by D. L. Granovsky
Translated by Sarah Faerman
A flood of blood and fire descended upon the tents of Israel in Europe. Thousands of communities were wiped off the earth. Millions were sent to the slaughter, burned and choked to death in gas chambers, buried alive. The lives of ten times one hundred thousand Jewish children were snuffed out. Ashmadai's rule reigned over Europe, cut down Jewish lives, extinguished fountains of wisdom and knowledge, destroying culturally vibrant Jewish communities while the rest of the world watched and did not stop the hand that raised the sword against the house of Jacob. Our lives are filled with sorrow and woe. The tragedy befell the entire house of Israel without exception. We mourn all our near and dear ones and we do not cease to weep.
Our community Dubossar was not spared. Our Dubossar that sat by the shores of the Dniester in South Russia across from Bessarabia. Close to 10,000 Jews lived in Dubossar and all but for a very few were wiped out, removed from the book of life when Ashmadai lifted his mighty axe.
We know very well when the folk of Israel in Dubossar were cut down but we know
very little about the beginnings hundreds of years ago. The elders from whom
we might have learned something about our history, were destroyed with everyone
else. Therefore, I will attempt to dip into my memories and to relate some
episodes from my own life and from events that I heard from others, older than
Together with others who will do likewise, we will erect in this book a monument to our town where we were born, grew up and later spread our wings to leave our warm nest some to Israel and some to other countries thus escaping the frightful fate of our unfortunate brethren.
The City Dubossar
There are no documents available prior to mid 19th century. Our town was called New Dubossar and on the other side of the Dniester was Old Dubossar which in time withered into nothing more than a village. In my youth, I found a tombstone in the old Jewish cemetery with the date 1616. We had a legend that a bride and groom who both died on their wedding day were buried there. I still see before my eyes the ancient stone, moss covered and weather beaten for it made a big impression on me.
As mentioned, Dubossar was on the banks of the Dniester that served as a main highway for the many surrounding towns and villages like Tyraspol, Grigoriopol, Rivnitza, Rashkov, Yogarlik, Zvanitz and Kaminka. Ships, steamboats and barges sailed back and forth laden with wheat, produce and lumber. There was a big wooden bridge that united the two sides of the Dniester and which the Romanians burnt down when they captured Bessarabia.There was also a ferry that went back and forth between the two banks of the river. During the entire day the bridge and the ferry buzzed with activity. Peasants from the surrounding villages would pile on to the ferry with their wagons, sheep and cattle, travelling from one side to the other.
Dubossar was surrounded on three sides by villages, south, north and east and
they contributed greatly to the economy of the town. The earth was fertile and
there was a daily parade of farmers bringing the blessings of the earth
dairy products, honey, chickens, grapes, apples, pears, plums and an
abundance of other fruits.
As it is written, a land flowing with milk and honey. The reputation of the fine wines and fruit reached as far as the distant provinces of Russia.
As with most of the Jews in Russia, Dubossar Jews were also involved in all the trades and businesses. They had factories and large as well as small shops. There were merchants of wheat, wine, fruit and especially dried fruit.There was also every variety of artisan and tradesperson. There was almost no trade in which Jews did not excel and these included tailors, hatmakers, shoemakers, coppersmiths, painters, sheet metal workers, tinsmiths, bricklayers and so forth. Not only were trades and business in Jewish hands, there were also Jews who worked as labourers in the mills, in the oil factories, beer factories and in the huge tobacco plant Lauffer'sthat employed dozens of Jewish workers. Nor were Dubossar Jews strangers to field work. Many worked in the tobacco fields. Away they would go at dawn and return at dusk. This was Dubossar a city humming with life and work; a city that supported with honour its inhabitants. Seldom did one hear a Dubossarer bemoan an inability to make a living.
Two springs gushed forth in our town the big fountain and the little fountain. Both, with their crystal clean water, would quench the thirst of man and beast. We also had many wells which not only provided water for drinking but had another mission as well that of dousing fires which in Dubossar occurred frequently.
