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[Pages 131-133]

The Lida Yeshiva

by Nakhum Khinutz

Translated from Yiddish by Phillip Frey

All day long the word Lida kept sounding in my head. Soon we will be in Lida. That was my ideal then – to travel to study in the Lida Yeshiva. Many youngsters went about thinking: how does one get there? How does one reach the goal? An invitation-card from the Lida Yeshiva was a veritable stroke of good fortune.

And now I'm standing in the Lida train-station – a magnificent building. Large, beautiful, spaciously constructed. Here is indeed the parting-point, a railroad-center of lines to Molodetschno, Vilna, Minsk.

I stood bewildered looking about and around me a crowd of tens more lads. Where to? From where? All to the Lida Yeshiva. And a shiver on my lips: Would they accept me into the Yeshiva? They say, that the yeshiva is over full, I'll try my luck…The Lida wagon-drivers won't allow us to just stand there – good-spirited ordinary Jews, who encourage and call you: Little gentleman why are you standing there? Come let's ride into the city, We don't overcharge anyone.

(In rhyme)
“A penny up, a penny down
Lift your head up lad.
Be proud and courageous,
Don't defeat yourself!”
The wagon-driver is a rhymer and we laugh. A wagon-driver is already holding my little bundle and we six little lads are sitting upon a droshky (horse-cab). We are traveling into the city. Now we're in Kaminker street. “The street is as long, as the Jewish exile” – -bursts out one of us. The wagon-drive reacts thusly: “You don't like our street? Ha? What? Do you want palaces? You've come to study in Lida. So what's the difference: a longer or shorter street? You should study more and criticize less. So you see the house with glass porch? Here. Here indeed lives our rabbi R' Yitskhak Yaakov Raines.”

We look about with admiration: a small thing Raines! Who had not heard the name and our fate is indeed in his hands.

And the wagon-drive continues: “Is he the same as all rabbis? A rabbi with a stately appearance, a lovely white beard? With a bright face and clever eyes, like one of God's angels. Today his clothes are of satin and silk, a pristine yarmulke and a shtreiml (fur-edged round hat), as a good Jew should be.

They call him Raines after his family name, not like all rabbis. In his yeshiva they study Russian and Hebrew, teachers with ”eagles on their buttons”(secularly educated) – the most up-to-date (Gantse “Tshinnovnikes”).

In the city they say that he approves of Zion(ism?) and that his hear and himself are drawn toward Erets(the land of) Yisroel (Israel). The city doesn't endow the Yeshiva. Rooms are needed. Food too! Angels – you aren't! Ha? Indeed so? Nu, there are ways to support yourselves.”

Having listened to the wagon-driver's banter, we look around: A city like all cities but something different. The rabbi is not the same as other rabbis. And the wagon-driver – a loquacious, good-spirited, hearty Jew.

We stop next to an empty unfenced courtyard and before our eyes a two-storied building with a sign (in Hebrew) “The Great Yeshiva of Lida”.

At last, this is the Lida yeshiva!

Lads surround us. Nu, Scholem Aleichem (greetings)! Why do you run to Lida?

The wagon driver takes our bundles down and address himself to one of them:” See to it, help them find a room” and in addition he sings:

(in rhyme)
“It is a good thing
to come to study in Lida.
Not all need to be rabbis,
Ritual slaughterers, cantors, religious judges.
You should forge your lives
As good, honest Jews.”
Within an hour's time we also found a room at the quilter Movshovits'. A small room with 3 little cots and a small table for 4 rubles a month. The entrance through a long workroom – a quilting-factory where a short young man and three helpers work.

Our host observes: we have one more small bedroom and that's it. And he adds in song:

“We quilt and sew
And double over
We manage to live
We cut garments and quilt them.”
“You have to know, that my brother Movshovitz is a teacher of Russian in your yeshiva. One of the best teachers in town” And while he is at it he whispers a secret in my ear: “He is a revolutionary” and he mumbles adding, that Rabbi Raines is not very happy about it, God forbid they won't bother the yeshiva because of him.

The next day, Friday at noon, coming from the yeshiva, we encountered our hostess baking chalahs in our room. Before our eyes a large oven revealed itself, which had formerly been covered with a long curtain and no one could guess, that here a kitchen and room to let were combined here.

