|Starobin 3213 inhabitants, a church, a school, a post office. Surrounded by large swamps. In addition to trade, the inhabitants were engaged in various types of home industry, and rented tracts of hay and pits.|
|(According to the Brookhouse-Efron Encyclopedia)|
Eliyahu Chaim Chinitz
Starobin, a little town with a small number of inhabitants, is located in the northern border of Polesia, a geographic region which is covered by deep forests and fettered by swamps. The town was stagnated in its development. A railroad did not pass through its territory and the roar of a locomotive [steam engine] and the rumble of its wheels did not bother its inhabitants. Nor was a road built in its area, and cargo and passenger ships did not sail over the Slutsk River, which runs along the length of the town; and therefore, the town was disconnected from trade and industrial centers and from administrative centers as well. Only twisting dirt trails, with prints of men's feet, wagons' wheels and hoofs, would lead to distant villages and small towns in the vicinity. And most of the year, those trails were also disrupted by mud and clay, or covered by snow piles during the winter. Transportation to and from Slutsk was difficult and exhausting. The ride from here to there, a distance of 35 kilometers, lasted eight to ten hours. Such a journey was executed twice a week, by a procession of wagons.
But, despite the difficult connection with the larger world, the town did not lack influence from the outside. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, our town was already considered to be progressive it has been adopting new lifestyles and manners. The Enlightenment [movement] that had previously conquered the big cities, also reached it, and penetrated the hearts of the young Yeshiva students of the homeowners social class. Hamelitz and Hatzefira [nineteenth century Hebrew newspapers; Hamelitz was published in 1860-1904 in Odessa and St. Petersburg; Hatzefira was published in 1862-1931 in Warsaw and Berlin] attracted several subscribers. The Enlightenment books written by Mapu, Abraham Dob Bär Lebensohn, Kalman Shulman, Isaac Baer Levinsohn, and the like, found their ways to some of the households as well. The heralds of the Enlightenment, the ones that had brought the new movement into the town's households, were two people: Nachman Shweidel and Nissan Marmur, or Nissan HaMelamed [the teacher]. The latter was a grammarian and a major Hebrew enthusiast. His Cheder [Cheder literary means "room", but is also the name for a traditional elementary school, which teaches the basics of Judaism and the Hebrew language] was closer in its character to the Cheder Metukan [a Cheder of the Jewish Enlightenment Movement], which was established not long after. He taught not only the Tanakh and the Gmara, but also grammar and Hebrew; in his Tanakh teachings he was meticulous with regard to accentuation of the penultimate and ultimate stresses. His students were cautious over the correct stressing of the words during the prayer times as well. And if one of the students was called up to the Torah on a Sabbath or festival, during the reading of the Torah, he would read in a beautiful tone while keeping the melody, so that even the adults would envy his students and would imitate them, but, because they did not know the rules, they would switch between the penultimate and the ultimate stresses, and would become a source of ridicule in our eyes.
His method of teaching was as follows: he would orally read a sentence in Yiddish to us and we would have to translate it to Hebrew. And if the translation was not in accordance with to the essence of the language, he would correct us and then we would write it in the notebook. He brought into the hearts of the students the love of Hebrew and the Hebrew writers; at this point in time, he already referred to the old lifestyle with criticism and allowed himself to make fun of its many deliriums and dull customs, in front of us.
The teacher Sh. N. tells that when he was a teacher in the girls' school in Neve Tzedek, he had a reticent student; but despite the scarce amount of words she said, one could feel that she possessed a great knowledge of Hebrew, it was especially apparent in her written essays. She told that her grandfather was a teacher in a Cheder Metukan in Russia. Sh. N. asked her to invite her grandfather to visit the school, and when he came he was surprised that he [the grandfather] knew the teacher of the Cheder Metukan in Slutsk, in which he [Sh.N.] studied as well.
Nachman Shweidel (The teacher Nachman Shweidel died in Tel-Aviv.) owned a stand in Tel-Aviv, where he sold fruits and vegetables during the weekdays and on Sabbaths he would study at the Synagogue of the Americans. He was a Torani [classic observant Jew], with a beautiful soul and noble virtues.