During winter, when the Dniester was frozen, wagons and sleighs would cross
over the ice and the youth would skate. From the months of 'Shvat 'to 'Tevet'
the coldest months of the year ice would be chopped off from the river
for the hospitals and ice cellars. In the month of 'Adar' as the frosts
diminished, the ice on the river Dniester began to heave, to stir and this
river which had been solid, now began to crackle and foam. The water would
flow over the banks and flood the town. The water reached up to the hill near
the old Beis Medrish (study hall). The flood would extend several kilometers
and then the only way one could reach Bessarabia would be by boat. Many a time
there was the danger of a boat being smashed to pieces by the giant ice floes.
Deeply etched in my memory was this one time during just such weather conditions when the river seethed and threatened. It was in the month of 'Adar' 1911 the month I became a Bar Mitzva. My father was on the other side of the Dniester in Bessarabia and because of the turbulent river and the floods, he was unable to return for my Shabbat Bar Mitzva. With great anticipation and anxiety we all waited and looked for my father's return but no great miracle occurred. The danger in crossing the stormy waters was too great. On that shabbat, my father remained on the other side and I became a Bar Mitzva boy without a feast and without a drasha (sermon).
From time to time our calm, routine lives were shaken due to either external or
internal events. I was barely four years old when the pogrom in Kishinev broke
out and this event remains deeply engraved in my memory.
The Dubossar Jews had a special reason for their great trepidation as the mob that had carried out the pogrom in Kishinev was emboldened by a 'blood libel' that was spread about the Jews in Dubossar by The Black Hundred in Russia. The incident began with the discovery of a murdered Christian boy in the garden of an important Jewish homeowner. The atmosphere was tense and on the verge of explosion. I recall how my parents paced back and forth in the house with panic stricken expressions. They hid every prized possession in the cellar but only during the night.
Immediately a Jewish self- defense group was organized and guards were placed at every corner of the town. They were on the lookout for any suspicious movement. This self-defense group was famous in the surrounding areas and the knowledge that they were there, cooled off the hundreds of predatory and bloodthirsy pogromchiks so that they did not dare to attack these Jewish folk. I would like to take this opportunity to fulfill a holy obligation and name those who were at the forefront of the self-defense organization. At the head was the outstanding power behind the organization Abraham Isaac Yagalnitzer (Golani) who had started the first Hebrew school in Dubossar. His close collaborators were Pinchas Bassin, Shaul Sokai, Golack, Malchis and others. It later became known that the murder was committed by the boy's own uncle who was after the boy's inheritance. Once the truth was known, the story faded away.
The blood libel in Dubossar, the pogrom in Kishinev and incidents in the other towns in Southern Russia prompted many from our town to leave this land of woe for other countries. Therefore, a great exodus began at this time for America and other free countries. With the launching of 'Aliya Bet' (second migration to Palestine), many also chose the road to Eretz Yisrael.
World War 1, the Russian Revolution and following this, the civil war, left
deep scars in our town even though we did not experience such tragic events as
in the other towns. Only here and there, at the outskirts of the
town and in the surrounding areas hooligans managed to kill a number of Jews;
Only here and there did they rob a Jewish store, Only one Jew was killed by the Denikintses who fled from the Bolsheviks as they passed through Dubossar. They doused him with oil and set him on fire. Only one Jewish man and his wife were killed as three others were carried off and no-one knows what became of them. And yet, in comparison with other towns and villages where the frenzied pogromchiks of all stripes ran amuck, murdering, pillaging, destroying whole communities, Dubossar escaped with grace.
When the February, 1917 revolution broke out, a democratic election was held in Dubossar and a government was voted in that represented all the different groups in the town. The Jews elected Rabbi Abel and Joseph Visoky ( who later lived in Israel) and they worked diligently on behalf of all the townspeople. These were the spring days of the Russian Revolution and we Jews, along with the other Russian ethnic groups. believed that the dawn of a new era had begun, leaving behind the hundreds of years of the despotic Czarist regimes. We believed that in the wake of the revolution, man had changed his character and a bright future awaited us where love, peace and brotherhood would reign. The honeymoon lasted only a few months. By October, the Bolsheviks grabbed power and everything was turned upside down. Our rosy expectations were obliterated and bitter disappointment took its place.
