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[Page 262]

Second Chapter:

Echoes of the Past

 

By Yehezkiel Seligman

J. Goldfaden's Troupe in 1881 in Bobruisk

In 1881 Goldfaden's troupe played six performances in Bobruisk. In the Minsk Historical Archive we found four of the six programs. On the program it is written that “the high-troupe of Jewish artists is under the personal supervision of the author and director A. Goldfaden.” The four performances were all of Goldfaden's pieces.

On April 19 “The Capricious Daughter,” a drama in five acts, was performed. In this spectacular show were Adler, Mrs. Michelson, Karp, Mrs. Abramovitch, Zuckerman, Shraga and Peker.

On April 20 “The Intrigues or D'vosia the Gossip” a comedy in five acts played. In addition to those already listed were the artists Berkovitch and Shraga.

On April 21 “Breindele the Cossack”—a dream in four acts and ten scenes with song and dance, with a cast of the artists Karp, Shraga, Mrs. Michelson, Mrs. Abramovitch, Zuckerman, Mrs. Vizer, Peker, Solomon, Singer played.

On April 22 “Koldunya” played. This piece was popular outside the country as well as in Russia. In Odessa, it was performed more than one hundred times.

In this performance the following artists took part: Karp, Mrs. Michelson, Zuckerman, Peker, Tabatchnickov, Singer.

Manager of these spectaculars was Lustgarten. They played in Epstein's summer theatre.

L. Dushman
(“Oktyabr” [October], 7/30/1940)


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K. Public Fasts, 1881, 1884[1]

On the15th of Cheshvan 1882, the rabbis of our town ordered a public fast which included boys ten years old and older so that almost the entire city fasted on that day; and with a broken heart said Slichot and also Psalms, and in the evening after Mincha, the rabbi, Rabbi Chaim from Haslavitz read a wonderful and delightful sermon which included moral lessons: a) that a Jew should not cheat a gentile [and] b) he complained strenuously that the sons of Jacob were trying hard to escape military service, since it may be that all the problems stem from this. The people cried a great deal and our hope strengthened that God would send us help.

Shlomo Chaim Lazinske
(“Hamelitz” 1881, Issue 44)

On the fourth of Elul 1884, this day was a day fasting and whipping by order of the rabbi, Rabbi Shemariah Noah Schneerson. All of us, large and small, congregated in the synagogues and we poured out our hearts before G-d and we asked for pity on his people, Israel, that he should elicit pity before our king and his ministers and advisors, to be good to us and that we should suffer no derision in the eyes of our detractors, who tortured during the last three years

(“Hamelitz 1884, Issue 73)


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L. Relations with the Fortress; The Foundation of an Old Age Home, 1884

Relations with the Fortress

On August 30, our king's birthday, General (Polkovnik) Merder and General Palinev had a party for the army officers and they also invited all the townspeople, Jews and Christians to share their happiness. And there was a great celebration among the people. The city's elite mixed among the officers of the army, and the city officials moved in the building, and the masses of people mingled with the soldiers, and all of them were given one roll of bread, one portion of food, and a fruitcake. And all congratulated the king when the generals offered a toast to his name and the ground trembled from the noise. This is how our brethren, sons of Bobruisk partook in the celebration of the generals and they contributed voluntarily in support of the expenses.

S. Z. Vinshenker
(“Hacarmel,” 5 Tishrei 1864)

On Kislev 1869, we had a very large loss. The commander of our fort in Bobruisk, mayor and head of the fort, an honest and righteous man who treated everyone equally, died. Last year, even though he was 77 years old, he worked hard to receive permission to open the grain stores that the government owned and held in the fort in order to lower the price and all this in response to the request by the Jews. This man has left, he went on a path of no return. His name will be inscribed forever: Commander Michael Ivanovitch Pushtchin, Major General—may he rest in peace!

The officers of the fort here, through the chief of police, join them in paying their last respects to the dead, to accompany him to the cemetery, and we were not late to return this favor to him for all of his good deeds, Jews and Christians joining hands, carried his coffin and followed him up to the outside of the city, until he came to the summer camps of the military, and we waited until they prepared the carriage to carry him to the city Paritch, his home, where he will be buried.

