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[Page 179]

Characters and Personalities

 

Rabbis and Slaughterers

Yonatan Kucher (Tel Aviv)

English Translation by Thia Persoff

Kremenets was known as a cultured and enlightened town, but each generation had its geniuses – distinguished, great sages learned in the Torah. There were many Trisk, Chertkov, Sadigora, Ostraa, and other types of Hasidim. Their regular place of study and prayer was R' Mordekhay'le Mishne's synagogue, also called the Hasidic Synagogue, where the sounds of Torah study were heard day and night. Anyone who graduated from cheder studies and had a thirst for learning the Torah could find fulfillment there. Well-known scholars in the last generation were R' Shlome Sambar (Shlome Alinkis), R' Shlome Ditun (Shlome'le Avraham Leyb), R' Yisrael Mordekhay Yosi, and R' Shmuel Leyb Muchnik. Even though teaching was their profession, they did not discriminate between those who paid tuition and those who could not afford to do so and taught their lessons for the sake of learning.

The rabbis and slaughterer-inspectors in our town were some of the most excellent ones of their time. A few generations back, R' Yochanen, son of Meir, held the town's rabbinical chair; he was the author of the book Path of Righteousness, about the Nazir tractate of the Talmud. At the same time, there was a famous magid, after whom the synagogue was named the Magid's Synagogue. The great rabbi R' Yitschak son of Moshe Leyb Maler, who was a rabbi in Holgrad, New Bessarabia (Rumania), was born and raised in Kremenets. He wrote many new interpretations of the Torah and a wonderful one on Eben Ezra, which he called To Understand Ezra, and one on the book Light of Life, called Hidden Light.

[Translator's Notes: In Hebrew, Path of Righteousness is Orach Mishor, Light of Life is Or HaChayim, and Hidden Light is Or HaGanuz. Nazir means abstinent.]

Our parents said that R' “Avraham Ozer Shabtay” was the rabbi in their day and that there was never another one like him. Before he came to Kremenets, he was a rabbi in the town of Potshayev, and it took a great deal of work to persuade him to agree to take the rabbinical chair in our town, as he was a modest man. For years after his death, people spoke about him with praise.

After him, R' Zev Mishne of Zvihil, or, as they called him, R' Velvele the emissary of R' Mordekhay'le Mishne, held the rabbinical chair. He was a famous scholar and an expert in negotiation. He and his friend, Rabbi Alter of Konstantin Yashan, would be asked to sit in Torah court by people from far and wide to judge or arbitrate, and their good names preceded them. R' Velvele served in his rabbinical chair with pride but without favoritism, and not once did he bring the anger of the community's leaders on himself. When he was out of town on a court assignment, his son-in-law, R' Duvid Leyb Segal, a man of learning and greatness, substituted for him.

The town's judge at that time was R' Hertsele Bronshteyn, who was respected for his honesty and righteousness.

When R' Velvele died, it was hard to find a replacement for him. Then, for the first time in the history of Kremenets, the town was split in two.

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The householders, headed by one of the most prominent men in town, R' Hirsh Mendil Rokhel, appointed Rabbi R' Yitschak Heler of Kurilovits, a great scholar and author of some books: Isaac Acceded, The Offering of Isaac, and others. The other side, which was the Hasidic side, appointed Rabbi R' Yakov Chayim Senderovits, who was known as the “prodigy from Piotrkov,” young in years but rich in Torah knowledge and wisdom. And he won the support of a significant majority in our town. For about ten years, the two rabbis served in the same capacity. Then, when the front line of the World War II reached the Ikva River near our town, most wealthy people and all who could save their life and property escaped. Rabbi Heler left his congregation at that time, too. Rabbi Senderovits stayed in town with the poor throughout the war years and led them with his wisdom.

[Translation Editor's Note: In Hebrew, The Offering of Isaac is Minchat Yitschak.]

One day during the change in regime, the rabbi, together with Judge R' Hertsele Bronshteyn and R' Moshke'le (Yunger Leyb), was arrested by the Bolsheviks. They stayed in prison for eight days and were released when the Bolsheviks retreated, but they were rearrested by a gang of Ukrainian insurgents who captured the town under the leadership of the officer Visotski. Rabbi Senderovits and R' Moshke'le were going to be killed, but miraculously they were saved.*

*See the article by A. Zeyger, “How the Town Was Saved from Pogroms in 1920.”

During Polish rule, an organized Jewish community was established, and Rabbi Senderovits was its rabbi. He died of an illness at age 52 after serving the town for 20 years, from 1906 to 1927. The townspeople, who worshiped him, mourned him sorrowfully.

kre053.jpg
Figure 53. Rabbi Yakov Chayim Senderovits
(the Rabbi from Petrikov)

After him, the town appointed R' Yechiel Yitschak Rapaport of Lutsk, a learned man and an active member of the Mizrachi organization, who was received favorably by the entire city. When he arrived at the train station, he was greeted by a delegation of the community's representatives: Mikhael Shumski, Zeydi Perlmuter, and Sh. Brodski. He was a gentle person who was easy to get along with and well liked by everyone – Orthodox, intellectuals, and householders.** But before long, he, like his predecessor, was taken ill with a heart condition from which he did not recover. He was 35 years old when he died in 1930. The town of Kremenets was bewildered, as if the people felt that because of their sins, those two “lights” had been extinguished…

**See a special article about Rabbi Rapaport (in Yiddish).

[Translation Editor's Note: Mizrachi is a religious Zionist movement.]

While traveling to give tests to yeshiva students, Rabbi Rapaport had noticed a student, Mordekhay Mendiuk, and planned to give him his daughter in marriage and bequeath him the rabbinical chair after his death.

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His close friends and his admirers used their influence to fulfill his will, and the young rabbi was elected to the post. They also arranged for an elaborate marriage celebration. Although some people in town opposed this choice of a rabbi, they were defeated by his supporters. In a short time, he learned the Polish language and received a governmental license for his appointment. Judging by his talents and scholarship, it was hoped that in time he would be a great rabbi, but he perished together with the whole community by the hand of the Nazis, may their names be erased.

“Rabbi” Moshke'le was not one of the congregation's rabbis, but he was from a good family, being the son of Rabbi Aleksander Shuel “Yunger Leyb” of Vishnivits. His father's followers as well as other circles supported him, and he had a synagogue of his own. After his experience (as told before), he immigrated to America, and some years later, he died there peacefully.

****

Kremenets was noted for its ritual slaughterers and inspectors (Sh&B), who were men of integrity and mostly scholars. In out day, old men R' Duvid Sh&B and his friend R' Mendile Sh&B (Hokhgelernter) were the heads of the ritual slaughterers. R' Duvid was a simple and just man, a Stolin Hasid who never bothered with useless talk, and on the Sabbath he never spoke Yiddish but conversed only in the holy tongue. R' Mendile was a Rozhin Hasid. They were in charge of the slaughterhouse, and the young slaughterers/inspectors received their ordination from them. They were also expert circumcisers. The third member of this group of four friends was R' Shlome Sh&B, a great scholar who constantly studied the holy books. He knew all the books of the Bible and the six books of the Mishna by heart, and although he was blind in his old age, during the High Holy Days he would stand at the Holy Ark and recite the prayers. The fourth friend in the group was R' Tsadok HaKohen Yashpe, a God-fearing and hospitable Kutsk Hasid; he would not enjoy his meal unless he had arranged for all guests (and soldiers) to have Sabbath and holiday meals, each one according to his station in life, and never sat at the table without having a guest join him.

