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On Old Customs

by Chanokh Gilernt (New York)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

 

A. The Holiday of Shavuot

With the arrival of May, the town became enchanted and full of delight. The green mountains around it, the aroma of the newly opened young blossoms carried by the mild spring breeze-all this lifted our spirits.

On Shavuot eve, the Christian neighbors brought wagon upon wagon of greenery to the market; among other things, heaps of watercress were supplied to Jewish houses, and the housewives would spread it on the freshly scrubbed floors, ready for the holiday. Young boys would fold leaves and turn them into musical whistles, playing all kinds of songs. Young girls would hang colorful flowers on the walls. Fathers would decorate the clean, sparkling windowpanes with heart-shaped leaves. Flower garlands mixed with green branches hung from the ceiling.

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The synagogues as well were decorated with green branches intertwined with colorful flowers, and the floors were covered with watercress. The newly whitewashed walls, the brass candelabras hanging from the ceiling, the menorah on the cantor's stand- everything was ready, sparkling clean.

Among the Hasidic Jews, R' Mendele the ritual slaughterer would act out the “Crossing of the Red Sea” before our people received the Torah. On the morning of the holiday, he placed a bucket of water right under the flowers decorating the ceiling and hung a bag on his shoulder (a symbol of the exodus from Egypt). Thus dressed, he circled the bucket of water several times, a commemoration of the crossing of the sea.

Children in particular felt like grownups during the two weeks before the holiday. Even life in the cheder was different. The teacher didn't take studying as seriously as always, and the pupils were not as frightened as before; the air in the cheder sang. With special joy, the pupils read the chapters of the Book of Ruth. They could feel the fresh smell of the stalks of grain that Ruth gathered in the field …

As the Shavuot season arrived, Jewish Kremenets sang. Young people in the mountains, their parents and grandparents in the study hall, children in the cheder- houses and streets were singing.

 

B. Lag Ba'omer

This day was always full of excitement for the children, for an additional reason: the holiday usually fell during May, when the czar's coronation was celebrated every year with great festivities: the main street was beautifully decorated with lights, and we had to light oil lamps on both sides of the front door of each house. This was the children's duty-they would fill the containers with oil and place them on the sidewalk by the door, prepare the wicks and light them when evening fell, and then watch the lamps the entire evening. That night was full of the joyous sound of children.

The day before Lag Ba'omer, the mothers would prepare clay for the cheder children to shape into little balls, which served as candlesticks, or into little cups, which they filled with oil and placed a wick inside. The children would go from store to store and collect candles and oil. The collection was brought to the synagogues, and all the little lights, white candles or oil, were placed on the windows. Each child would take care of his father's house of prayer.

The next morning, the children would not leave their mothers-whether in the kitchen at home or in the store-until they received their hard-cooked eggs, string of bagels, and bottle of kvas. With special joy, they ran to the cheder, where the teacher's assistant waited for them, ready with a bow and arrow for everyone. The mothers accompanied the children to the cheder, paper bags holding the food in their hands, and waited until the children formed an orderly line, like little soldiers -the rabbi in front, the assistant behind him, ready to march toward the Vidomka.

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There, everyone stretched out on the grass and took out his or her food. The rabbi told the story of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochay. Right after he finished his story, the children woke up as from a dream and eagerly began to shoot their “weapons”…

 

C. Tish'a BeAv

On Tish'a BeAv, a feeling of hidden grief and sorrow would fill every Jewish home.

During the “nine days,”[1] the butchers and ritual slaughterers were out of work. The four Jewish tavern owners, whose Sunday earnings would suffice for the entire week, rested as well.

The feeling of mourning was carried mainly by the children. The entire week, they studied the Book of Lamentations, reading it in its particular melody. They played a special “war-game”-in Yiddish-called shelach [send]: they formed two opposite rows, or “camps,” and one from each camp was proclaimed “king” and stood at the head of the line. The distance between the two “armies” was about 15 steps. The “generals” held sticks in their hands, and all the soldiers were ready for combat. The “senior officer” called toward his rival: Send!-meaning “you send your soldiers first! ”-to which the reply was, “My soldiers are weaker than yours, so you are first! ” and with that, the war began. Each side tried to break through “enemy” lines, and those who succeeded even took prisoners … this is how war was played, all day long.

The teachers' assistants helped out and added to the atmosphere of merriment.

 

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At the Entrance to the Jewish Cemetery

 

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During the previous week, they, too, had worked hard and made little wooden swords for the children, and like real masters, they carved various images on the hilts.

The children played another game, too: they would collect little black nuts and thorny berries, tie them with a string, and throw them at someone's back with all their strength. It wasn't pleasant to get hit by a bunch of nuts and thorns, but the adults participated as well: they would find other thorny fruits and pay back the children …

The afternoon meal on the eve of the fast day was almost as holy and ceremonious as the meal at on the eve of the Yom Kippur fast. Lights did not burn in the houses that night. Leather shoes were not worn, and men and women wore only simple clothes. Leybushekhe, who all year long would remind people about the anniversaries of deaths and visit the cemetery to “bring greetings from the living,” would on this day walk from grave to grave, touch every tombstone with her stick, and beg forgiveness in the name of each family.

After the 1905 revolution, two worlds met in the cemetery: Jewish labor groups and intelligentsia groups would hold their forbidden meetings there.

The meetings took place around Yitschak Ber Levinzon's gravestone and that of Berish Feldman, who committed suicide after the 1905 revolution failed.

Since then, two generations have come together there.

 

D. Sukkot and Simchat Torah

The first thing we did when the Yom Kippur prayers ended was the Benediction of the Moon. After that, everybody went home and began to prepare for Sukkot. Those who had a room or hallway with an open roof would take the tree branches that were left from last year down from the attic, preparing them to serve as skhakh[2]. Those who did not have a “built-in” sukkah would begin collecting wooden boards for walls and branches for the roof early in the morning in order to put up a sukkah in the courtyard. The neighbors, who would eat their meals in the sukkah during the holiday, helped out as well. The main “workers,” though, were the children. Decorating the walls and ceiling was the special mitzvah of the girls in the family.

The Kremenets Christians were aware of everything the Jews needed for the various holidays, and before Sukkot they would bring carts full of green branches to town, as well as sacks of walnuts for the children to play with. The real joy and holiday feeling was spread throughout the town by the children. But it must be said that their joy and anticipation was directed much more to the sukkah and games than to the preparations for holiday prayers in the synagogue and the reading of the Book of Ecclesiastes… .

On Sukkot eve, the children were free from cheder. We decorated the sukkah with the most beautiful autumn flowers, and we hung pictures on the walls.

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Women and girls would not eat in the sukkah. They performed the mitzvah of serving the meals and listening to the blessing over the wine recited by the father or husband. Their mitzvah also consisted of setting the table and cleaning after the meal.

During the “intermediate days” of the holiday as well, Jewish Kremenets would “breathe holiday.” The craftsmen, who didn't work on these days and took long walks in town instead, felt this especially. In the evening, they would visit friends or take the children to see a movie at the Illusion Theater.

The cheder teachers were especially busy. They would go from house to house to collect their teaching salaries, registering the children for the coming semester, and accepting new pupils. Their assistants were busy preparing flags for Simchat Torah and teaching the children to weave the little rings for the lulav from the long strips of palm leaves. On the eve of the seventh day of Sukkot, Hoshana Rabba, everybody was busy preparing the tender little branches called hoshanot, which were used during the prayer the next day.

The Jews called the entire week of the Sukkot holiday “the week of [rejoicing with the Torah.” A special elation was in the air, very much as it was during the week of Passover. This was caused by the holiday's particular laws and customs as well as by the lighter activities. The Kremenets Jews, adults and children alike, enjoyed their Jewish heritage.

 

E. Celebrating a Jewish Wedding in Town

A wedding was not just the ceremony under the wedding canopy and the customary recitals and blessings. Kremenets Jews called such a “simple” wedding “a gentile wedding.” In a real Jewish wedding, the entire Jewish street, rich and poor, rejoiced for a week before and a week after the wedding canopy ceremony.

