by Moshe Kaganovitch
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
(From a journey through the Vilna provinces)
Published in Moment, No. 210
September 8, 1932
Lubtch and Delatitch are two small towns on the Neiman River, which flows here along the streets of both towns, adding much charm and beauty. Both towns were re-built on their ruins in the first years after the war (1918-23). The German-Russian front extended along both sides of the river for a couple of years. The entire population was evacuated and found a place of refuge in the outlying, surrounding villages.
After the war, Jews from both small towns returned to their homes, as did the peasants, and with industry and perseverance began to re-build the town and cultivate the black, fertile, blessed earth of this region. The residents have a lot to tell about those first days when they stayed temporarily in trenches and were exposed to all kinds of dangers. Many people were killed while digging and plowing, from the shrapnel, grenades and bombs which had remained stuck in the earth. They managed to build small houses and stores thanks to the help of relatives in America and a large loan from the Vilna relief organization, Yekopo. Today 450 families live in Lubtch, 300 of which are Jewish.
Delatitch is much smaller and looks like a big village. Located 5 kilometers from Lubtch, it gives the impression as being a suburb of the other. It is, in fact, joined to the Lubtch community and uses their religious articles. During the first years, many Jews made a living from the previous war by dealing in barbed wire, railroad equipment and various parts of the trenches until the higher military authorities declared these to be military property and prohibited anyone from taking them apart.
The big cement trenches extend here along the Neiman River. Even today, many trenches can be found in the small towns between houses, stables and sheds, and the population makes use of them for practical purposes such as for storing potatoes, etc.
The soil here, as said, is very fertile and black without any stones as nowhere else in the entire Vilna region. Much business is done in grain crops, flax and linseed, which grow very well here. Dutch cheese is produced here and is shipped from one end of Poland to the other. In the big centers, it is known as Lithuanian cheese. The cheese concessionaires, who get their milk from rich landlords have, in the past few years, lost their wealth due to the enormous decline in the price of cheese which has surpassed all possible calculations (1.70-2.00 zloty last year).
I was in Lubtch at the time of the annual fair, the Ilia, when people used to really take in a lot of money. Today, however, the storekeepers in Lubtch are standing with folded hands in the middle of the fair. The peasants haggle, look at the merchandise, admit it's cheap but still go away without buying anything. Therefore, prices on everything are unbelievably low: 60 cucumbers were selling for 10 groschen and cherries at 8-10 groschen a kilo.
The general impression is that although Lubtch and Delatitch have been hard hit by the terrible crisis, the material situation of the Jews, in comparison to those in other small towns, is quite satisfactory. This is true because they have few expenses and everything is ridiculously cheap. People have vegetables and potatoes from their own gardens, and the standard of living has always been low. Likewise, people are involved in various businesses at the same time: cheese concession, retail stores, trading in grains, etc. Besides all this, Jews of Lubtch have a reputation for being stingy, so they have, in fact, held on to the capital they acquired in the good years.
Lubtch has a cooperative bank, charity fund, a few organizations and clubs (Hashomer Hatzair, Hechalutz, Beitar, Poalei Zion), a Tarbut school (five grades) and a very active dramatics club which brings the town's youth together and is truly a social and spiritual asset. In the summer, however, these groups are practically all dead because the young people are busy helping their fathers in the gardens, cheese concessions and stores. Besides, the lovely Neiman River attracts them for bathing and having fun.
Now that winter is coming with its long nights and cold, dark days, when frost turns the frolicking waters of the Neiman River into chains of ice, only then do the young people participate in the activities of the organizations and clubs which also serve as rendezvous places.
Lubtch and Delatitch, with their wooden houses and trenches, then take a rest until spring, when the Neiman River announces the coming of the joyful, lively part of the year-summer.
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
Yenta luckily became a bride. It's easy to say became a bride, but, in fact, a lot of effort, time and talking were required before the matchmaker succeeded in convincing the prospective groom and his parents - and winning their approval for the match.
Only afterwards did the real episode of bargaining and promises begin. How else? A table and chairs, sofa, beds, a couple of years free rent, and many other things just, in fact, as the saying goes: Promises and love don't cost money.
But what can be done about the bride's hair? Yenta, poor thing, was punished by God - a girl with flaming red hair - a red-head. Little by little, people mumbled the truth. They're afraid the prospective groom will change his mind and that will be the end of the match.
When he heard about his, the groom-to-be called everyone together and calmly said:
A red-headed bride, it doesn't matter. Being with me, her reputation will be blackened
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
Meite Kasmeievitch's mother tells a few fortunate women that her daughter is being wooed by a young man from Radon. Actually, he is really not young, but he is rich and ready to take her daughter without a dowry of any kind. He'll take her kak stoi, meaning just as she stands and walks.
Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky
I arrived in Lubtch towards the end of 1933. I came there after working three years at the Tarbut school in the capital, Warsaw. On the way, my thoughts about the town were gloomy. I thought that I would lead a miserable and boring life in this faraway corner. The region is sure to be undeveloped, I thought, and the residents, like in all small towns, are busy making a living to the last of their strength and not free to develop a spiritual or intellectual life. But to my great joy, my thoughts did not turn out to be true. The people were friendly. The teaching staff at the school was large, responsible and dedicated. The school building was spacious, bustling with healthy, happy children enjoying a complete Hebrew education.
