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[Page 367]

Remembrances and Customs

 

The Anski “Expedition” in Kremenets

by Chanokh Gilernt (New York)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

At the beginning of the 20th century in Kremenets, as in other provincial towns in Czarist Russia, most young people lived a traditional religious life. Except for a small percentage of children – about several hundred – who studied at government or private schools, the great majority of children went to the cheder or Talmud Torah. Sometimes, a well-to-do family paid the tuition for children from poor families.

After graduating from the cheder, most middle-class children were given a taste of general knowledge by private teachers and “writers.” In general, the children took on their parents' occupations. In addition to the many shopkeepers and religious communal workers, there were carpenters, shingle makers, tinsmiths, turners, coopers (barrel makers), wheel makers, glaziers, shoemakers, leatherworkers, secondhand clothing dealers, furriers, tailors, seamstresses, grinders, watchmakers, jewelers, candle makers, brick makers, bakers, porters, etc. Butcher and water carrier were occupations that didn't attract our young people. Some, however, became clerks in various offices, pharmacy employees, and photographers.

Until 1905, there was no labor union in any form. Most young people were employed at home by their parents. The only products that reached the general market in Russia came from Hertse and Dvore Frishberg's shoe factory, which employed some 20 workers.

The beginning of the 20th century was marked by a significant increase in young people's and adolescents' aspirations for a more extended foreign education. These aspirations might have never been realized if not for the year 1905, which brought about a great change in their attitude toward Jewish life, based, as they hoped, on modern foundations.

The various Jewish political groups formed at the time, such as Zionism, Bundism, and Zionist territorialism, awakened young people's national-political and sociocultural consciousness. The former course of study, which was aimed at advancing one's personal career, suddenly changed, giving way to the aspiration to become a “Jewish national being.”

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Yiddish became important and replaced Russian. The Jewish worker, the “Folk's Man,” suddenly acquired more weight in the young intelligentsia's eyes. Jewish newspapers and journals were found more and more often in Jewish homes: Unserleben, Moment, Der Freind, Hazman, Hatsefira, Dos Yiddishe Folk, Leben un Wissenschaft, Der Weg, and others. Jewish journals in Russian appeared as well. The monthly Die Yiddishe Welt, published by the Vilna Kletskin Publishing House, had immediate success, as did the illegal newspaper Die Zeit, published in Petersburg.[1] Of the Jewish dailies in Russian, only two – both with a liberal orientation – were widespread, one in Kiev and the other in Petersburg. Even the Radzin Hasid R' Moshe Berezetser would bring Der Freind to the synagogue and read it aloud between the afternoon and evening prayers. Binyamin Yaspe, Tsadok the ritual slaughterer's son, would translate when needed and explain the difficult passages. His house was full of newspapers and books, which the entire family read.

Books published by Warsaw publishers Shimin and Central, and later by Vilna Kletskin, were read diligently. When salesman Y. Trivaus appeared with samples of book covers from the works of Mendele, Peretz, and Shalom Aleichem, his work was easy: all sets were ordered immediately. The self-appointed acquirer of any printed word, Duvid Roykhel, who came from a well-to-do religious family, was the king of the “Yiddishists” in Kremenets. During World War I, he lived in Vilna, where he translated children's stories from Russian and German. Later, during Polish rule, he translated Buchbinder's history of the Jewish labor movement from Russian into Yiddish. Working as a cashier in his father's large store, he often paid for entire shipments of Yiddish books, which he then distributed to Jewish homes and Jewish youth. Luckily, he was on friendly terms with the police, who agreed to “look the other way” when illegal Russian brochures from the Social Democrats were added to the shipments. These brochures were kept hidden by Aharon Hokhgelernter, Leybele the ritual slaughterer's son, until they were taken to the attic of a house to be bound and distributed. Other activists were Mekhl Barshap, the invalid, and Yashe Broytman, Shlome the baker's Zionist son, who was a popular lecturer on Zionism in Russian. Yeshayahu Belohuz, a wealthy family's only son, would take anything printed in all three languages.