[Translator's Note: Sh&B stands for Shochet Uvodek (slaughterer and inspector).]

After them came the second generation of slaughterers and inspectors. R' Dov Kliger took over from his father-in-law, R' Duvid Sh&B. He was a scholar, an Ostrah Hasid, and an expert in his profession. All his life he wished to immigrate to Zion, and his wish was fulfilled when family members living there sent for him. He was happy there and continued to work in his profession. Some years later, he passed away in Haifa. After R' Mendile Hokhgelernter, his son R' Leybele took over the post. He was an outstanding person in every way and was liked by everyone. Both men, like their fathers, were head slaughterers and expert circumcisers. R' Shlome Sh&B's post went to his son, R' Yukil, and son-in-law, R' Chana, who did their jobs faithfully. R' Tsadok's sons did not follow in their father's profession but went into the world of commerce.

****

When R' Hertsele Bronshteyn was very old, the community chose a new judge for the town: a young rabbi, R' Yisrael Lerner, son of R' Mordekhay'le of Shumsk, who was learned and scholarly. So as not to diminish the honor due to R' Hertsele, they called Rabbi Lerner the Judge from the Vishnivits suburb. During the split between the rabbis after Rabbi Rapaport's death, the Dubna suburb congregation on the other side of town, where the population was larger, took advantage of the situation and chose a separate rabbi. This was R' Fayvish-Leyb, who used to be a rabbi in Katerburg, an experienced man and an expert teacher. The Dubna congregation also brought in its own slaughterer, R' Aharon Fayngloz, who used to be a slaughterer in the town of Berezits and was a scholar and author of the book Sons of Aharon. Now he lives in Tel Aviv and serves as an inspector at the kashrut bureau. When the Kremenets community was organized during the Polish regime, the Dubna suburb congregation wanted to split and form its own community, but it did not succeed and remained subordinate to the Kremenets community.

****

The continuity ended there. Hasidic Kremenets was exterminated in the Holocaust with the rest of the Jewish people.

[Page 182]

Teachers and Cheders

English Translation by Thia Persoff

In memory of the teachers R' Simche Ayzik and R' Shakhna Bots, from whom I learned the Torah.

 

R' Simche Ayzik
Zev Kligman (Jerusalem)

He was faithful and true in all his ways, pouring all his efforts into instilling the knowledge of the Torah and Rashi's commentaries in his pupils. He had a helper whose job was to bring the children to cheder and return them home. In the evening during Heshvan, Kislev, and Tevet, he used to bring the children home with lanterns in their hands. There was no bigger pleasure for a child than to walk home holding a lantern. The only thing about the cheder that remains in my memory is the melody of the verse “And me, when I came from Padan Aram.” His wife used to sew for the wealthy. He and his wife were childless, and running a cheder brought the joy of children into their home. They worked to earn a living and were contented with their lot.

[Translator's Note: Heshvan, Kislev, and Tevet are Hebrew months, corresponding approximately to October through December.]

 

R' Shakhna Bots
Zev Kligman (Jerusalem)

When Simche Ayzik's cheder closed down, my father moved me to the cheder of R' Shakhna Bots, who was considered to be one of the best teachers in town. Everyone respected R' Shakhna, who was short with wide shoulders and a bright, intelligent face.

He was a wise and learned man, and was full of life in spite of his age. His only wish was for his students to be brought up to do good deeds. He always kept two sticks next to him – one long and thin, with which he spanked the naughty, and a thicker one that was meant for those who did not know their Pentateuch and Rashi… He would mark mistakes with a black pencil the first time, in blue the next time, and in red the third time. We would anxiously wait for Passover eve, when we would start to learn the Song of Songs, etc. R' Shakhna would explain and interpret a verse, and the pleasing melody would flow and fill the cheder. We treated him with respect and honor, and we will never forget him. His wife, Toyve, was given to anger and more than once took it out on the children. Because we honored R' Shakhna, we never dared to disobey her.

 

Three Cheders with an Empty Lot in Between

Bunya Shniftman (Pardesiya)

Three cheders were concentrated in a certain section of town: the teacher R' Hirsh-Leyb Pipik's, where I studied, R' Yoel Kishke's, and Leyb Rochele's. The three were separated by an empty lot, which pupils from all the cheders in the area used as a playground. The pupils were mostly boys, with very few girls. The teachers were not very scholarly, but their “helpers” were complete ignoramuses and caused the children a great deal of misery. Their job was to bring the children to the cheder and return them home at the end of the day and, during the lessons, not to teach but to keep order. They achieved this by hitting, cursing, and insulting the children. In the morning, the “helper” would carry the child on his shoulder to the cheder, where he stayed till late in the evening. During the summer, the children spent most of the time in the empty lot playing the button game. A child would tear buttons from any clothes he could find, even his own pants, and groups of children would sit around a small hole in the ground, playing eagerly with the buttons. As they sat, deeply involved in their favorite game, the “helper” from one cheder or another would sneak up on them and, whipping a leather belt right and left, break up the group and chase the children to the cheder to be greeted by a cross and angry “rabbi”… First they were given a reading lesson by the helper, and then, one by one, they moved to the “rabbi” himself to learn “Pentateuch with Rashi.”

[Translator's Note: Pipik: navel (bellybutton). Kishke: sausage or stuffed intestine.]

 

R' Hirsh-Leyb “Pipik”

Bunya Shniftman (Pardesiya)

R' Hirsh-Leyb had a large belly, which is why he was nicknamed Pipik. He wore a sleeveless black coat with the shirtsleeves showing through. On top of the coat he wore a ritual-fringed garment large enough to cover his whole belly. He wore high boots to which the garment's fringes reached…

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Vayomer – hot gizogt, Adonay – Got, El – tsu, Moshe – Moshe, lemor – azoy tsu zogn.” The teacher read, and the child was to recite after him word by word. But when the child blundered and distorted the words because his mind was still on the button game from which he had been torn by force, the belt would appear in the rabbi's hand and he would be whipped: “Mamzer!” “Sheygets!” From the cooking area, his wife – a small, skinny woman with constantly tearing eyes – appeared with a wooden spoon in her hand, and a storm of curses rained down on the head of the poor “sheygets” from her mouth, too…

[Translator's Notes: Vayomer – hot gizogt, Adonay – Got, El – tsu, Moshe – Moshe, lemor – azoy tsu zogn: a sentence from the Torah in Hebrew, with each word translated into Yiddish: “Said, God, to, Moses, saying.” Mamzer means bastard, and sheygets is a derogatory term for a young (male) gentile.]

That is how cheders were in those days. Nevertheless, learned people and scholars, even geniuses, emerged from them.

 

Water Carriers and Porters

Akiva Ziger (Haifa)

English Translation by Thia Persoff

Like every city and town where Jews live, Kremenets was blessed with assorted and odd characters. The town was set in the bosom of mountains and crowned with nature's glory, but it was a town of crowded streets and alleys. There was no running water in the houses; in each house stood a barrel into which the water carriers would pour a portion of water daily, according to the household's needs. The water carriers worked from early morning until night but made only a meager living. The king of the water carriers was R' Pinchas, who was called Pinchas Kadushke. From early morning on, he and his son carried water pails on their shoulders. When he walked with his large, quick steps, no one could pass him…

[Translation Editor's Note: Kadushke means “barrelmaker,” or transporter of water in barrels.]

