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[Page 284]

Remembrance and Folk Lore

Thus appeared Rovno

(According to V. Korolenko)

Translation by Naomi Gal

The great writer Vladimir Korolenko, a Rovno native, relates in his story “The Children of the Cellars”: “Our hometown was a princedom, one of the prince's estates; Lyubomirski's Prince being the son of a noble Polish family that lost its fortune.”

And this is how the town (Rovno during the seventies and eighties of the nineteenth century) is described in this story:

“The town was very much like other towns in southwest Russia. When you arrive at the city's border from the east, you see a prison, a large building surrounded by a high wall, situated on the main road. Downward from the prison lies the sprawled town, supposedly napping. Old shabby buildings, between them empty lots full of garbage, and grey broken fences – all so boring.

A steep road leads to the town's center. A handicapped sleepy guard slowly raises the barrier and the visitor steps into town. Soon he reaches a big square, opening many mouths in the form of gates to inns kept by Jews – this is the center. Beside the rundown houses are the government institutions in better-shaped buildings, whose white walls inspire tediousness and commonness.

The observant will perceive a hill boasting birch trees swaying and whispering – there is the cemetery, and in the nearby fields – a sea of wheat, golden in the summer, the wind forming waves, and the telegraph wires, stretched on poles along the roadsides are humming.

A narrow wooden-bridge is perched on the creek flowing the width of the town, sighing under the passing carts, shaking like an old man, a drunk. On the other side of the bridge stretches the Jews' street, a jumble of stalls and shops, traffic and tumult and all around mud and stench. People walking, children running around, turning and crawling in the dust.

The creek under the bridge stems from a lake, flowing-twisting slowly and falling into another lake, surrounded by a swamp, and so the town is surrounded by water from north and from south. In these lakes, which turn green in summer, grow thick reeds and waterweeds, swaying rhythmically in the day breeze. The lakes are slowly drying, defeated, and turning into land for houses and courtyards.

A small island stands out in the lake on the south of town and on it an ancient palace in ruins and deserted. Many legends surround this palace. Tales that evoke fear in the little ones, and an odd feeling overcomes whoever hears them.

The island is artificial, handmade by Turkish captives who built it a long time ago, and that is where these captives are buried, so that the palace was built on people's bones. When the old folks tell the story, the little ones picture a frightful sight of thousands of Turkish skeletons underneath, supporting with their hands the island, the growing trees and the ancient palace, and the childish imagination brings forth different pictures, all horrible, frightening and thrilling.

The children were afraid to go to the palace even during daylight, despite the shining sun and the invigorating and encouraging chirping of birds. The open cavities in the palace walls, where once stood doors and windows, the desolation in its halls inspired terror; every move and rustle – frightened and excited the approaching children, and they ran away for their lives.

Dread spread in the palace and its surrounding lake, especially during evenings and nights. On the island's south side, where you could still see old rotting crosses, remains of graves and a deserted bell-tower, its walls crumbling, its roof collapsing, and instead of past ringing bells, you will now hear owls howling in the dark of night.

There were times when homeless and beggars found shelter in the palace's corners, warming themselves in the light of the wooden remains of the building's parts.”

Presented by Zeev Shatz


[Page 285]

The Great Conflagration

Translation by Naomi Gal

Among other memories of Rovno it is worthwhile to stir out of oblivion the great fire that occurred in the city in 1880. It was a Friday during summer and I was 6-7 years old. Friday was obviously my favorite day since the rabbi released us children from school before noon and I thoroughly enjoyed the free afternoon. I used to follow the older children, listen to their conversations, and consider myself as one of them…

That day, the day of the great fire, I was following my uncle, who was deeply immersed in our tanning business. The tanning workshop stood on the creek's edge that separated the city from Omilianovskaia, the Christian Street. Since the place was not big enough for storing the bark of oak-trees needed to treat leather, my parents bought a lot close to our old house. This lot was near a meadow called “Lefoha”, because of the many plants growing there. The lot was turned into a long and large lumberyard that could absorb a big stock of the necessary bark.

My uncle was the inspector while the lumberyard was being built and in charge of the workers that were laying the bark there. So as soon as I came back from the “Heder” I ran there. With my uncle and the workers' assistance I climbed up, close to the roof that was still open. I stood there and surveyed the four corners of the earth. On the east I could see the “Lefoha” with its vegetation and lakes, to the west the levee that blocked the water from uselessly spilling, directing it to the mill so that it will turn the millstones; to the north, a miniature of the northeast part of the city. Here were the “Wolja” and the train neighborhood and the station, and more neighborhoods and streets, and the well where poor children filled their jugs with cold water they sold in town: a glass of water for a penny…a beautiful and wonderful world.

Suddenly…how awful! All along the “Wolja” pillars of black smoke rising and swiveling. Climbing up to the sky, re-descending, wrapping around and around like huge balls, stretching like black sheets that forcefully roll on cylinders, and from these pillars of smoke, every now and then billows long black and red strips of fire, and thousands and ten thousands of fire-sparks flying and spreading all over the streets and the houses' roofs. I was horrified and started calling out loud: “Uncle! Uncle! Fire! Fire!” My uncle and the workers hastened to climb up to see what was happening. “A horrible fire” they said “but far away from us.” And they all hurried to the fire to help, to save what could be saved.

I ran home to mom and dad – the safest place for a kid. At home, as far as I can remember, nothing was done in order to save our property. They were positive the fire would not reach us. “The fire is far away from us,” everybody said. Meanwhile father ran to Aunt Rossia, who lived close to the fire, to help her save her property. People began to arrive and exclaim that the fire was spreading rapidly and had reached Krassna Street. “The fire already encircles the synagogue,” they added. The men rushed to save the Torah scrolls, only the women stayed home, mother and grandmother, crying and wailing about the disaster that befell the city.

After a while grandfather and my uncle came back with bad news: the disaster was great and who knows what will become of us. Grandfather began at once packing our belongings and transferring the ready merchandise to the lot next to Lefoha. Amid the shouts and commotion, the crying and wailing of my grandmother's was suddenly heard: “Where is Yehiel-Aaron (my father)?” He went to Aunt Rossia's but didn't come back, who knows what happened to him? All the streets were shrouded with fire, there was no passage and we were busy trying to save property. They began thinking of ways to save dad from the fire and decided to spread out looking in the places where passage was still possible in order to find him. All of a sudden father burst in, fell down and fainted. When he revived he said he was at Aunt Rossia's, helped her save her property and helped others as well; when he realized he was surrounded by fire, he took a risk, jumped and quickly ran between two burning houses. He felt his hair scorched but didn't stop until he reached a street that was not on fire and then took the short cut home, running for his life.