After the Tchernovits Conference, Kremenets youth began spreading Jewish culture with renewed energy. They read thirstily, in particular scientific articles about Yiddish by N. Shtif and B. Borokhov.

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At the same time, they established illegal courses for adolescents and illegal schools for children. The main supporters of the illegal schools were Duvid Roykhel; Yeshayahu Belohuz; Yashe Broytman; M. Biberman; the two seamstress sisters, Feyge and Mindel; Ch. Gilernt; Barukh Barshap; and Gutye Aksel, Fishel the porter's daughter. However, the school's existence became known after a short time, and they relocated to the kitchen of Avraham the butcher, Feyge and Mindel's father. Classes were held at night, when the parents were busy at the slaughterhouse. But Kalman, the police officer's helper (“Kalman with the ‘marble' below his eye”), became interested in the two sisters and watched them, so he noticed the school and let them know he was aware of its existence. They were forced to wander again, this time to Moshe Kadushke the water carrier's attic. All this happened during the winter. In the summertime, they held classes in a little forest near the town. This was also the fate of the adults' evening courses and the library, which was generally managed by young Zionists.

These young “culture bearers” were busy at work, idealistically and passionately. In 1910, the merchant A. Litvin gave their enterprise a new turn. He was a collector of folklore, and thanks to his visit to Kremenets, folk songs became very popular.

 

kre369.jpg
The Anski Delegation in Kremenets (1913)

From right to left: Pikangore, Yakov Roytman (Yashke Ponimayesh), Sh. Anski, Kiselhof the composer, Yudavin the photographer-painter
(The photograph was provided by Dr. Y. Levinski – Ed.)

 

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Intellectual, educated young people, in particular the Manusevitsh brothers, played folk music with Hasidic fervor, and Sender Rozental accompanied them on the mandolin; thanks to them, the young Jewish population of Kremenets became interested in Jewish folklore and literature. In P. Vaytser's house, they organized a “literary anniversary” in honor of Mendele Mokher Seforim.

A. Litvin's and later Noach Prilutski's visit to Kremenets carried our town's name to places as far away as Petersburg. Here, the great Jewish philanthropist and patron of the arts, Baron Gintsburg, founded and supported the Jewish Ethnographic Society and also established a high-level course in ethnography to educate and prepare a core group of collectors and researchers.

 

The Youth of Kremenets with Sh. Anski

M. Sternberg, a well-known researcher of the deportations to Siberia and later the director of the Asian Museum in Petersburg, was a strong supporter of the abovementioned Society and was involved in its activities. The Society, headed by Sh. Anski, published the first volume of the excellent series Der Mentsh [The Man] and then organized what was known as the Anski Expedition.

In July 1912, the young intelligentsia of Kremenets awakened to a brand-new version of folk culture. Yiddish, until then a symbol only of national politics, acquired a national-spiritual character as well. All habits and customs, stories, legends, charms against the “evil eye,” throwing a stone when one met a Christian priest, customs related to protecting a woman in childbirth or calming down a frightened child – for Kremenets Jews, everything that was an integral part of daily life became a matter of high-value culture in the enthusiastic young people's minds. Jewish art and ornamentation, the letters of a book or the script on a Torah scroll, tombstone inscriptions, or the pictures on Chanukah playing cards also acquired a special national significance among educated, Russian-assimilated young people.

Sh. Anski came to Kremenets with his two companions: B. Kiselhof, a teacher in the Modern Talmud Torah in Petersburg (headed by the Rabiner Dr. Moshe (Moisey) Ayzenshtadt, who died in New York in 1942), who collected Jewish musical instruments and recordings of folk songs, and Y. Yudavin, a relative of Anski's from Vitebsk and an artist who specialized in Jewish ornaments and liked to photograph everything. The guests stayed at Moshe Melamed's hotel, and through him Anski met Duvid Roykhel and Henekh Gelernt. Melamed was very impressed by the guests from Petersburg, who spoke to him in Yiddish.

