[Pages 254 & 234]
When we still lived in the house of Moshe Finels, the Likhtental family also lived in our neighborhood. The father of the family, Fivel, was known by the name of Fivel Kvasnik, because of his involvement in making Kvass (apple liqueur), which became famous throughout the entire neighborhood.
Fivel married off his daughter to a youth, a very God fearing person, called Elimelech from Marksheid. His religiosity was sometimes beyond human understanding. Once the Shabos candles began to bend and were about to fall causing a danger of fire. Even the tested method of putting the Shabos challos around them did not help. When one of the candles fell and set fire to the tablecloth one of the children tried to put out the fire with all his strength. The head of the family rose and decreed decisively, Let there be a fire, but the Shabos shall not be desecrated! Fortunately, someone thought to call the non-Jewish maid who worked in our house; she extinguished the fire.
This Fivel Kvasnik was also my Kvatter (one who carries the baby in to his bris). As a result he saw it as one of his tasks to supervise my education properly. He discharged this duty by testing me every other Shabos. Between the hours of three and four, I was tested in his house, and as a reward, I would receive a piece of honey cake, a fragrant pear in the appropriate season, a sweet drink, and as dessert, a cup of Kvass, that would restore the soul. In the face of such a reward, I tried not to disappoint him. Thus this routine continued for several years.
I would not fulfill my obligation with regard to the Kvatter, if I didn't mention what my father, of blessed memory, told me about him.
Fivel Kvasnik was not among the wealthiest men of the city. Still it was possible to find in his cellar a barrel of real wine (not raisin wine). Each day, after lunch, he was accustomed to bring up from his cellar a cup of the best wine, and to have a leisurely drink with his meal. It once happened that one of his friends found him in a state of dissolution and criticized him: Is it possible? Right in the middle of the week, without any special reason, that a Jew should be sitting and drinking wine? This practically borders on gluttony! And then Fivel gave a very resourceful reply. Calmly he removed his money purse from his pocket, took out a twenty crown paper, placed it before his friend, pointed to the picture of the past queen of Austria, Maria Teresa, and asked: Do you recognize this young woman? Yes, came the answer, this is the wife of the emperor. Is it true that she is beautiful? he asked again. The reply came, It's true, and to whom should belong a beautiful woman, if not to our emperor, may his glory be elevated. And then came Fivel's incisive response: You answered correctly. The woman is extremely beautiful and still, her value exists only when you can enjoy her meaning, money is only valuable to the extent that one can enjoy it. This describes my Kvasser maker.
From that time period, I remember another event. In our city, which never lagged in the absorption of new ideas, the organization called the Diligent Hand was established. This was an organization of workers that provided assistance particularly in the area of vocational advancement. My father, may his memory be blessed, was an official member of this organization. One day, he brought home a group picture of the members of the organization. A neighbor came over and asked, What's going on with you, Reb Yedidya, to be found among the workers; is not your place among the business- men? My father replied to him. Is my work less difficult than theirs? Does their labor bring less benefit than mine? For a long time, this picture occupied an honored place on one of the walls in our home. It disappeared with the rest of the household items, when we left our house during the First World War.
In time after we moved to a private house, my teachers changed and I obtained a completely different 'farherer' (tester).
One day, at the beginning of the term, I was brought into the cheder of Yonah the Melamed, Yonah Leibman. The procedures in this cheder were different from the ones that I was used to. It was a little more modern, as shown by regularly scheduled recesses between classes and also in the accelerated pace of studies, resembling that of the public school. The teacher, who suffered from some kind of chronic illness, was always bitter and depressed, and poured out his anger on our heads. He had a weakness for giving disgraceful appellations to those who lagged in their studies. Thus he called the two brothers, Mendel and Niemke Friedman, whose father was a carriage driver, by the names Tate Hai and Mame Voi. The students responded and referred to him as Yonah Gadzulya, apparently meaning Yonah the Ganif, (the thief), because he would often give us significant beatings that were not always justified. May God forgive him for his deeds; we already forgave him long ago.
As I mentioned, we had regularly scheduled recesses between our classes. During them we would go into a booth wrapped in a climbing vine that stood in the courtyard. We would sit on the circle of benches and play different games, or exchange buttons or other objects. One of our favorite games was Shimshon Hagibor (Samson the Strong). We would all stand on the benches and appoint someone to be Shimshon. Usually we picked Niemke-Voi, who was stronger than all of us. He would stand in the corner of the Sukah, and after he quoted the verse, Strengthen me this one time from the book of Judges, he would powerfully shake the corner pillar of the Sukah, and we would throw ourselves from the benches to the middle of the Sukah, acting out the breaking of the temple of Dagon on top of the reveling Philistines. It was clear that whoever rushed to throw himself down would be squashed by the others who fell upon him. One time I felt that someone was pushing me away causing me to fall on the top of the pile. This was the strong hand of Shimshon-Niemke. Afterward, he took me aside and explained to me the meaning of his actions. You have to know how to adapt; you are weaker than the others and pushing can hurt you more than the others. From then on, I benefited from the protection of Niemke in many circumstances.