A dedicated and responsible parents committee was active in the school. I and the other new teachers met with the members for a prolonged discussion on the first Sabbath that we spent in the town. These were traditional people who went to the synagogue, as was their custom, for morning prayers, returned leisurely to their homes, tasted the Sabbath foods and only after that, met with the new teachers to get to know them close-up. The conversation was agreeable and pleasant. I immediately felt that we had a common language and that with combined strengths we would establish the Hebrew school in Lubtch. They finished with a promise: We promise the teachers a fair salary, so that you can dedicate yourselves with a quiet heart to your pedagogical work. I was amazed - where did these Jews have such a correct attitude, being so far away from the pedagogical centers and busy with their daily battle of existence? But these are good Jews, who carried in their hearts the national obligation and heritage which they had received from their forefathers. From that time on - I dedicated myself to the school, to the children and youth and especially to the mothers. After a short while, I was integrated into the pageant of Jewish life in Lubtch, sharing the worries of both parents and children.
In order to get to know each of my pupils at close hand, I began to make home visits. I wanted to see the conditions of the housing and their way of life. When I returned to my room, I would write down my impressions. The picture was very dismal. Especially heart touching was the hard life of the Jewish mother. I saw her suffering, and her silence bore witness to the acceptance of her lot in life - this is my fate! I understood her feelings - she stands confused, without education and without experience, opposite the new stream which she did not know. The only thing that remained was the motherly instinct that nature had given her, with which she knew that she had to give all that was necessary for the education of her child. Of course it was too little, and her worries were many: at home there were a number of children, there was penury and crowding; the father, a craftsman who usually worked at home; and the mother, helping him in the troubles of earning a livelihood. At home there is noise and commotion, each one disturbing the other without meaning to. Material assets are meager, and all the heavy load of educating the child and providing his material and spiritual needs fell on the mother's head: to prepare food, to make sure he has new, clean clothes. To provide books and study materials, and to make sure he is healthy and advancing in his studies.
This way of life of the mothers robbed me of my rest. I began to search for a way to help the busy mothers. For this, I organized a three-pronged program:
A recurring phenomenon was that after each meeting or party, the mothers would not hurry to return home. They wanted to remain in that framework a little longer; perhaps they would get what was needed for their children's education. And indeed they got much. The meetings usually ended late at night. It was dark outside and the way to my room was quite long, but all of them continued to walk together with me. They did not notice the cold, the rain and the wind until they parted and each went her own way home.
I realized that these meeting had become the content of their lives. They gave them the chance to talk about all and everything, to remove heavy stones from their sad and loving hearts. Here they would find support and encouragement, help and advice.
The women came into my room bringing many problems with them. I loved to look at their faces: when they entered, they did not dare sit down, they didn't know where to start, and sometimes they feared to ask. I knew that their behavior derived from modesty, so I would be the one to start the conversation. I told the embarrassed mother about her child, about his scholastic achievements. I brought examples of proper education. I told her that God cared about her and had given her much wisdom and eternal knowledge and that was the mother's heart: a heart which senses every change in the child's life. She must show the child that she understands everything he is reading and learning: she must supervise him when he is doing his homework and listen patiently to what he has to say. In this way the child will realize that her eyes are observing his ways and supervising his education, while being concerned and assisting. The mother left this meeting with a sense of security, belief in her strength and feelings that now she would know how to act.
The mother began to maintain the family framework, placing more emphasis on the cultural pattern of the Jewish festivals. She lit Sabbath candles according to the number of her children, and in the house there was a very festive atmosphere. On the table was a sparkling white tablecloth, kept only for this purpose. On every Sabbath and festival, she would make special food to improve the taste of the festival.
The mother of Leib Kalmanovitch said to me: Teacher, if you knew how much effort this costs me. But since our conversation, the role of the home has become clearer to me. I previously thought that traditional education is not enough to educate the child. Now, I understand everything, that this (the role of the home) is the basis of a good Jewish education. In this way I bind the hearts of my children to their people and their Torah. I escorted her to the door of my room and a warm handshake separated us, but in my heart this conversation left much light and hopes for a good future.
One of the mothers couldn't come to these conversations. This was the mother of Daniel Ayzikovitsky. This young woman was paralyzed and bedridden. I understood her soul and came to their house. I brought with me the list of grades, the child's exercise books and a smile. A tremor passes through my body to this day when I remember this woman. Her image comes before my eyes; her pale face expressed deep sorrow. Two blue eyes, big and deep, protruded from her face. Her eyes searched me and tears flowed, protesting against the injustice of her bitter fate. I sat down beside her and told her gently about her delicate son. She did not speak, only from the movements of her body, did I understand what was on her heart. I comforted her - Don't worry, God gave your son a good, wise heart, a good mind, and independence. He is making his way in life with confident steps. She stroked my hand: this was the thanks of the unfortunate woman. I visited her without fail once a month. I knew that this visit would bring a ray of light into her dark and despairing world.
I want to tell more and more about these women, but to my great sadness, time and the troubles of Israel have made me forget their names. But I carry with me the purity of their actions and the extent of their sufferings. I have unfolded but one drop in the lives of the mothers of Lubtch, women who brought up their children in sadness and in poverty, in lack and in worries. They saved from their mouths so that their children would be satiated. How terribly sad that they did not merit during their lives to enjoy the fruits of their heavy and difficult labor!. But their hidden light lights up that period of my life.
It was Sabbath evening. I lectured about the new ways of education in Eretz-Israel. It was eight o'clock. From every corner of the town, men, women and youth streamed to the school auditorium. The hall was completely full. Sometimes the electricity, which didn't work well, went off, but no one noticed the failure. They sat patiently for a long time until the electricity was restored.