“…Some strange Jews have arrived” – Melamed said to Gelernt – ”and they registered at the hotel as coming from Petersburg. Even before they washed and refreshed themselves after such a long journey, they asked to see you.” … Since H. Gelernt didn't dare go by himself, suspecting that they were undercover agents, Melamed agreed to go with him.

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As he entered the room, H. Gelernt realized that the man's face was familiar from a photograph he'd seen. Sh. Anski gave him a very warm welcome. Soon Duvid Roykhel arrived, too, and from the next room came Anski's two assistants, B. Kiselhof and Y. Yudavin. They joked about Anski's attire, which was modern, not Hasidic: on his head he wore a modern hat… Brothers Asher and Sender Manusevitsh came as well, then Khinke Barshap. Anski began explaining the purpose of his visit, but he was interrupted by a knock on the door. The hotel owner announced that the court bailiff and some other officials had come to inquire about the guests. Panicked, he helped Anski and the local people escape through the back door, and they returned only after all the officials had left the hotel.

Being immersed in discussion, they hardly noticed that it was Friday afternoon and that the Sabbath was approaching. Anski looked out the window and saw Jews dressed in their best outfits walking toward the synagogues. His face suddenly lit up, and he asked Yudavin to discard the cigarette.

The news about the mysterious Jewish “delegates, sent by the Petersburg minister himself,” spread through town like wildfire. On Friday night, the streets were usually filled with young people; this time, they all gathered around the hotel and envied the group that was privileged to be inside. Meanwhile, Sender Rozental and Yashe Roytman, Shlome the baker's son, joined the group and were told by the hotel owner that Anski had expressed a wish to go to the Hasidic kloyz on Sabbath morning. The hotel owner himself went to the caretaker, Peysi the blind, to let him know. Anski asked for information about Hasidic customs in the synagogue and details about the Hasidim in town. He was quite astonished to hear that there was peace among the Hasidim in town and that the Hasidic sects – Trisk, Stolin, Ruzhin, Husiatyn, Chernobyl – everyone prayed in the same synagogue and in the same style. He was not surprised, however, by the fact that the Enlightened prayed with them. After a while, the young men took Kiselhof and Yudavin for a short walk to the “mountain.” Anski didn't forget to greet them with “good Sabbath” and remind them to behave properly, meaning that they should not smoke or speak Russian … in other words, behave in a Jewish manner.

 

Among the Hasidim

Anski spent that Sabbath with the Hasidim. Peysi the synagogue caretaker himself took him to the synagogue. All hands were extended to greet him. Nachman the cantor (he was also the scribe) had prepared a prayer shawl for him; he was seated by the honored eastern wall of the synagogue, between the rabbi from Piotrkov, Rabbi Senderovitsh, and the great storyteller, Ben-Tsion Hofman. He was called to the reading of the Torah portion.

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Before they finished the additional prayer, the caretaker went to the large hall and set the big table near the oven with a snow-white tablecloth on top of the green velvet one. Everyone was friendly and respectful except Shlome Elyankes, the old Torah teacher with the blind eye and the bass, angry voice, who would always lecture and scold everyone. He was certain – and he expressed it loudly – that the guest was none other than the devil in disguise.

That Sabbath was the beginning of a close relationship between Anski and the community's religious leaders. They were a great help in his research, providing treasures of folklore and music. No one even opposed the visitors' anthropological investigations and measurements. And, in addition, from the Great Synagogue beadle, Anski received two very old brass candlesticks, which were added to the holdings of the Ethnographic Museum in Petersburg.

Anski spent long hours with the cantors. The Katerburg cantor sang a long set of Hasidic songs for him, Cantor Matus Kop sang his own pleasant pieces, and even the cantor from the Kozatske Study Hall presented two melodies …

In the Great Synagogue, Anski held afternoon meetings around set tables, and during the meal he listened to stories and folktales told by Mendel the caretaker. In the Hasidic kloyz, the storyteller was Chayim Henekh (Fridman)'s son Yosl. He also heard stories about old graves and tombstones, as well as jokes aimed at the Hasidim in town.

