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[Pages 206-210]

The Righteous Rabbi R' Shmuel Bakshter
5543 (1783) - 5636 (1876)

by Moshe Tsinovitch

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

R' Shmuel Bakshter was considered the “glory and magnificence” of Jewish Lubtch for all generations. The man did not hold a position as rabbi, nor did he earn a living from his knowledge of Torah. He was a landlord who managed big businesses with estate owners in the area. He was also a kind of private banker, according to the notion in those days. His name was famous near and far in the districts of Minsk, Vilna and Grodno. He was one of the first pupils of the Gaon R' Chaim of Volozhin, and his superb scholarship, fairness, good deeds and “good offices” on behalf of the public and the individual contributed greatly to R' Shmuel's fame, although he himself never stood out among the many because of his modest conduct.

R' Shmuel was worthy of reaching a very old age - his life span embraced three generations of his small town, Lubtch. He had the merit of seeing grandchildren and great grandchildren, among them famous personalities who made his name famous indirectly, as they glorified his name and that of Lubtch.

R' Shmuel came from distinguished lineage; he could trace his origin to the splendid Baksht family (whose is derived from the small town of Baksht which was in that area) as well as to the Bakshter, Bakshtansky and other families. His family connection with members of other well-known and prominent families constitutes a fine continuation to the biography of this great man. As to the special connection of R' Shmuel to Lubtch, he was related to a number of distinguished people in this small town. Members of the following families are branches of the great family tree: Shapira, Meizel, Tsunzer, Kivilevitch, Nochmovsky, Dayan and Shimshelevitch.

As the senior pupil of the Gaon R' Chaim of Volozhin, R' Shmuel gave considerable financial support to the yeshiva and would contribute money of his own and of others to the maintenance of the yeshiva. Sometimes, in an emergency, we would go personally to the little towns in the area, especially to Baksht family relatives and urge them to support the yeshiva.

It was he who proposed making a match between the young Gaon R' Raphael Shapira - son of a good friend of his youth from Lubtch, the Gaon R' Aryeh-Leib Shapira, head of the rabbinical court in Kovna - and the daughter of the Gaon R' Naftali- Tzvi-Yehuda Berlin, head of the rabbinical court and college in Volozhin. The Gaon R' Raphael inherited both positions of his father-in-law and served most of his days as head of the rabbinical court and college at that renowned yeshiva.

When R' Shmuel Baksht passed away in the year 5636 (1876), an article devoted to his memory appeared in the “Maggid” written by the distinguished Lubtch resident, R'Aryeh-Abba Bar Yosef Dayan. Because of the importance of this article in all fairness to the history of the Lubtch community, we are bringing it here nearly in its entirety, as it was published in the above-mentioned Hebrew weekly of the year 1878, issue #1, 13 Kislev 5736, week of the reading of the Torah portion “Vayishlach”:

“Unhappy are the tidings I will now announce on the front page of the “Maggid”. Woe! For stricken with illness and gathered to his people, [is] the glory of our town, our comrade, the rabbi, sage and erudite scholar, great in Torah and piety, old and full of years, our teacher and master, Shmuel Bakshter of blessed and saintly memory, May he abide in paradise! In his youth he was a disciple of the true genius, a “gaon” among the Jewish people, rabbi of all the children of the Exile, our teacher and master R' Chaim of blessed and saintly memory- May he abide in paradise!- in his great yeshiva in Volozhin. R' Shmuel studied there with outstanding geniuses of the Jewish nation and especially with the true genius, our rabbi and master, Aryeh - Leib of blessed and saintly memory, head of the rabbinical court of the holy community of Kovna.

He died at the age of 93, having produced five generations of progeny. And the whole town is brought down to the depths in relating the righteous acts and charitable deeds he performed. His coffin was brought to the old study hall of our town and the renowned Gaon, our master and teacher, Rabbi Tsvi Tiktin - May the Lord preserve him and keep him alive!- head of the rabbinical court of our town, ascended to the pulpit and raised his voice in lament over the coffin. Next in turn to deliver a eulogy was the Rabbi, Light of the Exile, our teacher, Ben Tsion of the town of Delatitch, who aroused the people to weeping”.

Mr. Avraham-Abba Dayan concludes his article with these words: “Every eye shed tears unceasingly. The paths of the flow of tears left marks on every cheek and signs of weeping on every face, and afterwards they carried the coffin to the cemetery and the whole town accompanied him in the funeral procession. May he rest in peace! May God comfort us among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem!”

