Rabbi Yitskhok Duber Ushpal
Dedicated to my perished family: my father, Rabbi Reb Shloyme-Eli, of blessed memory; my mother, Khaya-Rokhl daughter of Reb Moyshe, of blessed memory; my brother, Reb Mordkhe and his wife and children, of blessed memory; my sister, Khane, and her children; my sisters, Dina, Ita-Basye, and Mina, of blessed memory.
Rabbi Reb Shloyme-Eli Ushpal was born in the year 1880 in Kukharishok, a small Jewish settlement near Dugelishok, to a family of Khabad Khasidim and scholars, who were known throughout the whole area.
From early childhood on, he evinced extraordinary abilities, and everyone was awed by his unusual diligence.
At the age of 13, he became a student in one of the largest Dvinsk yeshivas, where very learned, grown-up young men were studying, but even among them, he immediately attained the reputation of a great learner, an expert and sagacious scholar, and they called him: the Dugelisher prodigy.
He was immediately recognized by the local rabbi, Rabbi Yoysef Rozin, of blessed memory, who was even then well-known as a great, world renown Torah scholar and was famous under the name: the Rogatshover [Rebbe].
Rabbi Rozin befriended the Dugelisher prodigy and Reb Shloyme-Eli actually became like a son in the Rogatshover house.
From that time on, their spiritual connection lasted for several decades, and at the time of the First World War, they were even together in Leningrad.
Reb Shloyme-Eli, however, didn't remain in the Dvinsker Yeshiva for long. He was, after all, the child of a khasdic family, and he, therefore, decided to continue his studies in Kapust, at the wonderful, local settlement, which was under the spiritual guidance of the famous Kapuster Rabbi (his soul rests in heaven), who was well known in the khasidic world by the name of: The Master Teacher of our Forefathers.
With his excellent grasp[of things], acute memory, and strong
understanding, Reb. Shloyme-Eli quickly grasped the study of khasidus [the Khabad interpretation of Torah] and he was soon appointed the permanent 'repeater' of the rebbe's articles.
A short time later, the young 'repeater' was known to hundreds of khasidim, who used to visit their beloved Kapuster Rebbe, to listen to his sermon and get a blessing from him.
Several years went by in this way. In the meantime, the prodigy of Dugelish grew up, and the best matches were presented to him.
He married the only daughter of Reb Moyshe Harmats, of blessed memory, a well known Svintsyaner khosid and prominent member of the community, also an excellent musician and singer, who for the last several decades had lead the additional prayers on the High Holy Days.
Everyone foresaw a brilliant future for Reb Shloyme-Eli as a religious judge, but he didn't want to hear about this. He simply didn't want to make his Torah and wisdom into a livelihood, an axe to excavate with, [in Heb.] and he categorically refused to accept a rabbinical position somewhere.
Right after the wedding, he went to Warsaw. There he learned well the technique of rolling cigarettes and became familiar with all the machines involved. Only then did he purchase all the necessary machines and a motor, returned to Svintsyen and erected a beautiful cigarette paper factory.
With lightening speed, Ushpal's cigarette paper factory became famous all over Russia and its merchandise was also sold in Holland, Belgium, and Germany.
Because of business, he very often traveled outside Russia, and everywhere he got
the reputation for being a big manufacturer and honest businessman.
The difficult economic situation in Poland and the discriminatory politics of the government regarding the Jewish population took away all of his initiative. He did not feel like putting any effort in manufacturing. He also didn't have the monetary means to do so.
Having no choice, Reb Shloyme-Eli agreed to accept a rabbinical position and became the Rabbi of Disne. From there, he later became the Rabbi of Kurenyets, a Jewish community, who had a good reputation for having great rabbis.
Since he had been a successful businessman for many years, he immediately became popular for his quick and strong decisions in various Torah judgments.
People would come with Torah disputes specifically to him, because they knew that he
perfectly understood all life-questions and possessed a profound of love of his fellow man, both in general and in particular.