The wind spread the fire from street to street, houses were collapsing and it seemed as if the whole city would be burned.

Only at dusk, after the three parts of the city were affected, the fire stopped. The wind abated, the flames were dying out. Thousands of people, women and children were scattered in the Lefoha region with their belongings, hungry, thirsty, and depressed by the horrible disaster that hit them.

The next day, Shabbat morning, carts full of bread and all kinds of food arrived from the nearby villages. They heard about the disaster and enlisted at once to help. But the crucial problem was housing; thousands of people were living outside, at the mercy of the wind and the rain. Slowly some of them found shelter with relatives in the city, or in nearby villages. Many months passed before all the “burned” found shelter, and many years passed until Rovno recovered and healed from the blow it suffered.

This conflagration remained in the hearts of Rovno citizens as a horrible and shocking memory for many generations.

The reason for the fire was never discovered, but there were rumors about the “Katsapim”, hooligans burning Jewish settlements who might have been involved.

Elimelekh Blay


[Page 287]

In The Shadow of the Pogrom

Translation by Naomi Gal

The Russian People Pact, that existed during Tsar Nicholas II was active all over Russia and had branches in most of the cities, towns and villages. It was a nationalist-fanatical organization that stemmed out of the “Black Century” known for supporting the Tsar. The Pact had extreme nationalistic goals, providing propaganda in support of the monarchy; the authorities, which saw it as an appropriate tool for implementing missions and schemes they could not perform, encouraged it. To achieve its purposes the Pact repressed freedom seekers and those who strove for political change in a revolution ending the Tsar's reign. There were many means the Pact was using, and one of them was persecuting the Jews they hated and who were, in their eyes, the enemies of Russia.

The unaware Russians masses, repressed and steeped deep in ignorance and superstitions, bought into the incitement of the propagandists, most of them governmental officials. They grew up on the “Black Century” ideas and the reactionary newspaper “New Times”, edited by Sovorine, that was the Pact's voice. The Pact was acting in the open and was headed by “Black Century” affiliates. The war against the revolutionaries became a war against the Jews that took form in assaults and pogroms in different cities: Kishinev, Gomel, Balta and more.

Pogroms against Jews were held as well in some of Volhynia's settlements as a result of the Russian People Pact's propaganda, whose militants went from place to place and inflamed the citizens against the Jews. Information about the ongoing incitements reached Rovno and created rage. The clouds darkening the Jewish sky pressed them to plan their defense like Zhitomir's Jews, who took charge of their own fate ahead of time and organized an appropriate self-defense. A few non-Jews from the socialist movements in the city joined this defense. When the hooligans arrived and began attacking Jews, the defense members confronted them, but they could not resist the hundreds of rioters that the army and the police made no effort to stop. The pogroms in Zhitomir lasted for three days, April 23-25 1905. There were other assaults on Jews and attempts at pogroms in other places in Volhynia that were not all successful.

When a branch of The Russian People Pact was established in Rovno the Jews in the city were deeply alarmed, since they made daily threats to harm Jews. Strangely enough, at the head of the Pact was Joravliyov, a well-known man, who was involved with the Jewish merchants and owned a large kitchen and foodstuff store on the main street, a Rovno veteran who was never considered anti-Semitic. Alongside with him there were many governmental and train officials, members of the “Black Century,” who were roaming the town and inciting for riots. At one time there was a commotion in the market, but before the rioters could hurt the Jews, the stores were closed and the Jewish fire brigade arrived to protect the city Jews and ward off any attack – it all ended with a small robbery.

Alongside the fire brigade, the Jewish porters were ready for self-defense, all alert and prepared. Jewish Rovno was lucky and the black anti-Semitic forces back then did not harm them.

Samuel Fisyok


[Page 288]

The Panic of the Katsapim

Translation by Naomi Gal

In the second half of the 19th century, under the reign of Tsar Alexander The Third in Russia, black clouds covered the skies of the Russians Jews. His two main consultants, both of them haters of Israel, heavily influenced the Tsar, who had no backbone: Povedonostzav, the head of the Holy Synod and Waygantev, the interior minister. These reactionaries wanted to exterminate the Jews and leave no trace of them in Russia. By their advice the Tsar decreed different edicts and restrictions on Jews and supported the establishment of the “Black Century” whose aim, amongst others, was to murder Jews and pillage their properties. These national circles sent propagandists' delegates to places populated mostly by Jews to explain to the Russian people the danger the Jews represent to Russia. The lie was that the peasants work hard and lead a hard life because of Jews who take advantage of them, while they, the Jews, enjoy a comfortable life at the Russian people's expense. The delegates operated according to the plan; they traveled from one place to another insinuating to the Christian peasants and the laborers that they can have a free hand with the Jews, whom the Tsar hates, and whoever harms Jews or their property is doing a favor to the Russian people and protects his honor and homeland.

The propaganda was led especially in territories where Jews were allowed to live and the results were soon felt. (Note: Tsar Catherine II (“The Great”) established the Pale of Settlement in 1791 as a territory for Russian Jews to live. Created under pressure to rid Moscow of Jewish business competition and “evil” influence on the Russian masses, the Pale of Settlement included the territory of present day Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Belorussia.) A wave of pogroms washed over the cities of these territories, and the Jewish population was terrified. These “delegates” and gangs of hired bandits - Katsapim - performed the pogroms in front of the authorities that ignored them.

The rumors aroused panic among Rovno Jews. I remember my grandfather whispering to my parents about transferring valuables from our house and hiding them, and one night a hole was dug for this purpose in the corner of our yard. We, the children, were ordered to keep it secret. We heard that the Katsapim were burning the Jewish suburbs to evoke panic that will facilitate their assaulting Jewish homes, robbing, beating and murdering. The Jews who lived on the edge of the city were the first to be exposed to the danger. I remember as well that one evening Jews sat in our house and spoke about guarding our homes at night and about defense in case the Katsapim rioters arrived in the city.

After a few days, on a Friday, an alarming rumor spread: the Katsapim are coming! Some believed they were already in the city. No one knew for sure the source of the rumor, but tended to believe it. Panic stroked everybody, big and small. The mothers were running around gathering the children into safe places while the men hurried to their houses. Crying and screams were heard all around, and religious Jews sat and read psalms…the few who decided to confront the rioters converged carrying axes, bayonets and clubs, most of them were butchers, porters, coachmen and fist-fighters and they waited for the assaulters…

The Sabbath descended upon the city, but there was no rest because the anticipation was horrible and the panic did not subside. People did not take their clothes off and it was a sleepless night. The next day we found out that a group of Katsapim indeed passed through Rovno's train-station, but for some reason did not stop and continued on their way. Rovno was saved this time from the murderers and it was a false alarm.

