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[Pages 180-181]

Memories of My Town

by Rachel Engel

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky

lyu180.jpg
Rachel Engel

 

After the 1st World War, we returned to our town Delatitch. The economic situation was bad, and even between the closest neighbors there were competition and bitter arguments over their livelihood; but this did not cloud the friendship between families, as there was a strange distinction between economic arguments and national brotherhood. We were a small group of Jews in the locality and we knew that we must be united in feelings of friendship and lend a helping hand to our fellow man, otherwise we would be worn down within the unfriendly, gentile environment.

My parents made their livelihood from making yellow cheese, as did our neighbors Berel and Pia Yankelevitch. We fought over customers and we tried to restrict their ways, but the correct, neighborly relations were not impaired. I remember their house that stood opposite ours. On Saturday nights, Berel would take out his gramophone (the only one in Delatitch) on the verandah, and play cantorial selections to all the street; the brothers Avraham and Moshe would approach Berel's house, “helping” the chazzan, and their voices would spill out into the darkened street.

I would often visit the Cohen family, our neighbors. Beilka their daughter was my friend. I loved the mother of the family, Simka, a clever woman, with a developed sense of humor. Her smile always greeted those visiting their house, and her goodheartedness gave a pleasant atmosphere and peaceful feeling to the house.

We fostered ties of friendship and commerce with the town of Lubtch. We felt ourselves part of the Lubtch community, and visited there often.

Only a few Jews lived in Delatitch, but despite this, we took pains to develop a Jewish way of life in the place; the children received traditional education; we made sure that we kept the traditions and the mitzvoth of the Torah, both on weekdays and on Shabbat and holidays.

During the 10 Days of Penitence - Joseph Cohen was the prayer leader, before the Ark, and would pour out his prayer to the G-d of Israel, Father of Mercy, with all the congregation respectfully answering after him.

Rabbi Yaakov Baksht was then the Rabbi of the community. Every problem concerning kashrut or the community we would refer to him, and he would give a decision.

Our synagogue was large and spacious, and the community life of the Jews of the town was concentrated within it. There, my stepfather, R' Yisrael Berkovsky, would say psalms with the Jews of the community, on Shabbat between Mincha and Maariv. As gabbay [sexton] of the Synagogue, he would look after all necessities there. In winter he would prepare wood for lighting the fires, even before he prepared wood for his own house. Inside the synagogue we began to study with a melamed [elementary school teacher], and we would also play there. I remember on a certain day we were running around wildly and yelling in loud voices. All of a sudden the doors of the synagogue opened and R' Slonimsky strode in shouting in Yiddish “Arois! Arois”! (Out! Out!).

Beggars would come to the synagogue to spend the night. Sometimes, even whole families with their children came. My mother would prepare hot food for the children of the poor and hurry to bring it to the synagogue, to keep the unfortunate children warm.


[Page 181]

A Wedding

by Chaim Yankelevitch

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

Grandmother and Grandfather went to a wedding. As is the custom, they will bring us back portions of pies and sweet ginger cake. We go to bed happy, confident that in the morning the delicious treats will be awaiting us.

We get up early and look around for the pie and cake, but it's only a dream.

— Grandpa, so?…

Grandpa sighs:

It was a sumptuous wedding, fish and meat and all kinds of delicacies such as an eye has never seen….


[Pages 182-183]

A letter from the Mendele Library, Lubtch

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A letter from the Mendele Library in Lubtch

 

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A letter from the Mendele Library in Lubtch (ctd). (The library seal bears the words “The Jewish Social Library in Memory of Mendele Mocher Sefarim in Lubtch, State of Grodno.”) The same is written in Hebrew on the seal

 


[Pages 184-185]

Remembrances

by Rose (Reiche - Bayla) Ballot

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

As though in a dream, I remember our little town in 1904 when my father, Yehoshua Ovsayevitch, left for America.

My father was a blacksmith, and his workshop stood at the very end of Delatitch Street on the way to the Voinover synagogue. The evening before his departure, father sat us - his four daughters and mother - around him and for hours on end sang songs expressing separation, longing, promises not to forget and faithfulness. Our parents were crying loudly and we couldn't understand why grown-ups need to cry.

The day Lubtch burned down is engraved in my memory. The fire started when a caldron with tallow caught fire at Neshke the candlemaker's shop. She was Nota Mordechai's daughter. On that day, 32 houses on Otshookevitch Street were destroyed by the fire. In the great tumult, I grabbed my uncle's little girl, a year old, and ran to the river, carrying the baby in my arms. I understood that there was nothing that could burn at the river. The baby was screaming. I sat there with her until the evening, when the fire stopped. Meanwhile, people noticed that we were missing and they already lamented the fact that we had burned to death in the fire. One of the neighbors noticed us by the river and brought the news back to the family. We were considered as having been resurrected from the dead.

