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[Page 93]

Personalities and Characters

 

[Pages 94-97]

Dr. Israel Mikhl Rabinowitz

by A. Ben-Ezra

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's comments in square brackets]

One of our people's greatest shortcomings is that we are either not acquainted with our scholar sages and great brothers, or underestimate them. Then, when we start bringing them to our minds, understand them and appreciate them, it is after they are dead, like the profound proverb: “After the death of the saintly, say” [Hebrew: אחרי מות קדושׁים אמור]. It reflects a norm that you don't talk negatively about a person after his death and you only enumerate his virtues. The proverb is composed of the names of 3 consecutive portions of the book of Leviticus: אחרי מות, קדושׁים, אמור. [Another possible ironic interpretation of the expression is: after death, even the most ordinary person turns into a saintly and righteous person ...] And after some scores of years they are entirely forgotten.

Dr. Israel Mikhl Rabinowitz belongs to these less known during their life and forgotten after their death. To asses any great personality, it is necessary to use the familiar three criteria: the family from which he stems, the country in which he grew up, and the period in which he lived and was active. These three factors throw light on Dr. Israel Mikhl Rabinowitz's life.

The name “Rabinowitz” already informs us about the family. The name stems from the word Rabin (Rabbi in Russian) and, indeed, he was a descendent of a family of Rabbis, a whole chain of Rabbis. There is a belief that this chain of Rabbis goes back twenty four generations.

 

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Dr. Israel Mikhl Rabinowitz

 

Israel Mikhl was born in Horodets, county of Kobryn, province of Grodno, in 1818, to his father, the Rabbi and Cabalist Moshe Hirsh who was a Rabbi in Horodets in place of his own father, and in his last years of life was also a Rabbi in Antepolye (8 versts away from Horodets. [Verst=Russian measure of distance: 0.66 of a mile].

While still a small child, Israel Mikhl stood out with his excellent memory and comprehension. Whatever he learned stayed with him for life.

In the records of the Horodets Society “Ein Yaakov” of that period, we find Mikhl registered as a member with the following comment: “ילד שׁעשׁועים” [a boy, the joy of his parents] Israel Mikhl son of Rabbi Moshe Tzvi". This small comment tells us a lot. This particular Society was founded for the purpose of studying “Ein Yaakov” [a compilation of all the legendary material in the Talmud together with commentaries], which is not a very complex material for studying. Still, only grown-ups belonged to this Society and not children, not even the Rabbi's children. If Israel Mikhl belonged to the above mentioned Society, he probably won this exception by right.

In the early years of his life, he studied in his town of birth - Horodets, and while still a young boy he already travelled to the Brest [Brisk] Talmetoyre which was famous in those days. Later, he studied in the Yeshive of Grodno, where he started to demonstrate his genius and one could forecast the future Dr. I.M. Rabinowitz. In the context of those years, he had absorbed the whole Talmud and its auxiliary books. Naturally, he was ordained as a Rabbi when he was very young, but he did not practice as a Rabbi.

He married, quite young, a woman from Brisk, but did not stay married to her for long. They were divorced. When he was twenty five, he threw off religion and “was lost” to his family.

The story goes that in the midst of a sermon in the Antipolyer synagogue he disappeared. The whole shtetl was in a turmoil: “The Rabbi's son has thrown off religion”. [in Yiddish: “is lost”]. The rumor spread from one to the other that Israel Mikhl had become a “Berlintchik”, a heretic, etc.,

The disgrace of the Rabbi's family cannot be described in words. From that day on it was forbidden to mention his name within an earshot of the Rabbi's family. The story goes on to tell that his father wanted to 'hit him with a cane' but he could not “because he was already stuck with the Satra Akhra” [the devil].

Why did Israel Mikhl throw off religion? Where was it? What is the meaning of “Berlitchik”? To answer these questions we must review the 25 years between 1818 and 1843 and see what took place in the Jewish world and what an impact events of these years had on Israel Mikhl.

That quarter of the century brought a new drift into our spiritual life. Mendelson's interpretation of the Bible - translated into German, without Jewish letters - found its way into Jewish homes and Yeshives. Although it was forbidden by our pious Jews, those Bible books were taught concealed under the Gemore. From then on, every person who looked at books other than the religious ones was nicknamed “Berlintchik”, meaning: a student of Mendelson who spent his productive years in Berlin and from there passed on his ideas.

Through this German Bible, Jewish youth started understanding verses as they should be understood and became acquainted with “outside” knowledge, found here and there in the interpretation. In addition, they came to learn the German language by reading it side by side with the original text.

Mendelson's interpretation was the channel through which enlightenment came streaming. In Russia, Nikolai the first (1882-1855) helped along not out of goodness, God forbid, but out of hatred of the Jews and Talmud. He wanted Jews to study in the public schools and eventually cause them to assimilate and leave their Jewish religion. This way he aimed to end the Jewish problem and have only one Russian nation.

One of his official adjutants for this mission was Dr. Liliental, a German Jew with tendencies towards assimilation. Dr. Liliental voyaged through almost all Jewish centers and preached to attend the public schools in order to become equal to the other citizens. He said that with all the gates to worldly knowledge open to them, they would lack nothing.

Liliental met a very great Jewish opposition to his mission. Still, his speeches impressed a large part of the youth of that period. Also, the versatile scholar of Jewish culture, Yitskhak Ber Levinson, helped in the holy assignment to bring enlightenment to the Jewish homes. In the year 1829 he published his famous book “תעודה בישׂראל” [in which he encouraged improvements in Jewish education to include also “outside” knowledge such as sciences and languages]. In the book he showed - citing phrases and articles from the Talmud - that Jews must study worldly knowledge and languages. That book left a great impression on the Jews. The Hebrew author, Mordekhei Aharon Gintzburg, who lived in those days, started bringing knowledge into the Jewish homes by way of his Hebrew books about various topics that had no Jewish motifs. Adam Hakohen Levenson's poems about the Enlightenment being the “daughter of heaven” contributed to this end as well.

The center of Mendelson's school of thought was in Berlin when Mendelson was still alive and for some time after his death. Then it was transferred to Galicia, and the town of Brod became one of the powerful strongholds of Enlightenment. Yitzkhak Erter, the Hebrew satirist lived then in Brod. He mocked the Hassids and their Rabeim (a bold piece of work). In Brod the Hebrew scholarly Journal “Hekhalutz” was published, edited by Yehoshua Heshil Shor. That Journal revolutionized Jewish life. It urged people to acquire knowledge, to think and sort out what Jews were learning and should be learning.

Israel Mikhl arrived at this Jewish cultural center, Brod. He heard about the Enlightenment and read “Enlightenment”-books printed at that time. That is why he wanted to be in the center and quench his intellectual thirst from the spring itself.