While Anski was busy with his Hasidic meetings, the young people in town were otherwise occupied. They collected and made lists of folk songs, invited people to sing the songs, and recorded them on a phonograph. They also recorded folktales and filled many notebooks with the stories. At that time, the folk song had attained great importance, and Yiddish singing was respected and cultivated. Christian names, especially in the academic world, were “out.”

 

In the Old Cemetery

After some discussion and delicate negotiations with the Jews in the Great Synagogue, Anski obtained permission to dig out old tombstones that had sunk over the years and were buried in the ground. The keeper of the Old Cemetery, Mordekhay Chayim Yos, welcomed the group, and they began looking for sunken tombstones. Anski himself was an expert at finding places where such tombstones were buried. Mordekhay led them over thick grass and thorny bushes, and suddenly Anski pointed to an area where there must be very old graves, he said. He stopped not far from Y. B. Levinzon's grave and gave instructions to dig out the tombstone.

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Mordekhay lifted the shovel and prepared to start working, but Anski took it from his hands and showed him how to dig carefully so as not to harm the finds. Indeed, a miracle happened: they found the tombstone of Rabbi Shimshon, the MHR”L's brother, and three other stones. The inscription was beautifully preserved. Yudavin photographed the tombstones; he was enthusiastic about the ornaments on them. They found R' Shimshon's sister's tombstone as well.

At cemetery entrance, there was a small structure around Rabbi Mordekhay'le's tomb. Inside, the tomb was covered with kvitlakh[2] placed there by the Jews while visiting their parents' graves. Nearby was another structure, where the deceased would be placed before burial. Both structures and all the tombstones in and around them were immediately photographed.

From that time on, the young people, who sometimes held their illegal meetings near Y. B. Levinzon's grave, were very careful not to step on the ground where the few stones were found and unearthed and not to sit on the steps leading to the structure. One of the witnesses to the destruction of Kremenets, B. Shvarts, told us that even Hitler's murderers were afraid to touch this small area when they liquidated the entire cemetery…

 

Jewish Carriage Drivers Compete – Everyone Wants to Be Anski's Driver

Anski had to overcome some difficulties in preparing for his visit to Vishnevets. He had planned to go himself, accompanied by the writer of these lines, to hire a carriage. His intention was to observe – and maybe photograph – the Jewish carriage owners, who always sat on the front steps of Duvid the watchmaker's house, waiting for clients.

So we found a carriage, and toward evening, when the day had cooled off a bit, we left town. The driver said to his horses, “Well, horses, it's time we started running…”

Darkness began to fall. When we reached the end of the slope, we saw a lone house on the vast plain in the distance, at the edge of town. It was a little inn, and the horses hurried toward it. When we reached the inn, the driver jumped off his seat and yelled at the top of his lungs that he had just brought important visitors from Petersburg. It didn't take long until the whole town was there – men, women, and children. One of them, a short, stocky man, stepped out of the crowd and welcomed him. It was Berger, a teacher at the Crown School, who invited the guest to spend the night at his home. The entire procession, accompanying the important guests, first headed toward the school. Suddenly, the little teacher disappeared, but he soon came back holding a book. He showed Anski the open book, where everyone could see Anski's photograph, and he proudly explained that his class had studied the poem below the photograph.

The chat was interrupted by a tall, skinny Jew called Avrahamtse the Second Cantor. He welcomed the guest and invited him to the evening prayer in the Old Synagogue. Anski thanked him, and everyone went to the synagogue, which really looked old, like the town itself.

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The creaky, heavy wooden door at the entrance breathed with antiquity, like the old castle gates from Count Wiśniowiecki's time. To enter the anteroom, you had to bend down, as if you were entering a cellar. The walls were bent as well, carrying the weight of the heavy roof, and only the eastern wall was upright. The smoke on the glass lampshades darkened the flickering little flames inside the lamps. The praying Jews' voices seemed like gloomy moans.

After prayers, Anski asked to see Avrahamtse in his room. Meanwhile, he observed the eastern wall closely: the townspeople had mentioned that years ago this wall had been rebuilt and an old, “holy” stone embedded in it. Later, during the “brandy and cookies” that he offered as refreshments after prayer, his talent as an excellent and experienced researcher would be clearly demonstrated.