Nachman Shweidel was an educated person, he read and studied a great deal, and was proficient in all areas of Hebrew literature, including the new and old research and science books; it was rare for him not to have read a book about the Enlightenment. He would bring the books from Slutsk, from Shmuel Reiser's printer's workshop.
Both of them, Nissan HaMelamed and Nachman Shweidel taught many students who were knowledgeable of Hebrew and some of them later exiled themselves to places of Torah in Slutsk and Minsk, and continued educating themselves in the Torah and the Enlightenment. These two people deserve to be noted for future generations, in a Memory Book to a town that was destroyed.
The town excelled in that, that almost all the Jews were engaged in gardening. It was not their primary business, but a side business. Each house owner had a garden behind the house, in which people would sow various vegetables: potatoes, cabbage, turnip, legumes, beet and more, and especially pumpkins. The pumpkins were sowed not merely to feed the humans and animals, but, and especially, for a seeds trade. They would put them in flowerbeds until the end of the summer, until they grow and become properly yellow; they would collect them from the garden and place them in the sun, in rows, on the inclined roofs, so that they become more yellow and ripe. Afterwards, they would bring them to their houses, cut them in halves lengthwise, take out the soft part from the inside, together with the seeds, and filter them through a sieve. They would throw away the softness that would come out of the holes, and the seeds would remain in the sieve. They would dry the seeds in the sun again and spread them out on sheets. After the seeds would dry, they would store them in bags, until traders from Minsk would come and buy them for sowing.
All the members of the household took part in all those tasks: the father, the mother, sons and daughters. It was a hard work, but the family worked enthusiastically and diligently. These seeds were of excellent species and called Manarim (Manastirsky), and had a great demand. Even those Jews, that did not own their own garden, rented land lots from non-Jews, and planted pumpkin in those lots. But, as I have already mentioned, this was a side business.
Overall, among the inhabitants, there were many craftsmen, tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, constructors, bakers, butchers and wagon-owners. The middle class was engaged in storekeeping; there were stores that sold fabric, grocery, crops, iron tools etc. The indigent were engaged in peddling. The peddlers went to villages in the vicinity, with wagons loaded with barrels of tar and different kinds of haberdasher [sewing goods, such as ribbons, buttons, thread, needles], and sold that to the peasants. In consideration for their merchandise they would get bundles of pig's bristles, calf, lamb or goat, stalks of linen, wool etc.
Also, there were tree traders in our town, who bought small lots in the forests from the big traders, they [tree traders] would cut down the trees and made beams for construction or railway sleepers of them. One of our tree traders had business with the father of Chaim Weitzman Za'l [of blessed memory]. Due to his business, he would often go to Pinsk and Motal, and stay in the house of Reb' Ozer Weitzman, whose sons, and Chaim one of them, were already students and took an important place in the Zionist movement. When this trader, who was a Chassidic, uneducated Jew, came back to his house, and the conversation would turn to Zionism, he would say dismissively: Oh my to the Zionism that the Sons of Weitzman are its leaders!
Overall, the Jews of the town were poor, worked very hard to earn their bread, yet their poverty did not disgrace them; they were simple people, naïve and honest, and almost all of them were people of the Torah. The Torah was the aspiration of their souls; and those who peeked and had been stroked, their ideal was the Enlightenment. On Sabbaths and festive days the sound, the sound of the Torah would emerge from the synagogues and Batei Midrashot [houses of Talmud studies] and fill the town.
As in all places, in which the sons and daughters of Israel were of inferior status, likewise in our town there were important people who faithfully dealt with the public needs; people, who love doing good and kind deeds to others and helping them in time of trouble; people who could approach the authorities and make efforts on behalf of someone who encountered an unfortunate business, or to repeal a harsh decree imposed on people. Among those people, my father Reb. Baruch Chinitch [Chinitz] Za'l excelled especially. He was a likable and easy-going person, took care of all the public needs, was always the messenger of the public, made efforts before the authorities in Slutsk and Minsk and had done a great deal for the benefit of the public.