Now it is possible to understand the reason why Israel Mikhl divorced his wife and ran away. He strove to leave for the freer outside world and that was not in accord with this wife and the circumstances of those times. We do not have precise accounts about his staying in Brod, but we do know for sure that he did not stay there for long.

From Brod, Israel Mikhl travelled to Breslau. It was a town of scholars whose head was the preacher from the Breslau's temple, Avraham Gaiger. There was a big university in Braslau. Israel Mikhl got acquainted with Khwolson, later to become a well known professor. The latter became very friendly with Israel Mikhl and in two years he prepared him to enter the local university. Israel Mikhl studied there Philology because the knowledge and research of languages were the substance of his life. Later, he moved to the faculty of medicine where he studied with great passion. While attending the Breslau University, in 1851, Israel Mikhl published his first book - a Hebrew Grammar book written in German. He presented it as a new method to teach the Hebrew language and grammar. The book was translated into French as well.

From Breslau, Israel Mikhl moved to Paris in 1854, for advanced studies in medicine. Paris of those days was the city of refuge for all those who strove for freedom and for revolutionists. Therefore, it is very clear why he made Paris his home. There, he could openly say what he knew and what he thought.

In 1865 he got his degree as a Dr. Md. Israel Mikhl Rabinowitz and became a physician in a Parisian hospital where he progressed successfully. However, he did not feel that his place was in the field of medicine. He was drawn to the book, to the Jewish book, to Jewish studies. He left his medical practice and turned totally to popularize the Talmud. Armed with thorough knowledge of the Talmud, Roman codex, Latin, Greek and European languages, a deep knowledge of medicine and other subjects, he undertook the production of a monumental work – a French translation of the Talmud - French being the international language of those days.

The assembling of the Talmud started 200 years B.C. and was finished 500 years A.C. It was not only a reflection of Jewish life of those days, but also established the principles for Jewish outlook on life, morals, etc. Still, the Talmud was like a sealed book for the outside world. Therefore, every anti-Semite, even today, when he wanted to think up some false accusation or frame-up against Jews, he struck with a supposedly quoted source from the Talmud. These were the reasons that urged Israel Mikhl Rabinowitz to undertake this great and responsible job, in order to show humanity the progress of the Jews in various fields of knowledge. His most productive years were between 1871 and 1880. During those years he published excerpts of the sequence: זרעים, מועד, נשׁים, נזיקין, קדשׁים, טהרות [six books of Mishna: Seeds, Holidays, Women, Damages, Sanctity, Purification] accompanied by forwards and comments. In addition he published three portions of Damages: סנהדין, מכּות, עדויות, with forwards and comments. This was financed by the French government.

In order to realize his idea to spread the truth about the Talmud, he sent his translated Talmud parts to the Russian Tsar Alexander II, the son of the Tsar who abased and degraded the Talmud and wanted to annihilate it together with its adherents.

In 1877 he published a book about ritual slaughtering and non-kosher food based on the principles of medicine. This book was an eye opener to our enemies who wanted to forbid the Jewish ritual slaughtering, submitting various reasons for that.

We would like here to list the main books that he had published in French: “Medicine and Talmud”, “The Jewish Religion”, “Criminal Laws in the Talmud”, “Introduction to the Talmud” – translated also into German and Hebrew. He also published French, English, Russian, Latin and Polish grammar books.

In his Polish grammar book he endeavored to draw a comparison between the Polish Language and the Hebrew and German language. He also published a scholarly grammar-book that he wrote in German, as well as various articles in various journals.

Dr. Rabinowitz's activity did not stop at researching and translating the Talmud. He was also a fighter in the nationalist movement in the eighties of the 19th century. Those years were a new epoch in our life in the Diaspora. Our intelligentsia in Russia who attached themselves to Nihilism - with the belief in brotherhood and in enlightening the muz'ik [Russian villager] - gave up hope. The Russian villagers slapped them in the face and refused to learn from them. The wind of nationalism blew in the world. It was after the Balkan war. The Balkan countries became independent with Russian help, naturally. The idea of independence, having one's own land, started invading the Jewish community. The pogroms in Russia, which topped all Jewish troubles in that land, had their effect in this matter.

All that influenced the rise of the “Khovevey Zion” movement. [Khibat Zion/Khovevei Tziyon = a Zionist organization with the land of Israel as its goal]. This movement spread to all parts of the world like the rays of the sun and reached Paris as well. The movement found in Dr. Rabinowitz one of the most dedicated adherents. In November of 1884, when the first Zionist world conference assembled in Katovitz, Dr. Rabinowitz was there, old and weak but young in spirit and cheerful. He participated very actively in the debates and was a member of one of the committees.

Later, when the old Visotzki was about to sail to the Land of Israel, he negotiated with Dr. Rabinowitz to become the secretary of the commission. However, because of various reasons Dr. Rabinowitz did not accept this offer. In 1888 he was president of the Society of “Dorshey Tziyon” in Paris. He was then 70 years old. The Russian Jews celebrated his jubilee, sending him telegrams and… buying his books. This buying of his books was for him probably dearer than congratulations, because his whole ideal was to spread his books so as to enable him to publish new books and continue his translation of the Talmud. Therefore, he travelled to Russia, his homeland, where the greatest part of the Jews were living at that time. With their help he would be able to fulfill his wish, and at the same time see his family to whom his heart was bound.

In 1889, before Shavues he arrived in Horodets. They greeted him with honor near the shtetl with the Rabbi, his brother, and brought him to the shtetl. On Shavues Holiday he gave a sermon in the synagogue. It was in German because his Yiddish was not fluent enough anymore. The story goes that he said in that sermon that he was finishing the sermon he started just before he left Horodets. The same story runs also in Antepolye saying that when he was there on a visit and spoke in the synagogue, he said that it was the missing end of the sermon that he did not finish when he disappeared.

Israel Mikhl died in the summer of 1892, poor and lonely materially, but leaving behind him rich spiritual legacy and a long list of books that were his companions on the hard rocky road of his life. In these books he found consolation for his poverty and solitude.

If our brothers did not understand how to appreciate Dr. Rabinowitz in his life time, an honest Frenchman did understand. He was the owner of a Parisian coffee house. He set for Dr. Rabinowitz a special table in a corner with all the comforts so that the doctor could do his work undisturbed. At this table, Dr. Rabinowitz created his work that opened the doors of the Jewish culture and enabled every educated Christian to gain a better understanding of the Jews.

 


 

[Pages 98-99]

Motye Hillel's [Motye, son of Hillel]

by A. M. Tzeitlezon

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's comments in square brackets]

The Mazursky family was one of the most branched out and influential families in Horodets. People said that Binyamin Mazursky who lived 150 years ago [prior to the date of this book 1949] was the landowner of the shtetl and the vicinity and collected taxes for the government [probably having a concession for that]. The story goes that he had barrels full of gold.