 

Folktales

In Berger's house, the tables were set and loaded with food; Anski honored the guests by pouring the tea from the samovar himself. Avrahamtse had brought the “town jester” – a happy, joking beggar – with him, and they all began to talk about Jewish life in town. At a signal from Anski, brandy and cookies were again served, a fresh full samovar was brought – and the stories began to flow: people talked, and Anski's assistant wrote everything down. These were fantastic and frightening tales about dark powers hovering around a bride and groom the night before their wedding; witches with long, dark, disheveled hair, whose impurity was cleaned and washed away in the ritual bath, where the groom must bathe before his wedding; and evil spirits and dark angels howling in the chimneys during the long winter nights, especially the day before a circumcision ceremony. But he also told his listeners about the special qualities of Rabbi Leyb Sore's spring, not far from town, where they would draw water to cure sick Jews, God help us. Once even the nobleman who owned all the land in the region asked the Jews to save his dying daughter … the doctors couldn't help her; only the water from the spring saved her life. Anski's assistant, who took notes constantly, became truly horrified when Avrahamtse began telling a “true” story about a man who went to Kremenets to bring back an experienced circumciser for his newborn son. Although he knew the road to Kremenets like the palm of his hand, he got lost on the way back because he followed some strange voices that were steering the horses in the dark night… When dawn came, he realized that he'd wandered around and around in circles in a corner of the forest where it was “known by tradition” that the devil himself roamed.

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That same night, demons tried to snatch the newborn out of his young mother's arms, but various measures taken by the family apparently drove them away: the mother shrieked at the top of her lungs as she struggled with the demons; clean, white sheets were hung around her bed; chapters from the Book of Psalms were spread around; and 10 Jews sat in the room and studied all night. Finally, the young father and the circumciser arrived home, everybody greeted them with congratulations, and both hurried to the ritual bath to purify themselves and get ready for the important ceremony.

Avrahamtse told his stories with such skill that everyone in the room “could see the demons with their own eyes.” He assured them that he had a witness – a woman who was over 100 years old, still living at the far end of town – who could verify all his stories. Anski asked to meet her, and the next day he was indeed taken to her.

After another round of refreshments, Avrahamtse began to maneuver the discussion away from “tall tales” and toward the synagogue and its eastern wall. He told Anski that the anteroom was the only part of the building that remained from the old synagogue, and the latter expressed his wish to check the anteroom walls. Indeed, the next morning Anski was accompanied to the synagogue. He checked the walls, and in one corner he discovered that he could feel some Hebrew letters through the plaster with his fingers. With great care, he managed to free the stone from the wall. According to Avrahamtse, there was another important stone built into the eastern wall, and Anski was eager to remove it as well. However, the community leaders were worried that the entire wall might collapse, and only after Anski promised that he would work with utmost care and pay for any damage was he granted permission to look for the stone. Like a miracle worker, Anski felt the wall with his hands, suddenly stopped, and said, here it is. He moved his screwdriver in straight lines along the wall, just as an experienced surgeon would move his scalpel, and soon the stone was in his hands. It was washed with a chemical solution, and the letters emerged. Anski made a nice donation to the synagogue and received the stones for the Petersburg Museum. He also bought two old copper candleholders standing on carved peacock legs for the museum.

For Anski, Avrahamtse was a real treasure. On their way to the cemetery, someone in the group asked Avrahamtse whether he knew about the grave of Yitschak Ber Levinzon's wife, who was from Kremenets. Avrahamtse became very irritated, since Levinzon was not religious, so Anski skillfully turned the discussion toward the cemetery again, which, he said, must be very old. Avrahamtse then calmed down and resumed his role.

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“In the cemetery,” he said, “there are graves of people who participated in the original Council of Four Lands assembly at the Yaroslav fair.” He obtained permission to dig out these graves, if they were found.