Yet the life did not always run its normal course. A terrible disaster would fall over the inhabitants and turn the town into a pandemonium. The greatest enemy of the town was the fire, or, as it was named in our town, the red chicken. The houses in our town were built of wood and many of the roofs covered with straw; in the droughts of summer the houses were dry and could easily be ignited. And if it happened that either a fire was created, or so-and-so, intentionally or unintentionally, start a spark, and incited a stack of straw, hay, or a straw roof at once a tongue of fire would be created and the entire town was in flames. People would lose all their property and the entire House of Israel cried over the fire that so-and-so initiated. The disaster was great, but after a while, a year to two years, the town would get a new face. New houses were constructed on the burned lots; those who mourned over the destruction of their houses got to see their new houses, and greater was the honor of the second one over the first. The non-Jewish neighbors saw the beautiful new houses, and were sure that Jews are extremely wealthy and that they hold great fortune, but, with due respect to them, they erred an error of a non-Jew. Jews ate dry bread with a salted-fish broth, combined a penny to a penny until saved the required amount of money for the construction of a new house. And therefore the jesters of the generation would say that the Starobin Jew is a house owner from the outside and poor in the inside.
And I remember, when I was a child, how a ban of Cherem [the highest ecclesiastical censure in the Jewish community, a total exclusion of a person from the Jewish community] was announced at the Synagogue, over the ones who started the fire. It was a terrifying spectacle, which left an unforgotten impression in my heart. A black rod was put on the pulpit, black candles were lit, the prochet [ornamental curtain covering the front of the holy ark in the synagogue] was removed, the Shofar [ram's horn] was sounded: tekiah, teruah, shaevarim, and the beadle of the community pronounced the curse, that on behalf of the place and the public, in accordance with the heavenly court and the mortal court, we impose the Yehoshua Ben Nun Cherem on the one who starts a fire; that this individual will be struck by all the curses of the biblical punishment and by all the curses that were pronounced on Mount Ebal; that this individual will be banned from the community, and that it will be forbidden to be in vicinity to him, and so on and so forth.
Our town was divided into two parts: the southern part, which was named the Eretz-Israel Street, and the northern part, which was called the Slutsk Street. The indigent lived on the Eretz-Israel Street: the peddlers and the simple craftsmen. These were simple, uneducated people, who were barely familiar with Chayei Adam [The life of a Man a work of the Jewish law written by Rabbi Avraham Danzig] and the Mishnahs [the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the Oral Torah], but they were ruffians. As opposed to them, the grocers and the craftsmen of clean and effortless occupations, who could study a page of the Talmud with medieval commentaries, lived on the Slutsk Street. There was neither love nor comradeship between the two streets. The latter would act arrogantly toward the former, and there were always quarrels and disputes between the two on public matters. When the time to elect a new rabbi has arrived, the two streets were divided into two parts. Those wanted to elect one rabbi, the others another rabbi, and there was a great dispute for the sake of heaven, which even lead to physical fights at the synagogue. And, surely, the ruffians would almost always win. On a market day, when a fight erupted between the peasants and the Jews, and the Jews were in great danger the ruffians appeared and showed the non-Jews the power of their arm and saved the honor of Israel.
Among the ruffians were also horse traders. Two were partners in a business: one was Moshe, and the other Yaakov. They would buy horses from the Gypsies that were staying in tents outside the town. Moshe was the head negotiator with the Gypsies. He measured the horse with his eyes, inspected its teeth, patted its back, and began the purchase negotiations with the Gypsy. One asks so and so, the other gives so and so; this cries and this cries. At first they have spoken softly, and later harshly. They tried to set an agreement to one another. They almost reached an agreement, but immediately backed off, and began speaking to one another with disrespect, and as the things got heated, they began struggling and hitting each other. The other Gypsies interfered and a great riot had risen, and in the heat of the moment, Yaakov (the other partner) jumped on the horse and escaped to the Eretz-Israel Street and the horse disappeared. A jester that has been watching this entire spectacle came to the Beit Midrash [place of Torah study] and announced: People! I just saw a deed and recalled a Midrash P'lia [enigmatic Talmudic legend]: when Moshe [Moses] killed the Egyptian, Yaakov rode a horse and escaped to Eretz-Israel.
