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[Page 193]

Kovl (Kovel)

by Kalman Liss

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

I want to tell everyone
I do not want to be ashamed in front of anyone
To say something from my heart
All the old, dear names.

Of my Kovl - Volyner city
With the small alleys
Where my childhood blossomed
Fresh as a flower, as in spring - valleys…

Lutsker Street of my birth,
Dear, kind ribbon
Covered with a small group of low houses,
If you recall, do you remember?

Your low huts
With entry booths on the street corners,
Like dreams in the dusk
Like the dreams at dawn…

Here as last night, I think last night
Let it be as it was,
Three, two small houses on the “Lutsker”
And the rest maples, lilacs.

At the very beginning of the highway
Small mountains of stones, press [road building] machines,
At the sides, small ditches
And the water trickles in the ditches.

[Page 194]

Do not ask where, not when, from where
Who needs to ask ditches?
Everyone knows, to the “Torya” [River]
Streams storm after the rain.

And the old beloved bridge
With its wooden railings
How many dreams were dreamed there
Resting on its wooden beams!

Alas, the Torya, dear Torya,
Drawn out as a serpent,
Your small ripples, the clear ones
Still reflect in my eyes!

Your shores very soft
Incized into meadows
Keep drawing
In one dream, remembering…

In the summer, in the extreme heat,
After half a day in kheder [religious primary school],
A goodbye to my mother
And a fig [thumb one's nose] to the dark bathhouse attendants.

Who needs seats and who needs brooms
To be suffocated by steam?[1]
Clean, in water, let there be reeds
But fresh … the heart quickens…” Shabbosim [Sabbaths] and holidays…
Torya, Torya, they took leave!
I still carry enough love, praise
In my heart for your roads.

[Page 195]

But let me run now
As you let them, your thoughts free -
I am a child again, and I am drawn
To the place of the carousel:

To the wooden church, the round one
With the seats in half circles,
I have a tsenerl [a 10-piece coin] - a wonder
I shall be shown there.

Let the magician again draw
Ribbons from a cap,
Perhaps, I will, as before,
Also imitate a trick today?

And the sand, the heaped
Yellow hill, with the tall cross;
Do the knights all still lie there?
Does the crowd all quiver for them?

Do the bandora players still sing and narrate
Everything with a groan.
That Poland once struggled
Here in 1863?[2]

And the lyre player, the grey one there,
Hair fluttering, white doves,
Draws still all the same sadness,
Sings still all the same praises.

I will tell everyone,
I will not be ashamed in front of anyone,
I will say something to myself
Take all of the old love…

 

Translator's Notes

  1. The poet is describing the bathhouse in which bathers sat on seats in steam heat and beat their bodies with bundles of twigs dipped in cold water to increase the absorption of steam into the body. Return
  2. A reference to the January 1863 Polish Uprising against the Tsarist regime controlling Poland. Return

 


[Page 208]

Yosef Avrekh

by Yosef Avrech

Translated by Amy Samin

A memorial tribute to the Hebrew teacher of the Tarbut Hebrew Gymnasia of Kovel

Yosef Avrekh was born in Kovel in 1892 to devout and pious parents. His father, Ben-Zion the shochet [ritual slaughterer], possessed an upright bearing and a majestic appearance, and was one of the most experienced and respected shochatim in the city, and his mother Pasil the shochetanit was the daughter of a pious and good family, purely righteous and self-denying, and who knew all the writings of the sages of blessed memory by heart, and prayed the deliberately whispered prayer three times a day just like a man. Even as a young child “Yoske” the shochet's son, displayed lofty talents and a deep longing for study and scientific knowledge. Sensitive, impulsive, and full of movement,

 

 

Yoske was a standout amongst his friends and classmates in the heder [small religious school] in the neighborhood of the “city” (“Stat”) - the place where there stood the cramped house squeezed in amongst the crowded wooden houses of the neighborhood - and he was the accepted leader of the group of boys, the conductor of games and amusements, and the instigator of youthful pranks. However, his thoughts were not only of games. While still a boy he was not satisfied with his studies in the heder, nor by the stories of children's literature, which to him were unsatisfying. He searched for “external” books, books that were substantive and would reveal to him the mysteries of the world before which he stood, wondering and silent, to know the meaning of the great vision of the bush that burned but was not consumed… he sought, and he found them. He took a risk and snuck them into the attic, where concealed from prying eyes he would devour them, completely engrossed with all of his being. Refined and purified after a disappearance of several days, he was “discovered” by his friends, who gathered