When the Sabbath came, R' Pinchas wanted to be like one of the distinguished householders. He walked to Sheroka Street (which meant Broad Street, though in actuality it was quite narrow), dressed in his Sabbath clothes; he wore two watches in a conspicuous place, one for daily use and one for the Sabbath, and above them a shiny copper chain. Those watches were not his, God forbid – how could a water carrier achieve such a thing? – he borrowed the watches from the watchmaker. When he was asked for the time, he would reply with great pride: “According to which watch, the daily or the Sabbath one?”

As I said, he worked with his son, but he still had to walk in front of his son with water pails. Sometime later his son got married, and each of them worked for himself. In spite of that, the father continued to carry water pails ahead of his son.

The porters in Kremenets seemed to me to be different from those in other towns. Could anyone forget the porter Moshe, who was called Moshe Hipsh (Great)? He used to announce, “Fresh fish, great fish! Come, women, great women! Buy fish, great fish, good fish! Which is how he got his name. Besides carrying sacks on his old shoulders, he was forced to supplement his income by working as a town crier. This was an old custom: instead of posting written notices, criers were used to announce events loudly in the street. Moshe Hipsh knew his job well and did it in his own special way, with “great” words. For example, when a cantor came to pray the afternoon and evening services, Moshe would announce it like this: “A great cantor came to us to pray a great afternoon and evening service.” When the fishermen wanted to sell their catch, they hired Moshe, who announced, “Great fish for sale! Great – woman! Buy great – carp!” and because of this they called him “Moshe Great”...

[Translation Editor's Note: Hipsh is Yiddish for pretty or fine; a possible English translation here may be the colloquial “great,” meaning good.]

Such were the characters among the people, who were completely uprooted. We carry their memory in our hearts along with those of the rest of the murdered.

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Two out of Thousands

Mordekhay Otiker (Tel Aviv)

English Translation by Thia Persoff

My son, where is your soul? –
Roam the world, seek it, my angel!
In the world, there is a tranquil village, surrounded by a wall of forests,
And that village has a blue sky, a sky without limits,
And that blue sky has a single daughter in its center:
A solitary cloud, small and white.
And at noon on a summer day, a boy played there alone,
A boy left on his own, tender, alone, and dreaming –
And I am that boy, my angel.

(“And If the Angel Will Ask,” Ch. N. Bialik)

There are so many cities, towns, and tranquil villages where our soul was left, a sorrowful soul, on “a wall of forests” and “blue sky,” which did not fly into a rage when our dear ones were herded like sheep to the slaughter. Is it possible to think that all that was there is still as it was? Walls of forests and mountains all around, tranquil brooks, black soil that produced wheat, vegetable gardens, and fruit orchards, etc. – all as it used to be?

When was this? It seems like 20 years, according to the calendar, and maybe dozens of years ago, or was it just a fantasy? Then, when I walked in your streets, Kremenets, my town, not even one of us could have imagined you, your sky, your mountains, and your streets without Jews – without those tens of thousands of people looking alike yet so completely different from one another. But woe – it is a bitter reality. The few remnants who miraculously escaped saw your streets – your ruins – Kremenets, with not a living Jewish soul left in them. Only in the depths of the earth, where the foul hand of the desecrators has not touched the memory of our martyred holy ones, may some bones of innocent and holy Jews still be hidden, the final witnesses that we were born, lived, and died here until no Jew was left to walk those streets…

Kremenets, the town of my birth, rises up in my memory like a mixture of fantasy and reality without a definable line of separation between them. There I was born and lived my first 14 years. Although the memories are fragmented and disjointed, I remember the names of people and streets. More than once I have confused one sex with the other and found myself embarrassed when conversing with a person from my town. Many images from my childhood float through my memory without a definite shape: hazy facial images of Jews – men and their wives and children, many of whom were my childhood friends. I see them passing and slipping away among the city streets: women working at home, men rushing from the synagogues and kloyzelakh after the first minyan so as not to be late for their businesses.

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And those “businesses” were in stores, shabby alcoves, and elegant shops. There is a very wealthy Jew's store, and next to it are stalls selling penny notions; this next to that, and these across from those. Most of the time, the work of earning a living was noisy and tumultuous, and some was done in secret, in private, in whispers, all according to the deal's and the person's requirements.

The Jews in Kremenets were neither very rich nor very poor. If I am not mistaken, the same was true of their righteousness and scholarship: they were neither terribly righteous or world-renowned scholars, nor evil villains either. In general, they were good people whose sins and meritorious deeds were not too weighty to bear… Kremenets' Jews were renowned. They were not “killers,” God forbid, or something equally terrible, but at the same time, they would not forgive an insult to their honor, no matter what. They did not fear or cringe before non-Jews who lived among them or in the surrounding area – and the villages and towns and the army barracks near the town were teeming with them.

The rumors – among the non-Jews in town and the surrounding area – that our town's Jews were not fearful weaklings helped guard, to some extent, against our neighbors' assorted attempts at provocation. But this weapon was not a sufficient shield against the evil schemes concocted by the people in the surrounding area. Our town's protection rested on the shoulders of its Jews, particularly the young ones. Some were warriors who knew how to organize a protective arm and detecting eye against the attempts at provocation, which were firmly repelled. Here I will tell about two such warriors who were very different from each other.

****

M. M. was not a professional brawler or a “sword-for-hire” that anyone interested in his services could pay for. But before revealing his qualities and ways, I will offer some words about his background: his father, a coal merchant whose business dealings went awry, ended up committing suicide. The son was blessed with traits that the father's bad dealings did not influence. For one thing, he was strong, as you will see. And he was brought up in a family of noble ancestry. A high school graduate, he loved sports and was partial to the Young Pioneer movement. He was handsome and tall, as it is written, “head and shoulders above,” etc. Polite and friendly to all, he did not talk down to people and was not rude or aggressive. He was like this throughout the year – except when our Christian neighbors celebrated their holidays and when the “spirit moved them” in all the excitement of merrymaking and revelry. At that time, his world was turned upside down, primeval forces burst out of him, and he was ready to prepare to act or to act according to the demands of the hour and his knowledge of war strategy. Here is one of the many deeds that is still fresh in my memory.

[Translator's Note: Quotations are from Samuel I, 9:2, describing the future King Saul.]

It was the time when the students from the Ukrainian upper school of agriculture near our town decided to have a good time celebrating their graduation. Husky, bloodthirsty fellows, they came into the town armed with an assortment of “cold instruments” and a decision to break the pride and strength of our town's Jews. Our hero M. knew that the heroism that comes from the bravery of an individual person is not sufficient. Ahead of time, he and his people were watching, aware of the gentiles' every move. To tell the truth, for quite a while M. had been anxious for an opportunity to “get together” with the students, who from time to time showed their “love” for the Jews. Now that the opportunity had arrived, he was sure not to miss it.

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Without delay, he summoned his well-organized and disciplined men, and like a leader in battle, assigned each man to his place and struck with full force at just the right moment. M.'s name became well known among the area's gentiles, and they tried hard not to clash with him on the battlefield. M., though, would choose the “choicest cut” for himself, one who would do him honor, and give him a proper beating, while never neglecting his command post. He gave orders, rushed to weak spots, organized a false retreat, and then charged with a new assault, giving each of the attacking students a healthy beating – God forbid that one should be overlooked… I will not describe that particular “good time” and the “glorious retreat” of the students, who begged for mercy, many of them wounded, torn, and filthy with dirt and mud. But I will tell you that at the end of this battle, our group held a celebration to honor our headman and leader, and for a long time afterward, the area's gentiles went around mourning and shamefaced because of the Jews' limitless audacity.