R' Binyamin Mazursky, the rich property owner, had to relinquish his estate and the concession to collect taxes. [The writer does not explain the reason for that]. Wishing to hold to his possessions, he looked for a Polish shlakhtshitz [in Polish: a nobleman] whom he trusted and registered all his possessions under this man's name. This shlakhtshitz, however, was loyal to himself more than to Mazursky and took everything for himself. Thus, Binyamin Mazursky was no longer a rich man. He lost all his possessions. He sued the shlakhtshitz and spent the rest of his money on that.

He bequeathed one thing to his children - the pedigree of the Mazursky family.

R' Binyamin Mazursky was a parnes-khodesh [elected once a year by the community for a public office]. Such an office was could also be inherited: members from the Mazursky family took hold of the office of gabe [manager of affairs] of the Khevre Kedi'she [voluntary burial society] and officiated high handed. It should be noted that, to their credit, they married into scholarly families.

The granddaughter of R' Binyamin married a young man from Pinsk by the name of Hillel Kaplan. He was a fine scholar with a head on his shoulders. He even got a taste of the Enlightment and to top it off was an ardent Misnoged [opponent the Hassidic movement]. Hillel used to say: “The fact that among the Hassids there was equality and the high-in-rank Hassid is equal to the low-rank Hassid - this is good. However, when the lower-in-rank is equal to the higher-in-rank - that is bad.” Nevertheless, his own sons became ardent Karlin Hassids. One of the sons, Motye, out of utter devotion to the Karlin dynasty, changed his name from Kaplan to Karlinsky.

Motye Hillel's, or as he was called later Motye Karlinsky, was the son-in-law of the old Rabbi of Horodets, a status that greatly suited him both owing to the Rabbi's pedigree and knowledge of Talmud.

In his youth, Motye was very pious and conducted himself like a great Hassid: He wore white long stockings with loafers, prayed with enthusiasm while walking back and forth in his house or in the synagogue raising his right hand upward and snapping his fingers - meanwhile singing in a high voice some verses from the prayer such as: “You are until the world was created and you are since it was created” “You created the sky and the sky beyond” “and you give life to all”, and so forth.

In his old days, Motye Hillel's became a bit “aristocratic”. Thanks to his educated children, he used to wear shiny modern shoes, a white “hertzl” [vest] with a nice necktie and cuff links. On Holidays he used to wear a top hat with a long coat and like a dandy used to walk into the shtibl [Hassidic house of prayer]. The congregation is already deep in praying, but Motye Hillel's is not in a hurry. He browses in a book as if the prayer does not concern him. The congregation has already reached “Nishmat” [part of the prayer] with might and main and R' Motye is still engrossed in his book - who would dare take a look and see what book it is. Already Khayim-Leib calls the “Barkhu” [another part of the prayer]. Here, R' Motye grabs his talis [striped tasseled shawl worn during prayer] and in a flash it is already on his shoulders. He hurries across the shtibl, his handkerchief in the air and at the end of shimenesre [18 blessings said quietly, standing up with legs fastened] when the congregation have already gone through the prayer, R' Motye catches up with them and the whole congregation waits for R' Motye to finish his shimenesre and then they hear him hum with a special melody “o'se shalom…” [The last verse of the prayer: God will bestow peace on his people]. This is the sign for Khayim-Leib that he has to start the loud recitation of shimenesre.

Motye Hillel's was considered a scholar with a sharp intellect. He often came to R' Khayim - the chief Rabbi of the community - to study with him chapters of gemore [the part of Talmud that comments on the Mishna].

Besides gemore he also used to browse in other books from his fine library.

Motye Hilel's had a stately appearance: a tall straight figure, a long well groomed yellowish beard and sharp eyes that pierced whoever came near him. On every subject Motye had a joke or an anecdote. His humoristic tales reflect the way of thinking of this phenomenon Karlinsky.

For example, he told this story: Once there was a really ignorant person who became very rich, and associated with the greatest people and scholars of his time. At the end, this rich illiterate person became a big knowledgeable person and started expressing his opinions about rabbis, cantors, and the like. One day, someone asked him: “You know worldly things because you meet educated people, and you can learn because you associate with great Rabbis. So, I ask you, where from do you know the silent shimenesre prayer?…” [that, naturally, one does not learn just from associating with learned people…]

R' Motye wise answers were famous: Once R' Israel, the Stoliner Rabbi was in Horodets and stayed at Karlinsky's place. When the Rabbi saw the beautiful Sh”s [six parts of the Mishna together with Talmudic commentaries] each of the books tucked in a separate case, he asked Motye: “Motye, how many “backs” do these books have? Motye answered immediately: “not two” (because two would have meant that he never opened the books). [Some people had dummy books with two “backs”…]

Motye Hillel's house which was the most beautiful in shtetl was also a bit of a guest house, as wood-merchants, gentile landowners and intellectuals stayed there overnight. The house was a meeting place for the learned. They used to discuss politics, various problems -both secular and Jewish - and incidentally drop some biblical quotation, a joke or a witticism. Motye Hillel's house was the most aristocratic house in shtetl and when the children grew up one could hear some Russian in the house. The house was no longer Motye Hillel's' House but the Karlinksy's house and the Karlinksy's house called the tune in shtetl.

Besides the guest-house, Motye Hillel's had a fashion store that very little catered to the inhabitants of Horodets. It was a store more for gentile landowners than for Jews and it held more beautiful cases than merchandise.

This is how Motye's house functioned until WW1. When the Germans drew nearer to Horodets and the community started to move out, R' Motye Karlinsky with his wife fled too and settled in Yekaterinoslav until their death.

Motye Hillel's wonderful house in Horodets was burnt down immediately, like all other Jewish houses, and this marked the departure of the last “Mohican” of the Mazursky family that played a significant role in Horodets.

 


[Pages 99-101]

Rabbi Yitskhak [Isaac] Aaron

by Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's comments in square brackets]

R' Yitskhak [Issac] Aharon had a personality with contradicting traits. He was a pious Jew like all pious Jews, had a deep knowledge of Talmud, “Yad Hakhazaka” [alternate name for the Mishneh Torah, the code of Maimonides], Zohar [holiest mystical book of the Kabbalah] etc., At the same time he read scientific books, was interested in general education and knowledge, Bible, grammar and mainly in Eugenics. The vegetables in his garden were entirely different from the regular vegetables. They were extraordinarily big. His cucumbers, radishes and potatoes, were famous for their size and juiciness.

