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Chapter 3 (cont.)

[Pages 262 - 264]

Alter-Mordehai Shimonov

A portrait

By Shimon (Babah) Shimonov

Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv

Our home, in which our family lived happily, stood on a raised area, opposite the new synagogue. The family included my parents, Alter-Mordehai Shimonov and Malka-Annah Shimonov and their four children - Shimon -Baba, Israel and the twins, Zvi and Shaul. My father - a well-known man, respected by the community- was one of its representatives on the town council; from time to time he was also asked to carry out official and other tasks.

My father was a member of the national council of the Volks-Bank (People's Bank)in Lithuania and also served as a council member of the bank in Yurburg.

I remember very well how father and other notables in town discussed the purchase of the area of the "Tel Aviv" park, which also included the building of the gymnasium. They consulted for a long time and tried to find the best possible way to represent the town's inhabitants vis a vis the authorities.

The Neiman River in Yurburg would cause a flood every few years, inundate the adjacent streets, the very streets where the poor Jews lived. The Lithuanian government would allocate funds to help these residents. My father headed the committee and did his best to see to it that the money was distributed in a just manner.

When the synagogue incurred losses, my late father was asked to serve as its Gabbai

(treasurer). I remember the days before Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), when my father would sit down with the big book of liabilities and the members of the congregation were asked to pay their dues. Quite often I saw my father taking money out of his own pocket to help those who had debts pay their dues to the synagogue. My father did this with utmost discretion, taking care not to insult anyone and without giving the impression that the person in question was poor and could not pay his dues.

Once a group of wealthy Jews from the United States paid us a visit. The Jews saw the old synagogue and were most impressed by the Holy Ark with its wood carvings and the beautiful chair of Elyahu; they expressed the wish to buy the wood carvings for $150,000. However, my father and the other members of the council were strongly opposed to this.

When envoys of Keren Hayesod came to Yurburg my father was among the first to make a donation. Once it was proposed that the benefactors buy plots of land at "Mishor haCarmel" (Carmel plane) near Haifa; father accepted the proposal to buy a plot of land in Eretz Yisrael and other Jews followed suit. Indeed, the plots of land were bought and the required sum was paid in full by the purchasers, however the transfer to the rightful owners was complicated an never came about.

At the Hebrew Gymnasium my father was a member of the public council, which fought against the closing down of the gymnasium because of financial difficulties. My father was a dentist by profession, but he did not close down the store he had inherited from his father; when he was unable to manage it, he asked Mordehai Labaiosh to take care of it.

When the Russians entered Lithuania, they immediately drew up lists of Jews which the authorities decided to exile to Russia. My father was on this list. However, good Jews in Yurburg submitted a letter of opposition to the authorities and asked my father not be exiled, claiming they needed a gifted man of finance, capable of handling the cartel issues in town. The authorities consented, and father remained in Yurburg. However, it so happened that the very Jews who were accused of animosity towards the Soviet authorities, and exiled to northern Russia and the Ural (Mountains) remained alive, together with their families.

In June 1941, in the early hours of the morning, the Nazi armies invaded Yurburg. A couple of hours later a steamship left for Kovna, at the initiative of Jews from Yurburg, however, the trick did not work. When the steamship left and was not far from shore, German planes went into the air and dropped a bomb on the ship, which was forced to return from where it had come. The result was one casualty - Shaul Shimonov, my late brother, one of the twins. The second twin was put into hiding with gentiles. However, evil people gave him away and when he was found they crashed his skull and hanged him on an electricity pole.

A couple of days after the Nazi invasion of Yurburg, they and their Shaulist-Lithuanian helpers took my father out of our home and forced him to uproot stones with his bare hands from the paved street. After that they strung him to a horse and dragged him to the shore of the Neiman. Here the torturers and murderers threw him into the river and when they removed him from the water, they put him on a purification board and carried him through town while hooligans threw all sorts of items at him.

This was a degrading and barbaric act. My father died a tragic death in the first "action" of the group of 350 town's people, a week after the Nazi occupation.

My late mother and brother were put into a kind of mini-ghetto set up at Rikler's home. My brother worked with the other men - he was 17 years old - at the German camp set up at the Neiman-Mitova junction.

In September 1941 those Jews of Yurburg who were still alive, were put to death -

among them my brother. They were buried in a mass grave on the road to Samalnikan.

Blessed be their memory.