The week before the wedding, a festive atmosphere dominated the in-laws' houses. The tailor and seamstresses prepared the bride's and groom's attire, the cooks began their cooking and baking, and the house was full of guests-neighbors and friends. On the Sabbath before the wedding, everyone went to the groom's house and accompanied him to the synagogue for the morning prayer, when the groom would be honored and called to the Torah reading. The children were happy to participate as well: they carried boxes full of small hazelnuts and candies and placed them in the women's section of the synagogue, to be thrown at the groom after he finished reading the Torah portion, as was the custom.

After the Sabbath prayer, everyone went to the groom's house to wish him and his family congratulations and have the traditional “cake and brandy.” In the more well-to-do families, an entire meal was served after the Sabbath ended, and the party would continue until late at night.

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The Kozatski Synagogue and the Road to the Three Springs

 

In the courtyard of the bride's house, the beginning of the new week would be marked by a group of musicians, and the bride's girlfriends would sing and dance. The members of the klezmer band were Hersh the conductor and his three sons: Moshe on the violin, Yankel on the trumpet, and Mekhl on the contrabass. The musicians played, the girls danced, and the mothers would enjoy the scene and make a wish: “May we soon dance, with God's help, at our daughter's wedding… .”

During the week of the wedding, the doors of the bride's and groom's houses never closed. Everyone was devoted to preparing the feast. Hinde the caterer would supervise the cooking and baking from dawn to late at night. Much attention was given to the “golden soup” - the special chicken soup served to the bride and groom right after the ceremony, when they broke their fast.

On the wedding day, the houses were bursting with noise and expectation. After returning from the ritual bath, the bride retired to her room, and her friends helped her get ready and put on her wedding gown and veil. Hersh the Klezmer and his band, reinforced with cymbals and drums, played the famous sher dance, the polka, and even the “quarrel dance.” This time, the in-laws joined the dance as well. The dancing stopped only when the messenger announced that the groom was being led to the bride to cover her face with the veil, which marked the beginning of the ceremony. Hersh and his band hurried to follow him and play a special “groom's tune.”

With measured steps, led by the two fathers, the groom approached his bride, pulled the veil over her eyes, and stepped back. That was the time to “cheer up” the bride, which was done by the “wedding jester.” Accompanied by the fiddler, the jester began to sing before the bride, saying, “Cry, bride, cry,” and the eyes of the women and girls around her filled with tears… .

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This continued until the time came for the two mothers, holding big white candles in their hands, to lead the bride toward the wedding canopy to join the groom.

The main ceremony under the wedding canopy was always held in the Great Synagogue courtyard. The rabbi performed the ceremony, the bride and groom drank from the special wedding cup, and as soon as the groom stepped on the glass and shattered it, three loud shouts of “Mazal tov” filled the air. Accompanied by the entire crowd, the couple was led through the street to the house, where the musicians received them with music and songs and one of the mothers stepped backward before them, dancing and leading the way, with a big challah in her hand. The bride and groom were shown into a special room to eat their soup after the long fast, and the guests continued the joyful dancing… .

A wedding canopy ceremony was never performed after sunset. When the wedding was on a Friday, the festive meal was held the next evening, when the Sabbath was over. It was necessary to have a quorum of 10 men at the meal in order to add the seven wedding blessings to the blessing after the meal. After each course, the young people danced, while the groom, who sat among the scholars and Hasidim, gave a scholarly talk.

After the meal and before the blessings, the jester performed his task in full: it was time to play out the “sermon presents” game. The jester loudly called each guest's name and announced what present he had brought-first the couple's parents, then the families, then the guests. The usual gifts were silver Judaica articles (wine cups, candlesticks, etc.) or home and kitchen articles.

 

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Section of Sheroka Street

 

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The festive meal would continue until late at night, the guests dancing in a circle or with the bride and groom until the couple disappeared. Only then did the guests begin to leave and start for home.

The entire week, the wedding was the main talk of the town. Each day, the Hasidim would have a special meal hosting the couple, with the seven wedding blessings added to the blessing after the meal.

The Christian neighbors would stand for hours outside the windows, watching with interest the special way that a Jewish wedding was celebrated.


Translators' Footnotes:

  1. The ninth day of Av is a day of mourning day that commemorates the destruction of the First and the Second Temples in Jerusalem. On the nine days between the 1st and the 9th of Av, Jews avoided eating meat, as a symbol of mourning. return
  2. Skhakh (covering) refers to the roofing of the sukkah, which is made from natural materials such as bamboo or palm branches. return


Purim
(Memories of My Childhood Years)

by L. Rozental

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

The winter went on, sleepily. The short winter days followed the long nights. We, the cheder children, had already begun to count the days to the expected holidays-how many days to Purim, how many to Passover, and so on. We counted and counted, until one Friday morning, before dismissing us to go home for the Sabbath, our teacher announced that on Sunday morning we'd begin learning the Book of Esther in preparation for Purim. However, we, the children, weren't thinking about the Book of Esther; we were thinking about the noisemakers. …

In our cheder, we had two boys-the father of one and the brother of another-who were carpenters. Their noisemakers clearly shamed all other noisemakers. The richer families ordered wooden noisemakers for their children from these carpenters, while the other children had to be satisfied with tin noisemakers, bought for three kopeks from Lazil the tinsmith; and those who didn't have even those three kopeks were happy with a simple stick… . The noisemaker trading went on, back and forth, for the entire week that our teacher, the rabbi, tried to teach us the Book of Esther.

On the Fast of Esther (the day before Purim), we were “free.” Instead of going to the cheder, we jumped around in the mud puddles with our galoshes. At home, the preparations for the holiday were going on at high speed. The Purim challah was in the oven, and I was honored with grinding the poppy seeds for the hamentaschen.

On Purim eve, several hours before nightfall, all the boys gathered around the synagogue, armed with various noisemakers, sticks, pieces of wood, and other such “weapons.” The synagogue caretaker, festively dressed, didn't let us in, but we knocked on the door, made a loud noise, and called him by his nickname until finally people began to arrive for the evening prayer and we managed to sneak in, one by one. When the caretaker, R' Betsalel, discovered us and tried to throw us out, we swore by our parents that we'd sit behind the stove and keep still. Every time one of us tried out his noisemaker, and when the caretaker came running, we had a ready answer: it wasn't me… .

The evening prayer ended, and they began reading the Book of Esther. We, the children, appointed one of us to follow the reading and warn us when Haman's name was about to be mentioned so we could make the required noise with our noisemakers and “kill” Haman. The cantor tried to read those passages quickly to avoid the noise, but of course it didn't help.

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Sometimes our zeal was so strong that we didn't wait for Haman, and we “killed” Mordekhay instead … . Even the sexton was angry at us, but we didn't care-and finally we returned home, victorious.

The big oven at home was already filled with challah, cookies, and hamentaschen. Several “goodies” were put aside for the gentile washerwoman, who, besides doing the heavy laundry, helped with other things at home.

The next morning, Purim day, during the reading of the Book of Esther in the synagogue, the noise wasn't as loud as the night before. At home, “charity collectors” were beginning to appear at the doors. At the market, near the leather merchants, the women displayed their merchandise: little “pillow cookies” sprinkled with colored poppy seeds, arranged in special containers, decorated with inscriptions: “Your best friend,” “Dear groom,” “Dear bride,” and so on. For the children, they had little whistles, little dolls that could sing, little prayer books-all made of sugar. The best cookies and cakes were those made by “Big Hinde”: in her little shop, you could find everything your heart desired, and all the wealthy ladies would do their shopping there.

In the afternoon, we began to prepare for the big Purim meal. The table was covered with a clean white tablecloth, with the two big challahs with saffron ready, the candlesticks sparkling. On the table in front of my father was a large bronze tray full of various coins-to be handed out later to every one of us.