He quickly won the sympathy of all factions and there were more legal decisions made in his house than in the greatest of courtrooms.
His khasidic congregation became ever more bound to him. Everyone was amazed at his sermons and said about him, He utters pearls of wisdom. [Heb.]
He could talk to an audience for hours and kept his listeners in suspense the whole time. Young and old would attend his sermons, listened with interest and actually stood with open mouths.
Via all means [at his disposal] and all [his] connections, he tried to find someone to bring back the Torah scrolls. This was not an easy task. All kinds of legal ideas had to be thought up, a lot of money spent to involve the Polish government [in this] and to obtain its diplomatic intervention. Until he was finally successful in convincing the Communist government to release the Torah scrolls.
In the year 1929, according to the address of Rabbi Ushpal, 21 Torah scrolls arrived in Kurenits. At the time, this was big news and all the Jewish and Polish newspapers wrote about this and praised the Rabbi of Kurenits.
During this whole time, Rabbi Reb Shloyme-Eli also did scientific[sic] research and prepared several manuscripts
about Torah and khasidic philosophy. He also possessed a great library of religious books, rare volumes.
One handwritten manuscript he called: Rays of the Dawn.
The Hitler and Lithuanian bandits burned and destroyed this gigantic spiritual treasure.
[Top of col. 216]
Rabbi Ushpal and his whole family were martyred along with thousands of Jews from the Svintsyan area during the intermediate days of Sukos, 1941.
G-d will avenge their blood!
[Col. 215 cont'd]
The Khasidic Congregations [placed in the wrong column in the original]
There were two khasidic congregations in Svintsyan: one on Vilner Street and the other on Pashmener Street.
The rich khasidim attended the congregation on Vilner Street. My grandfather, Moyshe son of Dovid Meyer Harmats, of blessed memory, led the prayers for the congregation on the High Holy Days.
One of my father's closest friends was Reb Meyer Levinson, of blessed memory. (His son, Betsalel, was one of the founders and main leader of the Svintsyan landsmanshaft [society] in America.) Every Sabbath, before the service, he would learn with my father from the text: A Compilation of Torah [Wisdom] written by the author of the Tanya. Reb Meyer was esteemed in town as an important and smart person. He was also a good leader of the prayers in the synagogue. All of his life, he had a large wine business and owned his own house on the Market Square.
Among the esteemed khasidim at that time was also Reb Mordkhe Abramson, of blessed memory. His trade was that of a forest agent. He had a principle of not going out after the Sabbath to do business. One time, however, it was urgent that he go [at that time]. He ordered his usual wagon driver, a young Gentile, and they went on their way Saturday night. It was a wintry night. They traveled a hour's time out of Svintysan, and Reb Mordkhe Abramson, who knew well all the roads in the woods, told the Gentile that, according to his opinion, he was not going the right way. The Gentile took umbrage at Reb Mordkhe Abramson's instructions and replied with anger: You are going to teach me the way? They ride farther and his suspicion grows. He decides to turn back and says, You know, we have to go back. I left the money that I have to pay the lord on the table at home. The Gentile, unwillingly, was forced to return to Svintsyan. Upon coming home, he put out some whiskey in order to warm himself from the frost. After several shots, the Gentile became drunk. Then Reb Mordkhe asked him: Tell me
[Col. 216 cont'd]
the truth, when you were riding with me today, wasn't your taking me on the side roads the result of some bad intention? Yes! the drunken Gentile answered. Tonight G-d saved you from death. I intended to drag you into the woods, to kill you and take all of your money. As a result of this incident, he continued his custom of not traveling for business after the Sabbath the rest of his life.
An interesting type among the khasidim of Svintsyan was Reb Khaim Dovid the lathe turner. All his life, he supported himself by the work of his hands, by working at his lathe, which he had made himself in primitive fashion. When he got ready to go by foot to Lyubavitsh, he used to take his sharpening machine with him on his back and go from city to city, sharpening knives and earning money to support himself.
