[Page 15] English section
The very name of "Volozhin" conjures up an academy of Talmudic learning which became famous throughout Europe and other parts of the world. This Academy The Yeshiva of Volozhin founded in the year 1803 by Rabbi Khayim, of blessed memory, flourished for close 160 years, then, due to the devastation of the Nazi Holocaust of the Second World War, the Yeshiva, bearing the name of Volozhin, was reconstituted in Israel.
The transplant of Volozhiners who voluntarily immigrated to the United States, pioneered the establishment of a Khevra; and those who by grace of G-d, escaped the Nazi onslaught, finally to reach Israel, subsequently formed the Irgun (Society) of Volozhiners. These subjects are dramatically covered in the text.
The sole purpose of the Yeshiva was to foster Torah-true Judaism. From the Yeshiva ordained Rabbis and scholars went forth who adhered strictly to the prescribed tenets in observing and disseminating the Judaic faith.
The importance of this volume is that posterity may learn of the trials and triumphs of Volozhiners and their contribution throughout the Diaspora in perpetuating the religious heritage of what was the city of Volozhin.
Space does not permit listing the many names of those who contributed toward the book; therefore sincere credit is extended, in their behalf, to the congregation Ets Khayim Anshei Volozhin and the American Committee for the memorial (Yizkor) Volume of Volozhin.
A great debt of thanks is due to the individuals named below, not only for their tireless endeavors in connection with the book, but also for activating the interest and assistance of Volozhiners in America:
To both the assistant directors: Rabbi Mendel Potashnik for initiating the project in the United States, and Julius Kotler, who on his return from a visit in Israel persistently worked to the very end of the undertaking,
To Irvin Bunim, honorary chairman; for his veneration for Volozhin and for his assistance in every possible way,
To Ezra Shapiro of Cleveland, Ohio, for his interest and ready response,
To the Honorary Presidents of the Congregation E.C.A.W; Albert Kirshner, Irve Rubin,
Harry Silverman and Benjamin Wolper for their participation and devoted support,
To Pesah Berman, who acted as a liaison between the United States and Israel on his frequent visits to Israel, and was of tremendous help in the furtherance of this book.
Finally for me as editor of "Volozhiners in America" indulgence is asked of all who read this historical narrative, should any omission or error unwittingly be committed. It is with pardonable pride that I submit this "labor of love".
Dr. Abraham Jablons
Irving M. Bunin
Rabbi Mendel Potashnik
The American committee of the congregation "Eytz Hayim Anshey Volozhin"
When publishing the Volozhin Yizkor Book
"The book of the city and of the Eytz Hayim Yeshiva"
Dr. Abraham Jablons
Rabbi Mendel Potashnik
Dr Ahil L. Aison, Chicago
Joseph R. Cohen
Dr. J. L. Gordon
Benjamin R. Gutterman
Dr. Lois Harrison, Lakewood N.J.
Sidney Heicklin, New Bedford Mass.
Dr. Benjamin Jablons
Rev Eli Meltzer
Artur L. Morris
Prof. A.P. Nazatir, San Diego, Calif.
Dr. Nathan Portnoy
Louis Rabinovitz, Greenwood S.C.
Rabbi N.H.J. Riff, Camden N.J.
Prof. Isaac Rivkind
Barney Rogovin, Los Angeles Calif
Rabbi Natan Rothstein
Michael Ruden, Miami Beach Fla.
Aaron Shneider, Los Angeles Calif
George Seligman, Sherman Oaks Calif.
Ezra Shapiro, Cleveland Ohio
Dr. Edward Weisman
"And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the Earth"
Volozhiners in America
Genesis, Ch. 48, v. 16
This narrative, which covers a span of close to 90 years (written in 1970), cannot state with precision the date of the first arrival of the "landsleit" of Volozhin but the year 1881 can be accepted as the year of departure from the Yeshiva City of the earliest immigrants to our shores.
Before departing from their birthplace these pioneer travelers bade farewell to the venerable Gaon Rabbi Naftoli Zvi Berlin (then Rosh Yeshiva) for his rabbinical blessing. The scholarly and sagacious Rabbi, with a smiling countenance on his holy face - to lessen the sad and serious of their visit - gave them his holy blessing for a safe and healthy trip and his only fatherly request of them was that they should always keep in mind that they are Jews.