Soon the “Purim gifts” began to arrive! The first was from the rabbi. It contained cake, cookies, a “bagel,” and an orange. Father sent back a little silver basket, and the boy who brought the Purim gift received 5 kopeks.

Then came the presents from the cantor, the caretaker, and others, and each time, a present was sent back with the same messenger. Our aunts and uncles sent various gifts, among them material for a suit for my brother and a dress for my sister. Our grandmother sent a little prayer book for my little brother. What we children loved most were the oranges.

We stayed awake until late at night, busy with the problem of “what to send to whom.” The joy of the Purim holiday was felt in the air.

Next day, we all wished all this would be repeated… . But only the water carrier and the laundry woman came to receive their share of challah and hamentaschen.


What Happened…

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

 

An Oath by the Light of Black Candles in the Synagogue

In the Great Synagogue, Old Vishnevets resident Y. G., dressed in his robe, stood before black candles and took an oath concerning the following: he asked the peasant to return a loan of 1,300 zloty, while the peasant argued that he had borrowed only 300 zloty and deposited 1,000 zloty as a promissory note.

Present at the oath-taking event were judges, lawyers, the rabbi, and others.

During the deliberations, the Jew wept like a little child.

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Because of a Bus's Big Wheels, a Match Was Dissolved…

A new bride from a small village was visiting her fianc?'s family. As they were taking a walk through town, a big bus passed by. Astonished, the young fianc?e cried out, “Look at those big wheels….” The man felt offended in that he had chosen such a “village girl” who had never seen a bus, and …the match was called off immediately.

 

A Christian Woman's Good Deed

A Kremenets Christian woman had a sister who was a landowner in Belozerka. For several years, her estate manager was a Jew. When his wife died, he was left with small children, and his situation wasn't good. The Kremenets Christian woman was touched by his bad fortune, invited his 16-year-old daughter to live with her, and enrolled her in the ORT school, paying all expenses. She bought kosher food for the girl and bought new dishes, which she kept kosher according to Jewish law. Until adulthood, she raised the girl in the spirit of the Jewish religion.

 

First Sell the Butter, and Then Bury the Mother

In the village M., not far from Shumsk and from Kremenets, lived a Jewish peasant family. One Wednesday, the mother of the family, 95 years old, passed away. Since there was no Jewish cemetery in the village, the body had to be taken to Shumsk for burial. The oldest son of the family thought that it wasn't feasible to take out the cart and horses solely for that purpose, so he decided that since he planned to go to Shumsk on the following Sunday to sell his butter, he would take his mother to the cemetery in the same trip to bury her properly “in a Jewish grave.”

Said and done. On Sunday morning, the man harnessed his horses, placed the body on his cart, covered it with a sack, and on top of it he put the butter he had for sale-and away to Shumsk!

Being concerned that the burial would take a long time and that the customers probably wouldn't wait for him, the son first went to the market to sell the butter. When some of the customers tried to lift the sack and look for more merchandise, he declared, “This is not for sale!” Finally, after all the butter was sold, he drove the horses to the cemetery and gave his mother a proper Jewish burial.

 

Even the Horse Receives a Fee for Matchmaking

A lady from Kremenets who was a matchmaker came to Belozerka and struck a deal with two local matchmakers, as follows: she would bring young men from Kremenets, and they would recommend young local girls, of which Belozerka had more than enough (may we be protected from the evil eye). To speed things up and save the young men money, the lady matchmaker bought a horse and wagon and, at her own expense, drove the prospective grooms to the village for their first date.

In this way, they succeeded in making several matches and creating new Jewish families. However, nothing could happen without an argument and a dispute-this time between the local matchmakers and the lady from Kremenets on the division of the matchmaking fees. The rabbi had to mediate, and he ruled that a certain sum be paid to the lady. However, she wasn't satisfied and forcefully demanded a “fee” for the horse as well. She didn't rest until the bride's father had paid her a dollar for the horse ….

It is interesting to note that when the Kremenets matchmaker stayed in Belozerka for the Sabbath, the mothers and fathers of the young women in the village would bring hay and oats for the horses, hoping they'd stay healthy and strong to be able to go on bringing young men to Belozerka ….

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Kremenets Widows Remind the Pochayev Rabbi to Fear God

At the election of Rabbi Mendiuk, the deceased Rabbi Rapaport's son-in-law, as rabbi of Kremenets on January 15, 1933, everybody was mobilized for the election campaign. There was also a lively exchange of letters between Rabbi Rapaport's widow and Rabbi M. Oretski of Pochayev, who planned to declare himself the challenger candidate for the position.

The culmination of this activity was the Kremenets widows' public protest against Rabbi Oretski's intention to submit his candidacy. The most interesting part was that the widows' call was published on the front page of Kremenitser Shtime and included the words “There is a God in this world, Who is the Father of orphans and the Judge of widows-fear Him, rabbi of Pochayev!”

The widows' public call helped-and the Pochayever rabbi withdrew his candidacy.

We present here the full text of this unique appeal, with all the widows' signatures.

 

The Kremenets Widows' Public Protest

Reading in the newspaper your letter, in which you announce that you are submitting your candidacy for the position of community rabbi in Kremenets, and considering that by this act you will add distress to the grieving and unhappy widow and children of our late Rabbi Rapaport, of blessed memory, who died so young-we see it as our duty to strongly protest against action.

We, sorrowful widows, who more than anyone else can understand the bitter fate and feel the great pain of the widows and orphans punished by God with the most severe punishment -we all condemn your conduct, which was clearly directed against the fate of a widow with a family of little orphans.

It isn't appropriate for any Jew, particularly not for a rabbi, to undermine the life and livelihood of widows and children who have been struck by tragedy; a rabbi must serve as an example to the world through his integrity and compassion. In contrast, you have chosen to take such a dishonest and pitiless step, which no doubt would be a disgrace to the holy Torah and human consciousness. Where is your integrity? Where is your compassion? And where is the commandment in the Torah not to harm widows and orphans?

You'll stand accountable before God and before humanity and be denounced publicly if you submit your candidacy for the Kremenets rabbinate position! There can be no excuse!

The tears of many widows and orphans, who feel the sorrow and pain of the family of Rabbi Rapaport, of blessed memory, will turn against you and will certainly not be shed in vain!

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There is a God in this world, Who is the Father of orphans and the Judge of widows-fear Him, Pochayever rabbi!

With great sorrow, the widows of Kremenets:

Tsipe Vaynberg, Nadi Shumski, Feyge Litwak, Ite Rozenfeld, Stisi Lemberg, Pesi Mandelkorn, Gitel Hokhberg, Miryam Zeltser, Mali Shepetin, Gitel Dolgoshey, Rivke Gornfeld, Rivke Boym, Feli Sheynberg, Beyle Borsht, Yente Sambirer, Rivke Shteynberg, Dvore Krivin, Pesi Reyts, Dantsi Gitelman, Chaye Fridkes, Pesi Fridman, Toyve Teper, Tsivye Shnayder, Beyle Pundik, Golde Barshap, Feyge Shtulberg, Pesi Katz, Beyle Doloshey, Ester Guz, Chaike Landa, M. Poyzner, Ester Aks, Sheyndel Poltorak, Idis Bielaguz, et al.


My First Day in Cheder

by Esther Laybel-Rubinshteyn (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

One Saturday, when I was about five or six years old, my aunt, who raised me, told me that the next day, Sunday, we had to get up early because the teacher's assistant would come to take me to the cheder, run by the teacher Yoel Kishke. By then, I already knew the word “cheder” from my older brothers and sisters, but I had not really seen one.

I rose very early in the morning. My aunt dressed me in my best clothes, the Sabbath dress, and prepared some food for me: bread with plum jam and a piece of halvah.

The door opened, and in came a young man, his face full of pimples, with red eyes and a long nose, his body bent, his clothes dirty, wearing a too-small jacket with sleeves that were too short, shoes muddy, his whole appearance scary. Frightened, I hid under my mother's apron.