This was a love that was dependent on something specific. Each Monday, I always knew the weekly Torah portion clearly. I was chosen over other good students to review the portion with the flagging students. Among those were the brothers Mendel and Niemke. Their hearts drew them to go to the river instead of reviewing the measurements of the length and width of the tabernacle. In thanks for helping the teacher, I also received certain privileges. It was possible for me to release my students, from class earlier than the official time, by certifying that they had reviewed the material and were sufficiently knowledgeable in it. I must admit that this wasn't totally truthful. It seems that the teaching, One has to know how to adapt, helped Niemke as much as it helped me.
In the cheder of Yonah the teacher, I got to know someone who would remain my good friend over the course of years, Shmuel Abba Shnitzer. We would visit each other frequently, and so I was fortunate that Shmuel Abba's father, Rabbi Chaim Shnitzer, was my second farherer. (tester of studies). Here I did not receive any reward for my diligence; the reward for studying Torah was, this time, Torah itself. More than once, he would explain to me matters that even my teacher would consider hidden. In their home, I also got to know for the first time a totally new way of life. In contrast to most of the people in the city, who were Chassidim following different Rebbes, the members of the Shnitzer family were obvious misnagdim (opponents of Chassidim) who could be singled out in our city. They were one of the most honored, as well as wealthy, families in our city, but the Chassidim could not forgive them for separating from their community.
Following the first world war, after all the shuls in the city were burned, Rabbi Chaim gathered a portion of those who used to daaven in the shteibel (small shul) and dedicated a room in his house for them to continue the customs of the shteibel. Among the daaveners in this new shteibel was Shmuel Shpan, an extremely observant Jew. One Shabos before daavening, he came running into the shteibel and proclaimed, Jews, an obscenity has been done in our city! When I returned early in the morning from immersing in the mikveh, I saw with my own eyes the 'Piakernik'- the carriage driver, Yaponchik, riding on his horses to water them in the potiyak (the source waters for the mikveh)! The entire congregation lifted up their eyes to Reb Chaim, to listen to what he would tell them. With calmness and deliberation, Reb Chaim answered them, Reb Shmuel, my advice to you is don't get up so early to dip. Everyone understood the hint, except Reb Shmuel himself .
Since that time, many years have passed. Many of the statements of the personalities I met, stuck with me except for the teaching of Niemke, who tried to teach me to learn to adapt. This teaching, I did not succeed in internalizing.
Strange, but this is usually the response. I don't know why, but many people know exactly where Horodenka is and many have connections with our town.
In fact, a colleague asked me, What is your connection to your town after so many years in Israel? Why do you now have feelings for this place. Tell me about it! What could I tell her, or for that matter, anyone who has never visited Horodenka?
There were three churches in the town the Polish Catholic, the Provaslavic Ukrainian and the Armenian. They were in a triangle and were in the heart of town. At the same center were the town offices, the Jewish institutions, the schools, and the Hebrew school.
The Catholic Church was very beautiful and many stories and legends were connected to the church. On one of the towers were four huge clocks that rang every 15 minutes. You always knew the time, and the rings accompanied us throughout the day. It woke me up every morning because we lived across the street from the church. It is strange, but mainly Jews lived around the churches. There was another bell, with a different sound, on the tower of the Boys School; but it rang only for emergencies or fires.
There were some streets branching off the main street that was like the main artery of the town. They led to Dvorska, Shpitlana, and Kotikovka. There were names that described the different areas in town: the proval area, which was like a wadi; the shul area where the big Synagogue was; the Potok area surrounding the River; and the Tchervone area, a place filled with history from the Ottoman Empire. The story goes that there was a big battle there, and so much blood was shed it turned the water red. Other areas include the Toloka area (the big park) and last, the pride of the town, the Zvkrovania (a sugar factory) which was a beautiful area. We used to call these areas by their old names, although they had other official names. I remember the trees and lilac bushes that grew all over town. The policemen played drums to gather an audience whenever there was a new order or instruction.
In front of our house (which we inherited from our grandpa) and in front of our neighbors' homes, all the way to the stores of the Grapach family, there was a market. The farmers parked their horses and carts filled with vegetables, fruits, chickens, and eggs. It was a beautiful sight, very colorful, especially the women's dresses full of embroidery and ribbons. The transportation in town was by horse and cart and travelers used the doroska, a carriage that went only to the train station and back.
Electricity came to us a little late. I still remember, like in a dream, the kerosene lamps, especially the one on our ceiling. We used to polish it once a year for Passover and other special occasions. I saw the first bus in Horodenka. It was parked next to the bar of Kalmus; I don't remember it's form but I'm sure I'll never see a more beautiful bus in my life.
The first radio that I saw was at Dr. Kaufman's. It was a radio with headphones and my father tried very hard to explain to me how it worked. When I was seated in Hebrew school and we sang Hebrew songs, I believed that our songs were going through the air waves to Israel! Every Saturday night we congregated the older female students of the Hebrew school in the kitchen of Hilda Burg. We said some prayers, original ones, asking God to bring all the world's Jews together in Israel in our time. We always finished by singing Shavua Tov, Yerushalaim Ir HaKodesh, and Halleluya.