In retrospect, we see our travelers departing from their wives, children, friends and acquaintances, with the prayer shawl and phylacteries (talith and tefilim) in one hand and a small sack of hard tack in the other for sustenance of the journey.
With a final glance at the homeland of their youth and adult life, and with heaviness of heart, they knew little of the hardships and difficulties of crossing the land borders, confronting the steamship agencies and discomfort of travel in steerage of three weeks over the stormy Atlantic Ocean to the land of freedom in which they staked their future.
Despite of the uncertainty of their lot in this land, the vanguard of Volozhiners, with fortitude and steadfastness in trust of the Ever-Living G-d, and instilled with love and adherence to Torah-true Judaism, endured the hardship and inconveniences of the journey and landed safely ashore at Castle Garden (Battery) New York.
"Give me your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
Inscription of pedestal of Statue of Liberty
It can readily been understood that the first arrivals to the new country missed the comfort and conveniences of family life, and as newcomers had to become boarders with strangers; whereas in the old country they had their own homes and family entourages. In order to overcome their saddened loneliness, which at first was somewhat embittered, they sought the companionship of comrades and friends of Volozhin. This led to the gathering of Volozhiners on Saturdays and Holidays where a Minyan or more assembled for religious services.
These get-togethers offered exchanges of news and developments in their homeland based upon letters that were received by individuals amongst the group.
This arrangement continued for about five years until the death of a Volozhiner "landsman", by the name of Yochanan Halevy, which occurred on the final day of Passover in 1885. The decedent was the brother of Abraham Samuel Levy and the father of Trustee Joseph Rudensky. Fifteen of the Landsleit came together in order to arrange for the burial and not having burial grounds of their own, obtained a grave from the Radushkevitsher Congregation.
Realizing the need for burial grounds, the group took steps to form an Organization (Khevra), and not long thereafter, purchased grounds in Washington cemetery, Brooklyn, N.Y. The Organization became a "fait accompli" on October 13, 1886, on which date the Charter was granted by the Sovereign State of New York. Included in the designation of the Congregation, in honor of the founder of the Yeshiva, was that of (Reb) "Khayim", who made Volozhin the great citadel of Talmudic learning. The initial officers of the "Congregation Etz KHAYIM Anshei Volozhin," as it was officially named, were: Moses Pierson, President; Jacob Hurvitz, Vice-President; Treasurer Herman Rogovin; Secretary Jacob J. Jablons; Trustees Samuel Bunimovitz, Moses Chafetz and Isac Meltzer.
The meager earnings of the membership permitted them only a rented space for the holding of Religious Services and meetings. The first of several rented places was 36 Eldridge Street. The group subsequently moved to 101 Hester Street and thence to 20 Orchard Street. At the later location, a diversity of opinion occurred regarding how to conduct the Congregation's affairs and as a result, a small number of members resigned to form their own group. They held services at 21 Bowery and were known as the 21'ers. This splintering did not last long and at a later date a reconciliation took place.
The treatment accorded the Congregation by the Landlord of the Hall at 20 Orchard Street was so offensive that it was imperative to move again the third move- this time to a 2nd floor at 16 Ludlow Street. From then on, progress and growth of the Congregation was evident. Services were held every day of the year. They were held previously only on Saturdays and Holidays. The new sign literally translated read - "A Place to Worship Mornings and Evenings and Every Day of the Year".
An epochal event took place on June 8, 1891, which to this very day attests to the zeal and fervor of the young Congregation. The group, while only in existence for five years, undertook to purchase the structure at 209 Madison Street. This property was previously owned by missionaries who, because of the changing neighborhood, with no candidates to proselyte, were compelled to place the property on sale.
Our synagogue - 209 Madison street
(Between Rutgers and Jefferson sts.)
New York, N. Y.
The emblematic Six-pointed star the Mogen David adorns the top most part or pinnacle of the structure to this very day replacing the crucifix that had been there prior to the acquisition of the building. In connection with this event a sad occurrence took place at that time in the untimely and accidental tragic passing of one of the members, Mordekhai Yonah, an iron worker who, in his zeal to remove the crucifix, fell to his death.