The assistant tried to calm me down, put me on a chair, and took me on his back. I had to put my little hands around his dirty neck, and in this way he carried me to the cheder: a long room with one large window. A tall bench stood near the entrance, and on it was a heap of coats. One long table stood in the middle of the room, and on the sides were two benches for the children to sit on; some pupils my age were already sitting there. In the middle of the room, a beautiful big rooster “made the rounds.” …

The assistant let me down near the door and left me there. I looked at the children, and they looked at me. Suddenly, a fat, dirty woman, the teacher's wife, appeared and ordered the assistant to find a seat for me among the other children. Soon a tall, handsome man with a long white beard came in; it was the teacher himself, Yoel Kishke. He sat down at the head of the table, the assistant next to him holding his big wooden stick, which served as a pointer, and the lesson began.

The teacher himself taught the older children, and the assistant taught the younger ones. The assistant would sometimes fall asleep and wouldn't notice how the pointer moved from one word to another. When the children became confused and inattentive, the teacher would show us his stick, which was always ready in his hand.

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The minute the teacher cried out, “Well, bastards, go eat!” all was forgotten-fear of the assistant and the teacher's whip-and everyone rushed into the next room. The assistant stretched out on the long table and fell asleep right away…. The children began eating, and they played at the same time: who would get more plum jam (which every child had brought from home) on her face or other games, until everybody fell off the bench. The laughing and noise was impossible to imagine.

At that moment, the wife stormed in, holding a broom and yelling, “This is what you have in mind? Laughing? You'll soon laugh with the frogs outside!”

A deadly silence fell over the entire room.


Old Kremenets
(Leafing through the “All Kremenets” Album)

by Moshe Suravski (New York)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

A friend who had visited Kremenets brought me a present, “All Kremenets” - a photograph album from my hometown, where I spent my childhood and adolescence. With trembling hands, I opened it, and memories of the “good old days” were awakened, bringing back to life my remembrances of my forever lost home …

 

The Train Station

True-it isn't the same station I remember from when I left Kremenets, the station I watched being built with my own eyes. I was then a young boy, and in my cheder I heard that in the world there were wagons that ran on steam-and my young mind was very anxious to know how these wagons looked. The closest train station-before they built our own station-was in Rodnya, but I never had a chance to go there, a distance of about two miles through the forest. It was too far to walk, and I was afraid of robbers. Therefore, I waited patiently until the new train station was finished.

It was at the time of the Passover holiday when the first train was supposed to arrive from Dubno. It's hard to describe the excitement in Kremenets! People left their shops, women didn't feed their children, the schools were abandoned, old and young went to see the wonder… Literally the entire town was at the station when the first train arrived in Kremenets.

I'll never forget the enormous impression made by the remarkable engine smokestack … the pump where they filled the engine with water … the marvelous way the engine maneuvered to the circular area, where one single man, just by turning a small wheel, caused the big engine to turn around 180 degrees … miracle of miracles!!

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The town breathed to the rhythm of the incoming train in the morning and the outgoing train in the evening. Young people suddenly had a new place to spend their free time, and on the Sabbath, the streets leading to the outskirts of town and the train station were full of people, an entire parade leading the gentile passengers to the station, and the Jews watching and enjoying the sight… Today there isn't even one remnant of all this. During World War I, the station burned down, and in its place a very small station was built, which looks more like a tavern …

 

The Great Synagogue

Oh, the synagogue … How many sweet memories are linked with this synagogue and the synagogue courtyard … I spent almost half my childhood years here-for where else would Jewish children have free entrance and so much open space to play in? How many pairs of shoes, do you think, did I tear climbing and jumping around on the fenced lawn? Where else could we roll in the grass and feel at home? Where did I absorb so many Jewish melodies and prayers as they were sung by our cantors? Where else could we see such a magnificent, tall-to-the-ceiling Torah ark?

And we haven't yet mentioned the powerful impression made by the synagogue in general, with its tall, massive cornices, beautiful candelabras hanging from the tall ceiling, and wonderful acoustics. The wide, beautiful entrance from the anteroom, broad stairs, and large door to the synagogue seemed to have been built especially for us, the children, to have enough room to run in and out or to fight over a walnut or piece of candy thrown by the women, as was the custom, after honoring a bridegroom by calling him to the Torah reading…

The synagogue builders had very good taste, no doubt. No better or more beautiful monument could have been erected, in which so much effort and so much money was invested. Generations have come, and generations will go, but such a synagogue will never again be built in Kremenets…

 

Shimele's Place

It's a big leap from the calm, beautiful synagogue to “Shimele Shepherd's place,” but this picture as well is attached to my sweetest childhood memories. The place played an important role in the lives of the young people of Kremenets.

Where did I see real-life wild animals for the first time in my life? At Shimele's! A circus-whether under the open sky or in a huge tent-at Shimele's! A wild party for the peasants, where the main attraction was climbing on a rope dipped in soap-at Shimele's! Training on horses-at Shimele's! A fair-at Shimele's! Horse trading-at Shimele's! Everything at Shimele's…

One Chanukah, I saved my Chanukah money, all six kopeks, and went to Shimele's to buy a colt for myself… How I envied the peasants' young sons, who, sitting on their fathers' horses, looked down at us-the Jewish children-with such pride and contempt…

[Page 395]

The Public Bathhouse

After Shimele's place, I think the best place to have a good time was, without any doubt, the bath… We used to go to the bathhouse every Friday, since on Fridays we were free from cheder because the rabbi's wife was busy preparing for the Sabbath. I always loved the great hustle and bustle in the bathhouse. The room was full of hot steam, and it was almost impossible to see each other through the mist. It was fun to see the fathers looking for their children, trying to lure them up to the highest bench, where the most honored citizens were sitting and noisily hitting their bodies with branches or little brooms… I remember that once we witnessed a real “show” near the bathhouse: It was Friday, and a Jew was coming “from the mountain,” driving his cart full of sand, beautiful bronze sand that the women would buy to spread on their wooden floors. Suddenly, as the man drove his cart and horses over the bridge near the bathhouse-boom! The bridge collapsed, and the cart, horses, and driver fell into the small brook underneath. The entire town ran over to watch, and it certainly was the first time in the history of Kremenets that a horse took a bath in the local creek…

 

The Church

In the very heart of Kremenets, I see the picture of the church, its domes, and its bells with their constant, almost deafening, sound. It's true that for us, the Jewish boys, it wasn't a very fitting place to roam, in spite of the broad stone sidewalk and the large beautiful plaza, where various parades took place.

On Sundays, the plaza outside the church would fill with life, and even Jews made a good profit, even though the shops were closed for half the day. So many gentiles would gather there that I'd always wonder where all those gentiles came from in such great numbers… In general, however, the church and its surroundings left a bad taste in my mouth…

 

The Religious Seminary

The Seminary was almost a town of its own: large, tall, white gates, many windows, and a tall fence along the entire length and width of the mysterious building, where a Jewish soul could never enter. For us, the boys, it presented no attraction at all.

In one way, though, the Kremenets Jews enjoyed the Seminary: through the big clock in the tall tower. There was no better entertainment on a summer night, when the moon shone and the stars were spread through the sky, than when people, exhausted from the unbearable heat during the day, would sit on their balconies or porch stairs because they couldn't sleep-and suddenly the Seminary clock would begin to ring its bell, again and again, until it completed all 12 chimes…

[Page 396]

Shirakaya Ulitsa-Broad Street

This was the street where I lived. From our terrace, I saw many parades and processions, and I was quite familiar with music… But the most beautiful music I ever heard on Broad Street, and it sounds in my ears to this day, was every Sabbath before dawn, around four in the morning, when in the stillness of the night I heard very clearly through the closed shutters the voice of the Jew who'd taken upon himself the task of calling the Jews to prayer and sang with a melody that came straight from his heart:

Children of Israel, the holy people,
rise, rise,
to the worship of the Creator,
for this is the reason of your being…

The soft tones of the call, which I heard every Sabbath at dawn, are stored in my memory, stronger than anything else that I cherish.

