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[Page 135]

Educational and Cultural Institutions

 

Educational, Medical and Sanitary Conditions in Lenin

By Avraham Yitzhak Slutzki

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

Education That Was Cut in the Bud

The name of our town, Lenin, is not found on geographical maps. The town was located on the banks of the Slutz River, a tributary of the large river, Prifet. It was one of hundreds of small towns that were in the Pale of settlement in Russia, during the reign of the Czars. There was no industry or crafts in this area and many other sources of livelihood were closed to the Jews; also living in the villages and acquiring land was forbidden to the Jews. Therefore, it is not surprising that poverty was rampant in all the towns in the Pale of settlement.

Some people in our town worked in transport and haulage; in the winter they would haul wooden planks from the forest to the banks of the rivers which were covered with ice, in order to float them downstream when the waters flowed in the spring after the ice had melted. These men would buy horses at the beginning of the winter for this seasonal work that started after the swamps and the rivers froze and were covered with snow, and ended with the melting of the snow and ice in the spring. Then they would sell their horses and were left without employment and income during the whole summer. The condition of the craftsmen - tailors, shoemakers, hatters and the like - wasn't much better than the haulers. This was also the status of the grocers and “merchants”, as it were. The life of the residents, except for a few, was very difficult.

The depressed material state influenced, of course, negatively the general progress of our town in those times. In my childhood days there was no advanced study for a child or a lad. Both the resources and the awareness of such a need were lacking. However, years later our town was known for its progress and served as an example to other towns in the area for its proper “heder” which, after a short while, became a proper elementary school. However, during my childhood the children of our town studied only in the traditional “heder”, where most of them barely learned to read the “siddur” - prayer book, or as it was called in those days: they learned “ivri” - reading Hebrew and a bit of writing. Thus an ignorant generation of boors grew up. One cannot blame this on the children and not even on the teachers; on the contrary, there were several teachers who had broad knowledge. The poverty of the parents was the reason for the poor education of the children, and many families were forced to remove their children from the “heder” at the age of eleven or twelve and sent them to learn a trade, or took them into the forests and swamps to help their fathers in packing and unpacking the heavy wooden planks. The youth had to help with the burden of making a livelihood for the family. Who knows how many talented children could have been successful in different fields if their spiritual and educational growth hadn't been stopped. I, myself, for instance, continued to study in the “heder” much longer than my friends. My father and mother struggled with their poverty and made a great effort to pay for my tuition, especially with the best teachers. However, at the age of fourteen my parents - who could no longer afford to pay for my education - sent me to the carpenter Avner Golub, who now is in Israel - to learn carpentry. Such was the case with most of the children in our town.

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It was only natural that the poverty and crowding that existed in our town, especially among the Jews, had a negative effect on the health of the populace. Thus, all kinds of diseases such as infections and epidemics afflicted the people. The whole town was crowded into a small area surrounded by water and swamps. Many homes had no bathrooms. Consequently, the sanitary conditions were very poor, which led to the rapid spread of various contagious diseases, especially among children. Without adequate medical aid, this situation took many sacrifices among the children. As I remember, almost every home suffered some loss - one infant, two or even three. Frequently, fires broke out. This curse was due mainly to the extreme closeness of the wooden homes. I witnessed a great fire that occurred in our town in 1904, in which most of the buildings burned down. One characteristic fact should be mentioned: after the conflagration the authorities demanded that the buildings be rebuilt with larger spaces between the houses and with proper sanitary facilities; according to this plan the number of homes would have to be reduced. The residents viewed this decree as a severe hardship and they decided to send a delegation to the governor of the province in Minsk. Elyakim Slutzki was one of the members of this delegation that succeeded in presenting the pleadings of the residents to the governor who was willing to repeal the evil decree. Thus the town was rebuilt as in previous years and the houses were even more crowded together.

Medical Assistance

I remember two people who tried to care for the health of the residents of our town. They were R' Hershke and R' Yisrael. They were both medics but the residents honored them by calling them Doctor. They were both dignified and pleasant, although their knowledge of medicine was meager because they had never learned in an official medical school. They diagnosed diseases according to the stories and complaints of the sick, and the medications - powders, tonics and pills - they made themselves. The masses believed in them and trusted in their abilities. Many were cured apparently due to the psychological influence of their belief and trust. However, such miracles occurred only to those with minor illnesses, while with the serious illnesses results were poor.

An old woman, Shaine-Rahel, is well remembered as she aided the health of the people with methods known only to her. Most of those who sought her help and medical treatment were from the carriers, porters and others who dealt in hard work. She knew how to knead with her fists those whose stomachs and intestines hurt from the hard work of lifting and carrying heavy loads. She would cure anthrax by placing a honey mixture on the affected area while on a regular tumor she would place a grilled onion. In such conditions people continued to live, as it were, and exist and also - to die ...


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Cultural Life

By Mordechai Zaitchik

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

A

Schools

Since the years after World War I, the Tarbut school, which was connected to the Tarbut center in Warsaw, existed in our town. Each year about 150 pupils studied there in 4 - 5 grades and one preparatory class. There was no kindergarten in Lenin; the children started to attend school at age five.