In this manner, the sons and daughters of my town, Starobin, had been living for hundreds of years: growing up and quarreling, working and trading, studying Torah, aspiring to Enlightenment, rejoicing at times of peace and quietude, suffering at times of difficulties, arguing with each other, giving to charity and doing good deeds, holding rabbis great in Torah on the Rabbinic Chair, joking and jesting and there the reaper found them: a despised and sordid non-Jew, Hitler-the-evil may his name be obliterated cut their short-lived lives, gathered them into a slaughter house and burned them alive. Hashem [God] shall avenge their blood!
(In memory of friends who had fallen and did not get to Israel)
We were a united group of friends, the children of public activists intoxicated by the social discontent of the years 1914-15. The love for Zion, for the people of Israel and for the freedom of the working men, demanded us for action. We were engaged in selling Shekels and stamps of the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael [Jewish National Fund], in collection of money for the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael in the evening of Yom Kippur and before the reading of the Book of Esther on Purim, in spreading the Hebrew language etc.
The first of the group of three was our unforgettable friend Eliezer Portman, or as we used to call him Layser Ha'ani Rashkes. He was orphaned from his father when he was only an infant, and at young age he quit his studies in the Cheder and became a tailor's apprentice with Gronim, his brother, the most famous tailor in the town. But this lasted only for a couple of years. His two older brothers, who were Yeshiva students, excelled in their studies, especially Israel, who became a famous rabbi in Lithuania. He excelled in his Drashas [a homiletic method of biblical exegesis] and he would teach in the great Synagogue when he was still very young, approximately fourteen years old, and he captivated with the pleasantness of his speech and with his explanations to all his listeners, who came especially to hear his Drashas.
His second brother Selig, who later became a rabbi in America, was younger than Israel, and he also was one of the most famous students in the Yeshiva. They influenced their young brother, Leyser, who was a child born to elderly parents, that he joined them and accepted upon himself the burden of the Torah. This is how from being a tailor's apprentice he became a yeshiva student. Layserke had many talents, a smooth tongue and a pleasant voice, he was intelligent and had sense of humor. He was good at making the time our group spent together pleasant, with his stories and conversations, his jokes, and with his songs. A special bond was forged between the two of us, because we were studying together and because I, too, was hit by the bitter destiny that he experienced when he was young.
We were the first among the preachers for the Zion and for action of settling the Land of Israel. In our house, the place of the group's meetings, we would usually stay up until very late at night, engaged in friendly conversations and in gatherings for the purpose of the Tanakh studies and readings.
This happened at the outbreak of the First World War, we came back from yeshivas and stayed in town. We published a local newspaper called Der ve Eker, for a short period. In the beginning of January 1915, Layserke was recruited to the army. I remember his letters, in which he warned me to avoid the army at any cost and even to become a cripple, because, in all likelihood, he suffered profoundly of the bad treatment of the Jewish solders in the Russian army. I could not accept this idea and I too was recruited to the army. I haven't heard of him since. He probably fell in a battle or was captured and his traces were lost. May his memory be blessed!
The second in the group was our friend Moshe-Herzl, a talented young man. During his childhood and his first teenage years he was sloppy and inflexible. Suddenly, he left the yeshiva at the Karnayim Synagogue in Slutsk and transferred to a secular school for Jewish boys. We envied him especially for wearing a special hat and a leather belt with a shining buckle. His studies at the school did not last long. After a year, Moshe-Herzl along with a couple of students from our town, appeared and joined the Amzislav Yeshiva, which was in the Mogilev region. He was a member of the commission of the Zion Youngsters in our town. He was also one of the first amateur actors in the drama class we established.
And suddenly, another deviation in his path: he devoted himself to trade and invested all his energy and time in it. His life ended in a tragic way. With the retreat of the Polish army from our town, and due to his fear of the Russian army, he and two of his friends, run away, and on their way he was captured and murdered by the Balchovzim gang.
The third, the youngest of the group, Yankale, a son of Rabbi Mordechay Margolin (a butcher and chazzan [a Jewish cantor] in our town), was an intelligent and agile guy. He joined the group in the later years and was the first of the group to get to the Land of Israel in the year 1921, with the third Aliyah. As all the pioneers, he worked in building roads for one year. However, he could not withstand it, and so he came back to Poland and settled in the town of Baranovich.
In all likelihood, he was killed with the rest of our brothers and sisters during the Holocaust.