Were there many towns where girls did this? Our eyes looked towards Zion from childhood, even before we heard bad words from a goy. And who can prove to me that this innocent childish prayer, that came from the bottom of our hearts, was for nothing? Kol Israel, the Israeli radio station, continues to play Shavua Tov to this day on Saturday nights! Maybe we were the carriers of this song and the ones who helped start this tradition.
In the mornings we all went to the Polish Public School and studied to acquire information. We spent only two hours in the Hebrew school, but there and only there we studied, lived and breathed easily. In the Hebrew school we were ourselves free to live our real lives. Because there, although we were different from each other, we were all united by our common goal and aspiration to live in Israel one day and in the meantime to be the living bridge that connects the past with the future by studying Hebrew and the history of our nation.
The Hebrew school was our spiritual home that we loved and shared. And it is not by chance that its location was in Beit Ha'am, the adults' meeting place and the location of the Zionist library. The meeting place was also used as a synagogue during Shabbat and the holidays. It encompassed all the different areas of our lives and in it we could express all of our Jewish feelings.
And what plays we put on during the holidays!! The holiday started long before its actual date because we prepared with skits and plays. We were very successful in these endeavors because in them we were able to express our true feelings and longings. We not only studied the stories of our ancestors, but we loved them, felt them, understood them, and wanted to be like them!
Not long ago I met a friend from Horodenka. In the conversation he told me, Do you remember how dark your parents' apartment was? I got really offended. What are you talking about? I said, It's not true. He blushed and said, Think about it, there were no windows in your living room! True, true, I answered, you are right, but until this moment I didn't realize it. I never felt the darkness. We had so much internal light and warmth, goodness and understanding, open mindedness and bright ideas. I never felt the darkness.
And it was not only me. Many people came to my parents' house to find the light. I still hear the discussions and conversations. People from all walks of life came from the Zionists to the Bund people to the communists.
And my friend was actually right. Even the wealthy families neglected the apartments. All the doors facing the street were locked at night with strong shutters that had metal bars with huge locks. But the back door to our house and to many others was quite unsafe; even a small child could open them. My Aunt Feiga, my father's sister, was worried about that. When she spoke to my father about that he replied with a smile, Why fix it? We are going soon! I think that this reply was typical and the essence of our life. Everything was directed towards the future, to the new home that would be built in Israel.
The only pictures on the walls were in the bedroom. Two big frames one of a page from the Golden Book, where my father was registered and, in the other one, a certificate from the Karem Kayemet for planting tress in Israel.
In the living room, over the mirror, was a big picture from Petah-Tikva, a town in Israel. My friends and I often pretended we were walking in the picture, thus being in Israel.
I remember, one Passover we got a Matza package from Israel. I think Itzhak Shapira sent it to my father with a bottle of wine from Karmel that we got every year from Mr. Shmuel Itzhak Lindenberg. The package charmed us all. Who ever saw such beautiful Matzas? Square and white and packaged so nicely with a symbol and Hebrew writing.
In our town it was different. Every head of a household ordered ahead the quantity of Matzah he needed for the family and then came himself to pick them up in a pillow case that was folded twice. Our heart beat with excitement when we tasted the first Israeli Matza and drank the Israeli wine. After everybody tasted them, my father looked at us, smiled and said, Do you understand? It is not only for us. And soon enough the door opened and people came in and took a piece. It was obvious to everybody that it could not be only ours. It was a real festive occasion, a ritual of getting together, of companionship, because it came from our Eretz Israel. By the way, we ate together a lot. On holidays like Simchat Torah, people came over after the prayers for Kiddush and to eat Holuvtchis. Every year we discovered that my dear mother was the queen of Holuvtchis.
There was one day a year when we, the girls, were in control of the Jewish street. It was on Yom Kippur. On that day, we saw with pride our parents and brothers going to the different synagogues in their best clothes and we, the girls, stayed behind to watch the homes. So we walked around in small groups took and care of the babies. We fed them, washed them, and walked with them. We passed the time conversing, telling stories and legends and the oldest among us (aged 18) even fasted.
Today there are playgrounds for children. But we didn't have any and didn't feel deprived. We had everything. We took care of ourselves. Two children hold hands, spin around, and you have a carousel. When we wanted a swing we went to Rosa Ofenberger. Her father had a lumberyard. On the width of a long piece of wood, we put small pieces and there was a swing. And for a slide we went to the roof of the ice room in the Sobel's yard. Our mothers' didn't understand why our panties were so black and torn, but we had great fun. And in the winter, during the snowy days we had lots of fun. Yes, we had time for fun and games. Busy in the morning in public school, in the afternoon in Hebrew school, and also belonging to a youth movement or a sports club, we still had time for fun. Nobody traveled in fast cars, but in a carriage and a horse. We didn't have plumbing in the houses; but we bought water form the water merchant. Taking a bath was a complicated matter. And washing the laundry was a real ordeal. But still we had time for everything to eat at the same time, to have an interesting conversation, to meet with friends for crafts and hiking. Nobody ran or hurried and still they got everywhere on time. And we never forgot a good word, a smile, having friends over and good conversations. Everything was done in a relaxed manner and with longing to do the same in Israel.
We, the people who made it to Israel, needed only to find work. We didn't have to change anything with our spiritual life because we lived in Israel like in Horodenka.
