The town had some three thousands residents, two thousands of them Jewish. The houses were made of wood, and as Rakov had not suffered from a devastating fire for a long time they were old and dilapidated. In the center of town, a row of shops, and the market was held there twice a week: on Mondays and on Fridays. Its streets: Vilna Street on the West and Minsk Street on the East, and on their sides small streets and lanes, which were inhabited, mostly, by Christians, and by a few Jews. On the outskirts of town there were isolated Jewish houses.
The neighboring towns: Horodok, Ivanitz, the famous Volozhin, Vishniva, and more, each town and its unique character. These towns survived for hundreds of years in the Lands of Byelorussia and Lithuania, and developed their way of life; the way of life of a Jewish town, where Jewish culture evolved and was preserved, until they were destroyed by the wicked hand.
The two large cities: Vilna to the West, some 140 kilometers from Rakov, and Minsk to the East, 35 kilometers away, were, until the First World War, the metropolitan centers of these smaller towns. From there they brought in the goods, and there they sent their products; there did the 'maskilim' [seekers of general education] go to get their heavenly [elementary] education, and later to the Gymnasium [high-school]. The situation changed after Rakov became a border town [after World War I] a mere half a kilometer from the border, and Minsk on the other side of the border. Vilna remained the only central city of the region, and all commerce revolved around her. There did the shopkeepers and businessmen go, and there were the young sent to obtain their education; there, too, went those young people who aspired to go out to the big world.
The only mode of transportation was the wagon, as the railroad bypassed the towns, disregarding their transportation needs, and that of the nearby villages.
The teamsters were a special breed, shaped by the constant journeying on those unpaved, and often impassable, roads.
The teamster and the butcher were two of a kind. They were the am ha'aretz [common, ignorant folks] of the town. But they were, also, the ones who protected it in time of danger from rioters, or just from unruly drunken goys. They knew how to unsheathe the butcher's knife, and how to raise the shaft of the wagon and smash the heads of those who wanted to 'play a little' in the town.
Add to them the tailors, the cobblers, the carpenters, the iron-smiths, the
bakers, and other sorts of artisans, and you get a large group of breadwinners
who made their living by the toil of their hands, and were the healthy economic
basis, even though the poorer one, of the town.
|The Drama Group 1926|
By the way, Rakov also had a resident 'hach'shara halutzit' [a place of readying pioneers for settlement in Eretz Israel], and in the Twenties it had some 30 halutzim [pioneers], from all over Poland, working there. It is interesting to note that Mr. Rivin, the owner of the sawmill, was himself a member of Bilu [a pre-Herzl Zionist movement], and had intended to migrate to Eretz Israel with his comrades, only that he was delayed for a little while.This little while stretched for tens of years, until he and his enterprise were destroyed.
We should mention another enterprise, heavy industry, in Rakov, under the ownership of the Pupkin family: the production of coal [from wood], turpentine, and tar in the Pogolenka Forest. This enterprise, whose products were mostly for export, was functioning well until the outbreak of the Second World War.
The next strata was of those who were engaged in commerce, the shopkeepers, the tavern owners, and a few clerks in institutions of the community. This was the weakest link in the economic life of the town, subject to economic fluctuations. They were hard up, and many of them actually suffered hunger, and needed the support of their relatives in America or that of the Rakov Association in America. The two organizations of Gmilat Hessed [for giving interest-free loans] and Linat HaTzedek [for giving shelter and clothing] also came to their help.
There were also Jews who were engaged in agriculture. Some of them owned their land, and others leased land from the owners of nearby estates and from rich farmers, and started their own farms.
Unlike the other towns in the area, Rakov was a mixed town, of Jews and
Christians. The Jews resided in the center of town, and the Christians in the
periphery, in the outer lanes. Most of the Christians owned small farms, and
cultivated vegetable gardens. From these lanes the Jews in town got their
apples, the fragrant pears, the plums, and the cherries. Some of the Christians
were artisans: cobblers, tailors, carpenters, government clerks, and tradesmen;
the latter had shops in the center of town, and eventually became strong
competitors of the Jewish shop-owners, and encroached on some of the areas
which had been Jewish for generations.
Rabbi Helprin served as the rabbi in Rakov until the Nazis came. He was taken
by the Germans to a labor camp, and was killed there together with the rest of
the people in the camp. T.N.Ts.B.H [May his soul be bundled in the bundle of
eternal life May he rest in peace].
The yeshiva existed in Rakov until 1929. When Rabbi Kalmanovitz left town, and the financial sources dwindled, the yeshiva was shut down.
That was the education of the boys, but the education of the girls was quite
different. Here there was no heder or the inhibition of 'tradition', and the
path was clear: the Government School. Thus it was under the Russians, and thus
it was under the Polish authorities. Upon graduating from elementary-school,
the daughters of the well-to-do families were sent to Vilna, to continue their
education in the high-school. They learned Hebrew with private tutors.
To the chairman of the Committee to Aid Rakov, our distinguished friend, the famous philanthropist, R. Rosenthal, may his light shine.
Today I am a man of good tidings. The construction of the building is completed only the stoves are lacking. We are preparing the dedication ceremony, hoping that these [troubled] times would permit us to celebrate. Your honor will be thanked during these joyful celebrations, as being one of the first donors, and your name will be forever remembered and blessed by the students who will study in the school.
The stone which, at first, was rejected by the masons became the cornerstone. [an allusion to Psalms 118; 22] No building in the area can match the splendor of this one.
The stoves cost more than a thousand pieces of gold, in addition to the large debt which I owe to the shopkeepers and craftsman of Rakov. We were mistaken in our reckoning. They [the stoves] cost twice as much as we thought at first.
I sent an exact account to R. Moshe Berman.
So, brethren and friends, hurry up with your aid. Do not let us collapse under the heavy burden, help us. The good God will repay you for your deeds, and may the Master of All double your wages.
I am also sending you my best wishes for the new year, may it be a year of good life, peace and tranquility, and great success in all your doings.
Your eternal friend Israel Helprin 9 of Elul 5699 [August 24, 1939]
|Building the Religious School|
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