Most of the teachers were from other towns and were sent to us by the Tarbut center in Warsaw; these teachers remained with us between one to four seasons. The exception was the old teacher, A.L. Zaitchik who lived in the town and continued teaching for almost 50 years.

For the 18 years of its existence, male and female teachers of all types stayed in our town. Actually, even before this there was a school that was founded around the year 1900. It was located in a separate building, on Lachva Street (among Christian houses), and next to it was a large playground. This school was divided into grades and had four teachers who taught according to a prescribed plan. Between lessons there were recesses announced by a bell. In addition to Bible, the children learned secular studies: grammar, arithmetic, geography, history (Jewish history), language (Hebrew), etc.

Of course, the Tarbut school was more suited to the new times. Other subjects were added to the curriculum: gymnastics, singing and more. It must be said that the discipline was less strict than before, but despite this the pupils were polite and advanced in their studies.

After completing the Tarbut school, the youth from families of means continued their studies in the Hebrew gymnasia in Pinsk, the Teacher's seminar in Vilna, or the professional school ORT in Brisk.

There was also a Polish elementary school with seven grades; Jews also studied in this school, especially in the higher grades.

B

The Tarbut Library

The meeting place of the youth was in the club of Tarbut, a place where one could read every night many different types of newspapers and magazines in various languages. Also, meetings were held there, debates and lectures given by emissaries from Eretz Yisrael.

Next to the club was a fairly well stocked library and in addition to books, it held magazines and periodicals. Many readers visited the library.

The club had another advantage, and that was that it was a place where youth from poor homes as well as youth from well-off and educated homes met and talked together.\

There were three Zionist political parties in the town: Betar, the General Zionists, and Hashomer Hatzair. Of course, there were arguments and disputes between them, but matters never reached serious clashes.

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The First School in Lenin, 1913

In the center of the bottom row, the teachers: Aharon-Leib Zaitchik (killed by the Nazis), Haim Shalev (Nakritz) (in Israel), Yoshke Butzkin (in America).
In the top row: second from the right: Asher Tcherin (son of Avraham Yitzhak), the tenth - Mishal Shmelkin son of Zashama (died in Israel), the fourteenth - Yaakov Yolevitz (son of Nahum Natan), the fifteenth - Dov Migdalovitz (son of Moshe Nisan), the nineteenth - Menashe Yolevitz-Leticha (son of Yisrael), the third from the left - Elka Kolpanitzki (daughter of Bezalel).
Second row, first on the right: Haim Slutzki (son of Yisrael), fourth - Eliyahu Nakritz, fifth - Nahum Nakritz (sons of Isser), sixth - Dov Zaitchik, seventh - Mordechai Zaitchik (sons of Aharon Leib), eighth - David Golob-Yonai (son of Hunia), thirteenth - Masha Azier (daughter of Yitzhak).
Bottom row: first on the right: Menashe Latucha (son of Moshe), thirteenth - Pinhas Zaretzki (son of Moshe Reuven), sixteenth - Tzvi (Hirshl) Grib (son of Arye), second from left - Sonia Rubinstein (daughter of Shayma). All are in Israel.

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The Tarbut School, 1928

In the top row: Shimon Shusterman, from Moritz in Argentina, Yitzhak Yolvitz son of Alter. Moshe Bukzin (in Israel), Yitzhak son of Assana, Avraham Lilenberg (in Israel).
Second row from top: Leah Margolin daughter of Libbe, Babel Hinitz daughter of the Cantor (in Israel), Hannah Hinitz daughter of Shmuel, Hannah Zaretzky daughter of Reba, Batya Zaitchik daughter of Aharon-Leib, Sarah Zaitchik daughter of Shaindel.
The third row, the teachers: Yehuda Rubinstein, Pepperberg Morsha. Meir Bukzin (in Israel), Aharon-Lev Zaitchik.
Bottom row: Shmuel Mishelov, Tcharna Vatcherbin (in Israel), Zema Schneidman.

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C

Theatre, music

They started producing plays in our town in the period of what was called “m'chabei aish” - the fire station. That was a building that was 20 meters long and 8 meters wide, and in which was stored equipment needed for putting out fires, such as: barrels, a 2-handled pump, ladders and also metal helmets.

When it was time to present the play, all the equipment was removed. Then chairs were collected from the people, the stage was decorated with greenery and thus the hall was prepared for the play. All the town excitedly awaited the performance.

The first plays that were presented were historical: “The Selling of Joseph” and “David and Goliath”. At a later time other plays were performed - even The Miser by Moliere.

The Performance of the Miser by Moliere August 19, 1923

From right to left:
Esther Rubinstein (Israel), Yosef Shub (died in Warsaw), Meir Bukzin (Israel), Batya Rosomacha (killed), Tsila Boruchin (Israel), Moshe Zaitchik (killed), Moshe Shmelkin (died in Israel), Yaakov Graib (U.S.A.).

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After the fire station was demolished, the plays were held in the halls of the Russian government school, which were large and spacious.

At a later period, when the Polish government built a hall for public use (dom-ludovi), the plays were held there. This building had a special hall with a stage that was intended for this purpose. During the years many different plays were performed, including: “G-d, Man and Satan”, “Hasia the Orphan”, “Motke the Thief”, “The Dybbuk” and others.