 

The Little Hill behind the Great Synagogue

And now, I can see three pictures at once! The Hill was the place where we Jewish children loved most to pass our time, in particular when winter came, and with the first big snow, the special road for the sleighs was ready. Where in Kremenets would be the best and safest place to skate and go tobogganing, if not on the broad, aristocratic street behind the synagogue?

When the Holy Sabbath day arrived, the morning prayer was over, the meal and kugel were eaten, and the adults lay down to take a well-deserved nap after a long week of toil and worry, then the entire street filled with children… How did Jewish children get hold of so many sleds? How come Jewish children knew how to use skates? And yet our noise and cries of joy filled the noble street and gave us indescribable happiness!

I'm looking at the photograph of my grandfather R' Iser Fingerhut's little house, with its garden and big oak tree, about 200 years old; oh, how dear this little house and the courtyard were to me… In the yard was a little room that was mine during the summer, as soon as it was emptied of the firewood it had contained during the winter. I'd transform the little room into a circus, where I was the acrobat, the ticket-taker, or even the owner himself… There was enough room in the large courtyard to play “soldiers,” and I liked to lie down in the shade of the oak tree with a book in my hand and philosophize with myself about what I was reading.

 

The Boulevard

I see before my eyes the boulevard, with the gate that leads to the Bagayavlenski monastery. Several times I risked my life and crossed the long monastery courtyard and still came out alive…

[Page 397]

As far as I remember, no Jewish child ever entered the place, for fear of “the evil eye”… Therefore, I enjoyed the guardhouse near the monastery very much: every Sunday afternoon, they played music on the square in front of the guardhouse, and there was no greater pleasure in the world than to listen to music.

All of Kremenets liked to listen to the players. The girls would stand for hours at the windows listening to Chatskele Klezmer and his band… Even one accordionist and his partner, who would set up four walls and present a puppet show, would attract a large crowd.

I'll never forget the melody played by the accordionist while his partner performed, showing the Christian youngster Gavrile kissing a girl while his rival hit him on the head and killed him. Soon the murderer tried to wake him and called out, weeping:

Gavrile Gavrile
Get up and drink some vodka

Then they covered him with a black cloth and gave him a funeral, and during the procession the main actor-to the crowd's merriment-cried:

Charity saves from death!
Give charity! Give charity!

For us, the children, watching the play was a rare pleasure. We always had a good laugh and, besides, the play took place outdoors under the blue sky and was free, so everybody could come.

 

The Creek

Kremenets Jews, as well as guests who came to visit-everyone made fun of our “river.” … True, the creek was so narrow and shallow that even chickens could cross it easily, and there was no question of bathing there, in any case. However, as young boys, we found a way. We worked as beavers do: we gathered straw, wood, and sand, rolled up our pants, and began working until a small “lake” was formed, in which we'd splash until the peasants noticed us and sent their ducklings to the lake, and we had to leave the premises…

I remember that one summer a terrible summer storm broke out in Kremenets. In the course of some three hours, there was terrible thunder and lightning that roared and exploded-we thought a new flood was coming… When it was over, the first thing we did was to run to our creek.

A rare picture unfolded before our eyes: the creek streamed and stormed like a real river, the water covered the hills all around, and the waves carried with them everything that was in their way-trees, wooden boards, logs. The rumor was that people even drowned in the river…


[Page 398]

Two Poems

by Hadasa Rubin (Warsaw)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

 

An Autumn Rain

(Kremenitser Shtime, 9 October 1931)

The rain is pouring, it drenches all,
Sands, paths, ponds, roads,
It fills them,
It kneads them,
Just like sourdough for bread.
In drops and streams,
It strikes the roofs,
Bores holes in all the ceilings,
Soaks the poverty inside;
Drop by drop it falls
And fills little earthen dishes,
Sometimes wets the little feet
Of a small child.
Blue little feet, lean arms,
Old, cold and wet walls
Bent by the wind. The rain is pouring, it drenches all,
Sands, paths, ponds, roads,
And shatters heaps
Of rotten leaves,
Mixing them with mud.
Jets of water running fast,
Drenching perforated shoes.
Ripping, dragging in the stream
Wooden boards and heaps of dirt.
Streets and lanes become empty.
The wind rushes over them
Tearing from end to end, mocking
The poor hungry dogs.

[Page 399]

The rain is pouring, it drenches all,
Sands, paths, ponds, roads,
It fills them,
It kneads them,
Just like sourdough for bread.
In drops and streams it strikes the roofs,
Bores holes in all the ceilings,
Soaks the poverty inside.

 

The First Snow

(Kremenitser Shtime, 15 January 1932)

On a little hill stood a little house
An old little house, with an old fence.
In the little house there were many little children
But in the little house there was no bread at all.
There was a little grandmother, old as well,
Who could not bear any crying.
The little house and the little hill
Were all covered with snow.
Said the children: Oh, a little sleigh,
Oh a little sleigh on the snow!
Said the grandmother: Who needs the sleigh -
Clean your noses and go away!
The children lift their heads and stretch their tender necks
To reach the cold window-pane,
And the dear grandmother, so old
But not at all deaf…
Through the window the children see
Only a white fence,
But soon they are bored and remember
That what they want is bread.
But the dear grandmother, old as she is,
Does not bear any crying.
Said she: It is still early, meanwhile look out the window
And see how the first snow is falling…


[Page 400]

Kremenets Nicknames

by Heynekh Kesler (New York)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

A. The “Herd” B. Additions to the First Name C. Various Nicknames
Ayzik di Ki (cow) R' Avraham Pipik (bellybutton) Beztolk
Yankel di shof (sheep) Avraham Tsitske (understand) Bizem Keshene (vest pocket)
Fayvish Kelvales (calf's) Avraham Shpring-in-Bet (jump-in-bed) Bashkeyer
Yuresh mit der Kie (with the cow) Ayzik Pare (steam) Bilitshikhe
Yankel Tsap (goat) Ayizik Shlisale (middleman) Broyt mit Shmalts (bread with goose fat)
Shime'le Pastukh (shepherd) Idel Tsap (pigtail) Groysekhe (bragger)
Kive (Akiva) Leviten (whale Aharon mit di Gleklakh (with the bells) Der Malakh (the angel)
Fertel Of (quarter chicken) Berel Choygel The Choymer
Rachel fun di Genz (from the geese) Basi di Moyd (girl) Di Terkinye (the Turkish woman)
Mayzele (little mouse) Duvid'l Korol (coral) Vizale
Avraham-Yoel Tshizshik (finch) Duvid Vas (what) Varnitshke
  Duvid Parkh (scab) Father Poish
  Hersh Shkravalnik Todi Bode
  Hersh-Mendel Amalek Tsherire Haroshi
  Heynekh Kapota (coat) Tap Teyglekh (pot dumplings)
  Heynekh mit der Blat (with the paper) Trentel
  Hinde di Sorvern (waitress) Tsherindik
  Zelig Oder (vein) Tarashtshekhe
  Zalmenishke Malakh Hamavet (angel of death)
  Chaskel Balebos (homeowner) Spasiba za Torah (Thank You for Torah)
  Chayim Dzhinshik Pitsieritsye
  Chaykel of Kremenits Papalik
  Yoel Kishke (gut) Pontshekhe (doughnut)
  Yoel fun der Leyvent (linen seller) Tsikorye (chicory)
  Yosi Ditina (kid [Ukrainian]) Koyolterlekhe
  Yashke Ponimayesh (understand)  
  Yekl Shkalik (bottle)  
  Yankel der Langer (long)  
  Yankel Zaverekhe (snowstorm)  
  Yankel Bortsh  
  Yankel Plokht (twist)  
  Libe di Grobe (fat)  
  Leybenov Atiets (priest)  
  Leybish Spodek (tall fur hat)  
  Leyzer Draykop (head twister [swindler])  
  Leyzer der Gendreyter (crazy)  
  Mendel funem Plats (from the market)  
  Moti Kashe (porridge)  
  Muni Zhmenye (handful)  
  Moshe Hipsh (nice)  
  Moshe Shibeye (wheel)  
  Moshe Kadushke (barrel)  
  Moshe Kadoynik  
  Moshe Povitinye (spiderweb)  
  Moshe Kraf (lump; evil person)  
  Natan Soldat (soldier)  
  Pinye Pitsyatsye  
  Fishke General  
  Pesye Milkhike (dairy)  
  Kalman di Mame (mommy)  
  Shaye Tyutye  
  Shimele Pastukh (shepherd)  
  Simche Gorgl (throat)  
  Shlome Sondi's  
  Shaul Kozeratske  

 

[Page 401]

Kremenets Characters

by Motye Kornits (Jerusalem)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Dedicated to the shining memory of my father- and mother-in law, Chayim and Feyge Bakimer. May their memory be bound in the bond of the living.

