There were always very decent relationships between the male communal workers and the female communal workers. I saw to it that there was not any conflict between them. As Mr. Peller said, Mrs. Halparin insists that there not be any serious conflicts or fights. Once a fight broke out between me and Mr. Privolski, may he rest in peace. After the war was over many relatives came and adopted the orphans. When the orphans reached the age of thirteen we arranged for them places to work so they could leave the orphanage. At that time Dr. Privolski showed interest in occupying one of the rooms in the orphanage with a Yiddish school (in those days Dr. Privolski was still a lover of the Yiddish language). Although the house was bought with money from America which was contributed by Jews from Kobrin in America, we did not want to start a Yiddish school on the premises, since we instill the spirit of Zionism among the orphans and we did not want the Yiddish culture to interfere with the Zionist studies. Although the conflict came up between Dr. Privolski and myself, as soon as I became sick, he soon came to visit me.
We loved the children as our own and it was mutual. They loved us dearly. When
I saw the Rashi interpretation of the story of Michal, the daughter of King
Saul who bore Azriel five children (mentioned in the second book of Samuel,
Chapter 21, Verse 8), Rashi's interpretation was that Mirav really bore the
children but Michal brought them up. We emphasized this example to the orphans
to note that one does not have to give birth to children in order to love them.
When I was already in America I went to an evening school. When we assembled
for the ceremony of our graduation, a young girl came over and started kissing
me. She said, You are Mrs. Halperin who took.care of me like a mother
when I was at the orphanage in Kobrin, and she started crying. That was a
very dramatic meeting between us and since then she has been like a member of
The orphans grew up in this manner until the Bolsheviks came and said that they were going to join the orphans with Christian orphans and educate them together in the same facility. Only with my interference and a request from the wife of Dr. Frishman, who was a communist (Before the arrival of the communists we did not know that she was a communist), and one of our good friends, I succeeded in averting the decision. Because of this change of decision we changed the fate from death to life of Mr. Andranovski (who is now a teacher in Jerusalem).
One thing should be said about the very intelligent personality of Rabbi Michael. We received non-kosher meat from the Bolsheviks. I went at that time to Rabbi Michael to consult him in reference to the non-kosher meat. He was set to leave Kobrin from fear of the Bolsheviks. When he heard about our problem with the non-kosher meat, he immediately gave us all of his money in order that we could give it to the Jewish butchers to exchange the non-Kosher meat for Kosher meat. He was left penniless. When the Bolsheviks came they stayed only seven weeks. We sat in our homes scared and worried. The only person walking around and taking care of our community was Rabbi Michael. At last the Poles came back to the town and life resumed as before.
I cannot conclude my story of the orphanage and of memories about the women's council work without underlining the fact of how much those women did for the State of Israel. The happy mood that embraced all of us when the Balfour Declaration was announced is difficult to describe in simple words. I recall that when it was announced immediately we established a fund for Israel. We, the women, gathered all our gold jewelry and handed it over to the fund raisers. First was Zisel Polonski. We all followed. Plenty of gold and money was gathered. I honestly think there was more money in our fund than in a jewelry store. We also had other funds as well and they were for the benefit of the orphans and the fire fund, for which my husband happened to have been the treasurer. We asked for security by the police for our home. Later we went from house to house asking for a donation for the Keren Hageulah& fund which preceded the Keren Hayesod& fund. The Zionist organization asked for a twelve dollar minimum from each person. Since many could not afford that amount and still wanted to be part of the builders of Israel, a few families joined together and donated twelve dollars a month between themselves.
In case one of the pioneers could not afford to go on Aliyah to Israel on his
own, our committee helped him by giving him money. I recall that one group had
to leave before the arrival of the Bolsheviks and while the bombs of the
Bolsheviks were heard on the streets Mrs. Levitz and I kept walking the
streets, going from house to house collecting monies for that same group.