Among the simple, sincere khasidim, I remember Betsalel the apple carrier. He had a pleasant voice and would sing beautiful khasidic melodies. He would bring apples to eat after drinking whiskey.
I remember the patriarchal Reb Shneur Rabinovitsh, may his soul ascend. He sat near the Holy Ark by the eastern wall [of the synagogue], liked to throw pears to the children, who used to respond, Amen, May His great name [be blessed]. I also remember his brother-in-law, Reb Hirsh Leyb Tayts, of blessed memory. Together they had a tobacco factory. As my father told me, the tobacco of Rabinovitsh's and Tayts' factory had a good reputation because of the special taste that the owners used to add.
Rabinovitsh's tobacco maker was very popular among the peasant population of the Svintsyan area.
The khasidim of Svintsyan were well-organized and close friends of one another. Behind the khasidic congregation on Vilner Street they built a modern bathhouse with a mikva. The whole city used this bathhouse and mikva, because of its modern, hygienic construction.
The khasidim always had their own ritual slaughterer. The last khasidic slaughterer was Reb Moyshe Mendl
Berlin, of blessed memory, who came to Svintsyan at the beginning of the First World War. Reb Moyshe Mendl was a person of good character. He was always ready to help anyone. The city respected him and loved him.
When I was young, the beadle of the synagogue was Reb Yose Ulman, of blessed memory. He led the congregation with pride. I can remember to this day how he prayed the afternoon service on Yom Kippur. He was also a member of the Burial Society, and his opinion was [always] given strong consideration.
Among those who read from the Torah for the congregants, Reb Khaim Zerakh, of blessed memory, distinguished himself. He suffered from a foot ailment, [but] when he stood behind the pulpit, he would forget about his troubles. He was noted for saying Malkhius[Reign], Zikhroynes [Rememberances], Shofros [The blowing of the shofar] [The three major section of the shmone-esra prayer] in the Rosh Hashona service. He had a different melody for each prayer.
His son-in-law, Reb Reuben Abramovitsh, was a Lithuanian yeshiva student, who had also mastered secular subjects. Reb Reuben was a Zionist activist and ran a big business.
On the Sabbath, Reb Yose Zaydl (born in Postav), may his soul ascend, prayed very sincerely. When he began the additional Sabbath service [musaf], a deep silence pervaded the congregation.
All the important community activists in the khasidic circles left the city. It is especially worthwhile to mention Reb Moyshe Bushkanyets, may his soul ascend; Reb Yankev Garber, may his soul ascend; Reb Ahron Tsinam, may his soul ascend, and others.
Reb Ahron Tsinman was in the last years the beadle of the khasidic congregation and also the representative of the khasidim in the Jewish community. Because of their social strength, the khasidim had a great influence on all matters in the city. They always had to be taken into account.
person and got along with them quite well. Very often, he even went to pray at the khasidic synagogue, mostly when the emissary of the Kapuster Rebbe, Reb Khatsl Yanover, came to Svintsyan.
Reb Khatskl, may his soul ascend, was then ninety years old. He was very lively and his voice still resounded, when he spoke to a congregation. Everyone in Svintsyan loved him. As I recall, Rabbi Manes-Isur Polonsly, of blessed memory, made every effort to get closer to the khasidic community of Svintsyan. [Rabbi Polansky] was a well known Torah scholar, a master and sage [in Torah], as well as being educated in general, secular knowledge and being a devoted community activist. His follower, Rabbi Lusky, of blessed memory, also got along well with the khasidic community.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention the beadle of the khasidic synagogue on Vilner Street, Reb Eliezer Levin, of blessed memory. He was an interesting kind of khosid, a religious person and a simple person, who accomplished a lot for the khasidic congregation. In the synagogue there was a room in which people would gather after the services and spend long hours together. Various topics would be discussed there, or they would just chat about political and social questions.