In the cemetery, Avrahamtse led the procession to the oldest part, where the gravestones were sunken and overgrown. However, they soon found a gravestone on which they could clearly read a poem written by Levinzon in honor of his wife. The ornaments included two hands blessing the Sabbath candles. Later that day, a photographer returned and took photos of all the old tombstones.

In conclusion, it is worth relating why Anski chose Vishnevets, of all the towns in the region.

This little town had been famous since the 18th century for its artistically built castles, erected by the Wiśniowiecki princes' family. Particularly famous was the castle of Jeremi Wiśniowiecki, who ruled over a great deal of land and owned slaves from various regions. He cruelly persecuted the Orthodox Church and Ukrainians, which led to the Chmielnitski uprising.

The Wiśniowiecki castle was packed with antiques, paintings, and other important examples of art. When the Tatars occupied Vishnevets, they spared the castle museum. However, the Turks, who occupied the town after them, destroyed the castle, which was later restored by Jan Sobieski.


Translators' Footnotes:

  1. The names of these periodicals are as follows: Unserleben, Our Life; Der Friend, The Friend; Hazman, The Times; Hatsefira, The Siren; Dos Yiddishe Folk, The Jewish Nation; Leben un Wissenschaft, Life and Science; Der Weg, The Road; Die Yiddishe Welt, The Jewish World; Die Zeit, Time. return
  2. Kvitlakh (little notes) are slips of paper on which visitors asked the rabbi for help in various matters. return


[Page 376]

How We Once Disseminated Jewish Literature
(A Page of Memories)

by Duvid Roykhel (Warsaw)

Kremenetser Shtime, August 12, 1932

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

It was summer 1909. I was in Kremenets on summer vacation from Odessa, where I was studying. In Odessa, I'd been a member of a small “group,” and, returning to my hometown, I intended to accomplish several things.

At that time, I had good connections with friends who were studying in other towns in Podolia and Volin provinces, and as I came home, I got in touch with them to join forces and try to arouse interest in Vestnik Znanya[1] circles, especially among the young workers.

Making our first steps, we encountered unexpected difficulties. The members of our group were assimilated or half-assimilated, and we never thought that we'd have to do our work in Yiddish, not Russian, if we intended to work among the Jewish masses.

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We acquired a large number of Vestnik Znanya brochures from the then-liquidated publishing house, as well as a number of books dedicated to the life and work of the various nations in Russia, which had appeared under Sh. Anski's editorship. With this literature collection, we planned to begin our activity. But the books and magazines we brought for people to take and read weren't taken… . Their answer was simple: We don't know Russian… .

We realized that we had to find a solution to this problem. I suggested contacting the Literary Society in Petersburg and requesting that they recommend a course of action. Some of our group members were of the opinion that it would be preferable to teach the workers Russian, but we finally decided, albeit with heavy hearts, to conduct our activities in Yiddish.

We soon received a reply from Petersburg recommending that we get in touch with the Yiddish periodical Leben un Wissenshaft[2] in Vilna.

As a testimony to our distance from Yiddish literature and our lack of knowledge about it, the mere fact that a Yiddish journal named Leben un Wissenshaft existed – and, moreover, the similarity of its title to that of our own Vestnik Znanya – hit us like a bomb… . Without delay, we ordered a sample issue, and as soon as I received it, I went to my friend Hirsh Yashpe (he was later killed in the war) and asked him to read it to me. I was interested in his opinion of the journal. We also invited Shmerl Feldman, a member of the Labor Zionist movement (he committed suicide in 1910) – and, after a general review of the journal and after reading the editor's article and the “Conversation Hall” section, it was clear that we'd found what we needed. I put aside Russian literature and began, seriously and resolutely, to learn Yiddish and read Yiddish literature. I gathered several friends around me, and in no time, 34 copies of the journal Leben un Wissenshaft arrived in Kremenets. All the subscribers were workers, and they paid for a subscription at a rate of 10 kopeks a week. The journal was a success. It didn't take long for people to begin reading literature as well: the works of Mendele, Peretz, Shalom Aleichem, Sholem Asch, and others. We contacted the S. Schrebrek bookstore in Vilna and later the Central in Warsaw, and we received a 40% discount. The buyers in town received the same discount, naturally, and they continued paying their weekly rates in kopeks. We must mention that there was never any question of “not paying.” It even happened that one of the subscribers left for America and continued to send us his payments regularly.