Alter-Mordechai and Anna Malka Shimonov, parents of Shimon Shimonov


[Pages 265 - 267]

Mordehai Zilber - the Man and His Pen

By his daughter, Sara Alkoni-Zilber

Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv

My father, Moshe-Mordehai Zilber, was born in Yurburg on 13 January 1907, to his parents, Lea-born Elyahu-Anshil Rodoner- and Aba Pinhas Zilber, brother to Hinda and Yosef. Mordehai studied at the "heder" at the large prayer house and the Hebrew Gymnasium. He served in the Lithuanian army. He married Rachel - born Araf (Kovna) and went to Israel in 1933.

My father settled in Petach Tikva, where his daughter Sara and son Aba-Pinhas were born. The latter died in 1967. Most of the time he worked as a farmer. For many years he was active in the "Haganah." During the War of Independence he participated in the defense of the town. My father was a writer and wrote articles and songs which were published in various publications.In his last years he started to paint and received a great deal of praise.

He passed away on 2.8.76.

Mordechai Zilber

Everyone in Yurburg knew Mordehai Zilber. He was tall, broad shouldered, had blond hair, blue and straightforward eyes. His face always wore a friendly smile.

That is how his friends at the gymnasium knew him - a tall thin-haired young man, sitting in class, sometimes paying attention, sometimes not. He always seemed deeply immersed in a world of his own thoughts.

The subject being discussed in class did not always interest him, but the next day he showed awareness of the subject's problems and knew how to make the most of it.

Mordehai was the oldest among his friends in the class that consisted of students from Yurburg and from surrounding towns. When Mordehai came to the Gymnasium he was already a kind of "walking library."

He read a lot, to satisfy his quest for knowledge. Mordehai already then knew how to express his thoughts in writing and verbally in a clear and profound manner. Mordehai devoted a lot of time to excursions in the area and to spending some time alone in the woods and training himself. He was more of an autodidact than a regular pupil. In his essays Mordehai proved to be a gifted young man with an excellent ability to express himself in writing. He loved to write more than anything else.

One day he decided to publish a newspaper on the subject of Yurburg, to print it in spirograph and distribute it in town. This did not work out. Mordehai apparently was not very good at business.

Mordehai was disappointed by the unsuccessful experiment and started to look for other ways to express himself - he found them at the theater, he fell in love with drama, and found relief for his doubting spirit. He already took his first steps on the stage at the gymnasium. Thus, one day, he joined the drama circle in Yurburg, which from time to time staged plays in Yiddish. Mordehai stood out among the local actors in the group. In those days he read many drama books and never tired of doing so; while reading he also learned chapters by heart and acted to himself. . .

Mordehai was not always interested in spending time with the students at the gymnasium. He stood out in class. He was critical of the teachers, but not cynical. Mordehai did not accept all they said; he did not need them. He drew his knowledge from sources outside the gymnasium -from the library, theater, newspaper and conversations with intellectuals and writers.

*

Mordehai was enchanted by the beautiful landscape of Yurburg. His absences from the gymnasium grew longer until one day he totally disappeared. His classmates missed their brilliant classmate, whose advise and friendship they valued.

No one knew of his plans, although many felt that the gymnasium's horizon was too narrow for him. He was attracted by the great wide world outside. One day he broke out of the "boundaries of domicile" which suffocated him and left for far-away places, to gather knowledge and wisdom.

Thus the days and years passed. Finally Mordehai found himself and came to terms with reality. His education at the Hebrew Gymnasium and the Zionist-nationalist values he absorbed there guided his path. Thus his friends and acquaintances found out one day that Mordehai was in Eretz Yisrael and had built his home in Petach Tikva. He was a farmer, carrying out his family- and national obligations. It appears that Mordehai became very humble in Israel. He was satisfied with little and content with what he had. Of his spiritual riches his gifted pen spread but a few crumbs. An article here or there. Quality did not turn into quantity. His friends who were aware of his literary talents had expected more of him.

However, it is hard to get to know a man - everyone does what he likes. We heard only recently that he replaced his pen with an etcher and paint-brush. With these he also found a way to express his spirit and he received much praise.

*

Mordehai's recordings dedicated to Yurburg, where he was born, were submitted to the editors of the memorial book of the Yurburg community. The recordings are moving and full of love, they are charming and humorous.

They are an important contribution to the book. With his clear eye he described with a writer's pen as with a painter's-brush the little town where he was born that was and is no more. Thus he commemorated the Jewish community from which he sprang and where he gathered his inspiration, richness of tongue and power of expression.

How sad that our dear Mordehai is no longer with us now that we are publishing the memorial book, in memory of his and our unforgettable community.