Otshookevtich Street was quickly rebuilt and life went on. In Lubtch, however, many changes occurred, one of which was the establishment of a Yiddish public school where one was not required to pay tuition. The founders and directors of the school were several intelligent girls who were eager to do social work, to spread light and knowledge in Jewish life and educate the young generation in the spirit of modernity. The girls really undertook a pioneering task and it is a sacred obligation to recall their names: Sarah-Chanah, daughter of Shlomo Moshe Niankever, Yache, Reize, daughter of the dry goods merchant, Sarah Zlata, daughter of Leibe the tailor and both daughters of Rabbi Yosef Eliahu, the subsequent rabbi of Lubtch.

Girls alone attended the public school. Lubtch at that time was not ready to send boys to a modern school instead of to a traditional “cheder”, besides the fact that they would be studying together with girls. This was too progressive for our little town. We studied Yiddish, Russian, Bible, composition, arithmetic and learned to sew and embroider. From time to time, Yaakov-Meir, the teacher and Berel, the miller's son, would give lessons. The school closed down after three terms, but its influence lasted for many years and undoubtedly gave a tremendous push forward to the intellectual development of Jewish life in Lubtch.

The winds of revolution which were blowing and convulsing great Russia, also reached Lubtch. Illegal party cells sprang up in our town. My older sister, Dvoshe, joined the “Little Union” and mother hastened to send her off to America as quickly as possible.

Only a few individuals remained from our widely-branched family. World War I took its toll and those who survived were later murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.


[Pages 186-188]

The National Spirit of the Jews of Lubtch

by Shavit-Faivoshevitch, Avraham

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky

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Avraham Shavit - Faivoshevitch

 

The residents of Lubtch were God-fearing traditional Jews, but the national spirit beat in their hearts. In the “Cheder” of Rabbi Asher Hamelamed, and in the “Cheder” of R' Yudel Hamelamed, the small children learned, in addition to the Chumash and Gemara, the history of the Jewish people from the book by Dubnov, Hebrew grammar from Pines's book, and language from Gordon's book “HaLashon” [The Language]. The language of teaching in the “Cheder” was Hebrew, and this was many years before the Balfour Declaration.

There were children who spoke Hebrew between themselves even outside the “Cheder” and school. On Shabbat afternoons, the teacher Haim Persky would go for his customary walk along the main street, and would make lively conversation in Hebrew with another teacher, in an especially loud voice, which made the children very happy and gave them the impetus to imitate him.

The Jews of Lubtch mourned the Destruction of the Temple and the desolation of Eretz-Israel. The Book of Lamentations was soaked with the tears of the worshipers. There was a custom there to go to the local cemetery on Tisha B'Av. The children would gird themselves with wooden swords, made by their parents. At the cemetery the parents would take the swords and break them. I remember that in answer to my question “Father, why did you break my sword?” he answered: “In remembrance of the Destruction of the Temple”.

Stories of the heroism of our people were told by our parents with enthusiasm and emotions of pride.

Four Zionist organizations were active in our town: “HeChalutz”; “Poeley Tzion TZ.S.”; “HaShomer Hatza'ir” and “Beitar”.

Sometimes, even within the walls of the synagogue, mass Zionist meetings were held. The sexton would announce the event in the streets of the town. On the walls of the houses were large posters written in extra-large letters (“Kiddush-levana”), calling all residents to the meeting.

The desire to make aliyah to Eretz-Israel beat in their hearts. I remember the looks of the people when I came to part from them, before making aliyah to Eretz-Israel in 1934; their eyes expressed happiness, jealousy and yearning. My parents asked me to try and bring them there too, after I had gotten settled there. My grandfather, R' Eliezer, said: - “To make aliyah to Eretz-Israel I will not be privileged, as I am old already, but please, send me at least an ethrog, that I will be privileged to bless a fruit from the Holy Land in the Succah”.

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The Committee of the HeChalutz Organization in Lubtch with the previous committee, before their aliyah to Israel -1926

 

In Lubtch there were a number of institutions for mutual help, among them “Linat Hatzedek” [Overnight charity], in which I was active. Members of the institution helped families where there was someone who had been sick for a long time, - helping the sick person, sitting with him at night, caring for and looking after him, in order to lighten the burden on the family so that they could renew their energy.

I remember Chaim Bruk, who tried to help anyone in need. He was active in the Zionist movement, and enthused many with the Zionist ideal. Chaim Bruk was a leader of the community and a lobbyist for any matter that needed to be brought before the governmental authorities, such as asking for licenses etc.

With his adherence, his diligence and his pleasant personality, he knew how to settle arguments, usually for the best.

Avrahamke “Der Svirer”, was a pious Jew, who worked all his life in carpentry. As he had no sons, he saved penny upon penny all his life, in order to be able to take on the work of “Gmilut-chasidim” [Giving charity] in his old age, so that he would not arrive at the “world to come” empty-handed. Anyone in need would receive a loan without interest. Avrahamke would keep accounts, and appear at the houses of those late in paying back the loan, and gently remind them that the time for returning the loan had arrived. This he did in order to keep on helping other people in need.


Many years have passed since I left my home, years of work and labor, but I will never forget my hometown.

 

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