[Caption under the photo}
Ben Tsion Katz
before Yom Kippur, he sat at the table of [the organization] Lovers of Zion. He died in the year 1905, the night of Simkhas Toyre, while men were carrying the Torah scrolls around the synagogue. Practically the whole city took part in his funeral in order to honor him one last time.
After his death, a manuscript was found in a sealed envelope. It contained extraordinary thoughts of khasidic philosophy and musar [moral instruction]. This manuscript was later published under the name: Book of Words of Torah. The publisher was his son, Reb Yehuda Leyb Kts [sic].
My great uncle, Reb Yoysef Hendl, lived in Svinstyan at the same time. He was a teacher and an ardent adherent to the Chabad philosophy. He traveled often to [see] the Lyubavitcher Rebbe and always thought that he would publish a book about khasidic philosophy. It was said that it contained[sic] a lot of original and interesting thoughts.
Reb Yisroel Soroke of New York, may his soul ascend, the chairman of the Svinstyan landsman society, told me that the friendly relationships among the khasidim, as well as their joviality, won him, the misnaged [traditional opponent of the khasidim], over completely. He would secretly come to the khasidic synagogue on Friday nights, instead of going to recite the psalms in his synagogue with his father, Reb Borukh, may his soul ascend. He remembers the joyous wedding of Itse-Ber, the gardener's daughter. It was summer; the windows of the house were open, and the melodies of my grandfather, Reb Moyshe Harmats, may his soul ascend, and my father, may his soul ascend, and others drew listeners. The house was surrounded by people, who were listening to the festive, khasidic wedding. Reb Borukh Soroka, may his soul ascend, even though he was a misnaged, used to come and learn khasidic philosophy from the rebbe's emissary, who used to come to Svintsyan.
Among the esteemed khasidim must also be mentioned the teacher, Reb Zalman-Mordkhe, the only gemara teacher in Svintsyan in that era. The ritual slaughter also had the reputation for being a Torah scholar and a wise person.
Until approximately 40 years ago, the Svintsyan khasidim had their own judge (MTs), who used to pray with the khasidim in their own synagogues and pronounced judgment on their [religious] questions. He would also teach them khasidic philosophy, Torah, and [Jewish] wisdon.
The last righteous teacher in Svintsyan was Rabbi Gershon, may this righteous person's memory be a blessing. After his death, the Jews of Svintsyan no longer had their own judge.
It is worthwhile to mention that at that time Rabbi Emiel left his position as Chief Rabbi of Svintsyan.
(During Rabbi Reynes' tenure, the khasidic judge was the well-known, great Torah scholar Rabbi Yekheskl Rabinovitch, may this righteous person's memory be a blessing.)
Rabbi Y. L. Maymon, of the priestly class (Fishman) / Israel
[Caption under picture]
Rabbi Reb Yitskhok Yankev Reynes, of blessed memory
[This article is in Hebrew]
In the city of Karlin in the district of Minsk, there was a rabbi
[Columns 221-228 are in Hebrew]
[No column number indicated, but it must be Col. 229.]
The Tailors' Synagogue stood in the poorest section of the Svintsyan synagogue courtyard. The outside looked very neglected. Its four walls suggested gloom, poverty. Inside however, people felt warm and comfortable. . .
Not only tailors prayed in the Tailors' Synagogue; there were also simple Jews and artisans.
Opposite the Holy Ark, to the extreme East, Zalman the fisherman sat comfortably: to his leftGreenfeld the baker: a little furtherYakhai and Kagan, the tanners.
On the other side sat Zalman the tailor: not far from him, Murashkin the wigmaker.
The pride of the Tailors' Synagogue was its [rabbi] Rabbi Yankev-Dovid. He was an old man, who at 75 still read without glasses. At that time, he still looked quite hale and healthy.
Yankev-Dovid was never a [real] rabbi and, therefore, never received a salary. For the congregation of the Tailors' Synagogue, [however], he was a great authority. They utilized him as a Torah reader, as a teacher of children, and as a rabbi.