The basic fund for this enterprise was created by several well-to-do friends.

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Sometimes we could even give a loan when it was needed.

All this activity had a very positive and encouraging effect, and in time almost every worker had assembled a small library of his own. The brothers Mikhel and Lemel Sherman (both tailors, now in Russia) excelled, and Mikhel “the lame” Barshap in particular. Later, others joined as well, including brothers Sender and Asher Manusovitsh (now in Chicago, both active in Jewish cultural affairs) – and our work developed and branched out.

The journal Leben un Wissenshaft was a teacher and guide for us. The thin brochures, which appeared very irregularly, provided us with appropriate material for our educational and instructional work. We hadn't been very interested in literature before those days. Articles like those by Blumshteyn and Rodnyanski on philosophy, Yiddish language problems, articles on Yiddish grammar and on using the Latin alphabet for Yiddish by Dr. L. L. Zamenhof (creator of the Esperanto language), simple and popular monographs by A. Litvin on A. Mapu, Y. B. Levinzon, A. M. Dik, and others, historical articles by Ch. Shvis and G. Horvits, discussions by S. Niger, reviews, the “Conversation Hall” – all this was new for us, and with our friends the workers, we learned and were educated by it.

It was therefore no wonder that this journal played such an important role in our lives. Unlike Literarishe Monatshriften[3], which wasn't intended for mass readers, Leben un Wissenshaft was exactly right, and appropriate for the aims we'd set for ourselves.


Translators' Footnotes:

  1. Vestnik Znanya is a popular science magazine. return
  2. Leben un Wissenshaft means Life and Science. return
  3. Literarishe Monatshriften means Literary Monthly. return


[Page 378]

The Funeral of a Torah Scroll

by Chanokh Gilernt

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

It happened on a frosty winter day in the winter of 1909-1910.

The Bedrik kloyz, with its polished wooden interior and furniture, the entire Holy Ark, and its Torah scrolls all went up in flames. Jews risked their lives trying to save the scrolls, but they could salvage only small, scorched pieces from the flames, quenching them in the wet snow. Parts of prayer shawls were also taken out, and the blackened parchments were wrapped in them.

Aba Tsukerman, the caretaker, stood broken and shriveled. His usually deep voice was choking as he uttered the words, “Our crown has fallen.” He cried bitterly. Jews from every part of town rushed to the place and stood silently around the burned holy objects, which were covered with a white sheet.

The rabbi's beadle brought large earthen containers for the “holy remnants.”

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In the rabbi's house were gathered R' Hertsele the religious court judge and the scholars Yosl Fridman (Chayim Henekh's son); Moshe Velis, the religious court trial arbitrator; Shlomele Ditun, the scholar from the Hasidic Synagogue; Leybele the ritual slaughterer, the rabbi's devoted adviser; and many others. From a mountain of books on the table, the rabbi and his advisers looked for an answer to the important question following the fire: how to put the scrolls to their eternal rest: through immediate burial or through geniza[1] Suddenly, the room became silent. The rabbi, wearing his black caftan and a fur hat on his head, stood up and made his decision: the men who will take care of the scrolls and other holy objects must first go to the ritual bath. The earthen containers must be ritually submerged in water as well to purify them. The day of burial will be a fast day for the entire community. All shops and workshops will be closed. All schoolchildren will accompany the funeral procession to the Great Synagogue. The rabbi will eulogize by the kloyz, and the religious court judge, by the Great Synagogue. The geniza containers will be carried on a specially prepared wooden plank. The procession will stop at the House of Prayer, the New Study Hall, the Hasidic Synagogue, the Magid's Synagogue, and the entrance to the Great Synagogue. At each stop, the local cantor will recite his eulogy. The containers will be carried to the burial place, and the Burial Society will prepare the grave in R' Mordekhay'le the Righteous's “burial tent,” next to his grave.