****

Our second hero, Chayim K., may have been the only one with the strength to wrestle with M. in a serious way and possibly even win. While M.'s body strength was seen only when used to defend the Jewish community and was not used for personal gain, this was not the case with Chayim – as you will see as I continue.

He was of average height, with protruding jaws that were unshaven, although he was not growing a beard. His feet were large, like a camel's; when he walked, his body swayed from side to side as if he were going to fall, but he did not; he did not like falling unless someone else did the falling. Indeed, anyone who got in his way had to worry about falling… I am not an expert in Ch.'s pedigree, but I suspect that his father was not a learned man … and if I am wrong and he was a scholar, none of that scholarship was inherited by his son Ch. If a serious fight erupted in the market, he was the main “star” in it. As a matter of fact, a fight without Ch. was not feasible. If one started, he popped up immediately, as if he had come from under the ground, and the “celebration” then continued in full force: beatings flew left and right, and the air filled with assorted curses. When Ch. was pleased and estimated the situation to be satisfactory, he would let fly with a declaration such as “Enough! Dogs, horses born of pigs, your children's parents be blasted, what are you fighting about?” Hugging and shaking hands, they would “wet their whistle” with some “bitter drops” after the “dry” beatings. I forgot to say who was considered worthy enough to be counted among Ch.'s company and what their “spiritual nourishment” was. I suspect that the historians of Kremenets, our little town, who labeled this Chayim as a pimp, were doing him an injustice – not because he was not involved in this profession, as in general he rejected no repugnant occupation that could keep him in generous profits – but the truth is that this was just a sideline for him, as his main profession was the use of his great strength. If someone tried to sabotage your livelihood, if you got embroiled in bad dealings and you were afraid of being beaten up, if you needed a strong and ready arm, being a Jew or a gentile made no difference. “In the cause of justice and money,” Ch. was always ready to stand by you and fight the battle of the wronged…

In conclusion, I want to tell you about an incident that was told to me by a reliable source. As I said, our hero M. was a peaceful person, not eager to fight, particularly among Jews, while Ch. was a man of strife and contention, as if he were in a rush to fulfill a commandment to “beat thy neighbor.” There were some good Jews who did not participate in the game of heroism but were nevertheless eager to watch such things. Many efforts were made to get those two together for a “power contest,” but they did not have the opportunity.

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The ways of fate are amazing, and what those people tried to do but did not succeed at, fate did in a simple way. A large sporting event was arranged in town to raise money for a certain public institution. Kremenets Jews had a peculiar impassioned love of sports but for some reason liked to watch them for free. Some held on to the fences and went under them, some climbed on trees, and others used endless cunning and sly tricks on the security guards. Chayim, who was a regular attendee, self-assuredly and with insolent audacity climbed over the fence in no time, and he was in. At this event, though, M. was in charge of the security guards. When he noticed Chayim, he leapt to the fence, and in a commanding voice he roared, “Chayim, come back!” Something like a shudder went through Ch.'s body – the moment had arrived! He waited a few seconds as if considering the matter, his face twisted with anger, but in the end he returned to the fence without delay, climbed up, and like a boy who has done wrong and tries to justify himself to his teacher, twisted his face in a little half-smile, or maybe a worried look, and said, “Forgive me, Sir M., I did not know you were here.”

I am not sure that this story really happened this way, but the land and sky are my witnesses that this is how I heard it from people, and so I am relating it.

 

Images

(Members of the Youth Guard)

Rachel Otiker-Nadir (Tel Aviv)

English Translation by Thia Persoff

Most of the time, we – the young members of the Youth Guard – would gather in the bosom of nature, in the shade of the trees in the mountain cliffs. It is there that we wove our dreams of immigration and community life in our homeland.

The Hebrew Corner, under the guiding hands of Leybchik Feldman, will never be forgotten. It included about 10–12 people who were anxious to deepen their knowledge of the Hebrew language. Leybchik was the kind of person to whom anything that even bordered on evil or falsehood was foreign. He was our teacher, connector, and moving spirit. He taught us to believe in goodness, and he discovered talents and potential in each of us.

His lifetime mate was Rachel Otiker (my cousin), who was an innocent, upright Jewish woman. In their soul lay the sorrow of Diaspora life and the yearning for rebirth and renewal. But they were not privileged to live and fulfill it.

Anyute Perel was an original and wonderful person, shy and retiring but with a powerful desire for knowledge. Conditions at home were difficult, but patiently and without complaining, she carried on unflinchingly. The most interesting discussions were held on the winter evenings in her house, near the warm stove. She understood and explained Max Nordow's work, “Paradoxes” so well, and we were so young then. And she had clever hands. Everything she made was in good taste – a dress, a hat, or an artificial flower. We did not know what was in her heart, as she refrained from talking about her own aspirations. It seemed that she had accepted her fate.

A completely different person, but close and dear to our heart, was Polye Bernshteyn. Together we were at the training kibbutz in Dombrovitsa. Her soul was as pure as her yielding and forgiving blue eyes. Responsible and disciplined, vivacious and full of encouragement, she gladly accomplished any job assigned to her.

And how difficult it is to think of extermination and death along with Yonye Bernshteyn, who was bubbling with life and energy. Thirsty for knowledge and action, he struggled and fought tirelessly all his life to achieve his dreams.

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In every place and every situation, from the town of Kremenets to the training kibbutz and the army under the most dangerous conditions, he found a fertile field in which to spread his ideas. He was fearless and was loved and admired by his friends and acquaintances. Later, he joined the Communist Party and was an active member. During the Nazi occupation, he functioned as a partisan in the Kremenets area and apparently died in one of the battles.

 

Meir Pintshuk

He was blessed with talent, a sharp mind, and a significant aptitude for organization. As leader of a Youth Guard regiment, he fulfilled his role with devotion and strictness, demanding discipline and devotion from himself and his trainees. He was diligent in study and work, and contemptuous of idlers.

While studying in Vilna (1928–1930), he became an active member of the Communist Party. At first, it was hard to accept the fact that Meir had changed his ideas. He had seemed so firm and steadfast. But, together with his friend Rozhke Holander, he stayed true to this path till the end of his days. Both with gifted personalities, they studied and succeeded together and devoted themselves with fervor to propaganda and party activity.

This was a difficult period for the national movement. Many of its best veered from their ways and turned away from its aspirations. Too late! When the Nazi slaughtering knife was on their necks, they realized their mistake. Some of them took part in ghetto rebellions, and some in the partisans, and many (like Rozhke) suffered in jail for years.

 

Sunye Keselman

The first time I met him was at a meeting of the Youth Guard in our town. He was a continual attendee and presented social and literary questions for discussion, in which he participated. Indeed, it was as if he were in the shadows, keeping silent, but his earnestness and pointed remarks drew attention.

We left for training in different places, and to my surprise I received a letter from him, which was followed by others. His letters were short but filled with feeling and belief in the kibbutz lifestyle.