His hens were tall, almost reaching the table top from where they picked their food. Even in his daily life R' Yitskhak Aharon was different. Every morning he used to take out from a cupboard his small box with scented herbs, shake it and have a good sniff. Then he would take a little of the herbs in his mouth and sprinkle herbal scent. The house filled with a scent nobody could ignore…The smell was too strong to bear and it filled the house the whole day. From time to time, R' Yitskhak Aharon refreshed the fragrance by taking out his small box, again, shaking it and sniffing.

Besides his mastery in Eugenics, with which he experimented on his hens, geese and turkeys at his home and in the garden, he was also an architect.

Once he had the urge to do something in the art of architecture. It occurred to him that the vegetables in his garden were wonderfully big and tasty but when they lay a few days in the house, they were no better than other vegetables and he had to throw them away. He walked about, deep in thought and finally came up with the idea: since he has a workshop for production of bricks (the truth is that they were not acknowledged as better than other bricks, he considered them the best in the whole world), he planned and built a small brick-cellar. What he built was not an ordinary cellar. He did not use any wood or iron in the construction – just bricks. In the walls he inserted bottles [for decoration?].

The main art of the cellar was inside: thick painted walls with a ceiling painted sky-blue. It was so painted that it looked in the dark as beautiful as the sky. Only the sun, moon and stars were missing in that sky.

The depth inside was the same size as the outside height of the building. There were no steps to go up, except for a long kind of a ramp.

In summer it was cold in the cellar, like in a cold winter day. He stored there the vegetables from his big garden. He sold them to certain house-owners only.

R' Yitskhak Aharon found in this creation satisfaction for his thirsty soul which was yearning for knowledge and art. That cellar did not last for long. It existed only a few years. It became clear that something was lacking in R' Yitskhak Aharon's architecture. That construction with the thick walls and thick ceiling caved in all of a sudden, luckily with no casualties.

R' Yitskhak Aharon's sukke [the erected Sukkoth booth] was also famous. His sukke was different from other sukkes. A few boards, a broken door, a part of a window, branches to cover above – this is a traditional Jewish sukke. However, R' Yitskhak Aharon's sukke was constructed of other materials: patches of twisted straw coated with lime, the cover above was of corn-sticks that grew in his garden. That was something different, imposing. All the folks came to examine his sukke and the sukke proved to be without fault – according to religious laws.

In addition to all his “inventions” and occupations, R' Yitskhak Aharon also taught. Teaching for him was not a source of income but an ideal. Grown-up youth used to come over to him to learn Hebrew, grammar and Russian.

His mode of teaching his pupils was unusual. He did not believe in any method or in textbooks. He had his own method in teaching grammar: he opened the prayer book, analyzed a few sentences and that was it.

However, on his table one could find the “maslul”, and “Talmud Lashon Ivri” [two traditional textbooks for teaching Hebrew]. He took a look at them only rarely.

When he taught the Bible, he explained to the pupil the context of the chapter and then let him read on his own. He wanted the pupil to find independently, all by himself, what he knew and what he did not know. That was his personal method.

He was different in his praying, too. Even though he was a Kobryner Hassid, he used to pray alone and in certain places in the prayer he would stand up and sing in a unique way. For example, the verses: [in translation from Hebrew:] “all eyes are raised to you and you provide for them food when needed”, “you humiliate the proud and lift the humiliated” and “and you help the poor”. Through these sung verses, he expressed his ideals in connection with the suffering of people and as a protest against the misery and social order of the world.

R' Yitskhak Aharon was unlike others in his eating habits as well. At a period in his life he led a life of a vegetarian. For six years he did not eat meat and his nourishment was bread and vegetables from his garden.

His statements about food were very peculiar, not alluding to his leading a vegetarian life. He used to say: “If you want to be a really pious Jew, take an earthenware vessel, go to the river, fill it with pebbles and eat them”…

R' Yitskhak Aharon's outlook on life was unique. He did not yield to public opinion and never had any regard to prevalent opinions concerned with either life or death.

The following remarkable story is a sample of his strong character. It was before Passover in 1888. The river had thawed and overflowed. Those who lived near the river moved to houses that were not affected by the flood. However, R' Yitskhak Aharon refused to move from the place. His family evacuated the house because it stood near the river and he stayed in the attic and observed the Passover seder by himself…

No wonder the people of Hotodets regarded R' Yitskhak Aharon as a meshugene [crazy] and this is how they nicknamed him. Yet, they respected him. Especially they respected his opinion about eiruvim [the religious rules about carrying things out of the house on Sabbath only within an enclosed area, such as a wire strung on the circumference of a town.] Every Friday afternoon, he used to go out with his blue eyeglasses, a stick in his hand, to inspect the eiruvim, if they were not torn and if they were set according to the Jewish rules. He had the last word on the eiruvim. If he said that it was forbidden to carry on Sabbath – they immediately announced in the Bote-Medro'shim [study houses where people used to pray as well] “It is forbidden to carry” and there was nothing you could do about it.

Neither eiruvim nor his “inventions” were the essence of his life. In the last years of his life it was clear what the essence of his being had been for many years. On a particular day, in the year 1907, we heard that R' Yitskhak Aharon was going to the Land of Israel. He sold his house, garden, all his tools and even his books. He exchanged all for money, sat on a wagon with his wife and rode to the train station, on his way to the Land of Israel.

However, fate was not in favor of R' Yitskhak Aharon spending his last years in the Land of Israel. In Odessa he got paralyzed and had to return.

He stayed, paralyzed, at his daughter Reizl's house in Kobryn, the rest of his life. Although he was paralyzed, blind and could hardly utter a word - even then, it seems, grammar occupied his mind. If he had a young man around who had some knowledge of grammar, he immediately started “teaching” him grammar in his particular way.

* *
*

R' Yitskhak Aharon was a potential great inventor who did not have the opportunity to cultivate his extraordinary aptitudes, a man with ideals which he could not realize. He has been forgotten but not by those who knew him well.

 


[Pages 101-102]

R' Shalom Kostrinsky

by Yaakov Kostrinsky (Rekhovot, Israel)

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's comments in square brackets]

Of the four brothers, uncle Shalom was the most distinguished, both owing to his name and to his Jewish and worldly knowledge. He was also respected for his tolerant attitude towards people with opposing ideas. I remember him as a short man, clear and smiling face and the looks of a scholar. This is the figure of R' Shalom: knowledgeable in Talmud and poskim [post-Talmudic commentators]and in the Rabbinical literature, expert Bible scholar and familiar with the Russian language and worldly matters. Basically of a soft nature, he exhibited a strong character in known cases. Appearing as a worldly man, he at the same time was a great observant Jew and had very deep religious feelings, though far from being fanatic. The youth used to feel very comfortable in his company. Until today I cannot forget his awe-bearing image. This strong impression was due to the strong religious feelings and strict character of uncle Shalom.