The actors were from the town and some of them were quite talented. Meir Bukzin successfully filled the task of director and make-up artist; he was a teacher and also knew how to draw.

A movie film was first seen in our town in 1923 and the audience was amazed. In later years, one film was shown each week although there was no special hall for these performances.

In contrast there was a regular orchestra that played at performances and dances held after the plays, that lasted until morning.

Before a performance - when a special license was given for staying in the street which was a chance to remain outside, something that was not allowed on regular nights. The people of the town and especially the youth suffered from this prohibition.

The Orchestra
Conducted by M. Zaitchik, 1926

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A police car passed through the streets every evening and hunted those who were violating this prohibition. A first time offender had to pay a small, nominal fine, or he ended up spending the night in the police station. Anyone caught several times was charged in the District police in Lubiniatz and his punishment was much more severe.

It was difficult for the youth, of course, to remain without social activities in the evenings, especially in winter when it became dark early. Groups would gather in one house for reading or some other entertainment. But returning home was a serious problem. They had to be very careful and use various tricks to avoid being caught by the police. Sometimes they would find the police near the door of their home. If the “offender” managed to enter his home quickly and close the door, then he was saved because the police were not allowed to enter the house.

In the winter, when every step was heard on the frozen snow, there was the advantage that one could the police approaching. Of course, it could be the opposite: the policeman stands and quietly waits for his approaching “victim”. Then. one heard the command: “Stand! Who goes?” Either way, it was interesting and even thrilling for the youth.

D

Sports

The interest in sports started in our town in 1923. At first only a few were active in sports and they were youths who studied out of town and returned home for summer vacation; they were joined by some of the local youth.

“Trumpeldor” Soccer Team (Urgana, 1924)

Standing (from the right):
Yitzhak Hinitz (Argentina), Meir Temkin (USA), Shlomo Graiv (Israel), Ben-Zion Tziklig (died in Holocaust), Zvi Graiv (Israel), Mordecai Zaichik (Israel), Haim Pederaski (died in Holocaust), Hanan Yitzhaki (Vacharbin) (Israel), Asher Golob (USA), Dov Zaichik (Israel), Moshe Zaitchik (died in Holocaust).
Sitting (from the right): Feivel Zukerovitz (died in Holocaust), Yitzhak Zlutzki (Israel), Menashe Yolevitz (Latocha) (Israel), Dov Migdalovitz (Israel), David Bresler (died in Holocaust).

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The most attention was given to soccer. In the early years we didn't have experienced players, therefore the players didn't have special uniforms. Only after several years a soccer team was formed in our town, that was given uniforms, and knew the rules of the game. For the first time, there was a separate Jewish team, after that a mixed team of Jews and Russians was formed that played against the Polish teams from the border army. The Polish team always beat the mixed team, although the latter learned from them how to play well.

The mixed team reached its top form during the years 1930 - 1933 and achieved good results in its games with the stronger teams from Mikashbitchi and Lakhva, beating Lakhva 2:0.

In addition to soccer other sports activities included swimming and ice-skating.

E

Places for Hiking and Entertainment

Places for walking and hiking were not lacking in our town. Before World War I and before the setting of the border, it was common to walk, especially on Shabbat and holidays, to the other side of the bridge, to “The Green Hill”, to “The Factory” (zavod) or to the Observation Tower (mayak).

The Green Hill was closest. It was 8 - 10 meters high and its circumference was 30 meters. However, for our town, whose environs were flat and filled with lakes and swamps, it seemed quite high. On the way to the Green Hill, the boys would often catch snakes, carry them with their heads down, until reaching the hill where there were many ant-hills. They would throw down the snakes down among the “millions” of ants who would attack the snake who tried, in vain, to escape. In just a few minutes all that was left of snake was only the skin.

On the road to the Observation Tower, we passed the factory, which wasn't really a factory but the remnant of a tar furnace. The tower was built at the beginning of World War I, on a hill and not far from the river, 3 kilometers from town and reaching a height of 100 meters. Only the courageous youth dared to climb to the top. They could climb it or use ladders from one floor to the next. A few did this with a wooden stick in their hand and when they reached the top they would throw it down to the ground and it sank completely into the ground. Those who climbed up so high looked strange to those who remained on the ground and vice versa.

Around the tower there was a large pine grove that gave off a clean, pleasant scent. After the war, when it was forbidden to visit the area, grass and weeds grew on the road. Then, the people would walk towards the hospital (bolenitza) which was on the road to Yavitz. There, also, was a pine grove with dry clean air.

Mostly, people walked on the road leading to Makvitz, which was 3 kilometers away from town. This was a “romantic” path especially in the autumn, when the leaves of the oak trees would fall and padded the road as a soft rug.

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A pleasant place to stroll was also the garden next to the estate. The owner of the estate - Agrakov - lived with his family most of the year out of the country and only clerks and workers remained on the estate to supervise it. Many different types of fruit grew in the garden that won a reputation for their quality in the area and were also sent for sale to other countries.