In less than a decade, to be exact, eight years from the time the building was purchased, the organization has advanced to a stage where it became necessary to have a set of rules governing its affairs in accordance with parliamentary procedure. A booklet was printed bearing the caption CONSTITUTION dated 1899. Also fascinating reading, space does not permit of more than the PREAMBLE its unique wording translated as follows:
"As we are immigrants in this country, and as is our custom, we, being G-d fearing, therefore have subscribed to establish a Khevra with its holy name: EITZ KHAYIM ANSHEI VOLOZHIN
In brotherly bond to serve G-d with prayer and Torah, a bond in friendship, a bond to assist one another when unfortunately there is a need, when there unfortunately is an illness, or when unfortunately, G-d forbid, a death occurs, to extend consolation, to help with advice and deed, and also to provide for widows and orphans.
Being signers (to the Constitution) it is our duty to abide by the laws in a strong bond for all times; and in this meritorious undertaking, the Almighty will help us in our ways to protect us from all evil, and Peace to be with us and to all Israelites. Amen."
With the acquisition of the building, the members were enthusiastically aroused to active efforts in altering the building to conform to a house of worship (Synagogue) wherein the religious services were held as was the custom (minhag) in the Yeshiva-city of Volozhin.
By the time the 21'ers returned, and the Volozhiner Verein was formed, the membership increased to more than several hundred.
The coalition of the three separate factions into a unified organization so strengthened the Khevra which was afford the engagement of an eminent Rabbi as spiritual leader, and from time to time, distinguished cantors were contracted to lead in the services.
Worthy to mention in this narrative is the assiduous assistance given by the womenfolk who gave unstintingly of their time and effort along with the male members in furnishing the many holy ritual objects that make for a Hebrew sanctuary. One of the first donations, as evidence of their devotion, was that of a holy scroll (Sefer Torah).
As time does not stand still but marches on, so the number of deceased members increased during the period 1886-1926. Among the spiritual leaders who held the Rabbinate seat were: Rabbis Abraham Youdelovitz, Mordekhai Klatzko, Burak, Dameshek, Ralbag, Charlip who through our Congregation became renowned throughout American Jewry.
Deserving of mention is Abraham Isaac Meltzer for his record of 28 years of devoted service as Sexton (Shamesh), Reader of the Torah (Baal koyre) and blower of the Shofar (Baal Tkia).
In their lifetime the pioneering members established a House of Worship with all that pertains to Torah-true regimen. In addition they instituted a free loan found -Gmilos Khessed a sick benefit fund known as Bikur Kholim and purchased additional burial grounds.
By 1926, the Organization having made substantial progress, with a membership of 268, it was deemed of sufficient importance by the officers and members to mark the four decades since the charter was granted (1886-1926) with a celebration called an Anniversary Banquet.
On Sunday March 21, 1926 at Beethoven Hall, 210 East 5th Street, New York, the 40th Anniversary Banquet was held, Many of the "Old Timers" had lived to participate in this millstone occasion. It was a heart-warming scene to behold the gathering of those who came and greet life long "landsleit". The toastmaster of the evenings' affair was Isidore Jablons a son of Jacob Jablons and grandson of Samuel Banovitsh , both of whom were founders of the Congregation.
Rabbi Meyer Berlin (Bar Ilan) graced the dais as the Guest of Honor. He was a native born Volozhiner, and while distinguished in his own right, was the descendant of a line of renowned Rabbis who were "Rosh" (head of) the Volozhiner Yeshiva. Within the memory of those who attended the banquet, the highlight of the evening was his stirring address of the glory of Volozhins' contribution through the Diaspora (Centers of Judaism) and an interesting account of the renowned Rabbinical leaders and scholars who emanated from the Yeshiva. At the conclusion of his address, he was given a standing ovation.
The officers of the Congregation at this time were: Jacob Joshua Jablons, President; Moses Banovitsh, Treasurer; Barnett Harisson, Vice president; Harris Rudnick, Secretary; Trusties Louis Henkind, Abraham Garellick, Eli Solof, Joseph Rudin; Gabais Isaac Bunimovitsh and Eliezer Khayim Rabinovitsh.
The Jubilee journal, printed on this occasion, is of special interest in that most of its contents are printed in Yiddish with Hebrew characters in the traditional order from right to left.
Two items of special interest appear in the journal , the first item: a photograph of twenty six "Old Timers" pioneers of the Khevra.