He had four daughters: Henye, Chaya-Dvorah, Rachel-Hadas and Chava, the youngest. Though I was a small child, I remember well the following: The youngest daughter, Chava, died in infancy. She died Friday evening. Uncle Shalom was welcoming the Sabbath at the Stoliner shtiebl and kept on praying as though nothing happened. Early next morning, he came again to the shtiebl as was his custom, and he did not show outwardly the awful tragedy that had happened and that hurt him inwardly. After praying he returned home. He then entered the room where the baby was lying and approaching the corpse he said loudly: “Good Sabbath, my daughter!”. I can remember even today the shudder that ran through my body, when I heard the bold and confident traditional “Good Sabbath” at such a moment. Until now, I cannot stop wondering at uncle Shalom's firm belief, at his spiritual strength and powerful self-control. All this Shalom did because according to שולחן ערוך [the Shulchan Aruch, the Jewish code of laws] you are not allowed to mourn the dead on Sabbath. However, after הבדלה [havdala; ceremony when Sabbath is over], out of his awfully aggrieved heart burst out his quiet lament.

Uncle Shalom was not only embraced by his family. He was embraced by the whole shtetl and the surrounding shtetles both for his personal merits and for his status as an established Rabbi. Many people approached him for an advice because of his lucid and logical mind.

This was probably the reason for appointing him as gabe [manager of affairs] of Khevre Kedi'she [voluntary burial society], after Hillel's death. Such an appointment was reserved for the most distinguished in Horodets.

Because of a denunciation in connection with a legacy, he had to flee to America in the nineties of the 19th century. In his new home he was also active in public matters. He was one of the founders of the Stoliner shtibl “Beit Israel” in New York. Seven years later, he returned to Horodets, and became again the established Rabbi. In 1915 he fled from the fire of war [WW1] deep into Russia, wandering from town to town until the end of the war. After WW1, he went to America to join his daughter. He settled in Springfield, Mass next to his daughter Rachel-Hadas. There, too, he was immediately highly regarded by Jews and Christians. Every synagogue wanted him as a member.

 

gor102.jpg
R' Shalom Kostrinsky

 

Just as in Horodets, uncle Shalom held study-groups with Jewish people who derived a great pleasure from his way of teaching, which was seasoned with proverbs, witticisms, or tales.

Uncle Shalom had a very strong passion for writing of letters. He used to write letters to all his relatives and acquaintances, to urge one person to support a relative in Europe or remind another person of an article or of a story that happened at one time. His language was Talmudic and his handwriting was clear – every letter was a pearl. It was delightful to read his letters. From his handwriting one could learn about his obvious understanding. When uncle Shalom was sitting without writing any letter, he used to lead his forefinger over the table as if he was about to write, as if he wanted to express his feelings and thoughts that filled his heart and mind. That was the reason for his writing many letters.

The anecdotes that he told were very popular. As an example, he used to say to someone: “Why do you hate me? Have I done you any favor?” Or something like this: “After all, the smallest district in Russia is Grodno and the smallest county in Grodno is Kobryn, and the smallest shtetl in the Kobryn county is Horodets”. When someone reproached him: “R' Shalom what are you talking about?” he would answer: “You mean to say that I am lying. Better say: 'It seems so to you'. Never say 'you are lying, you are telling a lie'. Say: 'It seems so to you'. It is nicer and more gentle”.

That is how uncle Shalom used to speak until close to the age of hundred years. One day apparently blind and frail, he unintentionally fell off the window and died.

 


[Pages 103-104]

Motye Itsik's

[Motye, son of Itsik Kostrinsky]

by A. Katrosy [a pen-name of A. Ben-Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's comments in square brackets]

There were two “Motyes” in shtetl. One was Motye son of Hillel (see article about him) and the other was Motye son of Itsik. The latter was the youngest of the brothers Kostrinsky - sons of Itsik, son of Chayim – who occupied a distinguished place in Horodets.

Motye Itsik's, besides being an important balebos, was for many years the “starosta” [town-elder], the official head of the Jewish community – a very demanding position. It entailed obligations and responsibility concerning the Jewish residents of Horodets or Jews who were living in other towns and villages but were registered with the community of Horodets . [balebos (pl: balebatim)= proprietor, owner, host, master, landlord. It has also the connotation of a man of means.]

 

gor103.jpg
Motye Itsik's (Kostrinsky)

 

There were Jews in Czarist Russia who got involved in various illegal dealings. What Jew, wishing to survive, did not break the law from time to time? These Jews came running to Motye Itsik's. He is acquainted with the pristav [police commissioner in Czarist Russia] from Antipolye who is a good brother to the ispravnik [police officer] of Kobryn and has tight connections to the natshalstva (administration). Well, he would advice what to do and with whom.

Motye Itsik's was very busy especially right after Succoth, when it was conscription time and an order was issued to serve in the Russian army. This order terrified the Jewish young men because the length service in the army was four years under most difficult conditions. Discipline was very harsh and work was hard and uninteresting in the company of illiterate muzshikes [Russian villagers]. On top of that, they could not eat kosher food. And who wants to be in slozshva (military service)? Even gentiles looked for advice how to be exempt from military service.

R' Motye is busy. He must “see” the police officer, he must “converse” with the doctor and with some other eminent people who sit in the prisotstva (military committee). Actually, Motye does not speak Russian so well, but what he cannot say in Russian he says with a pat, a smile, etc. The administrator “understands” him and all is straightened out… the administration is satisfied, the candidate for conscription is exempted and R' Motye derives pleasure, too.

It cannot be said that he always succeeds. Naturally, a rich conscript manages to be exempted faster, but this has always been so. The rich are lucky.

However, his intercession did not make R' Motye rich. He was just a balebos, had a nice house, not bad furniture, clean and tidy. He wore quite elegant clothes and that is all.

R' Motye had quite a big family, sons and daughters, but they lived in the big city such as Brest and Yekaterinoslav and occasionally came for a visit in summer. That is when the house became alive and there was a lot of noise. Friends came to visit the big-city-dwellers and discussions were carried of various problems. Motye, with his wife Feige-Rive were purring with pleasure: It is no a trifle! They speak fluent Russian!

A special heart warming was the visit of their youngest, Yankele. He came from the Yeshiva of Meer or Telz and the whole shtetl was excited about him. Even R' Chayim, the Rabbi of Brest, loved him very much.

Fathers and mothers in the shtetl remarked: “Truly, this is nakhes [a proud enjoyment] for father and mother”. Even later, when Yankele became a pupil of the Yeshiva of Odessa and finished high school with distinction, there were quite a number of people who felt jealousy in their hearts. However, R' Motye did not like Yankele's “buttons”. After all, he is a Stoliner Hasid, travels occasionally to the Rabbi, sits in shtiebl and studies a page of Gemara and here his son wears brass buttons…A way out was found: Whenever Yankele comes home for vacation, he takes off his gentile's clothes and he looks as Jewish as the other Jews.