After some time, he decided to continue his studies and entered the technology institute in Vilna. Together, we were somewhat like a commune with a limited circle, and he serve as an example in all matters. A person of rare character, he was prepared to yield much, but not his beliefs or his happiness.

Like many young people in those days, he deviated from the Zionist way and devoted himself wholeheartedly to the new one, and he easily handled the most dangerous assignments in the Communist Party. Suddenly, he decided to immigrate to Israel, and a new chapter opened in his life.

Though there, too, he stayed true to his beliefs – when the civil war in Spain began, he volunteered for the Republican Army, where he was killed in action.

It was said that at the end of the battles he was alive, keeping vigil by his wounded friend. The friend asked him to leave and save himself, but then he was shot in an ambush.

[Page 189]

Tsvi Prilutski

1862–1942

Yosef Heftman

English Translation by Thia Persoff

kre054.jpg
Figure 54. Tsvi Prilutski

For many years we worked together at the Moment newspaper. These were years of many changes in the life of the Jewish people in general and the Polish Jews in particular. R' Tsvi Prilutski was the founder and chief editor of the paper, even in the days of Czarist rule, when Poland was only a section of Russia called “the Visle region” (“Privislanski Kraj”). He also edited the paper in the era of an independent Poland, after World War I. For a man who had been educated in the Russian political and public atmosphere, soaked in its literature and culture, and lived most of his life in its capital, Petersburg, in the final years of the 19th century, adjusting to the new conditions caused an emotional upheaval. In one day, he had become a citizen of a new country, the likes of independent Poland, which was limited not only in area but also in nationalistic zeal, and which was scrupulously and meticulously ridding itself of all vestiges of the previous rulers' language. Obviously, this was difficult for a man like Tsvi Prilutski, who stood at the head of a large newspaper that fought daily for the Jewish minority's privileges and standing in the new country. Tsvi Prilutski not only was a talented editor, but also had a distinctive sense of politics, understood the atmosphere of the time, and knew what the limits were. Others derisively call this ability “adjustment,” but the truth is that it is a talent not for adjusting but for looking at events and evaluating them without getting caught in the empty doctrines and leftovers of a bygone era.

I should make a special point of talking about his talent as an editor. Although he never authored a fine literary portfolio of stories and poetry, he knew how to attract talented writers and newspapermen; he wisely rejected the accumulation of emotionality in the publications and emphasized the essence. As a result, the tone of Moment was not stormy and loud but tempered and logical. Because of that, he was accused by his competitors of being a compromiser and even with having a tendency to give way in the face of problems.

[Page 190]

The truth is that he always avoided anything that smacked of demagoguery. It was difficult then to swim against that current, but Prilutski nevertheless proved his ability to influence the Moment's style with his temperate, logical ways. And here is the proof: the majority actually made their trust in the moderate Moment obvious, and it became the most widely read paper in Poland. After all, deep in its heart, the Jewish community preferred moderation, and this inner sense led it to distinguish words that made public sensations from those of the moderate paper, which were instructive about reality.

Tsvi Prilutski himself was not only one of the original Lovers of Zion and a member of the Sons of Moses organization founded by Achad Ha'am, but also a devoted nationalistic Zionist, whose whole being was steeped in strong feelings for the Land of Israel. He belonged to the enlightened and educated generation of the second half of the 19th century, which had woven A. Mapu's novel Love of Zion into the golden dreams of their youth. Continuing into their old age, the charming book's romantic notes beat in their hearts. The Land of Israel was like a never-ending song in their soul. Zion was a celebratory corner of their hearts, like a bit of a Sabbath in the ordinary weekday. Whatever had to do with Zion's resurrection and settlement was the holy of holies for them. During his free hours, in private, Prilutski would “swallow” all the literature that dealt with the work done to settle the land, and he would confiscate all the Israeli newspapers that arrived at the office. In his mind's eye, he saw the map of the Land of Israel and remembered all old and new settlements well. When a staff member traveled to Israel for a visit, the editor would explain at length the directions on the roads he would travel and the settlements he would pass. He even knew how to enumerate the distances between one place and another. Whenever he spoke about the country and its landscape, towns, and settlements, he seemed to be renewed and refreshed, as if he himself were passing through all those places with the traveler.

[Translation Editor's Note: Sons of Moses (in Hebrew, Bnei Moshe) was a secret Zionist society.]

He himself was not privileged to visit the country because of physician's advice that an ocean voyage would be hazardous to his health, but it was as if he lived there in spirit. Every article or telegram that arrived pertaining to the Land of Israel, a policy of the Mandate government, or occurrences in the international Zionist movement had to go to him, even if it was long past midnight. The night-shift editor and crew were well aware that the “old man” was adamant that this sort of information should reach him first so that he could attach notes of explanation if needed.

I have not seen him since my last visit to Poland in early 1938, but we corresponded until the beginning of World War II. Obviously, his letters were written in Hebrew, as was everything he wrote about Zionism and Israel outside the paper's office; he had been and remained a Hebrew scholar since the time when a circle of writers and activists gathered around the Zionist idea even before the first Congress. His last letters were full of worry about Zion and its Jewish settlements, although the storm was approaching Poland first. In spite of his advanced age, he continued working diligently every day with the same youthful enthusiasm and devotion that I see as typical for the people of Kremenets in Vohlin, as if it were isolated among its mountains and traditional in its fight for education and the national spirit. The memory of him as a newspaperman, instructor, and guide, a close friend to all his acquaintances, and an idealistic Zionist who was anxious for any information from Israel, is like David's harp in the murmur of the wind – he will stay inscribed forever in the hearts of all who knew him.

A note from the editors:

There is an additional article about Tsvi Prilutski's life and scholarly works in the Yiddish section of the book.

[Page 191]

Excerpts from Tsvi Prilutski's Letter to the
Sons of Moses Yishurun Lodge in Warsaw, 1894

(From the Zionist Archive in Jerusalem, Israel)

Kremenets, Second Day of Chanukah 1824*

*Since the destruction.

[Translation Editor's Note: The meaning here is probably “1,824 years since the destruction of the Second Temple,” in 70 CE. (1,824 + 70 = 1894, the year in which Prilutski was writing.]

Honorable Yishurun Lodge – shalom and blessing!

First of all, I beg your forgiveness for keeping silent so long – there were different reasons that I cannot get into. Some are mine and some are our association's, which was napping…

Second, I congratulate our association on the adjustments it has made and the new officers in their fitting positions, who will usher in a new era in our association's activity; may we be granted, and, even though its beginning may be small, it will end in greatness! The main thing is not keep make the work of the association a secret… all members should know its goals and needs in every phase, etc. This will increase its membership and the number and spirit of its activities.

I cannot increase my donation to the cause of settlement, since throughout the year I donate to assorted national causes, such as the league for “perspicacious language” in our city, which distributes free books written with a nationalist spirit to the people. It supports Hebrew teachers here, who converse with their students in the Hebrew language during class and who often organize national celebrations (Chanukah, Purim, and the other Jewish holidays, and last year – on the 15th of the month of Av – the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Rishon LeTsion settlement). In addition, I donate to the upkeep of the periodical Self-Emancipation (in addition to my subscription fees). I donate for the purpose of bringing patriotic lecturers here. I donate six rubles a year to the society in Odessa and the same amount per year to our association – in addition to those, I am willing and ready to donate (special donations) for our association's occasional needs.

[Translator's Note: “the cause of settlement” refers to the settlement of the Land of Israel.]