Elimelekh Blay


[Page 289]

From previous years

Translation by Naomi Gal

My family moved to Rovno in 1898. That year I was accepted to the fourth grade in the government high school. There were just a few Jewish students because of the quotas that allowed only ten percent of Jews. I befriended the Jewish students, and together we approached the League of the Young Zionists that existed in town. The leader of the league was Nohum Shtif, who was in seventh and last grade. Shtif, who later became a writer known as “Baal Dimion” (The Imaginative), was back then a nationalist gifted youngster, a keen Zionist and a Hebrew fanatic. With his apt speeches and accounts he knew how to influence our members and the local youngsters. Even after a year or two, when Shtif went to study in Kiev and used to come back to Rovno, he continued to preach to the youth to self-educate themselves in nationalistic spirit. He was well renowned and when the big convention of the Zionists took place in Minsk in 1902 we chose him as a delegate and he was very active. I recall his report from the convention that went on for seven hours (!) while we were listening to him attentively.

There were quite a few objectors to Zionism, who later joined the Bund, Poale Zion (Workers of Zion) and others. The discussions we led were about policy and nationalism. Among the debaters were Moshe Zilberfarb, Margalit and others. The conversations and the discussions were vibrant and deepened our knowledge of what was going on in the world. Zilberfarb was later disappointed by the materialistic historic theory and became a Zionist. Later he was expelled from the polytechnic school in Kiev on account of uproar and rebellion; he traveled to Berlin to study medicine and became close to “Herut” (freedom), Nahman Sirkin's circle and was one of the founders of the Symystic Circle (the Jewish Socialist Workers Party.)

 


A governmental school that later became an education center
(Page 290 in the Hebrew text)

 

Our nationalistic awareness strengthened us when we confronted the non-Jewish students in school. We had some clashes about nationalism, especially with the Poles. They were very upset by the fact we were united and organized; they held grudges and awaited an opportunity for revenge. The occasion soon presented itself. When the time came for our school's traditional annual ball, and the seventh grade, where we were, had to prepare the ball, the non-Jewish students wanted to keep us out of the preparations. We emphatically objected and the matter was brought to the school's principal. The principal, who was a wise man, chose to evade the problem and passed it on to the inspector, who ruled in favor of the Christian students. We declared a boycott of the ball and did not attend. Our committee allowed only the Jewish women students (of the Royal High School for girls) to sing in the choir that performed at the ball. After their performance they left demonstrating their solidarity with us. This did not go unnoticed; it was a nationalistic protest that left an impact.

Among our friends was Abraham Hersh, a talented young man, who was not our classmate but we still enrolled him on the acting committee and appreciated his courage, his revolutionary energy and his vibrant sense of humor. Hersh was a seventh grade student when the pogroms in Kishinev began. It was a well known fact the Russian authorities were involved, so Hersh secretly presented the school's principal an announcement in which he said he was leaving school as a protest against Jewish blood being shed with no interference of the authorities, and because he did not see the Russian school as an institution that teaches humanism, but one that instigates one race against the other. The principal tried to talk him into finishing his studies and graduating, since he was a good student, but Hersh persisted and left. His act testifies to the way of thinking and the ideas prevailing amid the Jewish students. Hersh later traveled to Switzerland for his studies and became the editor of the Russian section in an internationally renowned newspaper: “Neue Zurcher Zeitung”.

Some of our classmates later became famous in a few public areas. Our group initiated the idea of founding a Jewish defense in case of pogroms. The impression of Kishinev pogroms was not wiped away and different rumors spread throughout and around the city about pogroms that were about to take place; we were all worried. We were but a few and we wanted to attract Jewish members from all the Jewish institutions in town. With this in mind we secretly printed a pamphlet addressed to the Jewish public in which we elaborated the situation and called everybody to join us in forming a defense force in face of the threats; we asked them to fight back and protect the safety, honor, and property of our brothers. We knew that some would hesitate and will quickly get rid of our pamphlets, so we waited for Yom Kippur's evening, and then, close to Kol Nidrei, we glued our pamphlets in all of Rovno's synagogues and got everyone's attention. Due to the holiness of the day no one dared tear the pamphlets off.

I don't know if the pamphlets helped or not, since at that time I left Rovno and went to pursue my studies in Berlin, but I heard from friends that the city's community leaders found another practical way to protect the lives of Jews: they contacted the city's minister and paid him off. And indeed he kept his promise and there were no pogroms in Rovno till the minister was transferred elsewhere. “The Russian People Pact” that represented the “Black Century”, stated regretfully that Rovno's Jews did not get a taste of pogrom…

Zionism conquered many hearts in our hometown. I remember the speeches of Ashkenazi, Drohizin and others and the Purim celebration in Moshe Stock's house, where ten enthusiastic members of “Hovevei Zion” registered to make a pilgrimage to the Land of Israel and to turn this pilgrimage into a yearly tradition.

In Rovno a special world was revealed to me, that I didn't know beforehand, even though I am a descendant of a Hassidic family (my father's father, Rabbi Yehuda-Lieb Levontin, was a fervent Chabad supporter and named his first son, my father, after the old rabbi Zalman, and my grandfather on my mother's side belonged as well to the Hassidim.), in Mogilev I did not feel any Hassidic movement. But when I came to Rovno I encountered a strong popular Hassidic movement, with special synagogues for every denomination, courts of Admors, dynasties etc. And although I was not a Hassid, the Hassidim, who expressed themselves with real emotion, fascinated me. Here in Rovno I began to understand Peretz's stories and grasp what the essence of Judaism was. In Rovno and in Berdychiv, where I used to visit my relatives, I was able to hear beautiful tunes, full of emotion, joy and sadness. During different Sabbaths and Bar Mitzvahs in Berdychiv I had the privilege to listen to the tune that Rubinstein later incorporated in the opera “Maccabi”.

Rovno's people, the way I recall them, were pleasant and nice and our family acclimated fast among the local Jews. All our family members, who later lived in big cities (London, Paris, Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Alexandria and others) and finally in our renewing Land, did not forget our city Rovno and its inhabitants. We hoped that Rovno would send thousands of immigrants to the Land of Israel, who would inhabit the country and add the grace that was part of the Volhynia we knew, but the Holocaust crushed all our hopes. And the heart weeps with no consolation.