I raised the subject of the new image of the mother in our country: there, in Eretz-Israel, the child was educated for hard work and bravery. There they instill confidence and courage in him. The new generation needs to fight for every piece of land until the people of Israel achieve political independence. There the new lullaby was created - the song of work and creativity, the song of plowing and reaping.
The conversation continued for a long time. I looked into the eyes of those present. I searched for a sign, a drooping of the eyelids, for they had come after a difficult week of toil, after preparing for the Sabbath. But their faces expressed freshness, concentration and alertness. Here and there was a silent sigh.
I finished my talk. There was a deep silence in the hall. No one moved from his place. I said, Shabbat shalom! But everyone stayed in their seats. Suddenly I heard a woman's voice: Thank you for the pleasure you have given us tonight. We have learnt a new Torah (teaching), and from its light we will teach our children.
We left the hall. It was a dark and murky night, but a great beam of light along the path illuminated my way: this was the hidden light of the Jewish mother in Lubtch.
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
The holy Sabbath longs for your noble hands
(In the brass candlesticks, burned out Sabbath candles)
Death has long since cast a shadow on your face,
The mothers from the Bible grieve by the wall.
The golden kid under my destroyed cradle
But God is here, the God from your cried out nights,
Your belief and your complaints still resound in me,
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
I was born in Delatitch. I don't remember, however, whether it was after the first fire or after the second because the village often burned down and people would date all important events according to the fires, and my birth, too, was dated in this way.
I remember one such fire to this very day as though it were just yesterday because I was then already ten years old. My parents had just gone away that very day and we, six children, were alone at home.
Suddenly, the church bells started ringing and thick smoke clouded the sky. Church Street burned down first. Long tongues of fire jumped from one straw roof to another, and soon the market place, Karelitch Street and Keider Lane went up in flames.
My older sister took our little brother by the hand and brought him to our grandfather's. However, by the time she got there, grandfather's house had also caught on fire, and so she went with our little brother to the bank of the Neiman River.
My younger brother drove the cows out of the stable and another brother tied up the bedding. I followed suit and wanted to catch our hen but, as if to spite, she hid in the henhouse under a big baking oven. Hens were generally free to wander in the house and when it came time to lay an egg, they would jump up on the bed, clucking. We would cover them with a small cloth and a few minutes later, they would lay an egg and jump off the bed. I lay down on the ground and drove the hen out with a stick, but she only hid deeper in a corner of the henhouse. The flames had already reached our house and the smoke began to choke us. Suddenly, a few strong hands lifted me off the ground with a shout: Run away! Leave the hen alone, run away! On the way to the Neiman, I had to run through the market place which was burning on all sides with a hellish fire. There was a tavern in the middle of the market place, and when the brandy caught on fire, flaming streams spewed forth.
At that time, a widow named Beila the Cheese Maker lived in Delatich. It was said that she was a rich woman and when her husband died, she placed her belongings in my grandfather's shed. During the fire, she ran there to save her things. She ran into the shed when the gate had already burned down and she was engulfed in the flames. No one heard her shouts as she turned into a living bale and was killed together with her belongings.
The Jews from Lubtch at once sent in wagons loaded with food for those whose homes had burned down, and they helped in any way they could, although they were not wealthy either.
In a short time, the homes were rebuilt. They were much more comfortable and more modern for that time. Some people built with their own means, some had insurance money, while others received help from relatives in America.
Delatitch was a pretty village surrounded by woods, gardens and orchards whose lovely fragrances were really intoxicating.
Friday evening, after the shops closed and the weekday hubbub came to a halt, candles would brightly light up the Jewish homes and the men, wearing their finest Sabbath clothes, would walk to the synagogue at an unhurried pace and with measured steps to welcome in the Sabbath.
When they returned home from the synagogue, the singing of Shalom Aleichem Malachei Hasharet was carried through the open windows. That lovely melody was sung by Gershon the Teacher and his children to welcome in the Holy Sabbath. His son, Moshe, with his strong and pleasant voice, outdid all the other children. Another Jew who had an excellent voice was Shabtil the Butcher, the prayer leader on the High Holidays. When Shabtil stood before the altar and began the prayers, the synagogue walls would actually shake. The worshipper's eyes would swell with tears and they would beseechingly submit their requests before the Almighty, confident that they would be heard.
Moshe the town clerk lived next door to us. His wife had a store in the market place. Moshe's job was to record births and deaths, prepare passports and announcements - true or false - whenever necessary to help another Jew out. There was also a mailbox in Moshe's house for mail, which was brought from Lubtch everyday in a wagon. A harness with a bell was put around the horse's neck. The ringing of the bell was a sign that the mail had come and that you should go and pick up your letter. For five kopeks, you could go back to Lubtch on the wagon with the mailbox.
I was often at the home of the rabbi of Delatitch, whose daughter Shoske was my girlfriend. Besides deciding a question of religious law such as what to do if a dairy spoon fell into a meat pot, or settling a dispute on the basis of Torah law, the rabbi had a monopoly on selling yeast and salt. His wife, the rebbitzen, was also involved in the business and they actually made a living from this. In this way, the rabbi was not dependent on synagogue officers or rich people in the village. He only had to ask God to see to it that the Jews in Delatitch had enough to eat and that they wouldn't have to go without salt and yeast
Delatitch was built like all the small towns in our area: In the middle of the town was a market place in which there were a row of stores, a tavern where the gentiles got drunk, a few streets as well as the road leading to Lubtch and to Yordika, which was situated close to the Neiman River. Around Passover, when the river flowed with a strong current, there was no way to get to Yordika. Rivkah lived there with her four daughters, Sonia, Mina, Itke and Devorah. They made a living selling bagels. The daughters were intelligent girls, they spoke intelligently and we were envious of them. Mina and Itke were killed in the Holocaust.