Extraordinary, imposing things Lida didn't possess, but she made a name with her yeshiva, with Pupko's big beer factories and Papermaster and the big mills. Vilna street was the loveliest in the city. Later Rabbi Raines moved to it into an impressive structure – the colonel's house.

The town clock was renowned – a private one an accomplishment of the Kenigsberg the clockmaker, which would strike at 12 noon.

The Lida synagogue courtyard was paved, clean. More outstanding than everything was the appearance of the great lovely synagogue, neighboring the large study-house, the butchers synagogue and others. A group of yeshiva students, subsidized by the wealthy Muscovite Gots (Wissotsky's son-in-law) maintained themselves in the study-house.

Life in the city flowed slowly and peacefully. Jews did all sorts of business. They struggled and the lived. On one side – a large yeshiva, on the other side a regiment of soldiers. From both Lida drew a large portion of its livelihood. They used to wisecrack: Lida lives from Toire (learning=torah), Skhoire (mercantile pursuits) and Moire (fear)-(of soldiers).

The yeshiva in the city was greatly esteemed, particularly after moving to the imposing two-storied building on Sadove street. A large sign read: “The Great Lida Yeshiva”. In total the yeshiva possessed 5 divisions and three preparatory classes.

About 300 yeshiva-students studied in the yeshiva.. The building was furnished no more poorly than all modern schools, with chairs, tables, blackboards, globes. They studied Gemore (Talmud) 7 hours daily and three times weekly, two hours per day, Hebrew and Russian.

The Yeshiva possessed a lovely and rich library of Hebrew, Russian and German books. It was a donation by a wealthy Moscow Jew named M. Cahn. The library was open twice a week for a few hours in the evening.

Yeshiva-head-teachers would give daily Talmud lesson, for each division separately. After the Talmud lesson we studied together in the great hall, where we used to pray and where all assemblies took place.

Every Friday evening , and also Saturday by day, Rabbi Raines came to give a Talmud lesson, where city householders were invited. He used to come accompanied by certain yeshiva personnel.

His Talmud lesson was a masterwork of the week's Torah portion, Talmudic legislative and story-telling (Halakhah and Aggadah) infused with love and longing for Torah, and encouragement for the land of Israel. His method was simplicity, clarity and logic. Raines as founder of the “Mizrachi” was indeed deserving that his name be eternalized in Tel-Aviv – ReKhov Harav Raines (Rabbi Raines Street).

Both in Lida and in the Yeshiva the teacher Pinchos Shifman, of blessed memory, held an important place. As pedagogue and person he was very beloved and popular both in the city and among his students.

The name Shifman was authorative to everyone. His lectures at “Tiferes Bekhorim”(lit.=splendor of youths-might be a synagogue) and the yeshiva were impressed with “ahavas-yisroel” (love for the Jewish people) and nationalism. The city of Lida behaved toward him with attention and profound respect. And to his students he displayed fatherly love. His students made him popular throughout all of Russia and his chresthomathy (selection of passages=a textbook) “Bekhirim” (elders, seniors, first-born sons) was distributed everywhere.

No Hebrew teacher could take his place in the yeshiva. Shifman's speeches in the Yeshiva, on Khanukah, Tu B'Shvat, Lag B'Omer, Tishah B'Av had no equal. One could feel the teacher, the “mentsch”(human with qualities of humanity) and the great nationalist.

The Maitshitt (place name?) prodigy, eminent rabbi Shloime Poliatshek, who used to deliver Talmud lessons three times weekly to the higher divisions, was a sharp-headed genius. A rare example. His lessons were filled with acuteness, clarity and depth and were studied with great interest by his students. They were regarded for their dexterity and agility and lads would bicker over them for weeks, about what the prodigy had said and what he meant by what he had said.

The genius Raines knew how to unearth the rare pearl and it mattered greatly to him. His students held him dear. He was esteemed also as a thinking person, a prodigy and worldly person, who also knew languages.

Being pious he still simultaneously interested himself in worldly problems and freely read Russian and German.

It is important to mention the other two yeshiva-heads – the yeshiva-head from Shadov, Rabbi Klein and the esteemed rabbi Yoel Dovid Kaplan.

The “Shadover” was a thick man of middle height, a great scholar, highly skilled. His lessons in the third preparatory school and first division were crystal clarity.