Mordechai Levontin


[Page 292]

My Childhood City

Translation by Naomi Gal

I was born in 1882 in Rovno, the main city of Volhynia. It is unknown when exactly first Jews came to the city. The assumption is that they began inhabiting the area in the 16th century. In a document from 1586 we found a report about a Jew by the name of Aaron who was assassinated by someone called Shliachtshiz. In the 17th and 18th centuries Rovno knew horrible times: Tatars, Khmelnitsky, cossaks and others who assaulted the city, robbed and murdered Jews. Diseases infected the population as well as frequent fires.

Rovno was a city of landowners and since 1723 belonged to the Lyubomirski Princes, who favored the Jews. In 1765 there were 196 Jewish families in the city, and in the smaller surrounding settelments there were 1186 Jews who were dependent on the Jewish community in Rovno. Assuming that the 196 families had 600-700 members, the number we had was significant one back then, considering the fact that the big Jewish settlements in Poland did not have more than three to four thousand members, except Brody (whose population was 6,877) and Lwow (6,378).

Rovno did not have the privilege of her history memorialized like Dubno, Ostroh or others cities; that is why we know very little about her spiritual and prominent leaders. In the beginning of the Hassidic movement Rovno was important since that is where Rabbi Dov Baer lived and worked at the end of his days. He was the greatest disciple of Besht (Ba'al Shem Tov), the famous Maggid of Mezhirichi, Turczyn, Kozin and Rovno. In all those places he had famous appearances and attracted students and disciples. Due to Rabbi Dov Baer, Volhynia became a Hassidic center; the same way Podillia was a Hassidic center during Besht's lifetime. In the summer of 1772 the Maggid students convened in Rovno and discussed ways of reacting to the ban on Hassidim in Brody. Rabbi Elimelekh from Lezajsk, Rabbi Dov Baer's student, mentions in his book “Noam Elimelekh” his rabbi and teacher Dov Baer as Rovno's Maggid.

We don't know about Rovno's role in the development of the Hassidic movement in the periods afterwards, but in my youth Hassidic influence was not felt in this city, although it had many adherents. But there was no deep objection to Hassidism either. In Rabbi Aaron Kolkevitcher's, my grandfather's house in Rovno, Talmudic books stood tolerantly side-by-side Hassidic books. My late grandfather was a devout Jew and an in-depth scholar, book lover who appreciated rabbis and thoroughly enjoyed students and writers. This grandfather was close to me and I was told that when I became ill in the second year of my life he was very worried and run at night to wake up Dr. Markavitz, who saved me. My grandfather dedicated himself to my religious education and used to take me to pray with him. He labored to teach me Torah and guided me in Hassidic and moral books so that I would acquaint myself with all the brilliance of our traditional literature.

Years later when I graduated from high school in Brody, I followed grandfather's wish and studied for a whole year Talmud with Rabbi Meir, one of the best Talmud teachers in Rovno. I learned as well medieval literature, morality, philosophy and more, with the excellent teacher Mr. Hikel Kopelman, an educated Lithuanian who lived in Rovno from 1901-2. I will never forget that year of learning; I studied vigilantly and with passion and penetrated the sources of our spiritual creation. I knew well the Hebrew and the Yiddish literature with its two schools: the Volhynian, according to Rabbi Meir and the Lithuanian of Mr. Kopelman. The knowledge I acquired then served me in my future steps in literature and history.

Grandfather had a tobacco business but he dedicated most of his time to prayer or watching buildings (around his house on the main street they were always building, restoring or renewing buildings). His big store was well run by my grandmother Rayna-Golda, a smart and good-hearted woman, who gave to charity openhandedly. The younger brother of grandmother was the renowned Jewish activist Yaakov Titel, who was nominated an investigator-judge in the times of the Czar (the only Jew who reached that rank). He arrived at Rovno in 1896 to mediate between my grandfathers' sons Motel and Shelomo. One can only imagine the impression he made in this provincial town with his dress and status! Everyone who knew him admitted he had a deep-rooted trust in men, in their integrity and believed you should give the benefit of a doubt to everyone. Titel was an optimist and was respected by all.

I spent my first ten years in Rovno and was close to my mothers' family; only later did I know my father's side of the family. I saw Rabbi Daniel, my grandfather from my father's side only once, a nice respectful Jew in his community, when he came to visit us in Rovno. I remember something that happened on a Sabbath when I came back from synagogue with a cold and he wrapped me in his fur coat probably to warm me up. He died young, when I was four years old. My father Yaakov-Arieh, born in Brody, was modest, an educated scholar, a soft-spoken man who had a Galician education. My father owned a glass and porcelain store in Rovno and I have no idea how his business would have been if it were not for my mother Fayge, who was his right hand and managed the business. She was very much like her wise mother, and deserves to be considered as a woman of valor in her generation. She knew how to run our home and was a devoted mother, in charge of her children's education. That is how Jewish homes were run back then. All her sons and daughters enjoyed her maternal warmth and there was no oppression, as was felt in other homes back then. My mother believed her children would find their way to God and men. Our home was patriarchal; peace, serenity, respect and awe reigned. The impression of Sabbath nights and holidays in my parents' house would never be forgotten. It was a beautiful and ideal house in every respect. Father kept all the Jewish traditions, and taught us the treasures of Judaism, and instilled in us fondness for our past and faith in our future. I spent the next ten years, until I was nineteen years old, in Brody, my father's city that was worlds apart from Rovno.

Rovno the dynamic, the vibrant, immersed in simplistic Hassidism, seemed then like a town drowning in its swamps, insolent to a certain degree, and maybe stubborn as well, not yet famous beyond Volhynia; all this changed with time and for the better. I still recall the days when I went to the Heder with Rabbi Meir, not the same who taught me Talmud after I graduated from high school, whose room was next to the Ossetia River. Around the creek were swamps that were being dried up and houses were built there. On one of the islands in the swamp was the old palace of the Lyubomirski's Princes, described so well by the Russian writer Vladimir Korolenko. Soldiers from the Russian army used to do their maneuvers there. As kids we used to go on Saturdays to the palace and visit its ruins. The way back home led through an alley heading to the main street, on your right the Turiysk Cloister and to your left the big synagogue and from there to the vibrant center of the city.

 


The Old Palace of Lyubomirski
(Page 294 in the Hebrew text)

 

Not too far was the center of the fire department. There were always fires in Rovno, beginning in the 17th and 18th centuries by the hands of bandits, and later, during the 19th century, because of the inhabitants of the city themselves who used to deliberately burn their houses so that they could buy with the insurance money new houses instead of the old crumbling ones. Why they did it I cannot recall, but with my friends we founded the fire brigade. We used to love playing fire brigade. We collected money, put boxes on a cart and took water to fires. Nowadays youngsters are busy with sports, but it was not that way when we were young so we channeled our energy to organizing a fire brigade. I gladly wore my uncle's Shlomo's helmet so that I would be the commander. My uncle was Shlomo Kolkivitcher, a city dignitary, and he seemed to me like the right man to be the commander of the “real” fire brigade. In time he became one of the best activists of Rovno and indeed helped considerably the fire department and became a firefighter himself and participated bravely in putting out fires. I will talk more about his political activities in other chapters of my memories.