On the basis of the aforementioned source, we noted above that R' Shmuel Baksht was born in 5543 (1783) and was one of the pupils of the Gaon R' Chaim of Volozhin. The yeshiva, in fact, was officially opened in 5563 (1803), when R' Shmuel was already 20 years old, quite an adult, according to the idea of age in those days. However, it may be said that R' Shmuel's period of learning at the Volozhin Yeshiva was earlier, right after the death of the Gaon, our Rabbi Eliyahu in 5558 (1798), within a special framework of a group of pupils which was the first experimental nucleus for the organization of a “kibbutz” [collection] of pupils studying Talmud within the framework of the upper division yeshiva, the first and newest of its kind, as the Volozhin Yeshiva seemed at that time. The young Aryeh-Leib Shapira also belonged to that group. He, too, was from Lubtch and a friend of R' Shmuel, who was a few years older.

R' Shmuel did not leave any written works behind. What he did leave were people, his descendants, many of whom were splendid men of spirit who glorified the face of Judaism in Lithuania and beyond. When the writer of the above article informs us that the man had the merit of seeing a “fifth generation of descendants”, these included renowned rabbis, well-known Torah scholars and community leaders who were faithfully involved with needs of the public of the town whose name reached all the other small towns in these provinces. Their common point of departure was the small Jewish town of Lubtch, where their cradle stood and in whose religious atmosphere they soaked up inspiration.

In a book of reminiscences in Yiddish by Mr Pisuk (a native of Lubtch), R' Shmuel Baksht is recalled as one of the outstanding personalities of Jewish Lubtch, and episodes of his liberality in giving charity and his good deeds are brought down in this book. R' Shmuel had a brother whose name was R'Ben-Tsion Shapira-Bakshter, who was also one of the distinguished people of the town and who left a blessed generation after him. It should also be noted that Bakshter was related to the leader, R' Yosef Chishin (originally from Novogrudek) in Moscow, R' Pinches Rozovsky, head of the rabbinical court in Sontsian, R' Avraham Hirshovitz, head of the rabbinical court in Skidel and others and other like these.

  1. Several grains of information about R' Shmuel in matters of Torah were reported indirectly by a number of Torah scholars in other sources - from hearsay. One of these words of Torah is conveyed by the Torah intellectual, R' Shlomo Levinson in the columns of “HaLevanon” 5627-28 (1867) where he calls him “My close friend and acquaintance”.
  2. In the book, “Zekher L'yisrael”, on Pirkei Avot (Vilna), a number of endorsers-including several from Lubtch- appear out of order within the framework of a general listing. They are: R' Shmuel Bakshter, R' Nahum (of the Meizel family) and also R' Ben-Tsion Bar Eliyahu, his son, R' Shlomo-Shmuel and R' Tsvi. These three belong to the Shimshelevitch-Dayan family.

 

Descendants of R' Shmuel Bakshter

Rabbi Avraham-Dov Margaliot

R' Avraham-Dov became R' Shmuel Bakshter's second son-in-law (His first son-in-law was the righteous rabbi R' Yehonatan.) by taking his daughter, Rashke-Golda for a wife, and sat beside his father-in-law in Lubtch, studying diligently over his Talmud in the study hall and also set a fixed time for a lesson in Torah with his brother-in-law, the righteous rabbi, R' Yehonatan.

A few years later, R' Avraham-Dov moved to Minsk, capital of White Russia, where he owned a large drug manufacturing company and became an expert in the art of pharmacy. At the same time he was the head of a yeshiva in the “Shoavei Mayim” study hall but worked there without taking a salary. He also served for a certain time as a private tutor in Gemara at the home of the wealthy R' Shmuel Tsukerman in a city in the Mohilov district. R' Shmuel's son-in-law, R' Ben-Tsion, studied with him. He was the son of the Gaon R' Yaakov Ettinger, head of the rabbinical court in Altona, Germany.

Several years later, when the Russian government placed restrictions on the ownership of private pharmacies, R' Avraham-Dov became head of the rabbinical court in the following communities: Radoshkovitch, Zhilodok and Vasilkova (near Bialystok), where he performed blessed work for some 20 years, and where he was laid to rest in the year 5643 (1883).

Mr. Tsvi Shimshi, my late wife Batya's uncle, who knew R' Avraham-Dov personally, heard some details about his brother-in-law, Rabbi Yehonatan, directly from him:

“R' Yehonatan would sleep only 4 hours a day and ate very quickly. People often told about the sweet melodies he hummed or sang while studying and praying. Before his death, he informed those close to him of the time of the final redemption. He told them that he - just as the Gra [the Gaon from Vilna] - had never experienced a seminal emission, and so it was possible for him to know and reveal the day of the coming of the Messiah. A special place was set aside for his burial and no one was allowed to dig a grave near his plot. Many stories are going around the small towns of Lithuania about the miracles and righteous acts of this man. R' Yehonatan died childless in the prime of life. I have been unable to determine the year of his death.”

R' Avraham-Dov had two sons, great and famous Torah scholars: R' Aharon, head of the rabbinical court in Globoki (Vilna district) and R' Yaakov-Moshe, who replaced his father in the rabbinate in Vasilkova. Both were born in Lubtch while their father, R' Avraham-Dov was dependent on his father-in-law, R' Shmuel.