The market place and surrounding streets were inhabited by Jews. The gentiles lived in the outlying parts of the village. Our neighbors were Christians and we lived on best terms with them. On the Sabbath, they milked our cows, extinguished the oil lamp, and in the winter, they heated our oven and did whatever gentiles were allowed to do for Jews on the day of rest. And yet there was hatred between the two peoples, although one could not get along without the other.
Whenever there was a Christian holy day and a religious procession with music passed through the village, we Jewish children were kept at home, as our parents were afraid to let us go out into the streets.
As much as we hated one another, mostly on account of religious fanaticism, this did not keep us from being connected in our daily living. All week long both sides waited for Sunday's market, when the peasants from the surrounding villages would come and sell their wares to the Jews. On that day, the market place came to life: people bought and sold and got bargains from each other, gentiles reviled one another, cursed their mother and grandfather's grandfather, horses neighed, sheep bleated, drunken gentiles sang in the tavern. The market place was filled with voices and shouting. Jewish shops were crowded with peasants who haggled for a long time over prices and merchandise. The shopkeepers watched the uncircumcised gentiles with seven eyes lest they take something without paying for it. We thanked God for providing a living for His People Israel.
Like all Jewish small towns, Delatich had a study room (beit midrash), a mishnayot [oral laws]) study group, an ayn Yaakov study group, a group for people reciting psalms and many teachers. There was no shortage of beggars either. On the street leading to Lubtch, stood a public bathhouse and a ritual bath crowded with Jewish paupers from all over the country seeking alms.
Several great scholars lived in our village and it was said that they could exorcise a dybbuk [spirit of a dead person]. To this very day I recall an incident that occurred in Delatitch which I heard told about at my mother's sewing table:
One day a Jewish woman came into the village with her daughter. Suddenly, the girl collapsed in the middle of the market place and began hitting her head with her hands and screaming in a wild voice: Will you go for a drink of water at Neche's house without reciting a blessing? When the dybbuk left her, the girl stood up, exhausted, perspiration running down her face. The Jewish woman related that a year before the girl was still healthy and as quiet as a dove. It seems that the mother and daughter had spent a night in a stable where there was a cow. In the middle of the night, the dybbuk came out of the cow and went into the daughter. As there were scholars living in Delatitch who knew how to drive away a dybbuk, her daughter would be helped and her haunted soul would be repaired. I don't know whether the girl was actually helped, but from that day on, I have run away from cows as if from the greatest danger.
For this reason, it is actually possible that our small town was crowned with the nickname Delatitch's crazy people. The fact is, there were several crazy people in our village. The one I particularly remember was Shaya with his son Zaydel.
Shaya was a great scholar and his wife wasn't quite normal either. When Shaya was overcome with troubles from a bitterly hard life, he suddenly came out with harsh words against all of mankind. People pronounced him crazy, and when the community decided something about someone, absolutely nothing could change this decision.
In my time, young people from respectable families didn't have the opportunity to take up an occupation or profession. Nor did they want to have a simple trade, as a tradesman was a stain in the family. Parents wanted their sons to be educated or merchants. In our village there were rich lumber merchants as well as lumber agents. Both my grandfather, Avraham Rabinovitch, and my father, Berel, were agents. Rachel Manes and her son Herzel were lumber merchants. People said that she had a man's head. She managed the business better than her own son. My mother, Esther Chiene, was a seamstress and employed a few workers. They would work until late at night mainly just before a holiday. My mother was a woman of valor and helped bear the yoke of earning a living. And every year there was an addition to our family.
It was a hard life in every respect. Water was carried in pails attached to a yoke. It was trouble enough in the summer, but in the winter, in the freezing cold, when the well was completely covered with ice, you were risking your life. And when you finally pulled the heavy pail out of the well and fastened it to the yoke, your foot suddenly slips and all the water spills out of the pail and you have to draw up water again with your frozen hands. There was actually a water carrier, Vassily, who brought a yoke of water to your house for a few kopeks, but when Vassily got drunk - which happened often - we had to be harnessed to the yoke ourselves.
With the coming of winter, came the episode of heating the house. A good householder prepared wood for the winter during the summer. The wood could dry out and that was trouble enough. But those who would buy wood in the winter - when the wood was wet and burned poorly - were not to be envied. When you heated the oven and closed up the chimney, you went around more than once with your head filled with charcoal fumes. It was forbidden to open a window, and it was actually impossible to open a window because right after Sukkot a second window was put in - a double window! Wadding was placed between the windows, and an immeasurable quantity of pieces of colored paper was poured into the spaces between the two windows. People would also put various charming ornaments between the windows such as chicks and ducklings, etc. all fashioned out of wadding. We sealed up the cracks lest - God forbid - a breeze should blow in. Just one casement window with a small opening could be opened to let in some air. But who could allow himself such a thing? - except for the progressives, who were called snobs in Delatitch because otherwise it would not become them to open a casement window.