My father was an Austrian citizen and had no right to live in Rovno; therefore, he used to travel every now and then to Brody, his city, stay there a few months and then come back to Rovno to his family and settle with the local police so that he could stay in town. But when the pressure of the general-governing Derntolen became too much, and after we were hurt by a great fire that burnt our store, my parents decided to leave Rovno and move to Brody.

Rovno was nothing but one long street, from which smaller streets and alleys split, and around were some suburbs inhabited mainly by non-Jews. The mud and filth, especially during winter, were impossible to bear. Compared to Rovno, Brody looked like a nice city, well organized, with large streets, a park, boulevards etc. But during the nine years I spent there, my connection to Rovno did not end. I used to spend in Rovno the last days of Passover and the summer months, where we were well-treated and got lots of attention. I was always happy to come to Rovno, which began developing quickly after the railroad was built, since the city was on the way to Kiev and Petersburg. There was a lot of traffic at the railroad station and I used to go there in the evenings when the trains arrived. I remember the day when Achad Ha'Am passed on his way to the first Jewish Congress. I don't remember how it came to be that I was the one who welcomed him and drank tea with him at the station buffet.

Rovno stayed Rovno despite its progress and restoration. During Sabbaths the synagogues were noisy, people used to quarrel and curse each other because of an Alyia, some kind of honor or gossip, as is the habit in provincial towns. The commerce was blooming, the Royal Bank and the Minsk bank opened branches in Rovno, people were making money, and there was a lot of bustle, unlike quiet sleepy Brody. Visiting Rovno I found many social and national developments. Zionism was wide spreading among the youth and the house-owners.

I will mention some of the Jewish writers with whom I was in contact in Rovno, although they were older than me: Moshe Zilberfarb and Nohum Shtif, who were both in the Zionist circles they left later. Shtif, who excelled in his studies in high school, showed already signs of the writer and researcher he later became. Mordechai Levontin was another close friend, a good student, ambitious and an avid Zionist. Brodvsky was a devoted Zionist as well, and Harash, whom I met years later in Paris, where he became a talented journalist. I used to visit with awe the house of Rabbi Zalman Levontin, it was an aristocratic Zionist house, and Levontin himself, one of the pioneers of Zionism, was the head of the Minsk Bank in Rovno.

After graduating from high school I spent a whole year in Rovno devoting myself to the study of Talmud and Torah according to my grandfather's wishes; my plan was to continue my studies at the Rabbinical Seminary in Vienna. It was a good and pleasant year in my life, free of worries; everybody treated me with warmth and respect. That year I learned some Russian: I read signs, peeked at books and even dared read a newspaper, till I was able to read Turgenev's “Fathers and Sons.” My knowledge of the language helped me later when I studied at the university and had to read the Russian Laws and other Russian sources I needed for my research.

At that time the Zionist movement expanded and encompassed many circles in town. I was conquered as well and in 1902 traveled to the Jewish Convention in Minsk. My Zionist awareness grew deeper since then.

Professor Mark Vishnitzer


[Page 296]

Grandpa's Home

Translation by Naomi Gal

My grandfather, Rabbi Aaron Dov Hacohen Kolkevitcher from Rovno, ran a patriarchal household. Grandmother Rayna-Golda, a woman of valor, was his loyal assistant and helped with his business, his public affairs and obviously managed the household with her wisdom. Both my grandparents were famous in and around Rovno. I can still see my grandfather: a well-built tall man, handsome and soft-spoken, a bright scholar and fervently religious, keeps every Mitzvah, with deep faith trusts every thing G— does in his world, and lovingly accepts what happens in his life.

Grandfather taught his sons, Mordechai and Shelomo and his daughter Fayge to follow the Torah and the Mitzvahs. He sent them to the best teachers in town and gave them a general education, as well, believing that study goes hand-in-hand with culture. He was well respected by the authorities and used to represent his congregation to the local officials, pleading, defending and voicing his brothers' hurt, and usually he succeeded: he had influence and many listened to him.

My grandfather house was on Shossejna Street on one side and Shkolna Street on the other. Grandfather and grandmother kept their sons and daughters in their home and closely watched their grandchildren. Grandfather and grandmother doted upon my mother, who married Yaakov Arieh Vishnitzer from Brody in the beginning of the eighties, and we, the grandchildren, enjoyed the same treatment. Ten years after their wedding they moved to Brody, but grandfather and grandmother had a difficult time coming to terms with the separation and after 18 years (in 1891) moved them back to Rovno and housed them.

 


Grandmother Rayna-Golda
(Page 296 in the Hebrew text)

 

Grandfather was a tobacco merchant and he had many customers in his large store. Grandmother was the main trader, since grandfather used to pray and study, knowing he could count on her. Both of them were generous and helped the poor. Grandfather's house was among the most respected in Rovno, and if the house was great throughout the year, it was even greater on Sabbath and the Holydays. I can still remember the way the house was run, the ambiance, the rooms clean and ready for the Holy Day, a white table cloth spread on the large table and the candlesticks shining with the lit candles, the large dining room well lit and the visitors, mainly soldiers, sitting at the table, the blessings, the wine glasses, the food and conversation aplenty, the words of wisdom grandfather used to share with his guests. Grandmother with her wig and her best outfit, radiating and enjoying her family members and the guests around her table. The Sabbath ends and grandmother's whisper can be heard: “God of Abraham, Isaac and Yaakov,” and then the Havdala and drinking tea, and Jews drop by to ask for advice or a “favor” and grandfather patiently listens to everyone and sometimes goes out to help.

Grandmother used to send baked goods and challah to certain families, clothes for the needy, help to new mothers, and that way kept the “anonymous donation” Mitzvah, with or without her husband's knowledge, she never forgot her duties to others, although she had to manage the store and the house. After her death we kept on grandmother's traditions. My grandfather's second wife was from Kamyanets, Podilskyy, was modest and devout, as well and kept the house's tradition and was respected by the family members.

My mother Fayge, who kept the tradition, made sure that the past imprint from her parents' home would not be wiped out, kept Mitzvahs and traditions, and we, the children, were proud of our origins, grandfather and grandmother's house in Rovno.