During the years 1920-21 starvation swept over Russia. Dubossar, which had always been a land of plenty now had inhabitants walking around like ghosts, swollen with hunger. The need was so great that people ate the bark off the trees and many collapsed from hunger in the middle of the street. In the courtyards of the hospitals lay many corpses as those whose duty it was to bury them, had no strength for the task.
The hunger, the civil war and the heavy hand of the Bolsheviks prompted those
Jews who had any opportunity whatsoever, to cross the river Dniester to
Bessarabia which was under Romanian rule. Masses streamed to the Dniester from
all corners of the Ukraine. The river swallowed many and we also heard of many
who drowned at the hands of the border smugglers. Those that were lucky enough
to reach the other shore were attacked, robbed and left barefoot and naked. My
wife and I also tried countless times to steal over the border without success.
Once, during just such an attempt, hot coals were thrown at us that killed one
woman but we miraculously were saved. We also were arrested during another one
of our attempts.
I remember one episode from that period that nearly cost me my life. I was the secretary of a branch of the organization Tzeirei Tzion (Youth of Zion) in Dubossar. On a summer day in Tamuz 1922, my friend Yeshayahu Kantor's wife approached me and requested that I write a certificate for him, confirming that he was a member of our organization. ( He was then preparing to cross the Dniester and make his way to Eretz Yisrael). Although I was ill, with a temperature of 39, I gathered my strength and wrote out two certificates #150; one for Kantor and one for my friend Rasch who was also planning to steal across the border. Rasch fell into the hands of 'Cheka' ( Russian secret police) and was arrested. I shook with fear twofold: first, over the fate of Rasch and secondly, in fear that the certificate would fall into the hands of the communist police which would mean being stood up against a wall
On the eve of Rosh Hashana, I was arrested for Zionist activities and with nine
others was transported the next day
on Rosh Hashana
to Tyraspol. There a
true miracle occurred. The certificate I had given Rasch did not fall into the
hands of the 'Cheka'. If it had, I would not be able to write this memoir.
I would like to open up this chapter with mention of the oldest institution found in each and every Jewish community the Shul (synagogue). There were many shuls in Dubossar but I will mention here only the most important and well known ones:
The Great Shul: The elders used to relate that the Baal Shem Tov, may his piety be remembered,laid the cornerstone with his own hands. If it has not been destroyed by hooligans, this shul would now be over 200 years old.
The Great Bais Medrish (study house): This one was also amongst the oldest
institutions in Dubossar. Elders used to say that when the Bais Medrish was
being built and the foundation excavated, they found such a large quantity of
clay and building material, that they were able to complete the whole building
from these materials alone. Many perceived this as a miracle. Sixty years ago
(1905), the Bais Medrish was renovated and it was a very fine and spacious
In addition to the above two, there were many small Klayzl (synagogues) belonging to the various societies and trades. Among these were the Talner and the Sadigorer about whom a pun was told. The story is that when they started to build their little shul, they threw into the foundation a jug of yash (brandy) so that when it was said that the synagogue stands on YY'SH (anacronym for fear of God), they would, God forbid, not be telling a lie.
Practically every type of artisan and trade had its own shul. We had a tailors' shul, a shoemakers' shul, coachmen's shul, the shamosim's (sextons) shul, etc. The shamosim had a weakness for cantors and every visiting cantor was obliged to come first to their shul. These shuls were too small to contain the overflow of people on the high holidays and especially on Simchat Torah. At such times, the Sefer Torahs would be taken out of doors and minyans (quorums for prayers) would be held in the neighbouring houses.