R' Aharon was one of the Torah giants of his time. He was a child prodigy and, already then, the Gaon R' Yaakov from Karlin predicted a great future for him. R' Aharon climbed higher and higher up the ladder of Talmudic greatness. He succeeded in replacing the Gaon R' Shmuel Mohilever in the rabbinate in Globoki and served there as rabbi and head of the rabbinical court for 47 years. He died in 5662 (1902) at the age of 66. He left behind writings including questions and responses on matters of practical Halacha, new interpretations on the Talmud and its commentators, sermons as well as explanations and decisions on traditional laws regarding forbidden foods and vessels and laws regarding the reading of the “Shema Yisrael” based on the Shulchan Arukh (section Yoreh De'ah). An article about his death appeared in “HaTsfira” for the year 1902, issue #192.

Rabbi Avraham-Dov Margaliot's second son was Rabbi Yaakov-Moshe, rabbi of Vasilkova. Owing to dissention and sectarian fighting in that town, he retired from the rabbinate there, although the Gaon R' Shmuel Mohilever, head of the rabbinical court in Bialystok, supported his position and warned the faction of grumblers not to stir up trouble against him. He agreed to settle in Bialystok as a private person and passed away there at the age of 70 in 5680 (1920) and was buried there in the finest grave. Articles about him appeared in the daily newspaper “Der Moment” in Warsaw and in the local paper “Dos Neiye Leben”. His book “Margaliot HaYam” (Part I on Halacha and Part II on Aggada), published in Warsaw in 1933 by his son, R' Haim-Yehonatan Margolin, a scholar in Warsaw and teacher at the “Hevra Shas” Study Hall on 8 Tvarda Street, Warsaw - testifies to R' Yaakov-Moshe's greatness in Talmud.

Many great authorities of the previous generation gave their approval to this book. R' Yaakov-Moshe possessed comprehensive knowledge of all Torah subjects and also stood out as a great expert in Bible, grammar and language usage.

In Bialystok, R' Yaakov-Moshe kept well in the background. There was a time when he received an offer to take a position in the rabbinate in Sokolka (to replace his father-in-law, the Gaon Zev-Volf Visoker) and was also offered a position in the rabbinate of the Lubtch community, but he didn't want to start over in the rabbinate and withdrew himself from consideration for these positions. Instead, R' Yaakov-Moshe secluded himself in the corner of one of the study halls for scholars in Bialystok and studied very diligently without allowing himself to stand out in his greatness in Talmud. Only exceptional individuals in that city knew, however, that a great man was indeed among them.

Among these exceptional individuals in Bialystok, those who took an interest in R' Yaakov-Moshe, was also the scholar, R' Eliyahu from Lubtch, a member of the Dayan family. He knew R' Shmuel Bakshter's family very well, the crown and glory of Lubtch and of the entire Novogrudek district.


[Pages 211-213]

Minikes, Chanan Yaakov

by Mordechai Jaffe

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

Chanan-Yaakov Minikes was born in Vilna (Vilnius, Lithuania) in 1867. When he was 4 years old, he started going to “cheder”. By the age of 7, he was already learning “Gemara” (Talmud) and later studied with his father, Rabbi Hirsch- Nachum Minikes, presiding judge of the Jewish court of law in Lubtch. At the same time, he taught himself Russian. At the age of 14, he was accepted as a rabbinic student at the yeshiva in Volozhin [Wolozyn], where he became a “maskil”, an adherent of the “Enlightenment” movement. He subsequently went to Germany and through the recommendations of Rabbi Israel Salanter, Dr. Y. Rilf (from Memel) and the “Malbim” (in Koenigsburg), he became a close friend and regular house guest of Dr.Azriel Hildesheimer in Berlin.

Together with Shlomo-Zalman Fuks and Yitzchak Kaminer, he founded the Hebrew association “Ahavat Zion”, corresponded with Peretz Smolensky and made his debut with an article in “Ha Shachar” (1881) .At the same time he took an active part in finding refuge for the survivors of the pogroms in Russia.

In 1888, he came to America, where he worked first as a teacher for Yiddish actors and later checked tickets in the Yiddish theaters. He was very helpful in building up Jewish unions and was one of the first delegates to the “United Jewish Labor Organization”. He was active in various philanthropic and cultural institutions, mainly in the Y.L Peretz Writers' Association, serving for many years as a member of the board of directors. He was also very active in “Peoples' Relief” and later in “Peoples' Tool Campaign” during and after the First World War. He died in New York on March 27, 1932.