Sara Galber (Vishnizer)


[Page 297]

“Betsalel” Privilege of Rovno

Translation by Naomi Gal

Not many are aware of the privilege Rovno had, which later became the most important national art endeavor that turned to be “Betsalel” in Jerusalem, founded by professor Dov-Boris Schatz, but it is a fact that the idea was born in Rovno.

Dr. Olga Schatz tells about Boris Schatz's life endeavor and contribution:

When he was nine years old (around 1882) Boris Schatz and his father happened to be in Rovno, Volhynia, where the Schatz family lived (it is unclear which one of the Schatz families were related to the future professor, and it is unknown for how long he lived there). Once a messenger from the Land of Israel arrived and spoke at the synagogue relating the wonders of the Holy Land. He spoke about the Wailing Wall, about Rachel's Tomb, and about other holy sites that stand as memorials to the glorious past of our people in our land. The young kid heard the descriptions and avidly drank the messenger's words that penetrated his heart. Boris did not settle for what he heard and implored his father to take him to the messenger's hotel, so that he could see the drawings he brought from the holy places in the land of Israel. When he saw them, they seemed quite inadequate and he was deeply disappointed. He made a vow to study art when he grew up, to immigrate to the Land of Israel and to properly paint her ancient and holy memorials.

Later when he studied in “Heder” (maybe in Rovno) about the building of the Temple he was fascinated by Betsalel, the first Hebrew artist, and his young mind began weaving the idea of renewing the old tradition of Israel's art. He learned painting and became an enthusiastic artist, was well respected, became a professor and was a candidate for the Head of the Art Academy in Sofia, Bulgaria.

His childhood dreams were shaping into a concrete plan. His aspiration for original national art brought him to the Land of Israel in 1905 and in 1906 he laid there the cornerstone for Betsalel, the art institution. Dozens of young apprentices from the Second Alyia and from the veteran inhabitants were drawn to the establishment to learn art, and different art department were founded: artistic rugs, ivory, silver and wood handcrafts and more. This production brought the renewal message to Jewish households throughout the world. The English Queen and the Austrian Empress bought for their palaces rugs and ornaments made by Betsalel's students. In 1910 rugs, silver pieces and ornaments made in Betsalel reached Rovno and were raffled among the city Jews.

The students of professor Schatz absorbed his teachings and his enthusiasm for art in general, and for Jewish art especially, stemming from a deep love for the people and their culture.

So this is how Rovno got the privilege of hosting the idea for “Betsalel” – professor's Schatz life endeavor in the generation of the renewal.

A. Avi-Menahem


[Page 298]

From the past
(Experiences, Remembrances & Personalities)

Translation by Naomi Gal

I say the name 'Rovno' out loud and all at once a period from my youth comes to life and raises memories from faraway days, sun-drenched days, with no equal in their brightness.

Rovno was the first big city I ever saw. It had more businesses, retail stores and manufacturing than any city I knew previously. It was in Rovno that I woke up and began seeing the light of the world, I made contact with people, learned the Renewal Literature, the Hebrew Press, and this is where I connected forever with the idea of Geula (redeeming the Land of Israel). This is where I found the “go-between” to Zionist and Hebrew matters, my friend Laybel Garbuz (Arieh Avitachi), who spread Hebrew on my lips (the Holy Language, or “the Ancient Language” back then). Thus, whenever I recall Rovno, warm feelings overcome me for this place, that period of time and its experiences and for the people who impacted my way of life with their blessed influence.

The Holocaust that uprooted hundreds of Jewish communities in Nazi Europe did not spare Rovno, and its neighbor Lutsk, my hometown. And if the latter one is where I was born, the first one opened up a gate in front of me, awoke my social life and tied me to the national idea that was hidden deep inside me.

In 1910, when I first arrived in Rovno, I began working as a bookkeeper in a manufacturing business. I met different people through my work, among them a young man by the name of Garbuz (now Avitachi), who was already one of the activists of the Zionist youth in the city. He made a deep impression on me. One day walking down the street I saw him with an elderly Jew (it was Berl Corech, a flour merchant) talking in Hebrew. I was astonished: on an ordinary day, not a Sabbath or a Holyday those two men were walking and simply talking in fluent Hebrew, as if it were a secular language. I knew that the rabbi in my town did not speak in ordinary language on the Sabbath, but in the Holy Language, so I was very surprised. I was excited but for politeness' sake I did not eavesdrop while walking behind them. The only words I caught were “Shekel” and “meeting” etc. I presumed they were talking about Zionists' matters and it gave me a good feeling.

Garbuz was still talking to his friend when I approached him. He recognized me, shook my hand and went on talking in Hebrew, uninterrupted. I told myself that he must see me as a friend and supposed I master the language. Fine, I thought, and tried to respond in his language, but it did not come easy to me. Garbuz asked if I knew the man he was talking to, and added at once: this is Berl Corech, the famous Zionist of our city. They went on talking about a scheduled meeting in the club of the Hebrew Language Lovers, and invited me, as well. Impressed and grateful to Garbuz we parted after planning to meet at the house of the Zionist activist Yehuda Motyok on Saturday. Since that day Garbuz had my eternal love.

Saturday afternoon, at the set hour, I went to Motyok's house. Garbuz was already there sitting at the table for the “Third Feast”. At the head of the table sat a Jew with aristocratic features surrounded by his family. Garbuz introduced me to Motyok, who cordially invited me to sit at the table. They all began singing, the songs were not from the prayer book, but different songs: “Zion, Zion the city of our God”, “Come to Zion” and others. I sat, listened and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I felt as if I was dreaming and did not feel the hours pass, till dark came. I was unaware of the conversation Garbuz was having with Motyok, I only heard the response of Motyok: “unfortunately I am not free tonight, find another 'opener' amid the youngsters.” Garbuz said nothing, seemed slightly embarrassed and stood up. We said goodbye to Motyok and his family and left. On the way Garbuz explained that he invited Motyok to open the evening talk at the club, but it was not going to happen.

We walked about fifteen minutes till we reached the Club of the Hebrew Lovers on Kniajesky Street. It was my first visit to the club. There were three to four “Minyans” of people talking in Hebrew, reading and leafing through newspapers. Garbuz informed some that Motyok was unable to participate in the evening conversation, which created disappointment all over. Then Leib Eisenberg, the teacher, stood up and addressed the assembled members: “Who volunteers to open the conversation?” Looks were exchanged and then directed toward a young man, Shelomo Brez, who at first refused, saying he was not ready, but finally consented.