One day the city council decided to move the municipal market from its original place to another side of town. Instead of the market, they wanted to create a park the castle of Pilsodyky. They decided to pull our the old trees that grew on the sidewalks. But the trees didn't want to move! They didn't agree to be uprooted! It was a bitter fight. They needed to bring in machines to deal with the trees. They tied big metal chains around the old trees where so many birds nested. There was a huge noise and after a long battle, they managed to pull them out.
A group of students on our way from school stood there sad and crying. My father was standing behind me. He put his hands on my shoulder and said, Don't be sad, my daughter, it's nothing. If they could do it to us, they would do it with no hesitation. This image in alive is my heart like an open wound.
So the sentiment is not for the physical town, not at all but for the Jewish life that we had there. For what was there is still alive in our memories.
When the war that started in 1914 we forgot these thoughts. During the time of the Russian occupation, the Jewish population was under a lot of stress, humiliation, anxiety and fear. In 1916 during the great escape, most of the Jews ran away and the city became practically empty of its Jewish citizens. They scattered throughout the Austrian Monarchy and remained there as refugees until the war was over. In 1918, as the war ended, those refugees returned home to find their houses broken, destroyed and robbed. They had to put all their energy into rebuilding their homes. In the beginning a few families had to live together in one apartment. But, eventually, with the support and help of the government, most of the houses were rebuilt.
The youth that came back from the countries of the west where they had been refugees were very different from the youth that left before the war. They were greatly influenced by the Russian Revolution on one side and the awakening of nationalism throughout the small nations in Europe on the other side. There was a special awakening and joy following the Balfour Declaration that gave hope to the Jewish people that they would have, like any other people, a land in which they could live in freedom and practice their culture and religion. Under these influences, a local branch of the Hashomer youth movement was created in Horodenka. This group helped youth to learn about their heritage, and with the resources available to them, to plan for their future and the future of the Jewish people. I too was a member of one of the groups created by Hashomer a group called the Tiger Group. Heading the group was Elieza Bilder. Its members were: Schreyer, Sukar, Obenrice, Geffner and myself. This was where we learned the history of the people of Israel and the Zionist movement. This was also the place where we read the writings of the fathers of the Zionist movement: Dr. Hertzl, Max Nodoy and Ahad Ha-am. We also learned Hebrew in the Hebrew school run by Mr. Grife Libster and Ashe Yuniman.
After two years of Zionist organization, in 1920, the first group from Horodenka made Aliyah. It was a dream come true, a beginning of the messianic era. But this was a small group and the majority of us stayed and remained active in Horodenka. Our main activity was in the various Zionist unions. These clubs changed their shape from time to time, but their mission remained the same: to raise the consciousness about nationalism and to sponsor national fund raisers.
In 1925, the Culture Circle was created and headed by Dr. Druker. The brothers Berl and Bauer Kugelmas who were high school graduates also participated. This is where we read plays in German and Yiddish and argued about the content. A short time later, from that same group, the Horodenka Amateur Theater Group was created. The members of this group were: Moshe Fleshner, Josua Shtreyt, Liber Shapira, Donya Offenberger, Ali Pelpe, Israel Sukar, myself and others. We used to have our little productions in the hall of the Naradney Dome. It was very exciting and we got a lot of positive reactions from the audience. We also performed in the adjacent towns of Grodydich and Turlitchna with a lot of success. One of the groups that met to study bible and literature was called the Group of Proverbs. Its name was the acronym of the first names of its participants: Moshe Schnitser, Yitzchak Roykhverger, Shalom Lisar, Lipa Lisar and Joshua Shtreyt. Side by side with the Zionist and cultural activities, we found time to be active in sports. We turned the warehouse of Abraham Offenberger into a gym and created the first soccer group, Macabe, in Horodenka. We practiced in the Toliki practicing grounds. Horodenka became an example to a few towns in our neighborhood. They imitated us and created similar movements and activities.
Our house was next door to the Catholic Church. The front room was a little store from which we sold candy and sodas. We prepared the sodas in the back room using the water from the best well in town. The water from the well was brought to us by the water hauler called Benjamin, the good Benjamin. Whenever he was hauling barrels of water he would tie a little cup to his belt and let people who were thirsty have a drink.
Before we managed to finish fixing the house another disaster came. The army of Petliur, a Ukrainian Cossack, came in to help the Polish army against the Bolsheviks. The people in our town became anxious and started escaping or hiding behind locked doors, in cellars, and in attics. They were hiding from the Hidemuks, Petliur's anti-Semitic soldiers. Whoever dared to go out into the streets was usually hurt by those soldiers.
The memories from the First World War and the atmosphere that remained in the town afterwards influenced children's games. We used to organize war games in our neighborhoods. Each area took the name of one of the main countries that participated in the conflict. We had wooden swords. An ex-soldier released from the Austrian army for mental reasons used to train and lead us in these play wars.