My townspeople were “all-year Jews,” simple people, devoid of particular pretensions, who led quiet lives, earning their livelihood with difficulty - sometimes with more and sometimes with less success - through commerce, by selling groceries, or through simple labor or craftsmanship. Not ultra-fanatics but not unbelievers, God forbid - ”give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's” was their motto. They sent their children to “school” but also to the Talmud Torah or the cheder for Jewish studies. They experienced worries and joyful moments but were far from depressed or gloomy. On the contrary, they always liked a good joke or a clever saying and laughed with hope, not forgetting to mention “God willing”…

This was the majority, the mainstream of Jewish Kremenets.

Every one of them found his “equals,” lived close to his peers in profession or livelihood, prayed in “his” synagogue, and lived in “his” neighborhood. The tailor who lived on the tailors' street prayed in the Tailors' Small Synagogue; the butcher, in the Butchers' Study Hall, and so on.

They were friends with one another, they knew “what was cooking in their neighbor's kitchen,” and they called themselves by their occupations: Menashe Shuster (shoemaker), Chayim Gershon Shnayder (tailor), Leybtshe Katsav (butcher). Often, the occupation would become a nickname, which stuck to this or that person at random, following a slip of the tongue or a chance saying uttered by one friend or another. The individuals would accept that willingly and gladly, and would even stress it in their conversations with other people: “You can trust me, Ayzik Shlisale (middleman). I'll take care of that …” or “I, Pinye Pitsyatse, am telling you …” and so on and so forth. The nickname actually lived longer than the real name and was inherited by the children and the children's children.

Here, I'd like to mention a few of those simple Jews who remain in my memory and describe some of the characters we all remember.

 

Yidel Shuster (Shoemaker)

His name was Portnoy, which in Russian means tailor, but by occupation he was a shoemaker, and so he was called. He was a good craftsman and also active in community work. In particular, he helped with the soup kitchen, the society for visiting the sick, and the home for the aged. He helped many poor people and had a good reputation.

The house where he lived belonged to him and his neighbor, Yosl the tailor, and contained two apartments. To avoid resentment and bad feelings, every year they'd exchange apartments. Such good neighbors are hard to find.

 

Chayim Gershon Shnayder (Tailor)

His surname was Nudel [needle], by occupation he was a tailor, as befit his name, and he was called “Chayim Gershon Shnayder,” with a long, accented “a.”

[Page 402]

A skilled worker, he'd make festive suits for all the bridegrooms in town. His patriarchal demeanor commanded respect. Radiating importance, on Sabbath eve or a holiday eve he'd walk with measured steps, carrying newly finished clothes to his clients, self-confident and satisfied with his work: “I, Chayim Gershon the tailor, do my work perfectly; you won't find any flaws in my work…”

 

Mordekhay Shnayder

Mordekhay was another tailor, but a ladies' tailor. I don't remember his real surname. A tall Jew, always in a hurry, he never had enough time, and he was very proud of the beautiful wedding gowns he'd prepare for brides. When the bride came for the fitting, her entire family was present, every member of the family expressing an opinion and giving advice. In short, the families were happy, and Mordekhay the tailor earned his good name honestly.

 

Vizale

I forgot his real surname, but he was a ladies' tailor as well, and everybody called him Vizale, maybe because he was so short. He was not a first-class tailor, but he had his clients. When he had a non-Jewish client, it was a wonder how he managed to communicate with her, since he didn't know Russian. He talked with his hands and worked fast, and when the garment was finished, he rehearsed several times how much money he'd have to ask for his work.

 

Yankel Vasertreger (Water Carrier)

Yankel's surname was Kadushke [barrel], but everybody called him Yankel Water Carrier. He had two sons, Chayim Pinchas and Moshe. Father and sons earned their livelihood by carrying water.

The sons had their own “weaknesses”: Chayim Pinchas loved watches. When he managed to save a little money from his meager income, he bought a watch, and he wore it all day. As soon as he could spare some money again, he bought a gold watch. On the Sabbath and holidays, he'd wear both watches, and when asked what time it was, he'd ask, on the Sabbath watch or the weekday watch? Finally, he acquired a third little watch, which he held in his vest pocket in case the other two stopped working …

The other son, Moshe, liked to take a walk on the Sabbath wearing squeaky shoes, and this was his greatest pleasure …

 

Moshe Hipsh (Nice)

A simple Jew, he was a porter, and that was how he made his living. Even when he was already advanced in age, he'd carry a sack of flour on his back or even a barrel of herring, which was twice as heavy. In addition to that, our merchants would hire him as their “town crier”: he'd walk the streets and loudly advertise their merchandise.

[Page 403]

And this is what he'd proclaim: Fresh fish, come, ladies, nice ladies, buy fish for the Sabbath, nice fish, good fish, nice, nice!

And so he got his nickname, “Nice.”

However, with all these occupations, he lived in great poverty, but he never complained and was a very honest man.

 

Shalom Peyke (Pipe)

He started as a turner and ended up as a porter. He was nicknamed Peyke, which meant pipe, because in his turner days he made himself a pipe and always smoked it.

When he was a turner, he was very poor and lived in a hole. In time, he managed to save 25 rubles and borrowed another 25 to return the loan at half a ruble a week, and he and Shimon Chayim the miller built themselves two little houses on the other side of the pond, near the town dump. They were good neighbors all their lives.

 

Hinde di Groyse (Big) and Hinde di Kleyne (Little)

Both were named Hinde, and both were caterers. One was big and one was small, and therefore they were called Big Hinde and Little Hinde.

They were hired at weddings, and they'd prepare everything with great care, good taste, and a loving heart. Family and guests enjoyed the hospitality and the wonderful taste of the food.

 

Hersh Klezmer

His real surname was Komediant [comedian]. His children were ashamed of this name, and they changed it to Commandant, but in town he was called Hersh Klezmer. All his family members were talented Jewish musicians, and they played at weddings and other Jewish happy occasions. The entire family was a wonderful orchestra - Hersh and his children: Moshe, Ayzik, Yosl, Sore, and Malke. Each played a different instrument, but the drummer was Tovye the water carrier, who wasn't even a relative. For three years they taught him where and how to beat the drum, yet more than once he disappointed them …

[Page 404]

Moshe Tate (Father)

He was a teacher by profession, and he taught little boys and girls the prayers and weekly Torah portion. He was not a great scholar, and there was not too much he could teach his pupils. He lived a simple life and died at the ripe old age of 75.

He was a bachelor for his entire life, yet he was the one whom all the children in town called Father.

 

Ayzik Shlisele (Middleman)

I forgot his surname, although he was very popular in town. When a merchant in town needed a short-term loan, he'd go to Ayzik Shlisele, and soon he'd have the money. What was the exact source of the money? That was a secret, and Shlisele kept the secret stubbornly. It was known, though, that he'd procure money only when he knew it would be in safe hands, since the original fund was intended for a sacred purpose: it was mothers' savings for their daughters' dowry.

 

Leybenov Atiets (Priest)

He was a wise Jew and lived “on air.”… Every time a priest or an estate owner would want to sell some object or another, he'd know about it and would immediately find a buyer and arrange the deal. The money he earned as mediator was his living for the next few months.