One of the prominent ladies of Kobrin wondered about our behavior and asked us point blank, Are you crazy? Why are you walking under the thunder of these bombs? We of course replied that better to take a chance in being killed than not help these pioneers to go on Aliyah and build the state of Israel. She ended up donating money as well. There was never a case of a person refusing to donate money to our fund for Eretz Israel. When a guest from America came we the the money raisers visited the guest immediately. I remember that Yekutiel Pinchuk came from America. We visited him right away in his home. When he asked for what purpose is this money, his mother, may she rest in peace, interrupted. My child, she said. Don't ask any questions. Just give and help your fellow man. We received, of course, a large amount of money from him.
I remember that during our first Lag B'Omer& holiday after the Balfour Declaration we received a permit to protest and to march with our national flag in our hands. How happy we were to be able to fly our national flag. When we gathered in the courtyard of the congregation they asked us to be short with our speeches. I was the first speech and although it has been a long time since then I still recall the excitement I felt when I recided Shehecheyanu. I felt that this was a very happy occasion for all of us. The old people were happy because they had lived to see this day. The middle aged people were excited about the future and they thought that they would still be able to see the state of Israel. But mainly it was the children who were happy. They thought, and we joined them with our thoughts, they would be lucky enough to be able to live in Israel. It's too bad that the dream we held then did not come true, only a handful of us managed to reach Israel and live there.
After the speeches we went out through Pinsker Street and through the market to
Nibaski Street and then through Brisker Street out to the nearest forest by the
name of Patricka. Our women's committee marched in front of the orphans and led
the way to the youth. Each committee and organization marched in order. Every
Kobrin citizen participated in this event. Only the sick stayed at home. The
kids sang all throughout the march and we the adults joined in the singing. We
spent the whole day in the forest. This was one of the happiest days in my life
and I'll never forget it as long as I live. Since I was a little girl I was
brought up to be a Zionist, and every time the non-Jewish people in Kobrin held
their holidays and their festivals with their flags flying high I yearned for
my own flag, for our national flag, and here our dreams came true. Our flags
were flying high with pride. However, immediately after this event the
government abolished flying our flags and they outlawed waving national flags.
|Lag Baomer Parade in Kobrin|
My cousin, Mrs. Earger, together with Mrs. Freidel, who used to work in the
office of my husband in Kobrin, took my place in the orphanage and I left for
America. I went to America on a mission and stayed there seven months. The
Kobriners in America accepted me very lovingly. It really was worth it to work
so many years and so hard with the poor in Kobrin although the work was very
difficult since I worked for the orphanage, the Hoover Committee, the Women's
Committee and for the Zionist movement. One can imagine how hard I worked, but
the satisfaction was immense, especially with my achievements in America. At
the beginning in \merica I did not know many of the Kobrin people there. Since
I ms not born in Kobrin I only knew the delegates who visited Kobrin, but after
a short while they grew to know me and love me and appreciate the work I did
for the poor in Kobrin. I always said to them that it was not only myself who
deserved the praises but all of the women who worked hard for the poor in
The first to come and see me in America was the elder Tenenbaum, who was a brother of Chana Zaritzki. He came with his wife. I was invited to a party given for me. The hosts were a well-to-do family. A few days later a general meeting took place at the Kobrin congregation and the excitement overflowed. Also the love towards me was open and outpouring and we felt as if we were old friends. The first speech was made by Mr. Akoz, the son of the shochet from Kobrin. He opened his speech by pointing out that if you help one individual it's like helping the whole world. He finished by mentioning that the blood of our ancestors was crying out from the ground. Everyone was touched and proceeded to donate money and clothing for the poor Jews of Kobrin.
I witnessed the hard work of the Kobriners in fund raising. When I was in Kobrin we could not imagine how hard they worked to raise funds. They lived far from each other and each one worked from dawn to dusk. They dedicated their free time to working on the fundraising activities. They literally worked during the night for Kobrin. In comparison they gathered more money than the Landsleyt& [compatriots].
For instance, I remember a farewell party that was given for a family that left for Kobrin. The main goal of the party was to collect money for the poor of Kobrin. The first speech was made by Rabbi Pantul. He made a pitch for money and the outpouring was incredible.