[Page 209]

together in a group one night with the starry sky spread out over their heads and the pale moon looking down on them with “the eyes of Yaacov our father”, watching between the wide passageways and the far off distances. And in a mysterious whisper he revealed his hidden “secret” to them, after making them swear a sacred oath to keep the secret and never, G-d forbid, reveal it to anyone: Do you see those stars? They are not stars at all, they are worlds, just like our world… and that moon's eyes are not eyes. Those are wells in her soil - the soil of the moon… and the heavens - Shh! No one should hear… That is not the heavens, it is a cavity, an empty space of air.

Through reading a great many children's books, newspapers, and magazines for adults, Yoske acquired a vast knowledge of the Hebrew language, and he initiated the idea of resuscitating spoken Hebrew in the everyday life of society; and he implemented the idea in a consistently vigorous manner, showering his friends with spoken Hebrew wherever they went. With all of his soul and all of his might, he believed in the Zionist idea and the enchanting personality of Herzl captured his heart, and he prophesized while dreaming and while awake, and he included the subject at every opportunity in conversations with his friends.

In 1904, when the unfortunate news of Herzl's death was received, Yoske gathered his friends in the street and gave them a comprehensive speech about Herzl. At the end of his speech, he lifted his right hand and solemnly swore: “if I forget Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its cunning… ” and that pledge came to be.

Yoske's mother Pasil the shochetanit, a housewife and owner of a shop in the marketplace of the city, an ink manufacturer, was constantly busy at home and in her shop - she often needed the assistance of Yoske. One day, she suggested to him that he go to the mill in the city where they ground grain into flour for sale. Yoske jumped at the idea, happy at the opportunity for a tour of the windmill with its mysterious, enormous wooden sails… With great curiosity and hurried inquisitiveness he left nothing untouched or undiscovered at the mill. He looked at the grindstones, at the upper stone and the lower, wondering about the rotation of the wheels and the straps wrapped around them, making their continuous way. He became enthusiastic about their movement and caressed them; he was caught up and suspended from them… The mill was stopped. Yoske came home from the hospital after about two weeks, with his right hand lost to him.

From then on, there was a fundamental apposition in his life. His parents began to think about practical matters. Yoske agreed to be sent to study for four years in a renowned yeshiva in Odessa in whose management a number of the great authors of the generation participated, including Mendele and Bialik. After four years Yoske returned home from Odessa a well-versed Torah scholar. After only a few days he went into teaching. He founded the first elementary school in Kovel and took

[Page 210]

one of the most important positions in the cultural and spiritual life of the city in general, and of the Zionist movement in Kovel specifically. He stood at the forefront of the instigators for the Tarbut movement next to Asher Frankfurt, and became a Judaic studies teacher in the gymnasia, educating the young generation of dedicated pioneers about their people, Zionism and how to actualize their nationalist ideals - his lifelong dream since childhood - until the outbreak of the war.

Yosef Avrekh was a lofty person, refined, meticulous and noble. He was a deep person, with a profoundly realistic outlook on life, viewing the world from a lofty vantage point, influenced by prophetic justice. A dreamer with his eyes wide open… A philosopher whose chief philosophy and view was the problem of the people of the world, the eternal abuse of the people of Israel, the deprived, downtrodden and supplanted by the nations of the world. He recognized and valued life. He respected nature and its charms. He appreciated and noticed the supremacy and the splendor in its revelation and what was hidden inside. He longed to find solutions to its mystery in all particulars, the purposefulness of creation which he never ceased pondering. He loved life, and was involved in it with every fiber of his being. He was impressed and enthusiastic about the zephyr, the sounds of silence, the enchantment of the scenery and the refreshing green carpet of the fields outside of the city, where he would walk every morning, taking in the essence of the day. The texture of the pale blue of the Turia River, where he would swim at the crack of dawn and would express his feelings and thoughts in conversation and wax enthusiastic about the creation of the world and everything in it.