There was no one to compare with [the way he looked] with his white beard as he bent over a Torah scroll reading from Prophets. He greeted everyone who went up to the
Torah with a good-natured smile and, with a bony finger, pointed out the place. When he noticed that someone didn't remember the blessing [before the Torah reading], he quietly whispered it to him.
[No column number indicated, but it must be Col. 230]
No one ever started the prayers in the Tailors' Synagogue without Yankev-Dovid's presence. They didn't have to wait long for him. He would finish the Eighteen Benedictions not much after everyone else, without any exaggerated [shows of] piety.
Only one time during the year, Shavuos Eve, did he permit himself to keep the congregation waiting. At the beginning, no one understood the reason for this. But people were too embarrassed to complain to him.
Once they did ask him why his behavior on Shavuos Eve was different than during the rest of the year. To that R[eb] Yankev-Dovid responded:
From Passover until Shavuos, we must count seven weeks, but they must be full [weeks]. That means complete weeks, and therefore, we are not allowed to shorten the last day.
And then we boys pictured the Holy Temple to which Jews made pilgrimage at the time of the holiday of first fruits. We saw the High Priest standing at the altar in all of his splendor waiting for the sacrifice. The High Priest says that the seven weeks have not yet ended, even though the sky over the Temple is already quite studded with stars. . .
Looking at Yankev-Dovid with his gray-white beard, and his deep, intelligent eyes, we children used to see the High Priest standing before us.
Suddenly, the old Rebbe [sic] Yankev-Dovid picked up his head and winked at the beadle, indicating that the prayers could begin.
Mendl the harness maker stood by the pulpit. He was an exceptional Torah reader, with a sweet, sincere, and clear voice. The reader of the additional prayers [musaf] on the High
Holidays was R[eb] Leybl Bak, a Jew with a beautiful, majestic-looking, black beard, [and] a good-natured smile: a scholarly man.
Without Mendl, there was no one else who could be sent up to the pulpit. When Mendl sometimes took ill, and someone else led the prayers, Rebbe Yankev-Dovid would mumble: Not like that, not like that. . .
R[eb] Yankev-Dovid would leave his customary, honored place by the eastern [wall] when the Priestly Blessing [of the congregation] was given. Otherwise the blessing wouldn't reach him. . . Since those giving the blessing have their arms stretch out in front. How then could he sit behind [them]?
The Tailors' Synagogue possessed another source of pride and beauty, and that was their Torah Scrolls. They are wrapped in lovely shirts. Everything was embellished and decorated with gold. The cases of the megillas were carved of red wood with tiny, round, silver little windows.
On Simkhas Toyre, we boys used to beat each other, [trying to guess] who would carry the beautiful Torah scrolls.
In the Tailors' Synagogue three circuits with the Torah scrolls were made, not two as in other synagogues on Shmini Atserets Eve, on Shmini Atserets itself, and on Simkahs Toyre. People used to come to the Tailors' Synagogue from all over the city on Shmini Atserets Eve. The gabay [manager] would treat everyone to cake and whisky, so that the main goal was achieved: everyone was happy and lively---[they were] joyous, as they should be.
The beadle of the Tailors' Synagogue was Heshl, the baker. His brother, Moyshe, may his soul ascend in peace, left his worldly goods to the Tailors' Synagogue. Heshl was a quiet and honest man. Only during the reading [of the Torah], when the congregation would begin to chat, Heshl would bend over the lectern and pleaded with compassion: Be quieter; don't desecrate the reading of the Torah.
Of the other congregants, Mikhle Beynishes, with the red beard, must still be mentioned, as well as Zusha the Red.
Zusha no longer had red hair in my time. His hair was white as milk. Nevertheless, the name had stuck with him since his younger years. He dealt in feathers.