I. N. Adler
I was one of the students of the Great Yeshiva (HaKibbutz) in Slutsk, the youngest of the group, who peeked and was infected by the doubts' worm. The question to where was burning in my mind. And this time, with the evening twilight and I am, all of me, confused and excited, amid the turmoil of physical and spiritual doubts I got up and escaped my little room and turned my steps toward the road, the place of the teenagers' hikes, and suddenly I found myself standing next to the inn of the wagon-owners, who would come here from towns in the vicinity.
Every Monday, since I came to study at the Slutsk Yeshiva, I would go to the inn to meet with Yiche the-wagon-owner, who brought me to Slutsk. He was a tall Jew, broad-in-shoulders, he wore high boots, and carried a grey leather bag on his upper back, because he was an agent for the grocers who had connections with the wholesalers and the governmental bank in Slutsk.
Then, in my eyes, this Yiche was a symbol of my strong longing to my village. From time to time, he would give me a paternal treatment. In answer to my question: Reb. Yiche, maybe you have a letter for me, maybe?, he would open his leather bag, rummage through it, and take out a squashed piece of paper, he would hand it over to me and say: Here you are, a note from your father.
Sometimes he would take out a coin of 10 kopeikas [10 pennies] from his pocket, and would say: This is also from your father. This time, when I came there to see him, I did not find him. And a young wagon-owner was standing on his lot, ready to take off to Starobin. I asked him if he had a spare seat in his wagon. And, in an instant, I climbed up and found myself underneath a worn out and patched piece of stretched fabric, which was not comparable to the magnificent piece of stretched fabric of reb. Yiche.
With dawn, following a night long ride, we arrived to Starobin. The wagon owner stayed at the small market square for a while. I got out of the wagon's covering, frozen and shivering of the night's chilliness. I glanced at the meager and low-rise houses around the market. With feelings of pain of loneliness and orphanhood, I turned my steps toward Beit-HaMidrash. To my surprise, I found there the relatives of Zalman from Igumen, a yeshiva student who was older than I am, and who also turned up in Starobin. They introduced me to the beadle, who arranged for me: the weekly Torah portion The Weekdays, a celebration of the Holy Sabbath in houses of various house owners, and also a place for a night's lodging.
On one of these days, this Zalman clung to me, and told me of Reb. Zerach the paramedic, the only doctor in Starobin, whose house was the meeting place of the sages.
Not a long time afterwards, Zalman brought me to the house of Reb. Zerah the paramedic, and introduced me to him and his two daughters, Bluma and Reizel, who were the pharmacists and the cooks of Reb. Zerach, who at the time was a widower and blind.
I was charmed by his majestic appearance, his persuading voice and his fine words; everything about him spoke fatherhood, intelligence and respect. As to his daughters, Bluma the oldest was modest, pleasant looking and everything about her said yearning to life, whereas Reizel a soft-looking, pale and delicate girl was busy working in the pharmaceutical room of Reb. Zerach, the only one in Starobin.
One time, shortly before sunset, I was sitting at the Reb. Zerach's table, and saw the Book of the Khazars [The Kuzari] was open before him. Reb. Zerach began by saying: You must have heard of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi [1075-1141 a Spanish Jewish physician, poet and philosopher], the poet who wrote the poem Zion HaLo Tishali LiShlom Asirayich [Zion, thou art anxious for thy captives], and Rabbi Yehuda Halevi is also the author of the Book of the Khazars. In this book you will also find answers to all your doubts. Reb. Zerach spoke very concisely of the Khazars, of the King Bulan, who converted to Judaism, of the essay [The Kuzari], and of the Hasdai Shaprut [Abu Yusuf ben Yitzhak ben Ezra 915-990, a Spanish Jewish physician, diplomat and patron of science]. He had spoken and handled me the book, in the manner of an outstandingly talented educator, and asked me to read to him the letter of Rabbi Hasdai ben Ezra to the king of Al-Kozar. The following day we completed the reading of the above letter and began reading the Answer of the Khazar King Joseph the Turk-may.