As a representative of the Odessa board here, it is my duty to send my donation directly to the board, and in addition I am supposed to send them the moneys collected by others.

I was told by my acquaintances who returned from the Holy Land about the lack of unity in the communities of Jaffa and in other towns in the Holy Land. I'd like to suggest that the Yishurun Lodge talk with the main lodge in Jaffa and see about establishing an Israeli meeting house there, where locals and visitors from other areas can gather for literary discussions and lectures in Hebrew and arrange celebrations during the holidays, festivals, and other occasions (such as an anniversary, etc.). A meeting place like this could have a great spiritual influence on the Jaffa community and, as such, be a model for other communities. With the efforts of our brethren, I hope that my words will bear fruit and that the Yishurun Lodge will make the effort to put these ideas into practice.

According to what I have read, the Torah Flag association in the Land of Israel runs a lottery that provides some income. I was thinking of bringing up the idea of starting one like it at our Jaffa branch, with the prizes being cash, not a parcel of land in the Holy Land (as many have suggested). This will make it easy to distribute the tickets to our brethren in the various towns and also to good members of Lovers of Zion here and in other countries. It would provide a large income (up to 50% of the collected amount), and then our organization could really do things. As you know, our brethren even bought tickets for the Antislavery Lottery in Germany in large numbers (because their situation led them to look for happiness even by chance), as with the lottery that the Russian government runs to help the hungry (although out of 6 million rubles, only 20% was awarded, that is, 1.2 million rubles). Our brethren bought those tickets with great enthusiasm, and the same is true of the lotteries in Braunschweig and Leipzig, which are selling large numbers of tickets. Why shouldn't we, too, use a lottery for the good of our holy cause instead of letting our property go to other peoples and their causes? Will Israel's redemption really come from the collection of small coins or donations from generous types who have grown apart from our people, who do not understand their aspirations, and whose generosity is as thin as cobwebs?

[Page 192]

Attached here is my donation for last year 6 rubles
Also, our brother Dr. Tovye Hindes's donation, may his light shine, for half of last year, which he left with me before leaving for the Holy Land 4 rubles
Also for HaSharon: 2.50 “
Total 12.50 “

I request that a receipt be sent from the Yishurun Lodge to Dr. Hindes in Jerusalem. With this I will leave the honored lodge and say shalom to all our brethren.

[Translator's Note: “Leave” refers to closing the letter and sending regards to the members.]

Your devoted servant,
Tsvi Prilutski

P.S.

In a few days I will suggest that the organization accept a new member from here. He is Dr. Arye Leyb Pines (R' Yechiel Mikhel Pines's nephew) of Children of Zion of Moscow, who has settled here, and he would take Dr. Hindes's place.

It is very important to renew HaSharon in order to influence the young generation with our aspirations.

I send regards to our dear brother, my soulmate, my teacher, the rabbi Eliyahu Zev Opshteyn, may his light shine. Dear friend, in a separate letter I will argue with you about your idea to terminate jobs for daily farm workers in the colonies of the Land of Israel. No, no, my brother, those workers are beloved material for building our farmers' party in the land of Israel (institutes in the future Israel), and we should see to it that they establish themselves on the land according to cooperative self-help and build “cooperative associations” from them with funds collected at least from single people, who can afford to save!

Cordially, Tsvi

Lately, in my free time from the business, I keep reading literature that discusses the principle of cooperative self-help, in particular Schulze-Delitzsch's books and the yearbook of Hautefeuille, the agent for the Land Worker's Association in France. When I get the necessary material, I will draw up a complete plan concerning the matter. Because how long are we to be eager “beggars” and “collectors” instead of using the abovementioned principal that has had worthy results in Western countries?!

I remembered this, and so I am urging our brethren in Warsaw to make an effort and distribute the periodical Self-Emancipation, which, according to the letter I received from Dr. Birenboym, is on the brink of failure for lack of subscribers. Ah! How miserable are those Lovers of Zion who could not support a single national periodical in a language that is understood by most of our brethren. Let us, my brothers, support it! Its price is 4 rubles per year.

We wrote a letter about this subject to Usishkin, and our words have brought good results in Yekaterinaslav.

[Page 193]

Dr. Tovye Hindes

(1852–1920)

Avraham Zamir

Translated by Thia Persoff and David Dubin

kre055.jpg
Figure 55. Dr. Tovye Hindes

Dr. Tovye Hindes was born in Kremenets in 1852 to a respected, wealthy merchant family. Although he left town as a young man, seeking the “light of science” in the wider world, he maintained his ties to Kremenets until the end of his life. Both he and Kremenets were devoted to each other. Kremenets was the symbol of fine tradition, magnificent scenery, and eternal romanticism. From time to time, Dr. Hindes and his whole family would spend the summer months there in old Mr. Keytelmakher's country house on Mount Vidomka or with one of the Ukrainian farmers in the area. Kremenets always welcomed him with honor; young and old would come to greet him, and the doors of his pharmacist brother's house (where he always stayed on the first night) hardly closed for a moment. During Polish rule, even the gentiles honored him. After Dr. Hindes's death, the Polish mayor complained that the democratic City Council had named some of the streets after foreign Jews but none after “two Jewish Kremenets natives who were famous all over the country: Hindes and Prilutski….”

In his childhood, he was sent to study the Torah with a well-known rabbi in the area in keeping with his Orthodox mother's wish. A few years later, he had become famous as a prodigy. The rabbi sent him back home, saying that the boy did not need to learn anymore but could teach others now. But the boy was anxious for knowledge, and against his parents' wishes he left home and entered the Rabbinical College in Zhitomir. From there he went to study in Petersburg, Kazan, and Dorpat. His vibrant and justice-seeking soul pushed him toward the Russian revolutionary movement, and he joined the People's Will party. While a student in Kazan, in the far north, he endangered his life by going to the most distant and desolate Russian and Tatar villages in the winter to save the many villagers from a cholera epidemic. For being “a friend of the people” and a revolutionary, he was expelled from the university in Kazan and arrested. A few years later, he received permission to continue his studies in the German university in Dorpat (now part of Estonia).

During his stay in Dorpat, his basic point of view and general outlook underwent a major change. The pogroms of the 1880s shocked Russian Jewry, and this young revolutionary's heart started beating with a sense of Jewish national pride. He was one of the founders of the famous Students' Association in Dorpat, which, like the one in Berlin, trained a generation of Zionist activists in Russia. When he finished his university studies, he decided to immigrate to the Land of Israel, and he settled there as a physician. In his personal life, he always followed his religious beliefs. He traveled to Constantinople to be retested for his physician's credentials. From there, he went to the Land of Israel as a “spy” and was offered a job as one of the heads of a Jewish hospital. Later he returned to Europe, and in Warsaw he married a woman from the noble Gezundhayt family and moved with her to Jerusalem. Life was very hard in Jerusalem in those days. Dr. Hindes and his wife belonged to a close-knit group that included Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Duvid Yelin, and Efraim Kohen and their families, as well as some foreign consuls in Jerusalem.

[Page 194]

Despite the difficulties, he did not want to leave Jerusalem, but an unremitting fever, which had previously affected him and, later, his wife, broke his spirit and compelled him to leave. Two years after his arrival in the Land, he was forced to depart with a dejected spirit.