Blessed be his memory.


[Pages 268-269]

Clara Bernstein-Dushnitzki

(Words spoken at her grave)

By Zevulun Poran

Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv

Clara . . . and Vulya . . . the loving couple who never seperated in life or death . . .

Vulya passed away too early, he never had the privilege of seeing his children and grandchildren. Nor did he witness the development of the city of Tel Aviv, one of whose builders he was. Vulya - Zeev Dushnitzki - was a man with a profound public conscience. He had a liberal - Jewish outlook, combined with Zionism without compomise. A Hebrew intellectual in the true sense of the word. Modest, pleasant, with a noble and sensitive mind. Woe to the departed - we shall always remember them

Those who closely knew Clara appreciated her noble qualities. She loved books, and had exquisite taste. She was kind to everyone. Only few people knew how much pain she felt in the face of poverty and need, and how she hurried along shelters and synagogues in order to assist the needy. She was always surrounded by friends and received them at her home.

Clara loved her close relations and they returned her love and gave her strength. How happy she was when they paid her a visit - her grandchildren, Dr. Raziel Dushnitzki, with her great-grandchildren and the granddaugher Vitya with her great-grandchildren. Her eyes shone and her joy knew no bounds.

Each encounter with Clara was like a party. We wanted to say - "Clara, how wonderful you are. . . " but we did not dare to do so, for we did not want to exchange pure gold for simple old coins.

Now that she is gone, we will no longer see her smiling face and enjoy her wonderful personality. In recent years Clara felt that her days were counted. She would say: "Soon, very soon, Kindelech, you will come to me and won't find me. Come now, while I am still alive. Let's talk a little . . . ." and she meant talk about days gone by, her parent's home and the town of Yurburg on the shores of the Neiman river; about its wonderful people, the popular nature and elevated spirit of the people whose soul was pure. Now all had perished in the terrible Holocaust. She wanted to commemorate her home town, Yurburg, and perpetuate the memory of her dear ones in the Book of Remembrance.

And indeed, in this book we implement her will and commemorate the Jews of Yurburg as well as our beloved Clara who did not live to see the book published.

Two years ago we still managed to see her on a cold, rainy evening at the meeting of Former Residents of Yurburg meeting. She listened attentively to each word that was spoken there. Clara also took part in meetings of former residents of Lithuania and Kovna, the town where she studied and where her personality was formed. In Kovna, the Jewish and Zionist town, she founded her family, together with Vulya, and dreamt of Zion, a dream she realized when she immigrated to Israel.

She never forgot the warm home of her parents. Her mother,Vitel, a good mother and outstanding housewife. It was an exemplary home, and her mother's influence was felt everywhere.

Her late father, Leon Bernstein, the well-known businessman, was nicknamed "The Linen King" for he dealt in linen and linen processing. The Lithuanian government, which was interested in his good advice,asked him - the only Jew - to join the country's national trade council. He was a man of the world, spoke a number of languages and was a well-known businessman even beyond the borders of Lithuania. He was fortunate enough to escape the claws of the Nazi beast, and when he arrived at the gates of Israel, after a few stops on the way, in Haifa, he died and was buried at the Haifa cemetery.

Clara treasured the dear memory of her parents. In her last days Tulya Kapulsky, her only daughter, was at Clara's bedside and took care of her as best she could.

Today we stand here at Clara's tomb and we think of her, here in the old cemetery, in Nahlat Yitzhak, founded by the Jews of Lithuania, close to the memorial of the Lithuanian martyrs - there is a certain symbolism to be found here.

Every life comes to an end. Clara passed away in old age. Nevertheless, we have a deep sense of loss for the family, her friends and all those who were close to her.

With her death we have lost a dear person with a rare treasure of moral values. It creates a gap between the generations.

The light that shone out of the shadows of her unique home on the shore of Tel Aviv shines no longer- and we are the poorer for it.

We are orphaned. And we grieve. Blessed be her memory!


[Pages 270-272]

Zalman Laibosh - Actor and Director

By Zvulun Poran

Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv

About twenty families lived in the little town, or rather village, of Shaodina. There was no school and the children would each day cross the Neiman river on the ferry in order to study at the schools and the Hebrew Gymnasium of Yurburg. Almost all the Shaodina students were educated in Yurburg and took part in its social and cultural life.