In addition to Motye's belonging to the whole shtetl, he was the “father” of the family. If there was some misfortune – uncle Motye was at hand. If there was some happy event – of course he was there. If something happened and this or that member of the family deviated from the traditional way, uncle Motye was there, shouting, abusing and when necessary beating as well. He intervened and expressed his views not out of wickedness, God forbid, but out of devotion. He was the chief leader of the Kostrinsky family.

This is how Motye led the shtetl and his family until his death in 1912.

 


[Pages 104-106]

Berl Rodetser

By Itke Podolevsky

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's comments in square brackets]

 

gor104.jpg
Berl Rodetser

 

Berl Rodetzer was, for many years, a well known person in Horodets and surroundings. No ancestral-merits were credited to him and he did not stem from an important lineage. He was a self-made Jew, whose toil and brains helped him win a place among the rich and those of aristocratic descent. Under more favorable circumstances and not at the Tsar's period, such a person would have played a national role because he had all the qualities and skills of a leader.

In his youth, Berl Rodetser was a blacksmith in the village of Rodets (near Horodets). In those days, many gentile land-owners started neglecting their property. It was right after the Farmers' Liberation. For many generations, the landowners were accustomed to live off the cheap slave-like labor of the farmers and to lead a parasitic libertine life. When they were forced to start paying the farmers and to manage their own estates, the landowners could not or did not want to do so. So, in most situations they leased their property to a Jew. The Jew with his economizing and hard toil drew from the property enough income to pay the farmers, to draw his own pay and also to pay the landowner. In those days, the number of Jews “possessing” property by lease increased.

The first piece of property that Berl Rodetser possessed on lease was Rodets, the same village where he was living. Through hard work he soon got rich, very quickly leased a second farm and in no time was in the possession of seven pieces of property. This is something to be especially noted: the person who could not read and write in any language other than Yiddish and could not sign his name in Russian, became a land-owner of a great part of the Kobryn County -hundreds of acres. Later on, he bought for himself a small farm named Dvorishts. According to the decrees of the Tsar, Jews were forbidden to possess property on-lease or buy any piece of land. So, all buying and leasing were registered in the name of a gentile from Horodets - Maxim Sverdiuk. He was rich and very smart.

From year to year Berl Rodetser became richer, and with his riches grew his Jewish taste. His daughters were wedded to scholarly sons-in-law of important descent. The dowry was in the form of settling each son-in-law on a farm of his own. As for Berl, he moved to Horodets. He bought a large piece of land on the main street near the wooden bridge and built there two big houses. In those days, these were the most beautiful houses in town. In the back of the houses there was a big garden in which various vegetables grew, of the best sort. On Sundays, all his children and grandchildren from the farms would get together in Horodets with their horses and carts and domestic helpers - a whole kingdom. In town people were delighted and proud of Berl Rodetser, especially the craftsmen and the ordinary people who considered Berl Rodetser one of their own. When he settled in Horodets, Berl Rodetser acquired four reserved-seats near the east wall of the synagogue and of the Bes-Medresh [which was a place of study and also for prayers]. Having a good income and free from managing his business which was taken care of by his sons-in-law, he dedicated himself to community activity. He renovated the synagogue which was close to collapse and - no similarity implied - also the bathhouse which was old and neglected. Berl paid for those two renovations. He was supposed, later, to collect money from the shtetl but a large part of the money he never got back.

He also took upon himself the “korovke” [tax on meat; see pp. 60-61], the handling of which involved a great deal of swindling. He saw to it that whatever little money remained after taxes was used for the good of the community instead of finding its way into the pockets of the officials of the “oprave” [town autonomy]. He also introduced order into the Khevre Kedi'she [voluntary burial society]. Naturally, he acquired many enemies. However, the “public” was always on his side. All the others kept quiet out of awe and respect, being aware of his connections to the landowners and especially to Shtern, the landowner of the shtetl, whose farm he had on lease. Shtern was a statski savetnik (a high official) in the Tsar's government and he was also a member of the prisotstve [military committee] that conscripted people to the army. Berl Rodetser took action to free a great number of Jewish youth from military service. That was a very important matter in those days. Berl never charged a cent for these favors procured through Shtern.

Berl Rodetser's conduct was like that of a very rich man humane to his folks: donated generously, helped marrying poor relatives and orphans.

Berl Rodetser lived to the ripe old age of eighty four. Until his death he was full of energy and zest for life. When he was seventy years old, he married, for the third time, a rather young woman who bore him two children - a girl and a boy. It was striking to see Berl Rodetser, an old graying man, playing with these two children like a young man married only a few years.

Berl Rodetser died around 1915. Thirty years have passed since, but his name is remembered and will be remembered a long time from now.

 


[Page 106]

A Wedding in Horodets of Berl Rodetser's grandson

(The beginning of the 20th century)

 

gor106.jpg
First row standing from right to left: Yirmiyahu Rodetski, the contractor, F/P. Burshtein, Butche Birshtein, Sander Shtshopak, Yirmiyahu Shub, Yosef Roytkop, Aharon Asher Volinyets, Leibe Shub,
Avraham Ravitsh, Binyamin Lifshitz, Khayim Dines, Tante Mindl, Beile Shtshopak and a Jew from Brisk.
Second row: Tzirl Rodetski, Sonya Rodetski, Itke Bregman, (two unknown) Sheine Novoselker, (unknown) Sarah Feshe Doobin, Etye Shub, Binyamin Burshtein, Khaya'ke Rodetski, Tzirl Lifshitz, Neima Dines, Tzivya Stavski, Rivka Dines, Bashke Shub.
Third row, sitting from right to left: Shakhna Rodetski, Beile wife of Yankl Kodliner, Mrs Shtshopak, Itzikl the carpenter, a Jew from Brisk, Mashe Burshtein, Aharon Asher Rodetski, Berk Rodetxer, Golde Dines, Ester Dvora Lifshitz, Khaya Tzirl Shub, Gitl Ravitsh, Meir Lifshitz
Fourth row: Freide Rodetski, Yehudit Rodetski, Avreml Rodetski, Menashe Rodetski, Moshe Dines, Itzil Lifshitz, Moshe Lifshitz, Kalman Ravitsh.

 


[Pages 107-108]

“Panye Shaf” [Mr. Sheep]

(Itzikl)

by I. Zis

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's comments in square brackets]

“Panye Shaf” – this is how the Horodetser Poritz [Polish land-owner], Shter, called him. However, the Jews of Horodets called him simply “Itzik the carpenter” or in short: Itzikl.