On Hashana Raba (7th day of Succot), ballot boxes were installed in the shuls and study houses and elections were held to vote in the new Gabbais (trustees of the synagogues). After the elections, there was some hearty drinking and the newly elected Gabais were paraded down the streets under a chupa. Crowds accompanied them, singing, dancing and carrying burning candles. The following tale is told about Israel Kalman, the son of Aaron: On Hashana Raba, his wife sent him to slaughter a hen for the holiday. On the way, he got caught up in one happy group of revellers after another until he finally came dancing home with the hen still tucked under his arm.
The main point is that Simchat Torah was a joyous occasion. After an Aliya to the Torah, the whole congregation would help themselves to some food and brandy and were soon drunk. They would then spill out into the streets to celebrate with the Torah. On Simchat Torah they gathered strength against the cold, grey winter days which were already creeping toward them.
In our town, we also had a Psalms Society that had been founded in 1840. Ordinary Jews belonged to this group and they would get together each Shabat afternoon to read aloud a chapter of the Psalms. There was pure magic in the reciting of the Psalms. The whole year they would pour out their hearts to the creator those who understood the meaning of the words and those that didn't. The words of King David, may he rest in peace,were like a drop of sweetness in their bitter lives.
Six years after the establishment of this society, the members commissioned a
new Sefer Torah to be created for their shul. In 1926 I had the great honour of
bringing this Sefer Torah to Israel and installing it in the Nahalal shul. In
1853, the society had presented a crown for their Torah. It was made of silver
and was a meter high.
Decorated with golden bells and silver birds, it cost a fortune in those days a thousand rubles. Because of its great value, the crown was kept in a private home and only on Shabbat and holidays was brought to the shul. It was considered a great honour to place the crown on the Torah. To this day it is not known what happened to the crown just as the whereabouts of many other valuables belonging to the Jewish communities is unknown following the great destruction, the Holocaust.
Educational and Cultural Institutions
There were many educational institutions in dubossar starting with the
cheder (small traditional religious class), the Talmud Torah (
religious elementary school) and finally, a school that was attended by a
mixed group of Jewish and non Jewish children. The majority of Jewish children
learned in a cheder and Talmud Torah from the very youngest age and up. There
they learned Bible, Rashi (commentaries on Bible and Talmud), Prophets and
Scripture as well as Gemara (commentary on Talmud and Mishna).
The teachers were more or less inspired in their profession yet in spite of their antiquated methods of teaching, they managed to stuff into the children a basic knowledge of Jewish customs, a love of our holy Torah, a love of the Jewish people and of Eretz Yisrael. During the whole day, from eight in the morning until eight at night, with very few breaks, Jewish children sat in cheder engrossed in prayers and studies. There was almost no time left for play. The children, however, found a way around this. Every time the teacher stepped out of the room, the class would errupt into fun and games. Truth to tell, although strict discipline was evident, there was no lack of childish joy in cheder. The winter nights were lovely when the group of children headed home with lanterns in hand to light the way.
At the turn of the century, in 1905, a new school was founded in Dubossar. This school was more suited to modern times and was directed by the famous pedagogue Yagolnitzer (Golani) who will be described elsewhere in this book. Yagolnitzer was the school director for only two years as he left for Eretz Yisrael in 1907.
Not far from the Boulevard State Garden, there was a Gymnasia (high school). The scholars of our town, headed by Rabbi Abel and Reb Yechiel Tzelnik, founded The New Talmud Torah in a large building, airy, well lit and on one of the nicest streets in town. The educational methods were new, synthesizing old and modern techniques. In the ensuing years there was a bitter battle between the fanatics of the older generation and the more progressive, younger one. Finally, the spirit of modern times won out, the new school became firmly established and many children there absorbed Jewish and general culture.
As mentioned before, there was a school for both Jews and gentiles under the direction of H. Karatenko. Special teachers would come to the school to teach religion. The most talented was Reb Yakov Feldman whom the pupils admired and loved. He was a dear Jew and a fine human being wholeheartedly devoted to his work. When his son, Nathan, drowned in the Dniester, we mourned for months together with the family exactly as if he had been our brother. Reb Yakov Feldman was also a journalist and during the time of the 'Blood Libel' he did his utmost to uncover the true facts about the child's murder.