There were two splendid houses on the estate - one was white and had windows decorated with beautiful wooden carvings, and the second one was built entirely of red bricks. The rest of the estate had houses for the clerks - one made of birch and the other of conifer and also well-tended paths. Between the thick trees could be seen wild goats; there were also bears in cages.

The entrance to the garden was through Lakhva Street and also from the road leading to the village Stabeliyevitz and Haritzinovitz.

The garden was leased each year by the Jews of Lenin who put up guards to protect it. When the fruits ripened they were sold and some were put away for use during the winter.


An Unsuccessful Purim Party

By Avraham-Yitzhak Slutzki

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

During my childhood years the cultural conditions in our town were very undeveloped, although there was no lack of cultured people; on the contrary, there were not a few who knew Torah studies or were highly educated. However, there were no cultural institutions such as a public library, etc. Those who learned Torah had their own books and libraries that they loaned to each other. But there was no place for some of the youth, those who came from poor families, who wanted to read. Sometimes, one of the owners of a private library would be charitable enough to loan one or two books to one of us, if he felt that person would take care of the book and return it in good condition.

If a travelling bookseller came to our town, the townspeople would hurry to him - boys and girls - and buy a novel by Shem”er, a book by Elyakim Tzunzer or a book of adventures and jokes by Hershele Maustropoli. These books usually were read on Sabbath eves among the family or at parties of friends. Newspapers also were available, in Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish. But even these were bought mainly by the middle class. Due to the slow transportation and postal service, the papers reached us two or three days late. Often, three families were subscribed together to one newspaper that was passed from one to the other. The poorer families would hear the news of the world in the synagogue between Minha and Maariv [afternoon and evening prayers] from one of the intelligentsia; they would gather around him and hungrily listen to his report.

The Sages said, “When scholars vie wisdom increases.“ We, the youth of the lower class were jealous of these privileged persons, and three of us - the late Shlomo Dolgin, his friend Mordechai son of Hoshea Tziklig

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and myself subscribed jointly to the Yiddish-Bundist newspaper, the “Falkszeitung.” We read it diligently ourselves and also shared it with relatives and acquaintances.

Some attempts were made to hold cultural activities but nothing came of them. Perhaps I should tell about one such activity that sheds light on the people of our town, their dealings and the sparks of spiritual light within the everyday life of routine and poverty.

The “gabbai” (sexton) of the old synagogue (I don't remember if it was Mordechai Mandelboim or Eliezer Volodevski) brought a bookbinder from Pinsk to bind the worn books in the synagogue. He was a learned man, happy and energetic. He didn't want to spend his rest time doing nothing but rather devoted this time to cultural activity. He quickly organized some of the youth including the two daughters of the cantor-shohet, Yisrael-Haim, whose names were Tzivia and Devora, and suggested that we perform a theatrical play.

The young people happily accepted the suggestion and enthusiastically started working on the project. They began learning and memorizing the lines of the play, The Witch by Goldfadden. I, who was in the cantor's choir, joined the cast of players along with some others from the choir, Abba son of Moshe Eliyahu and Avraham, the cantor's son. The young bookbinder from Pinsk decided who would play each role and the rehearsals were held in the home of the cantor, Yisrael-Haim. We met at night three times a week for rehearsals and the Pinsker directed us with talent and devotion.

I remember that Manya Migdalovitz studied for the role of “Mirele.” We were busy all through the winter with preparations for the performance and things were going well. Each one of us knew his or her lines well and we were hoping to succeed. Indeed, the first performance before a small audience went well. Therefore, we were ready to perform the play that would be held in the fire station building before a large audience. However, our hopes were not fulfilled because the young Pinsker finished his job of book binding and returned to his home a week before Pesach. Without our experienced director we dared not go onto the stage. Our group of actors separated, each one going back to his work but with a heavy heart over the pleasant dream that had faded away.

However, the wonderful efforts of that young Pinsker were not in vain. After a year, we started cultural activities, this time without external assistance, but by our own efforts. We organized ourselves to perform the Purim play, “The Wisdom of Solomon.” We rehearsed on Sabbath days during the whole winter, in the home of Zelig Yolevitz, the son of Itche Noah. Zelig's son, Zalman, also had a role in the play. They lived in the courtyard of Ben-Zion Tziklig.

Shlomo Topchik played the role of King Solomon. I think that Shlomo Dolgin took part in the play. Other participants were Isser Yolevitz (son of Matos), Avremel Migdalovitz, the son of Beryl the carpenter, and many others whose names I don't remember.

I was given two roles: one was “Bat Sheva” and the other was “David.” Of course, with one small stone I could fell “Goliath the Philistine.” The rehearsals went very well and we all knew our lines perfectly.

Purim arrived and we went out into the street with make-up and dressed as royalty with crowns and swords made of paper, accompanied by Ephraim with his clezmer (clarinet) and Ephraim the drummer. All the people

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of the town - children and adults - among them also non-Jews, joined the parade. They hesitated to let us enter a Jewish home in case the crowd might break the windows out of curiosity to look inside.

The first show was performed in the home of Beryl the sexton. So many people entered the house that there was barely room to move. When we finally managed to leave the house, each one's costume was wrinkled and tattered and everyone was missing some part of his costume.

