blessed memory.
Translated by Sara Mages
The older boys studied with Rabbi Feivel the Heder [religious elementary school] teacher. How old were they? Over the age of ten. First they studied with other teachers, and when they reached the right level, they were transferred to study with Rabbi Feivel the Heder teacher. Rabbi Feivel was a special teacher and his students were afraid of him. His power was not only with his words, he also did not spare his students from his stick. His students were required to be in his classroom, in the summer and in the winter, at five thirty in the morning. He used to say ;In the morning the air is fresh and clear and the brain is also fresh and clear, and great is its understanding. The boys who went after the Heder to the gentile's school, sat there from eight in the morning to one in the afternoon. From there, they had to run to the Heder so the gentile school's impurities will come out of their heads. Then they spent from an hour to an hour and a half in the Heder, and only later on, they went home to eat lunch.
Each student at, Rabbi Feivel the Heder teacher, class was required to know how to walk over a Parashah, meaning, to know how to read the Torah properly since Reb Feivel was an excellent Torah reader and read the Torah in the small synagogue all his life.
He also used to say; whoever study with me will not be counted among the ignorant. Rabbi Feivel the Heder teacher had a special system. He divided his students according to their talents. There were those who knew the lesson right after the first reading, and those who knew the lesson after the second or third reading. Those were the first to receive the beatings, because, if they wanted they would have known, and if they don't know it is a sign that they don't want to. And the one who does not want, his punishment is hard, harder from the one who was not able to, and therefore, they deserve a beating. And indeed, he used to approach his students and say: Come here boys, let's argue, who is right me or you?
There were students in his Heder who were unable to understand. To them he used to say: it is a blessing for nothing. You take the place of someone who is better than you. Your father is paying for nothing. He did not raise his hand on them, and the good and talented students were envy. The Rabbi was not hitting them because they didn't know that he was not charging tuition from their parents, only payment from watching over them so they won't run in the streets. And more; when he had to moralize a student he used to say: what will I say in the next world when they ask me why I took your father's money? money that he worked so hard to earn. Your father deprived his soul in order to pay tuition for his jewel so he will learn something, and you engage your brain with other matters, with everything, but not the words of the Torah, if you studied you would have known, therefore, your father is paying me for nothing, and shame on me, I am a partner to a crime. You tell me yourself, why I deserve it? And when Rabbi Feivel the Heder teacher used to say that, you were able to tell that his words came from his heart and therefore they entered your heart. The students of the Heder sat and listened since they felt guilty and thought that they caused their Rabbi to commit a crime. Those were words of admonition that greatly influenced
the students. There were many students who changed their minds, became more serious and started to study and understand the Rashi's Humash and also the Gemara.
When we arrived to the Parashat Mishpatim, the Rabbi's eyes shined because, he was able recognize his students' ability to understand and their power to explain, since we had to follow Rashi's long explanations of Torah's verses. Suddenly we realized that the Rabbi forgot himself. The clock showed that it was already half past eight at night. We were tired from a long day at school, and we were also hungry. Then the Rabbi told us; When you study you have the right to eat, but when you don't study do you have right to ask for food?
This kind of a man was Rabbi Feivel the Heder teacher. He was righteous, and dedicated his soul to his students and his teaching. He also did not forget the parents. He died before his time. May his memory be blessed.
A Jewish religious teacher in a government school
Translated by Sara Mages
At the beginning of this century, before the First World War, the organization Poalei Zion [Labor Zionism] was established. The founders were:
When the First World War broke, the members were drafted and the organization terminated its activities. During the same period (the first ten years of the Twentieth Century) they staged, for the first time, the play The selling of Yoseph. The director was Azriel Holtzman (the carpenter). Where did Reb Azriel bring this play from, and where did he learn to wisdom of directing a play - we did not know.
In the year1923, the organization Yad Harotzim [Hand of the Diligent Men] was established. The founders were:
The director of the organization was R. Robinstein.
The union Yad Harotzim established the charitable fund Gemilut Hasadim [the giving of loving-kindness] and later on established the Ludovy Bank. The director of Gemilut Hasadim was R. Robinstein. Both financial organizations served an impotent role in the city's economy.
The committee members of Gemilut Hasadim were: Yoseph Gross, Levi-Yitchak Baomgarten, Arye Zokerkandel. Akiva Vasser (a tinsmith) and others.
Among the bank directors were: Yoseph Gross, A. Zokerkandel., Bnya Lerr, Yona Shreyer and others.
In 1933, the unions; Poaeli Zion and Haoved [workers' union] were established.
[Page 44 (Hebrew)]
by Dov Becker (Ramat Yochanan, Israel)
Translated by Claire Rosenson
His name was Petri Proshanski. He was the town's policeman. His wife handled the business, a stand in the market selling pork. She was terribly mean, or as the Jews used to call her the big bitch, but he was exactly her opposite. Petri Proshanski had a merciful heart and therefore it is a mitzvah [duty] to remember him kindly.
The Kaiser Franz Joseph was not content with only policemen to keep order in his kingdom; he had policeman and gendarmes. There were a number of policemen, and I do not know why that of all the town's policemen, it was Petri who escorted the gendarmes or the tax collectors to the Jewish homes. Maybe it was divine intervention so Petri could be the Jews' advocate.
Every Jew had to bring his share of the taxes to the finance ministry, and if anyone was late (and who wasn't?), the tax collector immediately showed up with Petri. Petri would go into the Jewish house first, look around, stretch out his hands in despair as if to say: don't you see, what's in this house? Have pity! He would stand dumbstruck before the tax collector, speechless, his face full of sadness and his eyes near tears, -- Petri was bleary-eyed and when he begged for the Jew's life it looked as if he was crying -- and it was enough to fill the tax collector with pity and postpone collection of the debt.
On Sunday, when by civil law all the stores and businesses had to be closed, the Jews would bring customers in through the back way, or through a narrow opening in the front door. If a Jew was caught doing business on a Sunday, he was brought to court and fined in goods and property, payable to the Kingdom. Our Petri always wanted to do well by the Jews. When he saw approaching danger, he would run to warn about it: Hey! The fellow whose name is not worth mentioning is in the area. Watch out for God's sake, watch out!
Fear of the gendarmes was tremendous, and every Hassid would pray that G-d would save him from harm that day and every day, not to meet and not even to see this scourge! If a gendarme happened to stop by for even the most trivial matter, he would make it his business, if he'd already come all that way, to find some misdemeanor. He would suddenly discover that the sign above the store was faded; and just by the way he would check the cleanliness of the shop; and here the scales and weights don't look right -- they're old and dented, nothing is right, and go have an argument with a gendarme!
Most of all they feared being told to report to the Commisia, the board that checked the fitness of the young men who had reached conscription age. Whatever the discussion, the subject always seemed to come back to this important matter. And where's Leibele? the gendarmes of the Commisia would ask and begin to investigate and check old records. For there were always young men, some of them family members, who had been smart enough to have left for America years before. And when they would run into a stranger whose family name happened to be exactly the same as someone who had disappeared, the representative of His Majesty the Kaiser would stiffen up in the discharge of his duty and act as if he were interrogating a deserter, a rebel against His Majesty.
Kingdoms came and went one after the other. The Austrians left and the Russians came; the Russians left and the Austrians came back; the Austrians collapsed and the Ukrainians came, and after them came the Poles. One kingdom after another came and went, but Petri Politzai always remained in his place as the good Gentile. It was joked at the time that he was not a Gentile at all, but a reincarnation of the prophet Elijah himself in the image of Petri sent to protect us.
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