With the outbreak of the Soviet-German war, when Hitler announced his well-known declaration

 

Yosef Avrekh at the time of his studies in the Odessa yeshiva.
Avrekh is sitting third from the left in the second row (from the top down).
In the third row, fifth from the right sits the poet H. N. Bialik of blessed memory.

 

[Page 211]

to destroy all of the Jews of Europe, which announcement was broadcast on the radio, that same hour Yosef Avrekh ran around his room like a wounded lion, shouting: “Who does this crazy, arrogant idiot think he is?! The world - abandoned, with no justice and no judge?! The world will allow him to destroy all the Jews of Europe?! It will never happen! He must fall, and he will fall!”

In 1942 the Nazis crowded all of the Jews of Kovel into the field of the city in order to kill them in the village of Bachba, 6 kilometers from the city along the Brisk road, in graves that had already been dug. Who could have guessed and who would have said how deep and how fatal were the hellish torments of those about to be slaughtered, and who can describe the suffering of Yosef Avrekh, when he saw so clearly that: the world has been abandoned, that there is no justice and no judge! No one did anything to stop the murderous conspiracy against an entire people, of a magnitude and structure the likes of which had never before been seen in history! Or the volcanic tempest in his heart that burst its bounds and became a desperate cry of a plundered people in the light of day, for nothing. Weak and feeble, in everyday life, frightened and shaking before the violent rulers; this time Yosef Avrekh rose up from among the rows of thousands of Jews being led to massacre, with courage and mental strength beyond one's comprehension, and raising his voice and his only hand, intrepidly - as was told by eyewitnesses - approaching the murderous Germans, he filled their ears with his wrath, spitting bile and contempt in their faces and predicting their inevitable defeat on the crucial day soon to come!

His single remaining hand was instantly amputated by the sword of the murderer. He was shot where he stood. He fell in battle. Wallowing in his own blood, he gave out one last battle cry: “The people of Israel live! Death and vengeance to the criminal Nazis!” In his service to his people, in his dedication of all of his might in life, and in his demonstration of the existence of the people in the face of the enemy's sword, and being answered by the sword on his head as a rebuke, he died a hero's death, the self-sacrifice of a proud and brave-hearted Jew, a hero protecting the honor of his people.

May his soul be bound up in the bonds of everlasting life.

May his soul be bound up in the bonds of the sacred and pure heroes, and may his memory never be forgotten!


From the Writings of Yosef Avrekh

Translated by Amy Samin

The Massorah [notations regarding the exact traditional text of the bible] explain to us the origins of the name Gilad, the important region on the eastern side of the Jordan River, which was frequently a rock in the dispute between the Hebrew tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan and the Moabs and the Amons from the south, and the Arameans from the north. It comes from the words: Gal-Ed, in other words, the heap of stones will stand forever

[Page 212]

between the children of Yaacov and the children of Lavan (Genesis 31:48); in other words, the pile of stones (and those scattered in abundance on the heap) must mark the eternal boundary between the Arameans (children of Lavan) and the Jewish tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The writing thus emphasizes that what was done is a fact, because the eastern side of the Jordan was a permanent settlement of the tribes of the children of Israel and that other elders of the Israelites and of the Arameans already determined the borders.

* * * * *

The eastern side of the Jordan River - this was an ancient inheritance for the Israelites, the cradle of their cherished homeland, before they occupied the land of Canaan.

* * * * *

The song of Bil'am, who turned from one who curses to one who blesses; the marvelous song that says “How goodly are thy tents, Yaacov” and “It is a people that shall dwell alone and not be reckoned among the nations” (Exodus 23, 24) portions of the eastern side of the Jordan River and its background, the hatred, the powerlessness and fear of the Moabites before the tribes of Israel.

* * * * *

At the beginning of the book you will find the name of the eastern side of the Jordan: “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan” etc. (Deuteronomy 1:1). Soon after, you find another mention: “Beyond the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moshe began to declare this Torah” etc. (Deuteronomy 1:5).