Slightly self-conscious and hesitating Brez browsed through “Haolam” the magazine he was holding, pulled himself together and said: “There is a subject worth discussing in the last issue of 'Haolam'. The author and historian Abraham Eliyaho Harkabi just turned seventy-five; he is a librarian at the Jewish department of Petersburg Library. Let's imagine that this important man is among us and let's talk about his important contribution to literature and research. He wrote more than 400 researches in all areas of Jewish wisdom, among them serious articles about the prodigies, the Karaites, the Khazaris, the 12 Tribes, etc., etc. The man is a great one and no matter how long we'll praise him, we will not encompass his greatness and creativity, and we should be proud to tell his glory and learn from him.” Brez went on to analyze some of the articles in his fluent, quiet and pure Hebrew, describing and detailing and depicting Harkabi's life and endeavors and the value of his work for our generation and future ones.

Brez words were heard attentively and I was fascinated by his lecture. It was an experience for me: the lecture and the lecturer as well, who was not prepared and yet delivered such a smooth talk. I highly regarded Brez. I was thinking, if we have such young people, who master our language, and can elaborate and analyze important literary works, we are in a good shape. Since then I became a frequent visitor in the club and became attached to this spiritual corner in the Club of the Hebrew Lovers. I will not be exaggerating if I'll say that I did not miss one single meeting or lecture; I learned, widened my horizons and enriched my spirit.

I remember the talks and lectures of the teacher Haykel Kopelman, a bright scholar who knew so well the History of Israel and its literature, the teacher Leib Eisenberg, a learned man who absorbed Israel Studies and had Zionism at his heart, the student Wolf Finkelstein (Zeev Shoham) and others who lectured at the club. In the winter months we invited lecturers from the outside: the teacher Halaf from Klevan, Liebish Harif from Slavuta, the poet Yaakov Lerner from Kostopol and others. The lectures attracted the Zionists but also many of the national youth, and every time there were new faces at the club.

Once the invited lecturer did not arrive. The members sat waiting for someone to replace the missing lecturer. Meanwhile Shindelkroyt and Garbuz were making some announcements about ordering newspapers from the Land of Israel, about Zionist activities in the next weeks and arrangements at the club, and Greenfeld spoke about cultural activities in the near future. A young man then stood up, he was tall and pleasant looking (it was Berger), asked to speak and said:

“Friends, I have a spice that arrived a few days ago from Odessa, I can't digest it on my own and I don't want it to be all mine. I will share it equally with you.”

His words surprised and intrigued the audience. Many did not know Berger, who arrived recently from Bormel, a small village. Everybody looked at him and Berger said:

“A friend of mine, A Zionist and Hebrew lover, came back recently from Odessa and brought me a gift: a new poem by our great poet Bialik and even brought a tune for the poem. And there is more than what the poem says; hidden secrets are ensconced in it. My friend taught me the poem and the lyrics. Listen to the words and the music.”

Although Berger's voice was slightly hoarse we ignored this problem and with deep longing we listened to every word of the poem “Let me Under Your Wing”. Berger and his Sephardic accent charmed us all. It was as if we were hearing another language from the Holy Land.

When Berger and I left the club he invited me for a walk. I agreed, despite the late hour. On our way Berger enthusiastically went on talking about the poem and explained to me its beautiful content. I parted from Berger with my heart overflowing and grateful for the pleasant evening he bestowed on us.

Abraham Zamir


[Page 301]

From the Days of the First War
(Passages from the memory books of H. M. Fisyouk)

Translation by Naomi Gal

…The days of the beginning of World War one, July-August 1914. Europe is in terror and some countries are already suffering destruction, blood and fire.

Rovno was in chaos, the old order shattered and no new one to replace it. The enlisting, fundraising, migration, and all that was part of war, created havoc in the quiet life. The city, whose main income was commerce and connections with the outside, was in mourning. The inhabitants could no longer support themselves, there was no more trust, no more credit, even for customers who were considered safe. No one knew what was going to become of us. The rumors were that the government was about to leave town and that the Austrian armies were approaching. Many of the rumors were contradictory. The apprehension grew and one report replaced the previous one and faded like foam on a stormy sea.

The military capacity of the Austrian army was not great, but the Russian army was not much better. The rot that had spread through the Russian Command, the negligence and indolent-thinking were felt everywhere. Officers who were stationed in Rovno did not know the roads leading to the next village and needed local guides, while the Germans knew all the main routes in Russia. A wide net of German spies, who were sent as experts close to the break of war to supposedly perform different jobs, was spread throughout the large country, and devotedly did its work unbeknown to the Russians.

Rovno was close to the Russian front. The city's Jews had more than a taste of war, more so than Jews who lived farther. It has to be noted that the Jews in Russia felt at the break of war fondness to their estranged homeland. The rabbis conducted prayers in synagogues for the victory of Russia, and many served in the army and excelled in battles and their photos decorated the front pages of the capital's newspapers. The Jews gave generously their fortune to the war effort. With their help several hospitals were built, and quite a few of the Russian officers and soldiers who stayed at these hospitals befriended Jews. There was a feeling of enthusiasm among Jewish circles for the Russian army and its victories.

Rovno was part of the general excitement and the Jews decided to show their feelings in a mass demonstration for the army situated in barracks at the edge of the city. They were greatly surprised when the army received them in total silence, no one came out to welcome them. This was a cold and disappointing shower for the eager Rovno Jews. Instead of sympathy they were met with libels, they were blamed as spies for the enemy and the cause for all the defeats the Russian suffered. The venom of this ugly libel diffused through all the Russian command and the Jews' situation worsened with every army defeat.

The libels found an echo in Rovno as well. Passing in the street an officer talking to his soldiers was overheard – he was telling them a fictitious story about a local Jew, by the name Fisyouk, who transferred gold in beer barrels from his factory to Germany. Jews were blamed for the shortage of merchandise, or of ruthlessly raising prices. The atmosphere was electrified, Jewish property and lives became unprotected.

The story is known* [* as told by Rabbi Berman from Berdichev] about 16 Rovno citizens who were accused by the Russian army headquarters as speculators. They were arrested and taken to Berdichev, where the headquarters of the Austrian army were located, and their lives were at risk. The Jews community in Berdichev and their rabbi Yaakov Berman risked their own lives till they managed to free them.

And then came the Austrian time. They chased the Russian conquerors from the Austrian land and pushed them at the Russian border. The retreating Russian army hurt every settlement on its way, pillaged, stole and did not take pity on Jewish properties and lives. Many were running away from the war and the pillaging, and a stream of refugees inundated Rovno. The approaching Austrian army scared the Jews and many were waiting with their belongings for a train to get farther from the front. They had seen refugees pass through Rovno but they hadn't yet had the taste of displacement. Others, who were less frightened, or did not want to become refugees in need of help, opted to stay in Rovno and accept their fate.