In the fall of 1939, the Tailors' Synagogue ended its career, so to speak. In N.K.V.D. [?] a few
[Caption under photograph]
Zusha (the Red) Troytse
Frightened artisans were asked to sign some paper and they simply didn't know what they were doing and simply signed. Later, they found out that what was written there was, no more no less, than that on behalf of all the congregants, they, of their own free will, give the synagogue to the Red Army.
That night, they still managed to remove the Torah scrolls and placed them in the Holy Ark of the old synagogue. In the morning, the soldiers of the Red Army were already in the Tailors' Synagogue.
This is how the era of the Tailors' Synagogue ended.
The Red Army stayed there until June 1941, and then the Lithuanians and the German human beasts finished the work.
The Tailors' Synagogue was completely destroyed. Not even a beam remained.
Those bandits not only destroyed the Tailors' Synagogue, they also murdered all of its devoted congregants, those plain, honest, hard working craftsmen of Svintsyan.
They were a congregation of simple, decent Jews, who in the best sense of the word embodied the passage: You earn your bread by the sweat of your brow. [Heb.]
For their sacred souls we must all say, with tears and pain:
Hallowed and exalted be His great name. . . . [The first line of the kadish, the traditional prayer for the dead.]
[No numbers on this page: equivalent to 233 & 234]
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Education and Rearing [of Children]
--- --- Teach a child according to his way, and when he is old he will not depart from it [Heb.]
The Jewish system of child rearing was individualized and self-sufficient in all of its processes, from the kheyder [elementary grades for religious students] through the modern culture- and public schools. The yeshiva, a modern institution for rabbis and community leaders, and the modern gymnasia [equivalent of high school], a source of Jewish intellectuals and fighters for the Jewish reality of those times. . . All of these educational institutions worked equally well for the Jews of Svintsyan. The modern Yiddish school did not compete with the kheyder but was its continuation, and its students inherited everything that was lovely, elevated, and positive in the kheyderthe love of Jewish tradition and Jewish individuality. They remained proud and consistent Jews. The teachers in Svintsyan reared, formed, and molded the Svintsyan boy, who did not succumb to drunkenness and licentiousness. The clear and modest things that he learned in kheyder accompanied him in his future life. His life style, both at home and in the street, was thoroughly Jewish. All adults participated in The Shas [Talmud] Society, the Mishnayos [explanations of the Talmud] Society [or] Khay Adom [The Life of Adam] and other [religious organizations], and these gave their lives meaning. Later came the pedagogic and cultural institutions, which helped the young people understand their lives, to dream, to struggle, to build, and with that same strength drew them closer their people and made them part of their people.
[No column number; most likely cols. 237 & 238]
[Photo] Yoysef Brumberg, Chicago
The population of Svintsyan was comprised of various nationalities: Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Tatars, and Jews. A certain number of Russians were so-called immigrants, who came there as officials and military personnel. They belonged to the official Russian church, the so-called Greek Orthodox [Church]. The largest number of Russians were, however, Pentecostals, who lived in a separate quarter [of town], Slaboda, and had their own customs. The Poles and the Lithuanians were Catholics. The surrounding areas were populated for the most part with White Russians and Lithuanians, who led an impoverished, peasant existence, and some Poleslords, who had lived there since ancient times, and Russians, who settled there after the Polish uprising in the year 1863. These various nationalities lived separately but at peace with each other. For the most part, the Jewish population was not well to do: [they were] small shopkeepers, artisans, dealers, and workers, who toiled for their bread. The number of wealthy ones was very small. The striving for education was great among the Jewish population.
Even in old times, Svintsyan possessed a large talmud-toyre [religious elementary school], which had its own building. The Svintsyan talmud-toyre was not satisfied with teaching only religious subjects. It also afforded its students secular studies and was counted as one of the best educational institutions in the whole area of Vilna.
A large number of Jewish children visited the state elementary school (natshalnaya utshilitshtshe) and the state [junior high?] school (gorodoskaya utshilitshtse)a higher-level school. Many of the students of the state school later went to Vilna, where they studied in various gymnasia (most of these were children of wealthy parents).
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