His literary activity was concentrated especially in the publication, “Minikes' Yom-tov Bletter” (“Holiday Pages”), which he brought out for 35 years starting in 1897. They were rich and diverse, although most of the articles were reprinted material. Here readers met Isaac-Meir Dick and Mendele at one table with the youngest of the young. This is how Minikes would, in fact, announce his “Yom- Tov Bletter”: fifty Yiddish writers sitting at a Passover “seder” or in a “sukkah” Among the writers was a mixture of Hebraicists, Yiddishists, anarchists, Zionists, atheists and Orthodox Jews. For Minikes, parties, trends or movements were non-existent in literature. In later years, Minikes began to include more and more material of younger writers in his “Yom-Tov Bletter”.

In 1895 his musical play, “Among Indians or the Country Peddler” opened for the first time in New York. This was a “comic vaudeville piece in one act with singing and dancing adapted for the Yiddish theater by Ch. Y. Minikes of Vilna”, which was performed successfully at the Windsor Theater on April 17, 1895.

In 1897, “The Yiddish Stage” edited by Minikes appeared in New York. This book contained articles, poems, one-act plays, treatises and stories from the Yiddish theater by Y. Katzenelbogen, Ch.Y.Minkes, Alexander Harkavy, M. Seifert, A. M. Sharkansky, Maurice Rosenfeld, Yaakov Gordon, B. Feigenboim, Dr. M. Siegel, Philip Krantz, V. Keizer, “Zaqef Gadol” (Leon Zalatkoff), Sambatyon, Reuven Weissman, Johann Paley, D. M. Hermolin, B. Gorin, A. Shamer, Y. Ter and others. It was also announced in the same book that a work, “Ne'ilah, or the Vilna Gaon and the Hassidim” would shortly appear- “a great Yiddish historical opera by Chanan Y. Minikes (of Vilna) containing folksongs, couplets and patriotic songs by William Keyser”. This piece never appeared and was never performed.

Minikes also wrote articles, feuilletons, short stories, etc. and published most of them in his “Yom-Tov Bletter”.

“Minikes was a worthy colleague and writer … He would search out a story or article by every author from his already published things and introduce it with a few charming lines about the holiday… He would search out these works precisely from the most unfamiliar things which are easily forgotten and resurrected this material in his own publication.….” (Shalom Asch)

Lexicon of New Yiddish Literature, Volume V., pp.644-45

lyu213.jpg
Guests from South Africa with former Lubtch residents in Israel

[Information from Allen Katz:
Standing 2nd from left Yisrol (Yisrael) Gershon Yankelevitch (Greta Katz's cousin)
Seated 4th from left Barney (Beryl) Jankelowitz (brother of Greta Katz)
Seated 5th from left Haim Yankelevitch
Seated 6th from left Isaac Jankelowitz (brother of Greta Katz)]

 


[Pages 214-215]

The Actor Matityahu (Matus) Kowalsky

Brought for publication: Moshe Tsinovitch

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

Matityahu Kowalsky (Kowal) was born on January 13, 1880 in the small town of Lubtch on the Neiman River in the former governmental district of Grodno, White Russia. His parents were flax merchants. In his childhood years, he attended a “cheder” and then studied at the yeshiva in Vasilishok. At the same time, he sang with cantors and once secretly took part in a presentation of “Shulamit” in Vasilishok.

When the principal of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Leib, found out about it, Matityahu was expelled from school. He went to Radon and attended the yeshiva of the “Chofetz Chaim”. From there, he moved to Ivya, where he studied by himself and at the same time took part in amateur performances.

In 1899 he was called up for military service, and when he came back the following year to Lida, he met and performed in Becker's troupe, making his debut singing “Hot Little Butter Cakes” in Goldfaden's “Baba Yachne”.

He traveled around with the troupe for a year, playing in various small towns and then joined Bernstein's troupe. He subsequently made his way to performing in companies under the direction of Kompanietz, Fizshon, Zshitomersky, Bernstein and Becker again, Genfer and back to Bernstein. He traveled with a company of actor friends through the Crimean Peninsula and then returned to Zshitomersky's troupe. He went from company to company: Genfer, Sabsai, Zandberg, Kaminski, Adler, various small troupes, again Genfer and Lipovsky.

In 1911, he performed in Hebrew, together with the actor Shumsky, in Shalom Asch's “Yatsa v'Chazar”. At the beginning of the First World War, when performing in the Yiddish theatre was prohibited, he played the leading role in a Hebrew production of “Uriel Acosta”.

When the Germans occupied Vilna during the First World War, Kowalsky, as a professional actor, received permission to perform in the Yiddish theater. He put together a group of actors and amateurs who began to perform under the name of “FADA” –Association of Yiddish Dramatic Artists- (later known as the “Vilna Troupe”) with which he traveled through Poland, Lithuania, and later through Western Europe as well.

