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[Page 118]

Illustration

by Avraham Dimmenstein

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan


Itzhi Chatzi's (Itzhak son of Yehezkel Zimmerman) Each epitaph or maxim must sprout from certain life experience, yet after it germinates it becomes like a lamp that lights the experience from which the epitaph came out of. It brings out the memory or character of an encountering.

There is an epitaph that says “The phrases of the acumen are expressed in a peaceful, pleasant manner”, every time I hear this proverb, immediately the image of Itzhi Chatzi's arises in front of my eyes. He will come to me, walking toward me very erect. He walked in a regularly paced, calm manner, dressed in very refined, impeccable clothes, all of his appearance is filled with serenity and self-assurance.

I tried to remember if I ever saw him hurrying somewhere, and I could never remember a single occasion. He was very even-tempered in the way he interacted with people around him, but this was not limited to only the people around him, but in all of his dealings with the creator.

This is the way he approached the ark, during the High Holy Day. It was this manner that he used when he read the Torah with his powerful and crystal-clear voice. Many times when he led the prayers for the synagogue, he appeared as if he was spilling his soul to God. He humbled himself before God, but when these passages would come from his mouth, there was a certain strength that would not ever be heard with any other clergyman. When you heard his prayer you visualized even the most difficult words and they became apparent. His style of explanation was almost pedagogical, as if he was demonstrating to our Father in Heaven in a brilliant voice that he must rescue his nation.

From all that I know, Reb Itzhi never left the town. With great astonishment I would ask myself, “Where did he study and how did he study?” Since his knowledge was so vast and covered so many fields, it was such an inexplicable thing. He was like a sponge that never lost one drop. Not only did he have an excellent memory, but he also possessed analytical sharpness and he would have great insight and ability to clarify difficult topics.

I loved Reb Itzhi very much. There was a time when he was my teacher. I loved listening to him during debates. He would speak quietly and peacefully, and slowly his argument would pierce his opponent. It would cut through the weak spot of his opponent's argument and then take apart the core of his reasoning. Sometimes he would just hint, sometimes he would use analogies, but he would always be concise, pinpointing his arguments. After he had concluded the debate, there would be no questions left to ask.

I remember that on one of these occasions, the rabbi from Lublin came to visit. His aim was to collect donations for the foundation of a Yeshivah. He delivered a sermon in front of a large crowd in the synagogue. If I am not mistaken, the subject was the basic rules of the Torah in the Rambam. All of a sudden, Reb Itzhi stood up and made a comment. I don't remember the comment or the details of the debate that ensued, but I remember how surprised the rabbi from Lublin was by the cleverness and the revealing, insightful statements of Reb Itzhi. I remember him saying to the most respected Jews in the town, “You have a most precious pearl in Kurenets, and you are blessed.”

On one occasion, Reb Itzhi saw a man from town, one who liked to pretend he was very scholarly. The young man was reading nothing less than the book “Yeshu hanotzri” (Jesus the Christian) by Kloyzner. Reb Itzhi came to him and looked at the book and simply asked, “Tell me, my dear, is everything from Genesis until Jesus Christ is clear and known to you?”

I remember the days when Germany started the war with Poland in September of 1939. People would stand around in small groups, busying themselves with politics and strategies. Someone stood and proved with all sorts of evidence that in just a few weeks, Hitler would arrive. Itzhi came to him and said, “Why are you scaring the crowd? Hitler will not arrive here; he is afraid of the white bears.”

Everyone started talking and found some comfort in the statement since it wasn't anybody who said it, but it was the respected Reb Itzhi. And here Judkah, the son of Hasia Riva, who was a great admirer of the Soviets said, “And maybe he's really afraid of the Red Bears?”

Reb Itzhi knew to win debates without answering. His face had the expression that showed how silly he thought the point was, and though he was left without an answer, Judkah still felt he lost the argument.

Not many days passed and then the Russians arrived in town. They wore white uniforms for camouflage. Now Reb Itzhi found this occasion as a good time to answer Judkah. He met him in the street and said, “So Judkah, red or white?”

I remember that the goy Mishka Takotznik was drunk and he started a brawl, and Reb Itzhi came to him and said a few words. Mishka immediately seemed to sober up and said, “You are right, Mr. Itzhi, you are very right. In God's name, justice is with you.” He immediately stopped fighting.

But this event accord in a time when knowledge and light still reigned. With the 32 martyrs the blood of Reb Itzhi was spilled. [1]

The light darkened in the world. The darkest of desires jumped out, and darkened his life as well as the lives of his family members…


A Winter Day at Dawn

The snow came non-stop, and everything was covered with frost. The windowsills were decorated by flowers of frost. White steam would spread from mouths and nozzles, and the road under your feet appeared furious and shrieking… The winter is cruel and you must take care of yourself as well as your home. The furnaces must be constantly fueled… Brutal and relentless.

I would get up at dawn and go to the market to see if the villagers had gathered wood for sale. Outside it was still dark. Very few walked around. A few solitary Jews on their way to the synagogue to pray with the first minyan. The tallit and fellim under the arm. The snow crunching under their feet.