The tale of the Kisimanic Sage was engraved in the tablet of my heart, and became a balm and cure to my soul. When we finished reading the letters, we began reading the core of the book. I admit and confess, the words of the essay were not entirely comprehensible to me, despite the pedagogic explanations of Reb. Zerach. Yet, throughout the discussion, I saw myself standing beside the essay, praying for its wellbeing, so that it, God forbid, will not fail in its language, and so that the peacefulness of its voice will reach King Bulan, even though I had a definite feeling, that this essay does not need my prayer, and that all its words were logical, solid and spoke the Torah truth.
Not many days have passed and the doubts had disappeared from my heart, as smoke is driven away and we haven't yet accomplished a third of the book.
In honorable and precious memory of Reb. Zerach the paramedic of Starobin, who wrapped the wounds of my heart with great love, experienced hand and fatherly kindness.
May his memory be blessed!
Full of longings and grief, I reminisce of the Jews of my town Starobin, somewhere in Belarus, on the edge of Polesie, a place of forests, lakes and swamps. I would like to commemorate the souls of the martyrs, who were destroyed by the enemy, with its crossing the borders of Belarus. It imprisoned them in a slaughter house and sentenced them to death by burning, and as a sacrifice their pure souls had risen up to heaven. We must commemorate those who died before the Holocaust as well, whose sons and daughters are among the pioneers and builders of the State of Israel.
In my memory, I see lovable and admirable characters in their simplicity, honesty and innocence. Here is the rabbi of the town, Rabbi David Feinstein, whose face radiated purity and innocence, God-fearing and people loving, humble and pleasant to people under his leadership. Rabbi Reb. Shlomo Landau followed him [as the rabbi of the town], and he was great in Torah, pleasant in singing Zemirot [Jewish hymns] and a convivial person. As his predecessor, he also cared about the people of his community.
A prominent character, the lion of the group, was Reb. Mordechai Margolin, or as he was called Motel der shochat [Motel the butcher], who was a butcher and a permanent leader in the town. He would please the ears of the congregants with his singing, especially during the High Holidays. He was a devoted activist, a community leader, he was attentive to the spirit of the young people, and in every public deed a devoted partner to us, the young activists.
A character respectable and admirable by all the townspeople, from the eldest to the youngest, was Reb. Moshe Nemis, a beadle of the Great Synagogue, of whom people would whisper, that he is one of the hidden tzadiks [righteous ones], and whoever he will bless, will be blessed, and he had chosen the profession of the beadle, so that to preserve the importance and the dignity of this occupation.
Reb. Abraham Nachman Kravchik the educator, first of his profession, punctilious and strict regarding the rules of the accentuation of the penultimate [next-to-last] and ultimate stresses etc. His clear explanations of the Tanakh and his heartwarming melody fascinated us. His house was the lodge of the Zionists, and he, the elderly was active with the youngsters, participated in festive ceremonies and the balls of Hanukah, Purim etc. He was pleased and proud that his students were the leaders of the Tehiya [revival] movement in the town and that they were also leaders in the community matters.
Among the most important personalities was also my uncle Reb. Yosef Shlimovich [or Shleimovitsch], the first Gabbai [a person who assists in the running of a synagogue and ensures that the needs are met] of the Great Synagogue, and one of the most honorable people in the town; he loved Zion with all his soul, he sometimes came to out gatherings and took part in the discussions as well. He was killed somewhere in Minsk, with his son Shalom, who did not want to leave him. My righteous aunt Rivka, was fortunate to die before the Holocaust.
My uncle Yiche, a well-known personality was a trader, the son of Reb. Abraham HaZaken [Abraham the elderly] (he was the rabbi of the Jews of the Eretz-Israel Street), his house was the meeting place of the town peddlers; from this family people would receive advance payment on account of merchandise that will be brought here. My uncle Yiche was a convivial person, he would support the ones who needed help. The arm of the enemy reached him far away from his home and from his modest wife aunt Genia. Outside Starobin, in an old house, covered by a straw roof, lived Avrahamel Leibeks [or Leibaks] and his wife Beila, and their son, of whom they took pride, who dedicated with his entire soul and entity to the studies of the Torah.
The visits of Reb. Kalman HaMelamed whose son made Aliyah were unforgettable, and he would come to my place from another part of the town to show me the letters of his son. When he read his letters to me, one could feel that he was tasting the flavor of the Land of Israel and smelled its odor.