He was outstanding in the “Vilna Troupe” as an ensemble actor. In the first year alone, Kowalsky performed nearly all the leading roles in plays such as “Der Landsman” by Shalom Asch, “Dos Farvorfene Vinkel” by Peretz Hirshbein, and Yankel Boila in Kabrin's “Der Dorfs-yung”. Later, too, he was well suited and even brilliant as an actor in many roles, especially as Sender in Ansky's “Dybbuk” He was also very successful in the leading role of Ornstein's “Der Vilner Ba'al Habayis'l”.

In 1924, Kowalsky came to America with the “Vilna Troupe” and he performed with it until 1929. In 1930, he traveled with Azra's troupe to Europe and when he returned to America, he appeared on stage from time to time until he settled in Los Angeles, where he died on October 7, 1936.

Kowalsky's wife was the Yiddish actress Paula Walter.


[Pages 216-223]

Expulsion From and Rebuilding of Lubtch

by Nachum Shulman (Shlimovitch)

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

 

Expulsion:

Fall 1915. An autumn rain is coming down slowly in small drops without a stop. Grey clouds hang over our heads, hard as lead, casting a gloom over the town. The streets are muddy and people can't get through the mud where the streets are unpaved.

Refugees from different regions are arriving in canvas- covered wagons. They stop to rest in the town and look for a place to dry off and get warm. They tell us that the Germans are getting closer to our region and that they were advised to go to Lubtch because the war would not be fought there. The Neiman River and the mud around Lubtch are not suitable for conducting a war. Especially in such rainy weather, it is almost certain that the German army will avoid taking the city. Meanwhile, they can rest there, feed their horses and then move on to Minsk.

It didn't take long, and Russian divisions with retreating soldiers began marching through the town. They went along Delatitch Street without stopping, day and night, and cut across the Neiman River on three pontoon bridges at Lubtch, Delatitch and Kupitsk.

A few days later, we could already hear the thunder of the heavy guns which the German artillery was shooting at the retreating Russian army.

Many of the Jews in Lubtch had already prepared horses and wagons so that they could escape if fighting took place in the town. The refugees'assurances that the war would not come here did not calm the Jews in Lubtch, and whoever had just a few rubles to buy a horse and wagon did so. My father, too, purchased a covered wagon and a pair of horses. The townspeople packed their best belongings in the wagon and buried the rest in the ground.

The weather cleared up and it was a nice, sunny morning. The horses were standing in the stall, chewing their hay with relish. The wagon stood in the yard, all packed up, and meanwhile I was playing, sitting inside, cracking the whip in the air, as though I were driving the horses on.

Suddenly, there was a terrible, thunderous sound, and clouds of smoke appeared in the sky. My brothers quickly harnessed the horses and attached them to the wagon. We took along some biscuits and went away onto the “vorek”, behind the synagogues. People said that the brick walls of the synagogues would offer good protection. The heavy guns thundered louder and louder and the shells were falling, at times coming close to us. Nearly all the Jews in the town were then lying on the wet grass.

Evening was approaching. The artillery fire had let up and the women went away to light and bless the Sabbath candles. They were really putting their lives in danger, but Jewish tradition must be observed. We suddenly heard the rattling sound of machine guns, and the noise continued throughout the night. Rumors were circulating that the Germans were already in Delatitch, that the Cossacks were plundering the town and that girls were hiding in attics and cellars.

It was a cold Sabbath morning. The heavy guns again began to thunder, and we were able to see where the shells were falling, landing closer and closer to us. We saw people covered with blood being brought to the synagogues. They were seriously wounded or dead. The Cossacks had set fire to the town on all sides and then withdrew. Coils of smoke and tongues of fire were rising to the sky. The shells were carried right over our heads and exploding very close to us. Everyone was lying on the ground and a mass “Shma Yisrael” accompanied each burst.

My dad held my hand tightly so that I wouldn't get lost. My brothers and sister ran off as my father had ordered them to do, saying: “If we are destined to be killed, at least someone will stay alive.” He divided the family into three parts and each part was sent away to a different place.

The hours passed by slowly as though time were endless. The number of wounded placed along the wall of the white study hall kept on growing. People told of seeing many victims without heads, hands and feet.

A German airplane circled above our heads several times, an iron bird which we had never before seen. It would probably soon drop bombs right on us and no one would remain alive. Terrified, we wished we could crawl deeper into the ground for safety. Apparently, however, when the pilot noticed that civilians were lying below, he did not bomb us.

Between two and three o'clock in the afternoon, when the town was still burning, the Germans showed up. The Jews thanked God that they got through the fire safely. The Germans ordered us to leave the “vorek” and return to the few houses that stood standing after the fire. Only Castle Street remained intact.

Hardly a few days passed when an order came from the German army to leave the town in the direction of Novogrudek and Shelov because a great battle was going to take place and all the civilians could be killed if they stayed there. We would return home in a few days when the fighting was over.

We had no choice in the matter: the townspeople left, some with horse and wagon, some on foot, carrying a bag of things on their shoulders or with empty hands because everything had been burned and people had nothing left except their lives. People turned in wherever they could just find a place to rest their head and a piece of bread to alleviate their hunger.