Israel Margalin

(“Hamagid” 1869, Issue 28)

On March 21st there was a great commotion due to the following occurrence: about 150 steps from the mound in front of the fort, under a tree, a slain Jew was found in whose chest there was a deep wound that was caused by a rifle; apart from that, the lower portion of the slain man's nose was cut and one eye was removed. A large crowd quickly came to the sight of this disaster; a police officer also came accompanied by a judicial investigator. They searched for the criminal's footprints but so far have not reached any conclusion. Suspicion is directed at the soldiers of our fort. I will inform you of the results of the investigation in due course.

By the way, the command of the fort does not like the Jews for some reason. A command was issued “not to let the Zhids enter the fort.” It's difficult to explain this treatment of the Jews by the fort's commanders. When the local command issued an order to prevent the entry of the Jews to the fort at the time his majesty the Czar was crowned, the Jewish youth sent a telegram the same day to the General-Governor in Vilna and requested permission for the Jews to visit the military exercises in the fort on an equal basis with the Christians, and this was permitted on the following day by a high level order.

(“Rusky Yevrey [Russian Jews]” 1884, Issue 14)

The establishment of an old age home (1884)

Our city became richer this year by one institution that could constitute an adornment by all means to a provincial city. I refer to the old age home that was built here by the local philanthropist Mr. Rabinowitz, by the wish of his mother that was read in her will. This old age home is very well organized and fits the contemporary demands of hygiene. Mr. Rabinowitz contributes money to the maintenance of the old age home in the sum of 30 rubles per week. Without this support, it is doubtful whether the old age home could exist, even though there are wealthy men here who can contribute to public institutions. The aforementioned Rabinowitz provides almost single-handedly all the necessities for the students of Talmud Torah in Bobruisk which, by the way, consists of two departments: Hasidim and Mitnagdim, both of which are covered by Mr. Rabinowitz.

(“Rusky Yevrey [Russian Jews]” 1884, Issue 9)


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M. The Founding of a Volunteer Fire Department, 1886

If the word “fire” should evoke fear in the heart of man wherever he lives, the citizens of our city will become even more anxious when they hear it, because we have no stone houses due to the proximity of the fort, and if fire starts during the summer it would find dry wooden houses which will be consumed, so many people have lost their property and were presented with empty cinders in past years. To counter this, some of our citizens who are concerned about their property and the danger of fire decided to establish a “Society of Free Firemen” in addition to the permanent hired firemen; their labor was not in vain and all the citizens, from rich to poor, helped them realize their plan. A few days ago the city leaders called a general meeting in which the commander of the fort, the mayor, the physicians and pharmacists, the city elite, Jews and Christians, all participated and established a strong association according to the following terms: every man who contributes at least 10 rubles will be considered an “honorary member,” and everyone who wants to become a member must do one of the following as well: either pay at least one ruble a year, the more the better, or donate work to the association. Needless to say that it is better to both make a contribution and join the workers.

The association will have three groups: one to salvage things from a fire, the second to remove and destroy, and the third to pour water and extinguish the fire.

A large crowd came to the meeting to help in the establishment of the association. About 500 rubles were raised, and the number of working volunteers was about 200 (mostly Jews). For the money which was collected and that will be collected, various tools will be bought as well as uniforms for the firemen.

We pray that there will be no emergency in our streets, and that the volunteer firemen will sit peacefully in their homes.

Eliezer Lazerovitch
(“Hatsfira,” 1886, Issue 20)


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N. A Reception for Reb Rafael Shapira (1886)

On the 23rd of Adar (March 4, 1886), the new gaon [genius] rabbi for the mitnagdim, Rabbi Rafael Shapira, son-in-law of the genius Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin from Volozhin, came to establish honorary residence in town. And the city of Bobruisk rejoiced, because it beat the Novoalexandravask Congregation, which for many days did not allow Rabbi Rafael Shapira to move his tent from it. About two hours before the train carrying the rabbi came, a large crowd assembled at the train station in order to receive their rabbi. Groups of people stood speaking of the rabbi's greatness and intellectual ability and some of the elite ardent worshippers forgot where they were and used the train station as a impromptu synagogue and they engaged in the Gemara section of “Makish hava'a liyitziya” with a full heart and with loud voices; and to their pleasant surprise the transport was late because of the ample snow that came down that day and covered the railroad tracks, and they finished their scholarly discussions. At midnight, the gaon rabbi appeared in his full honor and adornment accompanied by the city's elite who had travelled to meet him a distance of five Persian miles [about 4’ miles]. And when the rabbi stepped onto the platform of the train station, the entire crowd blessed him: “Blessed be he who honored those who fear him!” One pushed the other in order to say hello to the rabbi, until he reached the second class at the station. The gver [wealthy man] was waiting for him, Boaz Rabinovitch with his son, and they received the rabbi with honor and adornment, and they seated him in a carriage drawn by two strong horses, which was followed by carriages and carts filled with people that accompanied the gaon rabbi to his pre-arranged residence.