Two stories, both of which sound like fables, are told about his immigration to and departure from the Land of Israel:

When he disembarked from the ship in the port of Jaffa, when he placed his foot on the sand, he bowed [according to the first story] and, placing his face on the ground, kissed its soil, and then took from his coat a sword he had secretly brought from Europe and cried fervently: “A sword for God and my land!” …

And when he boarded the ship on his departure from the Land of Israel, he entered a cabin, closed the door after him, made a small wound in his left hand, and, using his right hand, wrote with the blood on a small piece of paper: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning” … He showed the handwritten note to his son many years later on his bar mitzvah day and told him of the vow he had made as he left the land of his fathers, which he kept faithfully until the end of his days.

On his return to Europe, he lived in Warsaw, his wife's birthplace, and soon became renowned as a physician involved in national affairs and an ardent Zionist. His home became a meeting place for everyone who helped in the national awakening – whether with a pen, statements, or toil. An illegal meeting of the Warsaw Zionist Committee (1898) took place in his home. He was host to Achad Ha'am, Sokolov, Mandelshtam, and Usishkin when they came to Warsaw. Dr. Hindes worked hard in Warsaw: he began to discuss Zionism in secular intelligentsia circles and to the Orthodox in Sha'arei Tsion Synagogue (which he and others had built on Pavia Street). His lectures were attended by large crowds of young men and women who came to find answers to their doubts and a basis for their outlook, for he was a fine speaker, with broad knowledge and a pleasing style. He fought for the use of Hebrew and fiercely dedicated himself to its dissemination: he founded the Lovers of the Hebrew Language in Warsaw, donated money to establish schools and publish Hebrew books, and occupied himself with teaching natural sciences and physics in the city's Hebrew schools. His drive and dedication drew throngs of followers and believers; his absolute integrity won over the hearts of his detractors among the assimilationists and even among Polish anti-Semites.

Two of his followers were the renowned physicians Dr. Henrik Nusboym, a leading assimilationist, and Professor Bronovski, a leader of the Polish National Democratic Party. When the Jews of Warsaw won a majority of the votes for the 1912 Russian Duma, many people (and much of the Jewish press) requested that Hindes be chosen the first Jewish representative in the Russian Parliament, the Duma in St. Petersburg. The masses, who loved and respected, him supported this. However, after consultations, and also because of “what the gentiles would say,” it was decided to elect a gentile Polish Socialist Party member, Yagallo, the worker.

A special chapter in his activities was his role in the Jewish Cooperative Movement. Not because of simplistic notions, but rather as a result of day-to-day involvement with the indigent (in his capacity as physician and national figure), he decided to help Jewish workers establish manufacturers' cooperatives. With his friend and assistant Mr. Lederer and with the help of the well-known cooperative activist Batko (Aba) Levitski, a Ukrainian Christian, he founded shoemakers', waiters', and bookbinders' unions, and his home became a workers' club. Even though the movement failed to take root, many appreciated his role and were faithful to him until his final hour.

In 1914, with the outbreak of the war, a catastrophe occurred that affected him deeply. His young son, Moshe-Maksimilian, a mathematics student at the University of Warsaw, traveled to the Land of Israel, and when he reached Jaffa, he was stricken with dysentery and died. He never again was at peace. His only dream became to return to the Land of Israel and work there as a physician or teacher. “My oldest son was born there, and my youngest son died there; how can I stay in the Diaspora?” he would say to motivate himself in those days.

[Page 195]

This thought, which had taken hold deep in his soul, led him to look for ways to bring it about. As he prepared to leave (during the war), he left Warsaw for a short time to go to agricultural towns, left medicine for two years to complete teacher training, and looked for new ways and means of reaching his goal ...

Suddenly, before he could achieve his goal, his fragile life was taken, and he died in Warsaw in 1920. The whole community mourned him bitterly. His family realized his dream. One by one, his family members left (sooner or later) for the Land of Israel, and they brought with them the memory of his unblemished name, a true Zionist from the pioneers of the generation, and one of the first members of the reawakening movement.

He was a great man, a son of Vohlin, and he left a good name in Kremenets and in various Warsaw circles. His name is etched on the hearts of Jewish workers, who were close to his heart. Everyone recalls his image as one of integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, and self-sacrifice to his people, his land, and his culture.

 

Dr. Binyamin Landsberg

(1890–1942)

Tovye Troshinski (Tel Aviv)

English Translation by David Dubin

kre056.jpg
Figure 56. Dr. Binyamin Landsberg and Family

He was the image of a popular aristocrat. He was known in the city and its environs by his nickname, Bozye, and everyone simply called him that, whether in his presence or his absence. Son of an ancient and prominent family – his grandfather, R' Chayim'l, was related to RYB”L – he was a cultured man and a community activist, in the contemporary sense. His father, the physician Dr. Arye Landsberg, who was one of the first Zionists in Kremenets, a community activist and populist, a keeper of tradition, and beloved by all, would come to the study house daily for communal prayers, and he did not neglect communal matters for his entire life. (He lived to an exceptionally old age).

B. L. was born in Kremenets in 1890. He was his father's only son. (His mother died in his early childhood.) He acquired his early education at the primary school in Kremenets and later in the Kishinev Gymnasium, from which he graduated with distinction.

[Page 196]

He received his Jewish and Zionist education in the home of his uncle, Dr. Sh. Etinger, who served in Kishinev as a government-appointed rabbi. While he was still a gymnasium student, aged 14, an article of his was published in the Russian newspaper Kievskaya Otkliki; this article was worthy enough to be the editorial. Then he began his Zionist work in earnest, organizing and leading groups of students. This worked to his disadvantage when he sought admission to university. B. L. left Kishinev and went to Switzerland, studied law in Geneva, and on the eve of World War I returned to Kremenets as a Doctor of Laws.

In World War I, Dr. B. L. volunteered in organizations to help Jewish war refugees. The central committee in Petersburg noticed his work and extraordinary organizational ability and appointed him head of the committee in the city of Nezhny Novgorod, which was then a central station in the wanderings of the Jews of the Pale of Settlement.

After the February Revolution, B. L. returned to Kremenets and began feverishly engaging in Zionist activity. Those were the days of elections to Jewish and general organizations in Russian centers and in the city itself. In those stormy days, B. L. acted as a national captain who moved many with his words and won their loyalty. In public debates with representatives sent from the headquarters of the various parties, which were arranged because of the elections, B. L.'s power of persuasion and sharp intellect drew interest. He was chosen for the first Congress and as a member of the city administration standing election for the education party. B. L.'s enthusiasm and fiery nature are revealed in his formation of organizations for Hebrew and Jewish education and culture. The leaders of the Christian Reactionaries looked askance at his work in the city, and at the first opportunity, when the Ukrainian Hetman took control with the help of the Germans, B. L. was imprisoned with several other prominent city leaders. He was released after eight months when insurgent farmers broke into the city and opened the prison gates. The era of changing governments began. Public Zionist activity went underground and became sporadic. When the Polish army captured the city, B. L. was imprisoned a second time, along with other Jewish leaders, and was accused of Communist Party membership. After a long investigation by the Polish authorities, he was released for lack of evidence.

In the 1920s and 1930s, under Polish rule, there was a great public awakening in Kremenets. This awakening came from two directions: from Congress Poland and from eastern and western Galicia. It arrived from different sources: through Yiddish newspapers and personally through messengers, business relationships, and cultural sources. These days were full of triumph and failure, with Jews fighting government authorities for their legal rights even in rural villages. Kremenets supplied plenty of the disputants, the most powerful and stubborn being B. L., who was a follower of Y. Grinboym. Like his mentor, he was fearless and vigorous, and as a proud, self-respecting Jewish citizen he wasted no opportunity with the local authorities, tirelessly working for all the rights to which Jewish citizens were entitled.

