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[Page 445]

Chapter 5



[Page 465]

Poetry from the Purest Spring

by Alexander Melechson

Translated by Susanne Kaplowitz

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

It has been 10 years since he left us forever–the Yiddish folk–poet and writer, Efraim Auerbach z”l (blessed be his memory), a plant from the healthy and full blooded Bessarabian earth, from the town of Beltz. He belongs to the chain–the Chut Hameshulash [“the eternal triangle,” lit. the triple cord] of the other two Bessarabian Jews, also from Beltz, Yakov Fichman and Chaim Greenberg, and just like them, Auerbach is rooted in the soil of Yiddish folk–life, in the song of hardscrabble Yiddish life. These chords echoed in all his poems, in all that he created. He is the quiet Borchi Nafshi prayer singer, who beneath his emotions and glittering fantasy stands with a fanatic faith in Man.

Auerbach's poems are really festive, part of them from real prayers, like Modeh Ani, Krias Shma, Ashrei Yoshve, Vayiten Locho, Elake N'tzor, V'eschanan, Bamme Madlikin, Lecho Dodi and on and on: “The body is Yours and the soul is Yours/ even the yearning for You in the morning/ the dust that covers my life/ is my Modeh Ani” (I thank You). With such lyric and still–voiced melody he brought to the Yiddish poetry the wonderful synthesis of Chabad's inner enthusiastic joy with Bessarabian simplicity, with the smell of wheat and corn and the Wallachs' joy and sorrow. He takes his heritage from the Chabadniks to Rashi.

Efraim Auerbach z”l was born, as I mentioned before, in Beltz, Bessarabia in the year 1892. In 1908 he made his debut in literature. He lived for a while in Warsaw and in 1912 in Eretz Israel. He was recruited to the Jewish Legion in the brigade Nehage Hapredot in Gallipoli. He went through the war; after a difficult illness, as a result of the hard fighting on the front, he had to leave the Land and he established himself in America. He published about 15 books, poems and essays. In all of the 55 years that he lived in America, he stood at the apex of the Yiddish printed word; was one of the editors of the “Tog–Morgen Journal” where he wrote a daily column, “On the Scale” about literature and culture problems, criticism and memories.

After the establishment of the State (Israel) he came often on a visit to the Land and wrote tens of poems and articles for the “Tog–Morgen Journal” about Israel. Among his works was the well–known poem “The White City” which was translated into Hebrew. In 1970, the family moved to Israel: Efraim, his wife, Chana (may she live a long life), their daughter, Ada with her husband and children. Auerbach z”l passed away in Tel Aviv. The family lives in Eretz Israel. Efraim Auerbach wrote more than 15 books. I will mention here the greater part in chronological order: “Caravans,” “The Red Thread,” “From the Old Well,” “Pure is the Old Spring,” “The Voice of the Turtledove,” “Ada's Songbook,” “In the Footsteps of Redemption,” “Jacob's Tents,” “Thought with Hebrew Translation.” “Golden Sunset,” “In Late Autumn,” “Awake in the Steppe” and an anthology of his poems with the title “A Life Between Tablets,” which he was able to publish before his death. Some of his books were translated into Hebrew by the writers: Eliyahu Maitus z”l and (may they live a long life) Shimshon Meltzer, Israel Zmora, K.A. Bertini, L. Kupferstein, Avigdor Hameiri, Yochanan Twersky and others.

From his “Ani Ma'amin” [I believe]: “I believe that Justice will come. Even if it tarries, I will wait for it every day, in difficult nights, in days of bloody storm, and will say like I say now: ”Ani Ma'amin.” I believe with my ancestors in faith and with the purity of my parents, that Evil will pass from this world, and the end will come with clear thoughts and will uncover the Good alone–Ani Ma'amin.

With great mastery, the writer expresses the various nuances of his feelings and experiences in his lyrical, deep–felt poems. The tremendously rooted love for the hardworking Bessarabian, which identifies, of course, with Jewish simplicity and his unique and authentic way, the so–called “Bessarabian Way”, remains with us forever in memory. His poetry from the purest spring gave a healing to the dispersed Bessarabian Jewry which was so earthy and fertile, and a vital support to the Jewish culture, to the Hebrew and Yiddish literature, and to the building of the State of Israel. In his poems of Israel, the writer sings in his lyrical mode about his feelings and experiences on the earth of Israel, the same earth on which he worked in his youth in the colonies of Judah and bled as a Legionnaire on the front, when the Jewish homeland was still hunted and threatened from all sides; his Israel poems shine with his warmth.