The general school in which we learned was inclusive of all three nationalities in the town: The Jews, the Poles, and the Ukrainians. It was located next to the building of the Polish cultural center in which there was a sports area and a park. This was the boys' school. The girls' school was on the other side of town. The principal of the boys' school was a short, old Pole, with the nickname of Moisha Lebel. Most of the teachers were not Jewish. The religious teacher, however was a Jew: Mr. North. There was always hostility and tension between the groups. The Poles and Ukrainians always united against the Jews. In the afternoon we used to go to Hebrew school and learn the Hebrew language. The teacher was Benjamin Cohen. Not only did he teach us Hebrew, but also he insisted that his family speak Hebrew at home. His son, Tuvia, later became the leader of the Zionist youth in town.
While I was going to Hebrew school, I remember only one funny story. We were learning about Peretz Molenski, the Hebrew writer. Influenced by what we studied at school, I went out and drew the profile of Molenski on the wall of our neighbor's house. A police officer saw the profile and, thinking it was a drawing of Trotski, and therefore unlawful revolutionary activity, arrested the owner of the house. The man asked some of the community leaders to convince the local authorities that he did not know who drew the picture or who it was. Only when I clarified that the drawing was Molenski was the man released from prison.
My memories begin in the year 1910, when I was five years old. We lived on the "high" street where generally more Christians than Jews lived. My father, Israel-Mordechai Shpierer was by trade a builder (boi-meister). But in 1910 he had already been in America for a while. He was a generous man to our mother and a loving father to his children, but he had not foreseen the need to take us all to America prior to the First World War. And so we survived five harsh years of loss and sorrow.
My first teacher (melamed) was Moshe Rugendarf, from whom I learned Humash (Bible) until Veyekra (Leviticus). I remember on the Shabbos following Succos, a neighbor of ours, Yochanan-Matai Stezavertz examined me on the sidra in his house. Thereafter I studied in the Polish state school, the so-called Skola-Menska, which was opposite the Polish Sokol (social club). My older brother Selig at that time studied in the Yiddische Folkschule, which was in the Baron Hirsh School. My sister Basia was then a grown-up girl. She was the only daughter in the household and knew enough to go to America shortly before the outbreak of the war. Our seven-year-old brother Velvel, the youngest child in the household, unfortunately died in 1914, the same year the war started with the Russian invasion of Galicia.
The happiness that we had at home disappeared as our father left for America. With the death of our youngest brother and the outbreak of the war, a sad and difficult era began. This was also a hard time for all of Horodenka Jews. The mobilization that drafted the fathers and the grown sons of many families quickly began. With the Russian invasion we had to endure an entire seven months of Russian-instigated pogroms. The Austrian army then returned for a few months, and during their second retreat, just about the entire Jewish population accompanied the army to the other side of the Prut River, beyond Syniatin, toward Vaskovitz, which was on the way to Vizshnitz. Meanwhile the Russians in the city burned the majority of the Jewish houses, including ours.. After a while, we again returned to Horodenka. By the time of the third Russian invasion, in which the Russians occupied the entire Eastern portion of Galicia, the Austrian government organized the transport of the fleeing Jewish population to the western lands of the Austrian Empire.
Our family dragged itself along with the transport until we arrived in Vienna, the Austrian capital, tired, broken-down, hungry, and sleepy. From there, they sent us on to Behmann in a German Village where we lived with Aaron Dicker's family, seven persons in a room. My brother Selig was already in the army and I studied in a German school for the three years we lived there.
In the year 1919, as the war was ending, the newly-established Czech government gave us the opportunity to return to Horodenka. The journey lasted scarcely two weeks. Coming back we encountered a Ukrainian regime in the city and in all of East Galicia. A short time later the Poles took back the reins of government and life improved and returned to normal.
My father (of blessed memory) died in New York in 1918, and my mother died in Horodenka in 1923. We, their three children, find ourselves in America. We all aspire to educate our children with the Jewish spirit. We belong to all of the progressive Horodenka groups. One of my brother's sons was chosen to be president of the Progressive Horodenka Union in 1963. And our finest hours are spent in the company of pleasant Horodenka compatriots.
[Page 262 & 194]
In September 1921 the first two classes opened. It was obviously a Polish school although 90% of the students were Jews. The school was located in the Sokol building and the teachers came both from the community and from out of town. Most of the teachers were Jews. The next year, two more classes were added and the school moved to the old school building that was used before the war. There were ups and downs in the school's development. Only during the fifth year of its existence did the authorities certify it. That was also the year when the first students graduated.
The high school was founded by Jews and they were its main supporters. The majority of the students, teachers and parents' council members were Jews. But the school was Polish in all aspects: not only because that was the language that was used, but also because of the political and national affinity. The parents were all Jews who had broken from the traditional Jewish ways consciously or because of personal reasons (mainly people who worked for the government). But the school also had to be Polish because there was no other way, since a Jewish school would not get recognition from the authorities.
We had two other high schools in town: A Ukrainian school and an agricultural Polish school. The first one was not an option for Jews and the second would not admit us. For that reason the Polish high school was really the only option.
I have to mention through, Dr. Frida Rotenshtreich (the wife of Dr. Levi Rotenshtreich, a lawyer who became later very active in Lvov). She was the only teacher who taught us some Jewish history and some Hebrew. But she left town after two years and there was no other person to continue this work with us.