(“Hamelitz,” 1886, Issue 18)


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O. A Fight Between Jews and Non-Jews (1887)

On Monday the 21st of Sivan, the city was shaken because of a group of cowardly and petty-minded people who started to do mischief in the stores at the market:

The workers who take the rafts on the Berezina River through our city went into the market to buy things. One of them stole a pipe from one of the stores. When the store owner [a woman] ran after him to retrieve the stolen good, they all attacked her and hit her. Two Jews who came to help were involved also. There was a call for help and wagon drivers and haulers came and a fight broke out between the Jews and the Gentiles. The police came and caught eight of the workers and put them under guard and the fury subsided.

Yehezkiel Seligman
(HaYom 1887, 123)


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P. A Theater in the City (1887)

Recently, Hebrew players came to our city to present a play in the spoken Jewish tongue. They presented several heartwarming plays. Every actor and actress deserved adulation. But two of them in particular were extraordinary. They are H. Tanzman (he is also the manager) and H. Berlman. They were wonderful in their use of dialect in their songs and the emotions they expressed. Up to the point where the audience was so taken that it appeared to them that this was real life...and not a play. “Last Thursday they presented a wonderful play which is known as “The Doctor Al Masada.” The theater was full. Lots of people from our city were turned back because there were no more tickets.

Yehezkiel Seligman
(HaYom 1887, 240)


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Q. Loan Sharks (1888)

The moneylenders hold the poor people in the palm of their hands. And here's the story. A year ago, Mr. H.M. lent 1002[2] to H.Y.V., with payments of two and a half every week. In the first half year the weekly payment was delivered promptly. But in the second half, there was a tragedy and H.Y.V. couldn't pay. H.M. took the collateral; it was a contract on H.Y.V.'s house that was worth 800. H.M. took H.Y.V. to court. “On Thursday, the court officer came with the police and forced H.Y.V. and his family (with eight small children) out of the house. And now they are wandering from one place to another. And among all the kindly people, there is no one who can help. For the moneylender, this is a good start. And they've started pressing others to suck out the last drop of blood. Aren't the lenders Jewish? Where is their pity for their brothers?

Yehezkiel Seligman
(HaYom 1887, 240)


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R. Immigration to America (1888)

The desire to emigrate to coastal states and to America is still strong in our city. We witness many people leaving their hometown and their birth country going by boat to seek peace wherever it may be found. –

Yesterday, ten men left from Slavadka Street. Four of the people who left got married overnight and they took their wives and their dowry money and went on their way; on the other hand, four of them deserted their wives as living widows and left their families in a bad situation and in sorrow by stealing all of their possessions and they escaped. There are many more families who are ready to leave next week.

(“Hamelitz,” 1888, Issues 5, 121)


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S. Missionaries (1889)

On July 14th, the inciters Altchoisen from Vilna, and his son-in-law Meirson, and also the priest of the Protestant church in Minsk came to our town, and they began to distribute the inciter's books, which were written in Hebrew and in the vernacular. The poor pushed each other in order to get the books that the good distributed for free because these ignoramuses did not know the content of these books. But when they realized the purpose of the inciters and what was written in the books, they returned all the books to the hands of the “do-gooders” or ripped them to shreds. And when the inciters saw that their plan was not successful they left town.

(“Hamelitz,” 1889, Issue 163)


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T. Amateur Theater (1892)

It's been a year since gentle maids have established a society to teach a trade to the daughters of the poor and already many have registered to become seamstresses and they are doing well in their studies. Among them, some have succeeded in receiving a salary and thereby eased the financial burden for their poor parents.