The light in the windows doesn't help to light the street. It appears as an internal light, only lighting the home itself. Only when I arrived behind the house of Yekutiel Meir Kramer would a happy light spill all over me. This caused by the light that came from the minyan in the house of the rabbi.

The first to arrive are already praying, and the light would mix with the tune of the prayer. And the light and the prayer would fall on the road where I walked, and filled it with warmth and hope. In front of me stood the Polish Kosotsyol surrounded by leafless trees, and above the trees all of a sudden a whole flock of crows came up and cut the air with the sound of their call.

I passed Myadel Street and stood at the entrance of the market. The market was still dark and only near the house of Mendel son of Shimon Alperovich, you can see sparks of golden light on the snow. And through the light of the front porch you could see shadowy forms of passersby. A little further you would see wagons filled with wood that would be taken to the market. I would come closer and the shadowy forms became recognizable. They all moved in the start, hitting one foot on the other to warn themselves, their hands were deep in the pockets of their winter fur coats. As I recognized the people I said, “Good morning, Nachman” (Menachem Shlomo Chaim).

He responded, “Good morning, Avraham Aron. What, you also need to come so early to buy cheap?”

“Yes, as you can see, also I. Tell me, what does the goy ask for it?”

“An ocean of money. Five golden coins he is asking for.”


Meanwhile, the rest of the Jews came close to see who arrived. Most of them were from the poor population, people who woke up early to receive some discounts. Yitzhak the Shoemaker, David the Shoemaker, Yoshua from Dolhinvo Street, Chaim Reidel from Kosita Street, Shlom the Smith with his blind son who he guides by holding his hand, came to pray and meanwhile stopped to see what was occurring. To bring some life into this dark, sleepy, frosty, pre-morning, I would say in jest to Yitzhak the Shoemaker, “Yitzhak, what would you say to our Nachman who came to shop?”

“No, no, it's not so bad,” said Yitzhak, who was kind in his nature.

“He wants me to get up so early to ask for discounts! You must have heard that Lubenska the nobleman sold Nachman his forest, but Menachem has no time to take control of his forest because he's so busy with his passengers that he takes to the train station.”

Everyone stands there smiling in a friendly manner. Some laugh and others just smile quietly. “Yes, for you it's easy to make fun,” said Menachem, also in good spirits. “The hammer and the nail of the shoe do not ask you to feed them, but my dear, for me things are very different. The children are asking for food, Vaska, my horse, is asking for food, my wife is not a violin that first you play and then you hang on the wall. Today is not a summer day. I cannot send my Vaska to eat in the meadow. If I already took two Jews to the station, you must believe me that I am telling the truth, and if not I am not a Jew. Until this minute I did not see from them even a broken coin. They promised me to give me something only on Tuesday after market day. So for you it's easy to make fun.” Nachman ended his speech…

And while they were standing there in the market, all of a sudden, Vashka the horse came by. Maybe she was bored, maybe she was cold, or maybe she just got tired of standing near the porch. Or maybe she heard her name mentioned and became curious.

“You see,” Nachman said, “Maybe if you mentioned the name of the Messiah he would arrive.”

Meanwhile morning light started piercing through. The frost pushed deeper into your bones and the goy refused to lower the price. Then Nachamka the fisher woman arrived with a variety of fish. “Buy some fish, fresh and tasty fish,” she would say.

Yitzhak the Shoemaker again turned to Nachman, “Look at yourself, Nachman, what a sinner you are! What are you missing here in Kurenets? Fish, meat, wood. Everything could be given to you on credit, but you are lazy! You are too lazy to take it.” And everyone laughed.

From afar two people arrived from the synagogue. They are Artzik Dinnestein, and Avramil Itza Pesach's Alperovich. “Ah,” said Yitzhak the Shoemaker, “Now the goy will give in. Avramil will talk to him.”

Avramil first comes to Nachman and says, “Nachman, what is with you? I have already finished praying and you still haven't bought the wood?” He takes off his gloves and extends his hands to the goy, greeting him, asking him how much he wants for the wood. The goy insists on his price, and Avramil argues with him, trying to bargain down the price. He takes the hand of the farmer and squeezes it tightly until his body becomes crooked from the pain. “Three and a half gold coins you want?”

“No,” says the goy, “it is five coins.”
“Okay,” says Avramil, “three and sixty (cents?)”, squeezing his hand even tighter this time.

Still there are two more handshakes, and the goy appears resigned to lowering his price. Avramil is a strong Jew and this affects the goy very much. “Only for you, Avramka. Only for you. To anyone else I wouldn't sell.”

So now Avramil takes the carriage filled with wood and gives it to Nachman. “So you think 3 gold coins and sixty I have in cash?” Avramil takes the coins from his pocket and says to Nachman, “What are you afraid of? That I will escape from Kurenets tomorrow and you can't pay me back? When you get the money, you pay me back. I can get by until then.”

Nachman is very reliable and everyone knows there is no more honest man than him.