Among them was Zalman Ben Mordehai-Meir Laibosh (1908) who belonged to the Laibosh "clan" and studied in Yurburg. The 15-year old son of one of the Laiboshes, a relative of Zalman Laibosh, he was sent by his parents already in 1913 to study at the "Herzlia" Gymnasium in Tel Aviv. This Laibosh boy was a "paper bridge" between Tel Aviv and Shaodina. Indeed, many youngsters in the town were attracted to Eretz Yisrael (Israel) and were fervent Zionists.

Zalman Laibosh, a faithful representative of the Laibosh "clan" in Shaodina grew up in Yurburg. He was popular among the youngsters and a serious and outstanding student. Already at an early age he liked to read plays and was attracted to theater and cinema performances. He often discussed the theater with his friends who had dreams like his own. When the Hebrew theater studio was established in Kovna and Zalman joined, he found he was not alone. There were other "drama fanatics" at the studio

from Yurburg. Here he found Chaya (Clara) Petrikansky, who shared his dream.

After he graduated from highschool, Zalman studied at the Lithuanian university. His evenings were devoted to visits to the Lithuanian theater and the opera. He also attended Yiddish performances of the local amateur drama groups which came from elsewhere (Zigmund and Yonas Torkov with their ensembles.)

Once every few years theater groups from Eretz Yisrael would visit Kovna - "Habima" and "Ohel". Zalman attended all the performances over and over again. These were glorious days for him. There is no doubt that the drama groups from Eretz Yisrael gave the youngsters the idea to set up the theater group in Hebrew and Zionist Kovna.

Indeed, in Kovna there was a broad public background for setting up a Hebrew theater. There were Hebrew elementary and high schools there, Hebrew libraries, teachers colleges, a Hebrew department at the Lithuanian university headed by lecturer H.N. Shapira, the son of the town's Rabbi. There was the younger generation here who spoke Hebrew, a youth movement and Zionist parties. It was only natural therefore, that in addition to all these, a Hebrew theater would be established too. The idea took on more substance when the "Tarbut (Culture)" center promised to support a Hebrew theater studio.

Indeed, the Hebrew theater studio was set up in 1928, and it aroused great interest among the younger generation. Soon a group of Hebrew students was formed, teachers, writers and others, who expressed the wish to set up a Hebrew theater studio

in Kovna. The "theater fanatics" group was a group of serious and visionary theater lovers. Zalman Laibosh was the living spirit of this studio. However, a theater studio needs an experienced drama expert. The "Tarbut" center took care of the matter and invited one of the popular actors of the Eretz Yisraeli theater - Michael Gur - to be the teacher and guide, and he taught them the basics of drama. Miriam Bernstein-Cohen, the famous actress from Eretz Yisrael, also became a teacher at the studio.

After serious learning and an in-depth study of the various theatrical styles, an attempt was made to perform the "Peretz Stories", four stories adapted to the theater by author and actor Ari Glasman. The "Peretz Stories" evening left a tremendous impression on the Hebrew public. Zalman Laibosh stood out as an actor. It was a treat for the young actors and the Jews of Kovna as well. "What a novelty", many said, for they were surprised at the success of the studio. The Jewish press considered the performance an impressive theatrical achievement. The government newspaper - "Liatovas-Aidas" - also gave an enthusiastic review of the performance and advised the Lithuanian theater to take a lesson from the studio's actors. . . The Lithuanian theater was not popular in Lithuania, on the other hand, they liked the opera with Grigaitiana and Kipras Patraoskas, who were famous in the countries of western Europe.

The studio's second performance was the "Tower of Oz" by M.H. Lutzato (Ramhal).

In this play too the two actors from Yurburg participated; they occupied the main parts - Zalman Labayosh and Clara Petrikanski (she changed her name to Chaya Slait). Chaya Slait played the part of the rebellious Aya who agonized in the flames of her wild love.

The public loved the play, written in the eighteenth century, in near- biblical style; the directors taught the studio members diction, history of the theater and modern acting styles. The Russian director Gromov and others were quite familiar with the styles of Stanislawsky, Wachtengov (Russian) and Reinhardt (German). After that they performed a few other classical plays by Moliere and others, with increasing success.

The next play was "The Golden Chain" by Peretz, directed by "Ohel" actor Rafael Zvi.

However, as it is said, "all good things come to an end". The actors from Eretz Yisrael who discovered theatrical talent at the studio encouraged them to go to Israel. Zalman emigrates to Israel and joins the theater groups there. Indeed, Zalman Laibosh's talent as a character actor is a treasure for every theater. He was a gifted actor and fit in very well with the theatrical collective in Israel.