The couple of days became years of wandering through towns, villages and refugee camps. Many died from hunger and epidemics. Graves of Jews from Lubtch were sown throughout the whole region. The children did not receive any Jewish education during those four or five years. They did not see a single letter of the Hebrew alphabet, lived in constant fear for the morrow and coped with the horrors of war. Only the longing for their town, the dream of returning home gave them support and the strength to endure the fate of a refugee.

Our family settled in Trischanke, a village near Shelov. But having lost the prospect of soon returning home, my father no longer wanted to remain living among the gentiles, and so we went to Iviya and from there to Lipnishok.

When we were finally allowed to go back home, the troubles and calamities were not yet over. The fighting between the Bolsheviks and the Polish legions also affected us. Several times the Polish legions withdrew and then retook the area. The Jewish community was always the sacrificial lamb. When the town was left without authority for even a short time, pogroms and robberies were perpetrated by the gentiles. Jewish blood and property are considered ownerless by every gentile in normal times. How much more so in times of unbridled lawlessness!

 

Rebuilding:

It is the year 1919. The war is over and people have decided to return home. They've been refugees long enough.

We were then living in Lipnishok, a small town 42 kilometers from Lubtch.

I also received my elementary education there. I remember that my father and older brothers walked all the way to Lubtch with the thought of rebuilding our house which was burned down in the war.

When I came to Lubtch in 1920 already a “bar mitzvah” boy, the town looked like a forest. Big trees were growing in the market place and in places where houses had previously stood. It was impossible to know where there was once a street or a square. Only the church and a few brick houses on Castle Street could be seen.

The town was completely dug up by a network of zigzag tunnels, bunkers with openings for guns, and little huts made of earth for which the Germans used a part of the houses that remained intact after the fire. All along both sides of the Neiman River were barbed wire fences and fortified trenches. Ammunition, hand grenades as well as not a few human bones lay all about.

Little by little, entire families came back. They began to chop down the trees, smooth over the plots of land and rebuild bigger and more comfortable houses. I remember that our house was already built up but not yet finished and winter was on the way. The kitchen was completed and we spent the winter there. The first Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, all the Jews gathered together and they made a “minyan” [prayer quorum] in our kitchen. Tuvia the Sexton was the prayer leader for the “Mussaf” service. He put his whole heart and soul into the prayers and the congregation wept exceedingly.

In 1921, with the considerable increase in the Jewish population, the question of building a synagogue and an elementary school arose. This was a time of modernization in Jewish life. The “cheder” had already played its role and the townspeople demanded a modern school for their children where they would be taught the official language, Yiddish, Hebrew, mathematics, history and natural science. Meetings of important townspeople, at which various social problems were discussed, regularly took place at our house. I can see before my eyes: Chaim-Issar Kabak, Yehoshua Shimshelevitch, Rabbi Yitzchak Aronovsky, the ritual slaughterer, Avraham-Aharons and others. A committee was chosen. It was made up of Yoshua Shimshelevitch, my father( Aaron-David Shlimovitch), Tuvia the Sexton, Baynish Rabinovitch, Yitzchak, Avraham Aharons and others. The townspeople raised money for the projects and also wrote to their compatriots in America for their support.

The red synagogue was rebuilt first and a little while later the elementary school was rebuilt.

A new, younger and more active generation of “doers” arose. They contributed a lot to the town's social life. A very special personality was Chaim Bruk, (Gute Chiene's son). He did a lot for the local school and was the acknowledged leader of the Lubtch community until its last day.

However, there were also disputes. Just as in the previous generation, a controversy erupted over the choice of a new rabbi. After long negotiations, Rabbi Yitzchak Weiss was finally accepted. He was the son-in-law of the old rabbi of Lubtch, who then served as chief rabbi of Novogrudek. Unfortunately, Rabbi Yitzchak Weiss was the last rabbi of Lubtch and was murdered together with his community.

Young people organized. Various groups sprung up including political parties, youth movements, philanthropic institutions, the library and the dramatics club which gave good presentations without filth and pornography. This club also supported many social activities in the town from its proceeds.

lyu222.jpg
Farewell party for Kusha Shlimovitch. June 15, 1930

 

When I came from Vilna on my summer vacation, I helped the dramatics club with its activities and I was also the prompter in a performance of the play, “Song of Songs” (“Shir Hashirim”).

A voluntary fire fighters brigade was also established. The men at the head were the “chiefs”, Yidel Kasmayevitch and Reuvke Avraham-Aharons.

The town lived its normal life, had its joys and sorrows, accomplishments and disappointments, troubles and worries, hoped and dreamed of better times, of a better future for their children, hoped for the final redemption and the coming of the Messiah, kept the tradition and faith and was confident in the belief of a reward in the world-to-come for one's good deeds in this world.