Actually Itzikl was a zestful person rather than a carpenter. He used to accept work as a contractor and hired craftsmen to do the job according to his planning.

Plain work Itzikl did not take upon himself. He dealt only with Polish land-owners, and especially with Shter, who was on intimate terms with Tsar Nikolai. The palaces (or pokoyes –as they were called in those days) that he constructed were renowned in that region.

Itzikl not only dealt with Polish land-owners – he also built the houses of the Stoliner Rabbis, in Stolin, and thus he became 'one of the family' in Rabbi Israel's Stoliner “court”. However he was not a fanatic Hasid. He liked everybody; Hasidim and Misnogdim, pious and non-observant, young and old, poor and rich. He liked to hear and tell a good joke, but mostly he liked to help people. There were two kinds of people, however, that he disliked: the fanatic and the stingy. These two types of people used to arouse his anger and sometimes he quarreled with them.

 

gor107.gif
R' Yizkhak Zusselman (Itzikl)
Drawn by his son Israel

 

As mentioned before, Itzikl was a zestful person rather than a craftsmen. Once he had the urge to convince Shter to sell his court. Itzikl was actually the middleman and accordingly was to get a commission of a few thousands of rubles and would have become a rich man. However - slow down Itzikl, don't be hasty! Shter paid him indeed a thousand rubles, but Andronovsky, the land-owner who bought the court did not want to pay the five thousands rubles that he owed according to the agreement. Itzikl sued him in court and after a few years of trial that cost him a lot of money, he gave up the hope of collecting this money. What did Itzikl do with the thousand rubles that he got from Shter? By one Sabbath eve the money had evaporated. How come? Quite simple: he donated for charity left and right, to whoever asked. He founded a fund of some hundred rubles to hand out loans with no interest, improved the shelter for wanderers, renovated the Karliner shtiebl [Hasidic house of prayer], made new cupboards for the books and brought in a new Talmud from Vilna. With the few rubles that remained he started acting like a land-owner. He planted a grand orchard with all kinds of fruit trees ordered from abroad, and… and took the saw, the plane and the hammer and with his own hands built a… pigeon coop.
“What are you building, R' Itsik”, asked his neighbor.

“A pigeon coop”, answered Itzikl

“A pigeon coop?”

The neighbor walked away confused and nodded his head; “what is the matter with Itzikl, has he lost his mind? What does he need the land-owner's whims for?”

 

gor108.jpg
Itzikl's pigeon-coop

 

What Itzikl called “a pigeon coop” became “seeing” and “hearing” and all kinds of “chirping sounds” – a “pigeon coop” with 32 small rooms for 32 “pairs”, the likes of which the Jews of Horodets never saw or heard before. There was a lot of excitement in the shtetl. When he had a visitor for Sabbath, he would slaughter some pigeons to treat his guest in honor of the Sabbath.

This “riches” of Itzikl did not last long. His legs withered. He lay a long time in a hospital in Warsaw until the Stoliner Rabbi helped him travel to Vienna where they amputated both his feet up to his knees in order to save his life. He came back from Vienna (with his righteous wife, Alte, who constantly took care of him) with prosthesis. When he walked supporting himself with a cane, it was almost unnoticeable that he had prosthesis. All of that cost a lot of money and he was no longer rich.

Shortly before WW1 he travelled to Moscow to consult an expert doctor and he stayed there until the end of the war. Over there he earned some thousands rubles and started again to conduct himself lavishly like in former years.

(comment by A Ben-Ezra: “about his other communal activities look up the article 'Under the Polish Rule' by Rabbi Shalom Podolevsky.)

In the meantime, his children immigrated to America and they steadily sent him a few dollars to enable him to carry on his activities of doing good.

This is how he led his life until the Germans, curse them, occupied Horodets.

The money that his children used to send, to support him, stopped coming completely and his communal activities were cut off abruptly.

A tragic day arrived. The Germans, their name be erased for ever, were not only cut off all his sources of income but also used him as a target for mockery and ridicule, until he - together with his house, his besmedresh and books - met his tragic death. May God revenge his spilled blood.

(comment by A. Ben-Ezra: “look up the article 'The End'”)

 


[Pages 109-110]

A Community Leader

By S. Ben-Haviv

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's comments in square brackets]

 

gor109.jpg
Khayim Itche

 

When I mention the name Khayim-Itche to a Jew from Horodets or Antipolye and also to many people in the entire surroundings of Horodets who lived there in the years 1925-1941, it evokes in them love, respect and pride. If you ask a village Jew: “Do you know Khyaim-Itche?” He would tell you legends about him and would recite many of Khyaim-Itche's witticism and jokes that he used to tell; and, rolling up his eyes would say: “He was an extraordinary man, with outstanding wisdom, and primarily - our fellow-man”. The name of Khayim-Itche was well-known among store keepers, workmen and peasants. Each of them claimed him as one of them.

Who was Khyaim-Itche? How did he become so well-known? Where did he come from? Khyaim-Itche was really a Horodetser - Lieber's son. He was the second of Lieber's twelve children.

As a child, Khyaim-Itche's talents did not stand out. He attended the kheyder like all other children. At the age of 14 he became a melamed [teacher in Khyeder] in a village. Later on, he left for Antipolye and learned to be a quilt-maker. When Lieber's wife, Tzivia, died at the age of forty, he helped his father raise the children. Afterwards he worked in the fields, with horses and cattle, enjoying telling jokes and witty stories. He was fond of politics, read books and behaved like all the young men of Horodets. When WW1 was over, Khayim-Itche experienced his first thrill. He left for Brisk [Brest], started working for the greatest leather-merchant of Brisk, became acquainted with the local worker's movement and gave himself body and soul to organize the workers union, forbidden at that time in Poland. He hid under a false name and became the secretary of the workers of Brisk. In his free time he read a lot and studied the life of the workers.

The police in Brisk got wind of Khayim-Itche, and searched for him as a political criminal and a founder of a union. Khayim-Itche hid for some time in Brisk and when he could no longer hide there, he left Brisk and the workers movement and returned to Horodets, where he married one of the most beautiful girls of the shtetl. The young couple settled in Antipolye and Khayim-Itche opened there a leather business.