Together with the whole nation in Zion, the writer suffers on the thorny way to Redemption, the obstacles to a complete Redemption. Everything that he saw in the land, in towns and villages, in the kibbutz and by the sea, in the Galilee and in the Emek, in near–far South and in Jerusalem, he preserved for generations, in a lyrical way, lines that breathe, with gentleness and delightful rhythm that reads like the “Song of Songs:”

And here I am, paging with satisfaction through the letters that Auerbach and I exchanged through the years and I find a few lines with which I will end my eulogy.

“…for now you feel that the time is short and there is yet so much to do. But for whom? For the few special ones. There is a strength, however, that is stronger than the common sense.”

“…what else can I say, my dear and beloved Sender; I admit, I would say more, but I remember how you chided me and think that perhaps you are right.”

“…perhaps your word will one day bloom on a stone, with your sad mood, perhaps a little sand will guard you from a Jew of a future generation.

[Page 473]

Hersch Leib
Kazhber [Koszever] - Weinstein [Vaynshteyn]

by Sholom Sudit

Translated by Pamela Russ

( ) author's remarks
[ ] translator's remarks


Hersch Leib Kazhber


[He was] born in the village of Kazhba (Bessarabia) to poor village settlers in the year 1910, and his correct family name is Vaynshteyn. He completed his studies in the Baltsi gymnasium, and when he began writing and publishing he took on the pseudonym of Kazhber named after his place of birth, the village of Kazhba. With that name, he entered into Yiddish literature.

My acquaintance with him came about in the Baltsi Yiddish culture center, where I was an active member.

He suffered from a physical handicap: one deformed foot, and when walking, he was hunched over. Whether this was from birth, or whether this was a result of some terrible fall, I do not know. I know and remember that this handicap was painful for him and he suffered a lot from it. There were moments when a seriousness would spread across his face, a silence; a deep, distant sadness would emanate from his large, grey, intelligent eyes. It's possible, that in these moments he would turn to the Creator with questions and complaints, saying: “My Almighty, You have blessed me, the son of poor villagers, with writing talent. But you endowed me with a blemish that has given me a lot of bitterness and anguish … Why did You do that to me?” He was an avid reader, and in the culture center library in the 1920s and 30s, there was a lot to read there, beginning with the Yiddish classics and ending with many different translations of foreign writers, such as: Henri Barbusse (The Fire), anecdotal reports (on the western front without any amendments); Romain Rolland (Jean-Christophe), Anatole France, Maxim Gorky, and so on.

He was very fond of the justice seeker Y.L.Peretz, the world renowned Sholom Aleichem, whose creations reflect the entire Jewish nation as a mirror, and the white-bearded elder, the grandfather of Yiddish literature Mendel Mokher Seforim…

Of particular inspiration was the foolish, misguided and later murdered great Yiddish prose writer Dovid Bergelson. Bergelson's style, direction, narration, education, actually inspired him [Kazhber]. And the effect of Bergelson's creations on the

[Page 474]

Bessarabian young prosaist H.L.Kazhber was tremendous.

He published the greatest number of stories in the weekly “Czernowitz Bletter” [“Czernowitz Leaves”] whose editor was the amazing, dear, erudite Shmuel Abba Sofer (editor of the dictionary of Aramaic, Hebrew, and Syrian words, phrases, and names that have been incorporated into the Yiddish language, 1921 Czernowitz) who encouraged young Kazhber and helped him publish his first work, the book “Kazjone Gimnazia” [“Commonplace High School”] (available in “Czernowitz Bletter” 1937, Czernowitz).

This is a rich autobiographic novella about the gymnasium years in the Baltsi gymnasium.

I remember once, that one summer, as I was going out on my regular stroll in the city garden, from time to time I would meet Kazhber who always carried a thick notebook and a book under his arm. He would spin his creations there, forming his novella “Kazjone Gimnazia.

He was also the author of a larger novella “Khaverte Tanya” [“Friend Tanya”]. This novella was published with sequels in the literary monthly journal “Aufgang” [“Uprising”] (editor and publisher Y.D. Israel, in the city of Sighet). The journal ceased publishing in January 1938, when the Rumanian fascist government of Goga-Koza terminated all Yiddish publications along with the Rumanian Democratic Press … In the novella “Khaverte Tanya,” he tried to provide a portrait of a Baltsi Jewish revolutionary who, along with a group of young people, was arrested in the year 1923 and released in 1924. She later went to the “land of her dreams where the people could breathe freely,” and how any trace of her was forever gone. Kazhber's creation was very dear to me. I treasured it and remember that his first publication, “Kazjone Gimnazia,” was successful with everyone.

In my archives, there were the newspapers “Aufgang,” “Czernowitz Bletter,” as well as other Yiddish writings.