Amongst the various cultural groups in our town, a special place was occupied
the Kapelye (klezmer band) Lyubiteles which had been established in 1890.
Among the many musicians in the Kapelye, were Kalman Ben-Ami Feinshil (of Chabad ), Yechiel Reznik (who lived for many years in Eretz Yisrael to the ripe old age of 93 in 1963), David Chochomovitch, Yitzchak Bider (murdered in a pogrom in the early 20's), Shmuel Yengaltz, Pinchas Bassin, Avraham Guzman and Yitzchak Shargaradsky. These were all talented musicians and they played at weddings to bring joy to the bride, groom and the mechotonim (family, in-laws). The money earned was donated to the Community Philanthropic Society that paid for the weddings of orphans and the poor. Those, whose sole income was from their klezmer music, later left the band. There were also musicians in the band who were not Jewish - such as Kapuchenko and Dyardeh the fiddler who would enchant people with his artistry. One of the Jewish players was dubbed 'Kol Mikdash' (everything holy). To this day I do not know why they called him that but I had the pleasure to feel his playing directly on my body. One day, when I was ten years old, I spotted him in the street and yelled out Kol Mikdash. He was a tiny but swift Yidl. He grabbed me and let me have it. To my great luck a passerby noticed and rescued me from his hands.
At the turn of the century, a troupe of theatre aficionados launched performances in Weinstein's big hall. Many were the meetings and festivities celebrated in this hall. It was there that we heard Rabbi Abel deliver a report upon his return from the seventh Zionist conference that was held in St. Petersbury between the February and October Revolutions. In that same hall, not much later, we were forced to attend communist meetings where an atmosphere of hatred prevailed with a hefty amount of propoganda against everything that a nationalistic Jew holds dear and holy.
Dubossar was a town that loved cantorial music. Great cantors, world renowned,
would seek out our town and bring great pleasure to the townspeople with their
hearty, sweet cantorial pieces. Some of those who visited were: Reb Nissy
Beltzer with his choir, Cantor Bialik (no relation to the poet), Chaim
Steinberg, David Roytman, Icht Arbitman, Chaim Shwartz and more. We also had
our own famous local cantor Nachum Matenko a renowned baritone, famous
throughout Russia and beyond. Even today legends circulate about the deep
impression he made on royalty including a princess of the Russian Czar's
It is told that she was totally enamoured by his voice. He gave cantorial concerts in Odessa, Moscow, throughout Russia and other countries. He died in Milan. A rumour has been circulating to this day that Cantor Matenko did not die a natural death but was poisoned, the victim of jealousy.
As we are talking about cantors and talented musicians, it is worth mentioning that the renowned pianist Anton Rubinstein (1829-94) was born in Dubossar. Also the violinist Metz, famous throughout Russia, hailed from Dubossar. He lived in Rostov on the Don and earned his living by giving music lessons. On one occasion when he visited Dubossar, he gave a concert in Sribner's garden.
Dubossar Jews wsere not only fond of music, their souls were hungry for the
spoken word and flocked to hear lectures, sermons, talks and recitations.
Multitudes would come to hear speakers such as Rabbi Yevzarov (yhl'l), Chaim
Greenberg, Joseph Vitkin, Moishe Shoichet, Jacob Rabinovitch, the orator
Masliansky and others.
Zionism in Dubossar
From the days of Chivat Zion(organization Lovers of Zion) and the first Zionist Congress, there were Zionists in Dubossar. Our town also contributed its share to the Second Aliya. Numerous yourths settled in Eretz Yisrael from 1904-14. The biggest impetus toward Zionism occurred because of the 1913 Beilis trial. The terrible lies and incitements against Jews that were heard day in and day out and that were spread throughout Russia by the reactionary and anti-semitic press, trampled upon our holiest feelings and revealed before our very eyes the terrible abyss that awaited Russian Jewery. These terrible insults helped to forge a nationalistic Zionist consciousness, particularly among the yourth. From the darkness that engulfed Russian Jewry a light was kindled that led the way to Eretz Yisrael.