* * * * *

The eastern side of the Jordan plays an important role in the influence of prophetic culture in the creation of poetry and the concept of the unity of faith, the people, and the land. It is clear to me that at the present moment, when evil peoples are calling for the destruction of our lives, not just as a group but as people, the annexation of the eastern side of the Jordan to the area of the homeland is an ideal, not the reality. But it is important for us that we do not, in our consciousness, diminish the value of the eastern side of the Jordan to the rest of the country, that we do not despair of it, and so - one day we will dwell there.

(From his articles: “The Hebrew Irredenta and Reflection in the Tanakh” Printed in “Kovetz HaYovel” in honor of the principal of the Gymnasia and the editor of the Tarbut magazine in Kovel, Mr. Asher Frankfort, on the occasion of his 50th birthday (1888 - 1938) and in honor of the 17th anniversary of the founding of the Gymnasia (1921 - 1938). The journal appeared in 1938, edited by Yosef Avrekh, may G-d avenge his blood).


[Page 216]

Prominence

In honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Birth
of Mr. Asher Frankfort, may God avenge his blood

by Yosef Avrech

Translated by Amy Samin

As a student of the school established by Mefitzei Hahaskalah in Russia in the first decade of the twentieth century, who intended to assimilate at the time when many were fleeing from the heder and the yeshiva to Skalah and enlightenment, it was difficult to imagine

 

Principal of the Hebrew Gymnasia,
Mr. Asher Frankfort,
may God avenge his blood

 

[Page 217]

that the young man, Frankfort, a Skalah protégé, would serve up - along with the Tanakh and the Hebrew language - various delicacies from Karilov, Pushkin, Larmontov and others, going against the stream and making an inverse flight from the Maskil El Dal school to the yeshivas in Kovel and Brisk. And about two years later, to the Russian school in Kovel and later to the trade school and to the small gymnasia in Brisk. Afterward he graduated from the institute for commercial science in Kiev, in order to later establish a Hebrew gymnasia and become the guardian of its physical and spiritual development.

And when Frankfort left, crowned with the degree of bachelor of commercial science and economics, the World War was in progress. He tried to make use of his education obtained in the institute and did commercial clerical work. He was made a senior clerk in a large contracting office in the field of bridge and road construction.

Later, he also worked in commerce. In spite of that, he did not neglect the most important kind of public work of that time. He became a member of the aid committee for Jews impacted by the war. Later he joined the aid committee for the victims of the Ukrainian pogroms during the time of the Russian Revolution.

The entrance of the Poles into Kiev made it possible for him to return to the city of his birth as a repatriate, not just in its simplest meaning, but a spiritual repatriate to Hebrew culture in his former homeland. Soon after his return, he began his efforts to establish the Hebrew gymnasia.

He made a daring leap, causing amazement in the eyes of his acquaintances and friends. The alrightniks among them were astounded: respectable, profitable businessmen had been assembled, was Frankfort planning to open a religious school for girls? Even more, they were amazed by his lobbying efforts among the curators and ministers: a gymnasia where the language of instruction was to be Hebrew? It was indeed a wondrous riddle, whose solution would be extremely difficult.

And where would they find textbooks in the various subjects written in the Hebrew language? “How can a language that has been frozen and lifeless for hundreds of years serve for all of the concepts and expressions of these times? How strange!” People suggested that he open a gymnasia where the language of instruction would be Polish. But he, Frankfort, answered them with the words that Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai said to Vespasian: “Give me Yavneh and its sages.”

And in the offices of the curators and the ministers, they were amazed. But the great miracle of the rebirth of Poland, which had been lively and filled the being of every Pole - served as a backdrop for he who explained to them the vision the revival of our culture, and that vision its place in the hearts of those who could make a difference. The idea of the culture was put into practice, giving it flesh and blood, like in Rovna, Bialystok and Vilna, so the gymnasia in Kovel was founded.

Of all of the awful problems the principal had to solve, the worst of all was

[Page 218]

the question of the sources of income for the institution. The accepted assumption was that an educational institution with the idealistic goal of changing values must rely on the means of the Tarbut company and be supported by them and by other public funds. Frankfort, however, solved the problem in an entirely different manner. The gymnasia was funded by tuition fees paid by the parents.