On the day of the funeral, the entire town was in mourning. Non-Jewish neighbors remained in their homes out of fear. Sadness spread like a cloud over the town.

After the rabbi's eulogy, Matus the cantor recited the prayer “God, Full of Compassion” and verses from the Book of Lamentations. Tearful and pale, he moved around the burned Torah Ark, and it seemed that he was asking the scorched remnants to pray with him. When he burst into tears, the entire community cried with him.

After the ceremony, the wooden plank with the scrolls and earthen containers was carried to the cemetery. Every member of the community tried to take part in the commandment to carry the board, and chapters from the Book of Psalms were recited all the way to the cemetery.


Translators' Footnote:

  1. A geniza (hiding place) is a storeroom in a synagogue where worn-out Hebrew books and papers on religious topics are kept before they can receive a proper cemetery burial, since it is forbidden to throw away writings containing God's name. return


[Page 380]

Market Day in the Dubno Suburb

by Moshe Shnayder (Rechovot)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

One autumn evening, when I was walking home, the entire Dubno suburb was sound asleep. Night had begun early, because the next day was market day, and everyone was expected to be up at dawn.

Feeling guilty for disturbing the peace, I knocked on our door, and my good mother opened it. Still, she couldn't resist a good-natured remark – didn't I know that tomorrow was market day?

It happened every Tuesday: that day, the entire neighborhood was one big commotion. Our father rose at daybreak and said his morning prayer quickly. Outside, our neighbor Brayne was already standing in front of her door, dressed in her market apron with the large pockets, holding her big bags and waiting for her gentile peasants. That day, I was excused from going to the synagogue, because we were expecting to see many acquaintances, and I had to help.

The sky was gray, and the air was foggy; we were worried about the weather, which could, God forbid, get in the way. However, the clouds moved on, and a few rays of sun could be seen through the fog. All the faces suddenly looked happier. The shops opened for business with wide-open doors.

The neighborhood was unrecognizable. Everything was out on the street: clothes, sewing notions, wagon wheels, furniture, and so on. There was an old woman sitting with her barrels full of black tar; in another corner, a man was welcoming every arriving cart; it had been less than an hour since sunrise, and along the street we could already see numerous carts full of grain, vegetables, geese, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and even horses, tied to the wagons with rope. Half an hour later, it was impossible to pass through the place.

 

kre380.jpg
Mountain of the Virgins. At left: the Dubno suburb.

 

[Page 381]

The horse dealers had already begun their business: checking the horse from head to tail, opening its mouth and looking at the teeth, lifting its legs one by one and checking the hoofs with a knowledgeable look, bargaining – a zloty up, a zloty down – and finally, the deal was made. Everybody was buying and selling, from a pin to a pig.

On that day, it wasn't easy for the town's coach drivers to take their passengers through town to the train station, for example, and they had to go on side roads. But in the marketplace, everything went on as usual. The sacks of grain were heavy on the scales, and money passed from hand to hand. The day passed without incident and, moreover, without competition. Every Jew had his own gentile – most of them owing money – and there was a feeling of solidarity. After all, we were all neighbors, residents of the Dubno suburb. And on the Sabbath, we all had to enter the synagogue with a “clean face.” …

Finally, market day drew to an end. The street was now almost empty. A drunken peasant, who had spent a little too much time trading or chatting, was driving his horse and cart, hurrying home. The remaining merchandise was taken back to the shops and arranged back on the shelves, and the shopkeepers were busy counting their proceeds. Money was taken out of pockets, aprons, bags – and with content faces, people calculated the final profits.

Even the police were involved: policemen issued “tickets” for not cleaning up the street, and so the police also “shared” some of the profit…

In every house, the family gathered around the table enjoying dinner, which served as both lunch and supper on this day, since there had been no time to prepare a meal at noon. Tired from the eventful day, everybody went to bed early to get a good rest and gather strength for the next day.

For us, the young people, it was a second evening at home, and we tried not to disturb the elders. The profits of the market day were our means for living for the entire week.

 

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