In short, we saw that all our efforts had failed and that the income we had hoped to gain, which was to be given to the Talmud Torah (the elementary school), was never received… We barely managed to perform the Purim play in a few homes. In the home of Noah Rubinstein we received 5 rubles and we were honorably invited to perform the play the next year.

In short, we had a double failure - spiritual and material. But we were consoled by the fact that it wasn't our fault, but due to the local conditions of the time and even more we blamed our audience who were not used to such activities and didn't know how to behave. We said, all beginnings are difficult, but without a beginning there is no activity. We will continue and achieve, and in time we will see success.

Who would have imagined that this Purim play would cause a political problem? And this is what happened:

A few days after Purim, the Prista (head of the town) ordered Ben-Zion Tziklig to come before him in the “Volosat” building (village council). When he appeared before the council, the Pristov said to him: You are one of the honorables of your community and who is like you in this town, therefore I want to hear from you about this game. Why did youth dressed in royal clothes and gold crowns appear in the street? Is there not a connection between this appearance and the revolutionary movement? You surely have heard about the doings of the revolutionists in the big cities, about the punishments imposed on those who do such deeds and about the prisons that have been prepared for them. Hasn't the time arrived for me to take such action against this group of youth?

Ben-Zion Tziklig explained to the Pristav that it was only a traditional Purim play, customarily played by Jews from the time of Ahashverus until today and there isn't even a hint of revolutionary activity nor such a movement in our town.

The Pristov was satisfied with this explanation, but warned him that such acts should not be repeated. He doesn't object to Purim and he doesn't mind if once a year also the Jews can enjoy a bottle of liquor and get drunk - why not! But no such games. Surely, he doesn't doubt the honesty of the words of an honorable Jew like Tziklig, that there was no bad intention of the actions of the youth, but even so, the game shows desecration of royal clothes and ridicule of gold crowns. The Pristov ended his warning by saying, “Such actions shall not be done in my jurisdiction!”


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Educational Institutions

by Zelig Yolevitz

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

In Memory of my sister Haya-Kraina and family and my sister Mina and family who were murdered by evil persons.

Our town could be proud of its achievements in the field of education, both general and Jewish; if the Hebrew/Jewish school had not been destroyed by evil people, it would have celebrated – four years ago – the jubilee of its establishment.

In 1903, the “Improved Heder” was opened in our town, and it developed and improved until it became a real Hebrew school, that taught the children Torah and knowledge, the values of Jewish education and culture in the spirit of Zionism and pioneering fulfillment (hagshama). Indeed, many of the town's youth fulfilled the ideal of Zionism with their body and possessions – they left the town and went to Eretz Yisrael, became acclimatized and integrated. There is almost no family, among the 270 families in Lenin, that doesn't have descendants in Israel. Almost all of them arrived with knowledge of Hebrew and knew how to speak it and thus didn't need evening classes.

The founders of the “Improved Heder” were the teachers – Nissan Bergman, Yehuda Rubinstein, Aharon-Leb Zaitchik. Yehuda Rubinstein was about 63 years old when the school was established but even at this age his spirit inspired the school in its first steps and he was the one who raised it to its high educational and cultural level. This man was superior to many among us in his broad knowledge; he knew Hebrew and its writings, ancient and modern literature; he was a grammarian and philologist, a cultured person who had polite manners. He was fond of the young members of the community and those seeking knowledge were welcome in his home. The youth would visit often and listen to his thoughts and ideas.

In Yehuda Rubinstein's home and that of his son, Noah Rubinstein, who dealt in lumber, the youth met the writer A.A. Kabek who had come to say farewell to his sister, Libbe, Noah's wife, and their family prior to his leaving to go to Eretz Yisrael.

***

The “Improved Heder” didn't take the place of the smaller heders. Although most of the children studied in this school (about 120 – 150 pupils), some parents, but not many, preferred to send their children to the traditional heder.

 

A. R' Avraham Aryeh's

The teacher Avraham Aryeh's had a special heder. You can surely say about him that he was of the students of Aharon the Cohen: “Love peace and seek peace…love people and bring them close to the Torah.” (Avot 1:12). He had a great love for “Humash' (the five books of the Bible) and Rashi.

Rashi! He would call out with wonder and pleasure. Rashi is everything because what would we do without him. Without him we would be like those lost in the desert. We would not truly understand a chapter of the Bible

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nor a page of the Talmud; we would grope in the darkness even over the simplest verse in the Bible or an easy section of the Gemara (Talmud) without him. Rashi came and illuminated all these matters. But, he used to add, one had to understand even Rashi himself, because his commentary had hidden and concealed ideas that not everyone was able to find and decipher. Sometimes, for example, he would meet someone in the synagogue or in the street, grab his collar so he couldn't run away and tell him about a very interesting Rashi interpretation.

The Bible for him was not just the Bible but “our little Bible-le” that has everything, all the seventy-seven wisdoms all together. Rashi's commentary was holy to him, but for R' Avraham Aryeh's, there was some room for his own interpretations, as the Bible has so many different aspects. During the reading of the Torah in the synagogue, between the aliyot, he would go from one person to another telling his interpretation of one verse or another. When he looked for someone to tell of his interpretations, he didn't discriminate among people, whether a scholar or an unlearned person. The listener would listen, the main point being that R' Avraham was able to tell his new interpretation.