This is where Khayim-Itche's career rose. At first, he started on a small scale. He established his store on Pinsker Street. However, very soon he drew closer to all the cobblers and farmers of all the villages and built a big house with a big store close to the market near the brick-built besmedresh. [The study-house, where people used to pray as well]

Later, he bought an additional store in the stores-section of Antipolye and also a great piece of land on the outskirts of Pinsk and began to play a great role: He did not commit himself solely to his business. He gave himself body and soul to the life of the community. When the community in Antipolye was established, he became the leader of the community and set the tone for the shtetl. When a bank was founded in Antipolye, he was the administrator of the bank and played an important role in the establishing of banks in Poland. He went to Warsaw for conferences and his opinions carried weight. When people from Horodets needed a loan, they knew that their landsman would help them get it from the bank in Antipolye. From day to day, the name of Khayim-Itche became more eminent in the neighborhood. He became very friendly with the Rabbi R' Yitzkhak Valkin, and together they built a big Talmeytoyre [tuition free religious public school] not just for the children of Antipolye but also for the children of Horodets and the surroundings.

Every evening one could see people coming to Khayim-Itche for an advice. Khayim-Itche had always a smile for all and gave them wise advice. Khayim-Itche traveled to the high officials in Kobryn and Brisk to intercede on behalf of his poor fellows. It happened a few times that an official came to collect taxes and started writing a formal document. Khayim-Itche tore up the paper and smashed the pen. It took, then, a great deal of effort until the incident was hushed up. When the worker needed to implement something, Khayim-Itche was their spokesman and advisor.

When WW2 broke out, Khayim-Itche was very active on the side of the Soviets (we have no idea what kind of role he played there). When the Nazis, their name be erased, attacked Russia, Khayim-Itche left for Russia. Nobody knows about his fate there. Is the clever Khayim-Itche still alive? Is he active for the good of humanity? Does he read, whole nights, Russian, Polish, Yiddish and Hebrew books? Will we ever hear from him again? Or perhaps the Nazis captured him on the way and killed him? And, even if he is still alive, is he alive only as far as we are concerned? Will the Russian government release him?

Only God knows.


[Pages 110-112]

The Town's Joker

By David Kaplan

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's comments in square brackets]

Every town and shtetl had their own joker. Vilna [Vilnius] had Motke Khabad, Ostropolye had Hershele, and so forth. The Jewish joker was different from the gentile court-jester. The court-jester belonged to the king, to the landowner, to the rich. His job was to make his master merry, and incidentally make fun of the people around. His jokes were restrained, masked. His humor was covert. However, the Jewish joker gave free rein to his humor. He did not spare anyone. He sent all away with a flea in their ear: from the Rabbi to the bathhouse attendant.

The Jewish joker became the mirror in which one sees the reflection of ghetto-life with its petty notions and outlooks. The Jewish joker also expressed the sorrow and distress that accumulated in the heart of the oppressed Jew against his tormentor - whether a gentile or a Jew.

Not in vain did the Jewish town Joker become the darling of the town, as he became the shofar [the horn blown in Synagogue] through which people wished to proclaim their complaints and pain with sarcastic humor.

Tevye the shoemaker was an independent man. He was a short fellow with thin legs and a hump in back and in front. When he walked in the street, nobody could follow him so quickly, because he did not really walk but ran very fast. He always looked pale and his pointed small beard was quivering all by itself. He lived on the main street with his wife Beyle and six children in one room. There he had his workshop with his tools and he worked hard. He did not make many new shoes. First of all, he did not have enough money to buy leather. If someone gave him in advance the money to buy leather to make him new shoes, he did not live to see his new shoes, because Tevye had a preferable mission for the money. He immediately went to Abramke the butcher - who was his neighbor - and right away bought a large piece of lung and spleen, brought them to his wife, told her to cook a good meal and enjoyed eating it. When he was asked by the customer to show him the new shoes, he said that he did not have any reason to buy the leather. The buyer would say: “Is this possible, Tevye, where is the money that I gave you in advance?” Tevye would answer briefly and bluntly: “In my stomach!” and that was the end of it.

Summer evenings, after work Tevye took off the apron and the patched trousers, put on a different pair of trousers with new patches, and went out for a stroll. He used to walk in the market where he would stop near Motye Karlinski's store, one of the finest house owners in the shtetl and perform his pranks in front of the girls of the market. His best joke was that he had to sell them buttermilk in straw mats. The girls started laughing and he stuck out his tongue, extended two figs [rude gestures] with his finders and ran back to the street.

Moshe Burshtein, the grocer, resided in the Market. Tevye used to enter his store when nobody was watching, snatch a herring, tear its head and tell Moshe: “How much is the herring without its head?” Moshe would become angry and shout: “Get out of the store, you hunchbacked crook”. Tevye would not be alarmed, would snatch the herring and run home. It was futile to run after him. One jump and he was gone. Sometimes he knocked, in the middle of the night, on the window of Abremeke the butcher shouting: “The goats are coming, go slaughter them - the sooner the better - I have already milked them.” Abremke cursed him properly: “A dark dream on your head”. Tevye stuck out his tongue and ran away.

Near Tevye was the house of Khayim-Hersh. Once, the latter's son, Abreme came over from Lodz with his wife. He was a dentist's technician. His wife's name was An'yute. She was a fragile woman and therefore they cooked sheep's meat for her. Tevye got wind of that dish and stealthily entered Khyaim-Hersh's house, took the pot with the cooked dish, brought it home and told his wife: “Beyle, from now on I name you An'yute, because you, too, are eating sheep's meat”

Tevye stole once into Yaakov Poliak's textile-store. The store was full of customers. Tevye seized a piece of white cloth and said: “Look, I and Yaakov's heir will lie together in the same cemetery in the same shrouds.”

Another time, Tevye snatched a herring in Shamai's food-store, broke its backbone and said: “No longer privileged, it has a hump like Tevye's”…

On the whole, Tevye came to life in the fair, when the farmers from the surrounding villages used to come with their cattle, horses, chicken and eggs; and where shoemakers and tailors used to come to sell their merchandise and small merchants used to come to bargain and mediate. That is when Tevye left his workshop with the gentiles who used to come for their boots, and headed to the market. There, farmers dealers and children used to gather around him and Tevye told his wise and sarcastic jokes. Not one farmer broke his eggs while laughing hard. Many merchants took advantage of the incident to strike a deal.

Then, Horodets had something to tell and something to laugh at until the next fair.

Tevye the hunchback went through all the calamities of WW1 and its outcome. It was tragic-comic that the Poles who invaded Horodets arrested Tevye as a “communist”. Horsemen rode in front and in back of Tevye while small agile Tevye was forced to run after the horsemen who led him to Kobryn to be executed.

What did Tevye think of? How did he react at that time?

It is difficult to answer and his “communist friend” Hershel the teacher [editor's note: look up the article about Hershel the Teacher] were not allowed to utter a word. Surely if he had been allowed to speak he would have cracked a joke about the Polish government and its order.

Tevye also went through the hell that the Germans, their name be erased, brought to Horodets. What did Tevye “the cold lung and liver” say then? Who did he make fun of?

Praise the jolly pauper Tevye.

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