However, the extent of this society's activities is very limited because the number of members is small and therefore earns little revenue. Therefore; the active members decided to arrange a ball for the benefit of the society treasury, and on the night of 9 Adar they realized this plan. At the request of Dr. Fiertag and Mr. Schneerson, the mayor gave permission to conduct the play in the theater. The house was filled to overflowing and all the rich and enlightened Jews appeared on time, and the play was delightful. The actors and actresses, all of whom were society members, impressed the audience with their great talent; we didn't know that they live amongst us and that they have never before tried to act on stage, we would have thought that they were professional and experienced actors of many years. The spectators did not stint honor and praise and there was no end to the shouts of “Bravo!” There were no public announcements in town and therefore only a few of our Christian neighbors came, headed by the commander of the Christian police, and they too fully praised the players.

The people who were involved in this good thing deserve praise, and here I list their names: the male players are Messrs. Ginsburg, a candidate lawyer, Razinsky, and Soyde –pharmacists. The women players: the young ladies Krantz, Mazal, Ram, Barhin and Rabinowitz. The first three have completed their studies in the gymnasium.

(“Hamelitz” 1892, Issue 53)


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U. A Furor Over Dancing During the Month of Av (1892)

A few weeks ago a German Jew came to our town and advertised that he would teach anyone, male or female, to dance for six rubles. The Hebrew “intelligentsia,” for whom the gates of the club are closed, was the first to respond to this advertisement, and even during these mourning days, they did not stop dancing, young men and women together, despite the orthodox and other observant Jews.

Yosef Davkin
(“Hamelitz,” 1892, Issue 166)
—There is a dance teacher, not one but two, and the daughters of Israel learn to lift their legs in dancing according to the rules of song and dance for a small price, one hour a day; and the observant and orthodox among us do not see this as a sign of corruption, and they send their daughters too to learn to dance, and if two or three young men are found who also are learning to dance, no one considers this a sin. What relation between Jewish observance and dancing? Can't a man who dances observe Jewish law? Does observance demand that people should deny themselves all pleasures of this world and become Essenes? If Mr. Yosef Davkin was not in a bad mood, he would judge the dancers favorably because not only on the 9th of Av did no Jewish man or woman come to dance, but also during the following days. But he judged them unfavorably because they did not mourn throughout the three weeks, because they didn't do this in order to rejoice but rather in order to study.

(“Not one of the dancers,”“Hamelitz” 1892, Issue 178)
—Not only during the days which are adjacent to the 9th of Av, but on the 9th of Av itself they danced, and not only the daughters of Israel, but young men and women together; and understandably the orthodox and observant Jews are not happy about it.
Davkin
(“Hamelitz” 1892, Issue 187)


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V. The Cholera Epidemic (1893)

Because of the cholera which has begun to show up in our city, and already several people have died of this disease, several of our city's elite decided to issue rules to protect against it, and they established committees all over town, each one having ready medicines and spirits and physicians and assistants ready at any time to help every sick person, and to provide him with medicine and to rub his body and to do anything that is necessary to cure him without charge, and thanks is due publicly to these honorable people, Messrs. the gvir [wealthy man], the enlightened Rav Benyamin Harkavi, and the rabbi, Rav Shmuel Alexandraon, who worked without rest for the benefit of this thing and they made the rounds to raise money; and in addition to serving their daily duties in the community center, they continued to work there day and night to see that things were done correctly. In addition we should remember the gvir, Reb Zvi Kastalanski, and the gvir, Rab Shmuel Vigderovitch, who also worked a lot to the benefit of this cause. I would like to especially thank, in the name of our town's entire congregation, the honorable rabbi, Reb Yosef Binyamin Serke for his many activities—every time he was called for he would go to visit the sick and to help them as much as possible without charge.

M. Baksht
(“Hatsfira,” 1893, Issue 195)


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W. A Teachers' Organization (1896)

A teacher's association has been established and one helps the other so that they should not compete so that one should not eat the flesh of the other.

Zalman Shteinbach
(“Hatsfira” 1896, Issue 58)


Translator's Footnotes

  1. These public fasts took place in those days in all the Jewish communities in Russia due to the pogroms and evil decrees that were inflicted on the Jews. Return to text
  2. Rubles? The unit of money is not specified in the text. Return to text

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