And the reward was not long in coming.

It came with fire, death and destruction… Only ruins remained of Lubtch. Of its Jews, only a few individuals survived the Holocaust and bear in their hearts everlasting sorrow and unrelieved pain.


[Pages 223-224]

Mutual Support in Lubtch

by Mina Tzur

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky

Lubtch was a poor town, and the number of those needing help was great. Although there were no organized institutions for the needy, there was a general feeling that one must help people in distress.

The help given to the needy was given modestly and discreetly, in order not to bring shame to the person; people tried indirectly to find out who was in need and they often gave help without even directly meeting the individuals.

Especially involved were a group of warmhearted open ladies who wished to help people in distress, including Shifra Rabinovitch (Payes) and Beila Brezinsky, who worked incessantly to find ways to assist. When they heard that a family had no firewood in the cold winter days, they would get up early in the mornings and lay firewood on the threshold of the needy family, and leave discretely so that they would not meet the head of the household and put him into an embarrassing situation.

At dawn Shifra and Beila would hasten to the synagogue, where they would be told who was in need: this one's horse “fell” and thus he had lost his livelihood; another one needed goods for his wedding; others after they themselves had donated necessities. They would start knocking on the doors of all the houses to request donations; they went to houses where they knew that the people would not let them leave empty-handed for the needy. Sometimes, thanks to them, a bride would be able to stand under the chuppah [wedding canopy]. A pauper received a blanket and an unemployed person got help for his family.

After it was decided to build the synagogue, the women started organizing donations: at first they collected for the foundations, then the walls, the windows and even the roof. The venture was finished and their happiness was complete only when the building stood and the Holy Ark was put inside.

Despite being poor, the inhabitants of the town donated generously. They often donated above their own capabilities, and even needy families themselves donated.

There was a story about the rabbi - Rabbi Chaim Meizel (later on he became rabbi of Lodz). One Shabbat evening when his wife was about to bless the candles in their shining silver candlesticks, she saw that they had disappeared. The Rabbi urged her to bless the candles before Shabbat came in, and did not reveal to his wife, who thought that they had been stolen, where they had actually gone. On Saturday evening, when the congregants visited the Rabbi's house in order to request help for a bride to stand under the chuppah, the rabbanit said “What a pity that our candlesticks have been stolen, we could have donated them to help the bride”. Here, the Rabbi revealed to his wife that they had been indeed donated and that was the reason for their disappearance.

Not only the Rabbi behaved in this way, but also most of the town's inhabitants. With faithfulness and with a feeling of responsibility, they helped each other.


[Pages 225-226]

Cultural Life in Lubtch

by Elka Levanon

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky

Lubtch was a small town, and the number of inhabitants during the years that I am writing about (1928-1932) was small. But despite this, there was diversity of culture in the town.

In the town there was only one primary school, established several years after the First World War. Some of its graduates that were thirsty for knowledge and education, traveled to Novogrudek to continue their studies, others went to Vilna, to study in the Teachers' Seminary there. Others learnt in yeshivot, in towns in the surrounding countryside.

Those boys and girls who left the town to study returned during their holidays and at the end of their studies, and contributed much to development of the cultural life in our town.

I would like to mention in a few lines about the Dramatics Club of Lubtch. All its members were, naturally, amateurs who were usually employed in various occupations. All the theatrical work - staging, backdrops, music, songs, dancing and acting, was done voluntarily. The plays took place in the Firemen's Building; since it was built from wood, many who had not obtained tickets stood outside and listened to the songs and music, some of them even succeeded in seeing the play by peeking through the cracks in the walls.

Amongst those who took part in the Club and its productions were the “prima donna” – Zeltka Feivoshevitz, Shmuel Shapira, Alter Shmulevitch and others.

Public Trials: The trials were held in the evenings and the topics that were put on trial were generally current events. The trials were held seriously and honorably, with the participation of attorneys for the defense and prosecution, witnesses and the accused.

Amongst the judicial activists were: Eliezer Aronovsky, Alter Shmulevitch, Shaul Shmulevitch, Reuven Leibovitch, Eliezer Levin, May their memory be blessed, Nahum Slimovitz (May he live long), and others.

When the Fifth Aliyah began, there was much Zionist and pioneering activity; many of the members of the youth group “HeChalutz” left to go to a training farm (Hachshara) and some of them even managed to make aliyah to Eretz Israel.

A group of the “Hashomer Hatza'ir” was set up for all ages. The job of leadership was done by the oldest age group, whose members were very young and inexperienced. However they worked with much dedication and ardent belief in the Zionist idea. Many of the older ones managed to make aliyah to Eretz Israel before the Holocaust struck European Jewry.