It's obvious that he had a great love of everything in the Bible, the biblical “fathers” and the land of the fathers. He was very familiar with the land of Israel as if he had traveled it himself. He learned about the land and knew it well through his studying of the Bible and also the Mishna. Every morning after prayers he read a chapter of Mishna to the people gathered. He would say, “When I read the Mishna, I imagine myself as if I lived in Eretz Yisrael, walking among the vineyards, sitting in the shade of the vines and tasting all of the things that Eretz Yisrael is blessed with.”

Despite his meager livelihood, he knew how to live with dignity. Rumor said that R' Avraham could manage a whole week with a loaf of bread and pickled herring, and that he was an expert in splitting a match stick into four pieces. I knew that there was a lot of truth to these stories and respected him even more. He was not miserly; he knew how to be thrifty, to balance his expenses according to his deficient livelihood. Thanks to these qualities, it was pleasant to meet with this Torah scholar in the street or the Synagogue. He didn't wear silk or fine clothing, however his clothes were always clean and never had any dirt or stains.

 

B. R' Yehuda Rubinstein

And there was another “heder; the “heder” of the distinguished teacher, R' Yehuda Rubinstein. As we mentioned above, R' Yehuda who was over the age of sixty, helped two younger teachers, Nissan Bergman and Aharon-Leib Zaitchik in establishing the school. After only two years R' Yehuda left the school and opened a heder for those who had already graduated from the school, and it became sort of a continuation class. R' Yehuda was a man of wide learning and knowledge and was a pioneer in Jewish/Hebrew and secular higher learning in our town. In addition to his students, a group of youth used to come to his home and listen to his words, or read Hebrew newspapers or read a book that was not to be found elsewhere. He also had a small library for children. Sometimes, we were lucky enough to read a letter that was sent from Eretz Yisrael, written to him by the very hand of the writer A.A. Kabek

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who was related to him by marriage as his son was married to Kabek's sister.

On Sabbath days R' Yehuda read from the Torah in the new Synagogue. And sometimes he would agree to the request of the sexton (gabbai) to lead the Musaf prayer service. His reading was very good and his prayer a pleasure. Those who knew Hebrew paid close attention to his careful, accurate reading.

 

R' Yehuda Rubinstein

 

In addition, his external appearance attracted respect. He stood tall and straight, his beard was shaped like that of M. Nordau, his clothes were clean, his boots polished and he walked easily and with grace.

He had two daughters and one son. His daughter Feigl (Zipporah) was married to a clerk in the forestry business. They lived in Mikashvitzi, near the train station. Feigl was outstanding in her good-heartedness. She and her daughter, Liova, were murdered by filthy murderers. Her son Shlomo, his wife and children remained in Russia. Her son, Dov, lives in Israel.

R' Yehuda's second daughter, Tima, was also married to a clerk in the forestry business. He name was Sender Hinitz and he was born in the town of Strobin. For some years he was a gabbai in the new Synagogue. They died in the holy grave of the Jews of Lenin.

R' Yehuda's son, Noah Rubinstein, had a wide and deep knowledge of Hebrew, was proficient in the Bible, had much knowledge in Talmud and knew foreign languages. He dealt in forestry, succeeded and became a well-know lumber merchant. He married the sister of the writer, A.A. Kabek. His home was a meeting place for scholars and writers. Due to him our town was privileged to see famous writers strolling the streets and sitting in the shade of the forests.

Also the wedding of Kabek took place in our town and it drew many writers and journalists. The residents were proud of this and thought: “Don't view us as residents of a small town who are stuck in the mud – high-level people from their exalted positions came to our town.”

In 1912, Noah Rubinstein gave his home to Zalman Bressler, and he and his family moved to Pinsk where he bought a beautiful, spacious home. During World War I, the newspaper “Hatzfira” had a financial crisis and thanks to the financial aid of Noah the newspaper continued to appear and did not close down.

Noah Rubinstein's two daughters, Rahel and Hadassa, and his son Naftali were among the founders of

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Mishmar HaEmek. In 1936, Noah and his wife Libbe moved to Eretz Yisrael. He liquidated his assets in Poland and brought his possessions and business to Israel. However, not much was left due to the limitations placed by the Polish laws and the directives of Grabeski.

He was buried in Mishmar HaEmek. His widow, Libbe, settled there and didn't leave even in times of attack.

In Lenin, after the death of Yehuda Rubinstein, a group of parents took upon itself to find teachers for the higher grades. Most of these teachers came from other towns.


[Page 150]

The “Heder” of Teacher X

by Haim Yonai

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

In 1908 teacher X was invited to come to teach in the “heder” which had two high classes and the total number of students wasn't more than fifteen. One of them was Shlomo, the son of Noah Rubinstein. Noah used to visit the “heder” at least two or three times each month. He observed the arrangements and sanitary conditions, listened to the lessons, checked the students' notebooks, looked over their written papers, tested some of them and was proud of their knowledge and scholastic achievements. He even looked into one child's ear, scolded another for the manner he held his pen or for unkempt hair. He would rebuke a student until he turned red from embarrassment in front of the teacher. After all this, he would praise the teacher in front of the students, encourage us students with kind words and praise. He would distribute sweets and candies, and leave with the blessing of “shalom” and wishes for success in our studies and deeds. He asked the teacher to accompany him for a few steps. When they left, we watched them from the window and according to their facial expressions and hand movements, we would know whether Noah Rubinstein was satisfied with what he saw and heard or perhaps he had some comment that would lessen the praise he had given to the teacher before the pupils.