In the year 1931 or 1932, Kazhber, along with two other young writers, Yankel Jakir and Hertz Rivkin-Geisener, put forth serious efforts, and published a literary booklet by the name of “Onzog” [“Announcement”], but no more than one issue was published (the one responsible for the publication was the young Khaim Zelcer, today a Yiddish writer in Israel).

H.L. Kazhber earned his living through teaching and literary lectures; and for a long time he was the teacher in the Morgenroyt shul of the “Bund.” He also had a connection with the “shul society” of the Czernowitz “Federation of Yiddish Culture.” Materially – life was difficult, but he always maintained human dignity and value.

In my memory is etched an episode of the month of September, 1939, when we met on Praparzhesku (today Dostoyevsky) Street. This was after the Nazi Germany attack on Poland, when the Polish state was divided between the Soviet Union and Germany. He was embittered, depressed, and with a strained voice, he said: “My dear friend Sudit, a great tragedy has happened to Polish Jewry, a tremendous destruction is going to befall them… and who knows what waits for us Jews from Rumania in the near future.” …

When World War Two broke out in 1941, fate threw him into the distant Uzbekistan, Samarkand, where he died in 1943.

[Page 475]


by Mendel Geventer[1]

Translated by Pamela Russ

( ) author's remarks
[ ] translator's remarks


Mendel Geventer


Once again Purim, again Purim,
Honey fluden [multi-layered cookie], hamentashen
And the old Jewish street
Begins to come alive again.

Housewives are baking, cleaning, being busy,
Dressed up in the most beautiful clothing,
Everyone is preparing for the Megilah reading [Book of Esther]
And the house is filled with joy.

In the shul, school-aged boys are
Banging, lively with their gragers [noisemakers for Purim]:
Take revenge, dear boys,
From Haman, from the rashah [evil man].

May the wondrous Purim
Be an example for the world:
He who digs a ditch for someone else
Falls into it himself…


He wrote many songs in Hebrew and Yiddish, some of which were published in children's papers and in the former Hebrew anthology “Hadibur Haivri” [“Hebrew Speech”]. He even received a congratulatory letter from Dovid Frishman, “The spark of the poem burns in you. Continue on.”

For all kinds of reasons, he did not publish his songs in book form.

At the beginning of the Second World War, in July 1941, the Baltsi hooligans, Moldova murderers, killed Mendel Geventer and his wife.

Original footnote:

  1. The author of this song, at that time, belonged to the “Chetvyerka” [“Wednesday”] (quartet) of “Maskilim” [“Enlightened people”] and writers in Baltsi [Balti, Belz] that comprised of: Yakov Fikhman, Sholom Auerbukh (the brother of the writer Efraim Auerbukh), of blessed memory, Eliezer Hik, and him, Geventer. Return

[Pages 476-477]

“Mein Shtelele Belz...”
[“My Town Balti”]

by Sholom Sudit / Nahariya

Translated by Pamela Russ

As a butterfly, a memory now flutters,
Touches my breath, so tenderly, so quietly…
Opens a page of the lost past,
And I become imprisoned in a nostalgic feeling…

Thet start slowly, as in a kaleidoscope
Multi colored images stretch… soar…
Pictures of sadness and pictures of joy –
In which a period of life is mirrored.

Here, before my eyes, stands my hometown of Belz,
That forever was my second home.
The people, the streets, the city garden.
One cannot forget … etched into my memory.

My town of Belz made itself famous
With its love and attention to the Jewish word.
Speech virtuosos and Yiddish performers
Always found a place for themselves in Belz.

The Vilna troupe with its famous actors
Have brought joy, pleasure, to the Jews.
Not to forget the play ... the excitement –
Of Anski's “The Dybbuk” – “Between Day and Night” …

And Yakov Shternberg with Sidi Tal,
Who often used to come to Belz.
The hall was filled to capacity –
They were thanked with applause and flowers.

From the busy –[“femintener” - not sure about this word] train station, they carried
In their arms the singer Yosef Shmidt.
With love, acknowledgement, he was welcomed.
His song created love and pleasure.

I cannot forget the hundreds of performers
That we enjoyed with words and with song.
They go down in history, as fighters,
Who helped protect the pintele Yid [“spark” or “spot in the Jew”].

Culture leagues … Tarbut... the Jewish drama circles –
Always glorified my town of Belz.
The enemies wiped out and destroyed everything.
Today it is a Jewish culture desert…

Already they are beginning to fall out of my life's diary
The dead with silvery autumn leaves.
I remain satisfied that with time I have recognized
The false, horrifying, bloodthirsty gods …

Also, now in Moldova there is a city
That today is called Gorod Beltzi …
But my town of Belz, it is no longer…
How tragic, how heavy it is in my heart, my friend!…

January-February 1986


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