We contacted the organization in Lvov and got some information. At that time Dr. Ila Libster was in town. He was a chemist and very knowledgeable in Jewish subjects. (He also taught Hebrew in the Hebrew school of Horodenka). When we asked him to teach us, he accepted gladly. For almost a year we assembled in private homes and studied about Zionism. We read the writings of Pinsker, Achad Ha'am, Herzl, A.D. Gordon and Buber. We argued and asked questions. New horizons opened to us and Israel became an integral part of our thoughts. All this activity was done in secret and nobody else knew about it. If the principal found out he would probably have expelled us from school. This man, the principal, was a fanatic Polish patriot of Ukrainian background and was extremely loyal to the government. He didn't have any idea about Judaism. Once he learned a student was a Zionist, he would always sarcastically call him a communist or a Zionist. In these circumstances, obviously everything had to be done underground. Even our teachers didn't know about our activity.
At that time, learning about Zionism didn't have any political meaning. Over time the circle widened and we developed clearer opinions. After two years we could say if we were gravitating towards the Labor party, the Revisionist Party, or to the Party of Zionist Klalim. Later, some of us dropped out and became apathetic to the cause. But those years, 1927-1929, marked a clear change in the attitudes of our youth towards the movement. The seeds that was sown then were planted deep and brought fruits later on.
Many of us were among the first pioneers who went for a preparation course in Schodniza. The first people moved to Israel in the year 1934. Most of them went to the Gordonia group in Kibbutz Kfar HaChodech and some went to other spots.
But only small a number of our youth connected their lives with Israel. Most of those who stayed behind perished in the Holocaust. The ones who moved to Israel are to be found in Kibbutsim, or working as teachers and academics. There is no question in my mind that the activity of that year was very significant in their being alive and in Israel.
The minister himself used to travel in the country incognito to check if the new orders were being carried out properly.
Around the same time, we had a new clerk at the post office and people started saying that something was wrong with her. Often times money would disappear and we were asked to pay more money for postage. I was at the post office one day and I gave her money, telling her that I counted the amount and it was sufficient. As soon as she took my money I heard one coin falling on the floor. She then claimed that there was not sufficient money and that I needed to pay more. I persisted and asked to get into her space to check for the coin that had fallen. She refused and I asked to speak to her manager. This also didn't happen and there was a big argument. All of a sudden, a policeman appeared and wanted to arrest me for making a disturbance. I tried to explain my position to the policeman, when a tall man with a nice fur coat came to my rescue and told the policeman that he thought that I was right or at least I should be able to prove my point. The policeman replied that he was just doing his job and that there was no need for a Jew supporter to get involved. The man opened his coat and identified himself as the interior minister and demanded to get into the clerk's booth to inspect it as I had demanded.
We got in and found a bag hanging from the window with lots of coins inside all the money she had been able to collect during the day.
The post office manager fainted. And soon afterwards most of the other clerks were fired. The manager himself was sent to a remote area where he became manager of the local train station.
Before he left, the minister thanked me for being persistent and courageous and doing my civic duty.
One day two Cossacks came home, saw my father wearing his fur coat and boots and commanded him to give it to them. The men in the house (including me, seven years old) ran out and started screaming. The Cozacks promised to return that evening.
We feared they would return and we were terrified.
The same day all the retreating Russian troops were passing by our town. My father went out and invited a group of Russian soldiers to our home. There were three of their officers in the house and the others stayed in the yard. We had an instant connection with the three in the house and we told them about the incident with the Cossacks. They calmed us, telling us that there was a strict command not to assault citizens and promised to protect us as long as they stayed. The Cossacks eventually returned but the Russians chased them away.
One of the officers was very nice to me and gave me some sugar, hugged and kissed me and played with me. At night he asked to sleep with me, explaining that he had three children of his own back home one of them my age and wanted to feel at home. My family tried to discourage him in a gentle way and he gave up trying to sleep with me.
They stayed in our house for a couple of days and really helped us however they could. When they left, they said they were sure we'd meet again when they returned, but the Austrians took over our town after that.
Many years later, in 1932, on my way to Israel, on an Italian ship I recognized the captain to be the same Russian officer who wanted to sleep with the Jewish boychick. He also remembered. I spoke to him and it turned out that he spoke good German and Italian. When I asked how he could as a Russian, be working on a fascist ship, he answered, You don't ask questions like that. You do what you can for the money!
The Jew of the village was no longer the type of villager we find in literature, and who was still possible to find in my time in the Russian Carpathian villages of Moldavia or Transylvania. There were still Jewish villagers who were occupied in addition to Jewish observances in farming, and they still felt themselves attached to the material and spiritual perspectives of the village. They didn't much question their positions, and they fulfilled the Jewish commandments within proper bounds, and no more. However the Jew in our village was not in essence a Jewish villager, and, to the extent that I can recall, none of them were at peace with themselves. They didn't see the village as their natural locale, not only because of the difficulty in observing the commandments there, and the constant need to battle the outside influences against their uniqueness, but also because of their deep, soulful longing to live another kind of existence, in a Jewish community. This longing accompanied them all the days of their lives, and doubled their sense of exile.