Until the outbreak of world war ll, Kayleh Chaim Mordecai's Shul
served as the centre for Zionist activities in Dubossar. In those days, the
greatest source of inspiration in the Zionist organization was (shub)
Kalman Ben-Ami Faynshil, a descendant of (bch) Reb Yisroel Sirkish, the
author of A New House, one of the fundamental works on the
literature pertaining to 'Poskim' (religious pronouncements).
Rabbi Kalman was a learned Torah scholar and well versed in the Hebrew language. He also published an important book Against the Bible Critics (Christian Bible). For us in Dubossar, he was the highest authority amongst the Lovers of Zion. Reb Kalman was an exceptional and tactful man, loved and respected by all who knew him. He Made Aliya in 1925 and settled in Nahalal where he lived to a ripe old age.
The home of Pinchas and Leah Bassin was a Zionist home in every sense. She was the daughter of the respected Filler family. Their house was home to the Council of Sages and the best youth in town would frequently gather there. Also, when a noted speaker or Zionist arrived in Dubossar, the Bassins would make a welcoming party at their home. As mentioned before, famous people frequently visited Dubossar. When Chaim Nachman Bialik and Pesach Auerbach came to Dubossar in 1903 in connection with the blood libel, they stayed with the Bassins.
Hatchiya (The Revival), another Zionist group primarily attended by the younger generation, was particularly active during world war 1. Hatchiya also laid the foundation for the organization Kadima Tzeirei Tzion (Forward Zionist Youth) which was founded in 1917 after the February revolution. This organization was instrumental in spreading the Hebrew language and Zionist ideals among the youth. Thanks to this organization, hundreds of young people would gather at the end of the Sabbath for readings, debates, presentations and general entertainment.
With the advent of the Balfour declaration, in our naivete, we awaited our 'Geula' (redemption) and prepared for a mass exodus to Eretz Yisrael. The following episode will illustrate the atmosphere of Geula that caught up the masses of Russian Jewry: At that time the noted Zionist Agronomist Zussman, may he rest in peace, was visiting our town and we consulted with him about making Aliya to Eretz Yisrael. Upon his suggestion, we began to make lists of the candidates who wished to make Aliya. Every evening scores of people wrote their names down on lists. An Aliya committee was elected whose task it was to screen out those that were suitable from those that were not. As a member of this committee, I had to carefully deal with one candidate whom the committee had considered unsuitable. He let out his full fury and wishes for revenge on me. Luckily, in the chaos of those days, he disappeared one day and we never saw him again.
That period of Sturm and Drang was also the most interesting and
fruitful of our Zionist activity. We organized groups to learn Hebrew, to
study Eretz Yisrael geography, etc. and the work was done with great enthusiasm.
With our help many young men and women studied the Hebrew language and the Hebrew word was heard daily in our town. After the October revolution, the Zionist activities were forced underground and many of our comrades were banished by the Bolsheviks to Siberia. After years of hard labour, the Soviet regime allowed some to leave Russia and emigrate to Eretz Yisrael. among those lucky few were our friends Yoseph Vargon and Elimelech Tcherkis both residents of Rishon L'Tzion.
As in other Jewish towns, fires were a frequent occurance in Dubossar. We had a Fire Brigade and in the yard of the magistrate there were always wagons filled with barrels of water ready in case of a fire alarm. Frequently, however, when the alarm was sounded, the horses would be far away, grazing in the pasture or else the water would have frozen in winter or at other times, it would have dripped out entirely. Very often, by the time everything could be organized, the fire fighters would arrive too late to be of any use.
I memeber many fires but the most frightening ones were those that happened during my childhood years. Perhaps because I was so young and impressionable these events are deeply etched in my memory.
The first great fire that I remember occurred when I was two and a half years old. My father carried me and my older brother who was five years old. He ran across the street looking for a safe spot to set us down. That fire broke out at nightime in Laybe Rashe's Shul. I remember that the sky was as red as fire and from all sides one could hear the sounds of lamenting and wailing. There was the panic that the fire would spread to the many flammable items in his shul where he had benzine, alcohol, gasoline, resin,etc.