A clever Jew, old-fashioned and still appropriate for his students-he'd hit the bull's-eye with a joke, a bit of humor. And the students willingly heard out his moralizing. “Learn my child” he used to instruct. “You can still become a bit of a mentsch, both to God and to people. What? One should only become a rabbi? With a little learning, a little loshn koidesh (holy tongue) and Russian – one indeed becomes a mentsch…”

The esteemed rabbi Yoel Dovid Kaplan – a clever Jew, half a finance-minister, He was principal over 3 preparatory classes (where students paid to study) His Talmud lesson in the second division in the Yeshiva was clear and to the point. He kept an eye on every yeshiva student. One could not outsmart him. He precisely knew each one's strengths and idea in learning, a pleasant man and greatly esteemed by rabbi Raines, of blessed memory.

The esteemed rabbi Eliyohu Dov ( nicknamed Reb Elie-Ber)(Dov=bear in Hebrew)Berkovski (son of bear in Russian), the mashgiach (supervisor) of the Yeshiva, a lively talkative person, erstwhile leader of the Hovaredke yeshiva Musarnikes(a 19th century moral edification movement).

Rabbi Raines exercised his authority over the behavior of his pupils in an even-handed manner. He paid attention to their attending the Talmud-lessons, if they studied and prayed. Every offense was noted in a little notebook. He observed everything. He decided with a short announcement: “Lo Yavo” – expelled from the Yeshiva, not to come (in Hebrew)!

We used to joke: “Yaleh v'Yavo is said on Rosh-Khodesh (prayer at the lunar month's beginning=to ascend and to come) and Lo Yavo – twice a year….

Reb Eliea also decided regarding (student) support, whether the student was to be supported by the yeshiva, or perish forbid, not.

He was approached (for assistance) with difficult subjects in learning.

And when he was in an elevated mood – he would pull, lift up his shoulder, as if he had cast away a heavy burden and his eyes would sparkle and shine. He was a sincere Jew. He died in extreme old-age in Tel-Aviv.

I also want to mention and emphasize the activity of Moshe Cahn (secretary and contributor to “Haolam” (Hebrew=the world). Not only was he then secretary of the “Mizrakhi” (Orthodox Zionists), he was a teacher of Tanakh (Torah, prophetic books and writings=the entire Jewish canon) and history in several classes at the yeshiva. His popular lectures on the sciences were beloved by the students. And in his performances at assemblies and celebrations, he excelled as a popular-speaker.

Simultaneously we must mentioned the good rabbi Morgenshtern, the supervisor of the preparatory classes. An honest Jew, a scholar, a good-spirited affable person, whom the students esteemed.

Two more yeshiva-heads were possessed b y the preparatory classes – the esteemed rabbi Moishe-Ber Vismanski of the first preparatory class and the Pinsker ritual-slaughterer.

Rabbi Moishe-Ber Vismanski was a goodhearted little-old-man. Between him and a ten-year-old child there was a naturally nearness.

The Pinsker ritual-slaughterer (actually the Lida town-slaughterer) gave a Talmud-lesson in the second preparatory class. He was a mean harsh Jew. The students had great respect for him, because they knew that he meant everything seriously.

The yeshiva had two beadles: Reb Avrohom the tall and Avreml the small.

The first, in addition to his work, also tried to keep an eye on the yeshiva students tattling on them…which to his misfortune resulted in sentence being executed upon him by the students of the lower classes who gave him a good thumping while he was enshrouded by a sack over his head.

Worlds were turned upside-down. Reb Raines thoroughly investigated the students and several were expelled from the yeshiva.

Avreml the small guarded his bones as under-beadle and errand beadle and he lived in peace with the students.

Lida yeshiva-students were a portion of the Lida intellectuals and the students of the higher classes were highly regarded in the town.

The club, “Hazamir” (Hebrew for nightingale) existed which the yeshiva-lads willingly visited.

Lectures used take place in the “Landes-Hall”. Such as Ze'ev Jabotinski, Khaim Greenberg, Alexander Goldshtain, Dr Daniel Pasmanik and others visited there. For the Lida yeshiva-lads every lecture was a major event.

The Lida Yeshiva existed for about 9 years, until 1915.

A new type of yeshiva student was created in the Lida yeshiva – a modern national Jew, who possessed religious learning and enlightenment subjects together.

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