A hidden love and longings are awakening in me, when I recall the house in which our family lived for many years and the people of the House of Moshe-Aharon Der Shizkarner, which was named after his occupation. During the days of the snow melting on the evening before Pessah, the Slutz River, in its pride, would devour the pillars of the cowshed. He [Moshe-Aharon] was modest and naïve and his wife Hinda was a witty woman, all her sayings and stories were spiced by a common people's humor. Chaim-Leib the grocer and his wife Alte were busy with their trade with the villages. I did not forget his pleasant way of praying, and that he was a representative of the public on Sabbaths and Festive Days.
How can I not mention my father? Ephraim son of Zelig Der Sofer-Stam [a Jewish scribe who can transcribe Torah scrolls and other religious writings such as those used in Tefillin and Mezuzot], who was well-known in our town and its vicinity. Especially among the great in Torah, who would always be meticulous to buy the scrolls for Tefillin in the handwriting of my grandfather Rabbi Zelig. He would avoid from talking about nonsense, and would always send my grandmother Beile to negotiate. My father was a public activist, he established associations for reciprocal assistance, and helped the SHaDaRs [acronym of SHelichah DeRachmanah a rabbinical emissary sent to collect charity funds], who came from yeshivas in the exile and in the Land of Israel. He loved Eretz-Israel and the holy language with all his heart.
I began reading Hebrew books from a very young age. Though in the eyes of very observant people it was considered improper, but my father did not object to that. At the same time, he was zealous as to the learning of the tradition, and wanted with all his heart that I persist with the yeshiva studies.
It is an honor and a duty for me to commemorate my mother Alte-Ephraim's. This is how people used to call her; she was fortunate to make Aliyah.
Among those who were not fortunate to come to the Land of Israel, but were drawn to it with all their souls, the personality of Israel-Leibke the shoemaker stands out in his greatness, innocence and his love for Zion. With immense excitement and with an open mouth, he would listen to the words of the maggid [preacher], or an advocate in the matters of Eretz-Israel; it seems to me that I too, watching him, was infected with immense love to the life's goal I have chosen for myself. I remember how offended he was when sometimes, during the collection of donations, we wanted to pass over him; he would follow us, run to us and reproach us for insulting him. His donation was above his ability.
Avraham Ostrovsky, or as he was called in the town Avrahamel Elinkas of the adult Zionists joined us, the youngsters, in year 1917 promptly after the first revolution.
Despite him being busy and occupied with trade and taking care of his family, he was dedicated to the Zionist work with all his heart and soul. His love for Zion had no limits, and he also served as a treasurer of the Zionist branch in the town.
He was loved and respected in the town by everyone.
Our town Starobin was blessed by fires, almost every year there were fires. We used to count the dates of the years according to a certain fire that began from a house of so-and-so on the street so-an-so. The count of happy times and the disasters was also related to the fires. One fire broke out on the Great Sabbath, a short while after the Shacharit [Morning] Prayer service, only eight months after the great fire that preceded it. The fire is spreading and swallows everything in the blink of an eye, and in a little while it will reach the Great Synagogue. Reb. Moshe Nemis left his house and the concerns of evacuation to his wife, so that she would deal with taking out the house-wares, and saved whatever possible. And he was encircling the Synagogue, while holding a big rod to the head of which a red kerchief was tied, and whispering words of sgulah [supernatural cure], in order to stop the approaching fire, but to no avail. The Synagogue caught fire as well.
The Zionistishe Fabric is favorably remembered. We, the youngsters, volunteered to bake the Matzas [unleavened bread made from flour and water, eaten on Passover] free of charge, for the poor of the town. The preparations and the baking works themselves were done voluntarily. The matzas were baked by us at the Zionistishe Fabric, and, of course, without flour there is no matzas, so we obtained the Passover flour as well.
Peaceful was the town's life before the eruption of the revolution, much more peaceful than the waves of the Slutz River, which devoured the houses of the town. The social life was concentrated, mainly, among the walls of the Batei Midrash [House of Interpretation, or Houses of learning], during most of the day, except for the hours that were set for the studies of the Mishnas, Gmara, Chayei Adam, Ein Yaakov [a compilation of all the Aggadic material in the Talmud together with commentaries] etc. If a quarrel erupted between individuals, or between families, or between groups, this would also, usually, take place among the walls of the house of prayer, especially during the Holidays, Sabbaths, and Moed Days [intermediate days of certain Jewish festivals]. A delay in reading the Torah was the only way to pave a road toward a solution and compromise.