When Mr. Gershon, who was one of the first delegates who went to Kobrin after
the First World War, learned that I arrived in New York to collect money and
clothing for the Kobrin poor, he rushed from Atlanta, Georgia to help with the
money campaign. Together with Mr. Akoz and Mr. Shafran and a few others we
visited the homes of the Kobriners who did not attend the meeting. All of them
received us very warmly. There were only a few who refused to donate to the
fund for the poor in Kobrin at the beginning since they suspected that the
money was not going to go to the right places due to the political conflict
between the two rabbis, Rabbi Michael and Rabbi Pesach. This conflict was well
known in America among the Kobriners and it divided the local Kobriners as
well. Since they thought that I was on the side of Rabbi Michael, the opposing
side, Rabbi Pesach's friends had complaints against me. I explained to them
that I wasn't involved in the politics of the rabbinate in Kobrin and that was
proved when Rabbi Pesach invited me to a meeting concerning Tzedakah and
Rabbi Michael came first to Kobrin so we worked together long before I met Rabbi Pesach. We continued working closely everyday, Shabbath and holidays as well, but still it did not mean I was an opponent of Rabbi Pesach.
Mr. Shubinsky took care of collecting clothing for the orphans. I should say a word or two about this outstanding person. Mr. Shubinsky wasn't even a Kobriner. He was born in a village not far from Kobrin, but still he and his wife volunteered to collect clothing for Kobrin. They worked hard for their livelihood. All day and in the evenings they collected clothing. He made a good living but humbly since he spent most of his income sending packages to the orphanage and to other places. His nephew, A. Goldstein, who lives in Israel, should be very proud of his uncle. Mrs. Mintz, the aunt of Moshe Lifshitz from Kobrin, helped with collecting clothing as well. Mr. Mintz was one of the first delegates to Kobrin and he donated huge amounts of money for the orphanage.
Almost all of the money collected was sent to the orphanage. Only a small portion was sent to various other social services. Although the main purpose of my trip to America was to raise money for the orphanage in Kobrin, I used to visit to find out whether I would like to live in America or go back to Kobrin. I must say that I liked America immediately. Of all the Diaspora places since the Babylonian exile, I like the American Diaspora the best. If you ask me why I did not directly go to Israel, I would say only that there were valid reasons not to go and live there at that time, but I was determined to finally live there one day. America was supposed to serve as an in between step to my final destination, which was Israel. My last meeting in America was with the ladies' auxiliary. I bid them goodbye and said, See you next year.
When I met the Kobriners, at first, in America a sentence from Ezekiel flashed into my mind. Ezekiel's prophecy came true and the prophecy was: And I will take away the heart of stone from you and replace it with a compassionate heart made out of the living flesh.
When I came back from America on the boat, I met Mr. Prostik, may he rest in
peace. He served as a delegate of Poland in America. I told him the purpose of
my visit to America and proceeded to ask him a favor. I asked him to talk to
the authorities in favor of reducing the amount of duty we had to pay for the
used clothing we received from America. A few weeks after returning to Kobrin I
received a letter from Mr. Prostik breaking the news that he had brought up the
subject of lowering the duty on used clothing from America for Jewish
orphanages and the decision was passed that the amount of duty for all
orphanages will be at minimum for used clothing from America.
In Kobrin I was welcomed back as a queen. They were very happy with the results of my trip to America. My expenses in America were minimal since I had been hosted by the Kobriner families, and I lived there in a frugal manner so as to spend the least money on my mission, in order for the orphanage to have more money. I also brought some money to individuals in Kobrin from their relatives in America. After staying in Kobrin for about a year I parted from everyone on my way to America. I promised to work for the poor of Kobrin and I fulfilled my promise as much as I could.
In America we held bi-weekly meetings with the ladies' auxiliary group. There was less time for fund raising for me since I also put some time in studies of the English language, but I always managed to find time for the work for the poor in Kobrin. The community work in the landsmanshaften& was done by our friends for two reasons: one was the love and desire to help the people in their hometown and another was the fact that no matter how many years they spent in America they always missed their hometown. The community work which they did in landsmanshaften helped them fight any kind of assimilation into non-Jewish society.