However, occasionally it had legal and moral support and, occasionally, also material help from the center. But the institution did not depend on the expectation of help from the center, if he had it would soon have the same destiny as Frishman, and would go bankrupt and perish.

Kovel was not a well-to-do city, not by its population and not by its finances, and there were more high school level educational institutions than were warranted. The paradox of Frankfort's activities was that the institution which logically should have depended on outside help, had a life of its own and paid taxes to the center.

The vitality of Tarbut institutions served as a typical sign of their right to exist, and the solid ground upon which the idea of Tarbut was based. But along with that it served to prove the administrative strength and talent of the gymnasia's founder and principal.

The days of crisis came, which even now have not completely passed, and poverty also came knocking on the doors of the institution. The faces of the teachers and their families bore witness to those lean years. But in spite of everything they were steadfast.

… Thus he carried on, continuing his work up until the new Olympian leap - the construction of the building. First the building: the authorities would not allow the institution to carry on in its old building, which it was feared might collapse. On the other hand, it would be difficult to find another location in which the rent would not consume all of the operating income. Therefore, a new building must be constructed.

And if you say: the institution doesn't have enough money to clear its debts and the rent from previous years, how would it be possible to think about such a thing as constructing a new building? Some would say, that is why we must build, since the institution does not have the funds to pay large amounts in rent year after year.

It would seem that the answer is both paradoxical and lacking in logic: an enchanted circle without any opening. And here you discover the greatness of the man we are honoring. That idea, which garnered him supporters in the meetings of the go-getters of Tarbut, and with the community leader M. Pearl, to whom it seemed a nice hallucination lacking any basis in reality, took on an actual shape under the initiative of Frankfort.

What hidden strength bubbled and flowed within him. Vigor overflowed his banks like a lava flow from a volcano, spreading out and inflaming everything in its path. Thus

[Page 219]

his strength ignited a tremendous bonfire of achievement and creativity. All of the members of the group of excellent businessmen were amazed at the shrewd combinations and transactions of the man we are honoring: purchasing and clearing the land, and making a down payment for the hauling of the building materials. They were enchanted by his marvelous ingenuity, like an eagle's flight, the tremendous initiative of “seven miles in one step” of A. Frankfort.

The derisive smiles and laughter in the mustaches disappeared. Where was the paradox? Everything was so real, so logical and sensible. The businessmen were electrified, and girded their strength for the gathering of subscriptions and contributions (financial, materials, and building blocks) for the building project.

And the results - the grand laying of the cornerstone before a large audience, and all mouths that had been filled with claims that his boasts of a tremendous initiative were unrealistic, and who had said that it would be worthwhile to see how and when the building would actually be completed, were suddenly empty. One of the official guests at the occasion said this: “Now, this premise: Frankfort now stands at a miniature matriculation exam. He will take the full examination when construction is complete.” In other words: “There is still a long way to go.” And hand to hand, back to back, and above all the taskmaster - the honoree - with his piercing glance, demanding work and effort from the members like a taskmaster. When people started to relax their will and or become impatient, his raspy voice would echo secretly in the heart and the brain: “Get up and work! Get up and do!”

Only through ruses, juggling, and infusions - that is to say, of money - from the jugs to the well, I mean the budget of the institution, its salaries, the salaries of its personnel, loans, deferred payments, did the construction work continue and the walls rise up, tile by tile, and after the affair of the bricks, the affair of the beams and the joists, and after that the affair of the tin. It was expected of the Tarbut building. And only the eyes of the honoree, blazing with a sickly glow, and his focused face and his heart weakening inside of him, his eyes rolled slightly with the irrational element in his vigor, which was inexhaustible, from the painful affront to our culture, the great culture of an anguished nation which has no shelter; this culture, which was not inherited from the sacrifices and “did not win light in a windfall,” but which was carved from its heart and its pain.