Our first banquet committee - celebrating the Fortieth Anniversary of the founding of
Congegation Eitz Chaim Anshei Wolozin 1886 - 1926
The second item was a fascinating history of the Congregation covering the span of 40 years from the inception of the Volozhin Congregation in the United States.
The 50th Anniversary of the Congregation was celebrated with a banquet in a festive spirit befitting the golden millstone of its existence. It took place on Sunday, March 1, 1936 at the Broadway Center Hotel. The chairman of the celebration was Benjamin Wolper and together with his committee, made it an outstanding success. In the fall he was elected President in recognition for his devoted services to the Congregation. The synagogue was completely renovated and Dedication Ceremonies were held at which the prominent Rabbis A.D. Burack, B.L. Rosenbloom and B.D. Ruditski addressed the capacity gathering that filled all the seats of the Synagogue.
Samuel Rudin and his family rendered valuable "know-how" to renovate the entire interior of the synagogue to a most attractive and inviting structure for worship and praying.
Our "Little synagogue" - where services are held 75th Anniversary celebration 1886 - 1961
In 1941, Moses Banovitsh was elected President, by acclamation, succeeding Benjamin Wolper. He was born in Volozhin, son of one of the founders Samuel Banovitsh. After three years of presidency he served as Gabai than as Treasurer of the Loan fund. The marble pillars on the Volozhiner burial ground, Beyt David Cemetery in Elmont Long Island, were his donation.
The 55th Anniversary Celebration was held on March 1941 at the River Side Plaza Hotel (3rd gala).
During the World War II years (1942-1945), the sons of many members served in the US Army. By the grace of Almighty G-d, none were lost.
Due to the 2nd and 3rd generations the Congregation members increased to 215.
The 60th Anniversary Celebration was held on November 24, 1946 at the River Side Plaza Hotel. At this 4th gala the attendance was overflowing.
In the several years that followed, the Congregation lost the last of the founders in the passing of Victor Klein one of the early Presidents. Shortly thereafter Moses Banovitsh, a recent President, passed on, as well as Isaac Bunimovitsh, affectionately called "Reb Itsele". The membership was greatly saddened by their passing.
The Congregation memorialized the name of Moses Banovitsh by establishing "The Moses Banovitsh Memorial Welfare Fund", which is under the Directorship of his nephew Dr. Abraham Jablons. The fund continues to perform the many charitable services that his uncle had administered.
It was in the evening of Armistice Day (of WWI) November 11, 1951 that the Congregation celebrated its 65th Anniversary the fifth in the series of these events.
In its 45 page souvenir journal a number of young officers, offspring's of the older members, is listed: Albert Kirshner, born in Volozhin was elevated to the presidency in 1952. Assisting Vice Presidents were Harry Silverman, Morris Heiklin and Charles Skloot; Tresurer A. Brookman; Trustees- Jack Kornberg, Abe Rogovin and Ruby Rogovin.
On Benjamin Wolper the distinction of Honorary President, was conferred after Jacob J. Jablons having been the first honored.
On the 18th November 1956 the 70th Anniversary (6th one) took place. Of historical significance highlighting this Banquet was the symbolical burning of the mortgage which lifted the encumbrance of 63 years from the property.
Harry Silverman, son of Samuel Silverman a founder and early President served as presiding officer for the 195-1959 years. He was assisted by Jack Kronenberg, Morris Helckin, Abe Rogovin, and Jack Stark. His gracious manner and soft spoken words made harmony and comradeship amongst the members. Rabbi Natan Rothstein's services as spiritual leader were and are still held in great esteem.
In 1959 Irve Rubin assumed the duties of the Presidency.
The Diamond, 75th Anniversary (7th in the series) was held on November 13, 1966. The ceremonies master was Isidore Jablons. Irve Rubin, the President delivered a very interesting history of Volozhin (which is published in the Volozhin Yizkor Book page 26). The honorary President, Benjamin Wolper rendered an account of the splendid achievements of the Congregation for the many years during he was its member and officer.
President Irve Rubin in greeting the assembled stated: "Our congregation has withstood the changes of time and customs in its steadfast adherence and observation of Torah-true Judaism for which special thanks is due to Rabbi Nathan Rotshtein for his spiritual guidance and supervision of the ritual and Talmud Study in our Synagogue".
It can truly be said that be of the lineage of a Volozhiner, bears the hallmark of distinction.
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