As the cold weather set in, the windows were adorned with wonderful frost flowers - simply to look at and enjoy. But no sooner did the windows begin to freeze over than the barrels of water also began to freeze. We finally had to begin to make the house much warmer so that the ice would melt. Meanwhile, we sat around the golden oven just like chicks under the hen's wings. The oven produced a gas from the pitch wood with the odor of a greasy essence, which gave us a headache. We ran to the paramedic (feldsher) and he would advise us to wash our head with warm water. Finally a remedy was found: as soon as the chimney was closed, we went outside into the fresh air. And that method actually helped.
The paramedic's wife, Yocheved, was a midwife. She helped the women bring their children into the world. And soon as she delivered the child, she washed it and wrapped it in swaddling bands so that the baby could not move its hands and feet. The baby's crying was of no concern, for if babies move about, they'll grow up with crooked hands and feet.
Her husband, Meir the paramedic served as the doctor: he used to give castor oil, Glauber's salt, tansy for the children, etc. If someone complained of a pain, cups were placed over the painful area, sometimes broken cups or leeches. If you had a fever, they placed a bladder with ice on your forehead, and if that didn't help, they went to conjure an evil eye. If you needed a real doctor, you would have to travel to Lubtch or Novogrudek.
When I was six years old, I was given my first reading instruction with Shabtil the Teacher. His method of teaching was very simple: the letter vov was a little line with a head (ו), a yod was a small dot (י) etc. This is how I learned to read. Shabtil the Teacher was old and skinny, and when he was teaching the children, he would fall asleep and have a good snooze. Naturally, the children were delighted.
When I was a child, I imagined that the world was a step ladder. The first rung was Delatitch, the second rung - Lubtch, after that came Novogrudek, Minsk, Warsaw and at the very top was America - the end of the world. That was the time of the great emigration to America. We spoke about America while eating and lying down to sleep. People borrowed a few dozen rubles to send their children to the golden land in the hope that they would bring one another over. And that's what actually happened. As soon as someone made a nest and settled down, he would send for his family. From our family, my father's brother, Shlomo Rabinovitch, left for South Africa and later brought his four brothers here. Shortly before WW I, my uncles brought over my older sister, Vita Rachel.
Time doesn't stand still. Delatitch also woke up: Modern teachers came and the children began learning Yiddish, Russian, arithmetic and history. Older children were sent away to foreign countries and they sent back help, thanks to which the material situation improved. The Jews in Delatitch celebrated weddings, circumcisions, redemptions of firstborn sons, and lived in hope of leaving the village and being re-united with their children abroad.
There was no yeshiva (rabbinic seminary) in Delatitch. Anyone who wanted to study in a yeshiva had to go to Novogrudek, to Rabbi Yuzel's yeshiva, where one followed the Mussar tradition. The yeshiva boys would come home on every holiday and would be welcomed with the greatest respect. Rabbi Yuzel often came to the woods in Delatitch, where he had a house. He would sit and study Torah there. A yeshiva boy would pass him food through an open window so as not to cause him to lose a minute of Torah study.
The awakening of Yiddish life also reached Rabbi Yuzel's yeshiva. The boys began to read Yiddish books and newspapers and to become interested in social and national events in Jewish and general life. As a result, they moved further and further away from the yeshiva, with its strict rules. Some of the students became anti-religious and even strongly militant. Those, however, who remained in the yeshiva, eventually outdid one another in their fanaticism, including Rabbi Yuzel himself.
The First World War
At first, Delatitch almost didn't feel that a terrible war was in progress, only that some men had been drafted into the Czar's army. From 1914 to 1915 the town's population led a normal life without any special earth-shattering occurrences. I also remember that a great debate took place in the study room. One side supported the Russians and the other the Germans. The arguing was so bitter as though the two opposing sides were really enemies. Towards the end of 1915 there was a great commotion in the village: the fish in the Neiman River were lying nearly lifeless in the water, with their stomachs down. People explained this phenomenon in hundreds of ways: Some said that the enemy had poisoned the fish, while others maintained that the end of the world had come and that before the advent of the Moshiach, all the fish in the waters would fall asleep except for the Leviathan [whale], which would remain for the great meal in Messianic times.
Shortly afterwards we found out the secret: The government had issued an order for the breweries to spill their alcohol into the Neiman. For a few days there was no lack of fish in the village. You simply had to go down to the river and take them out with your hands.
We had not yet managed to digest the fish when soldiers began marching. For three whole days and nights one heard - incessantly - the heavy steps of the soldiers, who were crossing through Delatitch to get to the other side of the Neiman River. They were given a few hours to rest in the houses. They were dead tired and fell down to sleep wherever they could if only to have a little rest. They didn't have any time to rob or harm the population. Before leaving the village, the last soldiers ordered the civilians as well to go across to the other side of the river. We considered what to do, but there wasn't too much time to make plans. We were afraid that the bridge would be taken down and that we would remain in enemy hands and who knew what the enemy would do to us. People were terrified. We quickly got some food and warm clothing together. It was just the time of the Sukkot holiday when the nights became longer and colder and no one could know how long we would have to be outside under the open sky.
The Germans came into the village. The Russian army took up positions on the other side of the Neiman River, and we were in the middle between the two combating camps. Shells were flying over our heads. We only saw fire and heard the cries of the wounded. Naturally, we kept on running without stopping like hunted animals. We often fell down, got up and ran further just to get out safely. When the fighting subsided and the shooting and fire had stopped after three days of heavy fighting, we returned to the village, which remained in German hands.