And the honoree dredged up strength from his personal pain and sorrow, if you do not do something big, the fruit of his work which he loved so well would be for nothing. The same personal insult, the same danger of disappointment that spurred on his initiative also spurred the act of construction until all was complete, and through to its decoration. The building was erected. Frankfort sat for the “full matriculation exam” and passed it.

(From the Jubilee File of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the birth of Asher Frankfort of blessed memory and in honor of the 17th Anniversary of the establishment of the gymnasia.)


[Page 222]

About the Kovel Voice and Its Editor
(Passing Thoughts)

by S. Bama

Translated by Amy Samin

In the dim mists of time the prominent and upright figure of the editor of the Kovel Voice comes to life: his gaunt face, his bespectacled eyes, and his pointed nose gave him an ascetic appearance: his somewhat fragmented speech, his coarse, deep, cutting voice seemingly fashioned to convince you with its internal logic. His long legs bore him, a busy public figure, to every public gathering. As a faithful Zionist, he preferred national interest to inter-factional conspiracies. He didn't take anyone into account, and he criticized those who deserved it with his honed and witty pen.

* * *

“A public figure”: indeed he showed up everywhere he was expected to be, and everywhere he was not. He succeeded in gathering around himself a faithful group of workers who were altruistically devoted with all their hearts and souls to the newspaper. His “agents” could be found at all public activities, both general and Jewish. With his long sharp nose he sniffed out and found the right people for the city council or the starostwo (eldership) on the one hand, and the community council on the other.

* * *

He brought the very best of the “intelligentsia” of the city to the newspaper and still wasn't satisfied. He was in contact with well-known authors, and got their permission to reprint in his paper the best writings of the journalists from the general-Jewish papers, and every week he provided the city's residents with articles of both passing and enduring content.

* * *

He was an autodidact, but he was able to adopt modern ways of expression. More than once people were amazed at the phenomenon of a man of broad scope who was indeed active in the province, was involved in general political and public-Jewish life, and who remarked on every public event worthy of acknowledgement, both large and small.

* * *

His writing was simple and to the point, he knew every hidden wrinkle of the spoken language, and wove it into his written words. His written expressions were logical, detailed,

[Page 223]

comprehensive and convincing. It did not lack an iota of modernism on the one hand, and on the other was based on the popular and juicy gleichvertel (witticism). His articles achieved his goal: to stroke or caress those who deserved it, and to strike or injure those who deserved it.

* * *

The Kovel Voice had a general character, but everyone knew that it was a Zionist newspaper. Among the provincial newspapers in the region, it was the most notable and had the highest level of writing and journalists. And more than once it was quoted by the general-Jewish newspaper in Warsaw, the capital. And when political competitors appeared - such as the Bund - and wanted to muddy the city of Kovel's Zionist character, the Kovel Voice rose up with a fighting spirit and national pride, and in the end was victorious.

* * *

“Well then, Mr. S.B.,” someone said to me, following my participation in the big memorial service for Herzl that was held in the Great Synagogue. “Perhaps you could honor our newspaper with the fruits of your pen?” You couldn't refuse the pleasant tone of Ben-Avinoam - such was his accepted nickname - and in the next Friday edition there appeared an article entitled “Bein ha-Metzarim” (“Between the Straits”), which was given pride of place.

* * *

It is the Friday before you make aliyah (immigrate) to Eretz Yisrael. The printing machine is spewing out the newspaper's last galley proofs. The fresh-inked letters dirty the hands of the editor as he fixes his glance on the greetings for the immigrant. Tears roll down his cheeks and fall onto the soft, fibrous paper of the newspaper. “Send your list from there and I will be comforted by it,” he says, and from his mouth escape words with many meanings: “Who knows when I will have the opportunity to make aliyah to Eretz Yisrael?” He always gave the lists from Eretz Yisrael a place at the top of the paper, though he never did have the chance to go there himself.

* * *

When you go to Eretz Yisrael and stand on Mt. Scopus in the journalism department of the Hebrew University, and page through the annuals of the Kovel Voice which are in the archives there, you are able to stand at a geographical distance and see the value of the newspaper and the position that it had in Jewish-general life. And if Jewish Kovel will continue to live on in the Jewish consciousness, the Kovel Voice and its editor will have played no small part in that.

 

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