At times I returned from fund raising meetings at midnight. I was exhausted but very happy that I had done something for the poor in Kobrin. Anytime anyone came to visit from Kobrin he was invited to the Ladies' Auxiliary Society. Once Rabbi Pantul called. He said that a very prominent member of the Kobrin community was visiting here. He came via England but he was born in Kobrin. His name was Dr. Zalkind. Rabbi Pantul told us that we had to give a party in his honor. I had never met Dr. Zalkind, may he rest in peace, personally. I had only heard about him. He was very well known and considered to be one of the great in his generation. At the party he seemed very happy and content to meet Kobriners in America. In England where he lived there were not as many Kobriners as in America and he was very happy with his visit. We became very good friends and when we moved to Israel and he came to visit the country he always came to us and we spent hours talking. I could listen to him for hours since he was a very interesting person.
In New York we helped him sell his book, the translation of the Talmud to
Yiddish. Many people were very happy to buy it and read it in Yiddish, which
was the language they spoke at home. People who I talked to about the book
claimed that the book was outstanding, not just the translation of the Talmud,
but Dr. Zalkind's commentaries as well. That was obvious since he was a very
learned man. Rabbi Pantul helped him quite a bit with the selling of the book
in America. Rabbi Pantul dedicated quite a bit of- time to Dr. Zalkind. He
liked to help many people and especially Kobriners. In Israel Dr. Zalkind
started translating the Bavli Talmud, but he never finished this work. In the
midst of it he passed away.
Once I heard Dr. Zalkind lecture in our New York congregation. The subject was the history of Kobrin. I think that Kobrin has existed for eight hundred years and it was one of the oldest towns of all the Jewish towns in Poland. His speech was about the political and economic history of Kobrin. Dr. Zalkind also talked about the Jewish institutions in Kobrin and the state institutions throughout the history of our people in Poland. If he lived today he could have contributed a great deal to the history and geography of the Kobrin Jews throughout the generations. If he had published the lecture that I heard him give in New York in our congregation, it would have probably been an interesting book in itself. Dr. Zalkind later visited Kobrin, but I was already living in America.
Seven years passed since I arrived in New York. Throughout these seven years I was very close to the Kobriners in New York. Their happiness was my happiness, and their sorrows were shared by me as well. I was admonished a few times by the Niasviztch people, my home town people, who claimed that I spent more time with the Ladies' Auxiliary than with my own people. I replied that might be so and that they might be right, but that during the First World War I had become involved with working in-public work in Kobrin and now in America it had become too hard to divide my time between two missions. There was no time for my home town, Niasviztch.
My farewell from the Kobriners was very painful and during the farewell party some of the Auxiliary Ladies even cried, but the Zionists among them comforted themselves with the idea that we were leaving for Israel. I had the same feelings. If I was going to a different country things would have been more difficult, but since I was going to Israel I felt happy. I was fulfilling my old dream to go and live there.
It is a pity and it's sad that we are writing about Kobrin under these horrible circumstances, after the Second World War. So many Kobrin Jews were tortured and killed. They were among the 6 million Jews who perished.
There is a saying: Don't cry for the dead, but this saying was
meant about the dead who died a natural death, although painful, one can find
solace. But the disaster that happened to our people during World War II brings
to my mind the words of Jeremiah our prophet, who says: Who can hand me
enough water to have in my head in order to cry tears for my fallen people day
and night. His words are, by all means, not a consolation.
by Yaakov Levin
I knew the city of Kobrin before the First World War, namely in the years 1909-1913. Kobrin with its 80% Jews; Kobrin, with its community leaders, its rabbis, its judges, its merchants, and its shop owners; peaceful Jews close to the land, sure of themselves and of their future. I knew them during weekdays, during the six days full of action, running around busy with various kinds of commerce and industry, some in their shops, some in their workshops. I still remember the market days and the fair with gentile peasants from the whole neighborhood who would come in their small wagons filled with all the fruits of their soil. Jews and non-Jews would mix together, crowded in the great market square, measuring and weighing, buying, selling and exchanging merchandise.