The second fire that I remember well was in the summer of 1908. Sitting in
cheder, we boys suddenly saw a torrent of black smoke pouring up to
the sky. We ran like crazy with all our might from the cheder to the lake to
hide in one of the caves that were there. This was one of the biggest fires
ever in Dubossar. Approximately forty houses, including my parents' house,
disappeared with the smoke. All our belongings turned to ash.
Speaking of the fires, I am reminded of the following tragi-comic event: A winter night. Outside is a terrible blizzard. The wind whistles and howls. The alarm bells are shivering in the air. In a house not far from Yosef Filler's mill, a fire broke out. In great confusion, the owner of the house ran outside screaming:Reboynoy Shel Oylom (Lord of the Universe) Sweet Father. Where are you? Holy fathers Avraham, Belam, Jacob, Terach Where are you?
There were several medical institutions in our town. There was a government hospital that rather reluctantly took in Jewish patients who, from their standpoint, also had little desire to use these services. As opposed to this, the Jewish hospital fulfilled its mission with great dedication. We also had an organization called Linat Hatzedek (name of the benevolent society) comprised of volunteers both men and women. If a member of this organization was sick for a lengthy period or severely ill, Linat Hatzedek would send over one of its volunteers to help care for the invalid thus lightening the burden of the family. In certain instances the help was also financial.
There were two cemeteries in Dubossar the old cemetery and the new one.
Already in my day there were no further burials in the old cemetery. Scholars
and the righteous had been laid to their eternal rest there. Among them, Reb
Mendele, a disciple of the author of the book Pool of Living Waters
and a student of the Baal Shem Tov. In times of trouble people gathered at his
graveside to throw notes into his mausoleum with prayers and the hope that by
virtue of Reb Mendele's good deeds, the much needed help would be forthcoming.
Near his grave was that of the Baal Tshuva(the penitent).It is
told that one day, on Yom Kippur, near the time for Kol Nidre, an apostate
drove by. He was an important Muscovite businessman. When he heard the
mournful melody of the Kol Nidre, his heart filled with remorse and he vowed to
return to his Jewish faith. He rid himself of his business, left his family
and turned to Reb Mendele to guide him in his atonement. He became a very
pious Jew. When he died and was buried in the old cemetery, Reb Mendele wrote
in his will that he wished to be buried near the Baal Tshuva.
Recently we found out that the remains of Reb Mendele and the bride and groom
were all re-interred in the new cemetery. As far as I recall, we only used the
new cemetery for burials. There ordinary folk were interred alongside scholars
and other important people.
Not many from our town are aware that in Dubossar there was a third cemetery behind Moishe Kantor's estate. That cemetery was used during a very tragic period when cholera swept through our area in 1851. The epidemic devoured many poor souls and within two years the cemetery was filled to capacity with room for no additional graves.
Dubossar Scholars and Hasidim
In the last generations, Dubossar was a town of scholars. Without a doubt, the greatest amongst them was Reb Shimon Rabinovitch. With great affection, the townspeople called him Reb Shimeleh Dayan (judge). Aside from his great mastery of the Torah, he was considered a 'Tzadik' (righteous man), very modest, with high standards and a fine character. Day and night he read Torah and studied.
Another famous scholar and genius, was Yerucham Hacohen, a descendant of shch. In Dubossar he held the position of Rabbi and was on the Bet Din (judges of law according to the Torah). He was also the author ot the books The Tishbite and Brish Gali a commentary on the Hagada of Passover.
Dubossar was also a town filled with Chasidim (movement stressing pious devotion and ecstasy). This stemmed yet from the days of the Baal Shem Tov and the town elders would describe how Reb Yisroel Baal Shem Tov would often visit Dubossar and sit in 'Urka the Coachman's courtyard', under a tree and there discuss Chasidism with his friends and students. This tree was still standing in Urka's courtyard in my day also. Many a time we young lads would look at that tree and lost in our thoughts, would contemplate the path of the Baal Shem tov and the impact the Chasidic movement had on Jewish life.