The prizivnikes, the ones recruited to the army, demanded compensation from those who were dismissed, and if they could not get it in a peaceful way, they would suddenly appear prior to the taking out of the Book of Torah and would cry out and announce their demands with noise and tumult. After exchanging arguments on the subject, that lasted for a while, the dispute would be settled, with the intervention of the best people of the town.
The lasting peace in the public life and on the Jewish street was disturbed especially by the youngsters in years 1904-5, the years of the revolutionary unrest. Generally, they would gather in places hidden from eyes of many people, so that the authorities, God forbid, will not find out. There were plenty of such hidden places, since the vicinity of the town was blessed with forests. Among the bushes and the needles of the pine trees, the propagandists preached to freedom and liberty, and to improvement of the condition of a worker. They spoke heatedly against the craftsmen in the town, most of whom were abjectly poor as well, who exploited their apprentices and workers. They also emitted words of denigration and vexation toward the Master of the Universe [God] and the czar.
The town accepted the revolution in the year 1917 as an unbelievable thing, and many would ask in a whisper: is it possible that they took off the Cesar and all his entourage? People were afraid to pronounce it out load. At first public gatherings they would want to finish with the accepted hymn, the Marseillaise, but did not know it, until a savior was found Reuben der wagon-owner, a muscular Jew, who at the time, was one of the leaders of the revolutionists in the town. He was the one who put himself to danger in the days of the First Revolution, and dared to publicly announce the rejection of the authority, and he obviously was punished for that: he was incarcerated and penalized to exile outside the area of the town for a couple of years. He stayed far away among political exiles, learned the hymn from them, and now saved the situation.
While in all the cities and towns different Zionist organizations had risen: Jewish Labour Bund, the United Jewish Socialist Workers, Poalei Tziyon Smol [Workers of Zion Left-wing movement of Marxist Zionist Jewish workers], our town was blessed by them as well. The Zionist Organization [HaHistadrut HaTzionit] was the dominant on the Jewish street. Starobin, that was stagnant throughout all its years of existence except for the disputes over the appointment of that or another rabbi had changed, cultural clubs were opened, there were heated debates, and attempts to convince one another. It seems to me that everything derived from people's internal faith in the righteousness of their views. After the Soviet Revolution, a small number of people were fortunate to make Aliyah, a bigger part immigrated to the United States. Many were scattered along the U.S.S.R., and of them only small number of individuals came back to the destroyed town.
Of all the past only memories have remained, which become more and more blurred. I am afraid that there will be no one remained to say: We suffer a great loss for those who are lost and whose replacement cannot be found [a saying in memory of a deceased person].
May the words I have put into writing become an eternal memory to my town and its dear and unforgettable people.
|A group photograph|
Title on the upper part the photograph, above the Star of David (in Hebrew):
The National Youth Zionist Fraction the Youth of Zion in Starobin
Dated: 4th Iyar, 5679 (ד' אייר תרע"ט), [May 4th, 1919].
People on the photograph:
|First line (from right to left):
(From the book Jewish Partisans of Eastern Europe by Moshe Kaganovich)
In February 1943 the Germans initiated a pursuit over the concentrations of partisans in the vicinity of towns Starobin, Zhitkovitz [Zhitkovich], Hlusk. Hundreds of villages in the forests' areas, in which the partisans were staying, were completely burned. In several of the villages they assembled all the population in buildings and set those buildings on fire from every direction.
After encountering with many hardships and dangers, the survivors reached the vicinity of towns Glusk, Starobin, Zhitkovitz, Bobruisk, and were integrated into the various partisan divisions that were operating there.
Moshe Shulman (Lenin) had risen due to his fighting initiative and his bravery, from the rank of a private to the rank of a commander of the sappers' group, and was later appointed the commander of a company [a military unit], in the Russian Battalion Shwiakov (Starobin area, Glusk).
Almost all Jewish partisans, who were part of the dozens of battalions that acted in the areas of Glusk and Starobin, were Jews from the towns Lenin and Pogost-Zagorsky.
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