He acquired the name Priest through a mistake he'd made, but the nickname stuck and stayed with him for his entire life.

 

Malke de Lange (Long)

Her name was Yadushliver, but everybody called her Malke the Long. She lived in the Vishnevets suburb across the pond, but she always was busy in town. People would ask her jokingly what she needed her apartment for and who was doing the cooking at home. She was in the mediating business and acted as an agent mainly in the grains trade - a clever Jewess who managed her business wisely.

 

Babtsye fun der Fish (from the Fish) and Babtsye fun der Puter (from the Butter)

We had two Babtsyes - one sold fish, and the other, dairy products. The Kremenets Jewish women enjoyed this situation and liked both of them. And, in truth, thanks “first to God and then to the Babtsyes,” the town was provided with two main products: fish fresh out of the river for the Sabbath and holidays, and butter, sour cream, and cheese for weekdays.

Both were welcome guests in Jewish homes because they wouldn't wait for the customers to come to them, but would bring their wares to the customer's house, to everyone's kitchen. And when a needy woman didn't have enough money to pay, they'd say, “Well, eat it in good health, and when you have, you'll pay.” And many poor women would leave it at that, eat in health, and thank “first God and next Babtsye, may she be blessed with the light of Heaven, amen…”

 

Rachel fun der Genz (from the Geese)

Around the Chanukah holiday, it was time to begin preparing “goose fat” for Passover. The aroma of the cooking fat wafted through the entire neighborhood, and the children would wait impatiently for the tasty cracklings.

[Page 405]

This was the “high season” for Rachel from the Geese, who would have the geese slaughtered and sell the raw fat and the clean, plucked geese separately. As with many others in our town, we didn't know her real name - and, actually, who needed to know it? Who didn't know Rachel from the Geese? She was a short, round woman, always wearing her long apron, two large baskets full of plucked geese in her hands, with the fine smell of goose fat announcing her arrival. That was how she lived her few years, and it was said that she made a very decent living.

 

Perl Chicory

Her name was Perl Beznoska; she was dark, and this was the source of her nickname, Chicory. She was a short woman, and she sold very tasty egg cookies. Even the Russian officials would come to buy her cookies. Perl Chicory lived below the pond and was Shalom Peyke's neighbor.


R' Shlome Koval (the Blacksmith)

by Yitschak Vakman (New York)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

A white beard, blue eyes, always humming some melody and always looking absorbed in thoughts - so is his figure engraved in my memory.

He was a wise Jew. He rented an apartment in Shpigler's house, and he had his workshop there as well. There was nothing that R' Shlome couldn't fix - and he always did a good job. Yet earning a living wasn't very easy. During the week, he managed somehow - but how to provide for the Sabbath? And so R' Shlome would sit in his shop and watch for a customer - it was Wednesday, tomorrow would be Thursday, and what about the Sabbath?

Suddenly an acquaintance - a priest - came in, holding a small package wrapped in newspaper. A little icon of Jesus with a broken leg. “Can you mend it so it looks like new?” “Yes, Father,” said Shlome - is there anything Shlome the Blacksmith can't do? “But it'll cost you a ruble, Father.” “I'll give you a ruble and 50 kopeks,” said the priest. And Shlome stood there and said to himself, “Master of the Universe, how dear and sweet You are! You break the arms and legs of their gods only to give Shlome the means to provide for the Sabbath…

[Page 406]

 

kre406.jpg
Old Kremenets

 

[Page 407]

Documents

 

Echoes of the 1860s
Kremenitser Shtime, No. 8, November 20, 1931

Translated by Ite Toybe Doktorski

In Raz-svyet of 1860 (no. 35) we read, among other things, the following lines:
… “We can say with satisfaction that the Jews of Kremenets have for some time had a different point of view about life's interests in general and about education in particular: they are more or less permeated with the need to give their children a fine education in real life. And the women don't lag behind; modern education is important even when there are no boarding schools. There you can find a first-class primary school, but its success is not great, if we are to believe the rumors we hear. With satisfaction, we note that the girls speak good Russian, Polish, German, and French. They show a particular love for the latter. As for how they dress and behave, they are no less than the girls of main cities are. For that reason, the Jews of the neighboring villages call Kremenets a heretic city …”

In this same article, the author tells us about the sad case of a 16-year-old girl from a well-respected Kremenets family. The girl was lured by a few fanatics to the local monastery for the purpose of converting her to Christianity. She suffered there for about a year. With great efforts, her unfortunate father succeeded in obtaining the child's freedom from the authorities. They freed her, but she paid a heavy price for staying a year in the monastery: she had lost her innocence… And the author ends his article with one exclamation: “It would be very interesting to know how history judges a case such as this one, which could happen in the 19th century…”

The article is signed by a certain Y. Rozental. Translated and sent for publication by Alexander Rozental.


[Page 408]

The Disrupted Meeting
(An Episode from Working Life in Kremenets)

by L. Rozental, Kremenitser Shtime

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

The first strike, organized by the seamstresses (“tailor girls,” as they were called), lasted three months. They had one single demand: to cut the working day from 16 to 10 hours.

The strike succeeded, and it brought them great satisfaction. As soon as the first workshop owner gave in, the others followed, one by one. What had a great effect was that the strike took place during the high season. Every evening at 8:00, the working girls would show up on the workshop street. Those who were detained at home were quickly called out. The bosses would become angry and even use foul language, but it didn't help.

Meanwhile, the strike leaders initiated another project: teach the girls to read and write. Almost none of the girls could write or even read. Only a very small number had ever studied anything. Some would go to the rabbi's wife during their lunch break, and for five kopeks a week she would teach them the prayers. You can imagine how much “learning” could take place at the he rabbi's wife's house, as the entire lunch break, including eating, didn't last more than half an hour…

In wintertime, during the long Friday evenings, the girls would gather in one of the houses, each bringing “seeds” (roasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds), and they would tell stories or dance a quadrille or a sher[1]. In the summer, during the long Sabbath days or holidays, some would go for long walks in the park or the mountains. Others would go to Liskovski or elsewhere to play on the swings or drink kvas or milk fresh from the cow. This was how the young people would spend their time…

A few weeks after the strike, the leaders assembled all the girls, divided them into groups of four or five, and assigned a teacher to each group, who taught them Russian and Yiddish reading and writing. This course lasted a year and a half, during which time other strikes were organized. Following the first strike, these strikes were much easier to carry out and were considerably shorter.

At that time, the first workers' parties began to appear. In our town, a Labor Zionist chapter was established first. Several months later, a student from Odessa organized a “Bund” chapter. They had a series of gatherings, meetings and discussions, each chapter attempting to win over members of the other. The main activities took place during the free summer Sabbath days and holidays. The Labor Zionists were the larger group, mostly intelligent people who contributed a great deal to the group as a whole.

Every Sabbath, some of the members would go to the mountains and look for a secluded valley or forest, where the entire group would meet.

[Page 409]

Right after the Sabbath meal, the young people would go out into the street, and one of them would indicate to several others an address, where they would find another friend, who showed them the way further. The information thus passed from one to another, indicating four or five such “meeting points,” where assemblies would be taking place. Each place had a “patrol” on guard, which through accepted signs would convey to the others when a suspicious person was noticed. This arrangement worked regularly, and meetings were held every Saturday. After the meeting, everybody went back to town for a leisurely walk through the Jewish streets.

On one summer Saturday, a new member was scheduled to speak at a Labor Zionist meeting. At the same time, the Bund had a meeting as well, and at that meeting, a Christian member was scheduled to speak. In his honor, the meeting was conducted in Russian. During his speech, a noise was suddenly heard, and the guard asked the listeners to leave the place quickly. One by one, the group members left, pale and frightened. One young lady fainted.