I knew them also during the Sabbath and holiday. Even today I still feel the air of the Sabbath evening during the afternoon hours. I can hear the call of the sexton before the lighting of the candles who would announce in a triumphant and forceful voice Shabbat, Shabbat! And the long whistle from the flower stall in Zamochovitz. The Jews immediately would respond with closing the shutters, with closing of the stores and lighting the candles. After a while, we would see them dressed in their Sabbath clothes, rushing to the synagogue to receive the Sabbath. Many of them still had drops of water dripping from their earlocks and their beards that were still wet from a quick immersion in the mikvah bath.
Here are the handsome washed kids rushed and with the prayer books under their arms. They also are heading to the synagogue with the adults. Sabbath after the prayer: crowds of Jews coming out of the synagogue on their way home, walking slowly with self-assuredness and a peacefulness on their faces. On their soil they are stepping, with their parents and the parents of their parents.
This is the town where they were born, where they live, where they die,
generation after generation, for hundreds of years. Witness to it: the mere
existence of the town with its streets and houses, the commercial center in the
middle of town. Rows and rows of stores and warehouses for various merchandise.
Jews and Jewesses of all ages sit there and engage in commerce. Witness: twenty
synagogues scattered in all the streets with names such as The Great
Synagogue or the Ratner, Brisker, the
Russian or Yaponer in Zamochevitz.
Witness the Great Synagogue on Pinsker Street, or the Jewish Street, as it's called among the old. Their old cemetery with its tombstones, most of which are sinking into the ground because of the load of tens and hundreds of years and some that are still seen above ground. They are hidden in the tall grass and the markings are barely seen. This cemetery, how many generations are buried there! How many generations passed away and disappeared from this world!! This cemetery is like a hundred witnesses that point to the development and expansion of the town. This area of land where are buried the bones of righteous people, geniuses learned in the Talmud, and rabbis, the pride of Kobrin in previous generations. It stretches on the borders of the town with Pinsker Street on the south and goes with the slight slope toward the River Mochevitz, whose quiet waters lick its northern side.
I remember the train station at a certain distance from town in the north of Mochevitz. The station that was always crowded with travellers, Jews, some coming and some going. How much happiness was here during the days of Succot and Pesach, days where relatives and friends would meet and people who were engaged, male and female. I remember the hours when we could hear the ringing of the small bells that were hanging on the special arches in the passenger cars. It was a sign that a passenger train had already come and left. Jews would set their watches according to that sound. I remember the congregation of Kobrin in those days as rooted, strong, traditional, religious, studious, well-functioning, speaking in a juicy Yiddish language. A congregation that had tens of school rooms and a talmud torah, a congregation with all its charitable institutions. It seemed that the foundation upon which those lives were built was very strong, that no power, no force in the world could shake its confidence, could push the earth from under their feet. I remember the Chassidim in the tiny congregations: the Kobrini, the Slonimi, the Karlini, and more.
I remember the days of awe in the Congregation of the Slonimi where I prayed with my father. How beautiful and lofty were those prayers that were said with sincerity, with a deep and wondrous religious feeling, whispering and trembling with supplication and heart-break as someone who has sinned and is asking for mercy and is asking forgiveness for him and the entire holy crowd, or they could be said with a lot of noise with a bitter scream, with a demand, with a definite demand, with praises to the mighty God, with elevation of the spirit as if saying All of my bones call on 'God'. Everything according to the content of the prayer.
How nice was the custom of the Tashlich in Kobrin: Groups and
groups of people, women and children walking along the river bank to say the
prayer of the Tashlich. Whoever remembers that period definitely
will not forget the happiness when there was a wedding in town: the parade of
the groom and bride to the chuppa in the nearby synagogue accompanied by the
burning torches carried by youth and adults. The family raising the braided
bread, the dance before the groom and the bride. I can still remember the music
of the various instruments with Britva, the fiddler, and Yehuda Leib, the
jester, at the head of the parade.