The days of my childhood and adolescence were accompanied by a feeling of jealously, on one hand, and of longings that were unclear to me, on the other. The jealously was toward the non-Jews and their way of life. How good it seemed for them! How clear, and how natural! How everything about their life seemed integrated: their language, their landscape, the seasons of the year, the holidays, their clothing, their work everything flowed in a natural way like a peaceful river. In all their activities there was nothing to defend or explain. This was true for all of them. They functioned as a unit, and in an atmosphere that was all theirs in their customs, their various work phases, and how they spent their holidays. I envied them from the moment I could think for myself; I too wanted to be like the rest. I didn't want any of the complexity of our differences, and I wanted to be together with the majority. All the while I kept being told that we were something different entirely.
I remember how they used to march each spring morning with containers on their shoulders, going off to work in the fields, with their powerful song penetrating the air. How their song poured out across the fields, and the multicolored garments of the women fluttered like flowers over the green expanse and the black earth. How they went to church on Sundays or holidays. How a wedding appeared in the village, and how they danced every Sunday afternoon on the grassy square near our house. How all their involvement with their work was transformed into a festival, and how even going to the river to wash clothes was a sort of leisure time activity. The village didn't seem to know any mourning, but rather every place that they gathered there was happiness, and even their stipha, their funeral meal, was like a celebration. At first they were serious and somber but after they ate and drank to their satisfaction, happiness burst forth from their hearts. Even in their personal, internal experience, there was a commonality. Everything seemed revealed to everyone, with everyone's participation and with a similar character for all methodical and peaceful, and with the rootedness of a plant growing organically from nature, from the landscape. How I envied them, with their complete feeling of belonging. How the soul of a Jewish child yearned for such an experience to be with everyone and like everyone.
At home they tried to implant within us elevated feelings. They emphasized morning and evening that we were different better, more elevated than the goyim. What was theirs was non-kosher, disgusting, and despised. Let us assume that this was true. However, what did we see in our environment? With all our elevated status, everything seemed to me depressing and ordinary. Holidays should have been a sign of importance, understandably to a young girl. Yet this image was not satisfying, because it was not accompanied by the smells that the street and the neighborhoods added. What could the Chanukah candles tell me when they were buried within the house, during the time that the street was filled with song and jubilation on the non-Jewish holiday? What did the matzos at the seder say to me, in contrast to the festivities of the Easter parade, when colored flags flew in the air and songs of choirs and musicians were heard? How seductive was that for a young girl! And in the house meanwhile they would tell me, Don't play with the shiksas, the non-Jewish girls, with their colored eggs, and don't taste their giant Easter bread, and don't go into their homes which are absolutely non-kosher.
Therefore I yearned from the dawn of my childhood for a different world, in which I too could be like everyone else. The village was very close to Horodenka, and had an ongoing relationship with the city. We had many relatives there. Every new wind also reached us. In the village there was more time to be absorbed in books; there was a great desire to study perhaps in order to not deteriorate like the townspeople and not to become 'boorish villagers.' There was a strong desire on the part of parents to send their children to the city to study. How much effort was needed for that! They would send us to school every morning in a wagon or snow sled, and more than once we would have to go home on foot. In truth, the distance was only five kilometers, but for a child this demanded no small effort. In addition to this, there was also much fear about meeting troublemakers as we passed through uninhabited areas.
I visited one school in the city after the First World War, at the period when new winds were already blowing there. All kinds of 'isms' competed among them, and the village boy paid attention to the only one that entranced him the most Zionism. When I was about ten years old, I remember going to a celebration of Zionist youth, and for the first time in my life, I heard a Hebrew song sung in a group. The song opened with the words, With my plow I inherited all my wealth, and a handsome youth, Eber Sheetz, explained its meaning. The song told about a Jewish farmer who plowed his land in a Jewish village, in a land that was all ours. At that minute, I thought: There everything was like in Serafince, but everything belonged only to Jews. There is where I want to be. This was my entire dream a village in which everyone was Jewish!
Even in the city, I was not happy. That's not how I wanted to see communities of Jews rushing around and running after a miserable livelihood, running and still remaining confined in their small space. I wanted broad spaces, like in our village, with people like my father, who would take me on his horse and lead me in the open space on the Toleki, along the length of the river. I wanted separate houses, like our house in the village, with its large garden, in which was always found vegetables or fruit to be proud of and to enjoy. It was possible to pull out skinny carrots by their roots, to clean them off on the hems of my apron, and to eat them there on the spot. It was possible to pluck unripe apples and to chew them until the teeth were on edge, in spite of father's strict prohibition from doing so. I wanted a cellar like there was in our house that contained everything good, where from the winter fruit protected by layers and layers of straw, one could select the softest and juiciest pear. I wanted also to search in the barrel of pickled cabbage and to find the sour pickles that I loved. I wanted to help my mother to churn the butter, and especially to drink the tasty buttermilk, in which many pieces of butter floated. I wanted to satiate my eyes on the golden chicks as they first burst out of their shells, to feel in my hands the delicate heartbeat of these creatures, and to protect myself from the brooding hen that tried to peck me. I loved the tumult around the threshing machine, and the kalakah, the gathering of the volunteers for husking corn young men and women who did their work with song and laughter and a jovial atmosphere that remained in the courtyard till late at night. In the house they cooked voroniks, cheese dumplings, in huge pots, to honor the corps of volunteers. The meal was arranged on temporary tables outside, at a late evening hour. At those times of spontaneous happiness, the loneliness of the village Jew was forgotten, or at least mitigated to a certain extent.