Soon one of the guards appeared and announced that nothing had happened; they could return to the meeting: a soldier had stopped near one of the guards and asked for directions - the road to a certain village in the area - and this looked suspicious to the other guard, who panicked. However, nobody returned to the meeting, and when the rumor about the “disrupted meeting” spread to the Bund assembly, they broke up their meeting as well and scattered in all directions.

It was a hot day, and everyone met finally in town, tired and sweaty, and had a good laugh about the entire affair … the “frightened guard” could not show his face in public for a long time … because of him, two important meetings had been disrupted.


Translators' Footnote:

  1. A sher is a popular Jewish folkdance. return


Passover for Jewish Soldiers
Kremenitser Lebn, No. 16, April 17, 1936

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

This year, the military units stationed in town contained a large number of Jews. Sometime before Passover, the community leaders and the rabbi, Rabbi M. Mendiuk, got in touch with the authorities and made sure the Jewish soldiers would be free during the eight days of the holiday. Some of them received only the first and last days; some even received 10 days of leave. The community arranged a special kitchen in a private home for them, and there they ate during the holiday, like all other Jews.

[Page 410]

During the intermediate days of Passover, they received a special room with beautifully set tables in their barracks. Every day, the rabbi sat with them during meals and spent several hours with them. The military authorities acted with special consideration and exempted them from hard work. On the last day of Passover, during the prayer in memory of the dead, a special prayer was dedicated to Marshal Josef Pilsudski, with all Jewish soldiers from the local military unit participating as well as those from units in the surrounding towns.


Preparing to Build the Tarbut School
Kremenitser Lebn, No. 19, June 10, 1938

Translated by Ite Toybe Doktorski

After many interruptions, we have recently received the plan as validated by the district authorities. Undertaking to create the Tarbut School and its eventual high school is an enormous enterprise. On the acquired plot of land, we'll build a three-story building with the latest modern equipment. It is understood that this can only be achieved with the participation of the entire community, which will have to find the necessary means for its own school and also show great readiness for sacrifice. At the joint meeting of the Tarbut Committee and the Parents' Association president, a special construction committee was elected, which has already started working on its assignment. A select committee was also elected, with a restricted number of members. The Construction Committee members are Mrs. F. Baytler, M. Goldring, Ch. Grinberg, Y. Vayner, M. Zaytshik, N. Fiks, A. Pintshuk, A. Fayer, Y. Kop, and A. Shnayder. The elected president of the Select Committee is Mr. M. Goldring. The other Select Committee members are Messrs. Ch. Grinberg, A. Fayer, and A. Shnayder. Mr. Margolis was appointed to the Construction Committee. The committee has already started working on its assignment.


The Jewish National Fund Bazaar
Kremenitser Lebn, No. 16, April 17, 1936

Translated by Ite Toybe Doktorski

On Saturday of the Intermediate days of Passover, on April 11 of this year, the Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO) organized the opening of the bazaar for the benefit of the Jewish National Fund in the Hashmonai hall. All the participants admired the exhibition, which was arranged in an exemplary manner. Wares of varied nature were exhibited for sale in different kiosks: glassware, spices, toys, and much handicraft.

At exactly 10:00 in the evening, the president, Mrs. F. Baytler, opened the bazaar. In a short speech, she explained WIZO's aims and its role in the Zionist movement. Mr. M. Goldring, the president of the Zionist Organization, saluted WIZO in the name of all the Zionist associations and underscored the movement's praiseworthy activities.

After the opening greetings, a concert took place. The recently engaged cantor of the Great Synagogue, M. Shrager, accompanied by Mrs. K. Berman-Litvak, performed three pieces.

[Page 411]

The pieces were performed professionally and in good taste. The audience applauded enthusiastically. Some of the audience had come to the bazaar opening especially to hear the cantor's performance.

After the cantor's concert, Mrs. Baytler invited Mrs. Kamenshon, Mr. Goldring, and Mr. Gofman to cut the ribbons of particular kiosks. Groups of people had assembled near the kiosks to buy different objects. At small tables, people feasted on Passover pastry from the buffet.

By organizing the bazaar, WIZO once again demonstrated the dedication and seriousness with which it carries out every assignment and task. WIZO fully deserves the praise bestowed on it. The gains from the bazaar - so it is said - will be beyond all their hopes.

In the same hall that same evening, the solemn handover of the Jewish National Fund Golden Book certificate, in which the Zionist Organization had inscribed the name of the deceased Dr. Arye Landsberg, also took place. Editor M. Goldring recalled Dr. Landsberg's great achievements and his big contributions to the movement. The doctor's son, lawyer Landsberg, thanked the members and organizers in warm and emotional words for the honor bestowed upon his deceased father. The certificate was handed to the Zionist Organization board, which put it up on the wall of its premises.


Opening of the Pioneer Fund Campaign
Kremenitser Lebn, No. 17, April 24, 1936

Translated by Ite Toybe Doktorski

On Sunday, the 19th of this month, a big public assembly took place in the women's premises next to the Great Synagogue over questions regarding pioneering youth and their collective farm training.

The speakers were the president and the central board of Pioneer in Poland, Messrs. Y. Otiker, Y. Sheynboym, and A. Vayner (from Warsaw). The speeches were received with great enthusiasm by the enormous assembly. There were more than 1,000 people on the very crowded premises, and many people couldn't get in because there was no room.

The gathering - which became an impressive demonstration in favor of pioneering thought and solidarity with pioneering youth - ended with the sounds of the “Tehezakna.”[1]


Translators' Footnote:

  1. The poem Birkat Am, of which Tehezakna is the opening word, was written by Hebrew Chayim Nachman Bialik. It was put to music and became a popular anthem in Zionist circles. return


Appeal by the Sponsors of the Pioneer Chapter
Kremenitser Lebn, No. 10, March 3, 1936

Translated by Ite Toybe Doktorski

Due to the catastrophic situation in which the Kremenets Pioneer chapter finds itself, the supervising sponsors held an urgent meeting to examine the situation from every angle. It was decided to launch an appeal to all Jewish social institutions and private enterprises to hire only pioneers for any job.

[Page 412]

It is really a crime that some don't want to see what's happening around us and don't want to understand that Jewish society has an obligation to pay the greatest attention to the builders of our future.

We know the warmth with which people relate to the Pioneer chapters in other cities, where they offer them work and where all Jewish enterprises employ only pioneers.

This isn't about asking for charity, and this isn't about philanthropy. We must give them work, and we ask that this work be carried out properly. Higher salaries are not requested; they make only the very important request that people hire only pioneers for any job be taken seriously. We are convinced that our appeal will not fall on deaf ears.

Sponsors' board members: M. Goldring, Lawyer Landsberg, M. Zaytshik, Ch. Krementchutski, Y. Blumenfeld.


Monthly Kremenetser Relief Support Has Arrived
Kremenitser Lebn, No. 53, January 22, 1937

Translated by Ite Toybe Doktorski

This week, a telegram arrived announcing that $136 has been sent for January. Of that sum, $100 is earmarked for institutions and $36 for the Avraham Vaynberg Fund, to be distributed to poor families. Only the Fund committee members know what great deeds are accomplished with the Fund's monies, because they know the needs of those asking for help. This Fund's money is especially earmarked for impoverished, needy families that manage to receive public assistance. It is worth noting that the amounts that the Fund is now distributing for the third time are greater than the usual amounts distributed as social help by the community. This Fund, named after the first head of the community, Mr. Avraham Vaynberg, of blessed memory, was founded by the directors of the Kremenetser Relief Organization in New York, our city's friends, who tirelessly devote time and energy to putting together the help promised to Kremenets. We know that only a few members of the directorate take this heavy task upon themselves: Messrs. Barshap and Shrayer. Given that not all those receiving the help are in a position to thank our fellow townspeople for their noble work, this newspaper is hereby doing it in their stead. We can assure our dear fellow townspeople that the whole town of Kremenets fully appreciates their warm relationship to their old home, which needs their help so much now, and considers it not only a material gesture on their part but also as moral support in times of great need. May the hands that do this holy work be blessed.

 

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