“And how are you and the rest of your family?” Avramil asks Yitzhak the Shoemaker.
“My family is written in the prayers, and everyone is beloved. I love my children from the depths of my soul. Everyone is pure and clean. All my children are sweet and cute.”

Everyone opens their mouth and says, “Give me bread to eat, give me clothes to wear. Oh, Avramil, this is the way things are, things are very tiring.”…




[Page 123]

Dolhinov Street

By Chaya Altman

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

Dolhinov Street originated from the central market. Half of the street was settled by Jews; the second half started with the Christian house of worship that stood on a hill. Directly across from that hill stood a Jewish home with a very shallow roof. It always seemed as if that home shrank with fear from its neighboring buildings. There was a time when the Gvint family resided there. Immediately next to that home stood the homestead of a Christian family, which was surrounded by apple trees that during spring would blossom with splashes of white amidst mottled ivory and streaked fuchsia. Nearby, a small bridge spanned the town river. Here, Jews would come during Rosh Hashanah to perform tashlich (the casting away sins into water). On the right side of the street behind the bridge lay a verdant meadow. A bubbling brook there was used by the town people as a source of fresh drinking water. Starting here, most of the homes belonged to Christian families; there were only three Jewish homes, ours included. On the property line between each of the homes were vegetable gardens or fruit orchards. At the very edge of the street, the municipal buildings stood at the edge of the street. There was a public Polish elementary school and across from it, the Polish community center and a statute with a regal eagle astride it, with its beak facing east.

Near the community center, there was a livestock market. This place only bustled on Tuesdays, but each Tuesday, it overflowed with buyers and sellers who bargained over livestock of every horn and hide, kosher and non-kosher. Since the place laid empty the rest of the week, it became a playground for the young boys and girls of Kurenitz. The soccer players would gather here for practice and the bicyclists would ride here. Somewhere behind the elementary school, a path meandered south toward the Ungerman Pool. There, we embroidered our whispered teenage and childhood secrets. When we were members of the youth movement Hashomer Hatzier, we would sit here, singing songs of our impassioned desires to go to Israel. Throughout the year, not only in the summer, there was a lot of activity around the pool. Since the pool was frozen in winter, the teenagers would ice skate and sled on a hill that belonged to a non-Jewish noblewoman.

From the edge of Dolhinov Street stretched a wide avenue lined with ancient birch trees on both sides. We called this area the Palisades. When one walked down the avenue, one would first reach the village Bidkovichisna and then the train tracks to the pulstanak (semi-train station). In reality, trains would only stop here for half a second. Still, this was a very valuable station for the waggoneers, whose livelihood depended on receiving the visitors that stepped off the trains or the natives who had gone far away. In the days when the young men would immigrate to the land of Israel (aliyah), the celebration in this station was very exciting. Many of the residents of Kurenitz would gather in this station to say their goodbyes. There were many tears, songs, and cries of longing.

Dolhinov Street was a street for strollers, especially before sundown. Every Sabbath, I always felt that Dolhinov Street was like the air that we breathed, a necessity. After lunch, the entire town would stroll up and down the street. Our house stood next to the home of a certain Chavitan [?] who had a Chesnut tree with heavy branches and large leaves. Underneath the tree was a public bench. Many of the strollers would sit here to rest and often, one would hear laughter and song. Across the street from us lived the family of Michal Alparovitch. Adjacent to their home, they had a factory that made oil. When I was still a naïve young girl, I wanted to rally people's spirits for the Zionist cause. So I began preaching to this family about the need to sell all their property and immigrate to Israel. Among the arguments that they brought before me, they once told me half-jokingly, “How can we leave Dolhinov Street? If we lived on any other street, it would be easier to leave.” The street was truly a beauty. There were no large homes and no mansions. The estates were small and the roofs covered with wooden tiles and straw. Everything that grew around the houses burst at the seams with verdant freshness and spaciousness.

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  1. Three daughters of Ytzi Zimerman perished in the holocaust. (Ethel and Minya Spektor perished in Kurenitz on the same day that their father perished and Sarah with her family, in Volozhin) Ytzis' wife Feyge, perished with her grandchild, the baby of Mina and Sam Spektor on 9-9-1942. A son and a daughter; Dina survive and they now live in the U.S. The son who changed his name to Charles (nee Yechezkel) Gelman wrote a book “Don't Go Gentle” about his life during the war. You could find excerpts of his book at http://www.eilatgordinlevitan.com/kurenets/k_pages/stories_gentle.html.

    “I was the youngest of the five children. My oldest sister, Sarah, was married and lived in the town of Volozin. My youngest sister, Dina, about four years older than I, was also married and lived deep inside Russia, out of reach of the Germans. Also living at home were my two middle sisters, Ethel and Minya. Minya was in the last stages of pregnancy. Her husband, Sam Spektor, had received permission to visit his brother in the city of Kharkov in Russia two weeks before the war started. When war broke out, he couldn't get back. He remained deep inside Russia throughout the war and survived.”… Return




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