[Pages 226-228]

The Town is Engraved in My Heart

by Baruch Spotnitzky

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky

I am not a native of Lubtch, but the town is engraved deeply into my heart. From my earliest childhood I heard stories about the town and its inhabitants, from my mother Chana, who was born and educated in the town.

The sentences: “With us in Lubtch”…, “in Lubtch they say”…, “In Lubtch there was”…, were often uttered in our house by my mother. Amongst the maasiot - tales and stories - a tale about a Jewish woman who wanted to return from Novogrudek to Lubtch; since she didn't have money for the journey by wagon, she went on her way by foot. This happened on a Friday and for fear that she would not arrive home before candle-lighting, she remembered to take candles and matches in her bags.

She was indeed obliged to receive the holy Sabbath on her way home. She lit the candles on one of the trees that stood on the side of the path, and blessed them loudly. There was no wind, the flames flickered happily and their light could be seen from a distance. The Gentiles of the neighboring village came to see the meaning of the fire that was flickering in the forest. They saw the candles and decided that a miracle had occurred. The story spread quickly through the area; the religious leaders came to ponder on the reason for the miracle and it was decided to establish a church on the spot, since it was obviously a holy place. That is the little church that stands on the way, at the entrance to Lubtch.

The visits of my grandfather, R' Moshe Mordechai Asherovsky, gave us much pleasure. Our neighbors came to visit us and to hear his wonderful stories. There is a tale about a man from the Lubtch community who strayed from his way, abandoned the religion of his fathers, and acted out of spite, until he fell into the hands of conversion. He married a gentile woman, and lived in the village among the gentiles, as if one of them. One day the apostate came to the town with his produce. It was exactly the Day of Atonement, which the apostate had forgotten about. And here - everything is closed and locked, it is the Sabbath of Sabbaths, accompanied by peace and quiet in the streets of the town; only at the synagogue, the voices of the worshippers are heard. The trills of the chazan [cantor] are carried in supplication and fill the heart with yearning. And suddenly, longings were aroused in the heart of the apostate, recollections of the far-off days stirred and flooded his memory…. He was drawn towards the synagogue as if by magical strings, without even knowing why…when he arrived, he fell on the threshold in tears and a bitter cry “Woe is me and my soul…merciful Jews, I have sinned! My iniquity is too heavy to bear…Forgive me…Take me back into the fold of the Children of Israel!”

Yehoshua Yaacov Shimshelevitch
and his wife
  Rachel Levine
  are honored to request your honor to come and rejoice with us
on the wedding day of our dear children
 
The bride Miss
Batya Miriam Shimshelevitch
  The groom Mr
Chaim Leib Levine
who will marry for Mazal Tov on Friday, Eve of the Holy Shabbat, Torah portion
Naso, 11 Sivan 5681 (17th June 1921)
The chuppa will take place at 4 in the afternoon, in the town of Lubtch

An invitation to the wedding of a young Lubtch couple in 1921

I first visited the town at the age of six for a wedding. Towards evening the bride and groom, led by the klezmer band, were brought to the “Shulhoif”. Despite the fact that on the same day rain had fallen and the dirt road was muddy, the ceremony was not cancelled and the chuppa [marriage ceremony] took place in the open yard by the synagogues, as was the custom of the Jews of Lubtch. After the chuppa there was an entertainer brought from the town of Trab who led the ceremony in a voice with a melody and made an announcement about the presents - “a gift sermon”. And I wondered why the women were wiping tears from their eyes…

The klezmer band started playing, trilling melodies in which are hidden feelings of the Jewish heart - yearning, supplication, and much sadness, about the Exile, about the troubles of life and making a livelihood. R' Ozer HaKaner, “Der Fiddler”; streaks of silver in his beard spread out over his violin, shining, his eyes closed and he plays with much devotion; standing around him are “connoisseurs” of violin playing, amongst them my uncle, bursting with pleasure and swaying to the sound of the joyful tunes.

In 1915, when the echoes of the shots from the front came close, many left their houses and found shelter in the Bet Midrash, built from bricks. But fate was cruel to the inhabitants, for a bomb fell on the Bet Midrash, killed thirteen people, and wounded others; depression and mourning prevailed everywhere. When the Germany army entered, the area was declared to be on the front line and the inhabitants were expelled.

*

I was with my uncle among the first to return to the town. It was difficult to recognize it; destruction and neglect dominated everywhere; the houses had been dismantled or destroyed by the Germans. The streets and the marketplace were cut up by trenches and defense pits. Weeds grew everywhere.

Many of those who returned found shelter in the defense pits and began energetically and with much initiative to reconstruct the town from its ruins.

Two years later, I again came to visit Lubtch. The town had been rebuilt, the Bet Midrash, which had been burnt down in the war, was again standing. It was not easy for the poor townspeople, many of whom were still living in the defense pits, to worry about its rehabilitation, but they did it with a willing soul. Moreover, they made sure that there would be a teacher who would teach Torah to the children.

 

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