My father was one of a kind among the Jews of the village. As a farming expert with a great deal of experience, he made a positive impression on the non-Jews with his expertise, his upright stature, his majestic position astride an even-tempered horse, and his military service he was one of the cavalrymen of Emperor Franz Yosef I. No, I did not like the nearby town. I wanted a village, but one that would be entirely mine, ours, without the non-Jews.
Why did these non-Jews hate us? Was it only because we were different? Was it because, You killed our Jesus? You see, our shikse Paraska who worked for us for thirteen years, and to whom my mother was like her mother, said to us, You see, the Jews killed him. Why? I asked Paraska. And she replied: That's the way the Jews are. I asked my mother if this was true that we killed Jesus. And she said, I'll give her a good what for, to that Paraska! However, she added, When we go by the statue of Jesus, we need to spit three times and say, ' It is an abhorrence,' but make sure that the goyim don't see you .
From that time, I was accompanied by a fear of the one suspended on the cross, and would go on a longer, roundabout path, in order not to see his face and also in order not to spit. After that, I certainly began to become acquainted with anti-Semitism, when I heard the speech of my young non-Jewish friend, my twelve-year-old neighbor, Ivan Koztchenko. He explained to me the injustice of the matter, that Jews, even though they don't work, eat white bread, while the non-Jews work and still only have course bread. I tried to correct this injustice, and because my friend was always hungry, I would take bread and challah out of the house, and give it to him. I liked to watch and see with how much appetite and haste he consumed whatever I gave him. In this debate, I would say to him that his arguments don't apply to my father who worked on the land and not in business. So he would answer me, You are the exceptional ones, but all the rest are merchants and liars. I wanted to correct his perceptions about us, and I would bring him honey cakes and apple cakes, but nothing helped. He kept his opinion that Jews were evil.
When we grew up, we would return from the city from our studies, and would again meet. Then my opponent was using more sophisticated language to convey his thoughts, and he even made some new points: the Poles were oppressing them. Every nation needs to be free on its land! He said, referring to his own people, the Ukrainians. And I said, Correct, Yantzu, and I too think like this, but I had in mind that we Jews would be a free nation in our own land. So he agreed to my Zionist idea with real enthusiasm.
The longing to leave the village was the desire of every Jewish youth. There was only one way to learn! In Galicia that meant getting a higher education. To learn work or a trade was considered despicable. This approach of the Jews in exile struck deep roots even among the Jews of the village. It was better to walk with a cane and to be involved in a petty and despised business, called bintelech (shoestrings) than to learn carpentry or locksmithing. Oh G-d, How did we arrive in our years of exile to these concepts?
The generation that preceded me, the generation before the First World War, found an answer to the crisis of the village Jew: emigration. Many of the youth left for America at that time, as long as the gates of immigration were open. When I recently visited America, I met a large group of people who had fled from our village. From them I found out what things were like in the village before their immigration. There was a great depression, both financially and spiritually. They were totally uprooted and emigration was the only anchor of salvation for them. However, even in America they paid a dear price until they became integrated in the new land. The lack of any trade spoiled things for them.
After World War One, Aliya to the land of Israel replaced immigration to America. The village youth were among the first who longed for training and Aliya. However, they did not always succeed. Their parents did not always agree, but little by little they understood and made peace with it. One of the motivating factors of their acquiescence was their desire to keep their sons and daughters away from the Goyim, and to see them as Jews among Jews. They used to say, We were the last generation to resist the influence of the goyim, but you will no longer succeed in doing so. They saw their religion continually weakening, and they knew that in Israel they would at least remain Jews. Therefore they no longer resisted when they saw their children falling away from them little by little. I saw my parents in this situation. I saw my mother how her heart always seemed broken each time one of the children went to Israel. She knew she would never see them again, but she dared not oppose them. All she did was hang on the wall another picture of the missing child, and say in a smile flowing with sadness, like the well known song: I have paper children on the wall.
These parents, mine as well as others, did not live to join their children in Israel. The cruel wave passed over them. They did not live to see with their own eyes how the dream of their children materialized. They did not live to see their grandchildren freed from those concerns that oppressed us in our childhood. They didn't live to see their grandchildren sprouting from the scenery of their own land, just like the goyim in whose midst we lived, able to blend the spiritual and natural setting into one whole. And they never were able to see how their children held their heads up high how the miracle happened!
Some people who were saved from the ghetto of Kosov told me how the last Jews of Serafince were transported from there. It was a difficult winter, with horrible famine. The plague of Typhus raged in the ghetto. My father, who was then seventy-four, was very ill and, it seems, not so complete in his mind. He somehow escaped from the ghetto and walked till he got to the Romanian border. There they grabbed him and brought him back while he was continually mumbled, I want to go to my children in the land of Israel to my children in the land of Israel
Can it be that in the face of these holy sacrifices we can know how to appreciate the fortune that the rise of the state of Israel bestowed upon us?
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Gorodenka, Ukraine Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 1 Sep 2005 by LA