Coming into the village, we found out that Zelik the Shoemaker had not run away with the other residents of Delatitch but had hidden in the study room. When the Germans entered the village, they took him for a spy and wanted to shoot him in the market place. A large delegation of returning village Jews approached the German commander and worked for his release.
All the houses were occupied by the Germans. The commander took over our big house, and we were given just one room. Two days later, all the civilians were ordered to leave Delatitch within four hours and go to a neighboring village for a few days. We took food provisions for a couple of days, locked up everything, left the key with the commander - in sure hands - and went to a village three miles away.
Three days went by, a week, and we were still forbidden to return home. As we were unable to buy food, we dug up potatoes in the fields and sustained ourselves in that way. It had never occurred to anyone to take along salt - a cheap enough item -, but what kind of taste do potatoes have without salt? Besides this, we had a stomach disturbance. Everyone without exception was groaning from abdominal cramps and it was impossible to get a remedy for that.
We were all infested with lice, like little ants, from sleeping in filth and in tight quarters on straw in barns. It was simply impossible for us to stay in the neighboring village any longer. As we were prevented from returning to Delatitch, not knowing when it would be possible for us to go back, we had no other choice but to walk to Novogrudek, nearly 30 kilometers away. My father wasn't with us. He was in the area of Svalk, where he worked in a forest and we had heard nothing from him. My mother and her small children started on the way. It took us two days to reach that town.
There was a flood of refugees in Novogrudek from Lubtch, Delatitch, Sheliov and other surrounding small towns and villages. As the town could not accommodate so many refugees, a committee was formed to send some of the refugees to other places. It was difficult, but we managed to get permission to remain in Novogrudek, where we stayed until the end of the war in 1918.
As soon as the war ended, we went back to see our village and to decide what to do. When we entered Delatitch, it seemed as though we had fallen into another world. The whole village was dug up and cut up by trenches. Some of the houses had been taken down to make room for trenches and bunkers. It was really a subterranean village which extended all along the Neiman River from Lubtch to Delatitch and beyond. When Yankel Baksht noticed this, he exclaimed: Anyone who has not seen Delatitch as it looks now, has not seen the world! We decided on the spot to return to our homes and begin to build our lives anew, as it has often happened in our long history after every period of destruction and expulsion.
Life became much more pleasant. We already had electric lighting both in the houses and in the streets, but people also need to eat. The fields hadn't been cultivated in three full years, so there was little food to buy. We had no other choice but to take up our wandering staffs and go in search of another place where we would at least have a small piece of bread to fill us up. That was enough for us because we didn't have very great aspirations at that time.
My recollections of Delatitch are cut off here. What I experienced later on, my wanderings through towns and villages in the post World War I chaos, all of these troubles and dangers are really unforgettable, but they no longer belong to the period of my life in Delatich.
I would like to recall the sacred memory of my sister Zvia and my brother Aharon, the first two victims in my family during World War I.
Throughout my life in satiated and wealthy South Africa, I have always remembered my little town, Delatitch, remembered it with sorrow and yearning, as a person longs for the beautiful years of his youth which were taken away in the flames and smoke of wars.
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
Yoske Yedidovitch went to take a look at a prospective bride. It was a rainy, autumn day when the cold penetrated your bones.
His father warned Yoske that if he were asked for some news, he should answer that on the street no one is leaving and no one is coming. This means that in such weather, there is no one outside, so no one knows any news.
Yoske decided to have a little fun, and when someone asked him:
So, what's going on, young man?, Yoske didn't give it too much thought and answered:
Outside there are now two people not leaving and two not coming.
Nothing became of the match and Yoske remained an old bachelor.
(Eliyahu-Moshe ben R' Yehoshua-Yaacov Shimshilevitz)
(Originally translated from English to Hebrew by T. Shimshoni)
Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky
Lubtch was a typical Jewish town, in the jurisdiction of the Russian Empire. After World War I, it was included in the Polish Republic. From the municipal point of view it belonged to the Novogrudek section - in the Minsk district. Lubtch lies next to the banks of the Neiman River, whose waters flow to the Baltic.
Like other towns in Russia of those days, Lubtch was built around a wide square, from which streets branched out towards the neighboring villages; every street was named after the village towards which it went.
Most of the town's inhabitants were Jews, only about ten percent were orthodox Christians, who lived at the end of the streets, as if they were not part of the community. When the area passed over to the Polish rule, they sent a considerable number of Polish citizens, Catholics from west Poland, to give the area a Polish color.
The shops and storehouses were concentrated in the square, which was the center for business. Once a week a market was held here, and the farmers from the surroundings brought their produce to sell and barter.
The houses in the town were built from wood. The roofs of the some of the houses (mainly of the gentiles) were covered with straw and were an immediate fire hazard. Every house included a large living room, two or three bedrooms and a kitchen, wherein stood a large oven for cooking and baking. A smaller and decorative oven was built in the middle of the house in order to heat the house during the cold winters. A succah and a cold storage cellar were also part of the main necessities of every house. Behind the house stood a structure which was used as a workshop or a place for keeping animals: a horse, a cow, a goat etc.
There was no supply of electricity or gas to Lubtch, and candles or kerosene lamps were used for lighting. Logs of wood were used for heating. During the German occupation, in the First World War, a primitive electric power station was erected, which continued to work after the ceasefire and retreat of the Germans from the area. This power station supplied electricity for lighting, usually from darkness until midnight.