In Dubossar the Chasidim would flock around a very pleasant rabbi, Reb Mordecai Morgolius. On Shabbat and holidays, he would host a Tish (the Rabbi's Table) where Torah was discussed in the manner of the Chasidic rabbis. Well known Chasidic rabbis would come to visit the Dubossar Chasidim, among them The Talner Rabbi, The Olesker Rabbi and Reb Nachum Makarever.
A distinguised and beloved scholar was Reb Chaim David Dayan. They would tell
how, on Fridays, when the gentile hawkers would see Reb Chaim David walking to
shul for Mincha prayers, they would immediately put away their merchandise
to prepare for shabbes. Reb Shmuel Dayan, Reb Shimeleh's son, was a
scholarly, spiritual and modest man beloved by everyone. He carefully handled
the community money and with zeal guarded every penny. He was also a member
of the Rabbinic Council for many years.
In remembering Dubossar personalities, I am obliged to mention both Jews and Christians who excelled in their humanitarian deeds and were exceptional people. First of all, I must mention Dr. Layb Polnikovsky, the son of a well known rabbinic family. He was a very good doctor and had a golden heart. He was also a modest and humble person. When he was called to a sickbed, he would immediately set forth either by foot or by wagon. Many a time, when he would see that the family lived in poverty, he would refuse to accept a fee and would leave them money to buy medicine. The simple folk did not grasp his great humanity. His unpretentious and warm approach to young and old led to their undervaluing him and this resulted in their witholding from him the respect that he deserved.
I would like to mention Zisha Yaffo who was one of the feldshers (barber-surgeon).
He was a dedicated Zionist and already in 1911 he sent his
four children, a son and three daughters, to Eretz Yisrael to study at the
Among the Christians, I would like to mention the feldsher Frakafenko who was an expert in the medical field and because of his goodness and warm heart, was beloved by everyone. He was always ready to help the needy regardless of their religious background.
Also to be remembered in a positive light is the priest Trentavsky of the New Market Church. He was a dear man who faithfully followed the commandment to love his fellow beings. With his good deeds and fiery sermons, he more than once mediated and dampened the excesses of his people against the Jews in Dubossar.
In erecting this monument to our Jewish community in Dubossar, I have the moral
and holy duty to dedicate a few words to the town of Yagorlik our closest
neighbour. Yagorlik was small but simmering with Jewish life and content. It
will sound like a legend when I tell you that as early as the beginning of the
1900's almost everyone in Yagorlik spoke Hebrew. For this they could thank Gad
Layb Rechev whose love of Zion and the Hebrew language was so great that he
dedicated his whole life to teaching Hebrew to the Yagorlik inhabitants, in
particular the young.
In 1906 he made Aliya to Eretz Yisrael and thus served as an example to his many friends and students. The Yagorlik Jews were honest and hard working. They viewed their town as a transit station to Eretz Yisrael. Because of their great love of the land of their forefathers, many did achieve their goal of settling in Eretz Yisrael. Among others, I would like to mention David Puchis z'l, who emigrated with the second aliya and who, with his bare hands, dug into the earth of the motherland as he was one of the founders of Ein Ganim where he lived to the end of his days. In the War of Independence, his son Isaac, a teacher and a poet, sacrificed his life on the altar of the motherland. Yagorlik was wiped out along with the other towns and villages in Eastern Europe when the enemy of the Jews lowered his axe over our Jewish communities.
These are the memories that I managed to rescue from oblivion. On many a sleepless night, people and places from the past flit by my eyes and once again I relive these incidents exactly as if they occured only today. This is how one town, one of many, lived and laboured, experienced joy and pain. This is how one town continued the thread of tradition and added a brick to the old fortress of the house of Israel in the Russian exile until the enemy, the devil, came and cut off the memory of the Dubossar community in Nazified Europe. In one day 18,500 Jews were wiped out, martyrs and innocents from Dubossar and the surrounding areas. Hych.
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