Here appears before me the main street Nevski-Prospect crowded with people, Jews and Christians, on the evenings and on the nights of the Sabbath especially, and here we go up the street northbound to the great bridge, a wooden bridge across the river that cuts the city in two. This bridge at the end of the winter I would stand on with tens of other people and look for hours and hours at the huge blocks of ice that would burst with a mighty force and break with great sound at icebreakers by the river under the bridge. Where are those children of Israel who swam in the waters of the river during the hot summer days, jumped merrily on the long rafts that would float on the quiet waters of the weak stream of the Mochevitz? Was it a reality or maybe all of it was a dream? Is it possible that Kobrin is continuing to exist but there are no Jews there? Is it possible that the waters of the Mochevitz continue to flow as if nothing happened? No! One could not live with a thought, with this terrible and cruel thought: Kobrin is empty of Jews. If this is really the reality, cursed be this town for eternity!
It seems as if a fairy tale, the first performance in the Zionist hall in our town. It was titled, Hebrew Farmers in the Holy Land. The participants numbered less than thirty, and they were invited by their friends and colleagues, the few Zionists in town, to see a Zionist play. I remember the tension and the fear that permeated the house of my brother-in-law, A. I. Foris, before and during the play. The doors were closed. The shutters were shut and even the holes in the shutters were covered with paper so one ray of light would not come in, and all that because of the fear of the Russian policemen who carefully saw to it that there would not be any Socialist or Zionist gatherings. It was strictly forbidden by the authorities, any activity such as this.
The people who initiated that first Zionist activity in town were Foris and
Alkon, both of them Hebrew teachers, both of them zealots for the Hebrew
language and for the land of Israel, and it was not enough for them that they
themselves were Zionists. In their secret meetings, they looked for'ways to
expand their limited circle. They did not think yet about a mass Zionist
movement. They understood that in order to attract people to the Zionist idea,
it was not enough to have propaganda and information.
In those days the people of Kobrin did not understand yet their tragic situation in the Diaspora. The information by mouth or in writing could not influence and convince because the whole idea seemed to them as a Utopia. They needed something, more concrete that would shake them.
This was the aim of the presentation, to array before their eyes Hebrew farmers in their land who were working their soil, plowing and planting and harvesting, if not in reality, at least on the stage. The initiators were hoping that the excitement that would come through this coming in touch in with the Palestinian environment would influence them for good and would bring them closer to the desired goal.
And this hope did not disappoint, the love the fierce love and the dedication to the duty that the amateur actors displayed in their primitive performance, the few and simple words that were said in the holy language and in the biblical style and a Hebrew farmer working his soil with his tools, the plow, the scythe, and others, all of them created a spirit of excitement and the uplifting of the spirit was great. I will never forget what happened that evening. At the end of the performance, they hugged each other and kissed one another. They cried out of excitement and swore to work for the cause of Zionism as best they could until the day of redemption.
I was then a child of nine. I moved to the corner. I closed my eyes and in my imagination, which was strong, I saw before me the land of Israel, its towns and its villages, the Hebrew farmer, the long caravans of pilgrims to Jerusalem, the happiness, the great happiness in the streets of Jerusalem and the courtyard of the temple, the Dead Sea and the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee, and Chula Lake, the mountains of Judea and Galilee, and also the Arabs, our cousins, were there. Jaffa, the port city, the new colonies, Petach Tikva, Rishon Letzion, Rechovot, Rosh Pina, Yavniel, Tvera and Tzfat, the holy city. Visions of the ancient land of Israel, pictures of the new land of Israel passed before me all mixed up, one after the other. I remained sitting in my corner and daydreaming without noticing that the great large room had emptied of people, that the candles were no longer lit and it was dark in the house, until the delicate hand of my brother-in-law, A.I. Foris, touched my head and he tenderly asked me, What, Yaakov? Are you dreaming about Palestine? Wait awhile, you will grow up and you will have the fortune to go to the dream land.
And low and behold, his prophesy became reality and I was fortunate to
immigrate and I now live in our land. He and many like him were not as
fortunate. Such was Zionism in our town in those days, very small, hidden in
the underground and indoors so no foreign eye would see it. It was very humble
at the beginning, but a great massive movement at the end.
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