There was plenty of water from the wells which were dispersed in all corners of the town. Pumping water from the wells was not an easy task - it was difficult to carry the buckets in our hands or on our shoulders, and especially dangerous during the winter, when the well was covered by a layer of ice.
The weather was usually pleasant, hot in the summer, cold in the winter. Spring was delightful - we heard the chirping of birds returning from their migration, trees budded and the intoxicating scents of the flowers filled the air. In the spring and summer, rain fell from time to time, but despite this, it was warm and enjoyable.
Autumn brought with it the cold and the heavy showers, turning the streets of the town into streams of mud, making them almost impossible to cross. A start was made to pave the streets with stones, but the work had not yet been finished by 1939.
The Neiman River was frozen for three months of the year, and served as an excellent place for the youth to skate. In March, when the snows thawed, the river overran its banks and flooded the nearby meadow and reached the houses. In the summer its waters were cool and quiet, and bathing was a pleasure. To sail on the river in small rowboats in the evenings to the light of the moon and sparkling stars was romantic. On Fridays, many swimmers of all ages swarmed to the river, not only to swim, but also to wash and purify themselves in preparation for the holy Sabbath. The women - as befits proper daughters of Israel - washed separately, at a recognizable distance from the men. Bathing suits were not known in those days.
No industry existed in Lubtch, so in any case there was no working class as such. In the town there were a number of craftsmen such as tailors, boot-makers, carpenters, who supplied the needs of the population. The best of these emigrated to the United States or to England, where they proved their abilities, by establishing a large industry of readymade clothes. Simplest clothes were made at home, and knitting of socks and gloves was a woman's job. The standard of living was primitive. Food, fresh and healthy, was home-made: black and white bread were baked at home; milk, butter and cheese were also home-made; almost every house had a cow, potatoes were plentiful, and kept in the cold storage cellar of the house all year round.
The shops were mainly in the market square and were managed by the women. Most of the men were busy with small trade. Since flax, flax seeds and grains of various kinds were the main produce of the district, the merchants would travel around to all the villages in the area and buy the farmers' produce. Trade in flax and flax seeds, especially in the autumn and winter months, occupied most of the Jewish population who made their livelihood in this business. Many houses were used for sorting the different types of flax; every type was parceled up into bundles which were then sent to the closest railway station, and from there sent to different parts of the country, and also to neighboring countries.
The Neiman River was used as a transport artery during the autumn months. The grains and seeds were transported in ships and freight boats to Germany and other countries. They also used the river for transporting logs which had been cut down from the thick forests which covered the area. Transfer of logs via the Neiman was the cheapest means of transport. Trade in logs was an honorable job and several of the town's inhabitants found a livelihood as secondary tradesmen or agents. The log traders came from larger centers.
Lubtch was not considered to be a rich town as it had no wealthy people and the inhabitants made do with little. There was no railroad line in my time, and moving from place to place was by horse and cart. It is hard to believe, but in Lubtch there were people who had never seen a train engine or heard its whistle. The paths were not paved and in the summer they were used by horse and cart. In the winter, when the paths were covered by snow, people used sleighs. The wagon driver was the connection between Lubtch and the environs. He took people to the neighboring centers - Novogrudek and Ivyeh. The Germans, who held Lubtch during the First World War, built a narrow iron railway line - the kleinbahn.
Although the waves of revolution and the spirit of uprising against the Tzar had spread all over Russia, and the influence of education was clearly seen in the life of the Jews in all the towns of Europe, the gust of the wind of enlightenment had not yet come to Lubtch. The Jews there led a conservative way of life; the basic tenets of religion were unshakeable and stood above every doubt. The life of the society ranged around three synagogues; the red, the white (according to the colors of the bricks) and the wooden synagogue, which was called in Yiddish Der hiltzener Bet-Midrash. The red synagogue was for the extremists, the white - for the petit-bourgeois status, and the wooden synagogue was attended by the youth. The synagogues were open for shacharit, minchah and maariv [morning, afternoon and evening] prayers, for studying the Talmud after the prayers, and for general discussion. The wealthier congregants were of course the seat holders in the synagogue. The price of a seat (makom) was according to its location. The makom was considered to be of value, and became the unique property of its owner and passed from father to son by inheritance.
The Rabbi was the spiritual leader of the community and the strosta (muchtar) was the civilian leader and chosen in local popular elections.
The needs of the community were financed by the taxes imposed on various things such as candles and yeast. The right to sell them was bought as a concession, and the vendor had the exclusive right to sell these commodities.
In the town there were a number of societies for mutual help, amongst them Agudat Achim - for disseminating friendship and brotherhood amongst all. My father was chairman of the Agudah. I took part in the Bikur-Cholim Aguda, most of whose members were youth who volunteered to help the sick. An important institution was the fire-brigade society, whose members were all volunteers; since fires in Lubtch broke out very often, they had lots of work.
The Jewish population was mainly divided into two ruling families, Shimshilevitz and Kivilevitz, who were in dispute about all sorts of things, but in the end solved their problems in a friendly way.
Security, law and order were the responsibility of the government, whose representatives, the policemen, wielded a lot of power. The population was under their jurisdiction and subject to their judgment, whether for good or for evil, but it was possible to settle almost every problem with a present. For example: the commander-in-chief of the local police happened to pass by our house at the time when workers were repairing it after it had been damaged by fire, and sent a policeman to tell us to stop their work. In reply, my father sent a present to the commander, a wagon full of hay, and naturally the work did not stop.