After a while, the teacher returned and his expression … well, sometimes it reminded us of the story of Yaakov in the Bible, who fought with the angel and was victorious, but hurt his thigh and walked with a limp…

Thus, our classes were supervised by Noah Rubinstein. I didn't know then and even today I am not sure whether Noah appointed himself or he was asked by the parents.

We, the pupils, were very interested by the visits of Noah Rubinstein, which were a special experience for us. Our school routine was broken for about two hours when he visited. We watched with curiosity as the young teacher tensely answered the questions posed. Sometimes the supervisor had a different opinion as to the interpretation of a difficult passage from the Bible, or understanding a section of the Talmud, or in a rule of grammar. More than once we witnessed

[Page 151]

an argument between the two. I remember that we pupils prayed in our hearts that the teacher would be victorious -_ his victory was also ours. Once, during such an argument, I asked Shlomke, Noah's son, “What do you think, who is winning?” Shlomke answered with confidence, “Our teacher will be right.”

Finally, the two took leave with affection and friendship. We knew that Noah felt affection for the young teacher, and the teacher respected the supervisor.

Noah Rubinstein left the town a few years later and moved to Pinsk, and from there he moved to Warsaw. From there we heard the sad news that my friend Shlomo had died, at a young age, only eighteen years old. We, his friends from the “heder”, mourned him bitterly. He had been a faithful friend with a good heart and soul. May his memory be blessed.


[Page 151]

The Lenin Branch of “Tarbut”

by Dov Zaitchik

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

Our town cannot be described without mentioning, among other public institutions, the branch of “Tarbut.” It had a library of about 600 books, mainly in Hebrew and Yiddish. Most of the books, which covered many fields of interest, were serious works, such as the classics and the books of contemporary authors; every important work that was translated was immediately acquired, among them all the volumes of the literary magazine “HaTekufa.” In the reading room were to be found issues of these newspapers, “Heint” (Today), “Mament,” “Farvarts” (from America), and the weeklies “Welt-Shpiegl,” “Literarishe Bletter”, “Kvila” (a Zionist paper written in Polish and published in Lvov), and others.

The library fulfilled an important role in the life of the youth in our town, as it was the only meeting place for all ages. The club council had representatives from all the political parties. Books could be borrowed three times a week; suggestions for choosing books were often given by my older brother, Moshe z”l when he was home on vacations.

The establishment of the library preceded that of the reading room; its basic collection was donated by the members and for a short while was placed in a small bookcase in the home of Leah Rubinstein. Later the books were transferred to the entrance hall of our home, until the branch of Tarbut was organized. Then a room was rented in the home of Gelenson where the books were kept and which also served as a reading room.

The assistance of the member, Hershel Migdalovitz in organizing the branch should be noted. He served as the first chairman of the committee which also included Leah Rubinstein, Moshel Temkin, Haim Pederski, Shlomo Grayev and this writer. The income from theatrical performances and dances were donated to the branch and were the basis of the book budget, maintaining the reading room and subscribing to newspapers. Part of the expenses were covered by membership dues from the readers.

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We remember with gratitude all those who helped in organizing plays and projects and who voluntarily worked very hard. They include: the member Meir Buktzin, who was a talented director and make-up man; the amateur actors, our orchestra with the participation of my two sisters (deceased), and others, who should live, Yaakov Zukerovitz, Lipa Mishlov, my brother Mordechai, the writer of these lines and others, and lastly those who lent their chairs and benches and those who moved them for the performances. On the evening before each performance we would go from house to house collecting chairs and putting them on a cart attached to a poor horse. We held the performances in the hall of the fire department near Shmalkin House – and later in the town Meeting House (Dom Ludovi).

Late at night, after the performance when we stayed up most of the night, our first task was to return the chairs and benches to their owners, while the audience went home very late to “grab” some sleep. A small group usually helped with this task: Tzvi and Shlomo Grayev, Moshel Temkin, Shlomo Gelenson, myself and a few others.

On Simhat Torah, a “minyan” was held in the reading room of the clubhouse and all the donations were given to the branch and the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael). From the synagogue we paraded in the street to the branch with the Torah scroll and after the prayers we marched back. Everyone who took part in this celebration will never forget it. It should be mentioned that the attitude and appreciation of the Rabbi and the elders of the community to us was very favorable, certainly because we were respectful towards our parents and to our elders.

In later years the branch moved to the apartment of Lilienberg, in the house of Herzl Papareno; slowly, slowly we added young members who lovingly set about continuing the work of this educational institution. Those who endeavored were Avrahamche Lilienberg, Moshel Bubkin, Tcherna Vacherbin, Nasha Shusterman and they were assisted by Yisraelik Tziklig and others.