When the Austrian assault was halted and the Russian came out of their trenches in a counter-attack and reached Lvov, Jews from Galicia could be seen in Rovno, among them rabbis and dignitaries. These were Jewish refugees who arrived from different places and were destitute; some went on and others stayed in town. Rovno citizens had to take care of them. They were housed in synagogues and schools and were provided with food, medicine and more. A committee for the refugees was founded and was very active, employing volunteers to assuage the suffering. A lot was done by different Jewish establishments, the spirit of brothers-in-stress was well felt.

When things calmed down, the refugees began taking care of themselves. Some were gifted and professional and found ways to sustain themselves, and there were quite a few success stories. When the front got farther away from Rovno a new area began; commerce was flourishing and supplying the army. Jews made all kind of businesses, some “Kosher” and some not, and the quick ones became rich overnight. Rovno, the central city in the back of the frontline came back to life to a time of economical flow despite the war that still went on.

Related by Zeev Shatz


[Page 302]

Pictures from the War Period

Translation by Naomi Gal

At the beginning of World War One the Russian army advanced and reached the Carpathians Mountains, but failed to invade the fortified mountains, since by that time the German army arrived to this front and the Russian had to withdraw following a bloody battle on Galician's fields. The Austrian and German forces went on pressuring and attacking the Russians and chased them; their airplanes dropped bombs on the armies and on the settlements where the Russian tried to entrench. The retreating armies tried to dig in the Mountains, but could not hold up and were pushed from Austria to Volhynia, on the border with Galicia.

The situation on the new front in Volhynia, and the approaching Austrians, situated Rovno close to the battlefield and subjected her to fear and danger. Many hastened to leave town and distance themselves from the front; those who stayed suffered shortages of food and enemy's attacks from the hand of the Russian armies that were passing through the town and assaulting Jews.

The next chapters are “From one Landscape to Another” depicting the war back then – experiences of the siege and the suffering of Rovno's Jews.

Summer 1916. Thousands of refugees are looking for shelter in Rovno. The shutters are down and there is restlessness in the streets. Eyes are searching with fear, the heart yearning for green pastures, golden wheat fields, dark forests, green plantations, trees bending down heavy with apples and pears, bright railroad trucks – the wilderness far away…

This imagined scene is from outside the city, while the city itself is besieged. The canons are barking like hungry dogs from all four corners of the city. The window glass shatters and the stone houses are shaking. The citizens are hiding in houses and cellars. Every hour armies pass the deserted streets and rattle their weapons, hearts are frozen and the tongues paralyzed. The barns are empty, and the shortage is felt everywhere.

When the canons and machineguns fell silent the men crept out of their holes and stood in groups in street corners, clung together and spoke urgently: the city is without government, anarchy reigns. Rushing to talk about the news, every moment is a gift, because no one knows what the next moment would bring: roaring canons, rattle of machineguns, humming of bombs flying on top of roofs in devilish speed, or maybe Him, death itself?

At the last day of the siege, at dusk, the inhabitants of the alley convened at the cellar of Wolf, the innkeeper. Huddling together assuages the fear a bit; the dark cellar is full of whispers. The canons can be dimly heard, rolling far away, as if muffled by pillows and quilts. The door is bolted, no one leaves, and no one arrives.

Mother came with Haimke holding clothes, a pillow and a blanket, settled in a corner and ordered him to stay close to her. All of a sudden she shuddered, stood up and approached the busy and frightened innkeeper.

“Mr. Wolf,” she begged, “please open, I need to go out for a minute and will be back.”

“What?” scolded her the innkeeper, his beard shaking, “Now? It is too dangerous!”

In the woman's mind a thought was passing as fast as lightening:

“Mr. Wolf, I will be back at once,” and quietly whispered, “I forgot and left on the window ledge matches and a bottle full of gasoline…for God's sake, Mr. Wolf, the haters of Zion could burn us and the whole street…”

That argument helped, the latch was removed and the woman sneaked out; after a few minutes she was back.

“Now, Haimke,” she whispered, “I saved the silver and the Kiddush cup that I received from your grandfather, who got it from his grandfather's grandfather, many generation ago. If anything happened to me, take good care of it, my son…” she pressed his head to her heart.

Haimke sat hidden in a corner and turned the cup in his hand. In the dull light of an oil lamp that was swaying from the ceiling, he looked at the artful filigree: a king's palace…towering turrets…a golden castle…a splendid citadel…the cedar palace of King David's dynasty? And princes - aren't they free?

The hum became louder, stopped and began again.

And in Haimke's heart was an image of a wonder-world, embedded with dark forests, golden fields, greenish rivers, silvery creeks and scented fruits, secrets and chateaux.

“Get up, son, morning has risen! Let's get out of the cellar and the darkness.” Haimke feels a soft hand fluttering on his forehead. “We were saved, with God's help. Get up, maybe the world has opened for us.”

He stretched, rubbed his eyes with his small hands regretting the evaporated wonder-dream, didn't the dream asked to be followed, to be caught?

The street was sun drenched. While his mother was busy checking if the house was harmed, property robbed, thank heaven, everything is here, but not in its place…and Haimke is already roaming the silent streets, the fresh smell of rotting apples tickles his nose; a bird chirping in the branches of a tree allures him…in the street a mixed smell of fruits, fishes and freshly baked Challah that was kept in the deserted market.

An old Jew, bent under the burden of years, peeked out of an alley, looked from one side to the other and came out. A long white beard covered his sunken breast, a velvet hat and underneath a kippah. Under his arm the pouch with the praying shawl and the tefillin, tapping his walking stick on the pavement, he began walking, the tapping echoing in the stillness.

From the jam factory one of the bandits that captured the city was approaching. His sheep hat askew, his moustache bristled and his eyes were shot with blood, drunken. His nailed boots were beating the pavement and on his right shoulder he carried a sealed barrel. His eyes sprayed hatred. “Jam! Jam! This is what the enemy left! And where is the bread for the jam?” His lips foaming: “Here is a Jew!” he lifted the barrel from his shoulder and forcefully struck the old man's head. The old man collapsed, from his mouth a jet of blood…

Escaping quietly close to the walls Haimke slipped away like a chased cat. When he saw no one he ran home with all his might to mother. Mother was running back and forth terrorized, seeking her son. The child hurried and buried his head in her hands and cried, shaking violently.

“Praise the Lord, you are safe and sound, you wayward son! Roaming the streets at this time?”

The mother rejoiced that her son had returned to her and didn't know that his heart was forever torn open.

Moshe Tamari

 

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