In Lubtch, there was a post office. Letters were sent and received every day. A letter received from a relation in a far-off country, was considered a great occasion. It was easy to send or receive a telegram. It is surprising that such a scientific way of communication had arrived in a remote town such as Lubtch in those days.
The inhabitants of Lubtch did not have a high standard of culture. There were a number of scholars in the town who were experts in Talmud and who studied their lessons day and night. The Jews were religious, God fearing and accepted their beliefs with no reservations; going to the synagogue became a habit and an acceptable thing to do. The Sabbath or a Holy Day was a day of rest and joy. The laws of kashrut were kept scrupulously. Very important matters affecting the world did not bother the quiet citizens. Only two or three people received newspapers from Vilna, Warsaw or Peterburg, and passed on the news to the others. It is no exaggeration to say that events such as the death of Tolstoy, the murder of Stolifin or the Baylis trial were not valued as they should have been in the town.
The spoken language was Yiddish, although many knew a little Russian, which was necessary for commercial negotiations with the farmers of the area, or to speak to representatives of the government. Almost all knew Hebrew, but didn't use it as a spoken language; the educated young generation used Hebrew in writing important letters or documents.
Education of the children began at the cheder. There were three levels of study: the first was for beginners- boys and girls together learnt the same alphabet and got as far as reading the Pentaeuch (Five Books of Moses); at the second level they studied Bible and the Hebrew language, but only boys aged 8-12 participated. The third level was the yeshiva, an institution for Torah study, where they continued to study Bible and Talmud. In Lubtch itself there was no yeshiva, and whoever wanted to continue Torah studies had to travel to the Mir or Volozhin yeshivot, which were not far from Lubtch.
The educational method was not unified: the chedarim were managed by melamdim [elementary school teachers] who mostly knew the material to be learnt, but were not authorized to teach. Each taught according to his own methods. Although education was not compulsory, all the children in the town took part in the lessons. Secular studies were not taught at all at the chedarim.
Children of the Gentiles went to the state elementary school. But there was no obligatory law of education, and thus few studied and there was much illiteracy. The Jewish children, who longed to receive secular Russian education, had to take private lessons. Few of my age had the option of studying in the school at Novogrudek, where the pupils got a good overall education. That was a good state school, organized and well equipped. The pupils were accepted only after special entrance exams; the teachers, all non-Jews, were authorized and dedicated to their job. I was one of the fortunate children who studied there.
In Lubtch when I lived there, there were no people of the free professions. The doctor was a general doctor. There were no local youth who had become doctors. Young doctors came for several years in order to acquire medical practice. One of the doctors I remember still is Doctor Shapira, who was an excellent doctor. But he too moved on to Vilna, after he had acquired experience in Lubtch, and continued with a medical practice there, until he was murdered by the Nazis, in the second World War, The pharmacists helped the doctor. There were no lawyers in the town and no one felt their absence. Disputes were solved by the local police with the help of a suitable bribe, as I have mentioned above.
The Zionist idea came late to Lubtch. In the houses of the Jews it was possible to find the photos of Moses Montefiore, Baron Hirsch and Captain Dreyfus., but no photo of Dr Herzl was to be found. Nobody had read The Jewish State by Herzl, nor had they heard of Nordau. Literature by Bialik and Ahad Ha-Am was not known to them.
I remember a visit with my father to the synagogue on the eve of Yom Kippur. On the table stood bowls for charity, every bowl had a note on which was written the aim of the donation. On one of the bowls was a note on which was written for buying land in Eretz-Israel. The coins which the Jews placed in this bowl found their way to the Keren Kayemet Leyisrael [Jewish National Fund]. Engraved on my memory is the action of Getzel Ostshinsky, who had returned from a visit to Eretz-Israel. When his friend Aryeh-Leib Nochimovsky (the grandfather of Yisrael Nochimovsky) turned to him with a question about the possibility of managing to live in Eretz-Israel, Ostshinsky answered him: It's not for you, for you are a business man. Ostshinsky was an enthusiastic lover of Zion.
I think that much changed in Lubtch since 1913, when I left the town of my birth. In the period of World War One, it was completely destroyed by both the German and Russian armies, during times of invasion and retreat. After the peace pact, most of the inhabitants returned and rebuilt it. When I visited there in 1939, they were living in fear in the threatening shadow of Hitler. Many turned to me and begged me at least to take their children to England. I wanted very much to help them but stood helpless in the face of their despair, and was powerless to save them.
After I left Lubtch, a big change came about, and the advances in technology didn't pass them by either. A number of institutions had telephones and radios. All the inhabitants were enraptured to hear the news, especially from overseas. Newspapers in Yiddish and Hebrew were sold, and their content was a source of discussion. A modern school with an authorized teacher, sent from Warsaw to administrate the school, gave the pupils the Hebrew language; vocational education was given preference.
With the help of the Joint, a cooperative bank was set up, on a non-profit basis. My father was the chairman of the bank, whose activities were carried out with energy and talent, and were of much help to the inhabitants.
The Zionist idea permeated all levels. Matters pertaining to Eretz-Israel were subject to public discussions and arguments. People prepared themselves for aliyah to Eretz-Israel and indeed many came there and settled in its cities, moshavim [communal cooperative settlements] and kibbutzim. If the people of Lubtch had known that the second much loved President of the independent State of Israel would be from the Shimshilevtich family, no doubt they would have been bursting with pride.
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