Worthy of mention are the active members who devoted themselves to the work of the branch and actually supported it, including Avner Avineri (Shusterman), who was active until he left for Eretz Yisrael, despite the fact that he lived far from the town. Before his aliya, he donated to the branch a wooden engraving that he had done. Others who deserve mention are Pinhas Zaretsky, Nahum Golob, Menashe Latucha, Sender Weisblat, Moshe Zukerovitz, Leah Mishlov and others.

Many participated in our assemblies and in the “Questions and Answers” parties that were popular.

My heart fills with pain and trembling when I remember our young, who were and are no longer. They were youth who were known and admired in the whole district and in the north due to their good knowledge of Hebrew, their belief in Zionism, the parties held for national causes, their interest in all the current problems of the lives of the Jews in Poland and the world at large.

I think that while reading these words each one will stop for a moment and remember the young men and women, dear and modest, who were devoted to lofty ideas but were not privileged to fulfill them in the land of our fathers.

May their memory be blessed.

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Active Members of Tarbut

 


[Page 154]

My Town, Lenin

by Tsila Zaretsky, nee Baruchin

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

I loved my town, Lenin, although I didn't remain there. I lived there only during my childhood because while I was still young, my older sister, Feigel, took me to Moscow to continue my studies.

Whenever I returned to visit our home in Lenin, it was a pleasant experience. Although I preferred the big city with its advantages and lively cultural scene, I still had a strong connection to my town.

Memories of the years I studied in the “heder” starting from age 6, awake in me warm feelings. At first, we studied for a time with Feivel, the son-in-law of Haim-Beryl the sexton, and we managed to reach the 10th letter of the alphabet, “yod.” After Feivel went to America, Heneh Sokolovski from Mokriva took his place. The “heder” was held at that time in the home of Mordechai-Leib Tziklig. I remember that often during rainy days whenthe mud was deep and we weren't able to cross the street, Sokolovski would carry each child in his arms to the heder, while his boots were covered in mud.

Also this teacher did not stay long and we transferred to the “improved heder” of the teachers Yehuda Rubinstein, Nisan Bergman and Aharon-Leib Zeitchik. We progressed well in our classes, especially in Bible (Tana”ch), math and Russian language.

The school set time for examinations, usually in the summer. The examiners were parents of the pupils or guests who spent their vacation in Lenin during the summer months, like my brother-in-law Moshe Medursky and Mr. Aharon Singalovsky. We, the students, studied hard for the exams and waited impatiently for the grades received.

An evening of readings and recitations done once by the students of the higher classes left an indelible impression on me. It was organized by Mr. Singalovsky and held in the home of Herzl Papareno.

This event was the beginning of our appearences on the stage and it gave us courage later to put on plays, as was common in the big cities. According to knowledgeable people these performances were a success.

*

Unique things in our town of Lenin: who among those of my age doesn't remember how much we enjoyed being released from classes and spending time in the beautiful nature surroundings. We loved walking on the long bridge above the Slutz River (which we called humorously, “Navski-Prospect”). From there we continued to the hill called, “the Green Hill,” climbed to the top and looked out at the thick pine forest surrounding it. And how much we enjoyed the pleasure of swimming in the river near the oak trees, at the spot named “dovnik” or “the white beach.” How lovely it was to go out on Lag B'Omer, accompanied by the teachers, for a hike in the forest that surrounded our town on all sides. I remember the special experience of the winter days

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When we went out in the evening with lights made of oiled paper, made by each child. We loved to skate and slide on the ice and walk through the falling snow flakes, melting on our faces, or to make snowballs and throw them at each other.

However, the youth didn't want to remain within the confines of our town and anyone who had the means left to go to a bigger city, near or far, to learn more and find a profession. Even when we were in the big cities, we were proud of our town and could always prove that it had a great advantage in terms of interpersonal relations and its love of Zion.

Whenever I visited Lenin, after being away for a long or short while, it seemed to me that the houses had become smaller or more fallen in, and despite this it was still charming in my eyes. The opposite was true, my yearning for her grew stronger. The custom of labeling people with funny names which existed in the big cities hardly occurred in Lenin. If someone did use a funny term about another, it wasn't due to a bad attitude but just a silly joke.

I can see in my imagination each of the people of our town, and I know now to appreciate the qualities and good character that all of them possessed.

*

It is very difficult to reconcile to the bitter knowledge that all that was dear to me was totally destroyed. I heard many stories from eye witnessed how the people were tragically killed by the evil enemy – may their name and memory be erased – the dear members of my family and all the people of the town and how the town was destroyed and burned down.

Great is the pain that burns in me and the heart refuses to accept condolences, because the grief is great and the pain and sorrow are difficult to bear. We don't even have graves of our dear ones to visit.

The memory of our town and its residents will remain forever in our hearts.

[Page 156]

Orphans “Soup Kitchen” established by the Tsentos Society

 

Movie Benefit held for Orphans Society “Tsentos” (1925)

Standing, right to left: Bashke Tziklig, Mordechai Zaitchik, Esther Mandelbaum, Shmuel Grayev, Shaindel Rubinstein.
Sitting, right to left: Meir Boktzin, Hanan Vatcherbin

 

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