Zalman Laibosh' first step in Israel was to join the "Kommedia Eretz Yisraelit", where he stood out with his natural humour. From here he went on to "Matatey" where he was also very succesful. In 1943 Zalman Laibosh joined the "Ohel" theater and became famous.

In 1947 Laibosh goes to the U.S.A. and serves as a Hebrew phonetics teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary. At the same time he takes a postgraduate course for directors at Yale University. However, Zalman Laibosh longs for his Hebrew public and returns to Israel (1950). This time he joins the "Kamari" theater, plays the main part, and receives much acclaim.

Among his main parts: Tartuffe in "Tartuffe"; Efraim Cabot in "Desire in the Shadow of the Trees", Caesar in "Marius"; George in "Of Mice and Men"; Galileo in "Galileo"; Malvolio in "Twelvth Night"; Shimon Ben Shetach in "The War of the Righteous".

Laibosh also directed a number of plays in Israel and abroad, and appeared in solo performances on various occasions - at conferences and national and Zionist congresses.

 

In the last years of his acting activity in Israel Zalman Labayosh fell ill. His wife passed away and he decided to go for medical treatment to the U.S.A., where his sister lived. When he took leave of his friends and acqaintances he told them that he was seriously ill. If I get well, he said, I shall perhaps direct a few plays in the U.S. and then go home. However, his dream disappeared very soon. His state of health deteriorated and he died abroad (1987) and was brought to Israel to be buried. Blessed be his memory.


[Page 273]

The Artist William Zerach

Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv

William Zerach was born in Yurburg in 1887. Already at an early stage, when he was still a child, his rare gifts in the field of plastic arts were discovered. Zerach studied in Yurburg. However, after a while he emigrated with his parents to the U.S.A. and settled in Ohio. He made his living working as a lithographer. Later on he moved to Cleveland where he studied at the arts school, and went on to the painting academy in New York.

In 1908 his works were shown at a Paris exhibition and he received much acclaim. However, he became famous because of his wood, stone and marble sculpture. His painting was influenced by cubism, but his achievements as a sculptor were original and innovative.

In the art of sculpture he learned from all generations. With the rhythm, simplicity and charm of his creations he became famous as one of the greatest sculptors of our time. William's artistic creations were exhibited at various museums. He received many awards.

Among his creations: Mother and Child, Childhood, The Soul of Dance, Child Riding a Pony, his sculpture of Benjamin Franklin.

William also wrote books in the field of art. Zerach William explains the art of sculpture (New York 1947) and Introduction to the art of contemporary American sculpture (New York 1948).

He died in Bath - Maine, U.S.A. (1966). His name will be remembered as one of the great sculptors of our time.

*

In the time of independent Lithuania only few people from Yurburg remembered the name William Zerach. However, art lovers in the town read the papers and followed their fellow townsman's achievements in the art of sculpture with great interest. He became very well known in the U.S.A. and other countries.


[Page 274]

Avraham Kasif - Educator and Man of the Book

By Zevulun Poran

Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv

We know Avraham Kasif (Kosotzki), as a teacher, for we were his pupils. He started his activity in Yurburg and continued in Israel. Kasif was not one of those teachers who view their profession as a way to make a living, but as a task that has a mission . He considered teaching an important foundation for the teacher's work, but he merely considered it a tool - a medium - to educate the child towards the fulfillment of his future personal and national goals. Indeed, Avraham Kasif was a teacher and educator per excellence. He was deeply rooted in the Jewish experience and history of Israel. As a former yeshiva student he had the gift for in-depth analysis and clear thinking. He had his own Hebrew style and was soft-spoken and charming. He therefore had a direct influence on his pupils.

For a number of years he was a Hebrew language and literature teacher at the Hebrew Gymnasium in Yurburg.

He educated a young generation towards Zionism and aliyah; he encouraged a desire not only to get to know our country, but beyond that - to work on its behalf. This meant national funds, pioneering and aliyah. He himself belonged to "Tzeirey Zion", the followers of A.D.Gordon.

By the very fact that he went on aliyah to Israel he served as the living example for teachers and for his pupils in Yurburg that Zionism is realization.

Even under the new circumstances of Eretz Yisrael he was able to find his way to the hearts of his pupils, the "Sabras" (native Israelis). He left his mark on them and many of them honoured and respected him.

He arrived in Jerusalem a few years ago, when he retired. He took part in activities of former residents of Lithuania in Jerusalem, and was pleased to attend every conference that was a pleasant experience for him.

May the memory of his blessed educational activity be a light onto many teachers, and to all of us, his pupils in Yurburg.

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