In the election battle for the first Polish Sejm in 1922, Kremenets was one of the major centers of the Minority Bloc. B. L. gave himself completely to the fight, appearing at many gatherings and encouraging the masses to struggle for victory. He traveled to towns and villages in the area and spoke in Ukrainian before Christian voters, and thanks to him, the Minority Bloc won a great victory in the Kremenets area, and A. Levinson was chosen as representative to the Sejm. During transition periods and during relatively calm times between elections, B. L. dedicated himself to day-to-day Zionist activity. For many years, he would gather United Israel Appeal contributions from the town and its environs. This role required a great deal of effort, and it was not uncommon for him to make several visits in a single day to “difficult” donors, whose better judgment to contribute only he, with his personal magic, could appeal to. His hard work and selflessness came out of a sense of duty to the cause. The party platform, which he accepted upon himself, became second nature and to a great extent determined his way of life.

[Page 197]

He also expended great effort for the Tarbut School Foundation in the city, and along with a small group of philanthropists, he accepted the burden of its upkeep. In general, he worked in all areas of public life. As one of the founders of the local newspaper Kremenitser Shtime and a member of the editorial board, B. L. tried to raise the paper's level of cultural and political standing as an organ for ideas and guidance for the region's Jewish public. His newspaper articles covered Zionist topics, national contributions, cases and rulings of local government institutions, community matters, taxes, etc., and their influence was substantial.

B. L. stopped his public good works for only about two short years, while he was preparing for his legal examinations, as was usual for lawyers with foreign diplomas. (The local authorities found their chance to retaliate against him for his public-political activities and did not allow him to take his exams in the courthouse in Kremenets, his hometown, so B. L. traveled to the village of Radzivilov, where he stayed for a long time.) But immediately after his acceptance as an attorney, he returned to all his former activities for the movement.

When the authorities began to threaten the security of the Jewish community and its institutions, B. L. acted as a shield against those acting under the “persecutor's” orders, and even the “persecutor” himself was not spared … As a member of the City Council, he led the Jewish faction and undertook a fierce battle (which only a select few could undertake in those dangerous days) against the gentile council members who, with the government's encouragement, had banded together to void the economic and cultural rights of the Jewish citizenry. Often he was reminded from “on high” that he was jeopardizing not only his livelihood but even his life, and on the other hand the government knew how to reward its supporters. However, B. L. was not swayed, and he stood fast in his resolve to continue his fight even outside the city.

As an attorney, B. L. excelled from his first appearance in court. His colleagues predicted a shining future for him. Praise of his propriety and uprightness brought him many clients from the city and surrounding areas. It is noteworthy that at home, the language used was Yiddish even though he was brought up speaking Russian, and his Polish speaking style impressed even the Polish judges.

Not many know that B. L. tried to move to the Land of Israel in 1921. He completed all his local affairs and traveled with his family to arrange a British visa, which was never granted, so he remained with his people in his city. He worked and struggled and was killed among his relatives and friends. B. Landsberg was one of the members of the Jewish intelligentsia who were shot behind Tivoli Garden, long before the destruction of the ghetto. (According to another story, he took his own life.)

 

Moshe Eydelman

(1864–1942)

Yitschak Rokhel

English Translation by David Dubin

kre057.jpg
Figure 57. Moshe Eydelman

He was all fire, all movement. He had nothing, if not Zionism and the Land of Israel. All the rest – economic matters, family matters – was secondary. And what did his Zionism consist of? Only immigration to the Land of Israel. Certainly, selling shekalim, distribution for the Colonial Bank, Congress elections, conquering the hearts of the community – these were important, too, but they were merely a means to an end: the Land of Israel. “Prepare yourself in the anteroom in order to enter the palace,” but do not tarry in the anteroom so as not to lose sight of the goal. The fateful hour arrived in March 1925, when Moshe Eydelman arrived in the Land and settled in Tel Aviv. For decades a battle raged in the family. His wife, a store owner, did not want to uproot her business and follow her husband to a “desolate land,” and only when the children grew up and became independent did Moshe Eydelman leave. He left alone and lived alone here until he died. Previously he had visited the Land several times, and when the Hertsliya High School was founded in Jaffa, he sent his son, Yitschak, to complete his studies there, and each year he would accompany him back from his vacation in Kremenets to Jaffa.

[Page 198]

When he returned from his visits to the Land, “his breath ignites coals.” Despite his age, he was youthful and kept company with young people. He would gather his “group,” the young people, and tell them of his travels in the land – about the settlements, farmers and workers, about the gymnasium and Moriah schools, about the Arabs and their doings, the Guard and nights in Canaan. The young people would listen silently with sparkling eyes, rapt and inspired by love and longing for Zion.

[Translation Editor's Note: The quotation is from Job 41:13.]

He was born to his father Yakov on Chanukah 1864, lost his father in childhood, was raised by his mother, a store owner, and received a traditional education. He befriended his contemporaries Tsvi Prilutski, Tovye Hindes, and others, entered the “garden,” and began to read Enlightenment literature. He joined the Lovers of Zion at its inception and later joined the Zionist Movement, and dedicated his whole being to its mission, coming into conflict with the opponents of Zionism and even with members of his family. He bought a tract in Ein Zeitim in the days of the “Association of 1,000.”

[Translation Editor's Note: The Association of 1,000 was founded in Minsk in 1891 with the idea that 1,000 members would raise 40 rubles per year for five years, buy land in Israel, and plant vineyards on it. After eight years, each member would receive land and a house there. After initial success, the vineyards failed, and the project was abandoned.]

He was one of the founders of the first modernized cheder in town, under the late Asher Beylin's leadership. He did not neglect community activism: during World War I, he devoted himself to helping refugees. With the outbreak of the revolution, he was chosen as a member of the Community Council and served as vice chairman. His son moved to the Land of Israel in 1921, with the first pioneers. Later, his daughter also went, and then came his turn to go.

In the Land, he did not seek greatness. He did not request priority. He did not knock on the doors of charities. But he found a lowly job as a tax collector, which he fulfilled faithfully, and supported himself to his final days. The very fact of living in the Land, among the builders and realizers of the dream, filled his heart with happiness. Every building that was built, every new place, brings us closer to the ultimate goal. He hoped and believed that the redemption would arrive soon, paving the way for the Kingdom of Israel.

While here, he kept his strong connection with the Diaspora and worked with all his might to bring individuals and groups of Jews from Kremenets. He worked and labored for any residents of his hometown to get a visa to come, whether as a purported businessman or as a cantor or rabbi. Any Kremenets Jew who arrived would be visited by Moshe Eydelman, brought to his apartment, guided in his first steps in the Land, and asked about all the little details of the news in Kremenets. Many years ago, he had already suggested establishing a society of Kremenets expatriates in order to spur mass emigration from the city. He never complained, was happy with his share, and was satisfied to see Zion being rebuilt.

He died at age 78 in 1942. He was laid to rest in Nachalat Yitschak Cemetery near Tel Aviv, and the following is inscribed on his tombstone:

Love of our land
and our people
was a candle for his steps
all the days of his life.



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